MEPACon is northeast Pennsylvania’s regional gaming convention and it’s one of the go-to conventions for my gaming group. It’s an event I always add to my calendar, but it also has a tendency to get removed because of family and work commitments.
I really need to stop doing that. The convention is great for my mental health (despite that many of my characters tend to go insane) and it’s an excellent, relatively cheap weekend away.
This spring MEPACON came early — March 24-26, 2017 — which nicely avoided any complications with baseball and Cub Scouts. I headed up to the convention with Cory, a longtime Blackrazor, and met up with George, another longtime friend and occasional member of the group.
It was, as is usually the case, an excellent convention. In the days before leaving I felt the familiar twangs of “should I really be doing this? do I really have time?” brought on by overdeveloped sense of responsibility but those quickly faded once I was at the convention and wolfing down my first burger with friends.
The convention is held in Scranton, Pa., having moved there several years ago from Clarks Summit, Pa. Scranton’s a much better location; the city provides lots of dining options within walking distance, and it’s easy to get to from the Lehigh Valley and New Jersey. The hotel room rates were reasonable and the service was good.
I didn’t run any games at MEPACon, mostly because of my promise to myself that I will propose any adventure that I haven’t at least outlined. The price of that stance was that no one ran a Savage Worlds adventure at the convention, but it did save me from the last-minute-adventure-writing stress.
Instead I played games. I played a lot of games, including a few I’d never played before and some I hadn’t played in 20 years.
Aliens vs. Predator Board Game
My gaming group’s always enjoyed the Alien and Predator series, even if the resulting cinematic monster mashups we disappointments. Alien vs. Predator: The Hunt board game (Board Game Geek / Amazon) does better. The game features three factions — Colonial Marines, Aliens, and Predators — facing off in the dark crowded confines of a starship. Each faction has its strengths: the Aliens are plentful andf ast, the Marines have a variety of light and heavy weapons as well as the ability to manipulate their environment, and the Predators are exceedingly tough and carry exotic weaponry. I played two rounds of the game at MEPACon and enjoyed it, but I think it suffers from the difficulty that many three player games suffer from: it’s too easy for two groups to gang up on a third. We saw that all the time in three player HeroClix games, though as with that game, the scenarios in AvP can help to mitigate that problem by giving people different objectives to shoot for.
Fiasco: The Dresden Files
Fiasco (Amazon | Website) is a role-playing game that I’ve wanted to play for a while, and I got my chance at MEPACon with a Fiasco/Dresden Files mashup. Fiasco is a game master-less role-playing game that describes itself as being “inspired by cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong”.
In a word, it’s the role-playing version of Fargo, and it has the potential to be a hell of a lot of fun (Check out the Fiasco episode of Tabletop). For this game, we were playing the villains in a Dresden novel, putting together an arcane heist that — as expected and hoped for — went very, very wrong as Harry Dresden himself showed up to enforce the will of the White Council.
The game inspired me to read Storm Front — the first Dresden Files book — so I would at least some first-hand knowledge of the series. I’d certainly heard of the Dresden Files before — I suspect few geeks haven’t — but I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy and the series wasn’t high on my list.
The game went well enough — as with most such game master-less games it relies a serendipity — just the right players, a balance of inspiration and practicality, and a willingness to let the story take you in unexpected directions … even if that’s detrimental to your character.
And in Fiasco, it’s definitely going to be detrimental to your character.
We played kind of fast and loose with the rules and I think the game was a bit uneven as a result, but it’s intrigued me enough to want to buy the book and try running a session of it myself.
I played a lot of Shadowrun in college. That was back in the early 90s, and we were playing the first edition of the game. I enjoyed the cyberpunk-meets-fantasy setting, particularly when you started throwing in cyberneticly-enhanced trolls, gearhead street samurai, and spellslingers who alternated between slinging guns and slinging spells.
After college the game fell off my radar. I picked up the 3rd edition a few years back, but I hadn’t played the game since 1994. That changed at MEPACon, where I got in two back-to-back sessions of the game’s current living campaign.
Curiously, both of the games were role-playing intensive, so I didn’t get to spend much time trying out the updated combat and spellcasting mechanics, but I did enjoy the offerings. I expect I’ll play the game again at the next MEPACon in Fall 2017.
The only disappointment with the game was the state of its current rulebook. Apparently the 5th Edition of the game comes in two flavors: the original printing and the “Master Index” printing. The first one is riddled with errors; the second one corrects those errors and includes an index for all of the core rule books. Finding that second book, however, is difficult as it is unclear which one Amazon is selling. Even Catalyst Games own website doesn’t help, since the link to the core rule book in their online store is broken.
Call of Cthulhu
The Monsters are Due on Apple Street was a straightforward, Twilight Zone-inspired episode of Call of Cthulhu in which aliens crash the local neighborhood block party. Creepy shenanigans ensued as a few townspeople (our investigators) decided to investigate secrets that townies were not meant to know, much to their everlasting regret. It was a short scenario — I think we were done in about 2 hours — and very focused, but it was also a lot of fun. There were two reasons for that — one, the vibe was excellent. Everyone at the table was into the game, and happily bought into the premise. The other was that the keeper had given each player a secret backstory as well as one secret they knew about someone else.
That set up the small town gossip angle while also providing us with role-playing fodder. Part of me wishes the scenario had run a little longer, but truthfully it would have started to fall apart if it had another 20-30 minutes of game play. The players would have started to try and stretch the limits of the scenario, and — like actors on a Twilight Zone set — would have found little beyond the building facades.
And the rest
The convention’s schedule was dominated by living campaign events, including Pathfinder Society (Pathfinder RPG), Adventurers League (D&D 5th Edition), and Greyhawk Reborn (D&D 5th Edition). Anecdotally it looks like D&D has surged past Pathfinder, recovering the market share it lost during the 4th Edition days.
After talking with my friends, it appears that Greyhawk Reborn had the best content, with more interesting and complex scenarios than Adventurers League. That’s not too surprising; Adventurers League is tied to Wizards of the Coast’s official product cycle, where as Greyhawk Reborn inherited the spirit of the old Living Greyhawk campaign. I was skeptical about playing in another living campaign — my prior experiences have been mixed at best — but there’s something highly appealing about playing D&D with fellow Greyhawk partisans.
The convention didn’t have a great diversity of non-D&D, non-Pathfinder games. There are a smattering of different role-playing games, card games, and board games, but they are few enough in number that if one person (like me and Savage Worlds) doesn’t run a particular system, that game likely won’t show up at the convention. There are enough games for me to be able to not play a d20-based fantasy RPG … but only if I’m not overly picky.
MEPACon is held biannually, with the next convention scheduled for November 10-12, 2017. The theme is “ancient civilizations” and I’m intending to do my part to support that theme with some Savage Worlds adventures. I’ve got a series of multigenerational pirate / pulp / scifi adventures that I’ve been kicking around for a few years, as well as a Savage Worlds-based Stargate adventure that I’d love to try.
Beyond that I’ve picked up a few new RPGs over the last two years that I’d like to play at MEPACon — specifically Dungeon World and Hollow Earth Expeditions, both of which could fit the theme of ancient civilizations quite well.