Convention Report: RavenCon 2011

Another Con weekend washes away in a haze of cheese dusted fingers, steampunk costumes, and hoarse throats.  This weekend, I went to Richmond, Virginia’s very own RavenCon!

None of our readers will be surprised that I spent hours upon hours hunched or standing over game tables casting dice to the fates this weekend, but RavenCon is actually not a gaming convention, but one where local area writer’s and their fans gather to celebrate the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery.  The convention name was inspired by the classic and well known chilling poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, being that he spent a great deal of time in our fair city in his youth, leaving his chilling presence to forever imprint the place.  Of course, Poe’s works weren’t all grit and terror, and the con makes it a point each year to have a panel or two about the man himself to clear up those misconceptions.

RavenCon Banner

Screaming Arrival

Being that it was a convention about 35 minutes from my front door, I was joined by a small assault squad of friends as we took the experience for everything it was worth.  We broke to our different ways, and while my first visit to RavenCon was spent with an even split of panels and gaming, this year the panels didn’t call out to me in times that were convenient to the games I just wanted to be in so badly.  The local gaming community is truly the reason I came out anyhow, so it was off to the 24 hour 3 day game room for me, RavenCon has a policy of not closing the doors unless they absolutely have to.

I was scheduled to run a game for the following day, and was a little dismayed by the hectic nature of the schedule.  I was, I’ll admit, a bit disappointed and distracted by the fact that the game room was so chaotic.  I didn’t feel like I was offered much in the way of help gathering players or finding a game for myself, and I saw more than a few cases where someone had set up a board game or role playing game and had no players show any interest.  This had nothing to do with the game they were running or the quality of the game master, just a general disorganization of the convention.

Ultimately, I must excuse this.  It turns out the gaming chair was changed last minute, throwing a lot of these details on one person instead of two.  It’s always a shame when real-life interferes, but when it comes down to paying the bills or having fun at a weekend of gaming, one must prioritize.  I can’t fault Libby, who took over the game room, one bit for how things were.  That said, I think going into the next year knowing that she will be the gaming chair for the convention, I’d love to see her focus in on helping get games together and really step up to steward the game room rather than let it run itself as much as it did for 2011.

None of this, is to suggest that I didn’t have an incredible time.  I took it upon myself to help those game masters who had no one find a group, an easy task for me this year because of the band of friends I came with or met up at the con.  We sat down for some incredible sessions and got some great audio for the Troll ITC Old School Gaming Podcast.

Panels and Such

My own personal scheduling was my enemy at this year’s RavenCon.  Games take such a costly dedication of time, that I struggle to make it to the panels I really want to visit.  Though I took in an interesting listen here or there, the real draw of the panels at RavenCon for me are the writing workshops.  Whether you are starting to scribe a book or you just want to improve your descriptions of dark dungeons and squamous things which crawl inside them, the writing workshops let you hear from some popular local authors and get some critique on your work.  I didn’t make it to a single one of these this year, and I do wish I had planned time for it.  However, since several of them were at least similar to ones from the year before and many manned by the venerable Allen Wold, a regular at the local cons and crowd favorite for his witty humor and aged experience, I imagine they proceeded well.  I plan to make a point of hitting at least one or two at next year’s convention.

Dice and Monsters

So now that we’ve gotten what I didn’t do out of the way, let’s roll through what I did do, and what audio you have to look forward to if you enjoy the actual play sessions we’ve been podcasting so much of lately.

Betrayal at House on the Hill: For a while now, I’ve heard great things about this board game, and it brought fun in a big way, even though I was playing a 12-year-old child that got eaten alive trying to battle a horrid necromancer in the basement.  The premise of the game is that a group of stereotype locked protagonists explore a twisted mansion uncovering the map tile by tile and encountering traps, aggressive creatures, and eventually pushing events to a randomized betrayal.  It is at this point the conditions for winning are revealed, an enemy and how it must be defeated for the remaining group, and a condition for victory the betrayer must meet, such as elimination of the party.  I know a few friends who own the game, so this is definitely on my radar to give a few more playtests to and prepare a review article.  Until then, you can read more about it here at Wizard’s site.

Shadowrun: I took my first delve into the cyberpunk fantasy world of Shadowrun, a game which has been around for many years and has hit its Sixth Edition since initial publication.  Shadowrun creates a complex character sheet of point-purchased features.  I had a few concerns about the game when I began playing, which may have nothing to do with the system itself but the table I played at.  Our character sheets were printed in full color backgrounds on what I’d guess was 1/3rd scale sheets.  My eyes aren’t the greatest for my relatively young age, but I think anyone would struggle to read the sheet I was facing.  In addition, not having played the game before I was lost in a sea of different and non-described abilities or gear.  I have a feeling our characters might have been beefed up a bit, which may be why we were given so many abilities and traits to read through, but it did make life difficult for someone sitting down to their first game.  I love the fantasy monster races mixed with future tech, and my Troll Bounty Hunter was an excellent character to play, but I’d really have to say that unless I read the books thoroughly I might shy away from more Shadowrun games at a convention, initial impressions don’t make it feel particularly friendly to quick play.

Savage Worlds Rippers: Reprising his role as game master from my MarsCon Report, Paul Charran ran an excellent game of Savage Worlds Rippers for us.  Set in a late 1800’s England, we investigated an mysterious and violent death which suggested foul play from a nearby asylum specializing in experimental treatments on their patients.  We captured the whole session on audio, which I myself actually need to listen to because I unfortunately had need to duck out in the last hour to take care of some other business before my own game started.  Look for the podcast to begin next week!  Until then, check out Pinnacle’s games page to learn more.

World of Darkness Mortals: One of the many game masters I found that struggled to find players in the game room madness was D, who I actually had interest to game with the previous year at RavenCon, because I overheard one of his games and some of the strength of his descriptions really appealed to me.  I missed the opportunity to play then, and I was so glad to run into him again this year.  I called on a friend to help fill the table, who then called on Paul from the Savage Worlds Rippers game and we formed an awesome group of quickly-built normal humans about to discover some of the many terrors the World Of Darkness has to offer.  We didn’t get to finish D’s game by a long shot, but I have to say it was the single most rewarding roleplay experience I had at the convention.  Although it was a short session, I got audio of the majority of play.  The con was winding down and I was a bit tired, so for the first few minutes I actually forgot to turn on the recorder, we quickly remedied the problem and you can hear that session in its entirety in the next week or two.

Savage Worlds Interface ZeroGoing to cons is a great time for me to get some play in with other game masters to learn new styles of running games, but I’ve never run a game of my own until this year.  As announced in my article leading up to the con, I was recently contracted to create an alternate rule set for the virtual reality components of the Interface Zero setting for Savage Worlds.  Although I’ve done several private play tests with friends, RavenCon allowed me to debut the rules in the first public play test, and man was it a blast.  I filled my 5 slots for the game at the last minute, prior to that I worried I’d have to cancel the game altogether.  As soon as we got going the group’s energy was so strong and so much fun was had that we gathered an audience around us larger than the number of players actually in the game!  The session was fully captured on audio and will be released in segments here on the site and through iTunes starting next week.

Posthumous Z: The entire weekend, the busiest game room table had to have been the Posthumous Z board game playtests with the creator and his father.  Bustling from Friday at the game room’s opening and still going strong as the last table playing when the game room closed on Sunday, Posthumous Z had a crowd at all times.  The premise of the game is the same as that of so many recent board games, and the pair running all weekend will be the first to tell you that they have a lot to overcome when passers by see “just another zombie game”.  What Posthumous Z does differently is focus on team based play and strategics.  Scheduling worked against me once again, and at no point did I have enough free time to dedicate to giving the game a run through.  I did come away from the with a great interview for the podcast and a copy of the game for review when I do have time to play with some friends.  I’m stoked to dig in and see what the craze is about that kept the board game running with different players all weekend long.

Final Thoughts

RavenCon is a local con, it’s not very big and this year more than last it seemed a bit disorganized for my liking, but at the end of the day I can’t say I didn’t laugh, yell, and cheer until my throat hurt and I still haven’t gotten enough sleep to make up for the weekend.  I had an absolute blast, I met some great gamers in my area and exchanged e-mail addresses to see if we can’t get some games in before next year’s con so we don’t have to wait a full 365 days until we meet again.  I’m still fully pumped up, and I wish it weren’t over!

What’s Next?

My con coverage is far from over, keep an eye on the site or subscribe to our Podcast feed to be kept in the loop for all the great audio mentioned above.  We’ve also got pictures to post, such as this unfortunately candid shot of me running my sessions of Interface Zero.  Is this really how ridiculous I look when running a game?

Look out Tokyo!

[tags], , , , , Interface Zero[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Convention Report: RavenCon 2011

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  1. OK…that is the single goofiest…yet most awesome picture ever!!! The CON was a blast and you did a great job with the Interface Zero game. My son told me that your game was his favorite gaming session ever (lol…including my own games)!

    Great job and awesome write up!


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