Game the Game: Con Games

powermanThis year, I will be running my Secret Legal Crisis. It is a game with a somewhat ridiculous premise, Wonder Girl and Wonder Man, Power Man and Power Girl, and Carol Danvers and Billy Batson are all served to appear in court to resolve superheroic naming protocols. She-Hulk will be serving them their papers.

How much do I believe in this game?

Enough that i commissioned artwork for it, out of my own wallet.

I want it to be memorable.

And when the reveal comes, wow is it great for folks who love geeking out over comics and canon.

I have a list of Convention Games I have in various stages of development. Games that I want to run, and hope to.

  • A two-table, 16 player GI Joe game with 2 GMs, two teams of Joes, working on missions connected to each other, GMs would communicate during the scenarios.
  • A two-table Marvel+DC game, one table running Marvel, the other running DC… to begin. Secret Convergence Contest and Crisis of Champions.
  • A 13th Age game with the D&D cartoon characters as the PCs.
  • A Voltron-style game with the Wu-Tang Clan as a 1980s cartoon.
  • A dead rock-stars Scooby Doo style game, where they need to form a band, and solve a mystery, shenanigans ensue.
  • A 1980’s LXG.
  • A 1970s LXG.
  • Archie+Monsterhearts.
  • Monster High + Monsterhearts.
  • Splinter of the Mind’s Eye TV Show.

I like making my con games memorable. I think the first two will be a go, I just have to get my co-GM/ conspirator to the con.


Game the Game: The Con Game

Whether you will be running games, or playing games at a con, I think there are some things to look for in a convention game, assuming the game is designed for newcomers to the game and system.

  • Make the PCs competent.
  • Allow each PC to have a niche.
  • Design your game for the minimum and maximum number of players. I have some great ideas, sometimes they require X number of players to really be successful. I end up scrapping these ideas. I design games that can handle 2-X+1 number of players. I usually always welcome players to my table, even if it is “full” (assuming I have a character ready for them. I have run a superhero game with 14 players, a Monsterhearts game with 18 and about 10 spectators.
  • Design a scenario that allows the setting and system to chine, without having to rely too much on prior knowledge, or long moments of exposition.
  • Give the players a taste of the core mechanics of the game early on, so they get comfortable. In most games, this means starting out with a combat. Make this opening be consequence-free.
  • Help the players. Give them a hand with the game mechanics. they all want to kick-ass and take names. Assuming you designed characters that can do this, help them with gentle suggestions of what might be a cool thing to try.
  • Don’t kill anyone. It sucks to pay for or at least sign up for a game and be out before the game is over.
  • Manage time. This is an area I consider a strength. I keep my watch visible as a clock and work to always have the game end on time and in a satisfying fashion. You don’t need to rush things, know your system, and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t be offended if someone leaves. It sucks. Maybe the game wasn’t for them. maybe they are meeting someone. Maybe con-fatigue has set in. Thank them for coming, assure them it’s all good. Everyone at the table is there to have fun, including you. If it is not fun, it is best if we all move on. No hurt feelings.
  • Let players keep their character sheets. Not everyone wants to, but some people definitively do. If i have to hand my character sheet back, I feel ripped off.

GenCon, Baby, GenCon: Travel Tips

I am no foodie. I do not necessarily need to spend lots of money for fancy food.

However, as part of most trips I make, I try and find some noteworthy local fare to sample, as well as some regional foods I cannot get on a regular basis.

This year, on my GenCon sojourn, I will be checking out some new things, as well as revisiting some memorable delicacies from past trips.

I am not quite sure of my exact departure time, and because I cannot check into my Indy housing except for the hours of 9am-7pm, it is not realistic for me to make the trip in one day, so, although I am sure I could have made the trip in one day, I will be stopping in the middle. I found this gem:


Depending on my departure time, I might stop and try some of the original…

  • Buffalo Wings at the Anchor Bar

1200px-Pork_tenderloin_sandwich.JPGAfter that, it will be onto Indy.

  • Skyline chili. Yes!
  • Waffle House
  • Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles. Sweet potato waffles? Ummm… yes.
  • Haymakers drinks. Saw an ad on TV, and want to give them a taste.
  • Pork tenderloin sandwich (right). It’s an Indianapolis thing. I have tried them, my suitemate has not as far as I know.
  • St. Elmo steakhouse cocktail sauce. I am not sure I will stop into the restuarant, but I have heard enough about this to be intrigued.
  • Krispy Kreme. There is not one in the city proper AFAIK, but there is one en route.
  • Culver’s. I hear good things.

Lastly, the highlight of my trip was going to be a trip to a bakery to pick up a Hoosier Cream pie. Sadly, the establishment we visited closed in September of 2016. I will need to find a new place. Will it be good enough to bring a whole one home? I hope so.

  • Hoosier Cream Pie.

I never claimed to be highbrow.

If you are taking a trip to a new location, do some research and find out what is a regional specialty, find out what the locals eat. Try something new.



Game the Game: GenCon Wish Lists, and Heartbreakers

It is my hope again, in August, to journey to Indianapolis to participate in GenCon, both running games and playing games. The initial catalog of games has been posted, and as I always do, I comb through the offerings, not just for some of the more obvious, but i also tend to look for games that once made an attempt, games with settings and mechanics interesting enough that publishers believed in them, publishers got behind them, and publishers put their eggs in the dice basket of. I have written some games. I will be running some of them. Why? Because, I love them. I love the games I have created. I like to imagine that others feel the same, and I would like to play some of these games. Games I own, games that once had big dreams, games that I hope are still loved, somewhere.

I will not pretend to imagine that they are all hidden gems, incredible games worth rediscovering, but GenCon is large enough, and I have enough time, that I would like to sit down and play something different, I’d like to play a game run by someone who loves it, I want to feel their passion, I want to be exposed to new game mechanics and ideas.

I used to run a small gaming convention, and when people woudl ask “where is GAME X?” I would frequently respond with “if you want to see GAME X at a con, you should run it.”

I am running the games I love. But GenCon is it the major leagues, I want to put out a call for tables of:

  • Fireborn– the Highlanderesque game of past histories, PCs are dragons reborn through time, playing in different eras.
  • Underworld– GMSkarka’s game of subterranean magic and mystery.
  • In Nomine– not really as novel as the rest, but a game I still have some love for.
  • Aberrant– I missed out on the 2 games of this at GenCon last year.
  • Chosen– space gods, gods in space, crazy interesting setting.
  • Weapons of the Gods– a game that had so much love on message boards…
  • Hong Kong Action Theatre– still a favorite of mine.
  • Lejendary Adventures– I have discussed this game, and would like to give it a try.
  • Gemini– a translated European game I actually ran a couple times and own many of the supplements for.
  • Agone– see Gemini above, but I actually played a session of this at GenCon years ago.

And a special shout-out to Hillfolk. This game lit the gaming world on fire, winning several major awards including the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. But I have never seen anyone run it. Part of me thinks this is paragon definition of RPGs as art, a game so bleeding edgy and important no one can figure out how to play it.

I always return to an idea for a weekend of gaming, where all the games being run have to be heartbreakers in some way. Games forgotten and maligned, games that need another chance, games unique in viewpoint and content. Maybe I will get off my butt and do this.

Spring Break at GenCon!

PPunk17_Streamlined_RPGNow - Untitled PageThat’s right!

PreppiePunk at GenCon: RPG17109230

But what about They Might Be Giants, they are playing at 8pm on Thursday.

TMBG is the equivalent of most Super Bowl halftime shows of late, artists that were relevant 25 years ago.

What acts would be better suited for skipping the most important game at GenCon.

Funny you should ask.

  • Patton Oswalt stand-up set
  • Brian Posehn stand-up set
  • Chris Hardwick stand-up set (fuck a live-action D&D game with these three and maybe Wil Fucking Wheaton and Blaine Capatch and why not, Vin Diesel)
  • Weezer (noted D&D players)
  • Gerard Way- not only is he from My Chemical Romance, but is overseeing a whole line of DC Comics.
  • Marilyn Manson
  • James Franco- just being James Franco
  • Zak Sabbath
  • Tom Morello
  • Adam Warrock



Game the Game: GenCon Wrap-Up Part II: The Long Con and the Con Game!

I put a lot of thought into the games I run at conventions, this is my chance to meet some new players, and hopefully, entertain and be entertained. Three of my games had very definite structures:

An Infinivaders game (a Cartoon Action Hour setting by John Wick). The setting was outside my wheelhouse, but I appreciated being pushed to become more knowledgeable, and I came up with fun scenario involving two teams of PCs, each PC having a polar opposite. I wanted to create some tension “Working together, putting aside differences, we can be victorious” was the awesome jingle we came up with. My plot involved the Colossus of Rhodes, the people of Rome being given back their mighty kingdom, the shield Ancile, Apollo’s bow, as well as Cthulhu. There was a lot there. I like to be prepared. I like to deliver a standalone experience in the time allotted. The session closed with the samurai committing seppuku before the ninja could off him. A little bit dark for a 1980s cartoon perhaps, but that’s why we play the game, to see what happens. PCs fought, some came together, some had incredibly powerful and out-of-control abilities, and we all enjoyed sugary cereal on a Saturday morning.

Another Cartoon Action Hour game was next, this time of my own design; the Wu-Tang Clan as a 1980s cartoon! I wanted to offer a game that would be unique, even at a place like GenCon. None of my players had much knowledge of the Wu, but boy-oh-boy was it a fun time. When your session ends with the Almigty Yeezus and his witch-bride Kimye being defeated so that their baby could be saved, because “Wu-Tang is for the Children!” you know something went right!

Retrostar playtest required less prep, as the game is designed to be a far more improvisational. All the players seemed to really enjoy Galactic Run, my Convoy meets Smokey and The Bandit in space series!

For my CCVF games, players make characters at the table, and then we just go from there. I pick some villains, we have a fight so they can see how the mechanics work, the premise is they are on a reality TV show, so lots of producer–led shenanigans and false drama, but every time I run this “scenario,” awesome, memorable stuff happens, always driven by the players. Last year, it was one of the Heroes deciding he had a complicated romantic history with one of the villains. That threw everyone for a loop, and made it even more memorable. This year, one character decided he was the bumbling son of a Superman and Wonder-woman equivalent power couple, and that allowed me to use that to make that story personal and memorable and unique.

Enough about me, honestly, I don’t want you to think I am patting myself on the back. I do have a point here. I like creating snapshot games, a stand-alone session that delivers everything a game should- action, drama, humor (if applicable), danger, suspense, and surprises. When dealing with a 4 hour block of time, this requires some prep, but it is worth it. In my head-canon, all of this stuff happened. Last year’s America’s Next Super Team and this year’s team exist in the same universe.

I ran a CAH game last year: Ace Agents (Head of the Class meets Mission Impossible), one of my players showed up for several of my games this year. I like making that connection. He seems to be a big fan of Spectrum products, so I think he was most interested in playing those games. My friend Neal, who I have gamed with at two ConBusts, also showed up to play some CCVF, bringing along a friend. Also awesome.

As happens, post-game, one player and I got to chatting, he is very much an old-school gamer, runs 6 hour sessions of AD&D (1e) at GenCon, as he wants to get into some serious role-playing, and this is his system of choice. Even when things go awry, as one of his sessions did, he likes to enjoy the extended amount of time, and let things develop.

There is a group of gamers out there who enjoy long-con games, games with multiple sessions that take play over a convention weekend, having a beginning, middle, and end. This idea is great, but is not that new to me, nor is it that new to many GMs, some just approach it in different ways.

Saturday morning, I am in a room about as far from the convention center as one can be. I am there early, I have cereal on the table, offer it up to another table of gamers, who are extremely grateful, I doze a bit, and as I am finishing up my preparations, overhear another table (there were 4 in this particular room, only 2 of which had games going), I hear some familiar lingo, some familiar character names. When there is a break in the action, I walk over and talk to the GM. It turns out he has been running the same group of characters at GenCon for many, many years, advancing their story each year. My hat is off to Bob Karcher. I may try and get in on his game next year, if time allows. And, if you want an immersive old school AD&D experience, look out for Misa Bakracevski!

GAME THE GAME: Yet Another GenCon Wrap Up, Part I

Yet another GenCon wrap-up, how compelling, and how timely, posted weeks after GenCon was over. And look, a Roman Numeral, indicating there will be more than one of these. Woo-hoo!

This will just be a two-parter, so keep your sweats on.

Wil Wheaton didn’t even say hi to me, though he did get an early copy of the Monster Manual (as did anyone who was a platinum card holding member of the D&D club, apparently). Through my geeky network, I have heard that Wil decided several years ago to stop coming to GenCon on the man’s dime, but wanted to come on his dime, so that he could do what he wanted. I respect that. I saw some pics of him playing games with real people, go Wil! His track seemed to be the cool kids track, drinking Froth of Khan, hitting the parties, all that fun stuff. I am ok with that. But all he has to do is drop me a line, and I will craft the most amazing Star Trek adventure ever with WCrusher as a power hungry madman set on destroying Star Fleet.

Enough fawning over Wil.

tarrasque1_enworldThe night before GenCon, at an undisclosed location (because Pittsburgh seemed to be a city designed by MC Escher, I literally couldn’t tell you where we were!), me and some long-time and new friends decided that midnite before departing the next morning at 7am was the perfect time to fight the Tarrasuqe! The 5e Tarrasque had been unleashed upon the world.

So we made some 20th level characters and Ian tried to kill us all (some things never change, no matter what the system).

My friends over at the Round Table podcast are going to be doing the same thing in a couple weeks and podcasting it.

If you plan on doing this, go half-orc Barbarian. They don’t do a ton of damage, but they are a perfect foil for many of the Tarrasque’s nasty attacks.

With that said, you are all wondering, how was it?


4e combats were dynamic and ever-changing, this felt like a 2e combat, in that most characters were doing the same thing every round.

It took about two hours, but we did it. We beat the Tarrasque. Go team! And Ian was left again shaking his fist!

Onto Indy!

I drank tea with honey and lemon every morning. I didn’t lose my voice.

I ran five games (more on those in Part II).

I tried a breaded pork sandwich (it was tasty, though it didn’t change my world.)

I geeked out at the 13th Age booth, gobbling up all the stuff they had, buying copies for my pal Morgan who I met last year and couldn’t make it (I also grabbed all the Pathfinder pins for him, save Saturday because I was off in no-man’s-land running games from 10am to midnite).

I missed my chance to buy a copy of the Walking Dead branded Bang! Lesson here- if there is something you want, get it on Thursday!

I felt awful for the company who had a coupon for a very cool looking free die at their booth and had no dice to give away as they were stuck at customs or some such. They were very nice, they had a neat looking board game, but my heart goes out to them.

I picked up my copy of World of Dew that I had backed on kickstarter.

I played in half an Apocalypse World game (why half, I had to leave to run my own game, and the story didn’t need me for the second half). The MC thought the Driver skin didn’t get enough love so ran a driving based scenario. My character was the archetypal Man With No Name whose allegiances are unknown, brought in to solve a problem.  Yet another Yojimbo remake. What disappointed me was I didn’t get to see the Biker exert his control over his gang. What amused me was my taciturn interpretation of my Driver was perceived as me not participating.

I wanted to sneak into a Numenera game (I call it “vulturing”, hanging around a game that is full and hoping some one doesn’t show). Well, the GM didn’t show, we were all chatting, one of the other players was actually at GenCon running scheduled Numenera games for Monte Cook and Co. and offered to run a game for us, as we were all there. Super generous offer, but my schedule didn’t allow for that kind of time. But, this was an awesome gesture, gamers coming together and gaming! Sidenote: folks not showing up either to play or run games is more common than you might think: fatigue, family emergencies, too much partying, missed flights, etc.

I met up with my friend Andy who I had met last year, and we had quite a bit of fun. He was demoing his board-game in the first exposure hall.

But that will segue nicely to Part II. Making friends, long-form convention games, and campaign continuity!

And I came across this:


GAME THE GAME: GenCon and Me

I wish GenCon was an alien, and we were in a movie together, that was a schmaltzy ET ripoff.

My first GenCon I was a D&D guy. I got a picture with Gary Gygax, his Lucky Strike dangling from his lip. I played D&D games. To me, D&D was gaming. I even won a two part D&D tournament. I proudly have the certificate displayed.

But, I grew, as a gamer, and during what I would consider the golden age of printed product tabletop gaming (yeah, it’s a niche era), I remember roaming the dealer’s room, and picking up my copy of Underworld, and my copy of Orkworld, because they were both released at GenCon. My tastes had matured and expanded. I played Hong Kong Action Theatre and loved it, I loved roaming the hall looking for cool new games to try out!

GenCon was about trying new games, buying new games. But then… something happened. Even if this age of information accessibility and social media, I am having trouble finding details on what new products will be released at GenCon.

Full disclosure, I am now part of a Gaming Company, and we do not necessarily have awesome new products debuting.

But, we are running lots of games for our products, and will have the first public playtest of an upcoming game: Retrostar! Plus, hopefully, a legend of game design will be stopping by one of my games for a cameo. As King Missile might say, “that’s way cool.”

Is it wrong to want to spend money on awesome new games. I want to have an index card in my pocked with notes on which places to be sure to hit and what games to buy. I want to go back to my hotel room, and be flooded with feelings of “ohwowthisissocool, I can’t wait to play it.” Because, I still have Orkworld and Underworld, and they still get read by me, and I still love them.

Take my money, someone, please!

Open Letter To Wil Wheaton

Dear Wil Wheaton (and Felicia Day, and Amber Benson…),

Wil, we didn’t have a chance to meet, although I was there, front row, when you won the Diana Jones Award. You were cool about it. I appreciate what you are doing, bringing the tabletop gaming culture to the masses. It’s awesome. Far too long it has been marginalized, and misrepresented. Were you cheesed at the D&D episodes of Community, with their lack of continuity across editions, and die rolling? They got a lot of stuff right, and I can only imagine they had D&D fans on the writing stuff, but I have trouble when they get it wrong. You are working to get it right, and that is awesome.

But, I have a challenge for you. Maybe it is some advice. Spread your brand. Come to GenCon, and don’t just roam the halls, hobnobbing with the game designers and other folks. You’re one of us, be one of us. Play games. Many folks I know think you are a faux geek. I don’t. I legitimately believe you are a gamer. Prove them wrong. Sign up for games. Sit down at the tables and take out your dice. And, yes, because you are who you are, you can hand out flyers. Don’t just show up, and accept the offer of a starstruck GM offer to “whip you up a  character” if you want to play. Sit down and play. We all want to know what games you like. We all want to say “hey. I played a game with Wil Wheaton at GenCon. His dwarf was kind of a putz, but it was fun.”

Subversive, street level branding. You’ll make more fans, I guarantee it.

Now, because I am the one writing this, I am allowed to make an exception, show up at any table where I am running a game, and I will “whip you up a character.” But, become one of us. Stand on line, eat at the Food Trucks, get your copy of the PHB, and then sit down in the hall thumbing through it.

Don’t be Wil Wheaton ™, just be Wil. We all want to know what type of dice bag you have, what kind of dice you own. Yes, you might have to pose for some pictures. But, that is what it is like, for awesome folks like us.

And convince Felicia Day to come too.

I’ll be running games at the JW Marriot, 3rd Floor. And I’ll be happy to sign a print copy of CCVF for you.

Or maybe we will meet playing Monsterhearts.

I am throwing down my spiked gauntlet!

-Barak Blackburn