Strategicon Gamex 2011

My writing project has finally been completed (and on deadline!), so I have time to write up an overview of the recent Gamex game convention.

As a warning – it’s long.

I haven’t been to a gaming convention in probably 15+ years, and Gamex didn’t disappoint. I had a great time! The people were fun and friendly, the games were varied and well-run, and the hotel room was quiet and comfy. It was an awesome little vacation.

I got there Friday evening and came home really, really late on Sunday. In those 2.5 days I played 7 different games, each 4 hours long, for a grand total of 28 hours of gaming.

The hotel had more than enough room, and seemed happy to have us – they certainly treated me well. I had preregistered for the convention online, so all I needed to do was pick up my guest badge. The only difference I noticed between this and the conventions I went to in New England was pricing structure – in New England there was an admission fee (usually about $25-$30), then an additional fee per game slot (usually $2); Strategicon has just one cost for general admission (depending on how many days you register for), then you can play in as many game slots as you can cram in without further cost.

I checked in to my room and unpacked my bags. As I’m a gamer on a shoestring budget, I made sure to bring enough supplies: a 12-pack of Fresca, apples, bananas, bread, salami, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, mayo, and wheat thins!

I wandered around a bit before my first game. All the RPGs were on the 2nd floor, in small conference rooms with usually two groups to a room. The board and card games were in the massive ballroom on the 1st floor. Even with dozens and dozens of tables set up it didn’t seem too squished (though naturally it was pretty noisy). I think LARPs were on the 3rd floor. Around 7:45pm I headed off to my first game.

Note: there may be spoilers below for some of the games I played in, so be careful if you are a regular Strategicon attendee and might play them in the future.

Time: Friday, 8pm – midnight
Game (System): “A Time for Heroes” (Fantasycraft)
My Character: Running Ox (Ogre soldier)
GM: Joe
Players: 3/6
Dice mechanic: d20, roll high

At first I was a little concerned that this game took place right in front of the RPG gaming area, instead of inside the conference rooms. But once 8:00 rolled around, foot traffic died down to almost nothing. The GM, Joe, was friendly and clearly enthusiastic about the game – I’d never heard of Fantasycraft, but then I’m not really plugged in to the ‘D&D and all its minions’ juggernaut the way I once was. It was a d20 system, though, and easy enough to pick up.

Originally it was just Joe and I, but after a few minutes we were joined by a couple of GMs who had no players show up for their games. I played an Ogre warrior named Running Ox, a member of the king’s personal guard. The adventure focused on the poisoning death of the king, and our efforts to bring his killer to justice before tradition dictated that we be laid to rest alongside him. Because there were so few of us playing, once we discovered the identity of the killer and her allies the GM asked if we wanted to just sort of skip ahead to the confrontation. We wiped the floor with her, her animated garogyles, and her Pirate Isles conspirators.

Joe used Twizzlers to mark rooms on the map, which we got to eat, so yay! You can also see the combination “clipboard/dice tray” I cobbled together (very convenient!).

We ended early, so I was fast asleep in my room by 10:30 and got a good night’s rest.

Time: Saturday, 9am – 1pm
Game (System): “Repo Notice” (Hunter: The Vigil)
My Character: Charles O’Hare (Mall Cop)
GM: Sarah
Players: 3/6
Dice mechanic: d10 dice pool, 8-9-10 count as successes

After a quick shower and breakfast I popped on down to my first game of the day, a post-apocalyptic game where corporations rule the world and everyone has access to cybernetic organ implants. Problem is, if you fall behind on your organ payments the company sends a repo team to take them back (which is at best unpleasant; at worst, fatal). My character was Charles O’Hare, a mall cop at one of the corporate shopping centers.

It wasn’t a full game, just the GM (Sarah), myself, and two other players, but we had a blast. All of the characters were 90 days behind on their organ payments, and had until 5pm that day to raise enough money to avoid repossession.

We donned giant animal suits to perform in the mall children’s show (“The Merry Meadows Medley Hour” – I was a bunny), we escorted an illegal drug shipment, we considered┬áassassinations┬áand thievery and all sorts of mayhem. By 5pm (in the game) we had earned enough – but after the bank took our credits we were told the transaction might not process until the morning, so we ended up battling for our lives in the city’s sewers against a psychotic repo man anyway. Fun! (Despite the 15 minute forced break and evacuation everyone had to endure due to a hotel fire alarm).

When we were done I had an hour between games, so I stopped into my room, had a couple sandwiches, and headed back to the RPG area.

Time: Saturday, 2pm – 6pm
Game (System): “Orcs Attack” (GURPS Banestorm)
My Character: Pigiron (Orc knight)
GM: Wes
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: 3d6, roll low

Woot, a GURPS game! Always great to see how other GMs run things. This was also my first full group, the GM (Wes) and six players. I was Pigiron, an Orc knight. Our village was wiped out and the survivors enslaved while we were away, leaving us to track down the filthy humans and elves responsible and show them some Orc justice.

Eventually the invaders were routed and all of our people set free, but the best part was that during the final battle, Orcs being Orcs, most of the player characters ended up fighting one another in an attempt to kill the enemy general, the theory being that whoever killed the general would command enough respect to be the new leader. So I was killed by my right-hand Orc Ragnar, Ragnar was then killed by our archer, then our mage let loose in the middle of the whole crowd with a massive exploding fireball (though I think she may have then caught an arrow in the trachea). Total chaos, total fun.

After the game I had some supper and a quick nap.

Time: Saturday, 8pm – midnight
Game (System): “Night Fears” (Dresden Files/FATE)
My Character: Andy Drabyk (Teen Jock)
GM: Denys
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: dF (Fudge dice), roll high

This was hands down my favorite game of the entire weekend (and not just because I got to use Fudge dice!). It was the first time I’ve played FATE, and I really liked it. On top of that the GM, Denys, was great at drawing players into the story and setting the mood. All the players really put in 100% creating and running awesome, interesting characters too. I played Andy Drabyk, a teen jock, one of only two normal humans in the party (we were all teens, but most of the others had paranormal abilities).

The game had a corpse in the wall, the angry ghost of a murdered infant, secret black magic, disembodied hands, spirits laid to rest, a mirror portal to the Night King’s Dark Faire … what more could you ask? Wonderful game, wonderful group, wonderful GM.

Hit the sack around 12:30am.

Time: Sunday, 9am – 1pm
Game (System): “No Escape” (World of Darkness Slasher)
My Character: Randy “Rage” Robinson (Ex-Pro Wrestler)
GM: Steve
Players: 7/6
Dice mechanic: d10 dice pool, 8-9-10 count as successes

I’m reiterating the spoiler warning on this one specifically, as it had an ending I didn’t see coming.

This was tied for my second favorite game of the weekend. My character was Randy “Rage” Robinson, a disgraced pro wrestler with a bit of a “roid rage” problem. The rest of the party (more than a full group ┬á– 7 players) was made up of a variety of different folks – a meth-head, a teacher, a goth girl, a movie actress, another teenage girl, and a techie. We were all together on Alcatraz island, the last tour group of the day, but as the sun went down and the fog came rolling in, the ferry never came back to get us.

Sweet little “Ranger Amy,” a 5′ 8″ bundle of cute, told us she’d go to the radio tower to find out what was going on. She left the party in the gift shop, we chatted for a few minutes – and then out of nowhere she was back, strangling the meth-head with a shoelace garrote! My 7′-tall bruiser took her out quickly (and messily), but not before she killed the tweaker. Then the whole party passed out.

When we woke up, Amy’s body was gone. As we tried to find a way off the island, she attacked and killed one of us again, showing none of her previous wounds … and again, we all passed out. This pattern continued until there were only three characters left: the goth girl, the actress, and the teacher (Ranger Amy took me out with a pickup truck going 50 mph – awww yeaaah). They made it to the radio tower and found a collection of notebooks, one detailing each of the seven character, all written in the same handwriting. The last three PCs ultimately figured out what was going on – the goth girl slit her own wrists, and the teacher and the actress attacked one another until only the teacher was left standing – the remaining dominant personality.

In a nutshell, if you’ve seen the movie Identity you know what was going on. Each of the PCs was a single personality of a woman suffering from traumatic multiple personality disorder. All of the events of the game took place in her mind – “Ranger Amy” was actually the personification of her psychiatrist, killing off each unhealthy personality until only one remained.

I thought it was a great twist, and the GM, Steve, ran an exciting game of cat and mouse between the characters and the “killer.” Awesome. This was my second game with a lot of players from the Dead Gamers Society (the first being “Repo Notice”) – each and every one of them definitely had a hand in making this con great for me.

Had some quick lunch and then checked out the dealer’s room. It was a decent size, with quite a bit of product, but I didn’t end up buying anything except the convention t-shirt. Thing is, all I really play is GURPS, and I already have all the published hardcover books. Still, always nice to see game stores come out in support of a good time.

Time: Sunday, 2pm – 6pm
Game (System): “Happy Jack’s Navy SEALS Dungeon Crawl” (GURPS)
My Character: Cpl. Antonio Barahas (Medic/Corpsman)
GM: Stu
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: 3d6, roll low

This was my other second-favorite game, GMed by Stu from the Happy Jack’s podcast, and with some of the other Happy Jack’s crew as players (Stork and Casey, maybe Tyler?). Also the second group I met that seemed full of gamer goodness (there was another game I wasn’t in run by Happy Jack’s listeners Megan and Gina, “Space Nazis From Venus”. I heard from no fewer than 3 different people over the course of the weekend what a great game it was).

In a nice bit of internet camaraderie, Stu noticed my name tag and said, “Oh, are you Mook? Like the online Mook? I like your combat examples.” Me too! Wish there had been some back when I was learning – I should do more.

Anyway, I played the medic, Cpl. Barahas. We were a Navy SEAL fireteam (and one CIA spook) in the ’70s sent to investigate a jungle temple where a team of archaeologists, and the Army patrols sent to find them, had all disappeared.

Long story short – we found a Drow city deep underground … and they were training with the M16s and other firearms they’d commandeered from the captured Army soldiers. Pure gaming gold! What a great excuse to go Rambo on a city full of damn dirty Drow. Though my own contribution was largely to get shot in the ‘twig and berries’ by an assault rifle (owie), I still had a great time – sniper rifles, M16s, claymores, Drow, even a black dragon. We tore through them, rescued our comrades, and got the hell out of there without losing a man.

The only nit was that the group sharing the room with us was occasionally crazy loud, but meh – that’s always a possibility at cons. I went to one Connecticut convention in the 90s where every single RPG game had it’s own small suite to itself, including a restroom and water cooler. That was Sweetness.

Treated myself to a pizza from the hotel restaurant instead of cold cuts and fruit, which was yummy, but I realized the day after I got home that the waiter had accidentally scooped up my rings along with the table trash. Doh – ah well, they were cheap anyway.

Time: Sunday, 8pm – midnight

I’ve left identifying marks off of the last game. It really just wasn’t for me. I was originally pre-regged for a Call of Cthulhu game called “That Sinking Feeling,” which sounded awesome (did anyone get to play that? how was it?), but after talking to a few folks and being swayed by their enthusiasm, I foolishly decided to join their game instead.

To be fair, every single other person at the table seemed to be having the time of their lives, so maybe it was just me. In any kind of social hobby, with so many different play styles and ways to have fun, it’s inevitable that there will be some mismatches here and there. Still, I did “win” a Toon Ace Catalog out of it, and six great games out of seven is a pretty damn good ratio in my book.

I really had a great time at Gamex 2011, and am already looking forward to the next convention, Gateway 2011 in September. I’m hoping to run 2-3 GURPS games at that one, we’ll see how it goes. Based on the strength of this weekend, I heartily recommend the Strategicon conventions to anyone looking for some great games.

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