PAX After Action Report, Part One

PAX started for me, like it does for a lot of people, a few days early, when I was traveling to Seattle.

I took the train from Vancouver (for $38, you really can't beat it) and met a couple of other guys who were on their way to PAX. I introduced them to Zombie Dice, and we played several games, nerding out and making silly math and statistics jokes the entire time.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I spent three days with my friends Chris and Nicole, playing games like Mad Scientist University (a favorite of Nicole's daughter Kate), Wings of War, and Dragon Age RPG (which Chris designed.) Our friend Will Hindmarch joined us the day before PAX, and we had a nerd sleepover. It was awesome.

As I said last week, I made an effort to spend this PAX the way I've always wanted to: not really working, instead just playing games, hanging out with my friends, and recovering HP and Mana. Making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

Friday, I did my first signing in Bandland, where I was given the best Magic: The Gathering card, EVER, and then went directly to Console Freeplay for some L4D2 with my friends Mojo and Abby. We did a lot of stupid hollering and stuff while we played, which added a great deal to the experience. I also learned that Abby likes to let her health drop to below 5 before she uses a medpack, which is both hardcore and insane. After that, we visited Classic Console Freeplay, where I lost my shit upon seeing a working ZX Spectrum with my own eyes. I didn't get a picture of the small stack of cassettes with games on them, which is a bummer.

We then wandered through the Expo Hall, which was packed with gamers and exhibitors, but didn't really stop to watch demos or play anything. I was way into the booth design for Fallout New Vegas, though. Then it was time for lunch at Juice It (which has changed its name, but like Pink Godzilla, will forever be known by its former name to me). We ate our food in the Rock Band Freeplay area, and that was awesome. It was really fun and joyful to watch and listen to people playing the game, being encouraged by everyone around them whether they were succeeding or failing, and of course singing along. After eating, I saw a T-shirt that mashed up two of my favorite things: Wheaton's Law and Penny Arcade.

I spent some time in [ENFORCER]land after that, and then headed back to my hotel, where I played a playtest of Munchkin Zombies with my friend Andrew (Munchkin Czar), Logan Bonner, Keith Baker (!), @Stepto, and @thevowel, which was as munchkiny and braaaaiiiiiiins-y as you'd expect. One of my favorite moments was when Eric (that's @thevowel) played an IRS Agent Wandering Monster on Andrew, who failed to run away, which caused him to lose his most valuable item … which was called "An Arm and a Leg."

"Hey, the IRS Agent just caused Andrew to lose an Arm and a Leg," I said, "just like real life." There was much rejoicing.

When Munchkin was over, and Stepto and E went off to do X-Box-y stuff, Logan ran Gamma World for us. I never played Gamma World back in the old days, but I've always heard that it's a lot of fun, so I was super excited to give it a try. WotC is updating it, using modified 4e rules, and it was a lot of fun. Real quick, here's how WotC describes it:

Earth. After the apocalypse. Never mind the radiation—you’re gonna like it here.

The D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game offers
hours of rollicking entertainment in a savage land of adventure, where
the survivors of some mythical future disaster must contend with
radioactive wastes, ravaged cities, and rampant lawlessness. Against a
nuclear backdrop, heroic scavengers search crumbled ruins for lost
artifacts while battling mutants and other perils.

This product is a complete, stand-alone roleplaying game that
uses the 4th Edition D&D Roleplaying Game system as its foundation.
It appeals to D&D players as well as gamers interested in fantasy
science fiction set in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic world.

You start out making random characters, rolling 2d20 to get two different backgrounds that combine into one character. I got Sentient Plant and Radioactive, then rolled truly awful stats (yeah, you get to roll 3d6 for your stats! Old school, baby!), so we decided that my character's name was Needles, and I looked just like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (Me: Oh, DAMMIT! Logan: I think you mean, 'Good grief.'). Andrew was an empathic giant parrot called Fluffy (he named his character before he even knew what it would be), Will was a seismic doppelganger called Dug Dug, and Keith was a Yeti mad scientist called Doctor [I forget, but it was hilarious]. None of us were particularly smart (average INT and WIS scores were 10), and we all lived in a bunker together. I won't recall the entire adventure, but some highlights were:

  • Introducing everyone to each other, sort of like this: "This is Andrew, he edits all of my work, and is the Munchkin Czar for SJ Games. This is Logan, who freelances for WotC, and made the Bard a worthwhile playable class. This is Will, who designed games for White Wolf, and does all the interior and cover designs on my books. This is Keith, who designed Gloom and Eberron. I'm, um, Wil … and I have really interesting and successful friends."
  • Keith getting a kaleidoscope, and then using minor actions the rest of the time we played to take kaleidoscope readings (Logan always gave him results, which Keith recorded in a notebook). 
  • Dancing with Danceboot '86, who had been modified to also be a guard of some sort. Logan did the best D-d-d-dancebot voice and c-c-c-chaacter voice ever. He was always r-r-r-ready to p-p-p-party!
  • Destroying the big scary Umberhulk/Manticore/Laser-beam-eyes monster fairly easily, and getting eviscerated by the little fucking Sonic The Hedgehog/rolling-needle-best thing.
  • Staying up until 230 with my friends, playing a game.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other awesome things, and hopefully the rest of the guys who played will comment here with their own memories about the experience.

My takeaway from Gamma World: I wouldn't want to play an entire campaign, because it's just a little too gonzo for me, but I think three or four
sessions (would you call that a mini-campaign?) as a break from my
regular game would be perfect. Also: Logan Bonner is a frakkin' great DM.

Upon realizing I stayed up too late, I moved my Saturday signing back a little bit, and went to sleep, marveling at how lucky I am to have such awesome friends, and so many incredible opportunities to do cool things.

Next: Saturday.

61 thoughts on “PAX After Action Report, Part One”

  1. Wow! Gamma World! That takes me back. I still have the original game kicking around somewhere. You can really create some bizarre characters. I think my character was an albino with a Podog companion. Some of the bad mutations actually made for good role-playing.
    Glad you had a good PAX. Someday I must attend when I’m not running a booth, although this year we donated all sales of our game purchased during PAX to Childs Play! So that was pretty cool.
    I don’t suppose you got a chance to try “Spy Party”? It was my favorite game (of the few I got to see). It was as much fun watching someone else play as it was actually playing.

  2. "You say that you couldn't see playing this as a regular campaign because it's just too gonzo, but do you see ANY possibility of that with this game, or is it just too blatantly wacky and silly."
    The beauty of *any* RPG is that the tone of it is set by the players and GM, so there's no reason Gamma World *couldn't* be more serious, but I didn't get the impression that that was where the game's sweet spot lived. I don't know if GW is inherently wacky and silly, because I haven't played it enough, but it's certainly more outrageous than D&D is right out of the box, so we decided to embrace that, and take it to its logical (and extreme) conclusion. Your experience may vary, of course, but I found that GW — based on one game at a con with friends — was *really* fun when it was less serious and more gonzo.

  3. "Some of the bad mutations actually made for good role-playing."
    I loved this about the experience. I *never* would have chosen to play a pine tree with lasers for eyes, but since that's what I got, I had to justify it, and that was a whole lot of fun.
    I think I'd want to play GW three or four sessions at a time, just so I could roll up different characters and see what I get.

  4. I have the box set for the 2nd edition of Gamma World I bought back in 1987. I’ve never played it but have read it cover to cover several times. I’ve been thinking about creating some D20 compatible conversion rules for it and playing the old modules with my son. One of these days. :) Thanks for the report, it was quite entertaining to read.

  5. “I don’t know if GW is inherently wacky and silly, because I haven’t played it enough, but it’s certainly more outrageous than D&D is right out of the box, so we decided to embrace that, and take it to its logical (and extreme) conclusion.”
    It has definitely been more outrageous than D&D, since the random mutation generation would make for some very interesting and humorous combinations, compared to the more ‘standardized’ D&D characters. Needles wouldn’t have been unheard of in previous editions. It has also certainly had a silly aspect to it, with fighting giant cycloptic chickens, and death machines that think they’re butterflies, so you could easily push it to the extreme, but the game didn’t push that by default. The published adventures were all presented in a fairly serious manner, but there were always these background details that would make the GM and players chuckle, but still represented real challenges and threats to the PCs.
    My wonder is if the reboot of the game had the designers deciding to push the extreme by default. The words “wacky” and “rollicking” in the official description make it seem so, but it’s hard to tell. It still sounds like a fun game. I love the character combinations that you guys ended up with. I’m still definitely going to buy it. It’s just been hard to tell the tone of the game.

  6. Very cool. Go Team Rocket!
    Also, love the Batman belt buckle on the utilikilt, Wil. I’ve been thinking of getting one of those. The kilt, not the belt buckle. Well maybe. It is pretty cool.
    The <3 in the last picture is great. :)

  7. “I *never* would have chosen to play a pine tree with lasers for eyes,…”
    Wow, the dry season must really suck for that character. One small error with the lasers and WHOOSH!

  8. I forget the specifics, but on his character sheet, it clearly said that he was vulnerable to all fire damage. Luckily, we never had to find out *how* vulnerable.

  9. Will, great post. PAX Prime 2010 was my first. My wife went to PAX east on business and vowed to return with me when it hit Seattle.
    One of my high points was having the Mrs. suddenly develop an intense interest in D&D, and watch you play a a game in the “Hidden Level” area of the convention center. I don’t recall what it was, but it had a large 3D castle. It was either Friday or Saturday afternoon.
    Anyway, had a blast, and we’ll be in Boston this March, time permitting!

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