Chaosium Con 2024: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Allergy Meds

This past weekend (4/18-21, 2024) I traveled to the 3rd Chaosium Con, in Ypsilanti (Ann Arbor?) Michigan. I went there with three goals in mind: 

  • See my friends from the internet;
  • Encourage people to express their creativity, in a concrete way, by publishing their projects in Chaosium's community content programs; and
  • Don't miss too much time with illness.
Did I accomplish these goals, and more? You'll have to read on to find out.

(I did accomplish them. But read on to find out how!).

If, in reading about my experience with the Con, you are moved to want to attend next year's, I thoroughly encourage you to do that. If you have any questions, please reach out! You can find me on Facebook, on Bluesky, and in a number of Discords, primarily that of Symphony Entertainment.

OK - let's, as the children say, get after it.

Arrival: or, The Joy of Being Hugged to Death

I work from home, and I have 2 small kids, and I keep pretty busy generally, so on a given day I don't speak face-to-face with a lot of people outside my family. But I have a lot of friends online, via the community that's formed around Call of Cthulhu and related horror gaming, and we talk constantly. Discord, however, can't hold a candle to meeting up in-person. As I told my kids, "This weekend is like summer camp for me - I get to go see my friends that I only see once a year!"

And most of these folks are huggers! None more so, famously, than Bridgett Jeffries, who hugs as though your ribs have personally offended her. Other people I had a chance to hug, while I'm name-dropping: Heinrich Moore, Rina Heinze, Al Smith, the Keepers Doc, Mike Diamond, Miranda, Nate, Bucho, Leslie (XPLovecat) and William Horn, Nathan and Sam Pidde, and others I'm forgetting because it's late and I'm tired. I did not hug the British Chaosium staff, mostly, but we did exchange a pleasant but reserved nod of the head, as is their custom.

Thursday Night: or, Getting Into Character

While the Con has previously had Thursday-night welcome events, this year was the first time it was themed. We gathered for a Speakeasy, and let me tell you that people TOOK IT SERIOUSLY. 

Blessedly, because the theme was 1920s-30s, I was able to get a cosplay look using more-or-less modern clothes that - and this is important - could be obtained cheaply and quickly. Cosplaying as a big dude, if you're not willing to make the clothes yourself or buy them bespoke, is tricky! But one waistcoat-and-watchchain and a straw hat later, I was in business. 

The author wearing a waistcoat and straw hat, and holding an antique camera.

The Speakeasy was great fun - some pleasant, not-too-loud music, a room that was lively but not too crowded and only a little intolerably hot, and a chance to meet everyone else I was looking forward to meeting but didn't name above. I brought with my an antique camera that had been my grandfather's, from 1940, it turns out - take THAT, historical accuracy! I learned that if you walk around with an old-looking camera, all sorts of camera enthusiasts will come out of the woodwork and ask you questions about it that you are in no way prepared to answer. Next time I'll know better.

The author with Bridgett Jeffries and Matt "Keeper Doc" Tracey

Following the speakeasy was the LARP, hosted by Symphony Entertainment. It was written by Bridgett and Heinrich, with NPCs played by Nate and Rina. It was the first LARP for almost everyone, including its creators! I've never done one before either, but I was blown away by how smoothly it went, how intuitive and unobtrusive the mechanics were, and by the number of genuinely creepy moments the runners managed to build in to an experience that was overall pretty hands-off. I won't spoil much about it, but the payoff was fantastic and the event really opened my eyes to what can be done in horror spaces with interactivity and large spaces. 

It also helped me to gauge how comfortable I am with live, in-person improv. For whatever reason I've always struggled with improvising in this kind of setting, needing either to be myself or to be chatting online, or to be in the one-step-removed space of being a Keeper or player to really get into a flow. But with the warmup exercise we did as a group (thanks Nate for leading it!), and through knowing many of the participants ahead of time, I found I was able to take down some of the self-conscious walls and lean into the fictional persona.

Friday: or, How Can I Help You?

Friday morning, I moderated two panels. The first was on Game Prep, and I was joined by Rina, Leslie/XPLovecat, Mike Diamond, and Dom Allen. I hadn't met Dom (of the Apocalypse Players) before, but he is a joy and was a welcome perspective at the panel. This one was well attended, probably 25 people in the room, and it sparkled. With the discussion guide I planned well in advance of the panel (i.e. was still writing it as people filtered into the room), we covered all kinds of different prep styles, when each might be appropriate, and how Keepers might get comfortable with using less prep if they so desire.

The second, "Become a Community Content Creator," is a highlight for me each year, as it's a chance for those of us involved in Chaosium's CC programs to help reach folks who are looking to move into that space. We had about 10 people in the room, which is great given what we were counterprogrammed against (just the "What's Coming Soon for Chaosium" juggernaut panel!), and the audience was really involved and had good questions. I was joined by Leslie again, Heinrich, Al, and Nick Brooke, and I think we really covered the whole spectrum of writing and publishing. Every time we do this panel I feel like we're planting seeds that will one day blossom into fantastic new content for Cthulhu, Runequest and other games.

I think I enjoy this kind of thing even more than I enjoy running or playing in games, which is what made the final Friday activity such a huge success for me. I ran a workshop on Cthulhu Scenario Design, where I was joined by 10 would-be writers with ideas at various stages of development. It went better than I'd hoped! Each person seemed to get useful advice and sounding-boards to help them move forward with their scenario or product ideas, and one attendee who had come in as "just a player," not looking to write, left the session with three (3!!) scenario ideas. Several attendees asked me to run it again next year, and I will. 

I brought scented markers for that, but we didn't wind up using them. I also made myself crazy trying to find big sticky pads that were small enough to fit in my luggage. We didn't use them either. Oh well. C'est la guerre. 

At some point on Friday I went to the Apocalypse Players' Live Show. The takeaway from this experience is that trained actors can be VERY GOOD at live roleplaying shows. It was very funny.

I took it easy most of the rest of the day because I am 40 years old and I have two small kids and sometimes I just want to nap, but then I brought a bottle of Maryland Rye and a bag of home-baked challah rolls downstairs to the lobby and found a bunch of friends who were willing to help me finish both of them.

I also was fighting off a cold/allergies and was STUFFED TO THE GILLS with Mucinex and Allegra. My personal medication strategy was to fill myself just shy of the toxic dosage of allergy meds and ibuprofen to fend off any illness or headaches. Last year I missed the HPLHS prop-heavy game due to a sudden migraine; this year I was determined to prevent it, or die trying.

Saturday: or, The Greatest Props I Have Ever Seen In My Life (That I Can't Show You)

Saturday morning, we had our annual Mimosa Mixer for community content creators, which is the brainchild of Heinrich Moore. This event also went swimmingly, everybody got to meet new people, and I got to have some really interesting conversations about interactive and immersive fiction, and art, and all kinds of things that sparked my imagination for future Cthulhu work. The mimosas were OK, but they were free, and that earns them a few points. Outside the mixer, Chaosium was selling copies of most of the Community Content Print-on-Demand products, including two of mine (Dream House and In Strange Seas). I saw someone buying my books and I offered to sign them but I got distracted - if that was you, bring them next year and I'll sign them!

Saturday afternoon, while I carefully and neurotically monitored for the slightest sign of a headache, was the Ain't Slayed Nobody live show with Cuppy Cup, Bridgett, Rina, and a couple of somewhat famous players that I don't really know that well. The group played a scenario from a forthcoming Chaosium book, they almost got TPKd, and everybody laughed a bunch.

Saturday night was the one actual tabletop game I played all weekend, the one I had missed due to headache last year, my White Whale: the game run by Sean Branney of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. The HPLHS is famous for the quality of their props, and OH BOY did Sean deliver (with the behind-the-scenes help of Andrew Leman and, no doubt, others). The game was a bit of a struggle to fit into a 4-hour time slot because of the complexity of the plot and the necessity to read through a number of extremely well-produced handouts, but we were RAPT from beginning to end. Knowing there was going to be a time crunch, we sort of bombed through the scenario in places, but when the highlight prop of the evening came out, a giant [REDACTED] that must have taken weeks to produce, we all ooh'ed and aah'ed and took pictures of it for like 10 minutes. 

I can't tell you what it is, or show you any pictures. You will, if the stars are right, be able to purchase it from HPLHS in the future. I suggest you do so. Start saving up now.

Saturday night after the game, I wound up talking with Heinrich in our room for like 3 hours, the first hour of which was spent animatedly planning out the mechanics and general plot of [REDACTED - you'll find out nxt year], after which I apparently texted Matt Tracey at 12:45 AM to tell him I had figured out how to do it - he received this with good grace. 

After 1 AM I turned into "Very Tired and Talkative Evan" and I don't think he got a word in edgewise after that. For this I remain abashed and apologetic, but Heinrich is gracious and a good friend. 

Sunday: or, That's All, Folks.

I went home on Sunday. I got to say goodbye to most of my friends, and I handled it pretty well. I will see them again. 

If our Uber had come 20 minutes later I'd have missed my flight, but the trip home was otherwise uneventful. 

That afternoon, my mind filled with all the experiences and exciting new ideas of the Con, I took my kids to a skate park so they could ride their scooters around and look cool. 

Balance in all things.

Stray Thoughts:

The grounds of the hotel are very pretty... but their pool does not work and will never be available. 

There was a wedding while we were there, but the RuneQuest guys failed to invade it with their kilts and swords.

I love this Con. I'm ready to go back to normal life. Until next year. 

Balance in all things. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Fresh Madness!

Chaosium Con 2024: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Allergy Meds

This past weekend (4/18-21, 2024) I traveled to the 3rd Chaosium Con, in Ypsilanti (Ann Arbor?) Michigan. I went there with three goals in m...