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My best convention purchase is still one of the first I ever made. My first time at Bakuretsucon, they were still a combination anime and gaming convention. Anime was bigger by far, but there was a tabletop element to the weekend. In the dealer’s room, I met Lisa from the Wizard’s Tower in New Hampshire, and her many blue tubs of books. I pawed through those tubs half a dozen or more times that weekend, trying to figure out what I wanted to buy. What I walked away with in the end, possibly after a trip to RPG.net to compare pros and cons to another game in the same genre, was the first edition of Mutants & Masterminds.
Mutants & Masterminds first edition cover.
It’s easily the best convention purchase I ever made in that it may hold the title for the single game I’ve run the most in my role-playing days. I’ve run a store campaign at Quarterstaff Games, campaigns with regular friends and newly met strangers. I got to play in a convention adventure run by Steve Kenson, the designer himself — and his presence at Lore Con was because I invited him, so that was pretty cool in and of itself.
It will always be my go-to for the superhero genre, in part because it’s got the right mix of crunch and simplicity for me, but mostly because Mutants & Masterminds is what got me to really understand effects-based powers. The idea that the end result was what mattered, rather than the method that got you there, wasn’t a new idea to me at the time — Feng Shui had basically said the same thing when encouraging players to devise crazy cinematic actions to describe how they fought and moved around a set — but the powers chapter laid the basic idea of building customized powers out of various effects like harm, ranged, movement, and so on. The fan conversation on the Atomic Think Tank forums was a huge help as well. People came up with all sorts of analyses of how certain power write-ups were arrived at, or how to construct the sort of very particular, super-specific powers that superhero role-players love to devise.
Time and Mutants & Masterminds have gone on since then. The game is in a third edition that I haven’t done more than glance at, primarily because the books I hung on to from the second edition line are both so complete and so expansive, I don’t need any more. The Paragons toolkit book will be my go-to resource for building worlds of powered people “breaking out” and Freedom City is always where I’ll start to populate a metropolis with characters for a modern Silver Age game.
The honorable mention for Best Convention Purchase is the complete opposite of Mutants & Masterminds. I’ve never run a game of it, gotten to play or even found someone in real life who’s heard of or appreciates it. Picking it up was a complete fluke. I was browsing Lisa’s wares at a later Bakuretsucon and came across Dark Ages: Mage and its companion volume. I still don’t remember why I bought it, because I remember having decided not to be interested in Dark Ages: Mage, because it was really a Dark Ages: Vampire supplement in disguise. It might have been an itch to get some new books, because I wanted to support the convention’s sole role-playing game vendor, or because it was a pretty good deal for books that were reputedly scarce, but I bought the books, read them and was blown away.
Dark Ages: Mage kept the flexibility Mage‘s magic system is known for, fused it with five different magical worldviews and made each one seem cool and unique. The time period, despite the name, is 1230 CE, with an understandable focus on western Europe. But even within that milieu, the covenants of mages come from such diverse backgrounds that I’m still astonished they could work together. Some, like the rune-casting Valdaermen, as descending into history while the Messianic Voices and the Order of Hermes are on the rise — and Mistridge is still in the future of the medieval World of Darkness, so there’s no thought that any opposition to the mystic worldview might appear.
Really, Dark Ages: Mage is just cool and slick and I wish it didn’t require a pantload of backstory to get people on board with why these wildly disparate wizards would spare each other the time of day.