Gary Con VI Report

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

For those of you who don’t know, Gary Con is an annual game convention held every March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to honor the memory of the father of role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax. Their focus is on the one thing Gary loved most: gaming! I’ve been going since 2010 or so.

Wednesday is usually a quiet day at Thursday – Sunday convention. Arrival. Check-in. Settle into room. Get badges. For many, it is the longest continual socialization time of the convention.

This year, many people attended a pre-con party at Frank Mentzer’s home. While I would like to have gone, when I heard smoking would be allowed in the house (albeit confined to one room away from most of the guests), I had to decline. Any amount will play hell with my wife’s asthma, and we’re both sensitive enough to it that the lingering smells on everyone’s clothes (our own included) would be a problem. Contrary to what many smokers think, non-smokers CAN smell it on them for hours and hours and it gets on us, too, when we’re around smoke. When it induces respiratory problems, that’s an issue. Nevertheless, I’m sure everyone there had a great time, and I’m sure many stories will come out of it that will be told for years to come.

After checking in and getting settled, we decided to try to rustle up some gaming action. I brought with me Sentinels of the Multiverse, Project Ninja Panda Taco, and Edition Wars, but was unable to drum up any interest. Rather than assume it was because the games held no interest to anyone but myself, I will instead assume that my Game Master badge intimidated everyone. Instead of gaming, we joined some friends for dinner and conversation, which was just as good as gaming, in my opinion.

Thursday was a fairly low-key day. I started off by wandering around, visiting with Jolly and Barbara Blackburn of Kenzer & Co. (and Knights of the Dinner Table fame) and visiting the Dealer Hall. My first game of the day was supposed to be a HackMaster game at 10AM, but I screwed up during registration and signed up for a 10PM game by mistake! Resigned to my failure, I wandered around some more and purchased some old Spelljammer supplements out of pity for myself (they were still in the shrinkwrap, so I essentially bought NEW items from the ’90s!). My next game was in the afternoon, a Savage Worlds game run by Gygax Magazine called “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1940.” I played Indiana Jones. The other characters in play were Ms. Fury, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. We had a few empty chairs, so no one played Tarzen, The Rocketeer, or The Shadow. There were car chases, Nazis, and zeppelins, as you might expect from a pulp-action game. It was a lot of fun and further cemented my wife’s preference for Savage Worlds over Pathfinder. I, too, have been leaning towards less crunchy systems over the last couple of years, and Savage Worlds and Fate are quickly rising to the top of that list for modern RPGs.

In the evening, I ran my first Paranoia game, “Groovin’ to the Oldies.” I ended up running two sessions of that particularly adventure, and will talk about my games later.

Friday started off with my second Paranoia session. The rest of the day was very low key and I only had one game in the evening, a Top Secret game set during the Cold War called “Operation: Good Night.” We took the role of western spies assigned to extract a Soviet defector from East Berlin. It was interesting to play an RPG set in setting I was somewhat familiar with, having grown up in Germany during the Cold War (though I never visited Berlin). Our group ended up having two moles, but we accomplished our primary objective without any gun play. It was a good game, though a little more gritty & realistic than I was expecting.

Saturday was the big day at Gary Con. It was the busiest from an attendance standpoint, and from a play standpoint for me. My wife ditched both of the games we were scheduled for (one of which was a game I was running!) because she was personally invited by James M. Ward to play in his female-gamer-only game “Monty Haul’s Lesser Tower of Doom.” I, of course, was perfectly OK with this, since when a former TSR luminary and con Guest of Honor invite you to his game, you don’t say no. Publicly, I acted hurt and betrayed that she ditched her husband’s game for another GM’s game. ūüėÄ

I started my day with “The FATE (sic) of Skull Island.” It was another pulp-action game set in the 1940 (I’m sensing a theme here), but using Fate Core. I had the books from the Kickstarter, of course, and I played in a Bulldogs! game at Gen Con two years ago, but I rated my comfort level with the Fate system at “Not at all comfortable.” This game changed that. I played a Dashing Barnstormer named Henry “Hank” Jericho, Captain USAAC, Ret., who was a veteran of both wars. From the event’s title, you might surmise that King Kong was involved…and you would be wrong, but his larger cousin EMPEROR Kong was. We had great fun and when the game was over, I had to dash downstairs to run my Star Wars game (WEG, 2nd edition Revised & Expanded), “A Simple Job.” All four of the players who showed up for my game had been players with me in the previous Fate game, so at least no one was waiting for me since I scheduled the games back-to-back. As with the Paranoia games, I’ll talk about my Star Wars game later.

After dinner, we tried to scare up some interest to play Edition Wars, Sentinel of the Multiverse, or Project Ninja Panda Taco, but again, my GM’s badge intimidated everyone. We instead got involved in a couple of games of Bang! The Dice Game and Cards Against Humanity. Never before have I felt guilty for liking a game (and I know there are folks out there who absolutely LOATHE Cards Against Humanity). We noted that the game at least took shots against EVERYONE and not just any particular ethnic group. Still, I understand the loathing some people have for the game, I just don’t particularly agree with it.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

Sunday was Gary Con’s slow day, and my day started early with another Top Secret game, this one set in the modern day, run by the game’s creator, Merle Rasmussen. It featured a lot of trading and negotiation, but felt very action packed. It was a ton of fun and all the players received a printed version of the adventure “Operation Rendezvous Oasis” (which will also appear in issue 4 of Gygax Magazine) as well as a new-in-box, shrinkwrapped copy of Merle’s first game, SQWURM from 1979! It was a blast. Originally, I tried to get into Jim Ward’s Sunday game, but due to registration hiccups, there were a lot of games I couldn’t get in, and I didn’t even think to try to get into this one. I figured since it was Merle’s first convention appearance in 30 years, and Top Secret is still pretty popular, that I wouldn’t have a chance. To my shock, there were still seats when I finished registration, so I quickly saved my spot.

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

After the game, I ran into Harold Johnson in the Dealer Hall. I’d heard he was running a book shop in Lake Geneva, so I wanted to talk to him about what it would take to get my books in his store. When I showed him my books, he was excited and wanted all the copies I had with me. My novels are now carried in the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva, WI. This pleases me to no end, since Lake Geneva is essentially the birthplace of D&D and without D&D, I probably wouldn’t be writing.

When we returned to the hotel, Gary Con was essentially over, but we managed to play a couple of games of Elder Sign. I now have another game added to my “To Purchase” list, and I bought the electronic version for my Kindle Fire.

Gary Con was a rousing success for me in many ways. My books are carried in a book store now, and I had a lot of fun. It was the best Gary Con yet. There were hiccups, to be sure (we never got to play in the Gary Con Joust as no one was ever officiating when we’d try to play), but overall, it was great. My games…well, I’ll consider them fun failures. All three ran too short. The length was the only failing of the Star Wars game, so I could beef it up with another encounter, and run it again with no other modifications (though I would like better miniatures for the vehicle segments). The Paranoia game, however, is a different story. I got all the jokes in there (I referenced disco, Saints Row IV (Dubstep Gun), Fraggle Rock, Borderlands, The Simpsons, and the Matrix), but the game was so deficiently lethal, it played more like a wacky Gamma World game than a Paranoia game. There were 2-3 deaths at most out of the 6 characters in play, far from the 400%+ death rate I should’ve had. I just didn’t have the right mix of pre-gens and Secret Society missions. I think if I add two more encounters and change up the pre-gens to all be Red clearance (I had a mix this time just to change things up) and re-write all the Secret Society missions to focus more on interparty conflict, I can get it to the right length. The ending though…I like the ending. As a response to criticism I received last year (about always ending with a button press nuclear explosions), I changed it so the button press either reboots the sector or [SPOILERS] ends the Simulation, ala The Matrix. The criticism was about the button press, not the nuclear explosion, so I misinterpreted that, but I really like the idea of Paranoia taking place in a simulation run by our Insect Overlords to keep humans occupied before they toil in the underground sugar caves (there’s your Simpsons reference…from the 90s). Oh well, they can’t all be home runs, and since both groups chose to End the Simulation, I have a perfect excuse to not run Paranoia next year since there are so many other games I want to play and run. I’m considering running all my games in costume next year, and I’ll have to fit the games to the costume so that would mean I need to run Star Trek, Fallout, and a western. I have a year to work on that.

Thanks to Luke Gygax, Dale Leonard, Gene Drebenstedt and the rest of the Gary Con staff for a great convention! I’m looking forward to next year!

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Gen Con Wrap-up – Gamer Edition

If you’re looking for An Author’s Perspective, go here.

I didn’t play any games at Gen Con this year, unless you count “Dodge the Giant Backpack” or “Evade Sudden-Direction Changes.” I did get a little shopping in and I got to see a lot of friends again from all over the world. And that’s really what Gen Con is about for me: re-forging those connections.

Why heck, I was even visited at my table on Author’s Avenue by a friend I had not seen since 1988 (maybe 1990). He had seen on Facebook that I had a table on Author’s Avenue and came by on Family Day with his family to say “Hi.” He was the guy who introduced me to D&D in the first place, way back when I was 8 years old. Were it not for him, my life would likely have taken a very different course. In a way, his act of introducing me to that little game in the red box with the funny dice led me to my involvement in the industry (in my capacity as ENnie Awards Submissions Coordinator) and to becoming an author. I thanked him. I told him, “This, all this *gesturing to the con*, my involvement here, is all thanks to you.”

You can’t really put a price on something like that. It’s the best thing one can take away from a convention like Gen Con: the people connection.

I always run myself ragged at Gen Con, yet I always feel rejuvenated by having attended. It’s amazing.

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Gen Con Tips & Advice

Gen Con is nigh! With only 6 days to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there. What would those be, you ask? Here:

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says… says… says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. This year, she has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-Sized. OK, that’s fine. I could stand to lose 40 pounds myself. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds 2′ – 3′ to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I’m pushing her, I’m watching for this sort of thing. This year she’ll be driving herself and I actually worry she’s going to get beat up.

  • Be Aware of People Around You

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a High School hallway, stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive.

  • Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con. Often, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses!

  • Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving 5 seconds to you?

  • Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

This last thing is just actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. If I’ve had a really bad day, I hope the elevator breaks and falls back down to the ground floor with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

  • Don’t be a dick.
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Gen Con 2012

Another Gen Con is behind us. Conventions like Gen Con are a paradox: when you’re working the convention, 5 days (4 days of convention + set up) is too long, but at the same time, it’s too short to do everything you want to do and see everyone you want to see. Since I have duties as Submissions Coordinator of the ENnie Awards, I have too little time to game at Gen Con. I played exactly three games while I was there (four if you count a demo): Pathfinder, Bulldogs!, and Project Ninja Panda Taco.

Pathfinder: I ran a Ptolus/Pathfinder game for some friends Wednesday evening. The PCs were reformed monsters from the Brotherhood of Redemption. There was a budding romance between the minotaur gunslinger/rogue and the troll fighter; my wife was a good sport to go along with the silly banter. It was interesting that they chose to bypass the Bluesteel door by chopping THROUGH the adjacent wall with an adamantine greatsword.

Bulldogs! Sci-Fi That Kicks-Ass: My wife and my first FATE game. I already loved what I read about the game and really enjoyed the system. My wife thought it was awesome and wants to play FATE (particularly Bulldogs!) again. Yeah, I’m down with that.

Project Ninja Panda Taco: You may remember this from the Kickstarter. We played with the creator of the game, Jennifer Steen (of Jennisodes). It’s sort of a hybrid improv/RPG. It was a lot of fun; another game my wife judges as “Awesome.” Actually, I think she may have said “Totally Awesome.” My Mastermind, Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeir was horribly ineffective and by the end of the game, he completed 0 projects. His minion, Larry the Loitering Lisper, however advanced to Mastermind status by the end of the game. I look forward to playing it more when I get my copy from the Kickstarter.

I also demoed a game of Edition Wars with the good folks from Gamer Nation Studios. It’s a card game that reminds me a bit of the good parts of Chez Geek, but with simpler mechanics. It was a lot of fun. I bought a copy at the con, but now I wish I’d supported their Kickstarter when I had the chance.

I bought way too much stuff. The games I’m most excited to play are Deadlands: Reloaded and Call of Cthulhu (I’m a late bloomer). I also picked up the Beta of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, the new Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games. Despite my misgivings about the custom dice, (at least the Beta has stickers you can apply to create the dice yourself) I’m finding myself liking what I’m reading about the mechanics. I hate required fiddly bits and custom dice in RPGs, probably because I have SO many dice already, not being able to use them for a game is a barrier to entry for me. Of course, there is a conversion chart for regular polyhedrals, but that’s a pain in the butt.

The production values are really good. I was thrilled to see actual ARTWORK in this book, rather than having it crammed full of movie stills. It’s already my favorite visual presentation of a Star Wars RPG since WEGs 2nd edition (not the Expanded & Revised; I think they overdid the “Look! We can print in color now!”). For some reason, having original art in a Star Wars RPG book inspires me more than movie stills. Probably because it gets me thinking about how I can use the world instead of how it was presented to me (there’s a lesson there for people making licensed games).

The class & talent tree system reminds me a bit of The Old Republic MMO, but only so far as they have classes & talent trees. They’re not really implemented the same way. It uses a dice pool mechanic. I have no idea how it compares to WFRP, but I’ve heard it similar. It actually looks pretty easy once you get used to the symbols on the dice (and a small cheat sheet will help with that).

Edge of the Empire offers a smattering of species: bothan, droid, gand, human, rodian, trandoshan, twi’lek, and wookiee. I would have preferred mon calamari to gand, though, but it’s still a nice mix.¬†I guess I’ll have to run a few sessions of it and see how things work.

The ENnie Awards ceremony went very well. The venue was the Grand Hall at Union Station and featured cathedral ceilings and stained glass. As Monte Cook said, we “leveled up” (the first ENnie Awards ceremony was held in an internet chatroom). You can see the complete list of winners here. Carlos, the official ENnie Awards photographer put pictures of the ceremony up on his Flikr account.

I’m still working on the Doctor Who post. I thought I would finish it up after I set up the booth Wednesday night or before I got started on Thursday. We all see how that worked out. The next Doctor StrangeRoll game will take place on Friday, August 31st, wherein the PCs will begin exploring the tomb of¬†Pharaoh¬†Amun-Re.

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Gary Con IV Report

Ahh…four days of gaming and no work. That’s what Gary Con is to me. Gen Con may bill itself as “The Best Four Days of Gaming,” but I spend over half of my time at Gen Con working on ENnie Awards-related stuff. I get more gaming in at Gary Con.

The convention started off with me driving in on Wednesday afternoon. After getting settled in at the hotel and having dinner at Popeye’s (NOT the Chicken & Biscuits place, but a better, locally owned/operated restaurant that was there FIRST), I headed to the Lodge to collect my badge and see if I could get in on a Shadowrun game. I played a street samurai with a mild addiction to stimulants and a gold allergy I called Rio “Goldie” Canc√≠on. She really liked her guns, but sadly, did not get to use them much. We were a group of unknowns hired to provide security for some meeting. We never found out what the meeting was about, but we kept the location secure without killing anyone.

On Thursday, I was able to sleep in and, in fact, didn’t have anything scheduled until after lunch. I actually don’t remember if I went there in the morning to walk around and check things out. I might have. The days blur together. My first game of the day was a Hackmaster game. It was my first time playing Hackmaster (we were using the new rules; the PHB just went to ther printer last week). Our group did pretty well; there weren’t any deaths and we saved the town from the cultists who were kidnapping people for some nefarious purpose (either to turn them into undead or feed them to undead, I don’t quite remember). After that, I had a brief respite for dinner (Popeye’s again), then I was running my Ghostbusters game, “Bustin’ the Con.” One of the other Dead Games Society GMs had some custom Ghost Dice created and was able to give me one. It looked better than the one that originally came with the game.¬† The game went well. When I wrote the adventure, I had NO idea what the solution to main problem was. I trusted (and hoped) the players would come up with something, and they did. I’ll probably run this game at Gen Con in some capacity, so no spoilers.

Friday was a busier day than Thursday. I started with a game of Hercules & Xena (which I didn’t know was¬† game until I signed up for Gary Con this year). The game went really well and was easy to play with very fast task resolution (it was a West End Games d6 variant, Legends, I think). I played a Monster Slayer who was supposedly very good with the javelin and sword, though they way I was rolling, I was only good with a sword. Strangely (I didn’t plan this), it was the third game in a row I played/GMed featuring undead. For the afternoon, I was GMing Paranoia, “Soylent People are Green” (which made its debut at Gen Con about 4 years ago). I was once again told how difficult it was to get into my Paranoia game (it sold out in less than 10 minutes after registration opened). I even had some newbie players. My rough calculations indicated there was about a 250% mortality rate for this adventure, so everything turned out as it should’ve. The team leader (with Machine Empathy–those of you familiar with Paranoia KNOW what that means) died the most. He was on Clone #5 by the time the adventure wrapped up. The Loyalty Officer was only on clone #2. There was much wackiness and once again, I showed WHY people who can’t throw shouldn’t have the grenades. After Paranoia was another dinner at Popeye’s, then back to the convention for my second Hackmaster game. I was prepared for a late night, but my character died less than two hours into the adventure (rapidly and in a most bloody fashion). It was fun while it lasted (I played a close-talking elven mage with low wisdom…he didn’t always make good choices about what spells to cast).

Saturday was another busy day. I started off with an early morning Star Frontiers game. I played a vrusk (a two-armed, eight-legged insect guy) medic I called “Doctor Ix.” He wasn’t sure how many stomaches humans had and was sure they had at least two splanches (in practice, he was a VERY competent doctor, it was just funnier this way). I patched up my team regularly, even performing major surgery in the field. I was like a one-man MASH unit. After completing our goals, I had time to eat lunch before running my Star Wars game, “Imperial Entanglements.” In this game, I learned how one skill check assisted by a Force point could succeed so wildly it would “break” the adventure. I also had the least shootin’-est group I’ve ever run for. If there was an alternative to a straight-up fire fight, they looked for it (much to the chagrin of the Trandoshian soldier-playing 10-year-old who just wanted to blast something). They managed to complete the objectives in a nearly-completely non-confrontational way and never set foot on the resort & casino space station that was supposed to be the central location for the adventure. Note to self: remove all stun grenades from future versions of this adventure–they’re TOO useful in the enclosed spaces of an Imperial Shuttle. After the Star Wars game, I enjoyed an excellent dinner at Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub.

Sunday was the last day of the con. I didn’t have anything schedule, but I managed to get into another Shadowrun game in which I played Rio “Goldie” Canc√≠on again. Our mission this time was mostly recon, so we spent the whole game casing a corporation’s compound near Puget Sound. There were some run ins with some jackbooted thugs driving a black van I dubbed “The A-Team,” but we were able to evade them without trading shots (I really wanted to open up with my machine gun, but didn’t get the chance). There was a wacky plan to have me parasail from the sound over the compound to take pictures, but once we hired a hacker and found out what sort of security they had, I’m rather glad I didn’t get that reckless (besides, parasailing over a coniferous forest just sounds like a bad idea). We didn’t get as much intel as our employer would have liked, but we did acquire a lot of nifty tech to sell, so our payday was quite lucrative.

A good time was had by all. I’ve already started contemplating what my games for next year will be. I could probably get away with running nothing but Paranoia all weekend and have full tables each time, but that might get a little boring for me. We’ll see…


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