Con Diary: Nexus Game Fair

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Nexus Game Fair was held in the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This was its first year, but it boasted an impressive array of both role-playing and board games. There were a number of gaming notables, mainly former TSR employees and local game designers who were able to make the trip. 

Nightmare on Sesame Street Sarah Richardson June 2014

Day One: Bloody Fur and Purple Pixels

I got to the hotel in the late morning after some hellacious Chicago traffic. Registration was smooth and I collected my badge, free cup, and program before heading off to my first game.

Michael Browne of the Dead Game Society is known for running amazing themed games. He often dresses in character, and they’re always quick to fill up. This was his Sesame Street themed d20 Call of Cthulhu, and it was just as weird and wrong as that sounds. Michael used a Playskool Sesame Street set, hand puppets of all the characters, and handmade Deep One and Cultist figurines. It was hilarious, and so much fun. I snagged the Count, and everyone made thunderous sound effects and mimicked bats every time I counted. We did find the kidnapped children in time, but not before Grover and Ernie had lost quite a bit of sanity, and the rest of the Muppets had learned the meaning of ‘death’ and ‘blood’.

That night was a playtest of Rob Wieland’s newest project, Save Game. You are an 8-bit style video game character trying to save your world from being taken over by the evil Glitch virus. It’s a Fate World, so we got to choose Aspects for our characters. I was Lt. Lazer, USA, a cyborg commando who ended up with Humongasaurus Grey (for a gigantic alien dinosaur I could summon), a laser bazooka, and a Holy Red Backpack (that was sadly not used). It’s not out yet, but I’d definitely recommend heading by the Evil Hat Patreon page if you’d like to combine a love of RPGs with 8-bit games.

 

caveevil

Day 2: Evil Advice

I ran my Hellboy/Cthulhu themed Monster of the Week game Saturday morning. I had four really great players, and they seemed to have a good time saving the world from a Deep One. Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, Lobster Johnson, and Roger the Homunculus found themselves in Innsmouth, Massachusetts, investigating strange and mysterious goings on. I’ve run this several times now, and never fail to have fun.

Afterwards I checked out the Dealer’s Hall, which included an impressive display from Chicago locals Games Plus as well as Eldritch Enterprises, Knights of the Dinner Table, customized game tables, books, dice, board games, and t-shirts. I escaped with only a copy of Mythic Iceland and Boss Monster.

I snuck into the last half of Globalization: Transform Adventures into Campaigns with Kenneth Hite, James Lowder, and Frank Mentzer. They were into the Q&A part, and discussing the concept of frontiers as a game concept, and how players want to help fill in parts of the map through their heroic actions. The next panel swapped out Frank for Matt Forbeck for Storytelling: Adding Fear, Suspense & Tension, and the panelists shared tips they’ve used in their own games. The biggest subject was the trust needed between players and GMs in order to have effective horror, and how one person can ruin that for the whole group by not buying in. Also mentioned was the importance of using sensory cues, such as Ken Hite introducing the scent of juniper every time the door to Carcosa was opened into his home game, even if nothing horrible came through. There was an emphasis on delicate creepiness and “sharing the squickiness.”

That night I played Cave Evil, a board game in which you are a necromancer seeking to kill the other necromancers through your squads of demonic minions. The game is totally over the top, with Gothic blackletter, black and red everything, and art worthy of the blackest of death metal. Some choice quotes from the guy running the game:

“Just fucking kill everything.”

“Bow to some goats or something.”

and of course:

“Gore is a resource.”

The production values of the game were pretty low, and some of the rules could use some tightening, but it was a great deal of fun, murder and mayhem.
nexus

Day 3: Misbehavin’ to the end

I closed out the con with a session of the new Firefly game. In this version you can play as the actual cast from the show and movie, although the GM mentioned that you also make characters from scratch. Some nice touches our GM brought were plastic strawberries to be used as plot points and music from the show. The scenario really had the Firefly feel, and the other players got into the spirit of it pretty easily. Definitely a great way to stretch out the fiction of the long cancelled, much missed show.

Overall the con was fantastic. It had a small, intimate feel, which led to the only disappointment — cancelled games. While my Monster of the Week game was full, no one showed for my Rat Queens themed Dungeon World game. They told me at registration to come and swap out my white lanyard for a black one in case of a cancelled game, and judging from the proliferation of black lanyards around the tables, I wasn’t the only one. There just weren’t enough players. I also didn’t see a lot of advertisement for the con. They don’t have a presence on G+, which is where I get a lot of my gaming news now. However, I’d definitely go again.

Things of note:

  • There is no harassment policy.
  • There was no printout of my schedule, or tickets stating the games I was in.
  • They gave out dice for sharing on social media.
  • The GM snack cart was really nice, and letting those of us with black lanyards snack at will was a lovely touch.
  • They showed cartoons Saturday morning, complete with cereal.
  • I played with more women than at most small cons. We outnumbered the guys in my MoTW game, had a 50/50 split in Nightmare, and there were a couple of other female GMs.
  • There was no wifi or cell reception in one game room.
  • The front desk didn’t seem to have a lot of information. I had to call directly to reserve a room.
  • No central air, and my allergies started kicking in once I was in my hotel room.
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About Author

Sarah Richardson is a graphic artist living in Chicago. In addition to illustrating and laying out tabletop RPGs and zines, she burns through comics and books as fast as her eyes can move. Sarah swears a lot on twitter as @scorcha79.

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