Monday, August 08, 2011

Ten Things About Indianapolis

This has become something of a tradition in my various travels around the world with Warp One. When I'm done a vacation, I write up a ten-point list of the wicked stuff about the place I went. Most of my blog posts have been about how awesome GenCon has been, but less about the vacation part of the trip, so now you get some of that, hopefully with a bit of a gaming edge to it. 

1) It is really fucking hot. 
The high temperature in Indianapolis, never dropped below 30 degrees centigrade. Now, that might seem heavenly to some, but I'm a bigger dude. I'm from CANADA, where having a solid layer of fat on you is generally a good thing because it gets so cold you can't breathe without it, so having to deal with the hottest our weather gets all year for a seven day stretch has been a big deal. I've learned to cope. There are systems I have in place now that help me deal with the weather. But if you're not prepared for August in Indiana, it will blindside you and blindside you good. 

2) The people here are really, really friendly. Just walking down the street, you'll get people nodding their heads and asking "How y'all doin' today?" You can almost sort of tell the outsiders from the folk who live here based on how friendly they are to you. If they ask "How y'all doin' today?" they're probably local. If they look at you like you've just crawled out of their navel and seek to cause mischief, they're probably from out of town. Also, everyone sounds like Hank Hill.

3) The food is cheap. Deceptively cheap, even. There's a place down the street from the convention center called Steak & Shake that sells very decent burgers, milkshakes and the like. It's a pretty classic American diner. For two people to eat a burger, fries and a shake, it's $15, which is about how much it costs for a single meal at Subway back home. So we ate there a lot. We shouldn't have, because there was a Marsh's grocery store two blocks from the B&B, but we did. They have so much of my money... And given that they were line-up-out-the-door busy for most of the con, it wouldn't surprise me to learn they busted a million dollars in sales this weekend. 

4) The city is falling apart. Maybe it's just my Canadian-tax-payer-social-service-loving-communist side, but it seems a lot like Indiana could use some fixing up. Buildings are old and crumbling, the sidewalks are busted and slowly degrading into gravel, the bridges seem rickety and unstable, the whole city just seems to be coming apart at the seams. It's pretty enough, for sure. The old brick buildings are beautiful and people here have some spectacular gardens, the park we walked through while we were lost was gorgeous. But other parts of the city are obviously crumbling and could use some love.

5) The US build some awesome monuments. We saw the Indiana State World War Memorial, and the obelisk here is awesome. The state building is impressive and reminds me of a bigger-scale Alberta Legislature. These places were pristine, well kept, awesome memorials. I was quite impressed. 

6) The gentleman who runs a bed and breakfast is pleasant and sweet; the lady of the house is a witch. This is entirely anecdotal, but at both of the Bed & Breakfasts we stayed at, this was the case. In the first, we were sternly reminded of the two-persons-per-room rule, and glared at disapprovingly, while the gentleman of the house was smiles and pleasantries. At the second, the lady seemed shocked that I had arrived with someone and was quite displeased at my inability to make it to breakfast (which starts at nine; I was picking Holly and Natalie up at eight each morning). She demanded I leave a note letting her know which days she could serve me breakfast, which I did in as polite a tone as I could muster: none of them. I have eaten a single breakfast with a Bed & Breakfast since I arrived. It was this morning, at a different B&B. 

7) Indianapolis is smaller than it seems. It's population is only about twice that of Edmonton's, but the metropolitan area of the city is actually smaller (if you count things like Sherwood Park). The downtown core is not as large as Edmonton's, and getting around it seems like it would be relatively easy without the huge road construction that's going on in that part of town (and, seemingly, nowhere else). The convention center is huge. The hotel chains that surround it are legion. Next time, I hope to have a hotel room connected to the ICC or a house in the nearby area just for convenience's sake, but the half hour walk from my B&B to pick up the girls and get to the Convention was hardly a challenge. 

8) Massachusetts Ave. is no Whyte Ave. The cultural avenue of Indianapolis is pretty awesome, I'll give it that. The fact that you can buy booze at the convenience store means there are fewer liquor depots kicking around, but the lack of party on Mass Ave was actually a bit disappointing. I didn't party at all this time around, which is a pretty huge departure from my 2008 trip. 

9) I will travel with Holly and I will travel with Natalie, but not both. I realize that this is more a personal note and less about the vacation itself. You can deal. I had a lovely time with each of them, and occasionally I had a lovely time with both of them, but there was some drama. I'm not going to get into it (I've decided to focus on the positive from the trip, and there was a lot of awesome positive about this trip), but it did bog things down and got everyone into a rough spirit, which is not what vacationing should be. If I can, I would like to take one vacation per year with each of them, alternating between a Big Vacation like GenCon and a smaller, local vacation, and who gets which vacation. This is stuff we'll work out over the next few months (hopefully well before December/January). 

10) GenCon is fucking amazing. I learned so much on this trip. I got to talk to so many people and try so many products to which I don't typically have access. I got to make some solid business contacts, and build some relationships with folks that are usually outside of my sphere of influence. The show was bigger and better this year than last, and I got to take part in a few of the things that I had missed out on the year before (the Cardhalla takedown, Trade Day). It was an awesome time, and I had a lot of fun. I hope to do it again next year and maybe take y'all with me this time. 

GenCon Day Five

Or, Things I Bought and People I Want to Buy From

I spent most of today gathering together business cards from the various companies that interested me. I didn't go to any events (Sunday is a half-day, and I was more interested in finding deals in the Exhibit Hall anyway). The cards I gathered together are these:

Gamescience: These are the guys I was most interested in getting business information from. They make dice that I haven't seen from any other manufacturer, and their "normal" dice are precision-cut perfection. 

Tiffany Wiggs: I sort of picked this card up by happy accident. I was standing at another dealer booth and saw a young lady holding a woven, albino beholder and asked her where she had purchased it. Turns out her mother makes them, and her daughter passed me one of her cards. She doesn't go through any distributors or anything yet, but I'm going to see what I can do to get some woven, stuffed dragons and beholders in the store.

Crystal Commerce: These guys sell a point-of-sale system that does basically everything we wish our point-of-sale system could do. I asked a lot of questions. They gave me a lot of answers that I really liked. Most importantly, it will work on any number of computers and on my ipad at the same time. *glee!* 

Dragon Pets: Holly bought a small, posable dragon from these folks, and they are very, very cute. Again, they don't have a Canadian distribution arm, but we may still order a selection of them in. Some come with armor. And helmets!

Medieval Collectibles: This was a card that also came with a catalogue for quality LARP materials, both costuming and boffer weapons. LARP seems to be growing in Edmonton, and I think there is always a market available for foam weapons with which young people may hit one another. As a whole, Warp has shied away from LARP (it takes up a lot of space, and the gear doesn't tend to sell as well as, say, books), but with the growing interest, both in the store and in the city, it's probably a good idea for us to start looking into it as a viable expansion market. 

Hirst Arts: There were a couple of people I was looking at buying things from in the direction of 3D terrain. In the end, I decided I wanted to go with Hirst Arts, because they don't sell terrain at all, the sell the moulds to MAKE terrain. They have some beautiful rubber moulds that you can fill with plaster of paris and make some fantastic 3D terrain for role-playing games, miniature war games, what have you.

Geek Chic: If you haven't seen the tables these guys make, you're missing out. I mean, sure, they're costed similar to gently-used BMWs, but they're worth it. Seeing the tables in person has made me rearrange my expectations of which table I'd like to have in my home (the Sultan was actually just the size of my living room), but I would absolutely love to work with these guys and get some custom play space built for the store. Card tables that convert to role-playing tables that convert to miniature war game tables would be a hell of a thing for us, especially if the conversion were _easy_. 

Q-Workshop: When I buy dice, I do it in three ways. I buy a pound of them (you can buy them at the store! while supplies last!) or I buy semi-precious stones (like the limited-edition 16mm bone dice I picked up at the convention) or I buy Q-Workshop. The last way has been, traditionally, the hardest. Q-Workshop is located somewhere in Europe, and their dice are of a much higher quality than most. While not as precise as the dice at Gamescience, they tend to be much, much prettier, with runes and elven script or pictures carved into the faces. I bought three sets of Q-Workshop dice while I was at GenCon, two for myself and one for Holly. They were well worth it. According to the good folk at GenCon, Q-Workshop has been working with one of my bigger distributors to get their dice into Canada, so I hope to have a much larger selection of them in the store very soon. They are more expensive than Chessex or Koplow, but if you like your dice pretty, they are well worth it.

Serious Pixie: This woman is amazing. She's one of the driving forces behind Heroes of Hesiod, and did a bunch of awesome seminars and things over trade day. I didn't get a chance to hang out with her nearly as much as I would have liked to, but she did let me know that she's looking at building a role-playing system that brings kids into the game step-by-step, year by year, which I think may be the coolest thing anyone has ever done. Don't get me wrong, I deeply appreciate what Daniel Solis is doing as a story game designer, but if we want the hobby of role-playing games (as we currently know them; what Daniel is doing is for a different post) to survive, we're going to need a way to introduce them to new generations of gamers. And that means we need people like Susan J Morris in the world. 

Stuff I Got! 

I figured, since the convention is over, I'd might as well list the things I picked up this time around. I'm doing this mostly from memory, so if I miss something, I'll be sure to edit the post to include it. 

Burning Wheel Gold - An updated version of the insanely popular Burning Wheel, having taken some lessons learned during the creation of Mouse Guard and applying them to the base system. Awesome looking book and I can't wait to tear into it and pick it apart. 

A GenCon Hoodie - It has a dragon on it, and the words "GenCon 2011." It will be nice to have when I'm in weather that isn't counted in the thirties centigrade. 

A shot glass with 2d6 in the bottom - Every time you do sneak attack damage as a level-one rogue, take a shot. Then figure out how much damage you did. ^_^ 

Dice - I picked up a set of Crystal Caste's semi-precious stone GenCon exclusive, the seven-piece set of 16mm bone. I also picked up a few sets of elven dice from Q-Workshop, and a dice cup with elven writing around the edges. Fucking hot. 

Designers and Dragons - The most comprehensive history of role-playing games, the companies that make them, and the people involved that has ever been put together. It is my sincere hope that the people who put this together (Mongoose, I believe) continue to update the history as time goes one. If they put out a new edition of this every five years, it would sell. 

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple - Daniel Solis' new book. He's the guy responsible for Happy Birthday Robot, and Do has been getting a LOT of attention this year. It's a "wind punk" story-writing game in which the players take on the roles of Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. When prayers are sent to the Temple, the Pilgrims come to help out, but their natures are such that they cannot help but get into trouble while getting things sorted out. I haven't had a chance to give it a full read-through (why hello, three hour layover in Toronto), but what I've read so far looks incredible. 

A new vinyl grid sheet - The one that I have at home is really solid, but when you get into the paragon tier it can be REALLY hard to constrict combat to a battle mat. I picked up a mega mat at a hell of a deal (roughly what they wholesale for), and plan on abusing the extra space, and my players, accordingly.

Magnets - I love status markers, and I picked up a fairly expensive Dungeon Master's kit of colored magnets that are meant for exactly that. The biggest reason is, again, the weirdness of paragon tier D&D means that there is a lot of flying and a lot of falling (and burrowing and phasing and all sorts of other ridiculous bullshit). It was pricey, even after the fifteen percent discount, but it's a thing I've needed and wanted for my games for a pretty long time. There are just too many statuses running around to not have a good way of keeping track of who is doing what. 

Art! - I planned on doing some ordering at the store, and while some of the people I approached about that were open to the idea, they weren't prepared to action the orders from the convention and would have just taken my order back home and called me to confirm it. So I'm just going to call them when I get back. So, for the store, I picked up three adorable prints of classic monsters: a gorgon, a minotaur and a manticore. All of them are signed, with a cute little sketch of the monster in the corner of the print. 

Gifts all around! - When we were walking through the art exhibit, I saw a picture that I gushed over quite a bit. It was a bank of clouds, and bursting from it was a turtle with a jet pack on. It sounds goofy, and it looks goofy, and I loved it. So Bloodsong picked it up for me and surprised me with it at the Bed and Breakfast. I picked up a set of super-pretty elven dice and a My Little Pony shirt for Autumnblade; for Bloodsong I got a cloak and clasp. Autumnblade picked up a wand for Bloodsong, as the one Bloodsong had bought earlier in the convention had broken; I thought the gesture was sweet. 

All in all, I spent... a lot of money. ^_^ My boss was concerned that my budget was going to be too big, but I have about a hundred and twenty dollars left after buying the above and food. I would have spent much more if I'd had it. I'm not even kidding. I had to restrain myself.

I ended up buying a LOT of water. It was uncomfortable to carry a bottle around for too long, and the number of places I could fill one up were few and far between, so I ended up spending some three dollars a pop on water during one of the worst heat waves I've ever had the discomfort of living through. Also, Steak & Shake got more of my money than any one exhibitor, because their food is delicious and deceptively inexpensive. Fifteen bucks for a meal for two is less than you would expect at an A&W or McDonalds back home, so it seemed like a steal to eat there all the time...

Saturday, August 06, 2011

GenCon Day Four

GenCon Day Three

Today I lost my fiancé, pissed off my girlfriend, and got into long, difficult discussions with both. I also played a cute game that takes longer to learn than to play, watched a few demo guys who really know what they're talking about (and it showed, man; these guys were great), took an end to end search of the Exhibit Hall for the second time and found a wicked gift for Natalie that I will need to buy tomorrow. So, not a total wash.

Still, this was a very event-light day at the convention. I went to the "first" showing of Laura and Tracy Hickman's Killer Breakfast which was by turns funnier and full of more downtime than the Second Breakfast. Most of what I did afterwards was pass my card around and collect information for products I'd really like to carry. Well, _most_ of what I did was wander around looking for Holly, but for work purposes, that was pretty much it. I'll have a better post for you tomorrow, when I play a bunch of games and buy some kickass stuff. 

I did get to spend some time watching demos of Fantasy Flight games that I now rather desperately want to play. But until I actually get some free time to sit down and demo some games for myself, I'll have to settle for whatever plans for demos I can dream up.

Instead, let me tell you about alchemy. Alchemy is a board game (sort of) in which you are attempting to craft "elements" that are represented by different colors of dice. To start, you get one die of each color (there are five) and a set of cards that live in front of you. The white die represents Aether, and to win the game you need to collect five of them.

Cards have costs and products on them. Some costs destroy the dice you have, some do not, and each card produces one die. To make a die, you put the cost on the card along with one of four turn-markers. You can typically take one action per turn,  but there are special rules to allow you too occasionally put out more dice.

You can also buy more cards with a cute bidding system, in which you put a turn-marker and a die under a card and the number on the die represents the bid you've made. If your bid is the highest after four turns, you get the card.

It was an alright game, one that I would certainly consider selling in the store, but nothing spectacular. It played a lot like solitaire, and I think adding a third player to the mix was needed. Also, likely,a screw-you mechanic, or at least a way to interact with and or harm your opponent's progress. Beyond that, a solid design.

GenCon Day Three

Or: Looking for a Needle in a Haystack, and More Robin Laws!

Today I managed to wake up early for Laura and Tracy Hickman's Killer Breakfast, which was fantastic. It's the first year they've ever done a second showing of the Breakfast (it's usually on Saturday mornings), and so the hall was only about half full, though there were more participants, I think, than Tracy was used to. There were songs. And some dancing. And beach balls. And mass murder. It was basically great. 

I think one of the coolest things about GenCon is that it strips down the biggest personalities in gaming to a human level. I mean, I'm not implying that I ever thought Tracy Hickman was a godlike individual, but I was, at some points in my life, fairly convinced that he was Fizban the Wizard from his Dragonlance books. In person, he's an approachable, funny, witty guy and he improvises his strange-ass DM show with a ferocity and speed that I've never seen before. He easily handles tables of eight people throwing ridiculous actions at him like he's been prepared for them all day, that every single eventuality is already thought out, that he's seen everything and knows the answers to the most dire of questions. That's why he is a legendary writer, game designer and Dungeon Master, and I am the guy who mans a comic shop games center. ^_^ 

After breakfast, I again hit the Exhibit Hall. I was on something of a quest for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I'm a huge fan of Daniel Solis' other recent hit Happy Birthday Robot, and I figured that a role-playing game drawing inspiration from Avatar: The Last Airbender couldn't possibly be horrible. I could not, for the life of me, remember who published the damnable thing, though, and the lack of free wifi at the convention center made it impossible for me to check while I was in the hall, so I had to make a systematic row-by-row search for the damnable thing. I didn't pick it up until well after this point (chronologically). The game is better than I had originally anticipated, especially for something designed for the 12+ crowd, and I have every intention of playing the shit out of it. Also, I will be getting a bunch to sell at the store, so if you want it (and you want it), you can pick it up when I have it.  

I also picked up a package of the magnetic miniature markers. I've seen them in play a few times, and I've meant to pick a set up, and the 15% convention discount more than convinced me to throw money at the Alea Tools guys. One of the cool little bonuses about buying from them at GenCon was the ability to mix and match my magnets so that I could tailor them to my play style. There are a lot of blue magnets to designate how high in the air a person is, an a number of brown tokens to show how far underground a person is. There are a lot of red tokens to signify that a person is bloodied. There's a solid mixture of magnetic strips to put on the bottoms of miniatures so that they can adhere to the bases. It's very pretty and came in an awesome carrying case. Again, I'll be looking to pick some of these up sometime in the near future. 

One of the coolest things about conventions, for me at least, is getting to chill out with the people who make the stuff I sell. Maybe that's just weird to some people, but I like to be able to shake hands with folk I deal with on a regular basis, let them know who I am and let me get a feel fro who they are in person. A distributor or wholesaler or manufacturer can be a great person over the phone, but until I've had a chance to meet someone in person, I don't think I have a very clear idea of who that person is. To be honest, I'm something of a rarity in the industry in that I greatly prefer to do things over the phone than on the internet with the people I buy things from, and meeting someone in person just gives me a much clearer idea of who it is I'm dealing with. 

I collected a lot of business cards today. I gave out as many as I got. 

So I'll be doing my best to make arrangements that include magnetic miniature markers, Do (and related games, because games for kids are amazing). I also picked up a new Chessex megamat and got to have some solid conversations with the guys at Gamescience, Dwarven Forge, Fantasy Flight, and more. Tomorrow is going to be my primary business contact day, so I'm looking forward to a lot more of that.

We stopped by a seminar about using wikis to keep track of your campaign data, which was actually pretty informative. The wiki system they support is called Obsidian Portal, and you should almost definitely check it out. The service is free, and there's a LOT going on for it, including the ability to make maps for your campaign that zoom in and out, have pins, tag various things in various ways, and make all sorts of crazy notes about your game (including secret notes, player secret notes, lists of NPCs with their bios, the places they were encountered, etc). With one of their paid memberships, you can get even more in-depth with multiple maps, more wikis, etc. Definitely a service worth checking out.

Next up was a seminar about the Gumshoe system, which is one of the most innovative things to come out of Robin D. Laws' head (and that's saying something, because Robin Laws has a ridiculous amount of awesome in that head of his). For those that are unfamiliar, the Gumshoe system is an investigative role-playing game in which you never fail to get the clue you were looking for. No matter what happens, if the character has the appropriate investigation skill, they find every clue in the room. Always. If you want to find the clues in the room in a particularly spectacular way, or you want as much information as the clue has to offer, you can spend a point and learn more. It's pretty neat. It focuses the attention on the exciting bits, where failure might actually be interesting. 

There was supposed to be a seminar about Intergenerational Gaming, something that is sort of near and dear to me as a retailer. How do you get kids gaming? How do we invent a new generation of gamers to take part in this ridiculous hobby of ours? Sadly, the speaker didn't show up, but we did have something of a rousing conversation with the folks who did show up.

Right around now is where, chronologically, I found my copy of Do. ^_^ 

Thursday, August 04, 2011

GenCon Day Two

Or: Larry Elmore Hit on my Girlfriend, then White Wolf Fucked Me

Today's the first day the Exhibit Hall is open. I meant to hit up a seminar called Wizards R&D At Your Service, but the bastards scheduled it to coincide directly with the opening of the Hall, which is sort of like saying "We really hope NO ONE shows up for this thing." Given the way the Wizards seminar was handled yesterday, I'm not at all surprised that they're aiming for smaller turnouts at some of these things. What do you want to see out of Wizards of the Coast R&D? More 3rd Edition, of course...

Anyway, I didn't manage to make it to any seminars that morning, however much I would have liked to. I stood in line at will-call with my girlfriend Natalie for just over an hour and half after checking out the Exhibit Hall on my advance ticket. In the fifteen minutes I was in the hall that first go around, I spent over one hundred dollars; I already own a copy of Burning Wheel Gold, and I picked up two sets of dice and a dice cup from Q-Workshop, who I have a bitch of a time ordering things from, so that was awesome. I waited in the ridiculous line at Will Call mostly for morale support. The people in that line fucking needed it. 

Every time I go to GenCon from now on, I will be getting the Trade Day package. Not for the awesome early admission to the hall, not for the Trade Day benefits itself. For my badge, I waited some ten minutes, then I was GenConning to my heart's content. So, if you're even remotely associated with the industry, I highly suggest picking one of these things up.

I bought a shirt for my fiancee Holly that is in all ways amazing (Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie giving one another a Bro Hoof with "Bronies before Honies" emblazoned across the top). I picked up a 16mm set of bone dice that were quite expensive, but also a GenCon exclusive (which makes them even MORE awesome!). Larry Elmore signed my Dungeons & Dragons Red Box shirt, and then hit on Natalie a lot. I picked up a copy of Designers & Dragons, which is a comprehensive history of role-playing games and the good people who make them, from Gary and Dave sitting in their basement hand-typesetting the original brown-backed folios to stuff that happened just a few months ago. Every role-playing game should have a cover like this history, as well. It's gorgeous. I'll probably be bringing a few copies into the store for you to buy them. 

Because my coworker and brother-at-arms Ian Lauder wanted to know what was going on with White Wolf, we hit the White Wolf 2.0 seminar. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on, here. They're releasing a new version of Vampire: The Masquerade for their 20th Anniversary, and they'll be releasing new OLD World of Darkness books over the course of the year. New World of Darkness will be seeing a new game (Mummy the Somethingorother) and all of this will be available online... Or by print-on-demand... When I asked them when I would be seeing any of this new material in my store, they let me know, in no uncertain terms, "Well, never..." Starting this year, White Wolf will no longer be publishing books for sale in Friendly Local Game Stores. If I want to carry their product, I will need to buy the same print-on-demand material you have access to from Drive-Thru RPG. Which is basically White Wolf telling me, to my face, that my store no longer matters, that distributors with whom I have really solid working relationship no longer matter, and that you, the end consumer, don't really matter either. People without credit cards? Why would we want to sell product to THEM?

So, we won't be carrying White Wolf product at Warp One anymore. Which is a damned shame, because I was really happy about a lot of the stuff they were talking about publishing this year. 

We hit the Exhibit Hall one more time and Natalie picked up a wand and a wand holster for her wrist. Also, a new corset. She now owns one more piece of Geek Chic product than I do (the wand). I got to take a look at some of their tables, and they're fucking GORGEOUS. I want two. I want them to make a round table. And then mail it to me for testing or something. 

Then there was an awesome Game Design seminar that was awesome mostly because Greg Stolze and Matt Forbeck were two of the people running it. Also, the guy who invented Killer Bunnies is fucking hilarious. After that wrapped up, I got a quick massage from the spa downstairs and, since the Hall was closed and I had no more seminars to go to, it was time to grab something to eat and head home. I developed something of a nasty headache from a mixture of the neon lights at the convention hall and the ridiculous, wet heat that is blanketing Indianapolis right now.  It doesn't look like the weather is going to lighten up at all over the next couple of days, either...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

GenCon Day One

I went to three seminars today, and a game event. The first seminar I went to was about super-charging my marketing, and it gave me a few really solid ideas for how to get my marketing message out there and grow the business some. I mean, the business is already growing like crazy, but if I can ever put 20% growth on my resume, I will. 

The second was about an e-mail program and I mostly stuck around for that because I had no idea what to do with the next hour or so. I planned lunch after that, but we ended up taking a fair bit of time with it, and I decided to check out the Wizards of the Coast seminar about making my D&D and Magic events better than they currently are. Everything they talked about equally applied to my Yu-Gi-Oh! events. 

The last seminar was probably the most eye-opening for me. There was a strange, nearly adversarial tone to the whole thing, from both the point of view of the retailers and the point of view of Wizards of the Coast. When the subject of places like WalMart or Chapters sometimes selling things before street date got out, Wizards' sales head got his feathers in a bit of a rustle (and later, when I suggested letting event store sell earlier than the Big Guys, he told me that a) there's no way WalMart gets product before we do and b) they give us pre-release events and that should make us happy, right?). Other store owners complained about many of the same things I complain about on a regular basis (better internal communication at Wizards being a necessity, the opaqueness of the Judge program, etc), which gave me a pretty solid sense of community and kinship with them. I'm not the only person who thinks Wizards of the Coast needs to get its ass in better shape. 

I stopped for lunch and then headed over to the advanced play-through of D&D Lair Assault, which was ridiculous fun. I played a cleric, myself, and did a passable job for a guy who sits on the comfy-chair side of the screen more often than not. The Lair Assault initiative is sort of an answer to the D&D Encounters Initiative and the Fourthcore movement started last year. The scenario I played had our group chasing down a cult of Asmodeus in some sort of fire temple. The plot was obviously unimportant, as the Game Master flew through the description and got us right into playing. 

The first room had four pits of oil and some minions that lit themselves and everything in a burst one on fire with them. It was only five damage, but that set the oil alight and got us taking ten damage every time we ended our turn in the burning squares. A non-minion warlock lit most of the party on fire and scattered them into the burning pits while we tried to clear out the minions and take down their lieutenant. Clearing that room, we moved into one that was empty except for statues (that shot us with their laser eyes), and that led to a false door that burst with a solid athletics check from the slayer. We faced off against a few more minions that killed off the slayer and the wizard (by this time I was out of heals), and we wrapped up because we were over time. I'm proud to say that my party made it the furthest in the adventure out of the showing at six o'clock.

A few interesting details from this Lair Assault:

It was one encounter spread over multiple rooms with a 20-turn time limit. At level fifteen, that would make things difficult. At level five, with mediocre characters, it was easily impossible. 

There were no punches pulled on the damage. The baddies weren't dealing damage in the 20s, but they were in the high tens, and the environmental hazards were seriously kicking our ass. 

The DM had a card with a bunch of different possible placements for his creatures, so that players can play through a few times and still not know what's going on. There were tokens for the statues in the rooms that flipped over to reveal if they were traps or a gargoyle. 

There will be absolutely no pre-generated characters for Lair Assault.

Chris Tulach congratulated my party for making it as far as we did. ^_^