Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Eclectic

Gexhibit iconenCon is split into three roughly comparable parts.  We’ve already talked about the boardgaming side of things, but there are also a host of gamers there to compete and play in trading card games.  Possibly the largest segment in attendance are the role-playing game hobbyists.  Way back in the past, I’ve done my time with trading card games, but the lure of role playing games is still there.   Here’s a summary of “what I did in my off-hours” of covering the convention.

There were several things I wanted to try out this year, and some I’m glad I have already seen in the past.  If you’re looking for something new to experience at the convention, I think the Hickman’s Killer Breakfast (interactive rpg themed “event” is all I can call it) is a must-see if you can get up early enough on Saturday.  If you have deep pockets, True Dungeon (a 2 hour live-action, over the top sfx role-playing experience) is also impressive to see.  I’ve done both and am glad I did, but I don’t expect to shell out the money needed for True Dungeon anytime soon.

Role Playing News

Before I get down to the entertaining activities of which you’re dying to hear, let me take a moment and run down a bit of the interesting role-playing news items I stumbled across this year.

Paizo (Pathfinder)

Paizo was out in force promoting the top selling RPG for the past few years, Pathfinder.  People were playing games in their huge play hall and their booth was nearly always crowded.


The Pathfinder play hall. Looks like some sort of really strange banquet where dice is served as the appetizer.

If one looked past the giant pile of Skull & Shackles Adventure card game in the booth, there were a few items of interest to RPG gamers.  Paizo has partnered with Wizkids to produce a whole line of painted minis for the Pathfinder system, so that’s yet another avenue for acquiring miniatures for your fantasy gaming.  One item of note was Paizo’s big, Kickstarted module The Emerald Spire.

emerald spire

The Superdungeon, for Superplayers. Hope you brought your Superdice to the Supertable. Isn’t gaming just super?

It’s a huge dungeon adventure that is just a dungeon… 16 levels worth.  Each level is written/designed by some RPG luminary.  It came about as part of a Kickstarter for the Pathfinder MMO.  Supposedly the “largest adventure” published for Pathfinder (going levels 1 up to 13).

emerald spire dungeon

An image of one of the dungeon’s battlemaps displayed at the Paizo site. Watch out for that branching nerve thingy! That’s one bad case of athlete’s foot.

This being Paizo, you can also buy extra stuff for it like cards representing NPCs and items, and a complete set of 8 large laminated Flip-Mats that encompass all 16 levels of the dungeon.  Yours for only $80!  I have to admit I’m a bit attracted to it, but I think that is only because it’s green.

The only other thing that popped onto my radar was the upcoming Pathfinder Strategy Guide.  I’m always on the lookout for things targeted more towards the beginner than the long-time RPG gamer.  The thin-ish hardcover will be a companion to the base books, but provide advice and strategy to gamers who many not be familiar with the system or RPGs in general.  Think of it as a source of experienced advice for player for who don’t have a ready source.  It covers character choices as well as combat decisions.  It will even have a little questionnaire (perhaps ripped right from an alternate universe’s Teen Beat Magazine) that will match your personality to a recommended class and style.

Wizards of the Coast (Dungeons and Dragons)

This being the kickoff of the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast <ahem {Hasbro} ahem> was around to remind everyone of the event.  They didn’t have a booth in the exhibit hall this year, but their travelling castle was back once again.


Abandon all hope ye who enter here! (Hope can be checked at the hope check in aisle 9. Please keep your claim slip.)

The newest edition is now officially 5th edition, having previously been titled D&D Next during playtests.  My scheduled interview had to be nixed (the shame!) but I did get a few updates to share.  The starter set released last summer is a great introduction to the game, providing dice, rules, and adventure, and even premade characters with preselected advancements as they level up for the first few levels.  If players get attached to the system and buy the basic books, the rules in the starter set are designed to be a handy reference at the table as well.  The D&D world typically is based on three books, the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual.

dnd PHThe Player’s Handbook is now on shelves and the other two will follow in about a month or so more each.  In a deviation from the previous edition, Wizards is also releasing a scaled down (in content, not rules) version of the “Basic Rules” as online PDFs.  While still in development until the new year or so, you could check out the player’s handbook type section here.

dnd tyrrany 1st adventureAs for the current “theme” (there’s always a theme of the year), it is Tyranny of Dragons.  Yep, they are putting the dragon back into D&D…  There are LOTS of ways to get into the theme via beginner adventures, experienced adventures, epic ones, ones to play at home, ones to play at a local store, etc..  For less connected people like myself, The Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a hardback module, the first of 2 in a set.  The story concluded in the second one, The Rise of Tiamat, out in October.

I think the new rules are a needed change.  Previous rules kept becoming more and more of a miniatures battle game.  While plans remain in the works to add in miniatures combat options, the new core of D&D is much more in the mind of the players.  This makes combat faster, perhaps even a bit more storytelling in scope, and puts a bit more “role” back in roleplaying for those players who have lost their way into combat central.

I have been playing the starter kit with my grade school son and some neighbor kids and their dads and it is going over very well.  The system attempts (and succeeds, I think) to let players decide how complicated they want to make things.  There are easy characters to play that are just as effective as some more fiddly or complex ones.

During the convention, I was able to play a bit on Saturday morning in the 1 hour encounter event…  my gnome monk spent most of his time failing to jump up into a second story barn loft… good times.  (In the game’s defense, one hour isn’t much time for much actual story to develop.)

Dwarven Forge (Terrain)

RPG players are just (if not more so) as attracted to bling as boardgamers are to nice bits.  Wandering by in the exhibit hall I saw the display by Dwarven Forge.


Shiny, glowy, and even a bit (in the corner there) watery goodness…. for a price.

They have had two very successful kickstarters selling 2×2 blocks of plastic terrain that can be fit together to make all sorts of things.  Their first focused on actual dungeons, and their second (arriving this fall) focused on caves and caverns.  You can see the prepainted lava terrain, the icy…. ice(?) terrain, and just a hint of the water bits in the cavern in the back corner.  Their stuff is so cool looking and made of sturdy plastic (my boys use the dungeon stuff to build towers) it is hard to not go a bit overboard…  I wish they would just quit making me throw money at them…

Collapsible Construction (Terrain)

Ah ha! Finally something that isn’t so hard on the wallet.  I found these guys as I wandered the main hall and have to applaud what can be done on a budget.

folding terrain (3)

“EZ Fold Castles”… the solution to overcrowding the world over!

Displaying signs all over the place that they are NOT PAPERCRAFT (where people cut out and glue together paper bits to form terrain), the folks at Collapsible Construction have taken the idea of the pop-up tent and applied it to paper terrain.

folding terrain (1)

Keep your castle walls in a handy 3 ring binder.

The basic idea is to have strong laminated card stock (300g)  and then attached together with internal rubber bands so that terrain can be self-assembling.  It is decently strong stuff, easily able to hold even larger heavy miniatures (but probably not your cat.)  Keep your castle walls in a folder (provided) that fits comfortably in a three ring binder. Since it’s laminated, it can be used with dry or wet erase markers.  Each Set runs about $10-$20 and has a few castle walls or some ramparts, etc…  a complete castle (partially shown in the top photo) would only cost about $70.  When you’re done, squash it back down and put it back in the folder for easy portability.

ProFantasy Software (Campaign Cartographer)

campaign cartographerI like to check in with ProFantasy each year as they produce a suite of very high-end mapping software.  It is very powerful, but derives more from CAD software than user friendly point and click type things, so it doesn’t have an easy learning curve.  What it does do is make really nice maps.    The current version is CC3, but an upcoming upgrade (whenever it happens) will bring the software up to CC3+.   This will add in some new map elements and styles, add in larger resolution icons (I believe), and most importantly for me – speed up the program.

Howling Horde Huge Map

My inept attempt at making a map a few years back… shows that even talentless people can pull off something not too horrid.

It works well at the moment, but all the cool lighting effects and things really burn up the processing power so that it is best to turn them off for most of the time you’re working on the map.  The new “plus” version is supposed to take care of that so there’s no need to only use the fancy stuff when it’s time to print.

Paint and Take

On to the personal event stuff… Something I’ve always wanted to try was the free “Paint and Take” event put on by all the companies that sell miniatures and paints.  You sign up on-site and wait for your turn, get to pick a miniature from a wide selection and are then provided with a table, a free brush, a bunch of paint, and people who will come by and give you advice.


All these little miniatures, looking for a home. Your donations will help give them a second chance in a humane, no-kill miniature shelter.

I signed in a bit after the starting time (so missed the initial burst of open tables) but still only had to wait about 20 minutes or so.


Squirtle… I CHOOSE YOU!

Being who I am, I picked out a giant turtle thing for two reasons.  First, it was the biggest model there (and I am an American) and I figured I wouldn’t have to futz around with too many details found on people and people-ish models.


Squirtle has evolved!

After a bit of advice from my handler (to whom I apologize as I cannot find where I wrote down his name) I was off to the races.  It was a delicate balance of my patience and how quickly the paint would dry.  I was fairly pleased with the results for about 30-45 minutes of work (really, it looks marginally better in real life.)  Given more time I guess I would have done more layers, but this experience also showed me just how much I don’t really have time to get into the painting hobby.

Games on Demand

games on demand

After our brief D&D session early on Saturday, my friend and I wanted to get in a bit of roleplaying more substance.  He volunteers at the Games on Demand event at GenCon.  It is an interesting group of people who play lots of the lesser-known RPGs.  It reminded me a lot of the boardgame folks who like to check out the newest stuff at the Gathering or Essen, etc…  always looking out for interesting new games or even new mechanisms.  A good portion of the folks helping with the event have dabbled in creating their own role playing game or two.  To hook up with a game, you show up and are assigned a letter.  When gaming starts, a lottery is held and when your letter is called you head to the main table and pick what sort of game you want to play.  I left it up to my friend, although I did hold out for something not too dark and something more cooperative than competitive.

cat revisedWe ended up in a game of Cat (the revised edition of course.)  Yes, the three of us at the table were each a cat, complete with cat characteristics and motivations.  Sounds rather silly, but hey I like silly boardgames, too!  In fact, I chose to play my wife’s cat… very beautiful but dumb as a stump (the cat, not the wife – she’s a physicist.)  The idea in the game Cat is that cats have great perception so they can see these little nearly invisible gremlins that latch on to people and steal away their happiness.  Only cats can see them, so we people don’t know they’re chasing away the gremlins.  Chasing gremlins is hard work, so that explains why they seem to freak out sometimes and sleep the rest of the time.

Our adventure was narrated by Ray Otus (good job, guy!) and we had a grand old time saving “Madame” who lived in our house and giving Madam’s poodle a hard time.  Every cat has some special powers, and mine ended up being particularly good a knocking things over.  It was put to good use and we saved the day.

I can’t help but feel like I was in an alternate game dimension from where much of my boardgaming occurs.  Very friendly people, lots of interesting games, and many folks had their own take on games to tell you about.  Our narrator even showed us a few of his attempts (you can download them for free).  One fit on a postcard, and another fit onto a business card.  Take that Seiji Kanai, you thought 16 cards was doing something!

 And that’s all folks!

I don’t know if I need to rest up more from the convention or from writing about it, but it’s time for me to go.  I’ll end with the obligatory photo of myself with some costumed ladies.

taylor nelson and erika sherwin (1)

I don’t know if it makes it more or less creepy to know these are two of my former students, one of which is my kids’ babysitter.



About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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2 Responses to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Eclectic

  1. Thanks for the shout out Matt. After I got over being distracted by your amazing hair, we had a great game! I had always wanted to run Cat. It can be a little “twee,” though it has some darker horror elements that you can play up too. It is exactly what I thought it would be – a solid little game that is suited to new role-players and mixed-age audiences, or for role-playing gamers who just want to switch it up a little. One quick correction. We played Cat “Classic.” Jonathan Wick is reportedly working on a revised version. FYI, I posted the character sheet I used on my website: I enjoyed your write up of the other games you played. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  2. Carl Klutzke says:

    Good writeups! It was great running around Gen Con with you.

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