Ain't It Cool News (
Movie News

AICN TABLETOP: One reader's attempt to find D&D at Gencon

Hola all. Massawyrm here. The following is something Harry forwarded over to me which is a general rundown of the experience someone 10 years out of the game had searching for Dungeons & Dragons at Gencon this past weekend. Being a Gencon first timer, he writes about a number of the mistakes he made fumbling through it. Here’s Jest.

Why it took three days to find D&D at the World’s Largest Gaming Convention

Okay, so, first things first, the geek nerd biography. I played D&D. Are you done rolling your eyes and laughing? Good. For the first time in about ten years - due to the economy – I had some free time in August. I saw an ad for GenCon, which billed itself as the World’s Largest Gaming Convention. I thought, well, this will be great, get away, do something geeky and nerdy for a few days and get back to the hunt for gainful employment. I arrived at the convention Friday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and drove down to the convention center. Picked up some tickets for events and thought, hey, I’m home, among my geek nerd brothers and sisters. The first thing that struck me was the bare flesh exposed by some folks of indeterminate age. I quickly learned this was called Cosplay, Costume play, which is a pastime indulged in by, uhm, young people into Anime such as Dragonball Z. Alright, so eye candy, harmless – except for the age factor. But I thought, okay, I can handle this, there are bars nearby where I can drown the creepy skin-crawly feeling that I’ve some how become a pedophile. Continue building your personality profile. Go on, its cool, join the mob, all the cool kids do it. Onto the Games! Found the area of the convention where Wizards of the Coast, manufacturers of Dungeons and Dragons, had staked their claim, only to discover I arrived too late for an introduction to – cue theme music – D&D 4E. Come back tomorrow. No problem, I checked out the dealer room, which in itself is an amazing place stacked almost ceiling to floor with useless stuff you don’t need but absolutely have to have. I dare you, no, I double dog dare you to walk through this place during GenCon without seeing ten to fifteen things that need to come home with you. Sharper Image, Ikea and Bed, Bath and Beyond have nothing on the merchandise collected here. So, on to the next day: I wander in, tickets in hand ready to get my geek on. You can geek and nerd here, man, its okay, socially acceptable and even encouraged. I waited in line, and waited, and finally got to the front. I was in the wrong line. This was for players with some experience. I was geek, but I was ten years out of practice geek. My geek and nerd were not strong enough. They were flabby, girly man geek and nerd. So, new line, wait, get to front, I was there too early, come back at six. Gak, cough, okay, I get you, bar, cold beer, lunch, beer, successful afternoon. There was a Colts game that afternoon and the ancient geek and nerd high school tremors hit me. Geeks and Jocks do not mix. Geeks do not mix with Jocks in large numbers – at all. But the laughing and eye rolling was kept to an absolute minimum. I was shocked, aghast, this was not my beautiful memory - surprise, no pummelings, no beatings, no lynchings. Things were looking up. Convention Hall, six o’clock: I’ve had my libations and the Minnesota Vikings were about to catch a beating. Nothing but great things can happen from this point. I finally got into a game - and I felt like a special needs monkey. This was not D&D, at least not D&D that I remembered. The rules have been stripped down, simplified, to the level of reading is fundamental. Everyone is equal, and everyone cooperates. Barney likes this game. Where was the random violence and smashing things to little bits and taking their loot? Not here. So, as I said, my geek and nerd are ten-years-out-of-practice, flabby, girly man geek and nerd. The question fell out of my mouth, “This is D&D, right?” And they looked at me like I grew a third eye. This was a board game. There was a board. You heard me, a board, like a fold up paper board with little cardboard markers, sorta like if Parker Brothers put out a ghetto version of Monopoly. You kick open the door and begin the game. No literally, that’s how it went. Move in, fight, move to next room, fight, move to final room, fight. Game over. Okay - and well - that’s it. To give this game its due, its easy to pick up, you can have it down in about five minutes and master it about fifteen. It’s that easy. The math has been smashed down to one addition problem, with the answer provided, in bold letters with easy to understand words. It’s a simple game. It works. All they need is a box and they’ll a winner on their hands. Okay, its seven o’clock, time to feed my ugly face. Food. Asked some folks, a nerd family no less, fellow geeks and nerds about grub, they pointed in the direction of the Noodle Company. We got to chatting, I asked if they played D&D 4E. The kid piped up and said it was a boring MMORG. Great - acronyms – love it. An MMORG, is a massively multi-player online roleplaying game. In shorthand, it means World of Warcraft. I’ve played Warcraft, laughed at the commercials and thoroughly enjoyable game. The more I thought about this over my pesto noodles – which were excellent by the way - the more I thought, damn, the kid was right. It’s an MMORG, without the online, the graphics, the social interaction or the - well, it ain’t Warcraft. To add insult to injury, the Vikings won. And this was one of those surreal moments that could only occur at a gaming convention. At nine o’clock, there was costume event - a zombie walk. The zombies gathered in the Indianapolis Union Station, and began their march just as the game was letting out. The sympathetic zombies tried to cheer up the disappointed Colts fans by limping about, in their Night of the Living Dead make-up, chanting, “Viking Brains.” So now it was Sunday, last day, and still had nothing I could recognize as D&D. My ten-years-out-of-practice, flabby, girly man Geek and Nerd would go back into the box, and I would return home with the memory of zombies trying to cheer up disappointed Colts fans. I found a final event – Introduction to Pathfinder. Holy Geekdom, Fatman, this is where they were hiding it! There were dice! Dice bags! Miniatures! Rules written for people with a comprehension level above the eighth grade! Okay, I know, that might not be a selling point, but you get the idea. And that’s why I couldn’t find it – D&D wasn’t called D&D anymore, it was called Pathfinder. Okay, now you have my permission to laugh at me. Go ahead, get it off your chest. Done? Feel better now? Good. This was the D&D I remembered - thinking was involved, planning, resource management, followed by bone crushing violence and looting your reward. D&D, I found you. Paizo, the publishers of Pathfinder, have done a good job of streamlining the game, not to the level of D&D 4E, but it has been trimmed, put on a diet and forced to get some exercise. It makes logical sense now. The complex calculus of previous D&D editions have been reduced to some high school math problems – which means both addition and subtraction are required. Okay, maybe that’s not a selling point either, but you get the idea. The game is playable with a minimum of page flipping and rules knowledge. My ten-years-out-of-practice, flabby, girly man geek and nerd were satisfied. I played D&D, which wasn’t called D&D anymore, but Pathfinder.

Well, sounds like he made a number of the classic mistakes that Gencon regulars are probably giggling about. More importantly, as a D&D player 10 years out, it sounds like he was a 2nd Edition player. If you’ve never played the short 4E demo games, his description isn’t far off. It’s designed to be able to teach anyone in about 15 minutes the basics of 4E and it can come across as pretty childish. But it also sounds like Paizo had a hell of a display this year – which doesn’t surprise me in the least. Erik Mona and his boys have their shit together. Chalk this up as another ringing endorsement of PATHFINDER. Thanks Jest.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. Massawyrm
Got something for the Wyrm? Mail it here.

Or follow my further zany adventures on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • Aug. 19, 2009, 10:30 a.m. CST

    Tabletop pwns teh suk.

    by Man of Stool

    Really does.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 11:14 a.m. CST

    I have to agree

    by RainXTN

    The new D&D just doesn't feel like D&D, it feels like a board game. Which is cool, cause I love board games, but it's NOT D&D. I picked up the Pathfinder core rules at Gencon this weekend and am in the process of reading it now...Pathfinder is the new D&D.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 11:34 a.m. CST

    D&D 4 rocks

    by Lukecash

    You people are lame ass bastards. D&D 4 is actually the best version of the game. You actually have more strategy and options First of all D&D was always a table top game. It started off as a "Fantasy Napoleonic Game" You actually have a lot more strategic options. Such as movement...the type of movement, what type of attack you can make. Then there are combinations of feats, powers and items that can really rock your world. And now your character grows as you longer do you have to worry about spending points for skills except at the beginning. So if your character specializes in something...he'll always be the best at it. Before it was just...roll dice and you hit. Now my figher can do a trip attack, disarm or a lot more creative ways of killing a foe.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 11:50 a.m. CST

    well, aren't we original...

    by acantha

    an old school D&D fan bitching about 4e. THERES SOMETHING I DON'T READ EVERY GODDAMNED DAY. i swear to shit, we get it, you hate change. jesus christ. if 2nd ed was so fucking sweet, keep playing that. The fact that i'm forced to listen to these pathetic bleetings EVERY FUCKING TIME i want to in any way partake or participate in discussion of gaming is possibly the most infuriating thing i deal with on a daily basis. 4e has been out for two years. I assure you, you pathetic, change averse, whiners, that you have NOTHING ORIGINAL to add with your smart ass remarks. NOTHING you can say about 4e is going to be within 60 miles of new. Just keep it to yourself for fucks sake.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 11:51 a.m. CST

    Old School

    by Wrath4771

    Yeah and I remember all the flack that the Monster Manual had nudity in it. Now where is my Geritol?

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 11:51 a.m. CST

    My thoughts as a game designer . . .

    by The Game Master

    I have written to published my own RPGs for ten years. I did this because, indeed, D&D wasn't D&D anymore. It started with the whole d20 thing, and just got worse with "4E". I can only say this: For hardcore geeks like me, you can forgive Wizards and the game makers. It's not their fault. I base this on a great deal of knowledge and interaction with them. The real culprit is Hasbro. Since they own Wizards, they forced the game to be reduced to the mindless level of boardgame. Yes, thinking is pretty much gone. I say if you want real D&D, find something without the D&D name on it (hey, all this and no shameless plug of my own stuff by name, not bad, eh?)

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 12:19 p.m. CST

    pro 4e

    by OnusBone

    I have to say that this author needs to try the game a little longer. I agree with the wyrms assertion that the intro delves are pretty weak, but the author knew he was in the noob line. Did he expect to be working out his save v. rod/staff/wands at the table?

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 12:54 p.m. CST

    well, aren't we original...

    by shroomofdoom

    a newbie D&D fan bitching because someone said they like Pathfinder. THERES SOMETHING I DON'T READ EVERY GODDAMNED DAY. i swear to shit, we get it, you're offended by people with don't buy from Hasbro. jesus christ. if 4e is so fucking sweet, keep playing that. The fact that i'm forced to listen to these pathetic bleetings EVERY FUCKING TIME i want to in any way partake or participate in discussion of gaming is possibly the most infuriating thing i deal with on a daily basis. The Pathfinder RPG has been out for six days and they've already sold out their first print run. I assure you, you pathetic, bigoted, whiners, that you have NOTHING ORIGINAL to add with your smart ass remarks. NOTHING you can say about people who don't like 4e is going to be within 60 miles of new. Just keep it to yourself for fucks sake.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:01 p.m. CST

    No dice?

    by Sailor Rip

    I know the game has been streamlined but there is no dice rolling involved? <p> How do you determine if you hit something, how much damage was done, etc... <p> Used to play, stopped at 2nd edition, but i still thought dice were involved. WTF? Is that right?

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:20 p.m. CST

    biggest gaming convention?

    by Al_Shut

    Isn't that in Essen?

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:28 p.m. CST

    What was the value of this article?

    by AdventureDude

    I'm curious why a poorly written article by an uninformed person made it's way onto AICN? It stuns me even more that Massawyrm is the person who deemed these comments worthy. Usually, Massawyrm is a hard to please reviewer with a tough line on quality. I usually consider a thumbs up by him to be noteworthy praise. Still, the fact that he rebroadcasts such uninformed spew. It would be like getting a computer review from my mother in law. Acidic and uninformed. There are great reasons to discount the 4e rules, and I think even a 4e fan could learn from such a review, but this review was a complete waste of everyone's time, and an insult to the normal standards of AICN. To be clear, it's not that I don't like what he says. I don't like that he is so uninformed as to make his observations only slightly more useful than my mother in laws.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:48 p.m. CST

    NEWB - Try the gaming room instead of the booth.

    by Squashua

    The gaming booth isn't where one should go to play games. You need to go to the open gaming hall. This is why someone shouldn't go to GenCON but to a local gaming convention first, to understand how it's done; then GenCON. Or Origins in Columbus. The problem is really with the booklet handed out by the convention; it is not new reader friendly, and is too thick and confusing to be of any help to a new person without some serious guidance.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:50 p.m. CST

    The experience you have is based on your Game Master

    by Squashua

    A skilled Game Master can make any game a fun experience, regardless of the game system used (read: constraining it).

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:51 p.m. CST

    by shroomofdoom

    It could be because informative value is worth nothing in this case, as anyone with ANY interest in the topic is already very familiar (ie has probably read extensively if not played) fourth edition. Or perhaps wyrm was aware of the years of forum wars that have been waged over this issue and thus knew that a "4e/pathfinder is good/bad" review would have fallen on either mindles me-toos or deaf ears, as appropriate, and instead opted for an unusual point of view (that of a 2e gamer skipping 3e altogether, and being confronted with the choice between 4e and pathfinder) told in an entertain fashion. Or perhaps I'm just biased because I DO like what he says, being a Paizo fanboy. Actually, yea, it's probably that last thing.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 1:56 p.m. CST

    Where's our SPACE HULK article?

    by TakeItEasyMon

    Let's hear about some 40k

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 2:14 p.m. CST

    This was the worst fucking thing

    by Sodomy Redux

    This was some goddamn grognard shilling for Pathfinder. You can't learn the rules to D&D 4th Edition in 5 minutes and master them in 15....that's fucking horseshit and I know what I am talking about. I've demo'd the game to over two dozen people. It's also not a board game. This was some dumb-fuck who hadn't played games for 10 years (whoopty fucking do, before 4th edition the last D&D I had played was 20 years ago and was Dark Sun 2nd Edition). Anyway, this whole article sucks and can basically be summed up by reading 1 million of the IDENTICAL COMPLAINTS posted by bitchy grognards over the last year.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 2:19 p.m. CST


    by Sodomy Redux

    4th edition still uses dice, still uses AC, still has all the old shit. The only REAL differences are that every class has powers that let them do crazy stuff, (instead of Magic-Users being God-Kings and everyone else being a sucker), miniatures/the battlemat aren't optional anymore, and the skills have been streamlined. Everything else is just grognard bitching about the game speciifcally telling the DM not to take a shit on his players.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 2:20 p.m. CST

    Hmm - I may have to check out Pathfinder

    by VAwitch

    Have several long-time D&D players in my group. I believe they're split 50/50 on love/hate w/ D&D4e; most of us like 3/3.5. <P><P>I've been to GenCon - while I love their Dealer Room, since I'm not much into D&D, I found it kinda "bleh". Next I need to check out Origins.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 2:23 p.m. CST

    by acantha

    my problem isn't that people like pathfinder (i run and play it for fucks sake), its that these people act like just because THEY don't like 4e, no one is. I don't give a fuck what people play, what bothers me is that i cannot go anywhere online where gaming is being discussed without having to slog through "4e sucks!" posts.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 3:52 p.m. CST

    I empathize

    by Toonol

    I think the submitter's experience and feelings would be pretty similar to mine, right down to the guilt about pedophilia.<p> I suspect that there is a generation of RPG players being bred that can't imagine playing without a board in front of them. "Without a map and counters, how will you know if you can get a sneak-attack on the orc?" Kind of sad.<p> The submitter is a decent writer, by the way. He should submit more.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 4:13 p.m. CST

    Pathfinder = D&D 3.75

    by keltic1701

    I gamed with a group who started off playing the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG and decided to shift gears and go back to D&D. This was when 4e was just about to be released so we decided to give it a go. After about 2 or 3 session we really thought that 4e was a good intro to D&D for people who were new to it or just wanted to do combat with a smidgen of role-playing but it just wasn't for us 3.5 vets. Someone suggested we check out Pathfinder which just came out with it's Alpha game test rules. What we found was a game that still had the depth of 3.5 with some of the rough edges of the rules smoothed out. Then the Beta version came out and improved on even more problems as did the final version. If you're looking to continue playing the 3.x rules you really should check out Pathfinder. The book itself is of a superior quality and they really have done an excellent job of improving 3.x.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 6 p.m. CST

    VAWitch, just say NO to Origins

    by BrashHulk

    I've attended well over 100 cons over the past 20 years. Right now, there are only three major (re: attendance in the 10,000+ range) conventions worth attending in the US these days: Gencon, San Diego Comic Con, and Dragoncon. Each of the three focus on different aspects of fandom, and they're all lotsa fun. Origins used to be a decent hardcore gaming con, but its gone SO far downhill the past few years that its just kinda sad now. There are plenty of smaller cons across the country that put on a great show, but for the big cons, I'd just stick to those three.

  • Aug. 19, 2009, 8:13 p.m. CST

    Hackmaster is D&D

    by Mockingbuddha

    Na na na na na na.I stopped playing when my ranger's wolf died fighting orcs. Just so sad.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 2:14 a.m. CST

    by shroomofdoom

    Keltic, I think your characterization of 4e (as people who just want combat with a "smidgen of roleplay") is way off there. All the best roleplay I've done in 3e was almost or completely diceless. When the rules were seriously involved in heavy roleplay they were usually getting in the way. Cutting out rules for RP isn't a drawback. A Hasbro employee on the topic-

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 2:25 a.m. CST

    Afraid of women in costumes.

    by lockesbrokenleg

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 2:40 a.m. CST

    4.0 killed D&D.

    by Calastir

    I've tried 4.0, but when EVERY character including the fighter uses a godlike power EVERY FRICKIN' ROUND, it really does feel like a videogame, and not D&D. Above all, it saddens me that 4.0 has split up an already small subculture to begin with.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 3:49 a.m. CST

    Hackmaster or Castles & Crusades.

    by Dingbatty

    Or just use your 1st, 2nd, and OD&D books (If you don't have them, they are easily obtained via torrent, eBay, or Half Price Books.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 6:27 a.m. CST


    by keltic1701

    Well, you're entitled to you opinion but then again, so am I. To me 4e seemed like a PnP version of D&D Online MMO. We even played our game in the Eberron setting so it made it feel even more like DDO. That's just my perception of the game as I see it. As for the link you posted, it just one of the WotC/Hasbro devs and/or marketing people trying to sell their shiny new widget that really isn't being as well received has they hoped it would. And to make matter worse, someone bought the rights to an older widget model, made improvements to it and is getting better reviews than their new one. A marketing setback for the new widget.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 7:56 a.m. CST

    I knew the article was bunk as soon as...

    by Warcraft

    he started stating that pathfinder needed strategy and planning, suggesting that dnd 4 did not. Um, 4th edition is BY FAR the most strategic, tactical based version of DnD there's ever been. There are LOADS more powers and options a single character in 4E a character can make, strategically, than in 3rd. This guy HAD to have played the crappy lv 3, truncated version of the rules version, not the full one core rule books version. Also, the ONLY thing resembling an MMO in 4E are the class roles. The gameplay is still very much a paper and pencil game, give me a break. I would LOVE to see an mmo try to incorporate opportunity attacks, shifting, pushing, pulling, mass domination effects, blah blah blah there are alot of mechanics that would be nigh impossible to program in a balanced manner for a video game. anyway, I can't help but call PLANT on the fellow who wrote the article, even though that's a term usually reserved for movies.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 1:22 p.m. CST

    "Godlike fighter powers"

    by Sodomy Redux

    Give me a fucking break. In 4th edition a regular goddamn kobold has 26 hitpoints. A "godlike fighter power" that does 30 damage would barely kill a kobold! The whole point is that you can't one-shot anything (either characters OR monsters, unless the monsters are specifically designed to be one-shotted). I suppose you liked D&D better when only the magic-users were gods, they got to do some godlike thing every round while the rest of the party plinked away with piddly nothing abilities. A fighter got the "fun" of saying "I attack" over and over and over again while a Wizard got to make interesting tactical decisions with his spell selection. A rogue got to roll some dice if the party found a trap and whine at the DM to let him use his backstab damage while the Cleric wore full plate and crushed heads while making blade barriers appear in mid-air. Yet suddenly the fighter and rogue can actually shine in combat (Fighters can knock people down, push them back, and smack people to try to disengage from them, and rogues basically murder and cripple people who don't dedicate their positioning solely to defending themselves from the rogue) and suddenly the entire thing has gone to shit. Oh no! Magic-users aren't disgustingly-powerfully game-breaking fuckheads in return for being weak for the first 5 levels! This is not D&D, by god, this is some horrible variant! Give me a break.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 1:22 p.m. CST

    Also the combat system rules

    by Sodomy Redux

    It's pretty much the best grid-based combat system out there right now, the rules are very clear and everything is balanced nicely.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 1:44 p.m. CST

    Magic-users had to obtain rare and expensive

    by Dingbatty

    spell components for higher level spells. Unless of course the DM gave them everything on a platter.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 4:09 p.m. CST

    two words...

    by darklament


  • Aug. 20, 2009, 8:56 p.m. CST

    Pathfinder is what 4e should have been...

    by BlindOgre

    Having played and DM'd every edition of D&D since the mid 70's, I agree that Pathfinder is a better step forward from 3.5 than was 4e. I took all of my 4e stuff back to my FLGS and traded it all in for store credit for Pathfinder stuff. My players are extremely happy and satisfied with the switch. Pathfinder is what we will be playing from now on.

  • Aug. 20, 2009, 9:58 p.m. CST

    Very similar to my situation, BlindOgre

    by BrashHulk

    I have no personal issues with 4E, its just not my cup o' tea - and unlike most of these ridiculously immature TBers, I bear no animosity to the supporters and lovers of 4E. My gaming group tried it out almost from the start, but none of us really took to it so we went back to our 3.5 style. Now that we've tried Pathfinder, however, we're evolving our game to that system. It simply feels more like Fantasy Role-Playing, which is what my gaming group enjoys. Of course, the average age of our group is in the early 30s, so we're not that interested in "pwning" people and a lot more focused on character development and interaction.

  • Aug. 21, 2009, 12:51 a.m. CST

    Yawn. Send Paizo a bill.

    by Scorpio

    I hope you send Paizo a bill for the big full page ad they just ran on your site. But that's what you get for continuing with this narrow vision that equates the entire gaming hobby with D&D and products from WOTC. If there were any truth to this story, I'd point and laugh at a fool who spent an entire weekend and ghod knows how much money playing games that are far superior to D&D and the wannabe Pathfinder. I'd have more respect for the story if, in the end, you'd found people playing the original D&D or the 70s Basic Set.

  • Aug. 21, 2009, 2:14 a.m. CST

    And don't forget casting time

    by Continentalop

    Those 9 segments to cast a Meteor storm can seem like eternity if your foes are firing missle weapons and spells at you. They hit you, they fuck up your spell and it is lost. <P> Which is why you always have a fighter or two around to act as bod guards.

  • Aug. 21, 2009, 7:50 a.m. CST

    What was the point of this?

    by jacobkosh

    No, seriously. What was the point of running this? There are hundreds of accounts of Gencon online from all sorts of people talking about all sorts of interesting subjects - indie RPGs, design seminars, you name it - and instead you run random email that, if it isn't a Paizo shill, sure reads like one, complete with swipes at people who play 4E - apparently it is impossible for people to like both games, or indeed, for Paizo to promote their product without insulting everyone else. Massawyrm has had plenty of interesting things to talk about in the past, but this? This wasn't it. It's embarrassing, frankly.