By Christopher Helton
And with day four, we wrap up our coverage of the "Best Four Days In Gaming." According to the people running the convention, the weekend long show had an attendance of 56,614. This is about a 14% increase over the past year's attendance. It also marks the end of Bleeding Cool's first Gen Con coverage, but only the beginning of gaming coverage.
Day four was the most laid back of the days of the convention. People had spent most of their money by now, and were wandering around hoping for bargains, and the people at the booths were slowing down after going since Wednesday's set up.
There were still things that were buzzing around the convention floor. Steve Jackson Games had announced that they would be doing a Judge Dredd expansion for their Munchkin Apocalypse game. Rumors flew around that there would be an OGL (open gaming license) for D&D 5e that would allow third party publishers to freely publish support for the game. This rumor proved to be just that, however. The word from Wizards of the Coast is that they plan some sort of free license for the game, just that they aren't going to talk about it until sometime next year, once all of the core books for D&D have rolled out.
Early in the day, before the convention really got rolling, I had a chance to talk to designer/publisher Steve Kenson about the new edition of his ICONS Super-hero Roleplaying game, which debuted at this year's Gen Con. I really enjoyed the first edition of the game, before Kenson decided to publish it himself, and the second edition of the game is even better. He cleaned up the rules a bit and incorporated some more advanced rules that came out in supplements to the game. ICONS is a fun, fast-playing super-hero game that is influenced by early super-hero games like the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG published by TSR Games in the 80s, as well as having a design influence from more contemporary games like Fate from Evil Hat Productions (a big ENnies Awards winner as well). I wouldn't be surprised to see ICONS make the "best from Gen Con" lists of people, and I also wouldn't be surprised to see it staking out some ENnies Awards at next year's Gen Con.
After talking with Kenson, while joining a few online social media friends for breakfast, I was able to meet and shake hands with Frank Mentzer. Mentzer was responsible for revising/editing the second version of the Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets in the 80s, and expanded the already existing Basic and Expert rules into a more robust line that included Companion, Masters and Immortals rules boxed sets. This was the entry point into D&D and roleplaying in general for a lot of people over the years. It was great to meet him and to see early TSR Games editor Tim Kask at the show.
I finally had the time to visit the Moon Design/Design Mechanics/Runequest booth and talk with Jeff Richards for a bit. The Glorantha Guide published via their recent Kickstarter was just beautiful. There was some spectacular full color art to it. Unfortunately, the book was so popular that I was thwarted in trying to get close enough to snap a few pictures. Richards told me that there are some interesting things planned for the line, and there would be a lot more Glorantha coming. For those who don't know, Glorantha is one of the oldest settings in gaming, and originally used as a setting for the White Bear and Red Moon designed by Greg Stafford and published by Chaosium in 1975. Development of Chaosium's fantasy game Runequest lead to adoption of Glorantha as the setting of that game. Thousands of pages of content have been written by Stafford and others since then, expanding the world in so many different directions that it can be a little intimidating to those who are trying to learn about it for the first time.
I haven't spoken much about Pathfinder and Paizo Publishing in my coverage of the show. Part of this is because I don't play the game much, and part of it is just because there was so much Pathfinder material at the convention that it is easier to just try to talk about it all at once. For the first two days of Gen Con, the Paizo booth was so busy that there was a line just to get into their booth and they had to limit access to the booth to keep it from getting overrun. They were also having a Goblin Hunt over the course of the convention with free Pathfinder toys and goblin minimates being given out. According to Paizo publisher Erik Mona, the Goblin Hunt was very successful, and most of the prizes were given out over the course of the weekend.
Paizo was one of the big winners at the Friday night ENnies Awards, winning awards for their Bestiary 4, Ultimate Campaign and a few other of their supplements. Their Wiz-Kids produced miniatures game and their recent card game were also both winners.
I came home with a couple of cool Pathfinder minimates (along with a couple of goblin ones from the hunt). Mona informed me that the iconic fighter/barbarian character used in the game, and made into one of the minimates, was in fact his Pathfinder character. "It is good to be in charge," Mona said about his character becoming a toy.
Comic publishers (and there were a few comic publishers at the show who were working at expanding into some aspect or another of the tabletop gaming market, including IDW Publishing) Blind Ferret Entertainment was there with a booth for their comics and for the Pathfinder supplement based upon their web/print comic Looking For Group.
I was also able to finally talk to the people from Troll Lord Games on Sunday. The immense size of the Exhibition Hall, while great if you wanted to shop, made finding people and booths a difficult proposition at times, just because you could not find a specific place a lot of the time. I know that there are worse problems for a convention than the Exhibition Hall is too big, but more than a few people were talking about it. If you've been following my gaming coverage leading into Gen Con you will know that the new version their Castles & Crusades Players Handbook was one of my "must have" games for the convention. Publisher Stephen Chenault, editor/community manager Tim Burns and Amazing Adventures designer talked about the new books coming out and the upcoming Kickstarter for their pulp role-playing game Amazing Adventures. I picked up copies of a couple of their Codex series, with material for Nordic and Celtic gaming in your Castles & Crusades games.
Just to recap and wrap up the weekend, I would say that the highpoints of games that I came across during the show would have to be:
- The Strange RPG from Monte Cook Games. As great as their Numenera game is, The Strange is even more so than that. Bruce Cordell and Monte Cook really brought their A-game to this. They took everything that made Numenera a great game and cranked it up a couple of notches.
- The Mars Attacks Dice Game from Steve Jackson Games. I loved the demo and my friends loved it back at the hotel. I keep saying that I am not a board/party/whatever game guy, but this game made me a believer. The Mars Attacks Dice Game is easy to learn and fun to play.
- Support for the 13th Age roleplaying game. I enjoyed the core book, but the 13 True Ways supplement really sold me on the game and made me want to play. Our group has been talking about a D&D 5e game next in our rotation, but I am thinking that 13th Age might be good in the interim, at least until the Monster Manual for the new edition comes out in September.
- Catalyst Game Labs' Valiant Universe is not only really cool, but they have some interesting support for it coming out in the next few months, including an extended campaign frame based on the comics. I honestly didn't expect that this weird little game would interest me as much as it did. Licensed RPGs are always a struggle, so I hope that this one succeeds and gives us years of gaming fun.
- The Shadows of Esteren game. This game looks incredible. The art is fantastic and the production values are incredible. The thing that interests me about this game isn't as much the mechanics or anything but how, as an RPG produced in France and translated into English, a different culture approaches our already familiar tropes of fantasy gaming. We've seen how Americans approach fantasy gaming, and now we are getting to see it from other cultures. Between this an Adventures in the East Mark (a game originally produced in Spain), I get to see how a couple of European cultures with different outlooks than our American culture puts games together. And, really, as a critic and a designer getting to see that sort of thing just fascinates me.
All in all, I would say that this was a remarkably successful Gen Con. Yes, I would have liked to have spoken with a lot more people than I was able to, but there is really only so much time in a day. The convention was a lot of fun and I discovered a lot of great new gaming that is going to keep me busy for a long, long time. There were a lot of great games and a lot of great people. I still need to regain the lost footing of sleep from over the weekend, but overall it was a great time. I didn't hear of any problems or troubles for convention goers, so that is extra good as well.
And here's a last photogallery for Day Four:
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.