I was one of the lucky few (and by "few" I mean "about 68,000") people who went up to Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle last week and I'd be totally remiss to blab about how awesome it was. I admit, I kind of skimped on the video game side of things and instead focused a lot on the tabletop side. Although I didn't play any D&D or any other tabletop games while there, I went to a lot of panels and events about them. Even the video game panels I went to had appliciablity to tabletop. So let's get into the details, shall we?
Friday started with the Keynote done by Warren Spector of System Shock, Deus Ex, and (soon) Epic Mickey fame. Actually, it started with the queue for the Keynote, but if I mentioned a queue every time I was in one, it would take up half this writeup. Anyway, the speech was pretty good and I liked it... but I didn't enjoy it as much as the one from last year by Ron Gilbert. I can't point you specifically to why, but it just wasn't a speech that I wouldn't mind hearing again like I did with Ron Gilbert's.
Next up was a panel about women in gaming. It was an interesting discussion even if I'm a guy and one of the panelists really really annoyed me. After this panel, my friend and I spent some time on the expo hall floor, just wandering around and taking a look at things. I picked up some more dice from Chessex at this point. Did I need them? No. Did I get them anyway? Yes. We only actually played 1 game when we were out there: Super Scribblenauts. If you liked the first one, this one is even better. Fixed the often problematic control scheme.
Next up was another panel: Making Stories Worth Playing In. This was not at all what I expected, though to be fair I can't articulate what I did expect and why this was different. That said, it was very interesting. There were a lot of adventure/interactive fiction people on the panel and there was some good ideas thrown about. Even if it was aimed more at video games, the stuff mentioned could have easily been applied to writing any sort of story, whether it be a novel, a video game, or a tabletop campaign.
Our next stop was "Beyond Pen & Paper: RPGs, Video Games, & The Mainstream". I want to say that it was an awesome panel, but it really was just kind of okay. Despite Jeff Grubb on the panel, they just didn't talk about anything all that terribly memorable or amazing. It wasn't horrible and I don't regret going to it or anything, but as these things go I was not as impressed as I was with other panels or events over the course of the convention.
A quick jaunt to the expo hall got me to meet Mike Robles, who works for Wizards of the Coast. He hooked me up with a D&D Rules Compendium, which is awesome since it's not due to be released for a couple more weeks yet.
No more con stuff for Friday, but back at the hotel there was hanging out and playing both Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice, both of which were a big hit with everybody.
Saturday was a busy, busy day. We started off by going to the "Game Masters vs. Rules Lawyers" panel. Again, it wasn't what I expected. This time I think I expected a more clinical discussion, but what we got instead was much better. The panelist (Corvus Elrod) had a really excellent panel on things like conflict resolution (and I mean between people, not between PCs and monsters), left brain/right brain thinking, and story sharing. This panel was recorded, so I hope it makes it online for others to look at or listen to.
I headed off to the line for Acquisitions Incorporated and boy was I glad I got there when I did. This was arguably the worst line to be in for the entire weekend. Not only lots of people, but lots of people crammed into a confined space. Which made us all very hot and uncomfortable. That said, in the end, it was worth it. It really is tied for the best thing I saw or did all weekend. It was clear that everybody up at the table was having a great time that everybody in the audience had a great time. The interactions between them all were amazingly funny and fun. Chris Perkins is an amazing DM. The whole setup was great and everybody, at the table or in the audience, was really into what was going on. Being able to choose what was going to happen at certain points was fun too because at times it really made a difference as to what happened. Really, although I'm sure people will be able to watch/listen to what happened at some point (they'll need to, since the next podcast will pick up right where this one left off), it can't beat actually being there in person.
It's appropriate that I followed up Acquisitions Incorporated with the only other thing during the weekend which could have been as good: the Saturday night concerts. Ignoring the ridiculous queue (again), I'll say that it was an incredible time. Opening with the 4th round of the Omegathon, then having MC Frontalot, then following up with Paul & Storm, and finishing off with Jonathon Coulton was a hell of a lot of fun. I admit, I felt like a little bit of an outsider since I didn't know a lot of songs from the different artists, but I still had a really good time. The only bad part? Now whenever I hear those songs, I think of PAX, the fun I had there, and the friends I was around there that I'm not around now.
After meeting some friends for crepes from the place right outside the convention center (really, if you're in the area you should try them out), we went up to the Art of the Dungeon Master, where I met with another friend of mine. This was another really fun panel. It was a star-studded affair. Chris Perkins, Greg Bilsland, James Wyatt, Mike (Gabe) from Penny Arcade, and Mike Fehlauer (also from Penny Arcade). I wish there'd been more panel and less Q&A on this one though. This year it seemed like the panels were about 30 minutes of panelists talking and then 30 minutes of Q&A. Last year it seemed more 40-45 minutes of panelists and less Q&A and I liked that better. I want to hear thoughts from panelists, not the often rambling or self-aggrandizing questions from the audience.
At this point we found the room for Cardhaus, a local game store. I bought Castle Ravenloft there for $45 and also got an Arkham Horror expansion for another $20. I wanted to get a Red Box, but they were long out of them at this point. We then ran by the Privateer Press booth to get myself a bag (Ravenloft is fucking big and heavy).
Next was the Retronauts panel about the 25th birthday of the NES. Not a bad panel there either, though again it seemed to suffer from not nearly enough panel time and too much Q&A time. It was pretty fun to listen to aside from that. There were some fun stories and some few things that I didn't know... but not many.
Then there was a while spent waiting to get stuff signed by the Penny Arcade guys. Arguably the worst line of the convention, just because it meant standing up for 90+ minutes. Other lines at the con may have been longer (upwards of 2+ hours), but most of those you could spend a fair amount of time sitting, which made it bearable.
That was the last of the actual con events we went to. We hung out (on the floor) and chatted with some friends and their friends, then jaunted back to the hotel before joining those same friends for a post-PAX meetup at a restaurant/pub that was awesome (Elephant & Castle). It was a good way to end a good weekend.
I missed a lot this weekend. There was so much going on, so many cool things. No one person can see everything. Not a prayer. I missed panels, I missed events, I missed people. The funny thing is that now that PAX is over, I still miss the panels, the events, the people. Just in a different way. It's hard to come back to a normal and mundane life after so many days packed with good times and good friends. However, there's always other cons to come. I'm planning on being at GenCon next year. I don't know if I can make both that and PAX, but either way I hope to meet more people and have more fun next year.