“The Only Good Bug…” Post-Con Wrap Up

Greetings, folks! The Gamex 2019 convention was a few weekends ago, and I ran three tables of my “Starship Troopers”-inspired GURPS one-shot. Read on to hear how it went!

First off, the game itself (you can download PDFs of the pre-gen characters). In a nutshell, the PCs were Mobile Infantry (from the “Starship Troopers” universe), designated to combat drop (with another 12 NPCs) onto a small moon and sweep out a small Bug colony reported by some miners. Naturally, their intel was faulty and the entire moon was just awash with all manner of Bugs, including at least one new sub-species never before seen by Terran eyes. The PCs came, stomped the Bugs a new mudhole, and managed to escape with their lives (and usually with valuable samples for the Games & Theory researchers).

I GMed the adventure for three separate groups, and we all had a great time — the combats were fun, the pre-gens were a hit, lots of smiles and laughs around the tables — but it wasn’t my best. Call it a solid B+. But I always try to shoot for at least an A-! However, I did learn quite a few things, sometimes for the third (or eighth) time.

I over-prepped. Again.

I love prepping for games nearly as much as I love GMing games. The research, the hunt for inspiring images, the pre-gen creation, the papercraft, the rules tweaking — I love every part of it. I also love showing up to a table as a player and feeling like the GM actually put some TLC into creating the game. So, I always try to make a nice presentation and put thought into things.

Often, this means I might overprep just a wee bit. It’s a lesson I still struggle to learn!

For example, envisioning unending swarms of rapacious Bugs, I made about 25 cardstock Bug army figures. Formatted, printed, cut, folded, glued. 25 times. Know how many Bug figures I ended up using at any one time? Probably five. Meaning, 80% of that prep was completely unnecessary. I also created a second character sheet for each pre-gen, this one representing the person inside the armor “in case it ever came up.” It never did — and that was dozens of pages of pre-gens that were also completely unnecessary.

I didn’t playtest. Again.

To be fair, I usually fail to playtest because I run out of time, not because I don’t know it’s a good idea. My first thoughts for this game were glee, picturing nigh invulnerable troopers wading through Bug hordes and unleashing all manner of lethal weaponry. I thought we would have a blast rolling huge handfuls of dice for massively damaging attacks, and we did — for about four or five turns. Then it just became an irritation. This would have been apparent ten minutes into any kind of playtest, had I time to GM one.

What I should have done was simply ‘normalize’ the cinematic-levels of armor and weaponry between the Bugs and the Troopers. Functionally, damage of 15d vs. armor DR of 50 is more or less equivalent to damage of 3d vs. armor DR of 10, with the added benefit that it’s much easier to roll and track.

I didn’t include simplified character sheets. Again.

I have posted before about how much I adore the Phoenix character sheet for the GURPS Character Assistant software. It’s simply marvelous. However, I finally realized something: it is indeed the ultimate character sheet, for GMs and players who have played before.

For GURPS newbies — my preferred prey! — it’s an overwhelming tide of numbers and footnotes. If you know what you’re doing, it displays nearly every conceivably relevant data point for your PC. But if you’re a newbie and I ask, “What is your Perception?” forget it.

I’ve made a number of simplified character sheets over the years, and it seems like after every convention I remind myself to always, always make available a simplified version of all pre-gens. And yet time and again, I convince myself, “Well that’s true, but for this game…” No. No exceptions. Simple character sheet, every time, every game (unless of course I start GMing regularly for people who are already GURPS players, but that seems unlikely).


So, yeah three lessons from Gamex 2019, all three of which are things I have “learned” before:

  • Don’t overprep
  • Playtest
  • Simple Character Sheets

I’ll try to keep these in mind as I look forward to Gateway 2019 in August!


In addition to the strictly gaming-related stuff, some tidbits from the weekend.

  • The Hilton App is awesome.
    I literally didn’t  have to interact with a single non-gamer human being the entire weekend. I stepped into the lobby, checked in with the app, took the elevator up to the room number it gave me, had the app unlock the door for me (yup, it’s your room key too!), then two days later used it to check out of the hotel while I was setting up for my final game. The Future!
  • I am an old man.
    I don’t feel like it (well, most days!), don’t get me wrong. But that’s kind of the point. Remember the first time someone (unironically) called you “sir” or “ma’am”? (It’ll happen eventually.) As the players from my last game and I sat around chatting afterwards, I leaned back in my chair just a scooch too far and toppled over. I thought it was a hoot, and was belly-laughing before I even hit the floor. The rest of the room, though, was immediately asking if I was all right and trying to help me up, but not in a jovial “Ha, hey, you okay, man?” kind of way, more of a “Oh my God, check his hip!” kind of way. Ah, well! (I’m sure the gray mane and beard don’t help.)
  • I have started reading D&D 5E.
    It reminds me quite a lot of the last edition I played regularly, 2E, and I will have much more to say in the future.
  • My Lyft driver was Slick, from “Sly, Slick, & Wicked.”
    Usually, 45-minute Lyft rides to the convention hotel, besides being cruelly expensive, are boring as hell. However, my driver this time around was remarkably sociable and we had a great chat about performing, Justin Timberlake, music sampling, white appropriation of black music, lawsuits and copyright, games, and a few other bits and bobs. Very random



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  1. – Can you tighten your workflow?
    When I’m prepping, I now routinely look for ways to tighten up the process.

    – Can you ask for help? 😛
    When you’re up against the clock, I’d be happy to lend a hand.

  2. I’m glad you didn’t break a hip! HA HA HA… that’s too funny, but the message hits a little too close to home for me. I’m sure if I’d toppled over they’d have dialed the 9 and the 1 before I said I was ok. I like your insightful con advice. I have a heavily hacked version of the flex sheet for GCA that suppresses all point costs and *greatly* un-complicates the sheet. I can send it your way you’re interested.

  3. Hey Mook. I feel your pain. I will be 60 in about 4 weeks. I use a mobility scooter to get around at cons, hotels, and any place where I have to walk more than a 100 yards at a stretch. I forgot to bring a battlemat! Fortunately, that will not happen again.
    In my game, which featured the Heavy and Command Battlesuits in Ultra Tech I modified the stats of Battlesuits to include the extra Lifting ST, Striking ST, Basic Move and Super Jump.
    As far as Phoenix is concerned, You can take the point cost away in the Tools -> Character Sheet Options-> Trait Options.
    I will send you a tweet with the picture.

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