Strategicon Gateway 2011 – Part 1

Can’t believe it’s already been 3 months since the last game convention!

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Strategicon Gateway 2011 convention here in LA. Just like Gamex in June, I had an awesome time – probably even better than before, because I knew more people and faces, and this time I ran a couple of game slots too instead of only playing.

I got there Friday at noon and came home Monday evening. In those 3.5 days I played 8 different games and ran 2 sessions of my “Jem: License to Kill” one-shot, 4 hours for each slot, for a grand total of 40 hours of gaming. Yes, I basically put in a full-time work week in a weekend of gaming – and it was glorious.

Again my suitcase was crammed with food aplenty: 18 cans of Fresca, apples, bananas, bread, salami, bologna, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, mayo, and wheat thins. Oh, and clothes. Annoyingly the Sheraton charged me $20 for the mini-fridge (it was free last time), but I guess it could be worse.

The layout was the same: RPGs on the 2nd floor in the conference rooms, board and card games in the 1st floor ballroom. I literally only set foot in the ballroom one time, and really that was only because I had to in order to reach the dealer’s room. It’s not that I dislike board and card games – I don’t, in fact I go to a weekly meetup (Friday Night Dice) to get my fix. But when I’m at a convention, it’s all about the RPGs!

Check in time wasn’t until 3pm, but thankfully my room was ready when I got there at noon. I grabbed my con badge (Yay! It says, “Volunteer: RPG GM”!), unpacked, and relaxed in the room for a bit.



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



My first game of the con was supposed to be a 2pm slot called “Resident Evil: The NC Virus,” using the All Flesh Must Be Eaten rules, which sounded very cool. I arrived at the table but the only other person there was the GM. By 2:10pm it was clear no one else was showing up, so we cancelled. I went off in search of another game. Unfortunately, I found one!


Slot: Friday, 2pm – 6pm

I didn’t put any stats for this one because it really didn’t grab me. Everyone was friendly, the GM tried his best, but it fell completely flat for me. Fears that it was a bad omen were unfounded, though – the rest of the weekend was great!

I returned to the room for a couple of quick sandwiches, then headed back down for Game Two.


Slot: Friday, 8pm – Midnight
Game (System): “Happy Jack’s Pathfinder” (Pathfinder)
My Character: Benton (70 year old Ranger, level 20)
GMs: Casey and Bruce
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: d20, and polyhedrals

In this game we all played “standard” fantasy adventurers who had long ago retired and settled down in a small town. An old enemy of ours had returned, and was sucking the life force out of the townspeople, making them old and addled, us included. Because of our age we were all hard of hearing, had bad knees and backs, etc. Great fun was had by all! (“Put in your horn!” “WHAT?” “Get off my lawn ya damn kids!”)

The slot was supposed to end at midnight, but everyone agreed to go “a little late” when the GMs asked. Around 12:30 we started the climactic final battle (against a Jabberwocky no less!) … and finished at 3:45 am! It was one hell of an epic battle, but I was a little worried about running my first con game the next day. I dragged my ass back to the hotel room and passed out by 4am. Great end to the day (morning?).

Up at 7am! Greeting the day with 3 hours sleep – quick shower, a couple of bananas, and off to my first Saturday game.


Slot: Saturday, 9am – 1pm
Game (System): “Dead Presidents” (Wild Talents)
My Character: John Fitzgerald “Ghost” Kennedy
GM: Tyler
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: d20, and polyhedrals

In this game we all played, you guessed it, dead presidents. See, when a president dies he is reanimated and given super powers by the government for the purpose of defending our great nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I played John Fitzgerald “Ghost” Kennedy, whose powers were to turn insubstantial, flight, and healing. Other dead presidents on our particular team were Ulysses S. Grant, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all with their own assorted super powers – for example, Nixon could control shadows, FDR was a super-speedster (wheelchair and all!), etc.

The GMing was fluid and fun, and all the players did a great job with their characters. In particular, “Tricky Dick” Nixon was cracking me up (sorry, don’t recall the player’s name) – he had the accent down, and played Nixon as conniving and unscrupulous. We fought against Nazis with jetpacks, working for Kim Jong Il and Hitler’s brain, who were trying to steal a robot body designed to house Abraham Lincoln’s brain for Hitler.

It was as awesome as it sounds!

To me, the line of the game came when the team needed the medic (my character, JFK) to try and stabilize someone who’d been shot in the skull. “Give him to JFK,” the cry went out. “He’s a medic and he has experience with head wounds!” Ouch.

During the final battle Kim Jong Il morphed into a dinosaur (his superpower) – one of our team crammed Hitler’s brain up his poop chute, followed by a large canister of liquid oxygen; then when he was knocked unconscious he reverted to human form, which … ended messily for him. Totally wacky, off-the-wall fun!

After “Dead Presidents” I was in a great frame of mind for running my first convention game ever, pumped up and enthusiastic. I grabbed a quick sandwich in the room, gathered up my stuff, and headed to my assigned room.


Slot: Saturday, 2pm – 6pm
Game (System): “Jem: License to Kill” (GURPS)
GM: Me!
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: 3d6, roll under target number

I started setting up the table like a half hour before game time: hex mat down, GM screen up, character sheets and table tents displayed, complimentary copies of GURPS 4th Lite distributed, etc. I meant to take a picture of the table before game time, but I was pretty nervous and totally forgot.

The group that gathered for my first game couldn’t have been better. Much to my relief, fully half the table were Happy Jack’s people that I already knew (thanks Gina, Megan, Bloodsparrow!); the other half were all fun and enthusiastic too, so I really felt comfortable. One fellow had sat down solely because it was “the only GURPS game with an open seat,” and had no clue what Jem was all about – but after the initial shock and dismay he stuck around and enjoyed himself.

The game ran smoothly and everyone seemed to have a blast. I didn’t lose the ability to speak or toss my lunch on the table, so big pluses there. Details of the game can be found on the game page, but basically the PCs were CIA assassins sent to Russia to infiltrate a secret KGB science facility and steal a weapon prototype, as well as to contact and protect a high-value Russian double agent.

While being a fabulous and famous 80’s glam-pop girl band.

There were firefights, sneaking around, explosions, and even some player-vs.-player combat near the end. The only major departure from my expected plot was that they almost immediately grew suspicious of their handler, so instead of taking a plane to Moscow they traveled by tour bus. This caused me to change the attack from “corrupt pilot and co-pilot try to kill you all at 30,000 feet” to “black helicopters firing missiles descend upon you!” They did seem to enjoy popping a dual-.50 caliber machine gun turret out the top of the bus and taking out the choppers though.

The prototype was recovered, as was the double agent, and no one on the team was seriously injured. Important lesson to always remember in GURPS – sniper rifles hurt!

We finished the game about 5 minutes before the slot ended. My first time GMing at a con really was awesome, and I’m looking forward to running many more times.

Once I packed up all my stuff I headed back to the room to make a couple more sandwiches for dinner. About the only thing that would make these cons even better would be someone to hang out with in between slots. None of my non-gamer friends attend, and the folks I know at the con I don’t really know well enough to invite myself to dinner with. Plus, bologna and salami gets really boring!

Trying to operate on such little sleep, plus being drained from the anxiety of running Jem, finally started catching up to me by evening, but I really wanted to play the game I was preregistered for, so I sucked it up and headed back downstairs.

While I was waiting for others to arrive, a man and a small boy came over to where I was sitting. The man asked if I was Mook, and running the “Jem” game on Sunday. When I said yes he asked if he and his 9 year old son could sign up for it (since it was rated as “13+” in the program), and I said sure. I really appreciated the fact that he didn’t just show up at the table Sunday and ask me then!


Slot: Saturday, 8pm – midnight
Game (System): “The Shadow Grows” (One True Ring)
My Character: Alecia, ‘The Bride’ (human woodswoman)
GM: Denys
Players: 5/6
Dice mechanic: d6 + custom d12

I loved this GM’s style at Gamex a few months ago – his game was my favorite of that con. I almost blew off this slot for the Happy Jacks live podcast, but A) I really wanted to play another game run by Denys, and B) I wasn’t able to quickly find the location of the podcast recording.

The system for this game was One True Ring, a new “Lord of the Rings” RPG currently available in Europe and soon to be released here. The artwork was fantastic, the rules very story-centric, and it uses an interesting dice mechanic of a d6 with a custom d12 (the “11” is replaced by the mark of Sauron, the “12” by the mark of Gandalf).

Our party was great – a hobbit, a dwarf, 3 humans from different cultures – and the exploration of Mirkwood and attempt to deliver a magic gem to a distant hedge wizard was totally fun. Unfortunately I was really kind of out of it for most of the game – I was just so tired! I apologized to the GM afterward, but I hope I didn’t affect the enjoyment of any of the other players.

The parts I was coherent for were awesome, and I’m looking forward to more games from this GM at future cons. Collapsed into bed just after midnight.

This post is already running long, so I’ll break here and cover the last two days in the next installment. In a nutshell though – Gateway 2011 was a grand ol’ time.

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