Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gencon 2012 (Post-Con Report)

Gencon has one again come and gone. Some games were played and some lessons were learned, and a good time was had by most.

Here's a break down of my personal experiences. It doesn't touch on other people's games, I'm afraid, but Hex Games ran over 20 games and six seminars this year. Quite a busy and successful Gencon!

I smartly took the day before my first day at Gencon off, so I'd be well-rested. What a novel idea. Sadly, the day before Gencon is much like the night before Christmas, so I didn't get any sleep Tuesday night/Wendesday morning. Undaunted, I spent the morning and afternoon packing and finishing last minute preparations.

I eventually left Toledo in Dory (The Little Buick that Shouldn't) at 5pm, expecting to get to Indianapolis at about 10pm. Fatigue suddenly hit me near Lima, but with the aid of a 15-minute snooze, a Vivarin pill, and an all-80s radio station, I was quickly back up to speed. I tooled into the Airport Ramada at 10ish and waited for Ian to get back from his first day at Gencon while watching Cartoon Network and putting the last details on my Hobomancer game.

My first day at Gencon 2012!

Crouching Tiger Beetle, Hidden Dragonfly
My kung-fu fantasy/cartoon bugs mash-up game for QAGS. I only had three players, but they were all fans of the wuxia genre and cartoon bugs in general, so they “got” the adventure perfectly. The adventure ran smoothly—a princess was delivered, the Scorpion Devil was thwarted (for now), and the Bandit King was humiliated. The Kung-Fu rules I came up with need a little more play-testing, but I look forward to developing this setting further.

My first game wasn't until 2pm, so I had some time to kill. I decided to go down to the Dealers' Room, unaware that I'd be getting there right as it opens. I quickly gave up my plans on an organized browse, and instead I just drifted with the crowd like plankton in the currents of the sea. This worked out okay, and I wound up talking to the good folks at Indie Press Revolution and Oni Comics, making some valuable connections. Also I bought some games and comics. Before I spent too much cash, I made sure that I got gifts for my wife and son, since I am, after all, a wonderful father and husband.

Later that evening, I went to The Ram to meet with a group of Kickstarter backers for Mike Nystul's Axes & Anvils rpg. Unfortunately, we never decided to all wear a white carnation, or dwarf hat, or anything else that would identify ourselves to each other. It takes a bit (and Mike is late) but we eventually all found each other, and, after waiting an hour to get in, had a lovely meal and discussed Mike's new game. To sum up, Axes & Anvils is a game I want to play NOW, and Omnipotent Ale is the best thing ever brewed.

Also, I left my hat at the Ram. I eventually got it back, but this was the first in what would become a series of forgetful mishaps.

Steve and Richard arrived in Indianapolis shortly after Ian and I returned to the Ramada.

My busiest day at the con!

Justice Band: the Spirit of Rock
Lots of Hex Gamers have run Justice Band games, but this was my first time. I had a few return players, and aside from a couple of players choosing to play characters I had intedned to use as villains, the game went incredibly smoothly and was a lot of fun. The PC cast included Gene Simmons (Gimmick: Prehensile Tongue), Ted Nugent (Gimmick: Trick Archer), Geddy Lee (Gimmick: Summon Owls; Weakness: Canadian), Kieth Richards (Gimmick: Immortal; Weakness: Occasionally Dead), and Glen Danzig (Gimmick/Weakness: Werewolf).

Unconventional Characters, Unconventional Worlds; Superheroes vs. the Forces of Boredom
These were seminars I sat in on as a panelist. Hex's seminars didn't attract a lot of people this year. This is probably because our seminars were located in the Crowne Plaza way on the outskirts of the con. Also, we've done these subjects quite a few times and it's probably time to think of some new subjects.

Hobomancer: Suffer the Little Children
My goal with this Hobomancer game was to prove that Hobomancer is not a comedy game and is capable of real horror. The plot revolved around a series of child murders and I stole a lot of elements from Hellraiser. I had an awesome group of players and the game went geat, even if I had to leave about half of what I wrote on the cutting room floor. Strategic use of nursery rhymes to flush out Boogeymen! Yes!

This was my busiest day of the con. I had back-to-back events from 10am to 8pm. I was supposed to go play in the Indie Games on Demand room (bought tickets and everything), but Hobomancer ran long and I was exhausted, so I missed it but wasn't too upset about it.

Leighton arrived in Indianapolis that night while Steve, Richard, and I were playing the new Smash-Up card game. We woke up Ian, who was trying to sleep. Sorry Ian.

Sleep deprivation begins to wear on Josh's psyche.

American Magic; Hobos, the New Pirates?
Two more panels, again in the Crowne Plaza. We've done these panels before and we had the patter down pretty good. It's probably the last year for both of these.

This was my light day. I ran no events, and only sat in as a co-panelist on the seminars.

That morning Aaron Huss of the Roleplayers Chronicle interviewed me. I talked with him a good deal about QAGS, and Hobomancer in particular. Even though it was three days into the con and I was a bit loopy, I don't think I embarrassed myself of the company.

I was, however, late for the interview, as I had to run back to the hotel (thanks, Richard!) and get ym badge, which I had left on a table. I also left my hat (oh that hat) in the press room with Aaron. The downward spiral of forgetful hijinx continued.

I did some more shopping and bought abunch of miniatures for cheap to use in Ben Balestra's Pathfinder campaign. Sadly, I lost this sack of minis somewhere between the dealer's room and coming home Sunday. I have no idea what happened to them.

Friday night was the most important even for Hex--”Hex Games has Dinner with People we Like at the Ram.” Hex Knome and friend Mark Kuszek was there, as was Andy Davis of Crafty Games who totally sold me on their new crime-empire game, whose name I forget right now.

I did not forget my hat this time. Also, peanut butter and bacon on a burger isn't too bad.

That night I made it to Indie Games on Demand (ticket!) and played Dungeon World for two hours. I'm a big fan of Apocalypse World and was not disappointed by the dungeon fantasy hack for it. IGoD games are only set for two hour slots, and we spent most of that time fighting a dracolich and falling up and down bottomless pits. Still, I had a blast and look forward to buying the actual game.

Last day at the Gencon.

Sword & Sorcery: You're doing It Wrong; Unconventional Characters, Unconventional Worlds
Again, two seminars we have done numerous times in the past. The Sword & Sorcery one was decently attended and the audience interaction was great. I skipped out on the Unconventional Characters panel so I could go give Oni Games a copy of Leopard Women of Venus.

If there's one thing you could take away from the Hex Games seminar, it's that Hex Games loves the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd, and we love Grant Morrison. We brought them both up a lot.

Golden Age Supers: The Return of Stardust
This was my QAGS game featuring Golden Age, public domain superheroes coming out of retirement to stop the return of an angry Stardust the Super Wizard. It was basically World War Hulk with weird characters from the 40s and 30s. Leighton got to play as The Music Master and did a wonderful job playing up the “Arrogant Jerk” Weakness. Other players chose Silver Streak, Sub-Zero, Daredevil (the original, not that fly-by-night blind guy), Black Terror, and The Clock.

I knew this game would live or die by how creative the players were, and I was not disappointed. The players were great. They picked up the Golden Age tropes very quickly, and we even got a happy ending for Stardust and the world! A damn fine way to end Gencon!

The Stardust game started late because I left my game notes in the car and had to run back to get them. Thankfully Leighton took that time to educate the other players on the cosmic horror that is Stardust the Super Wizard.

After we left Gencon for good, we had a wonderful Mexican dinner at Sol del Tala, a delightful restaurant some distance away from the convention center. We got some Hex Games business banged out, and Richard and I brainstormed some ideas for a Hobomancer card game.

The End
After dinner we parted ways. This was only my second actual Gencon, and it was better than the last, despite my steadily degrading mental state. When I got home I slept for 15 hours and felt worlds better for it. Back to civilian life.

It's always great to see my friends from and around Hex Games. It's a pity I don't get to see them more often. Still, I came home creatively recharged with a bunch of new ideas buzzing in my head. I can't wait to see them again in October for Archon!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gencon Prep

I'm finally printing out my materials for Gencon.
I've been having fun making these groovy tri-fold character sheets for my games, but I wasn't sure how they'd look until I printed them out. I'm happy to say that they turned out pretty spiffy...

I'm mostly done with game-prep at this point (mostly). Now It's just a matter of  packing and getting the car ready--a feat in and of itself.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Crouching Tiger Beetle, Hidden Dragonfly

Is it really just 5 days until Gencon? Wow!
One of the games I'm looking most forward to running this year is my kung fu cartoon bugs QAGS game, "Crouching Tiger Beetle, Hidden Dragonfly." It mixes two of my favorite genres--funny animals and wuxia films.

I'm trying something different for this game. Instead of using normal blank character sheets or making pre-gen PCs, I made little tri-fold character sheet pamphlets (inspired by Apocalypse World). On the front of each of these is a little doodle of a kung fu bug the players can use for inspiration. You can take a gander at these character pamphlets here.

Here's a quick look at the cartoon bugs...

And here's a look at the quick map of the Little Kingdoms I drew for the game...

By the by, there's still three seats open for this game. Thursday at 2pm, JW-308. Just sayin'...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Pictures from Mars Rover Curiosity

I was stunned--stunned!--that no one had made this joke yet, so I went ahead and made it myself.

Mad props to Frank Frazetta.

Friday, July 20, 2012


What with one thing or the other, it's been some time since I last posted. Let me rectify that.
My Leopard Women of Venus co-conspirator Leighton Connor is finishing up his latest project for Hex Games. It's an epic adventure of mythic fantasy called GILGAMESH! (All caps, with the exclamation pint!) He asked me to do art for the project, and I was happy to oblige.

Gilgamesh vs. the Rock Man!

A dastardly scorpion woman!

Mighty Gilgamesh, king of Ururk!

GILGAMESH! should be available for purchase by the end of the month. GILGAMESH!

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I want my son to learn by playing D&D

I recently started playing BECMI Dungeons & Dragons with my 11-year-old son. I'm trying to give him the whole “Redbox” experience—searching room after room by torch-light, mapping as you go, listening for skeletons and goblins. I want Bargle to piss him off as much as he did me.

Perhaps more importantly, there are several life lessons I want the boy to learn through D&D.

This is the obvious one, but it's still true. I'm no calculus whiz, but nothing taught me to add and subtract columns of number quickly and accurately like shopping for equipment for my D&D characters. That's not even touching on the math and geometry required for combat and miniatures movement.

Be a Gracious Winner and a Good Loser
Sportsmanship is a difficult lesson to learn these days. We live in a poor section of town, so there's not much in the way of organized sports, nor does his school offer much. And let's face it, I'm a D&D nerd, I'm not big on sports anyway. But even when I was a kid, I had Sports Billy, Fat Albert, and other shows to teach me about good sportsmanship.

No so much any more. I've heard the banter on Xbox live. I've been on Ventrillo on failed raids in WoW. Sportsmanship, grace, and humility are rare traits.

So, I'm hoping to teach the boy those qualities through D&D. When you succeed, good job! You should be proud, but don't brag (unless, you know, you're roleplaying a braggart, but one thing at a time, okay?). Pride leads to hubris, which leads to failure. And when you DO fail, you get up and try again. Don't brood, don't sulk, don't get angry. It's a game. Your elf was eaten by an ochre jelly? Roll up a dwarf and try again. The fun in in the playing.

Fun is independent of Success or Failure
This goes along with the above lesson. It doesn't matter if you saved the princess and slew the minotaur, or if your party got wiped out by the first batch of kobolds. What matters is that you had fun. More often than not, massive failures make for better stories than victories. This is the “Call of Cthulhu Corollary.”

The Impermanence of Things
This is the “Rust Monster Rule.” Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes you're going to loose things you love. You have to learn to let go of material things. Sure that +5 Vorpal Sword is nice, but one magical armadillo can destroy it forever in six rounds. You gotta just let it go.

Experience is The Most Important Thing
Sure, gold is nice, but when it comes right down to it, it's the experience and the things you learn that let you grow as a person.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Rumor Mill -- Using rumors to develop new PCs.

I've recently started playing a retro-clone game called “Adventurer Conqueror King” from Autarch. It's a great new take on old-style D&D, and I'll review it more in-depth later. Right now I want to share something I did in our first session as an example of what you can do to quickly build depth into new characters, only five-minutes into the game.

So we've got a shiny new group of adventurers. They area all currently live and work in the same geographic location (in this instance, a small town) and, if not friends, they have at least heard of each other. I take all the PC names and write them on slips of paper. I shuffle the names up and pass them pack to the players. I have the players look at the names but don't show anyone else. Any player who get's the name of his own PC should swap with the player next to him until everyone has the name of a PC that isn't theirs.

Now we go around the table. I look to Destiny's player.
GM: “Whose name do you have Destiny?”
Destiny's player: “Valmar's”
Valmar is a Neutral Human Mage.
GM: “Tell me a rumor that everyone has heard about Valmar.”
Destiny smiles; Valmar looks nervous.
Destiny: “Back when he was a teenager, Valmar killed his uncle with black magic.”

Now this rumor is established! People have heard this rumor, it exists, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. But, we turn to Valmar's player.

GM: “Valmar, is this rumor true? And if not, what's the true story?”
Valmar (lighting up): “I DID kill my uncle with magic, but what nobody knows is that he was killed then resurrected by an evil necromancer. He was a zombie when I blasted him!”

Excellent! Now, not only do we know a bit more about Valmar's past, we have an idea about what the community thinks about him, plus we have the seeds for a new NPC, an evil Necromancer with ties to Valmar's family.

I reward both players. Destiny gets 250xp for creating the rumor. Valmar gets 250 for accepting and/or clarifying the rumor. If they were higher level, I'd give them more XP. If we were playing QAGS, I'd give them Yum Yums. If FATE, Fate Chips. Reward your players in whatever currency works best for your game.

We continue around the table this way. Eventually every player should be rewarded twice. Once for creating a rumor, and once again for clarifying a rumor about their own character.

This worked great for my group, and within 5 minutes, before the game had even started, we had personality quirks and vague background stories already established for a fresh batch of PCs.

Give this technique a try with your own groups and let me know how it works!