Gen Con 2021

Last weekend, I had a chance to attend GenCon Online, the web branch of the infamous gaming convention. I only got forty-eight hours to enjoy its offerings between workdays. Still, the time I had was an incredible adventure.

If you're interested in catching archives of their streaming events, GenCon has a channel on YouTube here.


Broad Strokes

I generally like to catch as many RPG sessions as I can during conventions; they give me the chance to play unfamiliar games with new friends. This year's offerings weren't as varied as they were at the first GCO. However, I found plenty to keep me busy.

RPG mainstays formed the backbone of the games on offer. Baldman Games, as always, brought a ton of 5th Edition D&D to the table. With plenty of Call of Cthulu and Runequest sessionsChaosium made a respectable showing. Monte Cook Games was a tour de force at this year's convention. They presented NumeneraPtolus (both in Cypher and 5e,) No Thank You, Evil, and the Cypher System in several genres. And then there was Paizo, bringing more Pathfinder and Starfinder than you could shake a boomstick at. Palladium Games also had plenty on offer this con, showcasing RiftsAfter the BombHeroes Unlimited, and Nightbane.

Several other RPG headliners came to the con with smaller displays. Green Ronin ran a few sessions of Mutants & Masterminds and Modern AGE. Modiphius ran a few tables of Conan and a couple with their new Dune RPG. Onyx Path ran two tables, one in their Storypath system and the other from the They Came From series.

This year, independent publishers really picked up the slack. The Design Mechanism showed up running Mythras and Casting the Runes. Grim & Perilous Studios had plenty of Zweihander, but they also added their new Flames of Freedom game to the mix. Hunters Entertainment exhibited the award-winning Alice is Missing, along with Kids on BroomsOutbreak: Undead, and Altered Carbon. Pelgrane Press, one of my personal favorites, was on point running many of their games in multiple time slots. Renegade Game Studios brought their new G.I. Joe and Transformers RPGs to the table. Rowan, Rook, and Deckard presented sessions of Spire, the companion game to their acclaimed Heart RPG. UFO Press only made it for a single table, showing off Voidheart Symphony. I didn't get to play it, but I was excited to see Wyvern Games ran several tables with their new Stargate SG-1 RPG.

I didn't see as many fresh writers and publishers with brand-new games this year as I did last year. I only got to attend two days, though, so it's possible I just missed them. All in all, I was pleased by this year's game selection. There wasn't a wealth of options, but there were enough.

Blow-by-Blow

One of my favorite sessions was "Glass Beach Summer," using Fear Itself, a Gumshoe-based horror RPG from Pelgrane Press. GM Charles Paradis led us on a wildly entertaining romp through the boring seaside town of Bull Cove. Monsters? Emergent psychic powers? Angsty teenagers? We had it all, and it proved incredible fun! Six out of five stars! I can't praise enough the frightfully fun take on Gumshoe that Fear Itself presents nor the sterling GM performance Charles delivered.

"The Sin Eater" was a colonial horror experience in Grim & Perilous Studios' new Flames of Freedom game. It uses the same great mechanics that make Zweihander uniquely entertaining. However, it transports them into an alternate American Revolutionary War setting for a new flavor that's both familiar and completely different. Michael Bostic helmed the experience expertly, laying on the pressure and maintaining the dark atmosphere that makes G&P's games phenomenal. I loved it.

Next, I played "Secrets of the Silent Tomb," a Dragon Warriors adventure by GM Shaun Hately. Shaun's most excellent game materials were the real show-stopper here, with tons of professional-looking maps and handouts that made the game world pop. His command of the setting and ability to portray it made the session immersive and memorable, an apt testament to the system and the people that produce material for it.

I also got to play Rifts. Let me tell you, any chance to play such a wild fantasy game with a skilled GM is a genuine treat. Branden Loizides did not disappoint as he ran us through "The Llams," a high-powered slugfest in the jungles of South America. It starts something like this: A juicer, a crazy, a full-conversion borg, and a couple of dog boys walk into a bar. It ends, naturally, with off-the-scale chaos and mayhem. Incredible fun at its finest!

I kept up with the Ptolus Kickstarter, but "The Runeblood Blessing" was my first chance to play it. I was seriously impressed. William J Hummel showed up with an epic adventure in the great city, and he gave us a session of hardcore narrative excellence. We played the Cypher version, mind you. I was interested to see how the stolidly D&D feel of Ptolus would translate into the free-flowing sensibilities of Cypher. And how? Beautifully. Compellingly. I wanted to go out and buy the $60 PDF then and there. (The print version is $150!) William did a great job running a fantastic game, and I had a blast.

To round out my con experience this year, I got in on "Death, Thy Name is Gravitas," a game of Claim the Sky, the new Cypher superhero ruleset. Again, this adaptation was one for which I followed the Kickstarter but never got to play. Thomas Cameron, our GM, was a mastermind at running comic book RPGs, and he more than did justice to a system that fits the genre like a glove. Cypher's over-the-top narrative license is perfect for four-color stories. GM Intrusions in this genre feel so natural to the flow of the experience that you'd swear you were inside a comic book. I am definitely taking some tips from this master GM.


Gen Con Online still feels a little strange, admittedly. You roll out of bed, slip on your gaming headset, and go on voice and cam instead of sitting down at one of those awful convention tables. You chat with like-minded friends on Discord instead of in the hotel lobby. Still, the camaraderie is there, and it's real. You do feel like you're joining a thousand or so of the closest friends you've never met to share your mutual love for gaming. 

And that's what cons are all about.

I also need to give a shout out to the GCO staff this year. I had a minor ticketing issue right before a game, so I went to the Discord channel and screamed, "Help!" Justin and Warden from the Discord were right there to listen to my problem, and they had it fixed in less than ten minutes. They ruled!


Game well, my friends,

Jonathan Andrews

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