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 . 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. So awesome! One of these days, we’ll make it out to PAX Prime. I’ve never been to Washington State, and going to PAX Prime seems like the perfect introduction to the state. My wife and I recently got into Zombie Dice (thanks to a post you made on twitter a few months ago.) It really is the perfect way to kill 10-15 minutes…super fun, and easily adaptable as a drinking game ;-)
    http://www.livingwithanerd.com

  2. Glad you enjoyed the Wheaton’s Law/Dickwolf shirt! I hope we didn’t interrupt your lunch.
    On that note, JuicyCafe may now be tied with the Crepe stand outside for the best food at PAX. Such tasty noms!

  3. Oh wow. The site of that tape deck brings back many memories. I thought I was in for a serious upgrade when I bought a ZX Spectrum 128k to replace my aged ZX 48. The sight of that integrated tape deck was a source of great joy until I discovered it somehow managed the near impossible feat of being even more susceptible to tape head alignment issues that the twitpic’d.
    There are games from that era that I miss playing, like Chaos http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_(video_game)
    somehow using an emulator just isn’t the same. Especially the lack of squeeeeeeeeee-bzzzz-brrrrr-cshhhhhhh from loading the tape.

  4. It got back to me on twitter that you mentioned my soap at PAX! I haven’t found it on youtube or anything, but I just wanted to say thanks! I wouldn’t be conquering gamer funk without Wil, you rock in the grandest way! <3

  5. I’m glad you had a blast at PAX. This was my first, and it was an incredibly fun three days. One of the shining moments being the return of Aeofel in the Acquisitions Inc game. Brilliant stuff, Wil. Stinky forever.
    Also, the Aeofel stat card that was included in my PAX goody bag was pretty hilarious.

  6. Just to be extremely obnoxious: Did @loganbonner by any chance spill any beans on his new project for Open Design? Any juicy little spoilers?
    In any case: Very interesting read. Isn’t it wonderful geekdom is taking over the world? *g*

  7. Sounds like a fantastic time, Wil.
    Glad to see you had fun playing with Keith! I really enjoyed hosting him on his Have Dice, Will Travel world tour last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually!). If you ever get a chance to play in an Eberron game he runs, jump at it. It was awesome.

  8. For clarity, it’s neither a ZX81 or a Spectrum, it’s the standard external tape deck. The ZX81 had a flat keyboard where you depressed the keys to type (horrible) (and a stunning 1K of RAM, though you could get a 16Kb expansion for it). The ZX Spectrum was a huge step up in that it had rubber keys that were at least partially practical (and 48K of RAM!)
    ZX81: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sinclair_ZX81.jpg
    Spectrum:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ZXSpectrum48k.jpg

  9. I’m so glad you had a good time as an attendee this time around. Also: Gamma World sounds fun! I always loved playing Toon in high school, and this just sounds like the more grown up version of it. Might have to go check that one out…we got Castle Ravenloft and the Back to the Future card game, both of which are lots of fun, although we almost didn’t make through our first try of Ravenloft…that thing is frickin’ hard!

  10. Wil, despite your concern over your ‘limited’ signing hours, I was able to get through the line twice over the weekend. You and I may both hear the Squee when my little Norwegian friend gets the program you signed for her.
    It’s a shame I wasn’t able to stay for the whole panel, but eh, that’s how scheduling works.
    One thing I wanted to ask was are you finally home now or are you still on the road?

  11. All this talk of Sinclair computers reminds me I have a Spectrum +3 with a disk drive in need of repair. Once it’s working again, there will be much Spy vs. Spy, oh yes indeed! And probably a heck of a lot of Ant Attack too.

  12. I absolutely would be the same. The only reason I can say otherwise is that I’m a british child of 1980, and spent most of my childhood playing with them. I got my geek credentials really early on.

  13. Gamma World sounds really fun, but the fact that they’ve tried to combine it with trading card games by having boosterpacks with extra rules sorta makes me want to avoid it like the plague. I’m old school, rules should be in books.
    Don’t get me wrong though, I love MtG. But I prefer the two things separately.

  14. Yeah, I really hate the whole CCG model in non-CCGs, too, but in this came it plays really nicely (at least the way we had them involved) and I don't see anyone really *needing* to buy lots of cards to have fun.
    There's an Alpha Mutation deck, and an Omega Tech deck. The way we played, if you roll a 1 on an attack, you lose your Alpha Mutation and draw a new one. You also get a new Alpha if you use your current Alpha. I think you can't lose Omega unless you use it, but my Omega was lame, so I never bothered with it.
    If you weren't playing GW as your main thing, as a full epic campaign (like we do with Dragon Age RPG or D&D), I don't know why you'd want or need to buy new cards. You could also just design your own and just write them on stock paper, if you were into that sort of thing, because there's no real reason not to, like in MtG where all the cards need to have a uniform appearance.

  15. I guess we’ve both got 8bit egg running down our faces at a whopping 3.25 (or 3.5) Mhz then.
    Still, the awesomeness remains that such a wicked console was not only there but apparently playable after almost 3 decades =)
    We still get to do the nerdglee bounce of happiness around it, right?
    (Can’t wait for an answer!)
    I’m totally doing it anyways! ;)
    *bounce bounce bounce*

  16. Well, that does remove most of my fears regarding GW. Thanks for clearing it up:-)
    I guess all that is left is for me to get of my high horse and buy the game.

  17. Your high horse gives you +5 to movement when you're going to the game shop. Don't get off it just yet.
    (Of course, you have to sustain being on your high horse as a minor each round, so it may not be worth the effort.)

  18. Ha ha. That train ride down to Seattle was a blast. One of the first things I did at PAX was to find Zombie Dice and now I’m already teaching it to my friends. Apparently there’s already a drinking game for it…
    Oh, I hope your ankle is feeling better Wil.
    (I was the guy with long hair)

  19. Excellent.
    If you’re ever in the UK, you have to take a trip to the National Media Museum in Bradford where they now have a collection of classic consoles (from BBC Micro/ZX81 to Nintendo 64) and classic arcade games (both standup booths and those tables). The only problem is it’s in the foyer with glass walls so there’s an awful lot of glare.
    Ideally you should go on the 2nd weekend in June because that’s when the Fantastic Films Weekend is, three days of classic (and newly released) horror, scifi and fantasy films and usually a major classic in 70mm (the last two years they showed Carpenter’s The Thing and Aliens).

  20. God the Gamma World game sounds epic. So bummed I missed it, but ya know…I had me some Enforcing to do.
    Logan PROMISED me he’d run it for me, I can’t wait! Not that I will out epic your game– but you never know. :)

  21. Just remember: don't bank 3 to start, or you're DOOOOOOMED!
    Congrats on the epic win. How did you and your brother like PAX?

  22. The “bank 3″ rule actually stayed true for us through all of pax. At least a dozen or two games and not once did someone win by banking 3 off the bat.
    My brother and I had an absolute blast. I wound up buying even more stuff for D&D and still have yet to play even a single game (though I’m DMing Saturday and being a player in one on Sunday). I’ll actually say thank you to yourself and the rest of Acquisitions Incorporated for getting me over the stigma of D&D being ‘too nerdy’ (whatever that means).

  23. Logan is an awesome DM, and it was a fantastic time! I didn’t run into your or Logan the rest of the weekend, but I picked up a small kaleidoscope the next day just so I’d be able to take a proper reading when we cross paths again. Rusty pinecones for the win!
    And my telekinetic yeti was Doctor Kong… just read it off his doctorate. What? That’s just a rusty license plate? Perhaps you’re reading it wrong.

  24. Jenn and I found a little wooden robot at an awesome toy store in Seattle (Top Ten Toys) which we’ve christened Dancebot 2000. Unlike disco, Dancebot will never die!

  25. I’d still love to run an Eberron game for you. If RinCon doesn’t work out, drop me a line any time you’re in Portland and have a few hours to spare! Much as I realize that when you’re in Portland you may not HAVE a few hours to spare… just sayin’.
    (Plus, we know a cheaper alternative to Ground Kontrol…)

  26. Now I’m seeing a new sitcom. “They were four men living all together… but they were all alone… That’s the way they became the Bunker Bunch.”
    And I’ll note that it took me a full day to realize that Andrew’s propensity for brutal puns might have something to do with his being Munchkin Czar… or vice versa!

  27. Too bad we’re not playing 6 Degree’s of Wil Wheaton ‘cuz I know Nicole, Chris and Kate. Nicole was partner in an RPG magazine enterprise back in the 90s and Chris was a contributor. And Kate was just a cute kid. It’s a small Geek-World after all.
    I’m also unsure about a new Gamma World or anything based on D&D 4.0. I’m more an “Old School” Labyrinth Lord / Mutant Future kind of RPGer

  28. Dragon Age was a bloody great time. (Get it? Bloody? I’m so lame.) I was so glad we got to play the same characters from Gen Con and see your Dalish Elf go through a little character arc and everything.
    I also really dug re-learning Pieces of Eight. I’ve got to put that game back in my bag for cross-country travels.
    Gamma World was a frakking blast. I loved the sheer volume of moves that Dancebot had in his repertoire. Magnificence. And beating mutant plant-pumas with a parking meter is just a rare treat. Like you, I’m not sure how often I’d play Gamma World, but I think I’m going to pick it up for the occasional pick-up game.
    Cheers to all the players in all the above games!
    I had such a great time at PAX Prime that I’m thinking about getting a room for PAX East, now!

  29. I can't believe I forgot to mention PIeces of Eight in this post. That was super fun. And my character arc deserves its own post, now that I think of it.
    PAX-TACKLE!

  30. Wil: “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.”
    A few years back, White Wolf had the GW license, and they did “Gamma World d20 Modern,” so it was basically a 3e game with some of the tweaks specifically geared for d20M. It was a more serious take on Gamma World, which some people liked and some people hated. It was one of those cases where most people ended up liking it after they’d actually read the thing.
    So if you wanted something Gamma World-esque but without the over-the-top gonzo-ness which makes it inappropriate for a long-term game, then Gamma World d20 Modern may be more your speed.
    PDF rulebook here: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=624&affiliate_id=13
    Other books in the line: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?cPath=1_262

  31. It's not a good idea to do that, because I'm *terrible* about handling things like that, remembering to send them in, and generally not screwing the whole thing up.

  32. For the benefit of people who weren’t there for the Gamma World game, allow me to set the scene:
    As soon as Logan passed out our character sheets, I wrote something down on mine. Wil saw me writing and asked what I could possibly be writing down. “My character name,” I said, and showed him.
    “Fluffy,” Wil replied. “Wait. Fluffy?”
    “Fluffy!” I declaimed.
    “But what if your character isn’t furry?”
    “I would be disappointed if he were.”
    I think that set the tone for my play style for the entire game.

  33. Sounds like you had a blast! Yes, that was probably a Gamma World pun, but can you just let that slide for now? heh.
    I own every edition of Gamma World except the Alternity version, although ironically, I’ve barely ever played it. A few sessions of 1e, and an aborted attempt to start a 2e campaign, and that was it. Over the past year I’d been thinking of developing my own rules for it, based off 4e. When I heard that WOTC had the same idea, I was really excited.
    I’ll echo the thoughts above about making it a combined RPG/CCG, but I’d heard the same thing you were saying, Wil. It’s unlikely that you’d need to buy any more decks unless you were a completionist or were playing it as your main, as the game provides you with plenty of cards to start. That makes me happy, even though I’m still a little perturbed by the added CCG aspect (the PvP with Cole and Francis arguing about Cole writing up his powers and feats on cards is one of my favorites… I, of course, am on Francis’ side).
    One thing I REALLY didn’t like, though, is the inclusion of the word “Wacky” in the description of the game. Now, Gamma World has never been a completely serious game. It was close, though. Your characters had fantastical mutations, and you could be a green and blue, three armed, four-legged guy with eyestalks that shoot radiation beams, and there were some silly background details… like fighting giant cycloptic chickens that live in a bombed out chicken processing plant (Famine in Far-go)… or you could… let’s say… create the post-apocalyptic Magic Kingdom in Florida as an adventure area, based on the idea of people in the parks taking refuge there after the bombs fell, and then divide them up into rival factions based on which part of the park they live in… Tomorrow Land vs Adventure Land vs Frontier Land vs Liberty Square… with everyone dressing in the cast costumes and having all these myths based on the stories of the park… and each faction vying for power as the Kingdom tries to find the “Mickey” and “Minnie”, who will live in “Drellas Castle”, rule the Kingdom, and bring in a new era of enlightenment… you know… stuff like that. :)
    However, all the while, with that background of silly “what would people be thinking about this stuff 500 years after the bombs fall” you could still stick with a fairly serious theme of survival and the struggle to build something in this brave new world.
    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.
    I know that with any application of effort in an rpg, someone can make pretty much anything work, but sometimes the game really just doesn’t lend itself to that… like trying to play serious cyberpunk with Toon, for example (although that sounds like a challenge now. heh).
    The game sounds fun, and I will end up buying it, but I was hoping to run a campaign out of it. Any thoughts on that?
    Edit: whoops, that turned out longer than I thought it would. Sorry about that. There’s no emoticon for what I’m feeling right now. heh

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