Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gencon Trip Report (August 2009)

There was some discussion in the group earlier this year about going to Gencon. Joette, Rich and Jordan were going per usual, and this year Brian and I decided to make a run down to Indianapolis to behold the specter that is Gencon.

Brian got the motel reservation, I identified some games for us to acquire tickets for, and I agreed to drive, so the plan was set. I designated Brian as my navigator so we figured that if our game started at 9:00 Saturday morning, we would need an hour or so to park, get to the convention, get our badges, find a map of the building, and get to where we were going, so that would mean I would have to leave at X time to pick Brian up at Y time so we could make this all work.

The night before we left it dawned upon me - Indianapolis is in a different time zone. Uh-oh. We adjusted our plans accordingly and the drive down was uneventful. We even got to see Rich and Joette briefly in the lobby of the hotel before we all headed off to different directions. Badge pickup went smoothly - we must have timed it just right as the line was considerably longer after we picked up our badge. Our first game was upstairs from where we were, so off we went.

Brian and I had signed up for an "Introduction to 4E" session. It seemed like a painless way to walk through the mechanics of the new game, and it went very well. There was a father/son team that have never role-played before and another gentleman who, like Brian and I, had gamed for a long time but wanted to get some 4E time under his belt. The DM, Terry, wasn't much of a story teller but he did understand the rules and was able to lead us all through an encounter. He took his time, answered our questions, gave us some hints, and provided exactly what we were looking for.

(4E Comments) First of all, it really still is D&D - the story telling, the encounters, the camaraderie among friends, and of course, the loot. What's different is of course the mechanic, but not so drastically different that experienced gamers like us can't pick it up quite easily. I must say that reading the new rules is really not sufficient for understanding the new rules. When we do sit down to try 4E we'll do what Terry did - we'll walk slowly through the first few encounters, make some mistakes, learn some new tricks, and after a few encounters we'll be experts. Note - story telling not withstanding, a grid and player/monster icons are going to be necessary. Movement is important, as is spacing of characters and monsters for spells and effects.

Brian and I then walked around the exhibition hall for an hour - and covered maybe 1/3rd of it. Huge. There were plenty of concession areas, so we grabbed a bite to eat and then moved across the street for our next game.

Code Monkey was hosting a series of intro level 4E games in the Blackmoor setting, the world Dave Arneson had been involved in for the few years before his death last year. We had six players ready to go, but the scheduled DM had been involved in a car crash and couldn't make it, so one of the players volunteered to run the game for us - outstanding! She did a good job and we had a good time.

(4E) Of course this was our first look at 4E in a full multi-encounter game. What is particularly striking is not only do individual powers benefit their user, but there is also a lot of strategy with using your powers to the benefit of your party mates. Example - One of the players "marked" a creature so that if it took a swing any other party members the original player got a free swing at the monster. Similarly, if one marked monster moved a player got a free swing at it. Some character traits benefit the entire party as well - my warlord gave a +2 to initiative to my entire party, although truth be told, I didn't read that part until after the game was over.

Next we were back to the Wizards area for a Saturday night game as Level 5 characters ... but we were supposed to have own characters?!? We could stand in line for an hour to access DDI to create/print out characters ... the floor manager admitted the game listing was done incorrectly, but since we had a real ticket (not a generic ticket) we might be able to get in a level 1 game with pre-made characters that was starting shortly. Which we did!!! Outstanding! And our DM was Terry, from our intro section that morning.

So despite a late start we got our pre-made characters, went through the intro, and just as we were ready to begin our first encounter - the fire alarm went off. Everyone was hoping it was a mistake, but no, we all had to leave the building. We saw Rich and Joette while outside, agreed to meet for a late dinner, and eventually were allowed back in the building to resume our game. The game was a rollicking funfest of gore and mayhem that eventually finished around 12:15.

The highlight of the day was during that first encounter - the players took their attacks and then the DM stood up to start walking through the monster attacks. The first attack was a lizardman throwing two javelins at one of the characters - the DM rolled his hit dice on the player side of his DM screen and promptly rolled two 20's - guaranteed hit and max damage - bam! Here's your 18 hit points of damage!

(4E) We had some players delivering major damage with certain combinations of powers. There is a ranger/arrow power that not only delivers two arrows worth of damages but with all kinds of bonuses as well. It was particularly devastating. Several powers have "minor action" capabilities that can be used multiple times per fight, not just once a day which can be used to deliver extra damage or in the case of my warlord, deliver healing to my party members.

At this point Brian and I had been up for ~22 straight hours, and it was way too late to meet up with Rich and Joette, so we just went to bed. Sunday morning we had one more game with the Code Monkey folks, doing part two of the Blackmoor adventure we had started the day before. A different group of players and a regular DM this time, it went very well. Highlight - the rogue in our group made his stealth check and was able to reach the stables without being detected, killed a guard without being detected, spent an action point to go again, and killed a second guard - and made his stealth check again - woo-hoo! A very effective play.

After this Brian and I walked the rest of the exhibit hall, made our requisite purchases, and proceeded to return to the great land of the north. All in all, it was truly excellent. We met several very nice people - people like us that wanted to be introduced to the new version of the game and didn't really care about anything but just wanting to play.

Next year? Well, I am certainly willing, but we'll have to see what the schedule says. I think next years Gencon is a week earlier, which backs in to my vacation time, which is more-or-less fixed by Jacob's football, so we'll see.

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