PAX Unplugged and Adventurer’s League Brainstorm

So I got back from PAX Unplugged and wanted to share some thoughts with you.  I should start by saying this entry is going to be heavy of the self-exploration of my psyche and I almost never go to conventions for reasons I’ll explain.

I did not really enjoy myself at PAX Unplugged.  I did hang out with a couple of my friends, we played Dungeon World in line, that was fun.  I got some books.  I saw the two Acquisitions Incorporated shows.  Breakfast was great both Saturday and Sunday.  But I feel like I spent most of my time bored sitting around, not really sure what to do.  How much of this feeling is me, how much of it is that this was the first year with this crew/venue, how much of it is endemic to PAX?  I think that it is mostly me.  I am not a convention person.  The last nerd convention I went to was the Escapist Expo in North Carolina about 6 years ago.  I don’t know what to do with myself at these things.  I don’t really like boardgames or one shots which feels like 95% of what a convention offers.  Someone else out there is saying, “I can try all these new things!”  Meanwhile, Snark Knight, Serial Monogamist, comes away from this saying, “What are the outlets for me to be creative and what will be left over when I’m done?”  You can playtest Starfinder!  Is there any continuity?  Will I play this with any of these people again?  No?  Then how do I care?

Am I just doing it wrong?  I couldn’t find anywhere to do any D&D.  More specifically, I was feeling way too anxious to ask complete strangers “hai wanna roleplay?”  Everything seemed to be people who knew each other or Adventurer’s League.  And as I answered in the survey WOTC put out I’m not really interested in games with no continuity or ability to affect the world.  This is my fear:

“Hey I decided to speak Giant because this season is based on Storm King’s Thunder!”

“Great! There will be no giants any other year!”

Based on that survey, maybe AL is going to change into something I’d be more interested in.  I’m thinking about joining some AL games with the intent of offering to DM some convention games so that maybe if I do go to a convention in the future I feel like I’m being set some task, have some purpose.

To me, PAX felt like a dance in middle school.  Without it, I know I would’ve spent the weekend at home, alone, doing some combination of eating, drinking, watching movies, and playing videogames.  And while I might enjoy those activities, part of me recognizes that they are worthless ways of killing time until I have to go back to my 13 hour a day job on Monday.  I mean yeah, I guess I could do pushups or try to learn French, you know, useful hobbies.  But going someplace with people feels like something I have to do.  Just like it did in middle school.  It feels like going to this thing is important but at the end of it, in spite of anything positive I can say, the prevailing feeling I come away with at the end is this deep sadness and self-awareness of my lack of social skills.  I’m supposed to go and be around my people but I feel lost and alienated around them.

That is not to say I spent the entire weekend not talking to people.  I did go to the two Acquisitions Incorporated shows, the A-Team on Saturday night and the C-Team on Sunday afternoon.  For clarity I’m going to call them Acq Inc and the C-Team.  Acq Inc was kind of a shit show.  We’d heard, based on the line that developed for Dice Camera Action on Friday night, that in order to get a seat we would need to arrive three hours before the 8:30 start time.  There was a sign saying “Main Theater Line Forms Here” but that sign was not accurate, really they wanted us to line up against the far wall of the giant room PAX took place in.  And apparently we were not allowed to line up until 6:30 pm despite us being “in the unofficial line” around 5pm.

It turned into this arms race between a bunch of enforcers who were doing their best to enforce vague precepts about exactly how close we could be to where we were supposed to line up before 6:30.  It turned out it didn’t matter and we were fools to try and stand nearby.  We were obvious.  The clever motherfuckers took seats at tournament tables that weren’t being used and gave the illusion of playing games waiting for someone to say it was okay to line up.  I don’t know if we ever actually got that okay but near 6:30 it seemed like about 50% of that fucking half of the room began to move on the line area. It might have been time to go but in any case the dam broke.  10 enforcers were not able to enforce against several hundred attendees.

The two friends I was with for this event got okay seats.  After about two hours I was ready to get up and it was a three hour show.  Between this and the Fathom event last year, I think I’d probably skip this next year in lieu of just watching it at home or work.  I like being able to pause and do something else while a D&D liveplay is on.  It is damn hard to just pay attention to five people playing D&D for three hours.  It’s not like it’s fucking Lord of the Rings.  Shit it’s not even The Hobbit.  It’s funny, it’s entertaining, but someone else’s D&D can’t really hold my attention for that long.

I felt a lot better about The C-Team. I decided after Acq Inc that I wasn’t going to go to C-Team.  Watching it at work was not going to diminish my enjoyment.  Then I bought some books and didn’t want to walk around aimlessly and the audience was already seated so I decided I really just wanted to see the costumes.  When I got over there I found a good seat right away and decided eh might as well stay.  It’s not like anyone else was playing D&D at this convention.  And I had some space on either side of me so I wasn’t too shy about staying on twitter or reading a book through the show.  Getting there late and checking my phone throughout helped me enjoy this show a helluva lot more than the more crowded high-strung Acq Inc show the night before.

Speaking of purchases, I might as well mention what I did wind up buying.  I picked up The “Total Party Kill” book of traps and encounters from 2C Publishing.  They also had something called the “Trap Compendium” which I think I’ll pick up the PDF copy of.  Then on Sunday Green Ronin was running a special on Fantasy AGE books, the Rules, Bestiary, Titansgrave Campaign, and a GM Screen all for about $25 less than Amazon.  Fantasy Age is the generic version of the Dragon Age Campaign setting rules.

Also while I’m typing, strong strong props to the volunteers from “Take This” who ran the AFK Room. Those are some good people.

I’ll be honest, having someone ask me how I’m doing kind of makes my eyes moisten up even if I’m giving them the generic “I’m okay” platitude I tend to give everyone.  I’m a bit far from okay, I don’t want to talk about it, but it is comforting to know that people out there gives a shit even though I’m committed to this stiff upper lip bullshit.

So what can I do differently and more importantly, how can I turn what has become a weepy self-pity post into something actually interesting.  While playing an Elf Rogue in Dragon Age is my primary game right now and I’m getting the Curse of Strahd band back together again next Sunday I think it’s finally time to swallow my snobbish pride and play some goddamn Adventurer’s League.  Now, you have seen me rail against AL adventures through my scorn towards the “D&D Epic” series.  I’ve read some of the adventures and dismissed them as having too much combat.  I’ve DMed these adventures and found the players have little incentive not to build power gaming combat monsters.  People have too many magic items and I don’t know what the fuck Fai Chen is.

I don’t have the heart to be a #foreverDM to Adventurer’s League.  That strikes me as kind of soul-crushing.  But I’m also not the type of person to just take and take I have to at least pretend I’m contributing and that means DMing.  At the very least I think that will give me an idea about what to do with myself at big people filled events.

So what the fuck do I play?  Well my first instinct goes to the Rogue Mastermind.  I love the idea of the class.  During the 5E Playtest I played a rogue and I took all these charisma centered “skill tricks.”  I get the provable statements that this archetype is just inferior.  Part of me wants to play it because of that.  Most of it is that playtest nostalgia.  Part of it is, I don’t want to play a class everyone else is using.  I don’t want to show up to the party in the same dress as someone else.  I probably will wind up going with that.  As much as I like the offensive simplicity of Warlock and the obvious party friendly buffs of the bard and cleric, I like the underdog.

I hesitate to commit because I hate multiclassing.  I don’t want to say that only munchkins multiclass in 5E but it seems like every goddamn munchkin multiclasses in 5E.  If I’m committing to avoiding Munchkin tactics I have to avoid half-elf like the plague.  Maybe I’m too much of a specialist but I just like the idea of “Stout Halfling Mastermind Rogue.”  I keep saying I’m not decided while coming across as completely decided.

Part of my problem is that on the increasingly more frequent times when I’m a PC I tend to build specific PCs for specific campaigns.  I built Tando the fat rogue during the playtest because, after 4E made all rogues the same, I wanted to explore the variety of mechanics they were throwing out in the playtest to make a rogue that wasn’t skilled at combat.  It was novel to be able to create a character which a lot of non-combat mechanics.  If I really wanted non-combat I should probably take Lore Bard.  I built my Knowledge Cleric because I wanted to play a professor from Miskatonic University.  I built my Feylock/Guild Merchant because I was reading about the medieval spice trade combined it with my much loved Cult of the Crushing Wave after Princes of the Apocalypse came out.  In Dragon Age the only character concept I was really interested in exploring was Elf Rogue.  And Vhaego the Tiefling Vampire because there was no one to stop me from making Hot Topic into a 4E D&D character.

Vhaego the Vampire and Tando the Mastermind both have something in common, me biting my thumb at the Optimization Gods.  I want to take your little opinion and turn it into something I can have fun with.  “Can’t we just get an owl familiar?” Yeah but that’s munchkin bullshit.  Maybe I’ll multiclass it.  I like the idea of Knowledge Cleric or Lore Bard.  Knowledge Cleric only needs that one level to be useful although I love that Channel Divinity for the Ultimate Skill Monkey.

I kind of like the idea of making a sort of meta-aware True Neutral character that realizes they can’t affect the world.  Join the Harpers and treat it like the Circle of Eight, actively keeping any other faction from growing too powerful.  With a dash of Cleric (he’s on a mission from God) and a class/archetype perceived to be useless.  He is actively trying to push the world in a direction but in the most subtle and semi-ineffectual way possible.

I may need to consult my local munchkin.