Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gencon 2017 After Action Report

Sunday, 13 August 

After double-checking my packing list, Irene and I loaded everything in the car and set off for Indiana on Sunday morning.  I have noted that packing to travel by air enforces some discipline on one’s luggage, and driving this year caused my contingency packing to be somewhat more expansive than was probably necessary. After a relatively uneventful drive of 12 hours (including meal and rest breaks), we arrived at my brother's house in Bloomington.

Monday, 14 August

Norman was mostly ready with the materials needed to run our two Chaos Wars games, but he had a craft project to try to complete before the convention: fire markers built over flickering battery-operated tea lights, to mark burning buildings during the border raid scenario.  We walked around Bloomington for a while, checking out a used book store and a game store, and then played a couple of warm-up games of Carcassonne.

Tuesday, 15 August

It was difficult to contain the eager anticipation, but there was little to be done for it.  Norman and I headed out to Lowe's to pick up a convertible flat bed/dolly to haul around the materials for miniatures games. We eventually headed up to Indianapolis around 2:00.  Through the luck of the room lottery, I had managed to get a room at the JW Marriott, while much of the rest of the team was in a non-convention block downtown hotel.  That meant that we were providing the forward operating base, so our plan was to park in the parking structure under the hotel and move all the miniatures game boxes up to the room before supper.  We were surprised to find that the hotel parking lot was full.  Apparently some other conference was still here, so we found space in a parking structure attached to the Circle Center Mall temporarily.  This is where having a brother who comes to Indianapolis regularly for events is handy.  We walked back to the JW through the skywalk (hamster trail) system, orienting Irene to the venue as we went, and checked in at the hotel.  We decided to finish Irene's orientation tour and then went to find something to eat.  By the time we were done, we were able to call the hotel and confirm that space had opened up in the parking garage, so we moved the car over and unloaded the gear.  Warning signs were all over the place...

Door sign on the sky walk

I love miniatures games, but there is no denying that they are not particularly easy to take to conventions.  My local miniatures club, the HAWKs, is currently setting up a contest to be judged next year at Fall In in November.  Details are to be made public soon, but the basic idea is to see what kind of convention miniatures game can be staged with all of the material packed in a 17-liter Really Useful Box.  (That size has been chosen as the largest which will fit the overhead rack luggage profile on most airlines.) By Gencon next year, this "Battle in a Box" contest will be in process, and I hope to be in a position to be testing my entry.

Wednesday, 16 August

I met my brother around 6:30AM, and we did a quick walk around the convention center. As expected, things were fairly quiet on Day 0.  The Will Call line had not started to form.  We landed at Bee Coffee Roasters, an independent coffee shop, which was getting into the Gencon spirit with a rack of promotional T-shirts and some themed signs.

Since they are on the street facing the convention center, they had elected to be open 24 hours a day starting on Wednesday morning.  They were running a loyalty card for dice promotion as well, with a d10 as the top prize, for ten visits. I had my d10 by Saturday, and the breakfast burritos were a lifesaver for the weekend.  The coffee was excellent...

My Bee dice and token, plus Crystal Caste and Scotty's dice

Speaking of free dice, we walked down to Scotty's Brewhouse for lunch, picking up a Scotty's die.  By then, it was nearly time to go pick up the cart with the Dragon Rampant gear.  We got over to the Union Station gaming space to kick off our Gencon activities with a six player Dragon Rampant game.  I had 24 point factions laid out for my "Myzantine Empire" home setting (fantasy Byzantines), consisting of a Myzantine mounted field force, a Myzantine foot field force, and an allied/mercenary centaur band, opposed by an "Easterner" (fantasy Saracens, essentially) force of actual Easterners supported by a mercenary band of orcs, and an allied group of Lizard-masters. While all six tickets were taken for the event, I didn't expect to see all of them show up.  So, I was not surprised to find that we only had four players. 

Dragon Rampant game

We let them choose which of the warbands they would use.  So the centaurs and the orcs went back in the boxes.  I haven't run Dragon Rampant at a convention previously, and I came home with some notes on improving my handouts.  Dragon Rampant has various ways of handling initiative in a multiple player game, and I went with the simplest; letting each side activate both war bands until they had both failed an activation roll.  Players new to the system are often frustrated by failing their first initiative roll, so I also gave each player three re-roll chips which could be traded in for another activation attempt.  Since we had an even number of players, my brother wasn't needed as a spare player. The game went fairly well, and I felt, as I dragged my cart back to my hotel, that I had gotten off to a good start. Irene and I met up for some dinner and a scheduled game of Carcassonne.  I was reminded by my own ticket situation that the Carcassonne GM was probably wondering whether anyone would show up for his game, so I resisted any temptation to jump into a different game.  As it was, we were the only ones that did show up, so I was glad of that decision. We had a nice game with the gamemaster playing, after which time it was time for some rest.  I was glad to confirm that the kids coming separately from different places in Michigan, had arrived safely.

Thursday, 17 August

We ran two games nearly back to back, a Chaos Wars demo on behalf of Iron Wind Metals, and a tweaked version of the 1975 not-Lord of the Rings game Ringbearer, which we also ran last year

Norman explains the rules

Setting up Ringbearer

I had the briefest period of time in which to run into the exhibit hall, which I used to pick up dice and a few selected books from Indie Press Revolution.  The Ringbearer game wrapped up at 6:00, so there was time to grab some sit down dinner with Irene and my brother before we headed off to our seminar.  My kids had both recommended, in previous years, a seminar on medieval foods, which was interesting, if a bit rambling at times.  I need to expand my food horizons a bit, and I marked his web site for further thinking.

Friday, 18 August

Norman and I wrapped up our convention gamemastering with a second run of the same Chaos Wars scenario we had used on Thursday. 

Last GM gig for this con

We had all four players, which was nice, and handed some miniatures samples out to people who stopped to talk as well.  In the usual way of things, the orcs had a pretty easy run of things on Thursday, but had the snot beaten out of them on Friday, so it's hard to say if the scenario really needed adjustment.  I decided that I was over-scheduled, and skipped a live show of "Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff" so that I could look around the exhibit hall for a while,  but painted in an Iron Wind speed paint round. I was about 3rd, so there was no prize for that one. I had signed up for a short craft seminar on building a portable wet palette.  I’ve used a commercial wet palette at home, but I do a lot of painting on the road and thought that it would be a useful addition to my tool kit.  I discovered that there are no deep secrets to this, since it’s just baking parchment on a sponge in a sealable box, but that was good to know, and we got one to take home. I expect to be using this technique more going forward.  I had signed up for a Saga game that evening, but  I ended up sucked into the auction.  I wanted a copy of TSR’s 1977 Star Empires game, which I had noticed was in the display case of rare items.  At Gencon, the rare items usually go up for auction in a special session on Friday night.  As it turned out, I could have played Saga and still been back in time to bid, as it turned out to be the penultimate lot.  I got it (including its companion game Star Probe) for $230, and it was past 0230 before I got to sleep.

Saturday, 19 August

Despite the lack of sleep, I made it to breakfast with my kids and the Dutton children, old family gaming friends with who they have a lot of shared childhood memories.  After that there were  two sessions of swing dance lessons with Irene from the good people at Dancing and Dragons.   I had tickets for two Reaper speed paint competitions in the afternoon, and a second pair intended for William, who had had issues with his events registration back in May. Norman and William discussed the situation and decided to switch events, so Norman came to speed paint with me.  I was parentally thrilled to find that we each placed won one round and placed third in the other, and therefore both earned slots in the Reaper speed paint final round on Sunday afternoon.  

Two Reaper speed paints; the left one is the round I won

This is the third year in a row where I've been in a speed paint final, so I guess I have some idea of what I'm doing.  After the speed painting, I met Irene and did some shopping in the exhibit hall before closing time. My local group, the HAWKs, have been playing Frostgrave by Osprey for the past two years, so I talked to Frostgrave author Joseph McCullough about the upcoming new game, Ghost Archipelago

I got a demonstration of the portable gaming tables from Game Anywhere, and now need to consider whether I would buy one. I went back to the room briefly to empty my pockets before we met the whole crew for dinner at our usual Gencon location.   Irene and I dressed up for the Gencon dance, but after a brief section of ballroom danceable music the DJ switched over to some rave club stuff, and we decided that sleep would be a good plan…  

Sunday, 20 August

We had agreed over dinner that we would make sure that we would check out in time to get to 10:00 games.  Norman and I ended up at Games on Demand for my only RPG of the weekend.  Games on Demand, despite being in a new location due to the remodeling of the downtown Marriott, was apparently popular all weekend.  They put on a selection of mostly indie press games, with a system for randomizing the line so you have a fair chance at signing up for something.  Norman and I drew a mid-range slot, and had a fair number of choices remaining, so we elected to try a Fate Bulldogs game with characters inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy.  I'm reasonably familiar with Fate, so learning the mechanics was no issue.  We had a pleasant session.  I ducked into the dealers' room for one last scan before my 1300 Darksword Miniatures speed paint event.  My brother had been in one of their events on Saturday and had been giving an anthropomorphic animal to paint, so I was unsurprised to find that I had the same.  However, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a penguin rogue, and my Adelie color scheme was over shadowed by king or emperor penguins.  Of all of the figures I painted, I’m least sure what to do with him.   Norman joined me at 1400 for the Reaper final round.   

Norman and I intent on our work

We had 60 minutes of painting rather than 45 for the earlier rounds, but the miniature was more complicated. 

Not too shabby for 60 minutes

As expected, once I was among the experts, there wasn't a prize.  There was, however, another brush and a free miniature, so what's not to like?  After that it was time to depart...

Overall Impressions

Irene had a good time, and enjoyed watching all the cosplayers.  She came home with a dress on order, to be delivered later, so I may have to engage in a bit myself.  The kids had relatively few scheduled events, so ended up with several Games on Demand sessions and enough Magic to win half a booster box of prizes. My brother’s best experience of the weekend was an opportunity to play the old TSR Dungeon board game with Dave Megarry, the original designer.  

While I was working on my Bee “Die for Coffee” challenge, one of the staff asked what my favorite part of Gencon was.  I didn’t have a ready answer, but I suppose it’s just being there with my family among my peculiar tribe that’s the best part.

Lessons Learned and Path Forward

Despite the fact that I know better, I over-scheduled this year.  Next year I will plan to schedule less, and leave a comfortable amount of time for browsing and the auction.  All Gencon experiences chosen result in missing other things, so the best plan is to make a plan and stick to it, with the caveat that it should retain some looseness.

The handcart turned out to be vital; having used it to drag a game across the convention, I have no idea how we managed to run Norman’s Ringbearer game without it last year.

Because of the over-scheduling, Norman (son) and I did not run anything for Games on Demand as we had hoped; I’d really like to do that next year.  

The drive was long, so flying may be the plan again next year, and that would mean that having a portable miniatures game to run would be a priority.


  1. Great report and photos, Rob! Sounds like a great time!

    1. Yes, we're starting to plan for next year. What do you think, HAWKs road trip?

  2. Excellent!

    The report has that happy exhausted undertone, always a good thing after a con. All those lunchtime painting sessions do seem to have paid off! A round well won.

    That last picture looks like a keeper.

    1. Exhausting, indeed. Glad I scheduled a recovery day before heading back to work.

  3. Great write up. On my bucket list!

    1. if you like multiple gaming types (board, rpg, cards, minis) there will always be something to do there.

  4. Lovely post --glad to hear you had such a satisfying time. It was great getting breakfast with you and everyone --next year I'll have to arrange my schedule so we can have a later brunch (and get mom to come with).

    1. We'll build it into the schedule when we start planning events. It was good seeing you!