Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gencon’s Past: The Milwaukee Years Part 3: Playing Events

Although this is not totally true for me anymore, the main focus of GenCon during the Milwaukee years was playing in events. Sure the exhibition all was great, but my pilgrimage to mecca was to game! The games I most played included: D&D, Call of Cthulhu, BattleTech, and Rifts. In the D&D category, most often it was Ravenloft or Dark Sun. As years when on, I played less D&D and wargames, and more Cthulhu and indie games each year. When I first started going to GenCon, admittedly I was less critical of the events I participated in. I was just happy to be gaming. But as I played more and more events, I was becoming increasing clear that there was dramatic difference between a good and bad events, as well as good GMs and bad GMs. Considering that events were at least a 4 hour commitment, getting into a bad event was a total buzz kill. In rare cases, I would sometimes leave the event early. I first did this very immaturely, saying I was going to the bathroom and just bailing. I’m a little ashamed of that, but what can I say, I was a punk I guess. Eventually I was just honest to the GM, and said it wasn’t working for me.

Over the years I got better at picking my events. D&D always had a high probability of sucking. D&D suffered from a number issues. Being the entry level RPG, the GMs weren’t always very experienced. Same can be said for the players, who could be very young and immature. D&D also seemed to attract rules lawyers. Nothing saps the enjoyment of a good game then listening to players argue about game mechanics and various house rules.

Call of Cthulhu was the exact opposite. The GMs were often experienced and well prepared. The players were mature and eager to have a good time. All my most enjoyable events were Call of Cthulhu games.

Early on I also tried out various miniature games, mostly battletech and star fleet battles. A few events I enjoyed, but more often then not the battles were very slow paced and my opponent took the game far to serious.

A few events stood out from my Milwaukee Years.

Trolls R Us (D&D)
I’m sorry to pick on the GM who ran this event, but this is one is infamous in my gaming group. On one had it was impressive in that the GM created homemade terrain for miniature battles, but sadly, he ran the entire event like one giant combat, even when there were no monsters to fight! Each player had to go in turn order and meticulously move their miniature around the miniature map. Want to search a room? You need to wait until you can move your character to said room at 30 feet (6 inches) per turn. No where did this get more ridicules then when we were done with an area, the GM made us take turns moving our miniatures OFF THE MAP! For some reason, we endured the entire event, but it was the one that broke the camels back. After Trolls R Us, we were never afraid to quit an event we felt was just too bad to suffer.

Escape From Dunwich
A homemade variant of Arkham Horror. Actually an expansion since the game included the original board plus the homemade Dunwich board. Very fun and clever. I saved the world and killed all the other players in the process. Win all around.

Plato Wars
Event consisted of us making Plato monsters, When completed, the game master assigned stats and abilities for each of our creations. Then? Battled of course. Things when poorly for my Plato creature.

Awesome large scale war game where we all played a monster from Godzilla. I was Mechagodzilla! It was fun and faced pasted for a war game. The GM created a very cool playing area complete with destructible buildings. So fun, but I sadly didn’t win. Poor Mechagodzilla.

Star Wars Battle for Hoth
One year I played in a huge (25+ people) star ware miniature battle, reenacting the battle of Hoth. The game was slow but still enjoyable. The players had a lot of fun with it. Famed Star Wars author Timothy Zahn dropped by for awhile. I was a snowspeeder and was shot down by an AT AT. I was going for historical accuracy.

Alexander Incident (Star Trek RPG)
I’m not 100% sure this was the name of the event, but it was a Star Trek RPG game that the game master ran repeatedly for several years. He knew the adventure inside and out and ran it flawlessly. It was a near prefect Star Trek experience. The GM acted like the computer and the players, each taking typical roles on a star fleet ship, worked like a crew. The mystery was hard but solvable. It was very satisfying to save the day in the end.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gencon’s Past: The Milwaukee Years Part 2: The Safehouse

As stated in earlier posts, the thing I most miss about GenCon in Milwaukee was Mecca Arena, but a close 2nd is the Safehouse. Odd thing was, we didn’t discover the safe house until about years 4 or 5 of attending GenCon, which I suppose makes sense. It is a secret spy bar after all.

Ethan, another of my best friends, started going to GenCon year 3 and hasn’t missed it since. Since Jay missed last year, that makes him second behind me in continuous GenCons. He discovered the Safehouse by chance during an unrelated trip to Milwaukee, which was fortunate, since it setup the ideal way to experience the Safehouse.

He told us we had to go to this bar, but didn’t give us a lot of info. We followed him into an alley on the riverfront, which aroused our suspicious, and then entered an nondescript door that only said “International Exports Ltd.” Where the fuck was he taking us!

Inside was one person, she called herself “Control.” She asked for the Password. Huh? We need a fucking password? Ethan whispered something in her ear, flipped her a $20, and exited through a conceal door which promptly shut. Ok....

Spoilers Warning!!!!
If you intend to visit the Safehouse, don’t read anymore. Just go there.

Needles to say, the rest of didn’t know the password. Control said she would let us enter, only after we did some tasks for her. She lined us at the wall and proceeded to make us do stupid tasks. Sing, Dance, etc... Now I don’t know what quality I give off, but people tend to like to punish me for some reason. Maybe I’m just too much of a smart ass, I dunno, but after letting everyone else proceed, she made me put on a grass skirt and dance some more. Seriously... a grass skirt. Finally, I made Control happy and she let me exit via the concealed door. To my surprised, when I entered the bar, there were tv monitors everywhere, and the entire bar had watched me dance in a tutu. Patrons at the bar had score cards, and gave me their marks as I entered. Damn spies and their games!

Inside the bar was a host of gadgets, props, and memorabilia from spy movies. It was a impressive collection. The food was good on top of that and they sold special spy drinks in collectible glasses you got to keep. One drink I recall was called Mission Impossible. I didn’t try it, but a friend of mine did, and he found it impossible to do much else correctly the rest of the evening.

Just as we were ready to leave, Ethan showed us one more surprise. He brought us into a phone booth, closed the door, and revealed a secret exit that lead to a tunnel which emptied into another back alley.

Best bar ever. Nothing in Indy has even come close.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gencon’s Past: The Milwaukee Years Part 1: Hotels

My first decade of GenCon took place in Milwaukee of course. Sad to say, many of the events of those years run together and I find it impossible to separate them chronologically. So I grouped them in a few key topics. My first is on hotels, which is probably not a good choice for the first one since it really doesn't have to do the convention itself, but here it is anyways...

The Milwaukee Years Part 1: Hotels
I don’t know all the reasons GenCon moved from Milwaukee to Indianapolis, but on top of the list was hotels. In Milwaukee, the hotel situation was a mess and with the exception of a handful of hotels, many were not in walking distance of the convention buildings.

Worse was the way GenCon handled hotels. Keep in mind, during these years, the Internet was just getting started. So there was no online registering or hotel reserving for GenCon. Everything was done by mail. You’d send in your money and rank a list of hotels in order of preference. A few months later you’d get the info back and see where the chips fell. In most cases, the results were disappointing. Often, we would be stuck in a hotel that either required driving or shuttling to the convention, which was a real drag. It seems that most of the hotels within walking distance went to exhibitioners and other VIPs. Makes sense I suppose, but still sucked.

Unfortunately when we had to drive on Thursday and Friday, the commute also included the horrendous smell of the breweries. It was Milwaukee after all. This was extra hard after we reach drinking age and needless to say, would have a few cocktails the night before.

Two housing experiences came to mind while I was recalling Milwaukee GenCons.

Marquette University Dorms
One year, apparently when attendance was peaking, we drew the shortest of housing straws, and placed in the dorms of Marquette University. This would have sucked for a number of reasons in any given year. The dorms had no bathrooms, had single beds, and we were on the 20th floor, but more importantly, it had no air conditioning. That year it was a scorching summer. I happened to bring a small fan that year, but there was 5 of us spread out in 2 rooms. So we’d play a game each night for the prize of the fan. If you didn’t win, you would literally be soaked with sweat by the morning. Also, did I mention that the dorms cost more than the average hotel room for some reason? Yeah, that was pretty sweet.

The Ambassador
The Ambassador Hotel is actually an historic landmark. It was a place out of time. When you entered, it was if you traveled to the 1920s (or 50s I suppose). It had a nice Cthulhu vibe and the rooms were pretty nice. But the thing was, it was in a horrible part of town. We didn’t mind much because it was an endless source of late night entertainment. While we where enjoying our boardgames, we could see drug dealers and the occasional prostitute work the street below. On the final night, we got to witness a serious street fight, which I can only assume was a rival of the dealers. Not that I actually asked them mind you. Ah the Ambassador ….