Strategicon Gateway 2011 – Part 2

Part two of my ramblings, review, and summary of the recent Gateway 2011 gaming convention (part one is here).

Got a solid 6 hours of sleep, quick shower, bananas and an apple for breakfast, boogied on down to my first game of the day.

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.


Slot:┬áSunday, 9am – 1pm
Game (System):┬á“Deadliest Catch” (Trail of Cthulhu)
My Character: Tom Hawkins (professor of Anthropology)
GM: Steve
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: a single d6

I was looking forward to this game, having played in some of Steve’s games before and being a fan of the fine folks at the Dead Gamer’s Society – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Based loosely on the reality show “Deadliest Catch,” our characters quickly found themselves at the center of a Cthulhu-esque mystery in Dutch Harbor. There were fish men, family secrets, betrayals, suicide, patricide, pacts with evil – in short, it was a Cthulhu game. Had a really great time, and was once again pumped up for running my Jem game.

Perhaps the highlight of the game for me was one of the characters, already teetering on the edge of sanity, realizing that his father was part of the secret pact with evil that led to his sister’s suicide … and pushing his father to his death off the same cliff his sister jumped from (right in front of the town sheriff no less!). Brilliant.

Dealer’s Room

I made a quick visit to the Dealer’s Room in between slots – this was literally the only time I set foot in the board game room. Since the only RPG I run is GURPS, and I already own all the GURPS hardcovers, there’s not usually all that much for me to browse, but I did find a couple things.

This little gem is a card game called Poo. The players are monkeys in a zoo who have eaten some bad Monkey Chow, and are paying the price. The object of the game is to keep yourself as clean as possible, while inflicting 15 points of Poo on all the other monkeys to knock them out of the game. Couldn’t resist! We’ve played once so far, with 8 people, and it was a lot of fun.

The other items I bought are game counters from a company called Dapper Devil:

In addition to these that I bought at the con, I just bought a few more online (dead, invisible, and prone). When there’s a battle going on, say 6 PCs vs. 6-8 NPCs, anything that can help me quickly remember who’s been wounded, who’s stunned, etc. is awesome.

I see that they do custom orders – if I get the resources I might inquire about having some GURPS-specific counters made up: “Less than 1/3 HP”, “Kneeling”, “Aim 1”, “Aim 2”, etc.

The only other thing I sometimes grab in the dealer’s room is the convention t-shirt, but I wasn’t a big fan of this con’s shirt. It was the same as the cover of the program, which works great as the program, but on a t-shirt would just require too much explaining.

I got to my assigned table about a half hour before game time and started setting up.


Slot:┬áSunday, 2pm – 6pm
Game (System):┬á“Jem: License to Kill” (GURPS)
GM: Me!
Players: 5/6
Dice mechanic: 3d6, roll under target number

Ended up with an empty seat for this run, but we still had a great time.┬áOne player arrived wearing a pink “Jem” t-shirt and bright eye shadow in a band across her eyes. Good sign!

The father and son who had chatted with me on Saturday night played, and the 9 year old was a hoot and a half to run for. He played the sniper, and at one point took out a two-man patrol walking too close to his sniper’s nest. When turns went around the table again he declared that he was packing his gear and moving to a new location. When asked why he would do that instead of just staying hidden where he was, he matter-of-factly replied, “Snipers never stay in the same spot after they’ve taken a shot.” This is the same kid who, when I asked him to make a Stealth roll to sneak past a sentry, answered, “I don’t want to sneak past the sentry, I want to sneak up behind him and shank him.” Dad, of course, had a proud smile on his face throughout.

This time through had just as many crazy firefights and sneaking around as Saturday’s game. The team again managed to snag the weapon prototype and get the defecting double agent to safety without serious injury. Maybe I’m not hard enough on the PCs.

I was very pleased with how both Jem games went. Having never GMed for anyone outside my usual gaming buddies, I was pretty anxious – but everyone said they had a great time, and the online comments in the days after the con were delightfully positive and humbling:

“All I have to say is I have heard NOTHING but good about this. And you did it due to a challenge on the boards. I say, good show man.”

“Awesome game, Mook. Thanks!”

“It was fab. Not only a great game based on the show but a very solid espionage mission that would work well on its own. Would play again.”

“I wanted to reiterate how amazingly awesome your Jem game was. I didn’t know anything about the cartoon going in, and had only a passing knowledge of GURPS, but neither of those things mattered because you made it easy and accessible. Seriously, you were a great GM: calm, prepared, knowledgeable, engaging and above all, a lot of fun! I would consider myself lucky to get to play in another game that you were running. So, if you plan to try something else at the next con, count me in!”

“I wanted to tell you again just how much fun I had at the Jem game. It was a blast! You made GURPS easy & easy to navigate, the story was fun & super-engaging, *you* attracted a lot of fun players, & you are a fantastic GM! (I definitely picked up some tips for myself. :)”

After the game I splurged on a pizza at the hotel restaurant and relaxed. Apparently, even I can reach my limit of bologna and salami … who knew? Eventually I made my way to the last game of the day.


Slot:┬áSunday, 8pm – midnight
Game (System):┬á“Darkest Night, Brightest Day” (Pathfinder)
My Character: Kyle (Drow fighter/ranger with dual scimitars)
GM: Tyler
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: d20, and polyhedrals

Once again, the fine folks from Happy Jacks did not disappoint! This was another fun game, where we all played good-aligned Drow fighter/rangers with dual scimitars. There was Driggt, Drivvt, Driddt, Dribbt, Drimmt, and me … Kyle. In our attempt to “defect” to the surface world, our little party rained flashing steely death down upon an entire encampment of Orc grunts, a couple of uber-special Orc elites, and a huge dragon with a sonic breath weapon.

Not only did it rock, but I got to keep my Drizzt … er, Kyle figure. Nice! I went back to my room and slept like a baby.


Slot:┬áMonday, 9am – 1pm
Game (System):┬á“Magic, Mohawks, and Mirrorshades” (Fate/Shadowrun)
My Character: Big Bob (Orc ganger with a chrome spike mohawk)
GM: Morgan
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: d20, and polyhedrals

The reality that the con was nearly over, with just a couple of games left to enjoy, began looming this morning. This game helped take my mind off that for a few hours. It was the third time I played Fate, and the third time I had a freakin’ blast. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, and I’ve begun reading Fate 2.0, free from the publisher, for ideas to steal for my GURPS games.

This was “Shadowrun as it was meant to be,” meaning all of the coolness and bad-assery of the original setting, with none of the clunkiness of the original rules. I really enjoyed the over-the-top cinematic action of it all – firefights with high-tech guns, netrunning, magic spells, summoned spirits – start to finish it was like being in a supercool action movie.

And then it was down to … the last game of the weekend!


Slot:┬áMonday, 2pm – 6pm
Game (System):┬á“To Defy the Stars” (D&D 4th)
My Character:┬áCleave d’Amage (human barbarian)
GM: Gina and Megan
Players: 6/6
Dice mechanic: d20, and polyhedrals

IÔÇÖm reiterating the┬áspoiler warning┬áon this one specifically, as it followed an unusual narrative.┬á

Originally I had planned to leave Gateway after midnight on Sunday, as I had done for Gamex. But I really, really wanted to play in Gina and Megan’s game, so I extended until Monday. So glad I did!

The game started off on a perfect note, with the GMs giving every player Mountain Dew and Cheetos. Nice touch.

We were a more or less standard fantasy adventuring party – I played a barbarian named Cleave d’Amage (love it!). The group of us was relaxing in the Brown Badger, our favorite generic tavern, when a mysterious old crone offered to tell us a secret if we bought her a drink. The secret was that all of our lives, every decision we’d made and every action we’d taken, were not truly ours. We, and every other living person in the entire world, were merely the playthings of two goddesses named the Queens of Fate. Our free will was an illusion – and we agreed to take up the crone’s cause, find our way to these mysterious Queens, and end their reign of tyranny.

The going was tough. Paths didn’t lead where they were supposed to, and a group of hostile gnolls “happened” to block our way. We began to notice strange things – for example, the gnolls only seemed to move in very specific patterns, and the grass and ground beneath our feet were marked with 10′ squares.

Ultimately we reached the chamber of the Queens of Fate, after overcoming their temple’s riddles and puzzles (including a cool ‘musical lock’ that the GMs played on a child’s xylophone behind their screen, and that our bard had to recreate – luckily the bard’s player was in a band!). It was an epic battle, full of magic and animated statues and summoned elementals, but ultimately we defeated them both (I actually got high-fives from around the table for a natural 20 critical hit killing blow that took out one of the goddesses).

We ran a little late so the epilogue was necessarily brief, which was too bad – I could have stayed to chat and wrap up for hours. I did get to keep my barbarian figure though. Score!

What an awesome way to end such a great con. This was probably my favorite game of the weekend – the GMs really nailed it, and I look forward to playing more of their games soon. Way to go out on a high note!

It was an exhausting weekend, left me totally drained by Monday afternoon, but I had an absolute blast and got to play a ton of great games with a ton of great people. Can’t ask for much more than that!

I’m already looking forward to OrcCon, in February … not sure what, if anything, I’ll run there, but early possibilities include GURPS: Battle of the Planets, or GURPS: The Warriors┬á(or both!). We’ll see how things shape up.

Things I Learned This Convention

  • Bring Pencils, Not Dice: I made sure to bring plenty of 6-siders to my GURPS games, but didn’t bring any extra pencils … naturally, everyone had their own dice, but a lot of people asked for something to write with.
  • Don’t Pack Shorts: I thought wearing shorts would be more comfortable, which normally would be the case … except the average temperature of nearly every room I played a game in was ┬░64.

Thanks to all the GMs, players, volunteers, and staff that make these conventions possible … after only attending twice they’ve already become high points of my year.

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