These are my thoughts on the ConQuest 2003 gaming convention, which was the first gaming convention that I'd been to in several years. I played in four games, and GM'ed two games.
Game #1 was a Cthulhu Live event entitled "Fear Stalks Whitechapel". It was set in London in 1992 at a convention for Jack the Ripper writers and theorists. It was a closed-room event, in that the 25 or so PCs were all literally locked in a large room for the 5 hours of the game. It had a single storyline, where one PC was possessed and was trying to summon an evil entity. This meant that a lot of PCs were effectively sidelined since they had nothing to do with the main plot. I spent most of the time trying to debunk the strange events which were going on, which kept me out of the plot. The interesting comment to me at the end -- anyone who had said "Hastur" three times during the game died. The GM said that we should have known better. I think that in the GM's view, we were supposed to use our OOC knowledge more and try to solve the main plot instead of just doing our own things.
Game #2 was a homebrew live-action game set in Tekumel, entitled "The Imperial Audit". This was different than the previous LARP in that it had at least a dozen plots going on simultaneously. Each character had their own goals to achieve, which were defined by a point system listed on the character sheet. My character was a bodyguard for the local lord and a drug addict who was also in love with another woman working for the lord. Here I pursued my own goals and it worked fairly well. I tried to use the confusion of other events to shake people down for money with which to buy drugs. However, I was so deeply in debt that there was no way to really repay. I ended up killing myself after the woman I loved died trying to protect me. In theory this was very well set up, and it was certainly a good game -- but there were a number of details which ticked me somewhat.
Game #3 was a HeroQuest Game entitled "The Mines of Engiziland". It was set in the history of Glorantha, before Dragon Pass was colonized by humans. The PCs were an expedition sent to find and plunder the Lost Mines of Emperor Khordavu -- in the style of King Solomon's Mines, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so forth. My character was a big game hunter set on bagging Earthshakers in the pass (i.e. dinosaurs). The event that struck me was when I tried to hunt one of these. I started to outline a plan for catching a triceratops -- which would involve a trap to immobilize it for the group to attack it. The GM then said that my character would try to hunt them on his own. However, when I followed this advice, it turned out that the triceratops essentially couldn't be harmed by a lone crossbow (I shot it and it didn't even notice). On my second shot, I rolled a 1 -- and the GM said that my bearer stumbled into me and the shot went straight up into the air. Eventually it fell down and gravely wounded my bearer. This basically broke my disbelief meter, and we discussed it a bit. I think the GM intended that my character should be dismayed at the failure (i.e. Earthshakers are just too tough); but since this was exactly what I expected in the first place, I wasn't phazed. Overall, the game had a fairly linear plot of making it to the mine, being trapped, and barely escaping.
Game #4 was the Buffy RPG game which I GMed, entitled "New Girl in Class". The core of it was about a Jersey girl from the 1950's who finds herself reincarnated in an android body in modern-day Santa Cruz. The clash of old and new was important to this. I was a little disappointed, but nevertheless the players got into the spirit eventually. I tried to list some potential plot twists for Drama Point spending on the character sheets, to give them some ideas to riff off (the examples were tailored for each character). Two or three (out of 6) of the players got into this. One player several times tried to pay as a plot twist for ordinary actions. Two players never used plot twists. Still, they made up a lot of stuff pretty freely.
Game #5 was a Hero System game entitled "X-File High: The Boogeyman Cometh", as gamemastered by Greg Haslam. This was my favorite game of the con, I think. It was set in an anime-inspired California high school where the PCs were a student club dedicated to supernatural investigations. My character was a Japanese girl who was a kitsune (were-fox, essentially). She had many allergies, and would change into a fox whenever she sneezed. There was a central mystery about a strange rash of fearfulness and a mystic prophecy, but it was very nonlinear in how we investigated. There was a lot of fun PC interaction as students which the GM encouraged. As it turned out, there was no combat, so the Hero System was only minimally involved -- though there were opportunities for it. On the other hand, at one point the GM did bring out a hex map to draw the building we were approached. This turned out to be a false alarm, but it was an interesting use of system in that having the hex map out played to the characters' apprehensions as they approached the spooky old junkyard.
Game #6 was a Hero System game which I gamemastered, entitled "Extra Credit". This is a game I had run before, and one I like a lot. A bunch of students (I had 6 players out of 8 potential slots) volunteer for a psychology experiment on insomnia. Due to an accident, they begin manifesting psychic powers. However, the researcher who was behind this wants to cover it up. It's a very open-ended scenario, and has gone in totally different directions each time. I have full Champions character sheets for each of the PCs, but the players only see a mundane version with no point totals. In this run, one of the players went bizarrely paranoid -- and I think the player had some thought that he was "breaking" my scenario by exposing things to the authorities, and insisted upon doing so. The interesting thing to me was that all of the other players instinctively banded together against him, even though it meant they were allying with the highly unscrupulous researcher. They were all roleplaying really well, I think, and had a lot of fun going in different directions with their powers.
Overall, I think my favorites were #5 and #6, followed by #4 (Buffy) and #2 (Tekumel LARP), followed by #1 (Cthulhu Live) and #3 (HeroQuest). As GM, I think I did a decent job encouraging improvisation and Drama Point usage in Buffy, and in open-ended plot development in Extra Credit. I had been aiming to make my con games accessible, but I don't think I pulled any punches in sticking to my thoughtful approach to gaming.
In addition, I thought I would put in the games I was originally interested in based on the schedule, which weren't quite the games which I played in. Sometimes I changed my mind, while sometimes I couldn't get into the games I wanted. I guess my interest list says something about my taste in games. So the games I was thinking about before the con are listed below, with the ones I actually attended or ran marked in red.
Friday Afternoon/Evening (signup 2PM - 7PM)
Saturday Morning/Afternoon (signup 2PM - 7PM morning or 9AM - 11AM afternoon)
Saturday Evening (signup 2PM - 4:30PM)
Sunday Evening (signup 2PM - 4:30PM)