Bakuretsucon 2003

In honor of my recent trip to Bakuretsucon and to tie-in with A Shaky Start to the Convention Experience, here’s a report I wrote and posted to of my first outing to that convention.

Flashback! Bakuretsucon 2003 was my first convention with a game element to it. I had attended a few local comic book shows in the mid-90s, but never experienced convention culture as such. I didn’t know what to expect, particularly because my game-playing experiences prior to this were rather limited, consisting of a few games on a study abroad trip and a game day put on earlier that winter by Bakuretsucon staff.

This was, I should note, in the days when Bakuretsucon was a multi-genre convention, hosting anime and gaming tracks. A couple years later, they spun the focused gaming off into its own convention, leaving Baku purely anime. We can talk about that change in another post.

For a long time, I debated digging this up. A lot of people in the local gaming and nerdy scenes I’ve come to regard as friends I met at this convention, although I may not have realized it at the time. So how I perceived people then is not necessarily how I think of them now; in some cases, I was way off base in my thinking. Furthermore, I wrote this six years ago. My writing style has changed significantly since then — I think a lot of it came from trying to impress posters at with literary flair, to be honest — and I cringe a bit to read it over now, even more than my Mage: The Suppressed Transmission session reports. But, I have decided, it’s more important to own up to one’s work. To that end, all I’ve done is change some of the styling to fit that of Held Action and link to named games.

Plus it’s a snapshot of the Burlington gaming scene as a portion of it existed in 2003. I say “portion” because in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that most gamers in Burlington weren’t interested in the proceedings, which is telling in a way of its own.

PS See if you can spot the howler with regards to RPG terminology as it exists now. If you find one other than that I’m thinking of, extra kudos to you.

Prelude: “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing.”

This was the second Bakuretsucon, held in South Burlington, VT. I had missed the previous year’s for various reasons and didn’t know anyone who had gone, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. From the name, you can tell they were into anime, but I knew they had gaming events, too.

Day One: “Where have all the gamers gone?”

Since the convention center/hotel is only a ten minute walk from my house, I opted to do that rather than cadge rides all weekend. Events didn’t start until noon, so I took my time getting there, although I think that was more due to nerves than anything else.

My mind swam with questions. What sort of people would be there? What would they think of my sessions? (I had volunteered to GM Adventure and WitchCraft games.) Could I perhaps find that elusive gaming group in need of a new player? The answers awaited me at the South Burlington Best Western.

When I got there, the lobby was half-empty, the other half full of con staff running around, doing last minute tasks: tracking down missing DVD players and people. Registration was a snap. Then I was kind of at a loss. The first gaming slot didn’t start until 1:00, and it was only 12:15. The solution? Dealer’s room!

This would be the first of many drive-bys to the dealer’s room for me. I like to worry and gnaw away at things I want to buy, forever reconsidering, going away, and then coming back again. The habit endears me to shopkeepers and sales clerks the world over, I can promise you.

They had five dealers this year, two of whom were the con’s sponsors. Of the other three, one was a booth devoted entirely to dungeon-making software, which I skipped entirely, the second a game dealer from Glenns Falls, down in New York state. The third dealer hadn’t arrived yet. Had a few words with the NY dealer, Bill, about Adventure!, flipped through Gear Krieg, and then moseyed on down the hall to the gaming room.

This was it, my apotheosis. I would step through this door, and finally meet the people who had so cunningly eluded my bulletin board bait, deadfalls set in the RPG aisle of Barnes and Noble, and plaintive cries from the bell towers about town. I would finally meet local gamers.

Looking back, I guess I should have known better than to expect the place to be packed, given Bakuretsu’s youth, in addition to the fact that it was the first hour of the first day. Still, I live in hope in spite of reality.

In corner, one of the gaming staff was setting up a Civilization board. The rest of the room was just empty round tables and chairs. Disheartened, but still hopeful for the night, I got into a pickup game of Civ that would set the tone for the weekend: me getting my ass kicked in war games that didn’t particularly interest me.

If you’ve never played any of the incarnations of Civilization, each player tries develop their own civilization, gaining territory, building new technologies, and most importantly of all, armies. I’m not an advance-and-conquer kind of guy at all, so I was pretty much the GM’s sock puppet, doing as he suggested, which I’m sure advanced his own goals far more than any I might have had — which I didn’t. Have goals, that is, beyond “get land.” And that one fizzled out pretty quickly, when I got lodged in Central and northern South America between two other players’ forces.

At one point, another GM wandered through, totally at a loss for the lack of players. Another group came in and actually started playing something using BESM, but I so thoroughly mired in Civ I held no hope of escape.

Anyway, Civ dragged on until I finally lost my last forces. Seizing the opportunity, I escaped to mooch around the con some more and check out the other rooms. Video room, video room, video game room, empty panel room. Nothing really going on in any of them, so I ducked out to raid the cupboards back at home for sustenance.

The Friday evening slot. This was going to be it. This was the big moment. The afternoon had only been the calm before the storm. After all, there had only been two scheduled afternoon games. This time, the schedule had at least six RPGs on tap, including the first part of a four session, multigenerational epic called “The History of the Key.” I would have loved to sign up for it, if I hadn’t been obliged to run something myself.

As it was, we had lots of GMs and practically no players. Nik, who was running the four-parter had maps and charts and minis and handouts, and looked incredibly well-prepared. He also looked somewhat peeved that no one showed up. Another BESM GM decided to go look up an old friend in town. I didn’t really mind at all, because I prefer to play rather than GM.

I met up with the guys behind CarnageCon, which happens on the east side of the state — CarnageCon VI: Carnage by the Lake in Fairlee, VT, is this October, for those of you who might care. I’ve never been, but I met them at a game day put on by the Bakuretsu people back in March. Really nice folks. I’ll get out to Carnage one of these days…

The name of the system was Forge: Out of Chaos. It looked and sounded like an indie game, one that was quite literally done in someone’s basement. Three brothers wrote it, and had asked this guy to demo it for them. So he did.

This was actually really fun. Tom put together a scenario based on Roger Zelazny’s The Changing Land, which I’ve never read, so I had no idea what was going on, It starts with the PCs waking up in a sorcerer’s castle after 50 years, and having to find their way out while reality goes through convulsions outside.

The best moment of the evening came when we came to a dark hallway at the top of a winding stairway, deep in the mountain on which the castle rested. The party had a servant by the name of Baldrick, who’d been “tagging along,” with the point of the cleric-of-justice-type’s sword in his back.

So we’re there at the top of the staircase, and he gives Baldrick a shove down the stairs, saying, “You go first, Baldrick. Without any weapons, you’ll be much more alert.”

I swear to God, I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. Made the whole evening worthwhile. And everyone was muchly impressed by my use of the word “exsanguinated” in a sentence: “I clamber over the exsanguinated troll corpse.” Tom even wrote it down.

I had trepidations at first. When I saw the description in the con book, I was like, “Uh-uh. No way.” It sounded like a generic swords-and-sorcery game, with six schools of magic, spell component bookkeeping, and forever repairing your armor.

And it was that. That type of game is some people’s thing, but it’s not mine. Fortunately, we had a really good GM, I feel, who kept it all moving and entertaining. That, and it was quite literally the only game in town, aside from some Magic duels and more Civilization. Also, I think an RPGA D&D game started up after we did.

The game wrapped up around midnight — we’d begun around 7:30, 7:45 — and I headed home to catch some sleep, as I didn’t particularly fancy taking in any of the hentai showing in the video rooms.

Day 2: “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

Woke up bright and early Saturday morning, around 6:00 or so, to the play of dawning sunlight on my face and birdsong in my ears. That was really nice.

Made my way back to the hotel just as other folks were heading down from their rooms. Pretty much everyone who’d been there last night was back, plus a few new additions, including Steve, who had a Deadlands scenario called “Showdown at Tentacle Corral.” Nik was back, too, with “The History of the Key” and what looked like costumes — this session was set in the Wild West, IIRC. Plus one of the con staff, Shane, was going to do something with Hong Kong Action Theatre. Like I said, there were a good six or seven games on the schedule. All this, and a MiB for SJ Games. I think he had Car Wars on hand then.

And only one of them ran, natch. This time it was Call of Cthulhu, centered around a real life incident of a man who built — and rebuilt — a spa/resort in the Northeast Kingdom that burned down three times just before opening. This time, it was just me and a married couple playing the role of investigators hired by the insurance company to look into what was going on.

I suppose I should have figured out what I was in for when the couple spent twenty-five minutes just talking to the insurance agent. I mean, role-playing’s fine, but can’t we get to the scene of the action first? My character’s gotta be insane by lunchtime. Let’s move it, people!

Gaylord the GM even threw a few things my way, like having my character be the only one to notice something. But the game was mostly dominated by the other two interviewing people. F’rex, I started out searching the basement of the resort, and then suddenly the other guy was down there, doing the searching. (And if we’d bothered to dig, we would have found a maimed but still hideously deadly Xicotl or somesuch down there, whose blood fed the seven or so natural springs nearby.)

My real moment to shine came when I got to pick the lock on a storage cupboard in the basement of the town library. I think it’s the only time I rolled dice all game.

There’s something very liberating about rolling dice. You are, in my opinion, essentially giving up the duty to continue the narrative in an interesting fashion and putting it in the hands of more or less random chance. It’s very handy when you can’t think of what to do next, which happens to me a lot.

The game ran long thanks to some very in-depth role-playing and interviewing on the part of the other two players — one interview lasted twenty minutes while my character stepped out for a smoke and I wandered around the con some more to stretch my legs — so we only got about halfway into the adventure, apparently. Up to the part where we sneak into a KKK rally. Unfortunately, we entered the clearing from the one of two angles where their burning crosses were parallel to our lines of sight, so they just looked like blazing telephone poles. Ah well.

Went outside and sat beneath the trees to eat my lunch. Sunny, warm, more birds singing. A startling contrast to sitting in the game room for hours on end. I think more people should game outside. Just take the books and the character sheets and just find a tree to sit under.

After that, I got into a game of Mare Nostrum with the Carnage guys, essentially war and trade in the Mediterranean Sea among the Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and Babylonians. I liked it better than Civ, but like I said, I’m not a war gamer, so I got my ass kicked pretty soundly again.

Missed out on the Legend of the Five Rings, unforch, because it started after Mare Nostrum did. Would’ve liked to try it, but was put off because the description said a knowledge of Rokugan helped, and I have none.

I begged off after the first game, saying I really didn’t grok it very well. This struck one player, Robert. “They still teach Heinlein in high school?” I think he said…

Meanwhile, a lot of the con staff were playing Zombies!!! and yet more Magic went on, both here and in the convention center sales office, which the con somehow managed to commandeer. That made me smile, seeing the Magic players squeezed into a little side office, heads down, furiously playing away. Totally oblivious to the rest of the con.

More maundering about the con. By this pass through the dealer’s room, the Wizard’s Tower from Nashua had set up shop. Had a quick flick through their used books, if only for the sheer novelty of used gaming books. Came across the hard cover GURPS Discworld at another table, and was sore tempted at 25% off. I resisted temptation, however, and the country sunk deeper into the recession thanks to my willpower.

Wound up in the miniatures room, where I got into a round of Clay-o-Rama. You make a monster out of Play-Doh, the GM assigns attributes, and you pit them against each other in an arena free-for-all. This was some of the most fun I had all weekend. Everyone else at the table was pretty young — 15 and below, barring me, Doug the GM, and another guy. Monsters got put in the vice, dropped off the table, smashed with a hammer, and eviscerated with short swords. People hollering “Special! Special! Special!” ‘Twas great fun.

Back in the game room, I arrived in time for a few rounds of Ivanhoe with the Carnage folks, a card game of medieval tournament combat. That was all right. I gotta say, I like games with more of a random element to them, because when I lose, it’s not entirely thanks to my strategy.

After that, I caught ten minutes or so of The Gamers, a film that interweaves a gaming session with the adventures of the characters. What I saw was actually pretty funny and well done, especially when you consider it was probably made during the weekend by some friends. Or not. I don’t know.

But my stomach protested, and I quested in search of food. Got back at 7:00, just in time for the gaming auction. Several kids trying to sell their various clicks, some of which actually went. One of the dealers put up a good chunk of old warry type games. A trio of D&D manuals donated by WotC went for no more than half price apiece. That was about it.

No RPGs ran at all this evening — or so I thought. Instead, it was some folks playing the old Dungeon game and one more war game with the Carnage crowd, this time War: Age of Imperialism. The Civ GM played and we tussled over northern Africa and the Middle East for two hours, since he decided to go all-out offensive and I was trying to, y’know, acquire territories by exploration and all that stuff. I’m just too inoffensive to play war games, I guess.

(As it turned out, Shane had been running HKAT! next door. I’m really bummed out that I missed this, as it had been one game I had my eye on in the con books, if only to see how the system compared to Feng Shui.)

I kept looking over to the adjacent table, where Kevin the MiB was demoing Munchkin to a young kid and his parents. Apparently, the mother got very confused when her gender got swapped halfway through.

Thankfully, we’d set a time limit of two hours on the game. Feeling very beat, probably for lack of sleep the night before, in addition to the draining effect of playing Age of Imperialism, I skated once 10:00 rolled around.

Day 3: “Chiminy cho-doo!”

Bright and early that morning, it was me and the usual crowd. I had really wanted to play in this d20 Transformers game that was supposed to happen, but the GM didn’t even show up. But to be fair, most of the GMs weren’t by this point. Why take the bother when nobody was interested enough to come and play?

As it was, I played a few rounds of Chez Dork. That was a good game. I liked playing Gilly, and God help me, but I went “Ooh, those’ll would look perfect for my LARP this weekend!” when the spikey collar and wristbands came into play.

Contrary to the stories you hear about MiBs, Kevin was very personable and friendly. That was just a fun little time overall, playing a dorky little game with unashamedly dorky people. And I liked the little bits of promo swag: Munchkin, Transhuman Space, and Ninja Burger bookmarks, and a copy of GURPS Lite — now I can use supplements without needing GURPS Basic! Would’ve liked the copy of Chez Dork he gave away, but apparently you have to win to get that…

Lunchtime…what the hell did I do lunchtime…? Oh yes, I caught the SCA demonstration on the lawn outside. They held it right outside the hotel restaurant’s dining room windows, so they caught a lot of attention from the Mother’s Day crowd. Some people even came outside to get a better look.

After that, on one last swoop through the dealer’s room, I talked some with Lisa, one of the ladies at Wizard’s Tower, and had a really nice conversation about Rogue and X-Men in general, the Lord of the Rings adaptations, including a very interesting explanation of the changes they made to Faramir, a WitchCraft game she played at GenCon that was so excellent as to force the GM to come up with an entirely new scenario for his next session, because what they did just couldn’t be topped, as well as a bit about her experiences owning a game store.

It was really weird, talking to a game store owner about stuff. The one here doesn’t actually work in the shop, and the clerks ignore you.

Hell, it was weird getting to talk out loud about comics and games. I mean, people at the table knew what “grok” means. Do you realize how utterly phenomenal that is for me?

Val the con chair came through the room then, looking for people to help move stuff back to where it belonged. Feeling like I should actually help out in some regard, since neither of my games went off, I shifted TVs in the video game room for twenty minutes or so.

Most of the Carnage guys took off at this point: Gaylord, Chuck, Robert, and Rod. Really good guys. I hope I get out to Carnage in the fall.

Got into an impromptu game of d20 Star Wars after that with two kids who looked like they came out for the Vampire LARP. We played Imperials in a post-ROTJ setting, seeking out the disloyal and power-mongers among the Empire. Well, we were supposed to, but we got hung up when a pair of bounty hunters, an Ewok and a “teek” (?), tried to bring us in. Not knowing we were supposed to go along with them, get brought down to the planet, and then bust out of jail, we resisted, and all got killed by the teek, this itty-bitty rat thing with a spasm issue.

It was very funny for us too.

After that, I made my final visit to the dealer’s room, and — shock, awe — actually bought something. Mutants & Masterminds, to be exact, if you missed the thread on the subject. Just in time, too, because they were in the midst of packing up as I came in.

Made my goodbyes at the information desk and expressed sorrow at the lack of gamers. As Val put it: “The anime fans prioritize and the gamers don’t” or something to that effect. I guess she meant the anime fans support the local con and the gamers save up for GenCon or whatever.

And that was my most excellent con adventure.

Epilogue: “This is the ending, the ending of our story. The ending.”

Other things that leapt out at me:

— People walking around with liter bottles of soda. I suppose it makes sense, in that one large bottle’s easier to deal with than lots of little cans, but the first, second, and eighth time I was just like, “Whoa, that’s a lot of soda for one person!”

— The six foot something teenager in the too-small Pikachu costume. He was obviously enjoying himself, though, so I shall say nothing.

— The distinct lack of catpiss-smelling people. I was worried about running into that, and was pleased when I did not.

— The friendliness of everybody. There’s some real camaraderie at a con. I don’t know if it’s because we all share an/many interest(s), or what, but everybody just seemed to mesh together and socialize very easily. I mean, I just sort of tagged along with the Carnage guys without even thinking about it.

Anyway, as I’ve said, I’m bummed by the lack of actual role-playing I got to do. And yet, I’m relieved I didn’t have to GM anything because I don’t think my scenarios were entirely up to snuff compared to the ones I did get to play in.

I’ve decided to volunteer to help out at next year’s Bakuretsu. Part of the problem is they didn’t enough people to do everything that needed doing, and things got left by the wayside that shouldn’t have. I imagine they need another warm body just to do gophery things, if not anything tremendously important. I’ll probably still put in at least one game to run, too, since now I have a whole year to work it out.

The thing is, Bakuretsu’s only in its second year. It’s a very young con. Saturday, the peak day, someone estimated there were about 90 people there, otaku and gamers combined. Val said that last year, Carnage had 329 (or 359?) people, and it took them five years to build up to that. So I still live in hope.

So I’m going to go to Bakuretsu for as long as it’s going, and I’ll probably volunteer too. If nothing else, it’s a great way to spend a weekend.

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