Total Confusion XXV in Review – A Wicked Awesome Convention

I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest to Total Confusion XXV in Mansfield, MA.  Not only was I there to participate on a panel and do a podcast, I was also running a few games and (the most fun for me) playing as well!  It was an amazing time at a friendly, accessible and most importantly, fun convention.

See the end of the article for a 15 picture gallery including photos not spread throughout.

Friday was my first day, starting at 10:30 in the morning when my family and I arrived.  My wife was accompanying me this weekend and our kids were with us for an hour or so.  We confirmed our registrations, got a giant “Wooo!” of welcome from the staff, a nifty swag bag and a T-shirt.  I then met up with Angelia, Promotional Director for the convention, and was given a quick tour of the convention.

The Hotel (from our room)

The Mansfield Holiday Inn is a pretty great place to have a convention of this size.  It’s an open floor plan, with rooms all around the outside, facing an inner courtyard, or the pool, depending on where you are.

Total Confusion is not a huge, Gen Con or PAX sized convention, and personally I’m rather happy for that.  It’s easily fit in to the hotel, has a good enough number of people to ensure you’ll always meet someone new, but is small enough that you’re constantly running in to new friends.

Total Confusion features a large gaming area for RPGs spread through a number of rooms ranging from Old School, RPGA events, Pathfinder Society games, and more.  There’s also a large ballroom used for board games, minis and young people (i.e. kids).  Next up is the amphitheater for movies and panels.  There was the vendor room, registration a video game room and in the main garden a stage and gaming area set up for Iron GM.

Board Games and Minis

The board game/minis room also had a very large selection of games that gamers could borrow and run. There never seemed to be a shortage of gamers willing to do a pick up game of…well just about anything.  I have it on good authority that this held true even at 2:45am on Sunday morning.

We have arrived!

My first order of business after getting the tour was to hit the vendor room.  Several local (and not so local) FLGS were in residence, as well as Old Fart Games featuring lots of old school stuff, and artist in residence Don Higgins.  I made my first (of many) purchases right then, and got a wonderful Wonder Woman print for my wife.

After that, it was time to set up for my first game, one I was running, The World of Aruneus –  The Haunted Mine.  This is a Pathfinder scenario you can find out lots more about by clicking this link.  The game went very well, I got to run five fine folks through it, including two other industry guests.  Choices were made, zombies were (re)killed and the entire party got themselves arrested.  It was tons of fun.

Dinner was at the hotel restaurant and then it was time for the panels!  Peter Blix Bryant was  running the panels and a number of the industry guests were taking part.  First off was the Art in RPG panel, which was very interesting to attend, coming from the side of the guy who hires, begs and borrows (with permission) artwork. After this – the Game Design panel!

Left to Right: James Carpio, Ben Gerber, Jeff Talanian, Gary Astleford and jay Libby. Host: Blix

I was delighted to take part in this, and was the only designer up there who wasn’t also a freelancer for a number of other, large and well known RPG publishers.  It was a very informative and interesting time for me.  My one wish for the panels, which I understand were making their first appearance at TotalCon, would have been a larger audience.  You can read audience member Jonathan J. Reinhart’s great coverage and transcription right here.

After the panels, it was time for a little free play Dominion with my wife in the Board Game room and then off to bed.  That was Friday.

Saturday morning started off bright and early with a full breakfast buffet, a huge amount of coffee and then it was on to the first event I was playing in, not running!  Zeppelin Pirates over Hollywoodland!  A pulp 1930’s adventure using the DECO system with the Zeppelin Age game.   This was a 2 hour game run by the creator, Matthew.

Zeppelin Age!

Both my wife and I took part and we had a great time.  In fact, we enjoyed the game so much that we went to the vendor room and bought a copy straight away.  At $15 it was a steal – a game system that’s good for adults and kids, is rules light enough to run a one off game quickly and interesting enough to make me want to run a campaign in it.  You can also get your own copy as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.

My wife's character - Snapper O'hallahan, female gangster

Right as we started up though, we were brought to my one and only real complaint about the entire convention.  The Iron GM competition also started up.  Believe me, Iron GM is an amazing thing, and I applaud those who run it and are running in it.  But it was really, really, really LOUD!  Luckily we were able to find a vacant table behind a door and everything else went very well.


In Iron GM,  GMs and Players get three ingredients to create scenario’s and characters in one hour then settle in for 4 hours of role-playing madness. All participants get chances to win prizes. Players get to judge the GMs and the Winning GM wins a trip to GenCon 2011 to represent New England for the national title.

Just about the time we finished up with Zeppelin Age, Scott arrived at the convention.  He was going to join me in the next Aruneus game but we didn’t have enough players to move forward.  So, with my wife off the grounds on errands of her own for a few hours, I purchased Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, a deck building game and we played that for the next four hours.

Ascension! Best new game I played at TotalCon

Here is where Total Confusion really shined for me.  We purchased this game, and spent about 30 minutes learning how to play it.  In that time, we had attracted several other folks who were interested in playing.  Down they sat and then we spent hours enjoying a new and extremely fun game with new friends we had just made.

After Ascension, we met up with Blix again, and sat down for a 20 minute interview for the Total Confusion podcast, which you can be sure I’ll link to here when it’s available.

Then it was a quick dinner, a stop back to the room and off to run my favorite board game of all time, Talisman!


We set up in the board game room (with our dinner as well, gotten to go) and within minutes we had several people who had signed up for the event at five or six others who were interested in playing.  We settled down to 7 players, including myself, Scott and my wife and proceeded to try and rule the world through magic, swordplay and guile!

Talisman rocks

In the tradition of Talisman games everywhere, the event lasted until midnight (5 hours) and was fairly epic.  It ended with my wife playing the Wizard at the center of things, fighting (and winning) a battle royale!

Saturday was a wrap and off to bed we all went.

Sunday was my easy day.  I had nothing scheduled and my wife had yet to play Ascension.  So we had a leisurely  breakfast, relaxed in our room for a few minutes and then grabbed Ascension and hit an open table.  We played for a few hours, met up with and included Wayne from Sages of RPG in the game and had a great time.

Just a con shot

All in all it was an amazing time!  I really enjoyed this convention.  It was just the right size for my jump back in to gaming cons.  The folks who run it and volunteer at it were absolutely amazing and my hat goes off to all of them.  As a guest, I had access to the green room which was always stocked with soda, snacks and friendly people.

The attendees were also on the whole very agreeable and easy to game with and get along with as well.  I met a number of awesome folks, made some great contacts and had a fantastic weekend.

I will say that at times the hotel staff seemed a bit overwhelmed, which I found odd given that the con had been there for a number of years.  But on the whole they were also very friendly, if slightly frazzled.

I only had one regret the entire weekend.  The equipment I had to record podcasts was woefully inadequate.  This I’ll have to remedy before my next one, PAX East.

I will certainly be returning to Total Confusion XXVI next year and I would heartily suggest to anyone within range that you do the same.  Keep in mind that this convention is less about marketing new products and much more about the actual playing of games. If that is what you’d like to do for an entire weekend, you’ll love Total Confusion.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, board games, card games, conventions[/tags]

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