Friday, August 25, 2017

Savage Satisfaction in Indianapolis

I had made it clear long ago when Colorado made the heavy civil rights move it did in '14 I was not inclined to traverse state lines much anymore. I could see the eminent reason for sober, rational people to want to avoid the straight up scene GenCon50 actually is, or would become and counted myself as one who would not attend.

I had written it off as far as my attendance was concerned months ago. Not that I didn't want to attend a game conference and there was a lot to like about this one. Attendance records broken, more gaming available than ever before, an awful sprawling real dungeon crawl on a timer. It would clearly be an endurance test of monumental undertakings if I was to squeeze all I could out of the affair.

But there just wasn't enough going on weird. The idea of going to GenCon50 hadn't really gotten heavy traction in my head. Not enough to trigger action anyways. I've had my share of bloodless affairs, no matter how hyped thank you. An over-niter to Willow Lake is the better, saner choice. And it wasn't that there wasn't anything I didn't want to see or game at the convention center. I had a stack of LotFP books on my desk hungry for signing and as the roster of writers and artists who were making the journey mounted…. But still, could I take seeing the greasy wheels of commerce and the commodification of everyone's fun right in front of me? Could I leave my mountain fastness for sweaty transit and food deserts? I could shudder.

So this particular trip began mere weeks ago in my parents place back east. A good friend came over and he had gotten his game published. I play tested it like five years ago. In the loving, caring way only people with history have I told him “It's not fun, it sucks.” He thought I was wrong and he had a great game. Lo and behold he was right. He did have a great game in there and through continuous play test and design it was uncovered.

While watching the nerdfamous documentary “The Next Great American Game”; the story of my friends journey to gaming conventions on his quest to get published, we unpacked the Ultra-Pro produced product. “How'd you handle handing over your game to suits,” I inquired. Knowing Randall giving up creative control on his own art would be resisted. I mean he battles over fonts like they are living beings. “I was done, I wanted to see it published.” he said. “I've been working on this thing for ten years and someone bought it. If they want to call it Road Hog they can call it Road HogI'm going to run demos and sell it out of the Ultr-Pro booth at Gen Con. You should come.”

My friend is a clever bastard and the fascinating movie production was a nice touch. I was being expertly sold. I had just been trained as a booth monkey before I knew it. Over my mom's homemade Moroccan stew and fresh decaf he had me watch the game's story. There was one last hurtle though; how does it play? I'm not going to sell my ass on the convention floor for just any piece of Ameritrash. It better work. After a two player session and five player play with family it was obvious this wasn't the same game I demoed years ago. This was a real, complete game people could play and have fun with. I booked my ticket that night, the idea of GenCon50 just found traction.

Wednesday morning started out bright and crisp at eight with hot coffee and planned hike up Twin Sisters in RMNP. My flight didn't leave till just after midnight so ample time for another scramble up the high rockies and a bit of solitude. Collect my thoughts before the steep plunge. I had managed to purchase an event badge as well as schedule a game of Champions and Cyberpunk2020 and my ENnie tickets. The rest of the time was to push Road Hog, get my LotFP swag signed and otherwise let the con wash over me and see what it had to offer. I also needed to plan how I could introduce Randall Hoyt, my game designing friend, to James Edward Raggi IV, King of the North. See a month or two ago James posted interest in looking at graphic design/layout talent. Solid talent. The kind that could hit deadlines. No matter how my long association with Randall has colored my thinking he artistically is f#$ing amazing, a polished graphic design professional, into games, and has the only board game documentary I know of featuring actual description of body horror. When I first saw Raggi's post I knew I had his man. But would Randall be interested? Had his board game journey left irreparable scars; the cold corporate shoulders and the eventual shallow money trench of 6% royalties hardened his heart that there was nothing redeeming in this industry? That there was no art to be found in this joyous activity? Ahh fuss and bother. No use worrying about what is beyond one's control. Once he affirmed his interest in new, private design work I had informed consent all around. Just make the introduction, give the reason why I think it is a strong move for both of them and wash my hands of it. Its a part I can play in the revolution and now my adventure is more than hack 'n slash. Now it has intrigue! I did follow some modicum of standard business practice. No use pitching when no one is buying. I fired G+ missive to James if talent was still being looked at. When pursuing mad dreams I thought it best to tamp down the fact I'm fan-boy unhinged as long as possible.

Midnight came and nothing was left but to find platform 9-3/4. By five am I expected to be at Randall's hotel with mere minutes to shower. The enormity of my task, endurance-wise was now starting to fall in place. First off I made a real bad calculation on time. Indianapolis is East Coast time, not Central. Ultra-Pro in their ultimate wisdom had bivouacked their new hot game designer in the Red Roof Inn South forty minutes by the #14 bus from the convention center. My back of the envelope Jack Kerouac calculations had me on eight hours total sleep over a period of four days! Good thing I brought Purel. When the coffee starts to become ineffective the harsh sanitizing gel on open wounds can shock one alert. 

My Champions game was first up at 8am on the second floor of the JW. I arrived in Indy a sleep-deprived panicked man babbling incoherently about the “operation”. It had clearly risen to operational status as there were significant separate objectives to the campaign which all needed achieving if the adventure was to be counted a success. I was given a hand packed lunch as my good friend ushered my shattered soul on the morning bus. I had enough wits about me to include my LotFP books for signing and I raised logistical questions as they came to me. Randall confidently brushed them aside. “What we need to do is go straight to the JW and get you to your game. When you're done come find me at the Ultra-Pro booth.”

The packed lunch got me through the 28 hour mark and the Champions session folded up with the GM offering his own licensed Hero adventure supplements to us. It confirmed that, though I have a huge soft spot for the game, I would not use it to run supers games now. Combat takes too much time to complete RAW and there is sooo much more to role play in a supers campaign than boss fights. Champions crowds some of these opportunities out with the time needed for combat in real time. By now it was clear I couldn't do my 8pm game of Cyberpunk. I was running on fumes. I needed food and sleep before then. I was even concerned for my utility in the Ultra-Pro booth in the afternoon stretch. Tick tock, tick tock.

I took a seat at booth 709 right when another game of Road Hog was getting started. The enthusiasm of the players buoyed my spirits and I happily gamed several hours away while people snatched up copies at a regular pace. Zak S. listed brownie points convention goers could earn for super cool prizes so I started working on what I could while I played. I wore my LotFP tee over my Zak S. Red King/Flesh Golem tee so I could snap some photos. Randall's documentary “The Next Great American Game” from Grandfather Films established his nerdfamous creds so I felt my brownie point tally was off to a hot start. Earlier I had zeroed in the closest convenience store for the Cherry Dr. Pepper and sugar/caffeinated beverages so I had those points literally in the bag.

I wasn't going to get any fresher so it was time to get my favorite LotFP goods signed by the creators. It was time to see these wonderful creatives which gave me back role playing. Booth 2904 was a blaze of activity. People were listening and buying. Zak S. led the charge and easily swept up curious RPG'ers into looking at LotFP's books. Once looking, once holding these indie gems clever, sophisticated, fun loving gamers grasped Raggi's weird horror aesthetic with clarity and cash. It was truly moving.

I swept the booth crew of creators for my treasured celebrity signatures. Raggi, Zak, Patrick Stuart. I got to meet Jacob Hurst and listen to his wonderful pitch on his books. My budget was consciously constrained so Qelong was my “this is such a deal” buy and I had to make a decision between the badass LotFP tee or the Rules & Magic book. I went with the book. The only person I didn't see at the booth was Jez Gordon. But this was okay because I still hadn't purchased a silver sharpie. LotFP goods have many pages in black.

Closing up the Ultra-Pro booth just before 6 I couldn't believe I had made it so far. I was at the 36 hour mark and feeling every inch of it. Randall was assuring me I didn't fumble the last demo. He had stepped out for a smoke break just as two buddies from Iowa approached the table. They wanted to get one more game in before the Exhibitor's Hall shut down for the night. Words, I don't have my words! I thought to myself. Human speech at this point was a struggle. Whether Randall's sentiments were true or not I took satisfaction each one of the Iowans walked off with a purchased and signed copy of Road Hog first edition. I ascented to all my friend's suggestions on what we were now going to do. Somewhere I knew food and bed was at the end of the schedule so I was all on board. We shot b reel and monologue for promotional video as we meandered the vast convention hall. “I would have never found my game this morning, never made the bus if it wasn't for you.” I acknowledged. Randall nodded and said it was all because he had been here before. I was benefiting from his earlier explorations and he knew right where to go. We wrapped up shooting which all would eventually be posted on Grandfather Film's site touting the success of Road Hog and caught the 14 back out of town. Tick tock, tick tock.

Andy Ashcraft is a game designer from Los Angeles. He has a passion for supers role playing and has a pivotal role in the current success of Road Hog. While his work on Road Hog is well documented in the film what may not be apparent is how awesome and genuine of a person he is. I got to experience this first hand when he swung around to the Ultra-Pro booth to congratulate Randall on the success of Road Hog. He also has an opening in his Friday morning game “The Hero Instant”, his homebrew supers role playing game so I now have a four hour session first thing. Coffee and commute again to the convention hall. Splitting duties between face to face gaming and Road Hog demos, I'm excited.

But today is going to be tougher than yesterday. There is no way I can return to the hotel before the Ennie awards ceremony tonight. I'm committed to being a witness to gaming history unfolding over the next twelve hours at GenCon50. It is one of the important missions being pursued on this fast moving, messy operation. I would not see 146 Red Roof Inn South till Saturday. Stick deodorant will be the staff I lean on today. And water, lots of water. And gum. I have another packed lunch and I know where the cracks, the tension is going to come from between Randall and myself. I go a mile a minute with Randall, always have, and I never appreciate how he takes care of many details which need caring for. He always, and rightly so, takes it as selfish indifference on my part. Not that I don't thank him regularly for hosting me and hooking me up. Somehow it never is enough. Our personal, cultivated dysfunction will manifest I'm sure along these lines. Thankfully I have the mission. I can harden my heart to the work which needs to be done today and possibly avoid a messy emotional scene between us.

Charlotte Stokely surely bought me time before the brief restorative powers of sleep I captured leaked out of me and help me calm down before the Ennie award ceremony started. Patrick Stuart mentioned here Ms. Stokely has a Charisma 18. While indisputably correct, let me add my experience. Charlotte is disarming. I was pretty sure she was one of the D&D players as seen on “I Hit it with My Axe”. I managed to say as much. “Stokely,” she answered affirming she was indeed a regular player. “So what's your story?” she asked. Mercifully what follows is not caught on the Ennies 2017 live stream. I had managed to sit myself down next to Chris H. in the front row of the ceremony hall. He was the only person, outside of Zak, who I had gamed with on G+ who I met at the con. Any semblance of reigning in my raving fanboy enthusiasm is clearly dispelled by the video. There were sooo many accomplished artists who accepted my wide eyed adulation over the last 48 hours graciously. It got so bad I began hoarding napkins in my pockets so I could wipe off any spray I inadvertently let off.

But Stokely, yeah she had taken a seat in the front row. Zak had come past and just declared LotFP deserves a table up front with Chaosium and whoever else was up there. Fair point I thought. Don't sleep on the revolution, don't sleep on these girls and guys who make up the DIY OSR. They don't miss an opportunity to argue the merits of their work. “What's the difference in sales between a gold and silver ennie?” I asked Chris H. “Ask Raggi, he'd know.” and he was right. James would know. But I sure wasn't going to ask him. I had cashed my face to face time with the King of the North twenty minutes ago. Randall agreed to come over to Union Station Hall and meet James. His time was limited tonight and he wanted to catch the 14 before local transit closed for the night. “I'll take an Uber.” I assured him. It was a lie. I had arrived on the field of battle and I was not going to relinquish it until victory or death was achieved! The JW third floor lobby was what I had targeted for bed already. I'd hear about the hours I'd keep later. “Make sure you're quiet when you come in. You can be a talker.” Tick tock, tick tock.

James Edward Raggi IV was as affable as when I first met him at his LotFP booth, booth 2904, on Thursday. He appeared comfortable and confident in the well earned support of the talented writers, artists and production folk who surrounded him this weekend. LotFP was up for multiple awards again and the stakes couldn't have been higher. Veins of the Earth was a big project for LotFP and one they had to do. Patrick Stuart and Zak S. had shown they were not slowing down with high level game art so everyone, including the publishing house, needed to be prepared. Not that they alone were going to bury editors and publishers with appetite satiating adventure content gamers were ready to throw money at. No, they only represented the vanguard of many more behind them and the industry better suit up to meet the demand going both ways. Of stampeding fans for more and more creative content on one side and more and more artists offering up high level content which needs to be released. “This is the guy I was talking about...” I introduced Randall and James and I made my pitch there on the Ennie floor. “He sounds expensive.” grins James. “You do it for the love.” Randall rejoins. Corny as the line is Randall has his Ultra-Pro royalties contract to inform him of the nature of standard industry rates. Short and sweet. The light banter continued after the pitch as I hoped, nothing left but the follow up, the obligatory review of work, some contact information. “And you'll have to talk to Zak and Patrick. They are the ones most interested in graphic design and information technology” James says. Bampf, sales jujitsu. Just when I thought I had another mission wrapped up, done reasonably well without too much embarrassment to myself or others and I'm back at square one. I don't have time to set up another meet and greet. I can't scramble and put something together last minute without being a pushy bad bore. Not anything with any memorable or useful impact. If I had even achieved that up to this point! Rookie mistake threatened to unwind the operation in the end game. Tick tock, tick tock.

I was tearing my face a little. Randall bounced to his friends and corporate backers. He had no reason to think anything amiss. He networks and solicits work with the best of them in his field. There is so much networking going on during GenCon this was just one of many connections he would run through this week. I would get one chance, maybe, at the D&Dw/PornStars after party to close the loop opened up by Raggi which I now wanted to close. This would look all ham handed (cause it was) and no bets I could stay on my feet another 3 hours. Pitching on the floor was done. It was time now for the celebrants and LotFP's dogfight attack on top prizes. So I started tallying my brownie points. You can see when Zak comes in and generates the whole “Sean  Patrick Fallon” airport meltdown's genesis on the live feed.

As a Dungeon Master and role player there is one question I always have an answer for, trained to have an answer for and it is simply “What's your story?” Which one? I have so many! I think when Ms. Stokely asked me my favorite question I made some kind of gasping, wheezing noise. I was down to my last gulps of water in my bottle. But somehow I found my breath and plunged into a story. It was the only story I wanted to tell anyways and it was why I was sitting here in the front row at the Ennies. I must have done well because when my story touched on USR Sword & Sorcery and my own game design she asked if she could see it. Gasping and wheezing noises again. When the color returned to my eyes and I could verify the walls of Hogwarts still stood I pulled my copies of USR Sword & Sorcery and Horrors Material & Magic Malignant out from my pack. And I started to explain it and why I made it and how awesome the G+ community was in helping me get it done. “Are you going to let me touch it?” Next to any entry of zombie in any rpg monster guide you could place the look on my face just then. Pale, no colourless. I was discussing my game with one of my gaming culture's long time heroes and this queen of cool had given me three outs to save myself from the total nerf-fan-paralysis I was succumbing to and I was frozen up like a dead thing. I unclutched my books as she gently removed them from my hands and skimmed the rules. Oh I wasn't done embarrassing myself yet. I start something I finish it. Charlotte commented on the character sheet in the back. She approved of making a good sized section for adventure notes. “No its a character sheet.” I blurted out. I took her meaning different. I couldn't hear. I made another quick assumption on what someone was saying and I was wrong. Of course Ms. Stokely knows it is a character sheet, she's Ms. f$^ng Stokely! So her and the delightful Ella Darling signed USR Sword & Sorcery making my personal copy of the game the most heavy metal sword and sorcery game in existence!

I managed to chill out and start counting brownie points, soak in the moment. Up to this point I had run/played numerous games of Road Hog and and helped sell out the convention stock by the bell on Friday (They underestimated my game, Randall said to me.) with the crowds appetite far from satiated. I had gamed seven hours of supers as a player for the first time ever. All my books got signed, Jez Gordon and Ken Hite finished me off at the ennies. I wouldn't believe I relaxed through all that if I hadn't sat right in front of one of the ennies live stream cameras and can watch it anytime I want. Tick tock, tick tock.

The ennies after party for those on the right side of history was on the seventeenth floor of the Midtown Marriot. It was packed with wall to wall fans, industry heavy weights, jovial foreigners and one of the cleanest party vibes I had felt in a while. +Satine Phoenix was amazing and took my congratulations on her gaming projects as graceful as you would expect. All was well in the land of Oz and the munchkins dance on the corpse of the conquered! There was no chance a flame this hot would burn long so I turned from the crowd of party goers to buttonhole Zak. I asked for thirty seconds of Zak's time instead of 2 minutes before and this change of tactic worked. This was it. This was worse than the tongue paralyzed game demo yesterday. I was at the end of my rope and at the end of my mad adventure quest. His right hand started counting off one two three four five one two three four five. I'm seriously getting thirty seconds! I blather through, the pitch delivered. I may have gone past thirty. Zak cut me off around the right time saying “Sold, you sold it!” It was over. The kid in the Captain America shirt telling the room to rock on was worth all the money spent to get here itself. The raging after after party in the Marriot lobby was almost anticlimactic if it wasn't for its brute force awesomeness. +Ken Baumann polymorphed in front of me out of a fourteen year old boy. As genuine, smart and as inciteful a person as you would want to meet. +Mike Evans was justly thumping his chest for his ENie victory. My attempts at photographing the happenings experienced strange anomalies so I later tossed the shots as unusable, as somehow wrong. The geometry was never quite right.  Only a selfie with Jez Gordon survived the arcane energy which wrapped us all. Tick tock, tick tock.

I woke up on a couch in the JW around 8:30 Saturday morning to the bustle of hotel staff and early morning gamers. One was sitting on the end of the couch I crashed on. +Dennis Sutherland was going to play his first ever face to face game of D&D with a real live DM and other players and everything and he couldn't wait. “What edition you going to play?” I asked. “Fifth Edition.” He fired back beaming. “Good version of the game. I've looked at it. Really slick. You're going to have a great time.” “Yeah I can't wait.” He said for the third time.
You don't have a home game?”
No, no one in my town games. I tried but they would rather play video games.”
Have you tried online? Getting into a game online?”
No, no I haven't.”
Can you play Sunday mornings twice a week?”
Well yeah, sure.” With Dennis' eager interest I had him lined out on G+ and part of my community for my regular game. I gave him the link to the free PDF rules and we parted with the assurance he had a seat at my virtual table anytime. All the while I unpacked what my phone had to tell me of last night. It was still early for my second round of “The Hero Instant”, but I still shouldn't have been feeling as crushed as I did. It was because I crossed another mission off my list for Operation GenCon50. It didn't take long when I was packing for the trip to land on what game I was going to bring to GenCon. If given a chance to run a game at the convention it was going to be my game; USR Sword & Sorcery. Fortuitous choice as not only is my rule book now blessed by actual Valkyries it was the only thing I could possibly run at 2 am when I came across three teenagers still up and goofing. They had cards and game boards strewn on the table and furniture. “You guys want to game? Conan flavored rules lite rpg?” I don't know how I sold it, but cocktail napkins in hand I had a mutilated sailor, merchant who had angered a king and a city guard plumbing the depths of the intro adventure included with the game while the night turned to day. They were just at the point when the plucky adventures, blades wet with cultist gore, debated stealing some valuables and fleeing or delving deeper when the wisest of the group cried “Its five in the morning we're going to bed.” Tick tock, tick tock.

Andy's second session of “The Hero Instant” went off without a hitch and I gutted through a three hour game with two other fine role players. Amber was fascinating. She had something. She said what it was in a rapid fire breathless voice. She had Andy explain the nuts and bolts of her pregenerated character by the numbers. Once she grasped all the numbers she was able to breath life into Animus, the ice shifting animal spirit and her strange way of relating melted away. Bill was a software developer I think and he could game the shit out of his pregen. I was lucky to get to use my same character again and we rocked it. Andy is a great Game Master and I thank my girlfriend's granola and Randall's fresh seedless grapes in my pack to give me the fuel to keep up with all the action. The Hero Instant had quick character generation and was able to pull all the super hero styled action I could want. Not running the game I wasn't sure how the initiative system was working, but I did like that the PC's do all the rolling. If attacking you rolled to hit. If you are being attacked you roll your defense to see if you are missed. Smart trick offloading all the rolling on the players. Another GenCon50 mission had now been achieved. Close friendships formed around a three hour game session played to the best of everyone's ability. 

I stumbled back to the Ultra-Pro booth trying to grasp it wasn't morning anymore. My flight didn't leave till 6 the next morning, but I still had to make it to the hotel and put myself together before then. Sleep, while desired would be hard to have. I knew I would be electrified by recent events and my mind would bubble and boil till I flat out shut down. 

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