Time for a new weekly writer’s roundup of my works-in-progress and those ready to read!
Yesterday I posted an overview of my experience game mastering and being a staff member at PortCon and how that ties into my life as writer. To surmise, I had a blast and it was a very fulfilling endeavor for me on multiple levels! I learned some things about myself. :-) It was also a huge undertaking, and I wrote about 40,000 words of material for the events I was running in about a month’s time.
I had so much to relay about this experience that I decided to break a big update into two posts… So welcome to a WIP-it Thursday and part two! Today I’ll try to give an idea of what the convention was like for me, and then go over where I’m at with my writing this week.
The day before the start of the convention had me rushing about and getting a lot of household chores and yardwork done in preparation for the next four days with us mostly gone. My friend Ian, the RPG chairman for PortCon this year and the one that called on my aid to game master, also needed a place to crash on the night before the con as he needed to be down a day earlier than his hotel reservation. Ironically enough, our guest room is also our game room. ;-)
It was really no problem for my wife and I to play host to him, and we had a great time talking over dinner and catching up before we all got busy on convention stuff until midnight or later.
The first day of PortCon opens to the public at 4pm and then runs until midnight… but as you can imagine there is a lot of staff activity beforehand. Ian left early in the morning, and Kim and I worked until about 11 am pulling things together at the house… like frantically finishing handouts for my games and whatnot. We got to the local copy center, and thanks to an attentive owner we were on our way with about $55 less in our pockets by noon after printing all of the game materials.
We had just enough of time to get to the main staff meeting at 1:30 pm, living about an hour’s drive away from the location of PortCon (The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in South Portland, Maine). We were feeling pretty good and organized… until halfway there we discovered that my wife had forgotten both her con ticket, and her phone that could have shown her digital proof of purchase as a backup…
…So we turned around, got the tickets, and started over again. We got there just before two in the afternoon as the big meeting was winding-down. Rather than awkwardly slip into the tail-end of things, I instead snuck in smoothly to be one of the first staffers to get their convention badge. ;-) Oh yeah, (slips on sunglasses), totally planned it that way to skip the line!
My wife Kim got a spot in line to get her registration done, as she wasn’t staff this year and had to wait for regular registration to open. She didn’t mind this at all though, as there are always nice folks to talk to and cool cosplays to enjoy. :-) The weather was also exceptionally pleasant this year for the whole convention: Clear blue skies with temperatures in the 70s to low 80s (22 to 28 Celsius) and a nice breeze.
I left to partake in the RPG staff meeting scheduled to begin before the con opened to the public at 4 pm. A new thing this year was that the all of the games had been moved out of the hotel and relocated across the street to the Maine Mall in a long vacated space that was once an Extreme Fitness gym. The convention worked out a deal with the Mall rent out the space for the month.
PortCon is a tiny convention if you put it next to giants like DragonCon or Comic Con that can boast about attendances between 60,000 to almost 200,000 people. Our attendance this year was a bit under 3,500 for comparison. ;-) That said, PortCon is the largest annual convention in the state of Maine, and held at the largest venue available within its borders!
The DoubleTree Hotel is almost bursting at the seams handling the convention’s attendance, even with those “tiny” numbers. But there is no bigger option (if they build it, we will come), so renting the space at the Mall was an excellent move that freed-up much needed room at the hotel and cut back on crowd congestion. The room that became the “PortCon Games Arena” for a few days was rough around the edges: Bare concrete floors with carpet glue remnants and Spartan structural modifications. But I didn’t mind. As someone who has been to a lot of game shops (and few rock clubs) housed in less than ideal spaces, I suspect that I wasn’t the only one who felt that it had an “Oh yeah! Lets play some games in the basement!” feel. ;-)
And the space was enormous! Plenty of room and sections for Role-playing, board, card, miniature and video gaming with hundreds of people congregated around! We were slightly concerned that we might have a drop in attendees as the arena was a five minute walk from the hotel, but those fears quickly faded and we had a great turnout. I really liked it, and all the room it freed-up at the Doubletree made the experience over there far more pleasant all-around. I hope the space is still available next year!
Thursday was my “free day”, with no scheduled games for me to run. Kim and I got some cheap Chinese food after helping to setup the arena space, and took in Ian’s workshop on “How to be a Better Role-Player” until 10 PM. We called it an early night and left for home after that as my first game was scheduled as soon as the Arena opened Friday morning.
Friday was my “big day” with two, four hour game sessions scheduled: The Cartoon Olympics from 10 am to 2 pm and The Werewolf Wrestling Federation vs. the Vampire Women from 6 pm to the close of the game room at 10 pm.
I came to the con dressed in a stripped referee shirt and red bow-tie, emulating the fashion sensibilities of nearly blind Judge Mole overseeing The Cartoon Olympics. I also came bearing plastic medals to hand out to the winners of the Olympic events and twelve ridiculously oversized foam dice for everybody to roll:
The dice were a huge hit, and I ended-up using them for every game I did this year! :-D They were a really inexpensive and fun addition that I’ll be expanding on in the future… buying a pack for each game and giving them away to the players afterwards.
In addition to the medals and dice, I also brought a wisecracking beaver hand-puppet and a Nerf-gun…
Why yes, this was a silly game! And it went very well with players immediately trying to help their weightlifting abilities by detonating TNT with classic cartoon recklessness. ;-) I was able to play on some running gags and be very “animated” while everybody had some goofy fun.
I had a four hour break between games that I used to grab a late lunch and check out the artists and vendors over at the hotel area. Then it was time for my second game, The Werewolf Wrestling Federation vs. the Vampire Women!
This session had a lot of interest beforehand, and I got a really good batch of players. The game went well, and the action flowed exceptionally so. When the antagonists appeared there was a lot of crazy confusion amongst the players, and things got a little off track. But I was able to work with them and get the game to a satisfying climax just as we ran out of time and had to end the session.
Everybody left with a good smile having enjoyed the adventure, and several said the setting felt very deep… The kind of setting that would be really interesting to explore further. Their enthusiasm might have me expand on my notes and share it as a game supplement. :-)
The game area is large and loud, and my game mastering style is to stand and act-out the action while I use a lot of vocal work portraying characters. Because of the noise, I need to do this at a high volume the whole time so I can be heard. After eight hours of this… my voice was shot and my feet were sore.
Sounding like a horse, two-packs of cigarettes a day smoker, I took a vow of silence until morning to rest my voice and drank a soothing broth of honey-tea after the hour-long ride home. I slept very well.
Still horse, I stopped and picked up a bag of mentholated cough drops to take the edge off of my ragged voice on the way to the convention. They helped a lot. My session of Ork Quest ran from 2 pm to 6 pm, so we didn’t have to arrive as early as we did on Friday. We did get to the con with enough time for a short game of Dungeon Crawl Classic before lunch.
Ork Quest did very well, and I think the open nature of the adventure ran a bit smoother than the Werewolf game of the prior night. The players picked a good combination of characters, but immediately started getting sidetracked. As the game was designed in part to be humorous and a comedy of errors, this wasn’t so bad. Eventually they got on track and in fact the game ended with them successfully completing the adventure!
Although a great deal of the material I created for the game went undiscovered by the players… I had everything plotted out and mapped in the town they were adventuring in. There was nowhere they could go that I didn’t have an idea what they would find, and there was very little that I had to improvise on the fly. Knowing all the sub-plots within the town and how they related to one another really helped me run a good game with memorable characters.
My favorite moment was portraying a one-legged dwarven sea captain whose peg-leg had been stolen by the players. It was very funny to have him cursing a salty streak while I hopped around swinging a cutlass! Another good moment came in playing Morty the teen dishwasher, who was secretly a wererat. He immediately became smitten with the teenaged wererat girl amongst the players… a character that happened to be being played by my wife… so we hammed it up without any awkwardness! ;-)
Kim and I grabbed some Chinese takeout afterwards from the mall food court, then joined my friend Ian to play in his game of Unknown Armies. It was a very enjoyable game where we worked to thwart a magical ritual using the ninth game of the World Series as a symbol to rewrite American history!
Then it was back home again for more honey tea to nurse my now destroyed voice.
Saturday is the “big” day of PortCon, and often a very late night for attendees because of after con activities. Sunday is the last day of the convention and tends to be a mellow day as things ramp down. My last RPG session, The Most Dangerous Game of Doctor Moreau, was set to run at 10 am on Sunday morning when the game arena opened. However, attendance was quite light after the doors were unlocked. I suspect many folks were sleeping in.
A lot of the early games couldn’t start for a lack of players. That would have happened to my game as well, but one con-goer in particular started calling in favors on his cell-phone to bring in people because he really wanted this one to happen! And it worked! He filled the table!
Even with a late start, Moreau ended up being a really good game. The players took on the roles of amnesiac humanoid animals being relentlessly hunted on Moreau Island. I was able to keep the pace up and the players managed to be resourceful and stay one step ahead of the antagonists. The game ended with all of the players escaping… good job guys!
I came up with a simple creation mechanic for Moreau that allowed the group to quickly generate characters. I believe that immediately made them feel more attached to them and their ultimate fate. The structure of the game’s plot I left very open… I mapped the island, created the antagonists, and had a semi-firm idea of the players’ goal.
Everything else I did on the fly.
That was partially because I ran out of preparation time, but it was a good choice that allowed me to adapt the story to whatever the players came up with… Like the child-sized squirrel girl marksman who got a hold of an AK-47 and had the attitude of Rocket Raccoon, for example.
After Moreau ended as a success, my wife and I grabbed a bite to eat and started helping with the breakdown of the game arena a little after four in the afternoon. The convention ended at five, and the staff (with volunteer help from Kim… she’s so awesome) worked really well together to pack away everything and leave the space at the mall cleaner than when we came.
Everyone then went to IHOP, ate pancakes and pie, and celebrated a really great convention. And that, my friends, was my PortCon 2016 experience! :-)
I’ll be doing the con again next year, and the theme this time around will be “Carnival”. I’ve already jotted down some game ideas. Better still, I have a whole year, and not three-ish weeks, to get all of the work done! Kim is also going to join as staff next time, so in addition to getting a free ticket we’ll also be able to take advantage of the free hotel room offered as part of that deal… That will save us two hours of driving every day.
Oh, and cough drops! I’ve got to bring those next time to start! My voice still hasn’t recovered fully. I’m also considering making “Gollum Juice”: A concoction of honey, lemon and ginger steeped in hot water that actor Andy Serkis drank daily while playing Gollum and destroying his voice day after day in the Lord of the Rings films.
And now that I’ve relayed my convention report… I can get back to writing stories! :-)
While I was at the con, I received a fresh beta-read of The Unicorn Hunters, and it looks like I’ll need to expand the piece with a new chapter to serve as the story opener. I had hoped that I was done with it… but the story is just not there yet. The current opening isn’t working well, so I’m adding a new chapter to the current four that will serve as the new opener.
Doing that will turn the story into a full-fledged novelette (13-15,000 words) however, which is more in line with the other stories in my book. And if my new plotting and planning holds true as I rethread it, I think it’ll not only open the tale much stronger, but also strengthen the existing material as well.
This added work will, regrettably, delay The Unicorn Hunters release on Aethereal Engines even more though… So I’m looking at releasing Tears of the Joyous Mare first instead. I think Tears will need less polish and work to be ready, and it’s currently half the length of Hunters. Once I add another chapter, it’ll probably be only a third of its size.
Alright, time for me to stop blogging and get back to writing some more fiction! Take care!