GenCon 2001: A Space Odyssey

Okay, I’m back. Getting *to* GenCon was a minor nightmare that took 28 hours, but getting back went quite smoothly. Plenty of thunderstorms in both directions. And since my trip to GenCon was on non-OgreCave business (I’m working for Wizard’s Attic and Skotos Tech on a project to expand RPGnet. Check out the press release if you have a minute), I didn’t have enough time to track down a web connection while I was there.

Anyway, for those of you who couldn’t make it to GenCon this year, or those who already want to start reliving this past weekend, let us begin…

The dealers’ hall was packed this year. Traditionally, Thursdays have good sales but lower attendance, sales slow a bit on Fridays, and Saturdays see the families arriving. Sundays have good sales and attendance, both from panicked last minute purchasing and gamers who previously ignored the exhibit hall. This year, Thursday was more crowded than veteran attendees had seen in a long time, and impulse buying reigned. Wizard’s Attic sold out of their more than 100 stuffed Cthulhu dolls, and in one day, surpassed their sales for all of Origins. Sales and attendance stayed high for the con’s duration.

This was the year of D20/Open Game Licence fallout. My Homebrewed RPG Shields got quite a workout as anyone with a campaign and access to Kinkos showed up with their D20 products. Some of those new D20 companies may be in trouble already, though, as Ryan Dancey posted a warning today to everyone on the OGL mailing list:

…even a cursorial review of the products in the exhibit hall demonstrated a shocking lack of ability to comply with the Open Gaming License or the d20 System Trademark License. As a result, Wizards is going to take some official actions in the next few weeks to attempt to rectify the situation before it gets further out of hand.

In my talking with exhibitors at the con, I heard of companies having to glue in pages with the legal stuff they failed to include while printing. One D20 publisher mentioned how surprised he was that other products were mentioning the Dungeon Master’s Guide, as even mentioning DMs by name was forbidden by WotC. Perhaps the ignorant and incompetant will be trimmed away from the D20 industry, unclogging the current log-jam of products. Time will tell.

Some computer game companies were at GenCon as well, getting in on the action. In fact, the block party this year was sponsored by Microsoft, not WotC. Bioware ran many demos of the next big thing in D&D on PCs, Neverwinter Nights, which was the only computer game that really caught my attention. The game was gorgeous, well designed, and very smooth — at least while it was on their souped-up machines.

Two different PA announcers assaulted those walking the exhibit hall, including a woman who was truly pathetic at publicly addressing anyone. Her habitual name mix-ups, long pauses, and general crappiness earned her the title “silly bint” from a respected game designer visiting from the UK, and less polite names from nearly everyone else.

Let’s get into the game specific news:

WizKid’s Battletech Plans Revealed
As I warned you a few days back, WizKids has plans for Battletech which lead down the same road of their mega-hit, Mage Knight. Yep, Battletech is becoming a Collectible Miniatures Game, or CMG, an abbreviation I heard thrown around in conversation for the first time at the con. Plans are to have starter sets available for $24.95 in a few months. Each starter will have a mech, some vehicles and some infantry. Some of the larger mech figures will be piloted by mech warrior figures, which sounds like they’ll actually put one figure inside or atop another. More info has been posted online following the GenCon announcement.

Decipher’s New Star Trek RPG Won’t Disappoint
Fans of Last Unicorn’s Star Trek game will be pleased to hear that they need not worry. The demo of Decipher’s new Star Trek RPG, their first venture into the RPG market, shows the development team is on the right track. Players can now play as nearly any race, on any ship, in any occupation, rather than just being limited to the Federation. The extra D6 that could roll forever is gone, replaced by rolls of 2D6 that gain extra rolls on a 12, continuing until you stop rolling sixes. Skills are grouped with their parent skills on the character sheets, speeding up gameplay a bit. Also, individual skills just to use tricorders and phasers are replaced by more generalized skills and highly detailed equipment listings. Health and the process of suffering injuries remains nearly unchanged, with the health status category of Stunned getting a name change (being Stunned is now a special effect caused by phasers and such). And of course, since much of the Decipher RPG team used to be Last Unicorn Games, conversion rules to the Icon System will be included. After stunning four Cardassians and finding a way to beam up through the ionic dust, I continued wandering the exhibit hall.