(You’ll have to pardon what I can only assume is totally incoherent writing in this post. I’m totally exhausted.)
So, this settles it: if you’re an independent RPG publisher, what the fuck were you doing not at PAX East this weekend?
It’s better than Gen Con in every dimension. The players are more enthusiastic and interested in what you’re doing, the booths are cheaper, you get to (and in fact have to) run long demos all the time, the Enforcers are flexible and able to figure out how to get you doing what you need to do, and they bring you bottles of water when you’re thirsty.
I’m not joking. An Enforcer (those are the volunteers, of which there were hundreds) brought me water and lip balm because it was really dry in there. He brought me water and lip balm.
But, as excellent as the structure of the con is, the thing that really made it shine were the attendees. When I said “Hi! How ya doin’?” across the table, they told me. It’s totally different form the Gen Con Grunt. I shook (and washed) a lot of hands just because I was actually launching into social interaction every few minutes. I mean, we’re all here cuz we like games, right? We know we’ve got a lot to talk about. A lot of people have games they’re working on themselves — board games, card games, roleplaying games — and they love to talk about them. Only once did I have a “let me tell you about my character” moment, and honestly, that guy would have been the prettiest princess in Indianapolis if he’d been there instead.
At the end of the weekend, we had maybe ten books left, out of hundreds, to sell. I sold out of Shock: about two thirds the way through Saturday, but then I had all these copies of Human Contact. I started emailing PDFs to a bunch of people just so they’d have the core rules, and a handful pre-ordered from the next print run, even. Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, and Burning Empires all were gone yesterday morning. Dread vanished within moments of the end of the Beyond D&D panel. The four copies of Cold City and Hot War both sold out within a few hours once I’d figured out how to find out from people what they wanted (and they wanted Cold City and Hot War).
But it was a one-two punch. The sales were only one. The “two” was the play. I got to play several (three?) games of Human Contact. There were return players bringing their friends in, and we had a really neat, very subversive game of Human Contact. Which was great, because the previous two games had been fantastic explorations of just how the Academy can screw up.
In the first expedition (played with Jason and his brother Mike), the Messenger craft carrying the three envoys crashed. One of the envoys died in the crash, the body discovered by local theocrats who had mythological records of their arrival from a starship that had apparently promised them a return. Another of the envoys dragged himself ashore to be hidden by a disgruntled socialist farmer. The third managed to land right in the middle of the theocratic capital around their observatory-temple.
It was not subtle. There was a purge that led directly to a civil war, which was the power vacuum that the socialist revolution needed to succeed. One of the envoys had to prove his non-godhood by getting shot to death, leaving only the one remaining. They’d been there about one week out of the seven years they had until the starship returned.
So, that went well.
In the second case, Dennis, Brandi, and I visited Acad, a world of company towns. Education was nepotistic and, as a result, medicine was appallingly misunderstood and misused. One of the envoys realized that she had an opportunity to live comfortably and used her own access to the extraordinary medicine of the Academy as a carrot/stick with which to build a crime empire. The other surviving envoy was meanwhile living comfortably in an embassy in the capital city, doing what he could from the top down. They didn’t help any of the objectives they had as envoys, despite using a solid year doing stuff.
In the third case, the Acadmy’s envoys visited Turaku. Philomena, the returning Brandi, and her friend Leah did an amazing job. They worked to put childbirth in the hands of the women giving birth (rather than a grim, industrial establishment) by making art about vaginas, they established an “enlightened” factory town where they could take in the unemployed, and they managed to keep all three envoys alive! Their shifts to the society were through art, music, and poetry, designing a youth culture that would be able to take the reins of the society before the starship returned. This game was particularly awesome, despite the fact that Philomena and her birth canal art had to leave the game early.
So it was awesome. I’m already looking forward to next year. I hope Luke Crane (and his inestimable Burning Crew), Jared Sorensen, John Carimando, and I are there with a bunch more indie publishers.