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Monday, December 3, 2018

PAX Unplugged 2018

PAX Unplugged is a large convention that took place in Philadelphia just a few days ago. These are the shows that the big Acquisitions, Inc. events are held.

This year's PAX was a bit special, as Chris Perkins has stepped down from the role of DM for Acq Inc. and Jeremy Crawford, the man in charge of D&D rules, took over.

Worth It?

I don't go out much and I like it that way. A lot of people I've met online were going, though, and something told me that I needed to go to PAX Unplugged, even if it made me uncomfortable.

I went, and I'm glad I did! It was exhausting for sure, but worthwhile. For me, the key to enjoying the con was to not sign up for anything. D&D games at a con with people you don't know are hit and miss. One annoying person will ruin a 4 hour session for me.

Fellow Traveler: I had to take two trains to get from New York to Philly. While waiting at Penn Station, some guy started telling me about how he was going to meet a woman who had just gotten divorced. Is it a date? No, he said. Just a friendly visit.

I tried to peel back the layers some more, but my train arrived and there was a mad dash to get in line.

It Begins

I got to Philly and met the first of many people: Garrett (he runs the Rappan Athuk campaign that I play in), met me at the Marriot that directly connects to the convention center where PAX was held.

We were staying in a large suite with a pair of huge beds, a massive TV, and plenty of furniture. It was so weird to meet him in person, in a "is this real?" kind of way.

Meeting the Waffle Crew

He told me he'd met the waffle crew, the heroes of Dice, Camera, Action, and he urged me to go and say hello. I was already feeling like I was in an out of body experience. Once I saw them, I felt like a ghost or something.

The entire group was right there at their table. I'd caught them right as they were wrapping up their merch table stuff, so there was no line at all. There was only one other person there. Know who it was? Kikka! She plays in my Secrets of Castle Greyhawk campaign.

The whole thing was so surreal that I felt like I was running on auto-pilot. I talked briefly with each member of the waffle crew. I made sure to tell Nate that him counterspelling Manshoon's power word: kill was epic and I talked with Jared about how the group seemed to be able to fill a 2 hour session even if Chris said nothing. Jared told me, "That's what we're going to try to do tonight."

Then I turned to Kikka and whispered these immortal words: "Sword of the Magus". Her character, Lytria, wields the mighty Sword of the Magus in Secrets of Castle Greyhawk. It's an item from the choose your own adventure book that got me into D&D in the first place - Mountain of Mirrors by Rose Estes.

As I walked away, I told Garrett that the con was already worth it. The crew was so nice to me. Anna told me that they had gone over my blog many times in the early days of DCA. I also got to thank Holly and Anna for appearing on Waffle Talk, my show that discusses Dice, Camera, Action.

Meeting Friends

So then, we're walking around, and we peer in a large room with tables. Who's in there playing a game? Grant Ellis, Kelli Butler, and WebDM Pruitt! I said hello to each. Grant gave me a firm handshake, Kelli (we both play in Mordenkainen's Path of the Planes) and I shared an E.T. finger touch, and Pruitt gave me a mighty hug.

We leave that room and I'm sort of reeling from the whole thing. I was in a place full of people who were happy to see me. It was far beyond what I expected. This was nothing like the cons I went to years ago, which were hot, sweaty, intense affairs full of dudes arguing about rules. Cons have completely changed, apparently.

Then I ran into Travis Boles, who is sort of like the man behind the curtain for WebDM. He gave me the most powerful hug I'd ever received in my life.

Character-Making Panel

We decided to go to a panel. People had warned me that PAX was all about waiting in lines. I was sort of dreading that aspect of it. There was a line, but it was well-managed and there was plenty of seating when we got in.

This particular panel was run by Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix. It was mostly about making interesting characters. I was most struck by how nice everyone was. From the crowd to the panelists, there was nothing but positivity in this hall.

The Legend of Ed

After that, we decided to go to 13, which is the Marriot restaurant. This was a pretty swanky little place.

Our waiter was a man named Ed. Ed is one of the greatest people in the multiverse. Why, you ask?
  • He delivered our appetizers in about 90 seconds.
  • He made sure people checked on us every two seconds.
  • He told us about places near the hotel that have good food.
  • He told us when they were open.
  • He WROTE US A LIST of those places and what to get from them!
  • He handed me the best burger I had in all of 2018.
This guy was amazing. I quietly swore that I would return to this restaurant on the following day. How could I not? We even discussed buying Ed his favorite food - it was pumpkin cheesecake with cream on it or something. Little did I know that 13 had dark secrets...

Brownest of the Brown Liquors: I don't drink, but it's a special night, so I decided that I'd have one if Garrett had one. And so, he ordered bourbon.

I'm just not an alcohol guy. It was painful beyond belief. Worse, this one little cup cost $18! Why?

Dice, Camera, Action Live

After that was the big event for me at PAX - the Dice, Camera, Action live show. Chris Perkins wasn't at this con. Satine Phoenix stepped in to sort of fill his role.

I met up with another online friend: Andy Hatton, from the Laughing Dragon Inn. Andy is like... your best friend. Everyone's best friend. He's just a great dude and a very good DM!

This show was pure roleplaying. All four characters revealed some secrets and we learned some backstory. There were quite a few funny moments.

Meeting More Friends: After it ended, I was approached by a few people who had recognized me from Waffle Talk and Dungeon Academy! I was a bit bowled over. There was one guy that I wish I could have talked to more, but there was a lot going on and he disappeared before I could continue to pick his brain.

At the same time, I met two of my Dungeon Academy players in real life. Dungeon Academy is full of players who more or less learned D&D through Dice, Camera, Action, so this was a very fitting venue to meet in real life.

It amuses me endlessly to pretend that I am the teacher and they are the students, and that this is some kind of field trip. They were great, of course, and it was very surreal. In retrospect, I think we really should have gamed together at some point during the convention.

Slumber Party: After that we headed back to the suite and met with our other roomies, Lindy and her husband! We chatted into the wee hours of the morning. I hadn't slept in a very long time and I passed out somewhere in there.

Bacon Questions: The next morning, we ordered some room service, which was phenomenal. I eventually realized that Garrett only ate half of each slice of bacon. There were four slices, and he left four halves. Why wouldn't he just eat two full slices?

I started to suspect that he was harboring some sort of inner demon. I looked at him in a new light.

Sweet, Sweet Silence: Being an extreme introvert, I stayed in the hotel for a few hours while he ventured forth into PAX. I love hotel rooms and I love the QUIET. I gleefully had both to myself for a few hours.

Then I got word that Garrett had found Lysa Chen! Lysa has written some great Adventurers League scenarios and she is one of the authors of Dungeons of the Mad Mage! She'd also played in a few of my online games.

At the same time, Shauna arrived at the hotel. We headed over to an RPG free play room and boom, I got to play live D&D with Lysa, Garrett, and Shauna.

Beyond the Wall

We played a game called Beyond the Wall, which has this whole shared creation element to it. There are a lot of die rolls involved on random charts (I love random charts). Lysa and I kept rolling the same numbers, so we decided that our characters were identical twins.

The story we ended up with is that we were skunk people living in a village named Stinkton that had been attacked by badgers. Both Lysa and I were secretly and separately carrying on an affair with a badger named Dug Diggity.

Lysa had cards from her upcoming show on the D&D channel called Tales From the Mists. I got one and it is in my wallet right now.

Dice, Camera, Action Q & A

Then came the Dice, Camera, Action Q & A. In the crowd, I could see another of my Dungeon Academy players in costume. It was Aya, dressed as Lilia (she's wearing the red hat)!

The Q&A was fun. I don't remember too much from it, other than the fact that there were a lot of questions about "what if you all die". Both Scotty and Brianne asked questions, which was pretty great.

After that, I met Scotty and Dylan from my Dragon Heist game, and Aya from Dungeon Academy, along with two of Aya's friends.

The Betrayal

Here is where I made my mistake. We all went out to eat. Where? 13.

Was Ed at 13? Yes. Was he our waiter? No!

Our waiter was rude and stand-offish. I didn't like the way he talked to us at all. It wasn't until after we left that I learned that HE BAD-MOUTHED ED.

Apparently it went like this. Garrett said, "Ed says that the philly cheese steak here is the best in the city."

Waiter: "Ed only works, goes home, and comes back to work. Do you really believe what Ed has to say?"

Why on Earth would you ever do that? I worked in retail/customer service for a long time, and I am BAFFLED. Bash your co-worker in front of a customer?


There's been this running gag in my games about Shiftspice. Shiftspice is a magic item from the Planescape: Torment computer game. I was excited to put it in my game, and was dismayed when the group thought it came in little packets, like ketchup at McDonald's.

So at this convention, Scotty actually made and gave out shiftspice packets! And he gave me shiftspice in a corked bottle, as it was meant to be presented. It was amazing.

Transgender Representation in RPGs Panel 

Then we hit up another panel about Trans representation in games. Shauna and Kikka were on this panel. Grant Ellis was running it.

From what I understand, some of the panelists weren't expecting too many people to show up. The room was pretty packed. There were tons of people in attendance.

I wanted to go to this panel for a few reasons, one of which being that I don't know how to handle trans topics in my games. I'm always afraid I might accidentally do something offensive.

One thing that got mentioned a lot is the helpfulness of this document: The Trans Language Primer.

Esper Genesis

After that, fate stepped in. Somehow I got invited to play in a special game of Esper Genesis, a sci-fi D&D game. Who ran it? DMs Guild Adept Rich Lescouflair, who created the game! The players:
  • Lysa Chen
  • Nerdarchy Dave
  • WebDM Jim
  • Shauna
  • Garrett
  • Me
I think Lysa is the one who put this all together. I have been on Nerdarchy a few times and I was so pleased to get to sit next to him and roll some dice together in real life. WebDM Jim is just a great dude.

We had a bit of time to look at our pregens and check out the Esper Genesis hardcover. What I really like about Esper Genesis is that it is similar enough to 5e that it's very easy to learn. Many of the powers are just re-skinned spells.

Also, the art that I saw was really good. My character was a "dendus". Check it out:

Our Mission: In the game, we were mercenaries. We were hired to deliver some encrypted data to a woman in a night club. We were at a space port where a new, huge ship had arrived.

We took one look at the ship and wanted to steal it, but we stuck to our assigned mission. I was an engineer and Lysa was "A captain, not THE captain". She was a cat-person. I suggested that she was really a "Cat-pin", and the groans at the table were mighty indeed.

The Cat-pin and I did not get along. Our rivalry culminated in a dance-off at the night club. We both rolled really bad, so the real losers of the dance-off were everyone who had to witness it.

It turns out that we'd been tricked. The device holding the data did something else entirely. We ended up in a shoot-out with a gang of villains.

We chased them on hoverbikes. Dave sped up to the last bad guy and suplexed him off the bike. Dave rolled a natural 20!

There was more content to play through, but it was late, so we stopped there. It was a lot of fun!

Back in the suite, I told Shauna and Garrett about how I'd watched every Phantasm movie over the last week and how weird/good/bad they were. I passed out somewhere in there.

Going Home

The third day for me was all about getting home. I said farewell to my new friends and carefully made my way to the train station. The trip went fine until the final leg.

As we approached my stop, the conductor told me that only the last few car doors would open. I'd need to make my way through most of the train to exit.

I dutifully got my stuff together and awaited my announcement. It came. I got up. An elderly couple in front of me also got up. They blocked my path. They got their luggage off of the overhead rack. They slowly made their way to the back of the first of many cars. The door was closed. The lady didn't know how to slide it open. She had a lengthy discussion with a passenger about it.

We weren't even close to the back of the train. We missed our stop. I couldn't believe it. I was flabbergasted.

We got off at the next stop and were given a voucher. We had to take another train BACK to get home. We had to wait an hour.

So we sat there in this train station, me and the old couple. I told them about PAX. The guy told me he went to "trapper conventions". I didn't ask about different types of bear traps, but I wanted to.

We got on our train and, this time, we didn't miss our stop.

I got home!

Final Thoughts

I'm so glad I got to go to PAX. Next time, I think I'll try to plan some more games with friends, although I did really enjoy being free to do whatever I wanted (or nothing at all).

Not a Lot of Free Stuff: I expected to get more free stuff than I did. I got almost nothing and I bought almost nothing. A lot of the dealer's room was full of board and card games, which I really have no interest in.

Cost: It actually wasn't that expensive at all. A 3-day pass cost $60. The trains cost a bit more. The hotel would have been expensive if not for sharing a room with Garrett. Once you're in the Con, there's not much to pay for. You just play games!

If there's a PAX near you, you definitely might want to consider going. It was a lot of fun.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, it looks like you had fun! I have never been to a PAX. I live in AK, so I will be making one in Seattle as that is closer to me... I want to compare it to say, GEN CON which I have attended previously a couple times.

Hoping its as laid back as your trip.

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William H said...

Hey Sean, I haven't read Power Score in a year or so but randomly decided to check in again. It's really inspiring how you've, well, POWERED into D&D! I recall reading when you stopped DMing for Adventurer's League - I'm glad to see it hasn't slowed you down. Now it seems like you play or DM literally every day of the week!

Anyway. I loved reading this summary of PAX. All of that nice, positivity, seemed like you we're right at home. Keep up the good work!