Friday, July 3, 2015

Enjoying Gencon as a Cypher System Fan

Strange Encounters is approaching a major milestone (5000 visits) and I am traveling.  This will delay a more detailed post about my home campaign or system tinkering.  However, I was struck with how quickly Gencon 2015 is coming up.  I thought I would provide some practical advice for fans of the Cypher System if they have the opportunity to attend Gencon.

I want to note that this will note be a post about how to prepare for Gencon as a practical matter.  Hydrate well.  Eat properly.  Prepare for lots of walking.  By all means, please shower every day.  Also, google advice for first time Gencon attendees.  There are some excellent blog posts out there on the subject.  

Instead, I want to talk about how someone who is a fan of the Cypher System can get a lot out of Gencon.  The short version is:  attend Monte Cook Games events -- but not only those events.  

Crowd  by James Cridland (flikr)
Gencon can be an intimidating event.  There are tens of thousands of people.  There are hundreds of different RPGs (not to even consider the card and board games also present).  This can very easily leave a new attendee dumbfounded. I have some modest recommendations for people interested in the Cypher System.  

I have only attended a few Gencons but I think I can humbly offer at least a few useful suggestions.

  1. Attend and participate in Monte Cook Games events. 

There are several such events and are, obviously, a good place to start.  These events have become more popular in recent years.  Even five years ago, large seminars did not really require tickets.  Attendance was low enough that everyone who wanted to attend could make it in to just about any seminar.  This was true at the launch seminars for Numenera and last years' MCG event.  However, it is now the case that tickets are likely to be required for attendance to events.  Just in case, you should sign up for the events in advance and get the (free) tickets.  I suspect that there will be at least one MCG seminar -- and likely many other non-MCG seminars -- that will have to turn people away if they do not have tickets this year.  

MCG puts on a good show.  It is always worthwhile to attend.

     2.  Find a MCG game. 

This may sound like unhelpful advice.  Most of these games are currently listed as sold out.  Don't lose hope, though.  Of my four games last year, one of them had room for people who wanted to play without signing up (using generic tickets).  Other GMs had even more open slots for generic tickets.  The number of open slots increases as the convention runs on -- your best shots are late Saturday or Sunday morning.

Joining one of these games is a great idea.  It goes without saying that the games are fun.  Last year we had The Eschatology Code and much fun was had.  This year the official MCG games have a new game, Mastadon, which I have strong reason to believe will also be fun.  The most important advantage, for me, is not in playing the adventure.  You will likely see the adventure as a fractal (Fractal?) in the future.  The biggest advantage is seeing how other people are playing the game.  I learned a lot from seeing other people play The Strange last year.  The biggest lesson for me (maybe a subject for another post post-Gencon) was that many people were ignoring the same rules I was.  For example, most people stated difficulty levels and established target numbers for rolls from the outset -- though this approach is controversial.  I was happy to see that many others used the same approach -- even if mostly to speed up play.  It was good to know that my fast-and-loose approach to setting difficulty levels and being the players' biggest fan was not unusual.

    3.  Learn about other games and (particularly) other settings

One of the great strengths of the Cypher System is its flexibility -- likely to be more of a strength with the release of the generic Cypher System Rulebook.  In The Strange, you can visit a large number of worlds.  This means that many, many games become relevant to your campaign.  Some other games are arranged that it may be relatively difficulty to see something interesting (a location, a monster, etc.) and pull it into your game.  This leads many people to only play or attend seminars related to their own game systems.  I recommend against this type of thinking for Cypher System fans.  You can pull material from other games so easily that other games and systems become quite valuable -- maybe most valuable when far removed thematically from Numenera and The Strange.

For my games, I plan to attend seminars on fantasy writing (on narrating combat), Call of Cthulhu / Delta Green, Iron Kingdoms, and Night's Black Agents.  I have every intention of pulling material form these games directly into my home Strange campaign.  You will likely see some of that material appear on the blog in the future.  If you have any interests in other games or campaigns (say Glorantha, Stars without Number, and Part-time Gods of Fate), I strongly encourage you follow your instinct and attend these other games or seminars -- even if you plan to stick with a Cypher System game.  

4.  Say hello to your favorite creators

There is a real risk of being awestruck by the many familiar writers at Gencon.  I remember at my first Gencon that I was really impressed that I could attend a small seminar and hear from Monte Cook.  I was telling my brother that as we walked between buildings.  The person walking in front of us turned around to say "my ears are burning."  Of course, it was Monte Cook himself.  You may well bump into creators between or at seminar panels or at receptions.  I ended up hanging out with a good chunk of the WotC DnD team at a bar one night more-or-less on accident.  Take the opportunity to say hello, tell people you like their work, and ask any (small, simple) questions you may have.

That being said, also respect that Gencon should be fun for creators too.  Don't monopolize the time of the creators who are likely quite busy.  Be understanding if they can't talk because they have to leave for another event (or even just need a break from the crowds).  Remember that they may like to hear that you like their games and, maybe something specific you like, but they probably don't need to hear 10 minutes about your home campaign.  That is more interesting to you than them.  If there are specific times where they say that will be around (listed seminars, signings, and appearances) or places where they are clearly in a greeting mode (say MCG creators at the MCG booth), use those times to meet your favorite creators.  

That is all that comes to mind now.  If people want to hear more about specific, practical recommendations for attending, just ask for it (on G+, twitter, the comments here, etc.).  For now, I hope this provides some help to Cypher Fans wondering how to navigate a crowded but fascinating convention.

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