Wednesday: Got up at OhGodO'Clock (0530) to get to Heathrow for a three-hour check-in for our flights... thank heavens rotwang has a lounge pass, 'cause if I had to sit in the main lounge at Terminal Three for a couple of hours I'd go nuts. I spent some time looking for socks, which I found (no, don't ask why) and was then annoyed to find that the postboxes at T3 are sized such that two pairs of socks in a parcel won't fit in the slot (I said don't ask!)
Flight over to Toronto was uneventful; I dozed for much of it, scribbled down some game ideas, read a bit, and was completely bemused as to why Air Canada should be showing a documentary about South African penguins ("City Slickers") which was rather cute even without bothering to put on headphones for the soundtrack.
Managed to find ubiquitous_cat in the queue for US immigration in Toronto, and got the teeny tiny little plane from Toronto to Indianapolis (40 seats or thereabouts, and a prop plane to boot; haven't flown in one of those in years). At Indy ubiquitous_cat caught up with some of his mates and we agreed to meet up later on. We checked into our hotel, went to pick up con badges and event tickets, and then headed off to the Alcatraz for dinner and beer. We had a pleasant chat with the chap showing us to our table, who turned out to be an undercover Goth who was travelling to Whitby later on this year. He said that GenCon was one of the few events where he felt really comfortable in Indy ;) Having managed not to get quite as trashed as we were last year, we wandered over to meet UC and his mates for a few more drinks, then headed off to collapse into bed.
Thursday: The first (of many) early starts; game starting at 8am, in this case the D&D Open. I'm all for starting a game off with a bit of excitement (particularly if it is early in the day and your players have been hanging around for marshalling for quite a while), but any combat which kills off the party cleric in the second round is perhaps not as balanced as it might be. Oh well...
Next up was a Call of Cthulhu scenario called "Crimson Regret", which was lots of fun. It was a modern-day scenario with rotwang and I playing a couple of cops called out to investigate some strange occurrences at a cave. Good group, good scenario.
Finally we played Life Sized Witch Trial, which we'd enjoyed last year. It was great fun again, and this time we only had one player sentenced to death ;) Speaking with an English accent does seem to sway cases in your favour at GenCon US -- luckily neither of us had to try to prosecute the case where someone accused of the heinous crime of Unpopularity was later revealed, on the turn of an Evidence card, to Have Friends. Bit of a giveaway, that. I must get my act together to make myself a set of larger cards from my smaller version one of these years; it could be a Baron Munchausen-esque game here sometime...
We spent Thursday evening relaxing over dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which still does possibly the best steak I've ever eaten. It may have been improved by the fact that all the games mentioned above had been back-to-back so all we'd eaten since breakfast were a couple of cookies. (We learned the hard way a year or two back not to schedule any games on Thursday night if we fly in on Wednesday -- definitely not up to gaming until 1am at that point.) I'd also made my annual pilgrimage to Lane Bryant and scored a nice pair of dressy-ish trousers, so I could disguise myself as Not-A-Geek for the evening (hardly worth it, really, since most of the rest of the town weren't bothering with the attempted disguise).
Friday: A 9am start for a game called "Agents of the B.I.A." -- D&D set in a slightly alternate-world Roman Empire. Excellent background. The game itself was quite linear but that wasn't a major drawback, and my barbarian got to be a hero in the classic style. We were amused by the DM looking slightly bemusedly at his six players and saying "I know I asked for 'mature' players, but..." -- "mature" for GenCon is 18+ but I am pretty sure none of the players were younger than mid-30s ;)
We had signed up for a demo of the forthcoming KenzerCo card game "Tech Support" which seemed a bit of a waste given that they were running the demos in the dealer hall and we really could have got one for free... oh well. What we learned for our $1.50 a shot is that while the game has an amusing concept -- you're phoning a tech support hotline and trying to get to The Guru, the only person who can answer your question -- the actual execution isn't up to much. It's way too random and the cards themselves get repetitive very quickly. I'm afraid I won't be buying a copy.
However, the fact that the demo didn't run anything like the 2-hour slot it had been booked into did give us plenty of time in the dealers' hall. While we didn't get anything like as much stuff as last time, we did manage to acquire T-shirts, some games, some manuals, some dice -- including a d6-shaped Christmas tree ornament (which I hope survived the journey home in my hand luggage OK -- must check...). Things. You know. Stuff. (We may even be reunited with some of it at some point.) We swung by the Dead Gentlemen stand to gently berate them for Gamers II not being ready for the con (I'm really just writing this to see if they Google as efficiently as they did last year ;)).
Later in the day we'd signed up for a LARP, the first time either of us had actually played in one at GenCon US (obviously there have been more than a few at GCUK and elsewhere...). It was called "The Old Man Of Damascus", run under the Cthulhu Live system (well, under the in-playtest v3 system, but that wasn't a big issue since my last contact with it was buying a copy of the v1 rules, donkey's years back).
The props and stuff were cool, but to be honest I wasn't that impressed with the scenario. It suffered badly from "factionitis" -- by which I mean that there were several factions, each of whose leaders had cross-faction plot and whose followers only really had plot involving the actual faction itself; no goals of their own, no great reason to interact with the people outside their faction. I've often seen this used to make "scalable" games, where you can just throw in extra followers of one or more factions if you need to expand for more players, and you then don't need to re-write everyone else's character sheets to allow for that. However, it does make for some characters who, while they may not be dull in terms of their own background, do not have a lot to do -- I spent a non-trivial amount of time carrying round my faction's war chest1. Given that this was only a 25-player game (or thereabouts; I didn't do an exact head-count), though, they could have thrown in a lot more cross-connections which would have improved things.
Having said that, at least all the players had full character sheets with their own backgrounds and stats and the like, rather than a three-line character sketch (been there, played that, was way too bored to get the T-shirt), and also the GMs had not pre-cast all the good characters. The system looked as though it had a fair chance of working OK though the long exposition of it during the intro to the game wasn't very necessary; we didn't use much of it at all.
I tried quite hard to keep one of the other characters out of trouble, and wound up dying for it, oh well ;)
We were supposed to be playing a run of "Lupus In Tabula" -- which appears to be a slightly faffed-with version of "Are You A Werewolf?" -- at 11pm, but it didn't quite have enough players to run, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed off to Steak'n'Shake for some food. The nice Greek chap who had played the character who assassinated me in the LARP paid for our drinks, which was very sweet of him ;)
Sleep. It's a useful commodity.
Saturday: Yet another early morning; an 8am start for Vindico Nos Ex Malum, a Cthulhu Dark Ages game. We were a couple of players light (four in a six-player game -- which is four more than you'd get if you tried to run an 8am game at GCUK...) but it wasn't too much of a problem; another nice background and very well-drawn by the GM.
This time we actually had a scheduled lunch break before the next game, a d20 scenario called "Rhodes Falcon". Another home-brewed background -- we really had some great games with home-brew stuff this time around -- which was a more-or-less Renaissance Europe with fantasy races mixed in... some of the noble houses in Italy are actually drow, the Gnomes of Zurich really are gnomes, and I was playing a half-celestial warrior nun with a +3 leather habit and a nice line in smiting with a holy greatsword. Combat ran a bit long but in general this was an excellent game.
We snarfed down a quick dinner before heading for "Cowboys, Indians and Eldritch Horror". A good scenario but it suffered slightly from an over-large group -- ten is a lot for Cthulhu -- and a GM who meant well but who wasn't too keen on letting characters take the (bad) consequences of their actions; had I been running it, I think we'd've lost a few by the end. Still, not bad and part of the large-group issue may have been more a consequence of us both being tired (we finished at about 0120, and I refer you to our 0800 start mentioned above).
Sunday: We could have had a lie-in -- 1000 start for our only game of the day! That is, we could have had a lie-in if we didn't have to pack and check out of the hotel before the game ;) We managed to squeeze everything into three bags (which in itself suggests that we bought less stuff than last year, since last year we needed the two bags we took plus the two spares, whereas this year we managed to get everything into three bags (two plus one spare, packing the other spare)
Sunday's game was "Tomb of Nightmares", a Cthulhu scenario set in 1939 -- it was a sequel to another scenario but we were given enough background to work with that not having played the previous one (none of the five players had) was not a big deal. Very good GM, and nice to get a chance to play in a bit of the Mythos I've not interacted with that much in the past (says she, trying to avoid overt spoilers).
We spent a bit more time in the trade hall -- I was mugged by some gorgeous gem dice on the Chessex stand; "gem" in the sense that they are carved from amethyst, smoky quartz and the like. (They're a bit bigger than the Crystal Caste ones, and are sold singly rather than in sets carved from a single material.) Just about managed to stuff everything into the cases and then headed for the airport.
Checked in, had some dinner, noted that the inbound plane which would form our outbound flight was a bit late, to the extent that we were about 20 minutes late departing. Normally this wouldn't have been much of a big deal, but in this case we had a very tight transfer at Toronto airport -- 75 minutes. (And yes, Air Canada advertise this as a connecting flight.)
Even allowing for the fact that in this 75 minutes you have to get off the inbound plane, pass immigration, get through at least one security check, and make a transfer to a different terminal which is currently reached via a bus ride of about 10 minutes, I still contend we might potentially have made it onto the flight if we hadn't had several conflicting sets of information about whether we needed to re-check our bags onto the flight to London or not. In Europe, when making connecting flights, I have never been asked to pick up my bags at the intermediate airport and re-check them. In America, every time I have changed planes there (that I can remember) I've had to do this. In Canada, who knows? We had conflicting information from two sets of Air Canada staff, from ground staff, and from the notices in the baggage hall -- the ones which said "if you are connecting onto another flight you need to collect your bags and take them to the connecting baggage area," or words along those lines. Perhaps not surprisingly we erred on the side of caution and waited to pick up the bags to re-check them.
It was about 15 minutes before we could get a useful answer out of the Air Canada baggage guy in the arrivals hall at Toronto, who said "oh no, you don't need to check them! Not for that flight." I showed what I feel was remarkable forebearance in not ripping his arm off and beating him to death with the soggy end. There followed a Keystone Cops twenty minutes or so involving seeing one terminal of Toronto Airport going past in a blur as we sprinted through it -- I'm not fit at the best of times and four days of insufficient sleep wasn't helping things -- the interminable bloody between-terminals bus ride, and a final mad dash up to gate 523, where our flight wasn't. Not any more.
I should add that, had this been entirely due to the late departure of our flight from Indy, I would be shrugging my shoulders and saying "shit happens." However I am very annoyed to have been given information that was at best inconsistent and at worst just plain wrong, which basically turned a just-about-saveable situation into a total f**kup.
We, and the other gentleman who had been affected by the same problem, went to outline our difficulties to the Air Canada desk. They noted that this wasn't the first time they'd seen people with this problem (the "confused about luggage" problem, not the "your connections are insanely tight" problem, though I'd be willing to bet they see a fair amount of the latter as well), and after a bit of internal discussion, decided to put us on a flight to Paris, with a connection on Air France onward to London on Monday afternoon. The Paris flight was rather more Francophone (not surprisingly) than the flight from London previously, and I surprised myself by being asked a question in French and actually managing to frame a whole-sentence reply without having to take ages to think about it. It may even have been in more or less correct French...
In Paris my phone was working again -- I have international roaming but not a tri-band phone, so it won't work in the US -- so I could do useful things like phone my parents and say "is there anything you want from Paris?" ("I didn't know you were going to Paris?" "We weren't.") We had a couple of hours to kill, so we had a drink and did a bit of shopping, then got on the plane home, which had scrummy in-flight catering (little canapes and a fruit tart, much nicer than the usual British Airways cheese sandwich, or the roll that had come with breakfast on Air Canada that morning which I believe may well have had more frequent-flyer miles than I do) and landed right on time. Air France also won brownie points for announcing after about 10-15 minutes that, if your bags hadn't shown up yet, you should go and see their service desk, rather than keeping you waiting for ages. Not entirely surprisingly, our bags had not managed to follow the bouncing gamers from Toronto... hopefully they will show up at some point. I find it more than a little odd that Air France get the job of tracking them down, simply because they're the last airline that we flew on, despite it being thoroughly Air Canada's fault that they weren't there in the first place -- theoretically they will eventually arrive directly from Toronto, not via Paris.
Hey ho. Watch this space for luggage-related updates...
1: Which reminds me: Freeform Writers' Rule 2 2. Do not use props which will either require people to stand guard over them in one place -- such as items too heavy, even if only in-character, to move -- or which are significantly heavy or awkward to carry around. If something needs guarding then, except in very limited circumstances, they should be able to hire NPCs to do that. Not being able to move around at will, or almost so, isn't actually fun for longer than a few minutes.)
2: Freeform Writers' Rule 1, of course, being "write the bloody characters". See above comments about three-line character sketches.