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Convention Report: KublaCon 2004
by Merwin

A Note from the Editor: Even at a well-run, busy convention, attendees can run into problems. Read about Merwin's experience at KublaCon '04 below, and learn how bad things can sometimes happen to good gamers. It almost sounds like a different con than the one I attended. - Allan

Unfortunately, every con experience I have seems to be worse than the last con experience. I hoped that Kublacon would be different. In some ways it was, and in others, it wasn't. In the end, I guess that makes it a completely average convention experience.

Prelude to Terror
It all started with an extraordinarily hectic week. My mom visited early in the week, so I had taken Monday and Tuesday off. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I was rushing to meet production deadlines for an overseas conference. I imagined myself running late, and called the convention coordinators twice to let them know I might, and later, that I would be late for my 4pm session of Mutants and Masterminds. On the second call, I learned that my session was actually scheduled for 6pm. With a sigh of relief, I dropped my work projects off at the press and drove off to the con to relax and await my eager players.

Friday 5:00PM
I get parking on the top story of the Hyatt parking lot since all the covered parking is already taken. Parking is $5/day for convention attendees. No problem. I'm GMing two events, so I get into the con for free. Five dollars a day for parking doesn't seem too bad. I walk into the convention hall, and to my surprise, it's packed. There's a orderly swarm of people buzzing around the registration tables, open gaming is filled to half capacity, and a quarter of the minis tables are being set up. After picking up my badge and "hospital band", I stroll over to the RPG signup board for my next surprise -- I have a full house for my first MnM event.

It could have been the shock of having to actually deal with six players on a Friday evening, or my hectic pre-con schedule, but I sat down for a few minutes with the convention booklet and tried to find some Saturday and Sunday games to sign up for. It was arduous; I couldn't seem to find anything I was interested in playing to fill the majority of my free time. I put my name in the box for an event the following morning, and then balked; there wasn't really anything else I was really interested in. I decided to give it a rest, and find something else to register for when I had more time Saturday morning. I took a few signup slips and meandered over to the room I was assigned to.

My event went pretty smoothly. I actually had seven people show up for my six-player event. I told the extra guy he could play if he wrote up his own character before I got to him, and gave him general chargen guidelines. He finished in time, and I got the sense that everyone enjoyed themselves. When I offered to let them keep their characters, I didn't get any back. To me, that's a pretty good sign, even if about half of them gave their characters to the other half. I went home, and got about six hours of sleep (my usual).

Saturday 7:30AM
I arrived at the Hyatt at 7:30 Saturday morning, and was out another $5 for parking on the roof of the parking structure. My first disappointing stop: I was the only confirmed signup for the RPG I was supposed to play in at 8am. I showed up anyway -- this was the one event I was really keen on for the whole convention. Ominously, the other event in the same room also only had one player. A convention monkey came by and suggested we combine the two events so we could actually play instead of just sit and stare at one another. Fortunately, we all opted to play the game I signed up for, but we didn't actually get started until 10:30-11:00am, wasting the first three hours of the con. This also obviously meant that the scenario was rushed to completion. Thankfully, though, the GM was competent, the rules to the game were not difficult to grasp, characters were pregenerated and provided, and the adventure itself was relatively entertaining. Consequently, I'd rate my first (play) event experience as average.

Buy! Buy! Buy!
After that fiasco, I wandered over to the dealer's room, meeting a few familiar faces. Again, to my disappointment, the dealer's room's selection of used stuff had been picked clean the night before. I've never been to a con where the dealer's room was open on Friday evening. I guess I should have read the convention book more carefully. There couldn't have been too many more than a dozen dealers in the dealer's room; it was poorly populated. I wandered out to the flea market with a half hour to spare; the line was just getting started. Oddly enough, the line for sellers had already started, and was halfway around the building. And they weren't letting anyone in because the miniatures battles inside hadn't wrapped up.

When they finally cleared the building of miniatures, it was 5:45, and the flea market folks had 15 minutes to set up. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen -- the flea market only began letting the mob of buyers in 15 minutes after the scheduled start time. I was one of the first six people in the door. By the time I'd finished looking at about three tables, the flea market halls were packed. If someone had yelled, "Fire!," it couldn't have gotten any more congested. Really, the only thing that kept people from being trampled was the general congeniality of the con attendees. Fortunately, I made it out of the flea market alive, and registered for a couple Sunday events, one of which looked exciting and interesting. Then it was time to rush off and print up character sheets for my Monday morning MnM event. I like being prepared for my players.

Sunday 9:00AM
Having had another restful six hours of sleep, and breakfast with my wife at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning, I headed out to the con, arriving at 9am, 30 minutes before my first scheduled event. When I arrived at the Hyatt, the parking structure was full. When I commented on this fact, the parking attendant pointed across the street and told me to park next to the office building, where parking was free. Grrr... I walk into the convention hall, annoyed that I've unneccessarily paid for parking in the last two days and that I may have deprived a Hyatt room guest of a parking space. I walked upstairs to the boardgame session I thought I'd signed up for, to discover I wasn't signed up for it. (I wasn't supposed to sign up for the boardgame event using the RPG signup box. My bad.) Not to panic, not to panic, there's the nice gal with the con shirt.... I found out that there was a separate signup area for boardgames, and the event I wanted to get into had a couple slots still open. Whew!

So I'm playing this boardgame, and everyone's having a blast, but it's creeping up on the time for me to wander off to the RPG session I signed up for. I've done that most despicable thing: signed up for an event that begins before another event is scheduled to end. Twenty minutes before I have to leave, a con monkey shows up with a prize for the winner: a brand spanking new copy of the game itself. Yarg. Like a responsible adult, I politely take my leave of everyone at the table, complaining with good humor all the while. Another fella steps in to take my play spot, even though its assured that I won't win -- yes, the game was that fun. And I should have stayed. I should have bailed on the other game. Shoulda coulda woulda.

Disaster Strikes!
I get to the Sunday morning RP event (DnD 3.5E), where the GM appears to very prepared. He has a laptop ready and running. We exchange pleasantries, and I comment on the coolness of being able to play any of the standard classes from the PHB -- one character sheet for each class is neatly fanned out in front of the GM. I look more closely, and realize that they're blank character sheets. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach; I quite clearly recall that the event was supposed to have pregenerated characters.

The GM says, "I wanted to try something new. We're going to copy out the stats for 7th-level characters from the 3.5 DMG, and then tweak them a little bit since they're pretty weak on magic items." I respond, "I didnít bring any of my books, since I expected characters to be pregenerated." I'm actually thinking 'I wouldn't bring my DMG to a game I planned to play in anyway'. He says, "No problem, you can use mine," -- and flips to the page in the DMG where it has pregenerated NPCs at 1st, 5th, and 15th level -- nothing at 7th. A bit of hemming and hawing later, he says, "The 3.0 DMG has more detailed NPC information than this, and that's what I was expecting to use." Yarg.

At this point, my stomach is somewhere down around my knees. Three other people have started kludging together character sheets, including one person sitting next to me who kept invading my personal table space all afternoon by spreading all her dice out into neat little piles. Sigh. One of the other players finally says, "I have some pregenerated characters in my room. I could just go get those." The GM agrees, and when they return, I'm in for another shock. These characters are BUFF! No stats lower than 12, most clustered in the 16-22 arena, and loaded up with magic items. I'm not much of a rules hound, but mine had an error that the creator barely acknowledged (my flat-footed AC was higher than my normal AC). The GM approves them (out of embarassment and a desire to get the game going, I presumed), and we get started. In fact, we got started for about another three hours. Seriously. The seven of us (the GM let seven people into a six-player event, just as I did on Friday) stepped into a single room, walked through a magical portal, and were teleported to seven different rooms, each with a discrete combat encounter.

Now it could be that we were all dense, but the riddle in that first room (plus the time wasted on seven individual combats) kept us busy for the majority of our time slot. We never finished the adventure, though the GM did tell us how the remainder of the encounters were supposed to go. He was properly apologetic about the pregenerated characters snafu, but there really wasn't any denying that he was horribly inadequately prepared.

I'd rate that as the second worst convention event I've ever attended, surpassed only by the fellow who said he'd gone on his honeymoon the previous weekend and didn't have the pregen characters ready. I got up and walked away from that table. Shoulda coulda woulda done it here but I'd already sacrificed my boardgame session and I wanted to salvage something for my trouble.

I commisserated with a friend afterwards while waiting in line again for Sunday's flea market. It wasn't quite as crowded as the day before, and I did manage to pick up a few deals. After that, it was back home to get rested up to run a good game on Monday morning.

A Bit Of A Letdown
I arrived Monday morning to disappointing news -- I only had two signups and one walk-in for my six-person MnM event, and I knew two of the guys had been playing until 2am the night before. No problem. I broke out the coffeemaker, and laid out the spread -- bagels, fruit, cream cheese, donut holes. I ran a decent game, and all the guys had fun. I got the distinct feeling that one of the them was there for the food and not for the game. Apparently, he hadn't eaten anything all weekend due to financial difficulty (one wonders, then, why he'd bother to spend money to come to a con). He distorted the personality of the pregen character he was provided and turned his angle of the adventure into a bit of a goof-fest. It wouldn't have been quite so bad if he hadn't taken the time to do some d20 bashing while the rest of us sat around uncomfortably, waiting for him to run out of breath. Overall, though, I think everyone walked away having enjoyed my session.

A Bit Of A Pickup
My loot from the con included:

  • Midnight Realms (Talislanta sourcebook) at half price
  • d6 Adventure (review copy)
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle Roleplaying Party Game (TSR) for $6.00
  • Haunting House (Twilight Creations) for $5.00
  • Forbidden Kingdoms RPG (Otherworld Creations) for $10.00
  • Heavy Gear Fighter plus Weapons and Equipment for $10.00
  • Two issues of Shred magazine for $1.00 each, completing my collection of that late great magazine
  • Coloretto, Gargon, Elements, Suicide Bomber (Card games at $3.00 or less)
  • The Legend of Zorro (Fuzion game from Mark Arsenault) for $2.00
  • FF, X-Men, and Avengers Rosters (Marvel SAGA) for $2.50 each
  • Atlas of the DC Universe and Jonah Hex solo adventure (DC Heroes) for $3.50
  • Spookshow (Clockwork Games) for $1.00
and a bunch of other stuff.

Things I Didn't Do
The Kniziathon looked like a blast. Basically it involved nonstop play of a variety of Knizia boardgames and cardgames, as well as a couple of tournament rounds. I stepped into the room when I had a few free minutes, but never actually had enough time to sit in on a game.

LARPs. I don't do LARPS, though I do stop by to see if anyone I know is involved. They weren't.

Miniatures gaming. I don't have the patience for it, but I absolutely love the displays and milieus. There was a 6'x8' HeroClix scenario set up with multistory 3D buildings, greenery, labeled stores, vehicles, and 800-point teams. The streetlamps were awesome.

Credit Where Credit Is Due
As usual, at these sorts of events, I have to say that I enjoyed the flea market best, followed closely by the events that I ran, which I thought were the best managed and best attended of all the roleplaying events I participated in. The boardgame, Heroes Incorporated, was a blast. It's a beer and pretzels game so don't expect deep strategy out of it. But it's fun. It was great to meet the guys behind The Secret of Zir'An at Paragon Games. I think their game has all the makings of a hit RPG. The tricky part, of course, will be the marketing strategy and the rollout. While it was nice to say hello to familiar faces at the dealer's room, I wouldn't say it was a big success -- there weren't enough dealers there.

Con management, however, was impeccable. The con staff were helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. If one person didn't have an answer to my question, they knew someone who did. I never got the runaround. While I am critical of the individual events I was in, and I do have a particular bias in the way that I approach a convention, I certainly cannot find fault with the convention staff themselves, or the way the convention was managed.

Assuming that you can find events that you are interested in, and for which the GM is competent and properly prepared, I think you'll have a fine time at Kublacon next year. I'll be doing my best to attend.


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