Disclaimer: Advance apologies. I wrote this on a 9-hour flight after four amazing, sleep-deprived days in the company of mind-blowingly fantastic people. Thanks to anyone correcting my errors.
Last year, even with the pains of COVID and minor first event hiccups, Chaosium Con stood out as my spring highlight. I anxiously awaited the announcement of the sequel. In the meantime, I resolved to spend just a little less time at the gaming table, attend the auction, hit some of the great panels, and slowly peruse the vendor hall next time. The moment the dates dropped, I had my schedule blocked, the vacation requests in, and spousal approval pending review.
As the convention schedule rolled out, my enthusiasm grew. In addition to adding an extra day to the event, Chaosium expanded the menu of offerings to include movie screenings by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS), more panels, and a wider array of social and gaming activities. This was great. However, somewhere between those resolutions to broaden my horizons and submitting my events, I lost my mind and jammed five (almost 6) games into Friday and Saturday. I would be teaching myself a lesson.
In 2022, I enjoyed the privilege of a short commute from my house in the Detroit metro-area suburbs to the convention daily. This time around, I would need to board a plane in Arizona on Thursday morning to arrive at 5pm (thanks, time zones). By Wednesday, earlier arrivals were luring me with tantalizing photos of local restaurants and great weather. The cursor hovered over the “Purchase Ticket” for a red-eye to arrive Thursday morning. I passed my POW roll and stuck with the plan.
The wheels touched down at the Detroit Airport by 430pm. With haste, I grabbed my bags and took a reasonably priced 25-minute Uber ride ($40) to Eagle Crest Resort in Ypsilanti. The skies were clear blue, the sun was shining with temps up to the 80s. A stark contrast to the gray, cold of last year. But Michigan keeps you on your toes with snow in the forecast for Monday.
Checking in around 5pm, I grabbed my RuneQuest-themed con badge from the registration desk without any delay. Lanyard in hand, I headed directly up to my seventh floor room with a wide window offering up a pleasant view of the nearby Ford Lake and landscape (look, trees are are a bit of a novelty these days). The hotel offered this room as a modest consolation for shorting me a King bed, along with a few breakfast vouchers. Totally fair trade, since the buffet just tops $20, and I’m really not as big a diva as you would think.
Inspired by the scenery, I figured I would take advantage of the beautiful weather and enjoy a short run around the water. For those that enjoy a bit of fresh air and/or exercise, there’s a really great path with small bridges linking islets in relatively close proximity to the hotel and its golf course. Fear not, this would be the last responsible and healthy thing I did all weekend.
Once presentable, I made my way down to the bar area. Descending to the lobby, I encountered a pleasant gentleman carrying a collection of baked goods. Perhaps distracted by his tasty treats, he seemed a tad befuddled by the operation of the elevator. As I assisted him, we exchanged brief pleasantries. It turns out I was equally confused; I knew this fellow, and we both failed to recognize one another. By the end of the weekend, though, I would have seen him in all manner of forms.
Stepping off the elevator and spotting familiar faces, the excitement really hit. I had enjoyed drinks and games with many of these folks for the first time last year, and here they were again. Just closing the short distance from the elevator to the bar took nearly 30 minutes. In closing this gap, I had the opportunity to chat with Evan Perlman and Heinrich Moore, two Miskatonic Repository Con organizers (stay tuned for 2023 announcements).
This exchange highlighted an exciting difference between this year and last. The impact and influence of the Miskatonic Repository has grown substantially in the past year, and Chaosium deeply cares about supporting its community content programs. The number of Miskatonic Repository scenarios run at Chaosium grew from the past year (I count 17 unique MR scenarios). Many of these scenarios were run not by the original authors. In speaking with fellow Keepers, many expressed an interest in bringing their original convention scenarios to the Miskatonic Repository as a result of the con. Having just published my first scenario through the Repository, I was able to share my personal experience, but I was also able to direct them to the scheduled mixer on Saturday to speak with other creatives and ambassadors. A panel featuring industry reviewers Seth Skorkowsky, XPLovecat, Heinrich Moore, and Evan Perlman provided excellent tips to an audience of aspiring writers. Another offered more advice for success in Community Content programs from Bridgett Jeffries, Heinrich, Nick Brooke, and Michael O’Brien (MOB) with moderation by Evan. With such intentional encouragement, this outstanding community of creators will undoubtedly continue to grow.
Instead of a repeat of last year’s ticketed banquet dinner, Chaosium opted for an open “mix and mingle” welcome party in the same large room. Complementary finger foods, including chicken wings, egg rolls, and kebabs provided an adequate (and free) meal on small plates. A superior alternative to the confining sit-down meal featuring the standard trifecta of mediocre banquet entrees. The cash bar at the front of the room drew a steady crowd. It was another great opportunity to catch up, meet new people, introduce friends, and chat with Chaosium staff. A group of us managed to pull Matt Ryan, master cartographer and AV expert, into a corner to learn that they would be recording audio of the panels. Would be great to hear everything I missed if they do end up sharing it somewhere.
On the way out of the mixer, I ran into a group of fellows I played with at Origins last summer. They invited me to sit down for a game of Chaosium’s card game, Miskatonic University – The Restricted Collection. We reminisced about dead cabin boys from Full Fathom Five and spellburning our wizard down to a withered mutant in our Roman-flavored DCC game. The rules were simple, incredibly quick to learn, and the pace and intensity of the game picked up during successive rounds. The card art set a great tone as we played MU professors recruiting assistants and collecting forbidden information while buttressing their sanity through success in the stacks. Look forward to playing this again at home.
Fully intending to retire for some rest before my full-day of Keeping on Friday, I headed towards the elevator and found myself immediately sucked into the “Table of Fun.” Anchored by the Wingate family and their coolers, a bottle of Froot Loops scented vodka made the rounds. I couldn’t resist sitting down since I knew they had some leftover Jet’s pizza. A 15-player round of a Cards Against Humanity-style game unfolded salaciously, and I eventually escaped the good times gravity to attempt some shut eye.
I started the day at the breakfast buffet sharing a table with unstoppable Al Smith and mensan98th. We talked about the upcoming publication of mensan98th’s upcoming book from Hippocampus Press on Lovecraft and True Detective. Sounds like perfect timing based on the looks of the latest season’s trailer. Al would be running a sanity blasting total of seven games at the con.
I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon running back-to-back sessions of Swamp Song. After two playtests during development, it felt great to run it at a convention table with large groups. Each table featured some familiar faces, including Hapless Mage (author of soon-to-be Gold Bestselling scenario Overdue) and his delightful spouse, Samantha, who played Death of Superstition (DoS) with me one year earlier. Samantha reprised her role as a younger Cece Duvalle, a young artist from Detroit, who also appears in the DoS. My local friend, Matt, made sure I got my double coney-dog special before the second game, where he also returned to portray Cece, his character throughout our Detroit campaign run. Fortunately, they both survived, and their timelines remain intact. As with last year, the players showing up at Chaosium Con tables are simply the best. More so than at larger cons, I see players uniformly connect with their characters and fellow players. Behind the screen, their level of collaborative play keeps me on my toes as they engage with and help shape the story. This quality truly sets this convention apart from others.
We closed out the night with a truly raucous run of DoS up in the open-gaming room. I had been warned in advance I was playing with a potentially unruly lot (by the most flagrant offender, himself). As Sumrow pointed out, we swung wildly between deadly serious atmosphere and gonzo hysterics. Somehow, we all clicked and managed to do it in sync. This run felt particularly special as I added Houdini’s real-life spy, Rose Mackenberg, as a pre-generated character and she was captured fantastically by ubiquitous Nate. After twelve hours of running games, I hung out briefly before trying to shut my quivering brain down for the night.
Commiserating over the terrible coffee, Rina shared their scenario-creation method with me in the morning before our respective games. They have impressively produced four bestselling Miskatonic Repository scenarios over the past year. I was in awe of their prodigious output coupled with their fantastic work with The Old Ways and Ain’t Slayed Nobody podcasts, not to mention countless streams.
My next game was a scheduled group for DoS. It was a magnificent follow-up to my evening pick-up game, as the adventurous players took a completely different route of investigation and resolved the scenario in spectacular fashion.
Since we wrapped a half-hour early, I seized the chance to attend the Community Content Creators’ Happy Hour, where creators were exchanging ideas and networking. The organizers provided an innovative template to get attendees involved, and I slapped on a badge reading “Talk to me about Pulp Cthulhu” before entering the fray. In addition to energizing conversation, a table sold an impressive collection of print-on-demand titles from the Miskatonic Repository and Jonstown Compendium. In total, Chaosium had over 70 different titles for sale. A great many sold out. Further emphasizing the growing importance of the community content programs, representatives from DriveThru RPG and Roll20 were present to speak with creators. I took time to speak with the wonderful members of the XPLovecat family and catch my breath before one last game.
My final game of the weekend was a retool of the 1986 Games Workshop Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Vanishing Conjurer. Portraying members of a stage magic act, the investigators sought the opening act for their impending European tour in London. The group keep me on my toes as they regularly detoured off the scenario’s limited confines and helped create an amazing game. The game closed with a historic London theater in flames, and the group’s manager standing on stage reminding the crispy survivors “the show must go on.” Again, I stand in firm belief that Chaosium Con draws some of the most invested and talented gamers. I was completely spent, but I had savored 20 hours of incredible table time.
Looking to decompress and finally eat, I made my way to the bar and found Evan Perlman. I previously contributed to his inspiring, two volume Hometown Horrors project, and we exchanged a number of shockingly resonant ideas before being joined by Ben Burns, the one-man workhorse behind New Comet Games. We listened to his pitch for a new scenario, and Evan, wearing his Miskatonic Repository hat, provided some very delicate and valuable insights as a good idea evolved into a great concept. As a burgeoning creator, the conversation was priceless as I learned the challenges and rewards of operating a small game company. I stepped away to reunite with some players from my first game to hear what a great time they had over the weekend.
Exhaustion setting in, I ran into Bridgett on the way to the elevator. As coordinator of events and outreach, Ms. Jeffries had been applying her vast talents and limitless joy to ensure the con ran smoothly. Her involvement as team member this year truly elevated the experience for everyone. Bridgett’s exuberance connects her many friends and quickly brings newcomers into the growing fold—a true asset to the company and their convention (to be strengthened by the recent addition of Jeremiah Evans). We stepped out to the patio to enjoy some fresh air in the Michigan twilight.
As we sat, other members of the Chaosium staff trickled outside to celebrate their clear success. Listening to conversations, I learned that Chaosium is pausing new submissions for Call of Cthulhu content as they dive into the deep well of submitted material they have at their disposal. Their development portfolio contains years worth of incredible stuff to bring us, including Gaslight and Arkham as Mike Mason demonstrated during panels. Sitting next to Lynne Hardy, she talked about Rivers of London. This year, she offered a series of demos, ran The Goatman is Coming again (not to be missed!), and noted the presence of a single scheduled Rivers of London game (run by Al Smith). With the hardback releasing on April 18th, I look forward to seeing more RoL events next year. Constantly dedicated to quality, they discussed ways to further improve on this year’s gathering. Through company stalwart Dustin Wright, I witnessed the dedicated effort Chaosium makes to support other conventions by providing prize material. Flagging, I retreated after a harrowing tale from HPLHS’s Sean Branney about giant bats on Class Five African rapids.
Sunday and Beyond
The convention closed with reluctant, heartfelt goodbyes. Old and new friends gathered in the lobby as people loaded cars and closed accounts. The games rolled on for many as the con lasted until the afternoon, but I was off early. Reflecting on the too-fast, too-furious weekend, everyone captured incredible memories. One particular delight was the attendance by the many guises of Nate, my earlier elevator companion. Thanks to DontStopMeNow, Nate appeared not only as a puppet but in an array of home-made masks. I look forward to listening to Puppet Nate’s cameo on The Old Ways Podcast recorded during the convention.
Chaosium Con is a gathering of friends, a thriving community, and a fount of infectious delight. If you’ve never been or never even played one of this company’s great games, you should come next year. We are all excited to meet you and look forward to this remarkably singular event growing in strength and size with each passing year. I’ll be there, and maybe, perhaps, I’ll schedule myself a bit more responsibly to better enjoy the wealth of opportunities.
Addendum: Apologies if I met you, played with you, and enjoyed your company but didn’t give you a mention. I cherish every awesome person at this, and there are far too many of you to include without writing a novel. This was feverish and long enough. That said, I owe Matt McCloud a shout for organizing all the great games run by Lurking Fears. Always a pleasure to share a room with you and the talented stable of GMs.
2 thoughts on “Chaosium Con II: Totally Mad(Re)cap”
We all tell ourselves that “next year” we will have a healthier balance between events and recovery / social time. Then registration comes around and we see all the bounty on offer.
Swamp Song was a great play! I had a blast and it seemed like the others did as well. I was part of the 2pm crowd (Gilman House shirt). Very entertaining and amazingly little death 🙂