GenCon 2011: An Unspeakable Return

GenCon is the one convention that I make sure to attend every year. There are plenty of local and regional conventions that I miss, either for lack of time (deadlines loom) or lack of budget (there’s only so much we can spend on marketing). But GenCon is the biggest and the best. It’s a place where I can sit down with writers, artists and publishers to discuss big plans in person. It’s a great way for all of us publishers to talk to tons of gamers about their experiences with our games face to face. There’s no place like it for meeting new friends and bonding with old ones. And it’s chock full of games.

Did I mention driving 16-18 hours each way to bring stuff for a bunch of publishers?


This year Arc Dream Publishing shared a sprawling booth space with Pagan Publishing, Dagon Industries, and Cubicle 7 Entertainment. We had a single regular booth; Pagan and Dagon shared one next to ours; Cubicle 7 had a big wraparound setup behind us.

(Triple Ace Games was originally going to be in the mix, too, but some kind of screw-up in GenCon’s planning meant they got exiled to their own space on the other side of the hall. That sucked royally for Wiggy and company but afterward they said they had a good show despite it.)

The Arc Dream Publishing booth crew this year included booth manager John Marron, Simeon Cogswell, Meg Hen, Kevin Pezzano, and Greg Stolze. Kevin was running lots of games — along with a host of amazing volunteer GM’s; thank you! — and Greg was both running games and hosting panels and seminars as an official GenCon Guest of Honor (look at the big shot!), so manning the booth fell mainly to me, John, Simeon and Meg. Ross Payton of Role Playing Public Radio and the Unspeakable! podcast, and Ennie nominee for the Monsters and Other Childish Things campaign Road Trip, was running games and promoting his new book Zombies of the World, which we had at the Arc Dream booth.

Meg says it's just TOO much awesome.

At GenCon we debuted the FATE edition of The Kerberos Club, Benjamin Baugh’s Ennie Award-nominated setting of superheroic Victorian adventure. Mike Olson, the designer who adapted it to FATE, was on hand to run games along with a couple of volunteers (thank you!), and he’ll be talking a lot about FATE Kerberos soon. In the meantime you can buy it HERE IN PDF and HERE IN PRINT WITH FREE PDF.

Being next door to Pagan and Dagon meant we hung out during exhibitor hours with their usual crew: Adam Scott Glancy, Jarred Wallace and Rick Neal. Being next door to Cubicle 7 we got to talk a bit (not as much as I’d like; they were even more swamped than we were) with Dominic McDowell-Thomas and Sarah Newton of C7, Gareth-Michael Skarka of fellow C7 partner Adamant Entertainment, and Francesco Napitello, designer of C7’s amazing new One Ring roleplaying game.

Also, Jarred has been working out and losing weight like a total bad-ass.

This was the first time I’d met Francesco and he was terrific. He and John and I spent lots of time talking about his design of One Ring and the general challenges of adapting Tolkien. (At Arc Dream I don’t do much that touches on Tolkien, but I’m a crazy fan. For a few years in the mid-1990s I was obsessively involved in an online Middle Earth game called Elendor, for hours on hours on hours a day; I ought to still be apologizing to my wife for all that lost time, but I played a hardcore Grishnakh.)

When we showed up with One Ring, Francesco hugged and kissed the pallet. True story.

It didn’t hurt that before we’d even reached Indianapolis, John and I agreed we were more excited about One Ring than we had been about any past LOTR game. Seing One Ring in person only reinforced that. At one point in the con I was walking with Dan Repperger of Fear the Boot and I talked his ear off about One Ring until he started to get that glazed “The fanboy won’t stop ranting” look in his eyes. I can’t wait to start a game. I hope C7 brings Francesco back next year.

I saw tons of other great people but usually in brief flashes — “hello” to Brennan Taylor here, a moment discussing Delta Green with Daniel Solis there, a brief chat with Simon Rogers at the Pelgrane Press booth. Scott Glancy and I had dinner with Ken Hite and Frank Frey after the “Delta Green and The Unspeakable Oath” panel. Greg, Ross and I joined some friends — Ross’ friend Caleb, my old Operation SANDMAN player Keith Potter and his friend Ross (different Ross) — for a Call of Cthulhu game with Scott, a World War I air combat adventure that goes monstrously wrong. The next night Greg and I went to the Games on Demand room and joined an indie game playtest. I hoped to join a Warmachine game with Chris Gunning — he even arranged to have the rulebook sent to me way ahead of time — but didn’t manage it. GenCon devours time.

Greg recommended this, I ordered it and it was amazing.


The Ennie Awards were a highlight. Since we started submitting our games to the Ennies in 2008 we’ve been nominated multiple times every year but we never won anything. That’s the down side of enjoying a devoted but relatively small audience; all the bigger players tend to muster more votes in the Ennies’ online poll to pick the winners. I always explain that an Ennie nomination is itself a great honor because the nominees are chosen by a small panel of judges, die-hard game fans, looking at quality without regard for market impact or audience size.

This time we were nominated for Best Setting (Progenitor), Best Adventure twice (Road Trip and Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity), Best Writing (Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity), and Best Accessory (The Unspeakable Oath).

We took home the Silver award (second place) for Best Writing and the Silver for Best Adventure, both for Targets.

Taken just after I returned meeping and gibbering from the stage.

It was a shock. I felt and looked like a deer in headlights when I went onstage with Ken Hite to accept the first one, for Best Writing. I mumbled something about how all the credit was due to the amazing writers of the book, named a couple of names, forgot the rest, and then shuffled offstage in a daze.

The second award was even more of a shock, but I’d been somewhat braced by the first one so I think I put in a more creditable performance. At least, I very clearly remember what I said, so it certainly felt better to me:

“Well, then. [Laughter from audience.] This is . . . kind of an interesting award, because Targets of Opportunity is actually the first Delta Green book to not include any adventures in it. [Laughter, cheers, lots of clapping from audience.] But I’d like to think it earned it, anyway. Because while of course Delta Green is a Cthulhu Mythos game with alien gods and tentacles, it’s not really about that. It’s about human beings and the choices they make when confronted with that kind of threat and power. And in Delta Green, those choices always lead to horrifying adventures. Thank you.”

It won’t win any Best Writing awards, but for a completely off-the-cuff speech I think it was all right.

Who needs adventures anyway? grabbed Best Podcast, Green Ronin took home an assortment of awards (as always!), and Evil Hat’s Dresden Files RPG was the awards darling of the Ennies, and I was thrilled at all that, too.

After the Ennies was Scott’s Cthulhu game with Greg and friends. That was a night packed with greatness.

Greg reminds us that he wrote a vast swath of Targets.


The Unspeakable Oath was our biggest seller this year, which was a very fun turn. During the Ennie Awards there was an audible mumbling of pleased surprise when the Oath showed up as a nominee on the big screen, and all through the convention we had people coming up thrilled to see it back. (Thanks go to my friend Ken Lavender for some of that — he was working the Pinnacle booth, right next to us, and kept sending people over when they asked about Cthulhu stuff. Thanks, Ken!)

John Marron, booth god. (He's the one manning the booth, not the one with the spiky thing.)

Thursday night we held a panel on The Unspeakable Oath and Delta Green, with me, Greg Stolze, Ken Hite, Scott Glancy and Oath contributor and advisor Monte Cook. Scott missed the first half of the panel because he was running a game, so we spent that section talking about the Oath and getting feedback from the audience as to what they most liked seeing in the Oath and what they got out of it.

Elsewhere, John, Kevin, Meg and Simeon join an meet-and-drink.

When Scott arrived we switched over to Delta Green.

We’re working on Delta Green as a standalone roleplaying game.

It will be its own game, not a supplement to Call of Cthulhu, but it will incorporate parts of BRP and CoC that have been released in the Open Gaming License as well as new system elements. We have two core goals: To create a game tailored specifically to Delta Green and its vision of the Cthulhu Mythos, and to make sure that all the past Delta Green material is fully compatible with the new system.

Tailoring the game specifically to Delta Green means adapting just about every aspect of the system to the things that make Delta Green tick. The Sanity rules will be based on the Call of Cthulhu-derived Sanity rules found in the OGL, but will be customized to reflect a somewhat more sophisticated understanding of trauma and post-traumatic stress that’s emerged in recent years. Combat rules will be clarified and will allow for somewhat more realistic tactical options. Interrogation, persuasion, surveillance, pursuit, hacking, research and tradecraft will take center stage.

Character creation will include advantages to reflect characters’ unique backgrounds and the nature of their past exposure to supernatural horrors. Skills will be consolidated into a small number of core skills with a wider, optional range of specialties. Every character will have defined motivations that will either enhance or undermine psychological resilience, depending on how badly those motivations have suffered under the stress of the character’s involvement in Delta Green.

Making all this backwards-compatible won’t be hard. Every one of the primary designers has 20 to 30 years of experience designing for BRP and specifically for Call of Cthulhu. You will be able to use a stat block from any Delta Green book (or any other Call of Cthulhu supplement) in the Delta Green RPG without headache-inducing conversions.

The last day of GenCon, after taking down the booth, before plenty of beer.

Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game will be written by me, Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite and Greg Stolze, with contributions from John Scott Tynes and several other writers who excel at horror and conspiracy. It’ll be published by Arc Dream Publishing under license from the Delta Green Partnership.

We don’t yet have a release date. I’ll announce it far and wide when we do.