After Action Report: TravellerCON/USA 2017
This was one of the featured articles in the November/December 2017 issue.
Another October has come and gone, and with it another TravellerCON/USA. And, as usual, fun was had.
Friday, 29 September 2017
I knew that the con was actually starting earlier in the day than it had in the past; there were two sessions scheduled for Friday, not just one. So, I’d planned on hitting the road a little earlier than usual. Well, quite a bit earlier than usual, since I needed to pick up a couple of things. So, off I went, to be at Staples at 0800 when they opened (dammit! It used to be 0700 on weekdays!). I grabbed what was needful, punched my destination into my car’s GPS, and off I went.
This year, I was actually travelling during what is ironically called “rush hour”, so I figured that the time estimate would be a bit off, especially since I have an older GPS which doesn’t get traffic updates. So, hitting some congestion on the Major Deegan Expressway was more-or-less expected. Traffic across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey was heavier than expected (that’s normally considered to be ‘against the rush’), but moving well, and I was shortly on I-80 heading west at the speed limit on cruise control.
The road network in New Jersey is complex; there are places where the exits from one road to another are ‘split’, with northbound exits and southbound exits being several miles apart and sometimes with unrelated exits between – and a good route calculator in the GPS will tell you to get off at the ‘wrong’ one, because it’s often faster to go a short distance the wrong way and double back than to deal with the complexity of something that’s best described as a hypercomplete pretzel of a cloverleaf, involving both ‘local’ and ‘express’ lanes on one or both intersecting highways. Add to that the fact that sometimes two roads will run parallel for a distance, and have exits at both ends of the parallel segment, and … yeah, it can get confusing.
So, while I ‘know’ my route (I-80 – I-287 – I-78 – US222 – US30), I use the GPS as a ‘sanity check’ to make sure that I’m following the route correctly. I updated the disc in the GPS after last year’s TravellerCON, so I expect the route to be slightly different, not involving detours that it gave me previously because of incomplete road construction in 2008.
When it took me past the I-287 exit, all the way to the Delaware Water Gap to cross the border into Pennsylvania, I realized that I’d fatfingered the route selection on the GPS, and it was taking me the second-fastest route instead of the fastest. Oh, well, a difference of maybe ten minutes.
Not Gonna Make That Mistake Next Year! I drive a Prius. It’s not a large car, and it’s not particularly heavy. I-80 is a truck route. 18-wheelers. They don’t stay down at the speed limit going downhill, and they don’t get up to the speed limit going uphill. And Pennsylvania is all wrinkled – there isn’t any place that’s just flat. So, I’m never moving at the same speed as the trucks, and when they’re blowing past me on the downhills, I can feel the slipstream buffeting my car. Scary as hell, even though I have plenty of time on cruise control at the posted limit to get out of the way, or to pull around them. At least on I-78, it’s more cars than trucks.
Since I’m not on I-78, there’s no Welcome Center when I cross the bridge into Pennsylvania, so I end up running straight through, with only two roadside stops to transfer an excess of liquid waste from inside to outside. A bit of construction slowed things down for a few miles, which added time to the trip, so I ended up arriving after the first session had started – about an hour after I’d expected to arrive. Oh, well. I used the time to settle in to my room, and then to relax a bit, and soak up the atmosphere of the Con.
While the areas that I was exposed to didn’t show much sign, several people mentioned seeing some extensive evidence that the renovations that were begun under the previous owners, restarted when the hotel was sold last year, and not yet completed by TravellerCON 2016 were still not complete, but were ongoing. There was no real improvement visible in the furnishings – but a lot of little things showed signs of being addressed, and there was certainly no problem with water, electricity, air conditioners, et cetera, that I could see – so overall, the stay was largely free of problems.
As a backer at a high level for the Kickstarter, I got all the swag – a T-shirt, the Bradley Warnes print, the 1188th Lift Infantry Challenge Coin (pics of all three included), and the usual little-bits (pencils, a notepad, badge, et cetera). Vendor tables included three of the usual four (John Devine, RPGSuite, and Gypsy Knights Games – though Dale McCoy was present, he wasn’t selling for Jon Brazer Enterprises this year. Nevertheless, four vendor tables were set up).
This year, there was a good reason for the extra session on Friday – and for expanding Saturday to ten tables instead of the usual seven or eight: Attendance was up almost 50% over last year. Much of this could be attributed to this year’s special guest: Marc Miller, the creator of Traveller. This con was an opportunity to meet the man who started it all.
But Marc was not merely sitting around like a grandee granting audiences; he was busy for every session of the con. There were two lectures planned, one for the Friday late session, and one for the Saturday afternoon session (Freelance Traveller will print transcripts of both, though it may take a while to do the transcription). During the remaining sessions, he was running his workshop “Can you survive Traveller Character Generation?”, whose process appears in this issue of Freelance Traveller.
So, I arrived and settled in, just knocking around until the Friday night session (with a break for dinner at a local Ruby Tuesday’s with a couple of other congoers), where I recorded the first of Marc’s scheduled lectures. These ended up being a few brief remarks, followed by the reading and answering of prepared questions (submitted by con-goers at registration), followed by open Q-and-A from the floor. Marc was generally quite willing to answer questions at length, and many answers provoked follow-up questions from the floor.
Swag: The print by Bradley Warnes. It’s resting on the back of a chair, leaning against the wall, for scale; it’s not actually curved.
Swag: The Beowulfs. I believe that these were from a failed Kickstarter, and were sold to Mr Devine because of damage making them unsuitable to present to the backers. These pictures hide most of the damage.
Saturday, 30 September 2017
I’m Jewish, and this was Yom Kippur, so I skipped breakfast and headed down to the con room. There weren’t any openings for any of the games that looked most interesting, so I ended up spending the time chatting with the RPGSuite folks and with John Watts of Gypsy Knights Games. RPGSuite is working on enhancements and expansions for their programs; they’re targeting next TravellerCON/USA for release. One of the new items will be a ship designer, and the prototype/demo I saw was interesting.
GKG is continuing to release material at a good clip, and converting previously-release material to Cepheus Engine. While I was able to identify some of the material I didn’t already have, there was more that I wasn’t sure of, so resolved to really go through my collection and get updated – something I would equally like to do with Mongoose, both first and second editions, but it seems a bit more difficult with them, as I can’t seem to find a single collected list of what’s been released in print, PDF, or both. The discussion, plus a little bit of shopping (I scored two resin models of a Beowulf, one painted, one unpainted, both with minor damage, about six inches long), brought us to the first break.
The second session of the day was also Marc’s second lecture/Q-and-A, which followed the same format as the first, though most of the questions were different. This Q-and-A was followed by a shortened “Can You Survive…”, so I ran through that, and then spent a few minutes with Marc analyzing it and getting permission to reprint it along with my thoughts and analysis, and to print transcripts of the lectures/Q-and-As. This took us to the second break, and I had dinner with some of the other congoers in the hotel’s restaurant. They were serving from the “bar” menu and the main dining area wasn’t open, but the food was better this time than it was last year. Only the bartender was working “the floor”, so the service was less good than it could have (and should have) been.
A friend I’d last gamed with over 20 years ago had come to the con, and he talked me in to joining him in MW’s “Disaster at Highpoint”. MW always runs a good game, so it didn’t take much arm-twisting. This wasn’t his “Mustering Out Blues”, but some of the same techniques he uses in that adventure (which is never the same twice) were applied to this one, and while we did have a plotline to follow, we had much fun. The startup on this adventure was interesting – he had us generate characters on the spot, but not muster them out. He then started us in media res in a “flashback” scene to establish the history/background for the real adventure, following which he had us muster the characters out, and the adventure began. One of the things that makes MW’s adventures fun is that he never seems to tell you a flat “no, you can’t do that”. If you can summarize what you want to do and designate a skill and/or attribute that are relevant, he’ll take that, set a difficulty, and let you try.
This took us to the end of the session, and so to bed; tomorrow would be another day.
Left-to-right: Marc Miller, Megan Haithcock, and Keith Frye. Megan and Keith are the core of the TravellerCON/USA effort; while it takes everyone to make it fun, it takes them to make it happen.
Sunday, 1 October 2017
Only one session was scheduled today, so that we could vacate on time. I was up early, packed everything, and loaded up the car, then headed back inside for breakfast – which was the usual buffet, and acceptable. After that, I went to the desk to process my check-out paperwork, which took no time at all, then I went down to the con room. There were only four games, and they were either full, or didn’t grab me, so I idled around for a bit, then decided that maybe hitting the road early wasn’t a bad idea – in past years, I’d hit long delays approaching the George Washington Bridge, and I thought that perhaps getting on the road early would let me avoid that.
After a brief stop en-route at Arby’s for lunch, I started the run home – this time taking the route I’d intended to (US30 – US222 – I-78 – I-287 – I-80 – I-95). There was a minor slowdown on I-78 for construction, but it didn’t really put me all that far behind schedule. Unfortunately, the car fire on the Cross Bronx Expressway did, backing up the bridge and I-80 (and probably I-95/NJTurnpike) for at least ten miles into New Jersey. (So much for avoiding the bridge traffic.) By the time I’d gotten across the bridge, the fire had been cleared up, and the delays (close to two hours in total) were all due to remnant congestion – and the usual crap design of the interchange between the Cross Bronx, the bridge “ramp”, and the Major Deegan, where someone who doesn’t know to take the lower level of the bridge ends up having to cross six lanes of traffic at a distinct angle to get to the exit for the Deegan.
Thirty minutes after clearing the congestion, home sweet home, unload and unpack, and sleep. Another TravellerCON/USA in the books, with fun, happiness, and getting to meet Marc Miller. (And Marc seemed appreciative of meeting the Traveller community, as well.)