Connecticon 2014

aka Surrounded by cosplayers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; lots of cool costumes on display. A simple favorite was someone dressed as Spock, carrying a tribble that made tribble noises.

So I volunteered to judge / DM tables for the adventure found in the recently released Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, the Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a pretty neat adventure, but I’ll save most of my thoughts for a separate post I’ll write reviewing the Starter Set as a whole, as well as the free Basic Rules one can download here.

I was scheduled for five tables, but ended up running six. I must admit, it was a bit of a blur, but I didn’t mind running the extra sessions. Heck, I would have been bored out of my skull otherwise.

It was actually a pretty nice deal; free Starter Set, free hotel (which included breakfast), free ride into Hartford (though I’m going to buy the driver a beer one of these days; he deserves it!), and eventually, free playmats for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. How did I get these playmats? Basically, everytime someone ran a table, one got $5 worth of tickets (players got $2 worth of tickets) that could be redeemed for board games or RPG books. The strange thing about the ticket system is that there are some items that are literally impossible to get, even if you ran all eight possible sessions, as they’re simply priced too highly. And there’s also misinformation about whether tickets from previous years will be accepted. It seems like it depends on who you talk to; some people say yes, others say no.

There were two restaurants in Hartford that we fellow volunteer judges frequented. Really nice people, everyone, with good senses of humor and good attitudes. The first night, we went to City Steam Brewery, a place that brewed their own beer and cooked with it. I had a really delicious beef stew for a late dinner, according to their menu their most popular dish. Honestly, I believe it. It hit the spot. It really hit the spot. The other place we went to, I think was called Arch Street Tavern, within walking distance of the Connecticut Convention Center, that serves a terrific corned beef reuben sandwich, as long as you like thick chunks of corned beef, which I totally do. Also, the fries and beer were pretty good too. Unfortunately, the service is hardly award winning, though to be fair, they were swamped from convention traffic and what not. I’m under the impression that no one warned them that they may be assaulted by gamers, cosplayers, and nerds alike on these dates. I’m thinking next year, they should mark it on their calendar to be prepared for a ton of business, and potential tips, so that everyone working can be mentally prepared for the extreme business.

As for the Dungeon Mastering side of the equation, since that’s what I mostly did, it was fun. I had never judged convention tables before, and was curious how it’d end up. I must admit, I was a bit concerned I would have to deal with some immaturity and social awkwardness, but it honestly ended up being lots of fun. Everyone was really nice and most people really got into the game. It was fun to see some newbies really get into things, and when situations became dire, they would massage their dice like a gambler in Vegas hoping for some divine karma to get them out of a jam.

Some other things that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • I eschewed miniatures and the battle map. Mind you, I brought both just in case, but ended up doing theater of the mind 100% of the time. Once or twice, I quickly drew out an area, not to scale, to aid in my descriptions, but it wasn’t used for battle. It ended up being fine; both newbies and veterans had fun, as far as I can tell. With some people I had coming back for multiple sessions.
  • Being prepared is key to convention play; have multiple sets of dice and writing utensils ready to loan out. Also, I had a bunch of photocopies of the pre-generated characters ready to go.
  • I don’t work for these guys, but Hammerdog Games DM Screens are totally worth the investment if you’re willing to make your own inserts. Highly recommended.
  • While creating your own character is cool, pre-gens are much better to run with in these situations. Just hand out a pre-gen and we can be playing in minutes.
  • I kept rules explanations in the beginning to a minimum. The only things I mentioned was advantage (under x circumstances, your character has advantage, where they roll d20 twice and take the higher of the two), disadvantage (the opposite of advantage; roll d20 twice and take the lower of the two), and inspiration (your character has unique traits, flaws, bonds, etc. roleplay these well, and I may give you inspiration. It’s not something you can stockpile; you either have it or you don’t. At any time, you can say you’re using it to give yourself advantage on a roll, or cancel out disadvantage if you have it.) That was it; otherwise, it was go time.
  • I don’t even know if I’ll be in CT next year (it’s looking like I won’t), but I wouldn’t mind running tables for these types of events again. I’m going to be attending Gen Con Indy as a consumer this year, but maybe next year I’ll be judging tables and what not.
  • And that’s about all I can think of for the moment. I was going to talk about how I felt the Starter Set adventure is a good adventure for beginning DM’s to sink their teeth into, but I’ll save that banter for a separate blog post when I talk more in-depth about the product itself.

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