Posted by : David Guyll January 04, 2011

I had my first convention experience over the course of the last three or so days. Liz and I ran back-to-back  character creation and free-play panels from 9pm until most of the attendants doddered off, which thankfully was typically around 3am. We figured that most people interested in character creation would show up on the first day, and that others would continue to show up for free play throughout the Con's duration, so the plan was that Liz would run Keep on the Borderlands, while I would sequentially run The Twisted Halls, Reavers of Harkenwold, and Cairn of the Winter King.

Since Liz and I had to MAX it out here, we'd traveled light: a bag of clothes, and another filled with gaming materials and my laptop. Not sure how many new people would show up, and not wanting to lug around a bunch of hardcovers, I decided to restrict things to Essentials-only, since that meant I could just pack two small paperbacks instead. If nothing else, it would be a good experiment to see how people handled the classes. Finally, in order to accommodate late arrivals or keep things going if there was a high turnout, I'd also printed out twelve pregens.

The first night had a turnout that seemed to fluctuate between 8-12 people, as some had no clue what we were doing, and others were staffers that had to leave for a bit to actually work. I've never paneled anything, ever, so just followed Liz's lead. We asked who was familiar with D&D, and if so, which edition(s). Most had at least played 4th Edition, while others had played D&D a long time ago and were looking to get back into it or were simply curious. A couple had brought a Player's Handbook so that they could make precisely the class they wanted to make.

One guy however, brought his entire library, comparable to my own. Going from two books, each with different classes, to multiple handbooks sped things up quite a bit. Players were able to pitch their desired character and we were able to direct them to the appropriate book. In the end, only two of my Essentials pregens got used: one was from a Con staffer who showed up really late, the other after we changed the half-orc race to human.

Liz ran Keep on the Borderlands, or rather tried to. I've played the last encounter out of the first chapter, and while basically a straightforward brawl I had initially chalked it up to the fact that it was, well, D&D Encounters. That's what you do: belly up to the table and fight through a two-hour-ish encounter. Apparently, Liz's crew didn't like it one bit. I wasn't paying much attention, stopping only to answer questions as they cropped up, and though Liz is relatively new to the DM scene the consensus seemed to be poor adventure design.

Conversely, my table enjoyed The Twisted Halls quite a bit, managing to get through most of the encounters by the time people were ready to call it quits. They got all the important encounters--the white dragon and necromancer--and thankfully avoided the annoying and nonsensical chess room. At the adventure's conclusion I was very pleased that one player had his first enjoyable skill challenge (he really liked the way I ran it), while a few others would be switching to 4th Edition.

The second night had all of two people show up for character building, which was expected. I ended up spending most of the two hours having a lengthy (and civil!) discussion with a 3rd Edition/Pathfinder player about the pros and cons of game design and mechanics between editions. Most of it was character design, and how well characters can contribute to different scenarios, how older edition spells made it extremely difficult to plan adventures or challenge players, and how it could be very difficult to make non-standard-yet-functional characters.

Once free play started we took a different tack: Liz would run The Twisted Halls for the new people, and I would keep the ball rolling with Reavers of Harkenwold. My table had people from last night, so it was a simple matter of leveling everyone up to 3, informing them that they'd also managed to locate a powerful death cult threatening Winterhaven, and that the ruler of Fallcrest requested their assistance in dealing with the Iron Circle, who were attempting to occupy the Harkenwold region. They managed to make it through the bullywug lair before we again called it quits, everyone having a good time, and Liz's table had a lot more fun navigating The Twisted Halls.

Unfortunately, night three was also the night that the Con was dying down. We had no one show up for character creation, and about half an hour into free play we had one person show up. She was itching to play, so I ran the beginnings of Famine at Far-go for Liz and her. They rolled up a plastic ghost and time-traveling mushroom, but only got through a handful of encounters (some fungus zombies and porker bikers) before we had to close up shop. Its unfortunate that my Gamma World experiences always seem to be brief, as I'd really like to get a long-term thing going.

All in all, it was an okay experience. I was bored most of the time that we weren't running our panel, as there wasn't much else to do but play video games that I've already played, watch movies that I've already watched (and hate), or buy overpriced merchandise and/or food. For future cons, I'm going to try and bring more books (and better character sheets), have more pregens, and probably just eschew Essentials altogether since no one had any interest in them. I'm also definitely going to keep bringing both Red Box and Reavers at Harkenwold for new players, but not Cairn of the Winter King since no one even got halfway through the first part of Reavers.

The next convention I'm going to try and make it to is SakuraCon, as Liz thinks that I'll have a lot more to do, though one of these years I really want to go to D&D XP or GenCon.

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