GenCon: The Big, The Free, and The Teardown

Saturday was packed for me. I was busy from 9am until 10:30pm with good important stuff. Sunday, the last day of the con, was basically open for me – a free day – until the show closed, at which point I was to help tear down the booth.

The Big Day

Well, I awoke realizing that I’d left my battle-mat in the booth. No big, assuming it was there. I beat feet over before, it turned out, that the convention hall opened, which was 9am. So I went over to my gaming room, set up early, then chatted with some of the IGDN members there. I described my grappling system to Sarah at the booth, and another member sat down, and “oohed” and “aahhed” over my book, which was on the table. She opened it up and started avidly reading. I just grabbed a pen, signed it, and made a gift of it to her. If she’s that enthusiastic, she can have one!

Then the game, and they told me that I could expect extra players, because folks had been asking if the session was full (it was) or if I could take more. I said “sure.” So I wound up with a very full table, including D. R. Lunceford – the gentleman who redesigned my blog look.

The game started well, and the players chose a fighter, a paladin, a cleric, a ranger, a rogue, a sorcerer, I think, and a monk. Seven or eight players; I might have forgotten one.

They twigged to the trees and their meaning right away, and so followed the “secret” pathway to the Sacrifice gate. I think I need to rearrange it. The waybridge first, to get them deep into the mountains, and then the rickety bridge. If they fall or purposefully descend to the lower path, they can dare the sacrifice gate. If they make it across they can take the front door.

In any case, I decided that instead of hobgoblins, I’d have them attacked by four awakened trees. With four trees and seven or eight PCs I expected the encounter to be fairly stright-up.

It wasn’t. They biffed their perception rolls and the trees got the jump on them, making effective grappling attacks at Range 10′ on four of the characters. The trees are Huge – they grapple for 2d8+4 or so, so they’re liable to seriously inconvenience even a regular Joe (Control Max 14), and the typical Control Max 20 PC isn’t THAT much better off. An average roll is 13 CP; that’s enough to restrain, in one turn, a heroic PC.

One of the players – the paladin or cleric, I think – asked if they could hack at the limbs of the grappling trees, to remove both CP and HP. Considering that my grappling demon does exactly that – control and bludgeoning damage both with one damage roll – I thought that was legit.

That set off some back and forth. The trees would grapple. Targets were inconvenienced. The players would hack off limbs, often freeing themselves and doing good damage to the trees. The trees would never start the turn with enough control do do any real injury, so they would grapple again. The players would hack, etc. Eventually, they killed ’em all, suffering only a few HP in the process.

That did take up the entire session, though. I apologized for that; they all told me that the point of the scenario was to experience the mechanic, so mission accomplished and good game. And the young man who played the fighter, who was pretty dour and terse the entire game, and whom I expected to say ‘this sucked, you sucked, and your game sucked’ because he sorta had that kind of air about him, was quite pleased, it seemed, with how it all went. So no unsatisified customers, and I got 15 folks excited about grappling.

The Panel: How to get into the games industry

The session ended early, with someone having to go anyway, so I had plenty of time to get to my first panel discussion with me on the panel. It was on how to get into the industry, and it was me, Andreas Walters (Baby Bestiary), a graphic design guy whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, and a real heavy hitter who was a big-dog project manager with a huge resume. I joked that I should just go sit in the audience.

In truth, though, he was talking mostly about how to manage a staff. Multiple writers, artists, a full time editing or layout staff (or at least many of them on contract), and running a big project by the scrum method.

For most of the folks there, I was a better model. I am currently doing what they want to do. So I added value.

Some things covered?

  • Yes, you need a professional editor. Yes, you. Always.
  • If you are looking to work with a game company, the first thing they will do is check you out on social media and see if you’re an ass-hat who picks fights. Several names were mentioned as folks not to emulate, including some fairly well-known names. But if you’re online picking fights, trolling, and generally being disagreeable, it is (in my mind correctly) assumed you will be a prima dona who is more trouble than they are worth, and your proposal and idea will be rejected. If you want to be a game industry professional, the key words there are professional first, industry second, and game third.
  • Don’t pitch your new cool game to established companies. They don’t want it. WotC or Paizo or SJG have their own in-house things to do. This is probably true of most established companies. Want your game done your way? You’re going to need to do it yourself or find a company like Andreas’ or mine who is actually trying to build a portfolio of games and act as a rent-a-skill house for project management, art direction, etc.
  • When talking to a company about terms, rights, IP, etc., don’t expect there to be a One True Way of contracting and rights and IP assignment. Most of these contracts are ad hoc at the smaller guys, and negotiable at most of them. The folks that do have a One True Way probably don’t want your idea anyway.
  • No one is going to steal your Cool Game Idea. No one. Of the four folks on the panel, we probably had 20 or more ideas in the hopper. There are more ideas than time to work them. So we don’t much care about yours enough to steal it.
  • Much like in a roleplaying game, the key to happiness is to set expectations and meet them. Are you thinking you might be late? Say so early. Most companies can react to a well-timed and early note that things aren’t going well, that your computer or dog died, your wife left you, and your pickup truck broke down. They can’t react to “we needed this to be ready for GenCon, and your last minute note of panic means it won’t be.” You will simply never be employed by that company again.

Those were some remembered highlights from the panel. There was a lot covered, and it was a good time. I left my battle-mat in the meeting room, though. Alas, it was a casualty: missing, presumed lost.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG

I rather literally jogged over to the Munchkin Tavern for my Kickstarter session with Sean, Christopher, Gui, and Joseph.

There we were surprised with our physical boxed sets. And printed extras, and signed copy of GURPS Zombies. Holy crap, there was a lot of stuff.

We had all played before, so we just got right to it, mostly. I had thought to transcribe it real-time as I frequently do, but decided that since this was a kickstarter reward, I was just going to freakin’ play.

We had a great time. I was a holy warrior (I love playing paladins), Christopher played Maio-Maio, a felinoid swashbuckler. He method-acted the part, assuming with great fidelity the role of his cat Nimbus. Very. Great. Fidelity.

Gui was a halfling thief; Joseph was a Knight of the realm. We also chose two more characters at Sean’s suggestion: a cleric as heal-bot and an offensively-minded wizard with a penchant for fire.

We roleplayed a bit of drinking and banter, and then in a tavern with no rooms, the cleric and paladin went off to the local temple to see about any spare lodging; the rest went off to the only actual Inn in Town with rooms available.

The thief sneaked, the knight didn’t, and we gathered information that inevitably led us into the basement of said inn. There, we discovered not the promised rats, but instead a gigantic nest of spiders. Big spiders. Aragog size, perhaps – the size of an adult human.

The halfling was super-sneaky, but got caught in the web way the hell off from the party, which triggered about six of them to come after us.


The rules were streamlined somewhat. But if you’ve played GURPS, you can play the DFRPG.

The production values of the books and maps are very, very good. The new heavy cardstock cardboard heroes are amazing, and I want more of them. The based have an arrow for direction.

The fight with the spiders was hysterical. Our halfling crit-failed with a natural 18 twice, at just the wrong moment. The fighter and the paladin had to jump down from a staircase to enter the fray, and took minor damage to limbs in the process. Miao-Miao launched a springing attack, and the monster made a critical success on its defense roll, which forced our poor kitty to roll on the critical miss chart – and did 17 points of damage to her own leg. Severing it.

We finished off the spiders, eventually, and scraped up the time and 50 fatigue and hit points through a crit success on prayers by both the paladin and cleric to regrow his leg. We went in for round two, and figured that there was a creature in a tunnel from the sewer to the main room. We filled it with magicl smoke, and a humongous, Shelob-sized spider came out for us – but we were waiting for it. As it came out, we hit it hard, and used shape stone to seal the tunnel behind it, so it couldn’t retreat. We basically beat the hell out of it, quickly.

Next challenge was a set of magical runes, Evil Runes. We came up with several potential solutions, but in the end decided to take the long way, and settled in for a three-hour exorcism to destroy the runes forever. No wandering monsters happened by (this was a real possibility), but in the end we were successful. Those runes were permanently removed.

We then entered another room and fought and killed a six-armed snake demon. I won’t say it was a marilith demon . . . but it was a marilith demon.

That took us well past the allotted time, having gamed from 1-6:30pm. It was a great time, though it was occasionally difficult to concentrate when Gui’s ridiculously lovely wife dropped by periodically. He is a fortunate man – her smile was more effective than a continual light spell.

100 Minutes with Ken Hite

I then skipped the IGDN dinner to take advantage of a hole in Ken’s schedule. We chatted about a great many things (say that like Palpatine if you really mean it), and had an entirely professional conversation about the Dragon Heresy project schedule.

Given the overall project scope (which is, as discussed on this blog before, very ambitious), I don’t want to go from a $5,000 ask to up to a $125,000 ask in one step. So we agreed he’d continue editing at whatever pace his work on Delta Green, Vampire 5e, and Pelgrane commits allow.

He also gave me writing advice, which I will heed. He noted that my writing style is exactly what one would expect from a guy used to business communications and the sort of harmless, indirect style used in office communications, technical writing, and business briefs.

That is not flattering. It is also almost certainly true.

He gave me three pieces of advice that Susan Pinsonneault, his first editor in gaming, gave him.

  1. Never use conditionals. Not “might be X,” or “It is said that Y.” Just make it either X or Y and let the dice fall where they might.
  2. Never use passive voice. Just don’t.
  3. Eliminate “to be” as a verb structure when you can; rewrite it if you have to.

We chatted amiably for a while, and then parted ways. But 100 minutes with Ken is never a waste of time.

I decompressed a bit, then went to sleep.

Walking Around Shopping for Artists

Sunday was basically a free day. I got to the con before it opened, being constitutionally unable to sleep past 8am anymore in a hotel bed.

I picked up a bit of swag from various places for my wife and daughters; that was spread throughout the day.

I nabbed a copy of Shadows of Esteren, to go along with my new copy of Symbaroum. Both of them I picked up as examples of what I thought of as RPGs as art. Specifically graphic design, interior art, layout, and just being f**king beautiful books, to feel, to read, and to look at.

I will read and review them both in aesthetics and design, as time allows. But wow – they’re pretty.

I happened to have lunch with a publishing professional. He told me my pricing rule of thumb that I had come up with for the retail price of my books was, in fact, an industry standard practice, so congrats on figuring it out on my own. And you shall know them by their crafts, and they will speak truths, and invoke regressions. Thou shalt not suffer a mathematician to live! More amusingly, a third member of the table just goggled at it. How could you possibly know something like that? Square root of what? Well, I took every RPG book that I could put my hands on, had variables for color/not color, and hardback/softback, and built a model. That’s what geeks do, and it works. Most of the time.

Otherwise, I went around pitching Dragon Heresy to every artist who would listen to me. I think I made a favorable impression – there were at least a few who said flat out “I would love to work on a project like that.”

Temporarily pulling back the curtain. My goodness I hope this project can raise the funds to make it as cool as I want it to be. I could have simply written a check for Dungeon Grappling, no need for Kickstarter. I could almost do it for Venture Beyond, though it would be a reach – VB is like buying a new car, and that’s something I could float, get a loan for, and not worry. Dragon Heresy, though. That’s much bigger money to do it like I want to. But it’s a classic “Fantasy Heartbreaker. Literally DnD but with X different, and that’s the definition of such a project. But these are good modifiers. The mechanics are still simple, still fast, and make it more lethal, with more tactical options, and in many ways an OSR aesthetic with a 5e pace. This is a good world to play in, backed by a very workable, playtested ruleset. We shall see – but I hope the readers of the blog will help me extend my reach when the time comes.

I was told of a rule of thumb today that if you want a kickstarter of that magnitude to succeed, your reach – specifically your mailing list – should be on the order of about 7,500 folks. Well, I’m a lot closer to that than I was when I funded Dungeon Grappling, but not nearly close enough. I have a few idea of how to increase it in the moment . . . but doing it ahead of time would be rather better.

Thus: Venture Beyond first. And getting Dungeon Grappling into retail distribution via IPR (Indie Press Revolution), and maybe look around for others (I chatted with Studio 2 today also).

Breakdown, Shakedown, I’m Tired

Then it was time to break down the IGDN booth. I got called names.

The Hulk: when it was time to lift full boxes of books. I’m 5’8″ in sneakers, 15 lbs overweight, and I’m the hulk?

MacGuyver: We had but one screwdriver, a phillips-head that had stripped the core of one of the screws. But it was one of those slot-phillips models. I borrowed a dime from one of the other members, and got it sorted, because a dime fits into the slot.

Nerd: It takes some degree of cheek for this crowd to call anyone nerd, but I qualify. We wanted to make as few trips as possible. We loaded up the dolly with hundreds of pounds of books, and put the display grating on top; folks were worried about it falling off. I suggested we stick the T-shaped feet through the holes in the grating, like swords through the box with the lady in it, to pin the fencing in place. Worked.

I can deal with being a Hulkish-MacGuyver-Nerd, I suppose. Doug Smash!

So that was my GenCon. Tomorrow, I try and fit everything into my carry-on luggage, and I’m homeward bound.

7 thoughts on “GenCon: The Big, The Free, and The Teardown

  1. It sounds like you had a very fun, very productive GenCon. I’m sorry I missed all of the fun, but I did go on my on trip so it couldn’t be helped.

    Playing with Sean is a lot of fun, isn’t it?

    1. It was a very good trip, for a lot of reasons. Playing with Sean is a lot of fun, and it is actually worth expanding on in a larger post. Not just to blow Sunshine up the line editors ass, but to describe a situation where someone has total rules Mastery, but still maintains a relaxed environment where the most important thing is that awesome things can occur.

  2. Advice courtesy of Susan Pinsonneault, my first editor in gaming. As a sub-head of 1. — go “good will hunting” and remove every instance of “will” you can. “If the players arouse him, the dragon will attack” becomes “If the players arouse him, the dragon attacks.”

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