This past weekend was TotalCon, a four day convention in Mansfield, Massachusetts, somewhere between-ish Boston and Rhode Island. I rode down Friday with a couple of folks to help wave the flag for Carnage, New England’s other big game convention — though PAX East‘s imminent debut undoubtedly shifts the standings considerably. I’d only ever heard other people’s stories about TotalCon, so I was curious to experience it for myself.
Checking in was surprisingly easy. I preregistered online, so all I had to do was pick up an envelope with my badge, event tickets and a swag bag — mostly promotional fliers, a rubber duckie and, most amusingly, a publicity photo of Mira Furlan as Delenn from Babylon 5, circa the show’s fifth season in 1998.
Of the four games I signed up for, I got into three: two of Brad Younie‘s paranormal investigations and a Call of Cthulhu scenario called Curse of the Betrothed. I missed out on Frank Mentzer‘s Palace of the Vampire Queen, which was no surprise as I had registered relatively late and Menzter’s old school Dungeons & Dragons modules have become a smash hit on the New England convention circuit since OGC first had him out two years ago. So I had three events and two generic tickets in my pocket to kick off the weekend.
TotalCon uses a ticketing not dissimilar from how I understand Gen Con does things: buy a badge to enter general convention areas, then buy tickets on a per event basis, either for a specific scheduled game or generic tickets usable for any event, assuming it’s not already filled by people with specific tickets. Board game aficionados can buy an all day pass to the board game room for $5. I’m not crazy about ticketing systems because that’s not “how it’s done” at the conventions I frequent most often, it gave me some apprehension about interacting with TotalCon staffers looking for tickets and I saw an instance where attendees had to buy new tickets instead of making an even exchange for something else, but I understand it’s an accepted way of managing admission fees and event reservations.
The convention’s moved all around Massachusetts in its twenty-four years, I’m told. These days it calls the Holiday Inn Mansfield-Foxboro home. I was surprised to find it’s a pretty nice venue, on a fancier scale than the local Holiday Inn in South Burlington. The accommodations were pleasant. The interior of the main building is a big open space, with an open plan restaurant area at one end and an interior pool at the other. Rooms around the edges of this space open onto it, with patio areas on the ground floor and verandas on the upper levels. It’s a neat sort of inverted resort effect. Those ground floor rooms must be really convenient for attendees to visit their room quickly. And they’re a nice place to socialize, given how I saw people hanging out and chatting over the course of the weekend.
The hotel’s pretty well situated for food. The Holiday Inn also did a fair morning buffet for $10. I didn’t try the attached restaurant, Pike’s Peak, but heard less than good things about it. And the bar closed before the evening slots wrapped up both nights I was there, which was disappointing. Beyond the confines of the Holiday Inn, there are plenty of places to eat, including fast food joints like Wendy’s, local establishment Classic Pizza, with a tasty Greek-style pie, and even a Stop & Shop for people who want to do their own cooking.
Visiting the vendor’s room a couple times during the weekend, I found lots of games for sale, T-shirts, tchotkes and jingly things offered by five or six dealers. Don Higgins, creator of Dark Magic & Donuts, sold original works and took commissions. Fun Q Games demonstrated their product Triplica. I behaved myself, getting only the copy of The Unexplained that I intended to pick up — though I broke down on the way home when I found Red November for half off at a Barnes & Noble when we stopped to buy a map, and then The Dungeon Alphabet at Myriad Games in Salem, New Hampshire — which I previously failed to buy. The latter, I reasoned, wasn’t currently available via the local game store, and I should definitely snap up a copy if I ran across it.
The games I played at TotalCon will get their own posts, for coming Actual Play Fridays. I do want to mention one that I observed on Friday afternoon. Charlton guided — “ran” is too strong a word for this kind of role-playing game — a session of Fiasco, one of those hippie-commie story games where players work together on a collectively-built story around their characters. It’s best likened to an improvisational Coen Brothers film. Some scenes and McGuffins are set to build action around, then players take turns narrating how those scenes play out. Characters are typically motivated by greed, lust and other traditional human drives. Some day my and Charlton’s con schedules will align and I’ll try one of these scary new story games.
All in all, TotalCon was a solid weekend. The convention seems to have grown out of the troubles other attendees related to me in the past. I can see why it’s a bookend convention in the New England region. It kicks off the season, which Carnage closes out in November. I think it’s a little too far out of range to be an annual trip for me, but now at least I can empathize with Massachusetts and Rhode Island gamers who don’t want to haul up to Vermont.