Gencon 2016 Recap

The crowds don’t phase me. Neither does the guy in half a shirt, displaying his beer gut in front and his raccoon tail in back. The lines, the events, the venue–old hat, now. Comfortable.

I feel like a veteran of GenCon, despite a mere three years under my belt now. Last year, I talked about being lost in year 1, but doing better in year 2. Now? I have my system mapped out. I know when I will be where and why. I plan out each day. Of course, plans rarely meet first contact, and this year was no different (and it’s all Troy’s fault).

What I want is to play as many role-playing games as possible (and meet authors I enjoy, but set that aside for the moment). I want to split time, such that I’m a player 75% of the time. This year, if my calculations are correct, I put in 28 hours of RPG time from Thursday morning to late Saturday night. Exactly 75% of that was as a player. I’d call that a pretty successful GenCon!

I accomplish this by, 1) prioritizing playing at Indie Games on Demand over all other activities at the con, and 2) planning and GMing late night games (after most con activities are complete) with friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends.

Meeting Authors

The reason I went to my first ever GenCon was to meet authors whose books I enjoy. That is still a big reason I love the con. I try to meet several authors (and get them to sign a book) each time I attend. This year, I was able to get autographs from Margaret Weis, Jim Zub, and the Author Guest of Honor, Robin Hobb. I love this part of the con. On the other hand, I never know what to say to these authors other than, “Listen: I love your work. Thanks for writing.” It’s a thrill, despite that anxiety.

Playing Games

As for gaming? Over the course of the three days I actually gamed at the con, I played in the following games: Fiasco, It’s Not My Fault (Fate Accelerated Edition), Dungeon World, Sorcerers & Sellswords, Goblintown, Hexnoir (Technoir hack), Beasties & Bygones, and Lady Blackbird. Whew! And: Woo hoo! It was a blast.

Beasties & Bygones

Beasties & Bygones is a hack of Dungeon World, bringing new playbooks, and an expansive setting couched in humor.

Unfortunately, this was the biggest bust for me this year. Those running the session were not prepared, the book was in alpha test shape at best, and the brand of humor – consisting mostly of dick jokes, this evening – wasn’t doing it for me. I was very frustrated at the time, but did the creators a disservice by not calling out the issues I had with the game and session, even after they requested feedback. The creators seem like nice folk, and I wish them the best.

(If for some unfathomable reason, you are one of the creators and have come across this, please email me. I’m happy to discuss everything further. I’m sorry for not saying it to your face at the end of the session.)


Hexnoir (a hack of Technoir) is cyberpunk dystopia plus magic and fantasy races. Like the game Shadowrun, from what I understand.

There were orc bodyguards and spectacles that carried AR glasses around like a spider on spindly, metal legs. There were humans, goblins, elves. Magical fireflies that acted as one characters wings. Oh, and all that cyberpunk tech everyone loves, I guess. This game was 8PM to midnight Saturday night, and I had to buy extra coffee at 9PM to make it through it. I felt bad for the GM, as my heart wasn’t in it. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve learned more, and perhaps taken some notes. They’d have looked at least something like this:

There are at least 4 different colors of d6s on the table. They are for the following things: [I’d probably have known these things. It was like… regular dice and push dice and magic dice and injury dice?]

One of these players talks at both a frequency and amplitude that is completely incomprehensible to me. I hope he doesn’t do or say anything important.

One guy is a PG version of the famous murder-hobo player characters. Harass-hobo?

I have defo picked the least tech-savvy character to play. Why did I do that, when I joined this game to learn more about cyberpunk games?

Dungeon World

Dungeon World is my favorite game, my go-to. It’s about fantasy adventure. Lord of the Rings, though often with a bit smaller stakes.

I played in 1 and GMed 2. I played in a truly absurd session of Dungeon World in which 4 of the 6 of us at the Games on Demand table knew one another. We warned the Game Master we’d be “gonzo” (an oddly frequent term used in RPGs, meaning what it sounds like it’d mean – silly, often absurd actions for humor’s sake). He actually paused at one point to say

I’ve never said this to my players before, but you guys truly deserve it: You guys are morons. Okay?

I think he had a good time.

The two games I GM’d were a good time, too. I could have been better, but the players were great. I got a couple new or new-ish players into games, which is important to me. I love running games in general, but it’s always fun to expose new people to role-playing.

It’s Not My Fault (Fate Accelerated Edition)

It’s Not My Fault is about fantasy adventure, and quickly generating characters and a scenario to begin play.

I would like to try this a few more times with perhaps different GMs, different players, to test it out. My initial impression, having played it a couple times now, is that the number of times players contrive to say they’re doing something “carefully” or “cleverly” or “forcefully” or what-have-you becomes grating. In Dungeon World, players simply narrate their actions, and the GM will let them know if they need to roll anything. In FAE, there seems to be a discussion as to how one wants to stab the dragon, whether they want to do so forcefully or sneakily or flashily or …. It broke up the game enough that it was hard to get into a rhythm.

Lady Blackbird

The now-classic Lady Blackbird by John Harper is futuristic game about a noble woman running from an arranged marriage under an assumed name, and the crew smuggling her (somewhat unwittingly) away. The characters are pregenerated, but the story, I hear, ends up different every time.

We played it more or less as if it were in the Star Wars universe. Again, good players and a good GM made for a fun game, despite my lack of caffeination. I definitely want to play this again and see how it differs with different people at the table. I played Lady Blackbird’s bodyguard, who doesn’t know she’s Lady Blackbird, and doesn’t like nobility (what with having been slave pit fighter for nobles’ entertainment).

Sorcerers & Sellswords

You guessed it! Sorcerers & Sellswords is fantasy adventure. In this case, the rules fit on one page – a quick read, easy to understand, easy to spin up a one-shot and have at it. (It’s a hack of another game, Lasers & Feelings by John Harper.)

Bonus: the creator, Ray Otus, was the GM! I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The players were all creative and engaged, and the GM was on top of it, too.


In Goblintown, the players are goblins in a town dealing with a threat that could destroy the town. It is a humorous game as written, and in certain hands can become pretty gonzo.

Ray Otus, who created and GMed Sorcerers & Sellswords, created and GMed Goblintown. In our case, we discovered and essentially invented the threat at the table, and the GM ran with it. Again, creative players and a clever GM made for a fun game. (This is a theme. If I could’ve played every game with Ray Otus, I think every game would’ve been a hit. I learned some lessons from this observation, and from Ray.)


Fiasco is a GMless game geared to creating what feels very much like a Coen Brothers screenplay, acted out at the table.

Our session of Fiasco is what will probably stick with me the most of all games I played. The table was composed of the GM, a couple with a lot of Fiasco experience, and three friends, new to Fiasco. I struggled a bit creatively, but everyone else was killing it. It was great. At the end, one person was dead, and the rest of us ate roasted penguin. In the epilogue, I think my character ended up in a prison for drug trafficking in the Andes or something.

I can’t say enough about Fiasco. It’s a classic for a reason. The only caveat is: you’d better be ready to do some improv acting (albeit sitting still at a table, likely). First thing after we did a bit of generating of characters and relationships and the like, the “GM” looks at me and starts a scene by asking me a question, in-character. I swear I stared at him blankly for a full 60 seconds before I asked him to give me a minute. Then I tried to channel some dipshit nature photographer who makes his real money selling drugs to addled field researchers and their support teams, and things got a little better. I guess. I don’t know, I smoothed my hair a lot and acted overly confident about my guy on the mainland, Charlie.

It was a great GenCon. Not only for all of the above, but because, on the last day, I took my kids. We put on costumes, played some games, ate some pizza, and took a bunch of pictures with cosplayers. Zane was a “knight pirate super hero!” and Aubrey was Doc McStuffins. (I was a wizard. Well, I wore a cloak, anyway.)

I can’t wait for next year.