Pathfinder. I knew going in that Pathfinder overwhelming scheduled more games than any other RPG, so the many Pathfinder tables did not surprise me at all. That said, there was a smattering of other board and card games, including the surprisingly good “Lords of Waterdeep” and a fairly slick, but not my taste online CCG called “Infinity Wars.” Oddest item at the convention was “Texas Hold’em with Zombies.” Yes, that was the exact title. The game came in a standard poker chip box with cards and chips specifically designed for the game. Game play included poker elements mixed with the standard “attach a zombie to another player mechanic.” Nice production values overall, but I never got in a game because I was busy losing at “Iron GM.”
Yes, though I griped about aspects of Iron GM at Gen Con 2013, I decided to try it again. Same setup as before, one hour of preparation time using three secret ingredients to craft an adventure. The ingredients were “Morlocks,” “Masquerade” and “Mental Breakdown.” I put together an adventure that used all three ingredients, though I did sneak in several doors with lots of latches and knobs, all locked, one after another. This allowed me to utter the legendary pun of “Yes, the next door has more locks…”
The table groaned in pain. I cackled.
Much adventuring took place and the final battle took place in a zero-g cavern with the PCs using “Decanters of Endless Waters” as thrusters to fly around the room while engaged in combat. Good times. Sadly, not good enough because I did not even place.
I did glean a bit more intelligence this time around regarding the scoring system as Werlen, one of my regular players was in Iron GM at another table as a player. Players give a point score based on several questions, including items like how well the DM knew the rules and how well the secret ingredients integrated into the adventure. Interesting and the the organizer did mention that some statistical crunching was done to reduce the chance of saboteurs and/or friendly players inflating or deflating table scores.
My other regular cohort Haaldaar also competed as a DM. I give him credit for going in with a bold plan: Numenera. DMs may offer whatever system they like, so long as the table agrees. I warned him that a Pathfinder heavy convention is a hard location to sell Numenera, but he prepared for that system as well as Pathfinder (usually 3.5 OGL is the default, but a special request for Pathfinder was made for this event).
Poor Haaldaar, he barely got the word “Numenera” out of his mouth before the table said a resounding “No!” Pathfinder it was. Interestingly, Haaldaar chose to use the NPC classes from the OGL, like Adept and Warrior for his adventure. A great role-playing idea, but again a hard sell at a convention filled with Pathfinder crunch players. He lost as well, but we asked and I beat him on points, so I was not a complete loser. I beat at least one other person. This made me strangely happy.
Haaldaar has had enough of Iron GM. He does not like Pathfinder or 3.5 that much, so the thought of running another adventure using those systems was too much. We both planned to try Iron GM again, but Haaldaar refunded his ticket rather than face crunchy 3.5 systems again. For my part, I will try Iron GM one more time at Gen Con 2014, but it will probably be my last time unless my results dramatically improve. Winning would be a nice indicator that I have DM “skills,” but I would settle for placing.
I am more than willing to accept I am a mediocre DM, but it is tough not having any idea what you did wrong. Was the winning DM’s story better? A wider sandbox? Can he/she do great accents and build depth into his characters? Do I lack skills at “reading” players and tailoring the adventure to meet their expectations? Inquiring minds want to know.
Without feedback, these questions are never answered and it is impossible to fix any defects in my DM style. While Iron GM is fun, lack of feedback makes competing a bit of crap shoot.
Overall, the gaming was good at Phoenix Comicon, but not spectacular. That said, it is a comic book convention at its core and given the massive attendance (77,000+!) I expect gaming to grow at future Phoenix Comicons. The venue, a large hotel space was excellent as well. I might consider running an event their next year to hold me over until Gen Con.
See you next year!
Trask, The Last Tyromancer