Another Gen Con is in the books, and it's time for a review of some of the highlights (and lowlights) of this year's convention. Here are the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Gen Con 2013:
-It wasn't a year with a "blockbuster" release, but there were several RPG-specific games and products that looked pretty cool or intriguing. Rocket Age, Monster Island, Numenera, the Call of Cthulhu 7e Quickstart, and Rune Lore are all included on that list, and I'll have a couple of reviews forthcoming soon from that group.
-Gen Con's customer service has greatly improved its process, with the Will Call lines open 24 hours a day. The long lines of previous years were mostly history, and things moved quite well. Kudos to Gen Con for getting that very right!
-Getting to meet Lawrence Whitaker from Design Mechanism was really great, and I think my whole gaming group made it over to their part of the Moon Design/Cubicle 7 booth at some point to check out RuneQuest 6 or pick up the book. Along with that, I had had a nice chat with the Moon Design guys, who made me exceptionally sorry I had never been a fan of Glorantha (I may well need to check out the next generation of their products). Additionally, at least one other player got to run in a RuneQuest 6 game, and loved it. I'm happier than ever with our system choice for the fall campaign.
-Paizo is kicking butt and taking names. Their booth was continually busy, and they had nearly all their personnel out and about, interacting with fans and interested gamers. They were also handing out limited edition buttons and goblin masks for free, and generally just seemed immensely happy to be doing what they're doing. Pathfinder isn't my #1 RPG choice, but they are doing a lot right. They're a huge sponsor for Gen Con, and really have their staff and volunteers on point for the whole convention.
-Troll Lord Games has a really good convention presence, and remains one of the friendliest booths to visit. They'll go out of their way to make you feel like you matter as a fan, and it's always a massive pleasure to just stop by and browse. I don't know how many of you are Castles and Crusades players, but there are some seriously nice guys at the helm over there. They are a company worth supporting.
-I don't know that either Monte Cook's Numenera or Pelgrane Press' 13th Age RPGs are right for me, but they are both beautiful gaming products.
-Cthulhu Wars was getting very positive reviews. I sat around for a couple of demos, and everyone who saw the demo version of the game came away quite enthusiastic. In general, it was nice to see Chaosium back with a solid gaming presence.
-Chessex had some factory seconds and thirds for dice towers and dice bags, and I absolutely cleaned up for under $10.
-Our 2013 GM's Jam was a lot of fun, and we had some amazing, thoughtful participants bring up some great suggestions for dealing with various problems at the table. We're talking folks who are involved in the actual craft of GMing, not just nebulous theory. I can't wait for next year's seminar!
-I also had an idea for another seminar next year, where perhaps of the smaller-press publishers we've featured on this site and elsewhere would have about 10-15 minutes to hand out information and make their product pitch to the audience. I noticed some of the smaller publishers who did have seminars didn't have too much in the way of attendance.
Games on Demand at Gen Con gets info about a lot of games out there, but they skew away from more traditional games, in a lot of cases. It would be nice to give a dedicated audience and face-to-face time to some of the smaller traditional RPG publishers out there for those who are less into storygaming and the like. I'll have to see if any smaller-press folks would be interested.
-Gen Con is absolutely exploding in size. It really does feel as if the show has doubled in size, and that is not far off of an estimation. The entire downtown Convention Center/Circle Center/hotel connection is chock full of gaming activities.
-Getting to have a good, extended breakfast with good friends. Missing a year of Gen Con, I probably missed that as much as anything.
-Kenzer: This hurts me to write, because I love Knights of the Dinner Table very much, and consider the old Hackmaster GM's Guide one of the best RPG references ever written. But I had three different friends in my gaming circle who got the cold shoulder from Kenzer this weekend. These were gamers who were actively working to support HackMaster, who run HM at their own table, who were there to run HM games and get folks to try out Kenzer's flagship game. In short, they were basically ignored by Kenzer's booth personnel and treated rudely when they tried to have any discussion with them. One employee wouldn't stop checking their phone or make eye contact, and another just walked away after showing zero interest in the fact the GM in question was running a HM game.
No gaming company is popular enough that they can afford to do that for long. I didn't believe it when I heard it, but when I heard another one of my gaming buddies tell the same sort of story, I was really disappointed. Whether they were having a bad day or not, that's no way to treat fans there who are trying to promote HackMaster.
-Sometimes I worry that Gen Con is turning a bit too much towards a general "geek convention". I don't want gaming companies crowded out by folks selling ironic t-shirts and hentai DVDs. Gen Con needs to make their money, but several vendors I spoke to complained that Gen Con booth space remains very expensive. I suspect several vendors go to the Con as much to simply stay out in the public consciousness and because it's a tradition, and certainly not because they clear any sort of profit. Gen Con needs to keep its gaming heritage in place, and deal with gaming companies in that same spirit.
-Anime "Colonies". I've mentioned in years past that there are groups of teenies who like to wear bad wigs, lolita dresses, and congregate in the hallways, congesting traffic and generally being a pain in the butt. I get that the youth culture of today isn't the same as 20-30 years ago, but none of them seem to be there to do any actual, you know, gaming. They're also, well, stupid kids who don't get the (expletive) out of the way and seem to have no sense of consideration. They're a pain, continually underfoot, and really a bit of a distraction for a convention that's supposed to be more focused on gaming than general geek interest. Some of that is ok, but like some colony of fungus, they're growing out of control.
I just re-read that paragraph, and will now shake my fist at some local kids and tell them to get off my lawn.
-I also ran into a couple of "press members" (bloggers not unlike this site) who were acting extremely entitled and arrogant. If Gen Con Indy is kind enough to give a blogger or podcaster a badge, they should act professionally--and that doesn't mean acting like their 500 subscribers give them some manner of elite status. Kindness and humility go a long way.
-Holy crap, I'm tired of hearing about Dungeon World. Not my style of game at all, and my actual play experience (and that of my group) was exceedingly poor. More power to the folks who are having fun with it, but it is very quickly assuming a saturation point of being thrown into every conversation as a be-all, end-all, and cure-all in gaming. It's not the game's fault at all, but some of the zealots for this game are wearing me out. Guys, talk about 13th Age, Toon, Champions, FATE, anything else for a bit. I need a break!
-Bronies. I know we've been repeatedly preached to that we're supposed to be accepting of all hobbies and differences, but the influx of bronies in recent years is not something to celebrate. There are an inordinate amount of aging, creepy men who are playing My Little Pony card games, indulging in or cheering on MLP cosplay, and arguing the finer points of Ponyville with nine year-old girls. There is a disturbing undercurrent to the entire business, and I would no sooner let my daughters (of the actual age to enjoy MLP) interact with anything they are involved with then I would leave them unguarded overnight in the middle of downtown Detroit. There was some fetishization and sexualization of what should be a show for little girls that I found pretty disturbing. With any luck, the offenders will migrate somewhere like next year's Indiana Comic Con, or the bottom of Lake Michigan.
-Apparently, something happened with the Gamescience booth. Gone was the LED synchronized display of previous years, and in its stead was a small, uninspiring booth for Gamestation, and a very messy, small Gamescience booth with Lou Zocchi in it. There were no bins of precision-edged d3s, d5s, d16s, etc. to comb through, and the selection was lacking. Apparently, there was some disagreement between Gamestation and Zocchi, and that meant gamers were deprived of the united Gamescience glory of years past. They need to get it together for next year.