Finally got internet back at home yesterday, and haven’t gotten other stuff out of the way, I can finally recap my first overseas promo trip!
This will cover the good and bad both of my ILTC experience and GenCon itself (bit of a ropey start, but it improves, massively). I was running a compressed version of my Cold Frontier campaign: 7 days (instead of 21) to survive, till the cruiser arrives: don’t let the razor ants eat you. 6 marines, 56 colonists: HOW MANY LIVE!?? (Spoiler: not many.)
Got to my accommodation last Thursday at about 10pm, chatted to the landlady and crashed soon after. Alas, I didn’t sleep particularly well (had a very stressful lead-up to GenCon) and before I ended up at GenCon, ended up in a FedEx, getting some extra copies of my character packs. The big sell to get people to play ILTC was that all of my games would follow a connective story. If you got someone killed in one game, they wouldn’t be available the next day. This gave me a slight statistical problem; I had 27 different characters (6 marines, 21 colonists) and had a copy of each, but it was hard to know how many copies I would need if someone wanted to take their character sheet. In the end, I did four of each marine, which was enough (had a few spare) and one of each colonist, which I knew would be more than I needed… but I felt better to be over-prepared.
Despite being in a fluster, the FedEx was the first sign that it would be a good weekend. I had an awesome guy called Matt helping me with my copying (he was copying whilst I got all the plastic wallet sorted). Not only did he help me get ready on time, but was impressed that I had been working on my first RPG full time for two years, was telling the other gamers in the shop, and I ended up giving out about five business cards! Even saw a lady there who I met again briefly at the airport, and have since got an e-mail from who she was promoting (I assume anyway, awaiting further reply). Either way, CONTACTS!
Friday- at GenCon
Got more than a bit lost when I got there… it’s so big! Plus, I was exhausted, stressed and at my most dyspraxic. There was a definitive lack of signs to places and though there were brochures with maps, I didn’t find one when I walked in… so many people, so many different entrances to the Convention Centre. I did the sensible thing and asked volunteers where to go… and got misdirected. Twice. I ended up stood at the wrong stand (it was for entrants) for about ten minutes! (They assumed I was a player, took my ID without letting me explain, and thus I stood there till another guy was sent to me and I explained who I was, and was sent elsewhere. Correctly.) In a fluster, I ended up at GM HQ, and the very nice lady at the desk busted out a map and managed to correctly show me where to go, including giving me a decent shortcut. Got to my game ten minutes early. Phew! Not as early as I like to be, but better than nothing.
Game 1 (Friday 1-4)
It was definitely a slow burn game. The problem with essentially running a campaign across 7 games is you have to start somewhere. But, the players seemed to be very much getting into the intro and learning everything they could about Frost colony and it’s people, so I went with it. There was a lot of role play from some of the characters, but not much need for abilities, so the narrative scene trucked along a bit slowly. Also had two younger players. The teen seemed to be choosing to do nothing in an in-character fashion, whilst the younger kid (about 7) was just way too young to get what was going on. Eventually, the LT’s player embraced this and left the kid to his own devices- since he was playing the Lone Wolf, this actually worked pretty well. The game was definitely shaping up. Unfortunately, we got to 3.30 and the family (half the group) said they needed to finish at 3.45, when my game was due to finish at 4, and had it done so, would have likely ended perfectly. I wanted to give them action before they finished, but instead I had to rush it and set up the action scene for the next group (not my optimal choice).
I think it went well enough, but I think the nature of GenCon’s timetabling, something new to me, harmed it. I didn’t know you could just book a game that ends at 4 and start another one at 4. Some rooms are at least 20 minutes apart! Dumb system, left me feeling a bit annoyed. Also, after my copying nightmare, only one player took a sheet, so it left me feeling like it didn’t go well…
Before Game 2
So game 2 didn’t actually happen (should have been 5-8). This was a hard but necessary way for me to learn that prebookings mean far less than they do, say at the UK Games Expo. You expect to lose a player or two there… but 5 out of 6? Well, that sucked the remaining confidence out of me. Fortunately, a guy with a Generic ticket who really wanted to play wandered over, and though my one player had been waiting long enough and went off elsewhere, I made a friend, had a good rant, and played a fun card game. I then went for a bit of a wander to get the lay of the land and just work out where stuff was, mainly, so I could explore properly during my Saturday break. But I was tired, stressed and it was all a bit overwhelming, so grabbed some (very cheap, especially for con food!) fast food, and headed back about an hour before my next game slot to set up.
There was a group who had no GM turn up (!) so I ended up chatting to them. This was a good experience, as I learned that players overbooking and not turning up and GMs disappearing was a common thing, so I felt better and met some more friendly people. I also encountered some people who were interested in the game, and said they’d play the next slot if people didn’t turn up. Hope!
Game 2 (Friday 9-12)
Three of the six turned up on time. Seeing I looked sceptical (most likely) the guy who organised it assured me the other three were on their way. To further make me feel better he roughly said…
“Just to let you know how much I have been looking forward to this game, I cancelled going to a party with sexy ladies to come play this.” THE PRESSURE WAS ON!
I gave them the choice of if they wanted to start with an action scene or not, as it’s not how I’d usually do things with a one-shot (but the plot was pointed in that direction). But they were excited to try the game out, largely, and I think the unusual appeared. It was a bit of a slow start, mainly cos everyone was TIRED (always a con issue when teaching new rules), but momentum picked up, and when one marine leapt out of the jeep that had been fleeing bugs to butcher one of them… well everyone started leaping out one by one. Badass.
And then they got to the colony and we went from badass to pure psychological horror. The aerial scouts, the screamers, were coming, and they decided everyone needed to STAY QUIET. Which was the purpose of the following narrative scene. The tension was utterly palpable. I had players wincing, grimacing and gasping.
It was an utterly fantastic game, and gave me hope for the rest of the weekend. This was the first time I was asked to come back next year, including the promise of bringing me more players (and the guy bought 5 other people already).
I felt like me again. Hope was rekindled. I then met a Canadian player on my way out, who played in Game 1, and he gave me a lot of praise, and made me feel much better about how it went from my perspective.
Game 3 (10-1)
So, after Friday night, I still didn’t sleep great, but adrenaline kept me going, and my mood was much better. My mood accelerated further, as each player turned up yelling ‘I LOVE THE CORPS!’ or ‘OOHRAH!’ 4 out of 6; more than enough to have a good time.
“You are the right players for this game”, I said. I was not wrong.
Game 1 was an investigation with a horror/action build-up, game 2 an action intro with some psychological horror. Episode 3 was the all-out balls to the wall action episode, as the players took events OFF PLANET and ended up finishing the game with a brutal battle in a cargo hold fighting against decompression and were close to all getting sucked out into space. It was utterly epic. Not what they were expecting, but they loved it. “We thought we were going to fight bugs… but this was great.”
I have since been emailed by one of the players asking how he can buy it (soon, sooooon) and spoke to two of the others twice more over the weekend. They came back to the start of the next game to watch and laugh as I explained how the marines had left in a dropship and abandoned them to die (not entirely accurately, but it was how it appeared). We chatted again on Sunday, and it was clear how much they enjoyed it. They not only asked if I was coming back, but also suggested that Cold Frontier could be made into a campaign book. I don’t disagree…
I decided to explore again. But I needed some proper food. But I knew a restaurant would chew out exploration time… so I settled for a food van. If not proper food, then I would settle for a giant pulled pork hot dog… it was gorgeous. But, due to the walk to it and queuing time… I didn’t dent much of the exhibition hall before I needed to return to set up the next game…
Game 4 (4-7)
I only had two players. I didn’t worry. They were a husband and wife, and they clearly were massive Aliens (and Starship Troopers) fans, which is why they signed on. They didn’t seem too worried about having no other players either. Since the last game ended with the marines flying a shuttle out of an exploding ship with no pilot… in the next game, only one marine (who stayed behind) was available. Time to bust out the survivor packs!
Between them, the married couple played two different survivors each (after the death of the first), brought along two more for help, and only one survived. They found the crashed pieces of dropship, but no sign of the marines. As they got surrounded by bugs and fled back to Frost, they got picked off. Two survived, and another died. The game ended with Wagner, a massive explosion and a lot of dead bugs.
Game 5 (8-11)
This time, there were no playable marines. The players were instantly worried, and intrigued. This left the leaders as the (ex-marine) sheriff and deputy, with also the notable leading presence of all around smart guy and the Last but One Ice Miner, Demidov. The sheriff and deputy’s son was played as well, and the three (all male players) players did a beautiful job, whilst we also had ‘every man for himself’ classic coward (and secret telekinetic) to round up the group.
This game was a classic survival horror. Whilst Starship Troopers was (correctly) cited for the style of the last game, this one was compared to The Thing, and they weren’t wrong either. The players decided it was time to get everyone out of Frost.
They had a decent plan, but due to knowing next to zero about the razor ants… well nearly everyone died. Three player characters did survive the ending, but all the other colonists died horribly, and the survivors were more or less screwed in anything but the short term.
A fair few of the players stayed to enthusiastically discuss the game, and two of them even game back to enthuse some more.
Damn good ending to a damn good day.
Game 6, 10-1, The End
So three players turned up. Fine for what I had planned… there was a small matter of the surviving four marines to deal with. Unfortunately, two of the players weren’t my players and got the wrong table! Fortunately, the other GM/game designer (who only had one player, being one of the people mistakenly at my table) had already been talking to me about my game, and was genuinely interested. He came to play, so his player stuck around. He ended up saying: “Whoa, this is way more brutal than D&D!” And he meant that very positively.
Two marines were played, and an inedible Dupe colonist (one of four surviving colonists… of 56). We had the finest boss battles and plenty of narrative scene too, though I was worried about the size of action scene (I know combat is not everyone’s thing). However, they all clearly enjoyed it. I even got bought a (the last!) cider during the game by the other designer, Tom.
The guy who booked in was very happy indeed and seemed eager to buy it on release. The accidental player said “next year, I’m going to play in the first group, and screw the other players over.” So I guess he liked it.
Tom asked if I wanted to grab some drink… finishing with a massive blow-out meal and some drinks was my plan anyway! He said that he was surprised that I was not already a published designer already, because I came across as immensely professional. He also revealed that he doesn’t usually enjoy long combats, but thought I handled it beautifully, as there was a distinct story running through the action scene!
I had two vodkas and lemonades, a GIGANTIC plate of nachoes and a sizeable amount of chips (fries) and a reuben, a rammed, and possibly tastiest sandwich ever. And you know what? Tom paid for it all… which was not the plan. So yeah, guess I made a good impression!
I did manage to dash into the exhibition hall (in the last 15 minutes, hilariously) and made a last minute impulse buy… ROTTED CAPES (zombie survival horror meets super heroes)! I then had a weird moment of buying my first RPG since doing graphic design and the last stages of polishing the rules, and have really ripped it to shreds… but in a way, that’s good. If another Kickstarter launched project can be advertised on a stall spanning two aisles, despite a LOT of mistakes, it gives me more hope for what may happen when people get their mitts on my books.
I then took the book, sat in a brewery and had some TASTY US ciders, before getting too tired, and collapsing back at the accommodation, painfully early. And finally, I slept. Oh, how I slept. I have even slept well the entire week. So I must have done something right.
Despite losing a lot of expected players, the majority certainly enjoyed themselves, and a lot of people said they’d be happy to buy it (and I believed them).
More importantly though, was this. If I chat to random people at the Expo, unless it’s in a RP room, 50% might be role players. Of them, 50% will say ‘I only play fantasy.’ Not so in the US. Pretty much all the people I spoke to about the game seemed really interested in it both conceptually and mechanically. I even got some extra players through word of mouth, including some who sadly turned up when I had full players. But it gives me hope that this thing can spread quite easily in the US when I release. I even had three very interested people just from chatting to one person on the airport shuttle bus. It wasn’t hard to make friends, contacts, meet designers of acquire potential future fans. So, more than worth it.
If I can afford it, I plan to be back next year.