The stars aligned and I was able to make it up to DunDraCon XXXV on Saturday February 19th. Luckily the trip up to San Ramon was not too rainy but boy did it start coming down later in the afternoon. Don and I went with two friends, “Big Bob” and Sean, to DunDraCon IV so there is a special place in my heart for this Bay Area con. I’ll start with the seminars which are one of the best features of DunDraCon in my opinion. For some reason the seminars are always wonderful at DunDraCon…you may note that by my generally high ratings for the seminars that I attended this year. After that I will talk about the Dealer’s Room/Bazaar (aka “My Haul”) and finally I’ll give a nod to the only game I played at the con this year.
The Seminar Track
As you can guess I spent a lot of time in room 156. Here are the seminars that I attended this year with a rating and brief review.
How GMs Can Bring Their ‘A’ Game To The Table
Presenters: Ryan Macklin and Jennifer Brozek
The seminar started with introductions then Ryan and Jennifer collected areas where each attendee wanted to improve their game. I specified two areas where I wanted to improve. One area I mentioned was suggestions on running short sessions and the second was tips on not railroading for preparation heavy GMs like myself. Other GMs brought up questions about con games, handling the escalation of power, etc. Lots of GREAT questions. Ryan and Jennifer started tackling them while accepting feedback from other attendees. The loose format of the seminar made it very engaging and the presenters brought a lot of great ideas and enthusiasm. I took down quite a bit of notes on my netbook from my questions plus many of the other intriguing questions.
I give this one 8 out of 10 paws.
Stealing From Indie Games: Borrowing Systems, Themes, and Settings To Enhance Your RPG Campaign
Presenters: Bruce Harlick, Ben Monroe, Ryan Macklin, David Ackerman-Gray
The seminar started out with introductions of the panel then the presenters started addressing various areas that could be borrowed from indie games. They talked in three high-level areas: character creation, in session, and post/between sessions. One big topic was the concept of in session rewards like Fate points or Fan Mail from Prime Time Adventure. The panel talked about how they can and should be used to enforce genre and bring the awesome. They expanded out and talked about a party karma pool concepts, spotlight mechanics, and value/relationship concepts from Smallville. On the character creation topic they hit Aspects from Fate, creating PC together to provide hooks, the creation of setting from products like Dresden and Diaspora, and Lore Sheets from Weapon Of The Gods.
This session was really fantastic. In fact it was so engaging that afterwards I spoke with Jenn Dixon and Ryan Macklin who both gave me their cards and recommended podcasts and other projects to me in which they are involved. It was pretty cool to meet such awesome folks and talk about the hobby we love. Spill out from this seminar was even mentioned in a later seminar…it was that great!
I give this one 10 out of 10 paws.
Fighting With The Brain For GMs
Presenters: Randy Angle, Bruce Harlick, David Ackerman-Gray, Kevin Andrew Murphy
After introductions the presenters dove into the topic. After some meandering around the topic of puzzles and riddles and why they often don’t work the group focused in on moral dilemmas. When approaching that topic the panel had some excellent wisdom to impart. They spoke about using various shades of gray, having multiple right answers, adding impediments, and giving party decision weight. After really generating energy on moral dilemmas I almost wish this would have been the topic of the entire seminar. Meandering and all it was not too shabby.
I give this one 7 out of 10 paws.
What’s New With Hero
Presenters: Darren Watts, Steve Long, Jason Walters
Darren, Steve, and Jason went over the products that will round out the 2011 year and take us through 2012. There were some VERY pleasant surprises. My next post will go over the results of that seminar in detail. Watch for an update soon!
I give this one 9 out of 10 paws.
Presenters: Anders Swenson, Mike Blum, Ken Hite, Kevin Andrew Murphy
After introducing themselves the panel explained that this year they would tackle the city building topic in a different fashion. At the end of last years seminar someone asked about “steampunking” a town. The group thought they should spend an entire session on that topic. This seminar was the result. The presenters talked before the seminar and decided to steampunk Rome. First they would do Rome in the 1800′s then again with Rome around the first century.
The group started with a detailed map of the period then started discussing the history of the region. They also cover important Italian inventors of the time. Once the groundwork was laid they started adding steampunk elements with certain guidelines based on how the power source was discovered. They talked about adding an “under-town”, the role of the Pope, modernization, ancient evil, and zombies. This was then repeated for ancient Roma.
My biggest complaint with this seminar was the obvious lack of prep by most of the presenters. In my mind it appeared as if only Ken and the gentlemen who provided the maps had really done any research. For a lot of the seminar suggestions from other panelists were minimal and did not appear to be grounded in any type of research. The seminar felt ill prepared.
I give this one 7 out of 10 paws.
What’s New At Indie Press Revolution
Presenters: Darren Watts, Ken Hite, Jason Walters
After introducing themselves the presenters started answering questions from the crowd. During this main period Carl Rigney who is a master at indie products chimed in with words of wisdom. I had done a lot of preparation for this seminar so I got to drive a lot of the content. About the only questions I did not ask were about IPR itself. For example, who are you guys? What are your submission guidelines? When will you reject a product? Etc. Also Jason let everyone know about new releases and previous releases that impressed him. Some of the interesting products on Jason’s lists included Microscope, Machine Zeit, 24 Role-Playing Poems, Fortune’s Fool, Mystic Empyrean, d-Infinity, Bookhounds Of London, Lost Roads, River In A Mountain Landscape, Kingdom Of Nothing, and The Flux. I got to ask about a LOT of killer products that I had heard about including Lady Blackbird, Happy Birthday Robot, The Artmitage Files, The Laundry, Apocalypse World, and Nights Black Agents. During this feedback some other killer products were mentioned that I had not heard about including My Monster, Parsley, Blowback, and Legerdemain. Phew. Ken really threw in some great feedback on many of these products. It was so cool hearing Ken talk about Nights Black Agents which he is hoping will be done around GenCon. Nights Black Agents is Bourne Identity where the PC discover a conspiracy by their benefactor who happens to be a vampire. It will use Gumshoe as the root system. I also loved Ken’s comment about The Armitage Files by Robin Laws. Ken said something along the lines of, “If Beethoven composes a concert you go out and buy it…same with Robin.”
This was a FANTASTIC seminar on all fronts. If you want to check out some of these great products head over to IPR at this URL.
I give this one 9 out of 10 paws.
During the convention I of course checked out the dealer’s room and bazaar. The dealer’s room was the regular DunDraCon size and featured several prominent Bay Area institutions like End Game, Black Diamond Games, and Games Of Berkley. Several companies were in attendance including Hero Games, Chaosium, Chessex, Crafty Games (aka Fantasy Craft), and Flying Buffalo. There was also a pretty cool steampunk costume vendor this year. Here is what I picked up:
- Apocalypse World by Keith Baker from End Game.
- Fiasco by Jason Morningstar from End Game.
- Happy Birthday Robot by Daniel Solis from Black Diamond Games.
- Samurai Jack – Season 2 from a seller at the bazaar for $10. Season 2 is the best season!
After a quick dinner at Una Mas I headed over with Jason for the Posthegemony playtest. Before the session we had a nice time talking about families and “real life” type topics. It was soothing to talk with another father who has a special needs kid. Jason is a very mellow and fun gentleman. Once Tim, Maggie, Gary, Tom, and John (i.e. not me another one) arrived we started the session. Jason answered questions about the material first. This gave folks who had not read it a chance to get caught up. Essentially Posthegemony is a utopia where the PC are dissatisfied for different reasons and want to escape off world. You can read all about on Jason’s blog at this URL. The world is rich, layered, and off kilter in a way that makes is both “very right” and “very wrong” at the same time. I won’t go into details but I thought the session went great for a first pass. Everyone gave some feedback to Jason during and after the session. I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons. Jason promised to get the playtesters free copies of the finished product and he asked if I would help edit the product. I’m not a traditional editor but I read lots of technical documents as part of my job and game books for reviews so I think I can spot issues and inconsistencies pretty well. Awesome toast with kick butt jam.
All in all…DunDraCon XXXV was pretty darn fun. I was on so much of a high after Jason’s game that I had no trouble driving home at 2 AM in the morning. For me that is saying something…GAME ON!