Fitness trackers have been around a looooooooong time. But, as much as they seem to get better they also really just stay the same. Ironically, the best tracker I ever used is also the oldest one I’ve had. But, I think Apple has a handle on things and are going to force fitness tracking to finally move to the next level. Here’s why.
Road trip! Yay! Wait, what’s that OMFG THAT’S A GIANT BUG! GASOLINE ALL OVER THE SHORTS! AHHHHHHH HAVE TO GO TO WALMART BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE IS CLOSED!
This was the start to Gen Con 2014, our annual fellowship for gaming, drinking, and more gaming. This year I want to relive my experience a little differently. Every year I get the question “Why do you pick Gen Con over Dragon*Con?” I hope by the end of this you’ll understand why this little gaming con has become the number one con of the year.
After we remedied the pants fiasco we made the trek to our first stop, Nashville, TN. From here it’s only about a 5 hour trip to Indy, but more importantly it’s home to the great house of Bass Monroe. Fellow gamers and home brewers we spent Tuesday night touring some of the Nashville craft brew scene and discussing our game plan for the week. It was tough getting to bed, even though we were running on less than four hours of sleep. The anticipation of four solid days of gaming made Tuesday night feel like Christmas Eve.
Stardate 68083.7. We’ve awoken at Gen Con for day 1. Our primary mission, to aquire our press badges. But first, cardio. Andrea and I downed our pre-workout Energy and Endurance formula, strapped on our Five Fingers, and set off for the amazing running spaces of downtown Indy. I won’t lie, this con is built on the stereotypical gamer and it’s amazing to fight that image with a kick to the face. Indy is so amazing this time of year and the convention center is near an amazing park where you’ll find numbers of people running, walking, or doing boot camp workouts. And it’s nice being outside. That done we made our way to the press room. Badge acquired and achievement unlocked! One would think a major con of over 60,000 people would elicit huge wait lines. GenCon wisely opens up it’s Will Call window Wednesday evening and leaves it open 24 hours all week. Even with a long line you’re in and out in about 10 minutes.
Thursday was “friend day”. This is possibly my favorite aspect of Gen Con, meeting all the friends you only get to see once a year. Kilted up and equipped with my Bag of Holding we made our way to the Geek & Sundry booth. There we met up with our friends Sarah, Tabitha, and Caylie. The conversation naturally fell into our gaming plans for the evening. It was pretty much understood we’d be destroying something that night, whether that be orcs, livers, or each other. And without further ado we were in the lobby of the hotel trading beers and joined by Lisa and Brian from d20Monkey playing a brand new game, Unspeakable Words. It’s like a card based Cthulhu scrabble.
Friday was costume day for me. We awoke early and did our P90X3 Yoga. This was AMAZING after a full day on our feet. Then I donned my only costume, Star Lord. Now, here’s where the primary difference between Gen Con and Dragon*Con come to light. GC is not a huge costuming con. There are some, and they are usually GREAT. But it’s not a constant barrage of photogs and people in worbla and spandex. That said I got a great response. Could have been the little Rocket I was carrying or the bluetooth speaker blasting Awesome Mix vol 1. But even though I got a lot of nods and thumbs up there were very few pictures. THIS IS GOOD! I was able to walk around the dealer hall and actually enjoy myself. Andrea and I were able to go to some of the booths and do some shopping, picking up an amazing game called Veliciraptor! Cannibalism!
This next part is tough to put into words but it highlights another awesome part of Gen Con. We decided to go back to Geek & Sundry to see the ladies. A few minutes later Wil came up, slipped Andrea a W00Tstout 2.0 and invited us to join him for lunch and games. We headed off with Sarah, Jaques, and his wife Dawn. Needless to say I was a bit nervous but it turned into a great afternoon playing Drunk Quest, Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, talking home brew, and all manner of things. Before we knew it we’d been there for about 6 hours and the place was starting to pack up. So after a few more drinks we headed back to the hotel and dropped everyone off. I couldn’t wait to get out of that costume!
Saturday came really, really early. But you know what, I was about to do something I’d never done before and that’s what GenCon is all about. I headed to the convention center at about 745 with Crystal and Chad to play my very first game of Pathfinder. Let me just say I have always been DnD. Drizzt’s my boy and I love the the Companions of the Hall. It had never crossed my mind to play another system (other than Star Wars or Firefly). But I really enjoyed Pathfinder. It seemed to have a community that I haven’t seen from Wizards in a long time. I got my Pathfinder Society number, signed up, and made my character (a badass ninja). That’s when I was told I could register my character and they would go with me from game to game, leveling up. So cool! Anyway, we mustered our little group together and sat down to go on an epic journey to unravel the mystery of the Gill people. The story was pretty fun and I loved the system, but our DM killed it. He opened up saying he’d already run the game 34 times so he really had no passion. In fact, often when we’d get stuck he’d just tell us what to do next. We also rolled 20’s like a boss, which he ended up really hating and he took it out on us. Honestly, if it weren’t for my friends I would have walked away from that game and never looked at Pathfinder again.
This brings me to one of the very few aspects of GenCon I’ve noticed getting worse as the years go on. They DM/GM’s are just over worked. See, the system for paying these folks is by having them work X hours for a % of their badge and room fees. If they work 4 hours they get a percentage of their badge paid for. Eight hours and they get more until they are able to get a free ride. This means many people sign up to work every available slot, literally from 8am to midnight every day of the con. The gaming starts Wednesday so by Saturday most of these folks are exhausted.
After a few more hours running around the convention floor all kilted up and snapping pictures of the various costumes and booths, we grabbed our cooler of craft beer, some board games, and set off for the convention hall to do some free gaming. Enter the only other aspect of GenCon that seems to be going down hill, the open gaming space. A couple of years ago you could squat just about anywhere with a group of friends, crack open a game, and go nuts. This year it seemed like the hotels and con were really trying to capitalize to the max. There was the open gaming hall like always, but more and more tables were reserved for ticketed games. We tried the upstairs area of the hotel where their were private rooms and tables, but they were already booked by gaming groups (most of which weren’t using the actual rooms but they would reserve them for 24 hours anyway). We finally ended up in the convention center food court. This actually worked out quite well as we had quick access to bathrooms and water, but were in a nice secluded corner. And this is how we welcomed Sunday, the final day.
Sunday is generally much more laid back. It’s the last day to get some really good deals on games. It’s the last day to do anything you haven’t done yet over the course of the week. It’s also the last day not to sleep in. So up again bright and early on about four hours of sleep I set of to do something I’d never done, paint mini’s. While Andrea and I were in Scotland we found a Games Workshop and painted our actual first mini, but they only let us paint one color. This was a full on mini, and it was free! You got a mini and brush to keep and use of all their paints. I decided to paint a mini for my wife, a bad ass red headed warrior. Then it was off to the dealer hall to get those last minute deals. Alas, there weren’t really any 🙁 It was a much different experience this year. I’ve seen a lot of the smaller indie game companies show up at this con with a table and a guy with a demo game, happy just to get his name out there. Now these indie groups have all grown up into million dollar groups, and as such are starting to lose their connection to the fans. It’s a shame, but also just a part of life. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a damn blast!
All in all GenCon was a hell of a good time, as always. I met up with old friends, met some amazing new ones, found new games and loves, and got to do many things I can’t do the rest of the year. When you live in a town lacking a real gaming scene it’s a nice break to just spend a solid week playing every game you can get your hands on.
For all of the photos from this epic weekend please visit http://bit.ly/GenCon2014
Otronicon, a geek haven that feels like the pre-season of conventions. It's a four day event held at the Orlando Science Center and brings in all walks of life. One minute you may be playing a retro Super Nintendo System, and the next you could be on the roof playing laser tag. Take a break with some Geek Trivia and strap in for a panel about how to break into the video game industry. If you're a geek or gamer there is definitely something here for you.
For four days the Cloak & Blaster set up shop in the Nerdy Lounge. This was your haven for board gaming, Nintendo Wii'ing, geek trivia, and nerdy guests. As I sat behind my table during the event I saw toddlers jumping up and down to play Super Mario Bros Galaxy and veteran gamers sitting at a table discussing the latest version of Dungeon & Dragons. I even got introduced the the new My Little Ponies… from a large group of high school guys that call themselves “Bronies”.
Friday and Saturday night the Science Center turned the Geek Lounge into an adult gamer haven. From 6pm to 10pm it was 21 and up. There was a cash bar, dim lighting, “adult” trivia, and burlesque. But the really cool thing about this convention, to me, was the various levels.
The ground floor had cosplay vendors and tables, the second floor was all about tech with vendors like Lockheed Martin and the US Army showing off combat simulators. The third floor was a sort of artist alley with popular geek artists like Charles Thorton, as well as the Nerdy Lounge and biomedical tech exhibits. The fourth floor played host to Microsof, EA Sports, and other gaming communities. Amidst the dinosaur skeletons were XBox One's, PS4's, and many other game consoles. This was a great place to test out the One and PS4 side by side in some of the most graphically intensive games on the market. Out on the roof was laser tag (which was dominated most of the weekend by the 501st Legion). I mean who wouldn't want to see Boba Fett shooting “real” lasers?
Perhaps the most appeal comes with the accessibility of the convention. Admission is the same as the admission to the Science Center so you can come to the convention Friday and come back for the science on Saturday
Ah True Dungeon (TD). This is the most epic thing any RPG fan could hope for. An event where you can actually crawl through the dungeon, slay the monster, solve the puzzle, and get the girl. Well, you have to bring your own girl to get the girl. It's held every year at GenCon. And this wasn't my first crawl.
I've done TD several times. Looking back at my cool collector buttons (which you get at the end of the dungeon) I've done it in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013. So I'm certainly no novice. To give you an idea of how popular the game is they run a group through several times an hour. This year there were also several different options. You could choose from Lycans Afoot, Golembane, and True Grind. All but True Grind were also available as puzzle or combat modes, and each had four levels of difficulty. So that's A LOT. This year they sold 7500 tickets at $44 a pop. My group did Lycans Afoot on Normal.
So the way TD works is you get a party of 10 people. This can be a pre-determined group of people, or you can see if anyone has a slot open and play pickup. This year there were four of us that joined a group of three and a group of two. Once you have your group you're assigned a time. Once your time comes you all assemble and choose your class. I'm generally the bad-ass Paladin, but this year I went Rogue. Once you have your character picked out the DM comes in and assigns your skills and modifiers. You get a character card and start with the typical starting stats for your character. You get buffs by way of TD Tokens. You get a dozen when you buy your ticket, and you can buy more from the store. They're like TCG card packs. All the packs are random, but you can usually trade or buy from other people. There is a bit of an underground economy that's been created over the years and we met one girl that was particularly addicted. There are some tokens that are worth up to a thousand dollars.
So now your adventuring party assembled and you're all decked out in gear. Practice time! Every class has something specific they need to be good at. Fighters, of course, fight. Fighting is done by putting your weapon token into a slider much like one of those things you'd put under furniture to slide it around. There is a slick table with a monster drawn on the end, showing hit points. You slide your weapon at the monster and where it lands determines your hit. It's essentially fantasy shuffleboard. The non-fighters have to practice their skills. Bards, Wizards, and Druids all memorize various symbols. The Rogue opens chests by moving a conductive rod through a maze without touching the sides. It's like Operation but way harder. But guess how much time you have to perfect your new found skills? Yes, it's the same amount of time as a typical coming of age montage.
So now you have the basics. You run through rooms, fight, and solve puzzles. There are usually 6 to 7 rooms and each room has a DM that explains what's going on. There are sound effects, light shows, and often large props. The DM's usually do a great job. You'll get some that dress up and actually act out the role. Then you get the guy in the TD Volunteer shirt, cargo shorts, and combat boots. *sigh*. Most of the DM's this year were great. In fact, all but the last were dressed in character and acted out the story. The last one, well, he seemed like he was over the job and just wanted to get us out. That's sad since the final boss battle is usually really epic. But, as I pointed out in my GenCon blog our Bard decided to start texting half way through the battle. It didn't make us look good.
Generally, TD is really well done. Honestly, when you walked in the front of the area looked awesome. It made me almost feel like I was actually in a market square at night. It was really well done. The sets, though, not so up to par. This is the second year they had so many different stories, and they did have way more room this year. In the past the game was run in one of the hotel ballrooms, so it was very tight. This year they had an actual hall in the convention center and it seemed like they just didn't have the time or budget to do it justice. There were several rooms that seemed pretty sparse. In the final room the sound and light effects were actually broken. I think the most disappointing part of this year was the story. I chose Lycans Afoot because one of our party loves wolves. What didn't we see a lot of? WOLVES!!! There was a Werewolf in the first room, but every other room they were “chasing us”. Even the last boss was an Ent. Really? An Ent? I was sad.
TD really has a long way to go to step up next year. For $44 I would hope to at least have the quality I had a few years ago. It's popular enough that they could really make it great… like it was. But, like most games it really depends on your party. Like I said, we picked up a group since there were only four of us. Usually, we have a great group that Andrea has been playing with for almost a decade. This group was essentially all newbies. Andrea and I were the most experienced, the group of two had played once before, and the other 5 had never played before. We had a lot of “Too many chiefs” during the puzzles. This was also a promo game as three of the players do a podcast. i.e. they didn't have to pay, so they didn't really care. I believe if you have one of the two components (a great party or a great dungeon) you can really rock TD. This year, we didn't have either.