Greetings from Studio B!

Carnagecast's Studio BAs preparations for Carnage pick up speed, more of the not-work portions of my brain are given over to the many interlocking, moving parts whizzing about at every increasing speed that go into putting on a convention. Just this evening, I took a pass through proofreading the convention book, soon to hit an inbox, physical or electronic, near you.

Additionally, I made some upgrades to the Carnagecast recording setup in here “Studio B.” A shiny new mixer firmly wedges open vistas of remote interviews over the telephone and VOIP. We’ve done those before, certainly, talking to luminaries like Lorien Green, director of Going Cardboard, and Dave Chapman, line developer of Conspiracy X 2.0. Those recording sessions were special set-ups. Now it’ll be easier to pull them off. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll work our way up to a live show at Carnage.

In the meantime, I’ll be recording more Carnagecast episodes, assembling the schedule grid for cross-referencing with the Carnage book, playtesting my adventures, Reavers of the Pearl Bright Ocean and The Ice Giants of Mansfield, and doing whatever else needs to get done to make our last year at Lake Morey — we’re moving to Killington in 2013, you know — memorable and fun.

Farewell, Lake Morey; Hello, Killington!

My favorite game convention[1], Carnage, announced it’s moving to the Killington Grand in 2013. I’m excited by the venue change in 2013 because Killington’s a nice joint and there’s plenty of space for the convention to grow.

Leaving Lake Morey is a little bittersweet, though. Being right on such a picturesque lake has been lovely. I’m always comforted slowly rolling through the sleepy town of Fairlee, wondering what restaurant might possibly be open on a Saturday evening.

The Lake Morey resort itself has character that can’t be beat: wing after addition after extension ramble along the lake shore in directions that only start to make sense after a weekend or two of trial and error, trying to figure out how to get down to the ballroom, or where on Earth the third floor went. There’s nothing quite like bursting out of a little stairwell to find yourself suddenly in the role-playing area when you thought you were well on your way to the bar.

So farewell, Lake Morey! I’ll miss watching the mist rise up off your waters in the early morning. I’ll miss the thunderous roar of LARPers passing through the hallway overhead. I’ll miss the camaraderie of the Steamboat Lounge on Thursday night as Tom urgently scribbles out tomorrow morning’s characters and the first of many, many pick-up games hit the tables.

It’s time to move on to Killington. There are traditions to carry over, new rites to shape and lapsed customs to resume. And here’s to the many, many anecdotes that will begin, “One time when Carnage was at Lake Morey . . . “[2]

[1] I liked it so much, I joined the staff.

[2] In fact, I’ve got a great one that is generally fit only for verbal recounting. Ask me at Carnage sometime!

PAX East 2012

Bird's eye view of tabletop gaming at PAX East 2012.

So PAX East happened. That was a thing. After spending the whole weekend in 2011, I decided to be more targeted in 2012 and only spend Saturday there. Plus, the convention fell on Easter weekend and the Easter Sunday dinner is a big tradition in my family.

PAX East grew, unsurprisingly. The exhibitor hall increased in size, as did the tabletop area. The exhibitor hall list was down in terms of things that interested me, namely tabletop-related stuff. Geek Chic was there, of course, and Mayfair Games, but that was about it. It turns out that was because a number of tabletop-centric booths were located in the tabletop area of the convention center.

The tabletop area looked like it doubled in width compared to 2011 — the length being constant in the hangar-like main space of the Boston convention center. It was filled mostly with tables for scheduled tournaments and free play. Where the forest of tables didn’t extend, there were booths for publishers, designers and retailers. Companies like Foam Brain Games and Fantasy Flight Games smartly moved into the tabletop area this year. Not only did that put them in better sight of their target audience, but they could stay in business longer. The exhibitor hall closed at 6:00pm each night, while the tabletop area kept rocking til much later.

The trade-off to that decision might be that they lost out on ensnaring people who were brand new to tabletop games. One of the key sights I remember from last year was the glut of people wandering the floor or clearing table space to tear into their new copy of Mansions of Madness. How much of that was the game’s newness versus drawing in interested video games, I couldn’t say. I wish I could peek at the sales numbers of 2011 and 2012 to compare.

The tabletop game area kept busy all day long. Last year, you could track the day by the activity level in the area as people came and went. This year, it seemed most tables were occupied and gaming underway all Saturday long.

While I got to try to plenty of board game demos — find out more on the carcast we recorded going home — I didn’t break into any role-playing. Wizards of the Coast had their marshaling area/holding pen, which didn’t really appeal. Games on Demand were present, but that required me to pull together a group of players on my own. Pandemonium Books & Games had an actual schedule of board and role-playing games to be run throughout the weekend, but those times never jived with my own. So it goes, right?

All in all, PAX East was really a spectacle for me. I saw a lot of cool things, but I didn’t get to do as many of them as I might have liked. But it was a pretty good day and a pretty good weekend trip to Boston. Except for one thing. Having covered the positive, PAX-related aspects of the trip, I’m going to get into the huge stinker of a problem that set an absolute low for the weekend.

The hotel, on the other hand, got off to an awful start. We had a room at the Westin Waterfront, which is right next to the BCEC. Check-in time was 3:00pm on Friday. When we arrived at that time, we were told there was a backlog of rooms turning over as people checked out, so ours wasn’t ready. The desk person took my number and said they’d call when it was ready.

After an hour, I checked back. The room still wasn’t ready. After another hour and a half, for a total of two and a half hours, the person then at the desk discovered that why yes, that room was ready. No one had bothered to notify us. And there was no concern expressed on the staff’s part about the time we lost or inconveniences experienced.

The Westin really fell down on this one. They didn’t make their commitment of the check-in time and then didn’t follow through on notifying us when the room was ready. As a result, we lost two and a half hours thinking “just a little bit longer” would be something approximating an actual little bit.

While I get that as many people who filled the Westin and BCEC can be daunting and I have nothing but sympathy for the people on the ground in housekeeping and front office of the hotel, who were doubtless overwhelmed, I am hugely disappointed by the overall experience. Aside from this not being the first time PAX came to the Westin and BCEC, it cannot be the Westin’s first rodeo at all. They were seemingly unprepared for the volume of people passing through the hotel, even though it sold out months before. That lack of preparation and contingencies for travelers coming from out of town with nowhere to go was an outright failure on their part.

Thanks to Twitter, I had an interesting conversation with some employees of the chain. You can find the public portion of the conversation begin here with @WestinWatrFront, then @StarwoodBuzz — Starwood is the hotel group to which the Westin brand belongs — picks up the baton. That exchange went on sporadically through the weekend as I walked in and out of wireless availability. It culminated in an emailed apology from an employee of the Westin Waterfront, saying they were sorry and “We did have some challenges with this particular convention but our staff did everything possible to accommodate everyone.”

Yes, guests without a room to check in and not offering anything to help with luggage or making the wait more pleasant is certainly a challenging situation. And who can blame them? PAX East is a guaranteed sell-out. The Westin can do pretty much as they please and never run short of customers for that weekend. I don’t doubt they’ll go far with that tactic.

The ironic part is the night before, we had a completely trouble-free stay at the Boston Sheraton, also part of the Starwood group. The Sheraton was in the throes of Anime Boston plus early PAX East arrivals and they did just great by us. I hope those two compare notes sometime in the next year.

For more thoughts on the weekend, check out the Carnagecast extrasode Escape from PAX East, recorded with my friend Sarah during the drive home from Boston to Vermont. We talk about the games we played: Castellan, Chupacabra, Ice Dice, Star Trek Deck Building Game, Ticket to Ride India and Asia.

On the Road to PAX East 2012

I have a write-up of my trip to PAX East 2012 in the works. In the meantime, enjoy this prelude to the weekend, a Carnagecast extrasode recorded with my friend Sarah and I on our way down to Boston the night before the convention.

We talk about what we hope to do during the trip and whether an audiologist can distinguish modern sculpture from giant stompy robots.

Carnage Noir Accepting Game Submissions

I would be remiss in passing on the word that the game convention near and dear to my heart, Carnage, has opened up their event submissions to GMs eager to run games. The game submission form is right there on the Carnage website.

As for my own endeavors, I haven’t quite decided what to run this year. I know I’ll do a Ghostbusters game. And after the test run of my GURPS Cabal mini-setting of Martense College, I’d like to go back there, but with a better idea of what to do and how — less “step and fetch it,” more dizzying possibilities and lunatic history.

We’ll see. Five months is an admittedly long time to think and plan. And I have until the end of July before they get serious about cutting off material to fit in the convention book.

FlashCon on March 25th in West Lebanon

The second FlashCon is already on the horizon for March 25th at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Like the name implies, FlashCons are spry and nimble, appearing almost unexpectedly wherever there are tables and chairs for gaming hobbyists to enact their pastimes.

This FlashCon follows the manner of the first with a two hour block for shorter games or teaching sessions, then a longer second block in the later afternoon for the full-on tabletop experience.

Organizer Gordon Spaeth is looking for people share and teach games, so if you’ve got a favorite board game or a role-playing adventure in your pocket, get in touch with him through the Facebook page or via Green Mountain Gamers. If you come from the other end of the spectrum and are curious about all this tabletop hoo-hah, FlashCon is an ideal opportunity to dip your toe in.

Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Carnage I Go

Oh my giddy aunt, where did the fall go?

Carnage is this Friday. My scarce spare time in the last couple months has gone to ironing out scheduling issues, helping with logistics and, of course, working on Eye of the Qlippothim and The Girl in the Looking Glass.

It’s gonna be a good time!

OGC 2011: Year of the Ninja

Speaking of conventions, I see New Hampshire’s OGC has their event schedule online for your perusal. OGC — short for Open Gaming Convention — is an intimate, role-playing-centric convention. Everybody knows everybody, either because they’re active in the local gaming community or they’re fellow gadabouts on the New England convention circuit.

Some of my favorite convention GMs are running games there this year, as they always do. As well as other acclaimed GMs whom I haven’t had the opportunity to witness at their craft.

At a time of year when everybody’s talking about Gen Con, it’s reassuring to know that the local game scene stays the course, nice and steady.

My Carnage in Wonderland Schedule

Despite knowing for months now what I want to run at Carnage this year, it took me way too long to come up convention book descriptions. That (embarrassingly minor) task is done, though, so now I turn to the great work of pulling together the many disparate threads to weave into two different wholes.

For the curious, Friday night you will find me continuing the saga of Ghostbusters International-Boston in GURPS Ghostbusters: The Girl in the Looking Glass. This one is based on my own starting premise and ideas gleaned from that game of InSpectres back in June:

There’s strange doings at the Fleming Museum. A phantasmal cat has been spied stalking the premises. Students attest to long, involved, ultimately unrewarding conversations with a giant caterpillar sucking on a hookah. The lead curator has gone missing, last seen walking into the newest exhibit: a recreation of Charles Dodgson’s study. Suit up, Ghostbusters! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this frightfully cheerful role-playing adventure.

Saturday night is a rather bolder move on my part, returning to the world of the Cabal I only got to skirt last summer in a stalled campaign. Martense College and its surroundings have lurked in the back of my head ever since then and lately I’ve gotten a lot of interesting ideas to inject into the setting. Travel with me, if you will, into GURPS Cabal: Eye of the Qlippothim:

Looking at sedate Martense College, hidden in the rolling green hills of New England, one would never guess at the secrets lurking beneath its liberal arts exterior. (Most of the time) out of sight of the unsuspecting public lies the black school within a school, the scholomance of the Cabal, educating the next generation of wizards, vampires, faeries and more.

And if a lively student body weren’t enough, reptoid hunting parties stalk the night, redcaps make mischief in the village and the hill clans of Luke’s Notch strike pacts with entities not seen in Creation since before the Great Flood. The lodge members of the Wheel of Ptah have their hands full. Join the fun! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this adventure, which uses a variant magic system from GURPS Thaumatology.

Yes, it’s that variant magic system. I’m really going to do this and I’m really going to make it work. August is my month to design and playtest of Eye of the Qlippothim, as I’d really like to give it a runthrough at Fall-loha.

Carnage in Wonderland Wrapping Up Submissions

Carnage in Wonderland‘s staff draw close to wrapping up game submissions in preparation for mailing the convention book all across New England.

Everywhere, GMs feverishly bring together scattered ideas for adventures to compose that pitch-perfect description, launching the plot hook right into the brain of the potential player, firing their imagination with promises of derring-do or dark dealings such that they have no recourse but to list it as their number one choice on their registration form.

I find myself in a similar boat. I have a general outline for my two role-playing adventures, but I don’t yet have the fine detail in place. I’ll bash out some snappy ad copy to catch the reading public’s attention, then work from there to make the reality meet the promise as much as possible.

Right now, all I want to say is that one will continue the saga of Ghostbusters International’s Boston much put-upon staff, who again find themselves sent forth to the Green Mountain State, and my second ever foray into the world of the Cabal — this time with a complete refit of the magic system, no less! I will probably toss in a board game for good measure, likely Frag as I do enjoy it and find it easy to teach.