Wow. Another Penny Arcade Expo come and gone. Keep in mind I’m not as much of a video game fan as I am a connoisseur of real games. Still I do play video games. The new League of Legends mode (Dominion) was awesome (as well as being the PAX bell-of-the-ball), Fire Fall is pretty a neat game, and there were lots of displays, swag to collect, and some awesome costumes to enjoy. Got me and my wife each a new set of dice and I got her a dice bag to replace the tattered one she had been using.
Drizitztststttqqtxzxttxt was there complete with black panthers, scimitars, and the honest, good, and noble heart we all know is stereotypical of the Drow race. There he was in his cloak standing on a pillar of faux-stone in the WoTC area glaring down upon The Great Dork Sea right next to a somber Magic The Gathering Planeswalker behind whom dozens of people played the MtG video game. How lame is that? I mean the creature cards aren’t even animated to look like the creatures they represent or anything. Just virtual cards on a virtual table instead of real cards on a real table. Video poker for geeks. How far things have fallen…
On the up side I got to try out the first little bit of the new 4th Ed D&D Ravenloft boxed set. I know it isn’t that new, but it was new to me so I think that’s good enough for this forum. This should surprise you all: I liked it. It wasn’t role playing to be sure (D&D the board game) but it was fun all the same. I liked the way the catacombs built themselves rather than come from a pre-determined map. Everyone plays (no GM). Turns go like this: Hero Action (attack and move, move and attack, or move and move), Exploration (if you ended on a square that should expand the map, the map expands and a monster hits the board in the new area. Then you draw from the encounter deck and something happens. If the map did not expand, draw again from the encounter deck.), Villain Action (you control and move any monsters that appeared during any of your turns according to the instructions on their cards). The map grows randomly until you hit the one named room in the Dungeon Tile “deck” and then you have your final battle.
It was fun, but I want to reiterate that this was not real gaming by my definition. All of the characters were pre-generated, all of the action was via the board game rules, all plot was in boxed text form. No consideration was given for creative solutions to problems or to logistics (food, travel time, info gathering, etc). This however, seems to me to be the method by which D&D 4th Ed works best: as a board game. So as far as that goes it gets a big old thumbs up from me.
One thing about PAX that I found odd was the stench. Or rather I found the lack of stench odd. Norwescon (the literary side of the same geek equation that PAX is the video game side of) smelled like the whole building was made out of over ripe cheese. Several people in particular I remember being especially pungent. PAX was relatively clean smelling mostly of plastic, cardboard, and run-of-the-mill human sweat. There were some BO kings there, but they were neither so numerous or so eye-watering as those at Norwescon.
Also the average age at PAX was lower. A fact which I found very depressing. Video games are grabbing the next generation right out from under the whole RPG genre. They’re doing it the same way the Catholic Church does it too: convince parents to start their kids on the stuff young. I mean, it’s a tactic that works. Very sad though, watching my countrymen sell their birthrights for flashy baubles. Apathy winning out over ambition because video games do their best to come to you while gaming has to be wrangled. Also, somehow it has become better parenting to leave your kids to be raised by the “gentlemen” of Counter Strike and Grand Theft Auto rather than by books. Can’t really fault people for it though. Most games have lists of their pertinent contents on the cover while it is difficult to judge a book in the same manner. You have to read the book to judge it.
Let’s see… What else? I would have to say that the percentage of people wearing costumes at Norwescon was higher than at PAX, but the amount of time put into those costumes was clearly higher at PAX. A lot more scantily clad, costumed women at PAX as well. Although a good number of them were there as professional eye-candy rather than by choice. You could tell those by the look of dead, bored exhaustion in their eyes from day one while the authentic fans vibrated with excitement the whole time.
More swag, more woosh and flash, more money in general at PAX. And the lines… 3 hours to watch (not play) a 20 minute demo of Boarderlands 2. Same thing at the League of Legends area except you actually got to play for those 20 minutes. They had the same Geek Chic ( http://www.geekchichq.com/ ) booth from last year with their extra awesome gaming tables. (My birthday is coming up! Hint! Hint!) There were a few local gaming stores that had rooms or booths where you could buy RPG books, but I believe WotC was the only actual expo hall area with gaming books (if you can call 4th Ed such a thing). Wil Wheaton was there (as he is every year, I’m told) and I believe Steve Jackson Games’ namesake was at their area in person for a while, but that could have just been a rumor.