Lessons Learned from Gen Con 2010

Every year I leave Gen Con with a few, crystal clear thoughts that guide my gaming and writing for the upcoming year.  This year was no different.  So here’s my list of lessons learned.

I need to GM RPGs less… so I can study other GMs more.

I was again blessed to play with awesome GMs this year.  GMs that make me learn more about the Craft that I could absorb through reading stacks of books and megabytes of blog entries.

Luke Crane is, as usual, a legendary Game Master, yielding high-energy enthusiasm for his new game (Free Market) with a perfect sense of pacing. I love how he always says “this is great! You do that” whenever a player uncertainly describes an action to him.

(I’ll post about Free Market soon. Suffice it to say that I bought the 60$ boxed game without hesitation).

Chris, with his “Welcome to Dark Sun Bitches” game, showed me how to inject massive dose of cool and attitude in encounters without breaking the complexity bank.  His “Leave-that-baddie-alone-while-the-party-tries-to-end-the-ritual-skill-challenge-while-fighting-cool-minions” encounter was gaming art.

Spoiler-free hint: Take an unbeatable monster busy doing something really dreadful other than trying to  kill the PCs and put in a 12 success skill challenge interrupted by tons of minions appearing in 2s and 3s every round.

NewbieDM (newbie no longer in my book) reminded me about what I liked so much about low level D&D. His awesome descriptions and impeccable pacing of a lvl 2 Chaos Scar adventure (the one where the party chases 2 dragonborn murderers into the cave of a wyrmling Scrappy Doo Brown Dragon).     While we completely pwned all encounters, it was a fast paced game peppered with Newbie’s silly voices and vivid description.

Plus, he’s one handsome Latino DM ladies, you WANT to play at his table.

I need to GM RPGs less… because playing is hella FUN!

In my 30 years of tabletop RPG gaming,  I somehow lost the sheer fun of playing characters.  I used to tell myself I was a bad player, or a backseat DM but I think I was just denying myself the pleasure and simplicity of playing just one character.  At Gen Con, I rediscovered that I love being a PC.  I love challenging the GM and see how they get to deal with a psycho-dramatist instigator (i.e. moi).

Phil: I see my (Free Market) PC like a low grade brain hacking telemarketer.

Luke: Dude, I think you underestimate the power of the PC you just made. What you have done here is create a freaking sociopath in an Utopia.

Phil: Well I’ll be…

People Trust my Opinion on Games More Than I Thought

Here’s a funny story. I spent most of Sunday’s early morning hours with Jared von Hindman, like the two sleepless nightbirds we can be.  During the long hours, I made the following pitch for the Free Market RPG:

What if Facebook and humanity’s evolution collided and caused the Singularity, leading to a space station standing at a Lagrange point between Saturn and a hollowed-out moon turned into the mother of all hard drives?

What if trans-humans living on that station were immortal, telepathic and lived in a utopian society where the best way to thrive was to band up in micro enterprises/cults/armies/clades and create stuff (read “apps” and “gifts”) that you gave away to make friends and gain influence?

What if you could trade that influence to get things you really needed or get out of the all the troubles you created while making all that stuff?

And what if you used short and long term memories to fuel your character’s development?

Jared: You had me at Facebook man.

I’m not done yet.

When I brought Jared and introduced him to Free Market’s co-creator Jared Sorenson (Jared squared!), two or three people saw me at the booth and/or noticed the copy of the game in my shoulder bag… and BOUGHT IT!

Fan #1: I’m buying it because it’s ChattyDM approved.

Fan #2: My wife will kill me, but if you got it, so will I.

Me: WTF?!?

I knew I had influence in the online RPG world.  I knew that people trusted my opinions about the stuff I wrote, but here I was, standing in a booth and people walked in and bought it because I happened to be there!

Mind. Blown.

I love being a gaming advocate, I just didn’t think I had that much torque.  This “year of playing other games than D&D” will be interesting indeed. I’ll make sure to pass on trustworthy feedbacks about them as I always try to.

People Want to Buy Stuff I Write and they want to work with me.

We were sitting at a bar, quaffing pints and relaxing from a hectic day, when the subject came to my having sold a surprising number of copies of the One Page Dungeon Codex (we sold like half of the copies we had and 75% of the CDs). People, Milambus and Chris in the lead, started telling me to get my ass into gear and start writing something else that I could sell, because they would totally buy it.

Thanks guys!

The conversation continued later at the Media Meet and Greet and we stumbled unto an idea that could very well be commercially viable and awesome.  I’ll get into later as I don’t want to make announcements that I can’t meet later.

Speaking of which, I was asked about my RPG for kids projects, and when people noticed that I was being wishy-washy about it, I got a solid jolt from artists and game designers I respect a lot.  They all made it clear that I had to make it and that they wanted to do it with me.

So I returned from Gen Con with the fires of creation relit in my belly!

Gen Con is for gaming. Don’t forget about it.

I played like hell this year.  I managed to combine networking with playing and it worked well for me.  Yes, I didn’t get to see Wil Wheaton in person (I was at his reading) because I was walking the floor for games for my kids (and selling tons of Free Market apparently). I also didn’t hang around with the people of Wizards of the Coast much,  but I did spend some awesome time playing Dark Sun, Chaos Scar, Drunken D&D, Parsely games and even a tremendously tense full on Magic the Gathering Base Set Draft…

…of which I made the finals and lost at the 3rd game against a very evenly matched opponent and deck. I love drafting Magic the Gathering, I miss it. I’ll get you next year TME!

Suffice it to say that gaming is what Gen Con is about and if I’m going to spend so many hundreds of dollars to get there, I might as well make it worth my gamer’s while.

What about you?

Were you at Gen Con? What was your take home lesson?  What was the cool stuff you got?  You weren’t there?  How about others cons you attended?


  1. I am flattered, because it seems that Chatty has a man-crush on me.
    I had a fantastic time running that game, and I think that having you there made me push it a little more…
    Here’s a post with some pictures… Chatty is wearing the Hawaiian shirt…


  2. I need to make getting to Gen Con next year a goal. Shouldn’t be hard, looking to move back to Indianapolis anyway. Somehow I’ve been a gamer since the red box D&D Basic Set and never made it to one. I even live in the midwest, I just tend to forget about it.

    About the kids game, I started to make one for a friend once. He wasn’t a kid but he was a bit developmentally challenged. I didn’t get too far into it aside from a small list of good qualities and a list of things that would add challenges. I was going to allow him to pick one good quality and optionally get another if he wanted to grab something off the challenges list. He liked rolling dice but not math so much. Never got around to adding the dice rolling but between reading the Dresden Files RPG (based on the free Fate system; the Aspects from there reminded me of it) and your comment I thought it couldn’t hurt to toss out there.

  3. Glad you had fun, pal. Excited to see where your indie odyssey takes you!

  4. I learned a lot at Gen Con and had one of the best times of my life. It was my first time there and I stayed from Wednesday to Sunday and sampled as much as I could.

    Wil Wheaton’s reading caused a lot of responses in me and long conversations with my husband about our gaming experiences before we met each other.

    I spent most of Gen Con going to seminars, randomly dropping in on stuff, and pacing the exhibit hall on the prowl for new stuff. The seminars were really some of the best times that I had because I spend so much time playing a wide variety of games at home that I almost never get to sit down and discuss gaming itself. It clarified a lot for me. I also realized I need to get back to being a GM. My husband wants to GM again now too. Even my friends asked me to run a game in the future. It was a great experience.

    I can’t wait for next year.

  5. I don’t trust you at all Chatty.. We know that all of you Canadians are blood crazed mad people who will come and kill us peaceful and loving American’s the moment we stop pointing our rocket filled with flowers and love at your borders 😉

    I kid.. Well.. Kinda..

    Anyways, I’m glad you had a blast! I really wish I could go to Gen Con. I guess I’m gonna have to save up for it.. sigh..

  6. TheMainEvent says:

    Its really easy to get swept up and spend all of Gencon trying to find people you know and coordinate. Its great to that some (Magic Draft, Welcome to Dark Sun, Bitches; and our Essentials demo) but its just as critical to remember to be sure to check out all the cool stuff you went there to see!

    @Chatty: We will tango again, my friend. Next time, just tell people to stop letting me take creature removal with what should be mediocre picks and card drawing with my garbage picks.

  7. @Newbie: Well now… not so much man crush… I’m latin too after all. But there’s definitively some honest professional admiration here… and okay, maybe a bit of Bromance. 🙂

    @Lanir: I really want to do the RPG Kids project. I think I have a great vision for an awesome final product that people would love. I’m going to start designing the adventure soon and work the system to use from it.

    @Zach: One thing’s for sure… you’ll all hear about it.

    @Chronic Geek: Now you need to ride that Gen Con wave and start some serious game with either you or your hubby as GM (or both!). That’s Gen Con’s main export: More gamers and more games!

    @wrath: Jersey! If you want more con experience, get a con going in your hole and grow it up and maybe we’ll come! 🙂 I’d love to DM a game surrounded by gamers talking like Fran Dresher 🙂

    Seriously, don’t trust us Canadian, we’ve been trying to destroy your brains with Shatner, Twain and Dion for generations and we’re nearly ready to invade.

    @TME: Oh man, the sweep! So freaking true. As for creature removal… I couldn’t say a thing… I kept being showered with removal! 🙂

    Next year boyo, next year!

  8. I on the other hand feel like I’m building towards finally running a game while I’m at GenCon. I’d thought about doing it this year, though I’m glad I didn’t now because things were so busy, but next year I can see myself at least running one 4E game and probably some Mouse Guard as well. You definitely piqued my interest with your immediate enthusiasm for the Free Market RPG, but I wasn’t sold on it until reading how you described it to Jared and your ideas for it. That makes me want to check it out even more!

    The Magic draft was definitely a blast! Next time I’ll be quicker to adjust the number of lands in my deck after I get mana-screwed more than once. The color selections that were drafted was very interesting to me, and that’s a part of drafting I love just as much as playing.

  9. TheMainEvent says:

    @Bartoneus: I ran 17 lands (8 swamps, 8 mountains, 1 terramorphic expanse) in my 40 card deck. I didn’t use much high casting cost (five at most), but had lots of pumpers

  10. Hey, that guy was not unbeatable. It’s just that trying to beat him is the worst choice of numerous available choices. 😉

  11. This was my second Gen Con ever and also second with full family in attendance. If you saw the 5 year Mario and his 18 month old sister dressed up as Luigi (complete with mustaches), then you probably saw us.

    As you can imagine, Gen Con with kids was definitely a whirlwind and we couldn’t do as much as we would have liked… but that seems to be the story of everyone anyway. It was totally worth it and I love that they are growing up as gamers and participating, as they can, in the community. One activity that my wife and I attempted this year was to work on the Gen Con puzzle hunt together. It was designed by master designer Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games and the puzzle hunt crew. It totally bested us, but we enjoyed the mind bending trip.

    I had a great demo of the Dixit board game (Spiel Des Jahre 2010 winner) over at the Asmodee booth and ended up picking it up.

    I’m just starting getting back into RPGs after last year’s Gen Con (and a 20 year absence). I stopped playing during college and moved on to board games (Euro and otherwise) that were more acceptable to my stable of friends. After attending last year’s Gen Con, I realized how much I missed role playing and promptly picked up a copy of Pathfinder based on the buzz it was generating at Gen Con 09 (and it looks to have contributed to their ENnies sweep this year).

    I still haven’t found or gathered a group together yet (there’s not a lot of retail gaming support in the area), but reading the books and talking about running RPGs has started to spark interest among some friends and acquaintances. I think I will be able to gather a group together soon. This will be a group of role playing newbies, so it should be interesting.

    This year, I bought a copy of Spirit of the Century at the Con after a recommendation from a long distance friend who heard I was interested in role playing again. He wanted me to dip my toe in some of the new thinking in game design. I’m burning through it and I’m blown away by some of the cool mechanics that support role playing in all aspects of the game. Aspects are amazingly versatile. It’s not perfect, but I am a new fan of the FATE system and I’m looking at picking up Diaspora (hard SF space operas) and Legends of Anglerre (high fantasy adventure) which are also based on modified versions of FATE.

    As far as playing story games with kids, I’ve been playing around with Rory’s Story Cubes with my 5 year old son lately. Each six sided die has a simple doodle/glyph on the face. We roll all the cubes (or one at a time) and then use the picture on each face to suggest an aspect to the story that I help him build. It’s a lot of fun (I’ll have a review on my wife’s site soon) and my son loves playing “the story game.”

    Based on this, I was interested in checking out Happy Birthday Robot at Gen Con, but I couldn’t find a copy. Looks like it was very popular and lends credence to there being a market for RPGs for kids.

    Keep us posted on your kids game. I’ll be sure to pick up a copy.

  12. @Jim If you’ve been out of the loop for 20 years, pathfinder actually presents a lot of new thinking on game design itself. The 3.5 team at Wizards of the Coast did some excellent work (So did the 4.0 team) in expanding a venerable product line well past where its history would place it, and then the folks at Paizo did a lot to bring that further.

    For kid gaming, the fudge based games can be great.
    One interesting place to go is the Amazing Adventures of Baron Munchausen. As it is packaged, the game isn’t incredibly kid friendly, but if you strip away the setting, essentially you have a story telling game with rules for letting the other players change the story as you go. (TAAoBM is about 2 pages of rules and 70 pages of entertainment and fluff Which is just about right for someone not familiar with the setting.)
    (This year I didn’t pick up much indy stuff, just a copy of Truth and Justice. (Pretty sure Battle Tech qualifies neither as Indy nor RPG…) but my list for my FLGS is pretty long.)

    Sorry I missed you and A. at gencon. I didn’t even think to check if you were going. Also, I had no idea you read Chatty DM…

  13. Oh, also, Once Upon a Time (not a RPG, but definitely an awesome group story telling game a 5 year old can get into.)

  14. What I learned from GenCon this year is maybe not all game systems are equal but a good group or a great GM can make a game a ton of fun even if you don’t like some things about the system.

    I also learned that finding a balance between playing, running, hanging out, walking the floor, and enjoying some of the special events is what makes the best GenCon experience for me. I played two games (Aquateen Hunger Force at the Mountains of Madness and a Spirit of the Century Game), competed in Iron DM and finished Second. Darn that Ancient Sensei. Got roasted by a 15 foot tall dragon in True Dungeon. Demoed countless games on the convention floor. Played some mayfair board games (I approve of Settlers of America). Watched Black Dynamite with my friends at 2am. (Dynomite, Dynomite) and spent some time eating and carousing with friends new and old.

    I can’t wait for next year so I can take that Iron DM title.