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Play On Con 3

30. July 2010

Better late than never, I suppose, right? Life has been pretty stale for me lately, and I haven’t really encountered much to comment on. I’ve been slacking, to be honest.

Two weeks ago, there was PlayOnCon in Irondale, Alabama, not far from where I live. I found out about it pretty late and frankly didn’t have the money to spend in my con budget to attend. However, through the Birmingham Area Gaming Group, I found out about volunteering and figured I’d go for it. Birmingham needs more nerdy conventions, and they seemed to need all the help I could get. So, I was in, but I’d have to spend time working and not playing. Better than not going at all right?

And then I saw a tweet from Obsidian Portal asking for Emissaries. As all you guys should know, OP is a site which allows you to archive your roleplaying campaign in a wiki-style system. It’s system-neutral (although there are options to include system-specific stats, and they just implemented full character sheets!), so it’s a great way for GM’s of any game to include information for the party to share and interact with. The Emissary program for the site is simple–you attend your local cons and rep Obsidian Portal’s services. They provided me with business cards and stickers to hand out. Armed thusly, I attended POC Friday night and Saturday.

The first thing that struck me was how party-centric the convention was. The entire event took place in the Rime Garden Inn & Suites in Irondale; the hotel was laid out in no more than ten renovated apartment complex buildings. Several of the spacious hotel rooms (we’re talking apartments here) were converted into gaming room. One entire building, the 1000 building, was the “party block,” strictly enforced with ID-checking bouncers (this was my job). Each of the party hosts was competing with each other for a “best party” award of some sort. I didn’t catch the specifics, mind, I just came for the free alcohol but left early to arrive on time tomorrow.

Saturday was a more normal convention experience to me: an open dealer’s room, panels, and people costuming. The dealer’s room was fairly small, but for a convention of this size, I though the variety was impressive. The local game stores had booths, as did one guy hocking custom-made steampunk weapons. I purchased a copy of the Star Wars d6 Core Rulebook, as I am a big fan of the d20 variants and have never had a chance to look at the prior ruleset. Next on my agenda was attending Sean Patrick Fannon‘s world-building panel. I arrived late, but still soaked in a ton of information about what defines NPC’s and the places they occupy. As the panel winded down, I took the opportunity to complete my required task and handed out the material for OP. I was shocked to hear that only one or two people had heard about the site. The rest were quite interested in looking into it.

I spent the rest of the day before my shift perusing the plethora of entertainment. The video game room was run by The Score, a company devoted, or so it seemed at POC, to selling old-school games. I nerdgasmed at the portable NES and Genesis bootleg consoles they had. I have the seen the dual cartidge ones before, but I assumed only Ben Heck did portable retro consoles. The D&D rooms were nicely organized, however they did not seem as popular as I would have imagined. I noticed a group of the same people playing RPGA modules in 4e all weekend. I made sure, naturally, to whore out Obsidian Portal to them as well. Most had heard about it (I’m sure they were all using iPlay4e during their game!), but a few had not actually explored the site. Also demo’ing in another room was Untold, a roleplaying games based around cards instead of character sheets. It seems like an interesting concept, and I’d like to review it for TYC when I can get my hands on a copy of the core set, but I wasn’t impressed by what seemed like limited genre exploration. The characters seemed fairly pre-built, despite the customization available. I can’t say for sure, not having a copy of the set, but we’ll see about that in the future.

I finished the night continuing to hand out passes and left shortly thereafter. I enjoyed the convention as a whole, but I felt like it was disjointed at times. Chalk it up to walking around a bit disjointed myself, I suppose. The party crowd did their thing, and the gamers did their own, on different sides of the venue. Not to say there wasn’t mixing going on, but I feel that PlayOnCon was kind of like two different events that just happened to be occuring at the same time. The laid-back atmosphere was a welcome change, with pool parties, cookouts, and alcohol openly available, but that’s not honestly why I go to cons. I go for things I normally wouldn’t have available: people in costume, informative panels about nerdy topics, dealers hocking wares you can’t find at a local store, and games and tournaments with big production values. I don’t think this as a negative about POC, but it is different and a different experience than I think most people are used to. My hope is, in the coming years, they are able to refine this distinction and make it truly unique, truly Birmingham, so this city can have a convention that is successful and worthwhile, unlike a lot of the action we’ve been getting.


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