MACE 2014 Gaming Coordinator Report: From the trenches!

It takes a lot for me to sit down and write about MACE after it is over.  I invest so much time, emotion, and work into it that when it is over, I really go through something like postpartum.  But writing about it helps with that in some ways, and the sooner I do it the more I can recall.  This year was tough – probably one of the hardest years – and my fatigue has lasted longer than ever before.  But I am going to make an effort just to get it down before things are less fresh in my mind.

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The months before MACE were a whirlwind of drama, excitement and anticipation.  Stores and groups were coming to us wanting to run large events beyond what we already had scheduled.  The hotel came to us early in the year with a new challenge that we had to wrestle with involving a football team using some of our space (and I feel we managed it successfully).  Drama surrounding the Pathfinder Society coordinator really dragged me down for a few weeks until we finally found someone to run it. We continued throughout the year to find DMs for PFS.  On top of that, I took on a new challenge with D&D Adventurer’s League.  With the release of 5th edition D&D, I had to dive into an area I had never done – organized play – and put together an acceptable D&D Adventurer’s League schedule that would attract folks.  The learning curve was challenging, but I had help from various people including Kris Morris from Heroes Headquarters in Mocksville, NC, Ryan Jackson of Above Board Games in Fort Mill, SC and Michael Long, gaming blogger and all around good guy from Knoxville, TN.

On top of that, we were approached by 3 different people about major tournament events at MACE – Mage Wars, Heroclix, and Legends of the 5 Rings.  All were legitimate proposals and I was encouraged by the people organizing them.  Following these, the fine people at Comic Monstore approached us with a desire to run our Magic tournaments.  All this indicated a lot of faith and passion about MACE, more than I think I have ever seen before.  Thanks to Ben Burton, Adam McLaughlin, Jesse Blanchard, Terry Corbett, Ray Franks, and Lyle Dixon for all their hard work.  Not all the events were successful but more on that later.

Going into this year, after all that had happened prior, I felt that MACE was growing into the next level.  A lot of the same gaming events were coming back and many new ones were either building on the old or sprouting up new.  For me, it was almost turning into real work.  Managing the space we had, a larger list of GMs and volunteers and also recoding OGRe over and over again to meet the needs of our customers – it really is almost a second job now.

I felt the energy coming into October.  Personally, I was getting more and more into 5th edition D&D and apparently so were a lot of other people, as I got a ton of emails asking about the Adventurer’s League.  I was very encouraged by the size of the schedule as it grew week by week.  The emails I was getting from new attendees was unprecedented.  Even after receiving the standard array of cancellations, I still felt pretty upbeat about how things were going to go.  Real life tried its best to drag me down but I kept things separate and contained enough.

Going into the weekend, my biggest concern was how I laid out the space and how well it would be utilized.  The hardest part about this aspect was dealing with the football team Friday night and Saturday morning.  There was talk early in the year about launching a new aspect of the con for cosplayers and somehow tying all that into the gaming, but as I suspected that went nowhere.  No offense to those that were heading it up, I just knew it wasn’t a good mix.  At the same time, I assumed we were still going to have the live auction, just at a different time.  All that changed by the time we got the last couple of weeks, and the space utilization was not what it could have been.

The entire weekend was a massive blur to me.  Once the doors opened and people were playing games, everything else did not matter.  When things get started, there are very few things I can change and the only fixes we can put in place are band-aids.  Everything got started off really well, though, with only a few minor road-bumps.   RPGs, table top games, miniatures, and everything else got started off really well.

Highlights during the weekend include

  • Killer: The Game of Assassination made its return to MACE, after nearly a 10-year hiatus. And I learned why I took a hiatus on it. It takes a lot to run.
  • Organized Play is expanding. For the longest time, Pathfinder Society (PFS) was really the only game in town.  The RPGA was in a slow decline and I wasn’t sure what was going to take its place.  With the release of D&D 5th edition, Wizards has expanded its D&D Encounters program to be more con-friendlier.  Having nearly as many tables of D&D Adventurer’s League as we did Pathfinder Society was an encouraging thing to see.
  • On the PFS side, we had some issues come up that threatened the possibility of having any games of organized play Pathfinder at MACE, but those seemed to resolve themselves and we had a very successful PFS schedule. We even had more than a few GMs cancel last minute, but our coordinator, Nathan Littlefield, pulled it together in the end.  Thanks to him for that.
  • Table top board and cards games are surging at MACE. Honestly, despite my efforts to make MACE a big-tent of gaming, for years MACE has been known as primarily an RPG con.  It’s not my fault that the majority of GMs I can get want to run RPGs, but this seemed to put off a lot of other gamers for a period of time.  With the move to Charlotte, it seemed to act as a reset to that perception.  Thanks to more space, as well as groups like the Queen City Gamers Club and others, board games and card games are on a real upsurge at MACE.  We made room for a board game library a few years back and ever since then, it has expanded more and more.  It is funny how some board gamers are just happy with a room and a stack of games to choose from and others need scheduled events.  I have worked pretty hard to accommodate both.
  • This year brought more unpublished play tests and demos than ever before. With the advent of Kickstarter and crowd funding, more and more game designers are popping up all over the place.  I love seeing some of the new ingenious designs.
  • Some of our featured events were a big success. Warmachine and Hordes played all day and all night, as well as other Privateer Press games.  The Carolina Warbunnies really worked their butts off this year and we do appreciate it.  Mage Wars tournament benefiting the Wounded Warriors was a great success.  We had a much better Magic the Gathering event than we have had in the past and that is going to grow.  Those are the ones I know about.  I am sure there are others.

There were also some disappointments, but honestly they were overshadowed by everything else going on.  The only major disappointment was space utilization.  The ballroom that was vacated by the football team was underutilized, partially because of some events not being as successful as we wanted and partially because we did not hold a live auction this year.

That is another disappointment that was out of anyone’s control – no live auction.  I know people enjoy that but because of many factors, we had to change it last minute.  Primary of those factors was lack of donations.  Neither me nor Jeff really understand it, but Jeff’s efforts produced a much smaller amount of stuff.  Thus the auction was changed to a silent auction.

On top of running gaming registration and Con Killer, I also ran four games during the weekend and all went really well.  I had a blast with all of them – Aliens, the board game, two D&D 5th edition sessions and one Achtung! Cthulhu session.  They were all very fun and I want to thank all my players for enjoying the games despite my fatigue and the distractions from gaming registration.

Overall, I was very pleased with the results of MACE 2014.  By the early numbers, it was the best year for us yet.  MACE continues to grow, despite facing considerable adversity each year.  I am very proud at what we have built here in the Carolinas and thank everyone for their participation, dedication and loyalty through our 18 years.

5 Questions with Michael Lawson, MACE 2014 GM of Brain Case Trophies Events!

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in gaming?
Hello! My name is Michael Lawson. I am 48 years old and I currently live in the Atlanta Metro Area. I am originally from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and that’s where I started gaming in… oh, 1980 or so. AD&D, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret – all the TSR games from back in the day. Other games include Traveller and Space Opera. And Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. I guess that makes it about 34 years of gaming. Still having fun!
What is Novus Ordo Seclorum?  How did you get involved?
Novus Ordo Seclorum is a Chicago based group of gamers who have been bringing their “A”-game to Gen Con since 1985. My first Novus round was back in Milwaukee, the last year Gen Con was in Milwaukee (2001?). The experience forever changed me and showed me what horror role-playing was all about – or what it could be. Every year after that event (held in the locker room of the ice arena where the RPGA games were held, across from the main convention hall!), I have tried my best to get into their games. And it’s hard to do considering there are more people who want to play than open slots. They run the Cthulhu Masters tournament, and in some years, a Novus Round (both elimination style tournaments, where 1 or 2 players from each session advance to the next round, until there is a final round and a winner proclaimed). Other Novus games come up occasionally that are not run tourney-style. I can tell you this, if you see one, get a ticket if you can. You will have great fun and role-play with some of the best RPG’ers out there! I got to the point where the only games I go to play at Gen Con are Novus rounds. For me, others just don’t compare… with the exception of the “You Too Can Cthulhu” games. They’re run by folks from Minneapolis/St. Paul MN who have ran the Masters a time or two as well. The year before last, I made it to the finals for the Masters. Awesome fun, but the Mi-Go Brain Case Trophy still eludes me! Last year I tried my hand at helping out to run the Novus games. I realized how much hard work it is! I think going forward, I will play Novus rounds at GenCon, and that is why I’ve started to look for events like MACE, where I can run a CoC game and to help “pay it forward”. By that I mean, take what I have learned on how and why Novus rounds are such a blast, and try to create a similar experience for other players. Above all, it has to be fun for everyone.
How would you describe the perfect game for you as a player?
Perfect game? I’ll say it again: it has to be fun for everyone at the table. Then, I suppose the best games I’ve been in is where the players are able to carry the story forward. A GM can stage the scene, but the particular script is best when it comes from each player as their character. The perfect game for me is one where the story takes on a life of its own… and becomes a shared collective experience for players as well as the GM. Each player stays in character 100% of the time (because they want to and just are in character, 1st person) and table-talk and meta-gaming is kept to a minimum. You know you’ve been in a great role playing game when everyone stays at the table, talking about their shared experience, their characters, the story… it just is apparent when the game has transcended and become more of an experience then an event at a convention. Atmosphere, props… music… anything that helps to craft that experience goes a long way in helping with the suspension of belief which is I believe is core to “my perfect game as a player”.
What makes the Lovecraftian Horror most appealing to you?
Good question. I guess it has to do with how precarious our existence is… how chaotic, random, cold and indifferent the universe is, in my opinion. Despite all our technology and hubris, we really don’t know what’s out there, do we? Or what the “true nature” of reality is. People say, “Every thing happens for a reason”. Malarkey. Most everything is the result of an innumerable number of events that came before it that set things in motion… in combination with even more random factors that simply happen for no reason. Lovecraftian horror admits to the reader the truth that our minds and our capability of understanding the true nature of the Universe – is limited. Very limited. As a protagonist in a Call of Cthulhu scenario – at the game table, or as a character in a story – characters most often start out as “regular” people… who for various reasons, get caught up in some horrible fate that gives them insight into this “horror of knowing” and/or glimpses of some awful “thing which should not be”. Characters become “tainted” by this knowledge and most often pay a price for it. Remember, Call of Cthulhu is the only game I know of where you can have a great time and still see your character go insane, die… or worse…
What other games are you involved with?
Sadly, since moving to Atlanta I don’t get to play much (hint: I’m always on the look out for a good group of RPG’ers to play with in the Atlanta area!). Other games I like to play: Pathfinder. Hated DND 4. Excited to try DND 5, I hear they fixed it. Traveller is a classic game I still enjoy. I’ll try any role-playing game. My buddy in Atlanta is teaching me to play StarFleet Battles (a board game – I probably got the name wrong). “Are you a werewolf” is fun. I just bought the card game “Gloom” at GenCon – hoping to get my family to play as they don’t enjoy role-playing like I do. I can say I’ve had some of the best time gaming ever in LARPS at cons. I’ve also had the worst time ever playing in LARPS at cons… so I know they can be very fun… you just have to know which ones to sign up for. Oh! One of the best RPG games I have ever played campaign style (non-con, regular weekend schedule with friends) was a Star Wars game, which is no longer in print. I have come to learn there have been several versions of Star Wars RPG… wish I could remember the exact name/version of that one! The game system was awesome and I was so surprised at how well the game mechanics for being a Jedi worked. It was fun! I want to play again. I have to say one of the biggest reasons I love classic Call of Cthulhu is the game system. Its so light-weight, it doesn’t get in the way… and puts the emphasis on role-playing, and of course, having fun.