SCARAB Review… Chaotic Good
The Skyland Games crew made our way to Columbia, South Carolina for the 2nd Annual South Carolina Area Roleplayers and Boardgamers convention. The Con ran from Friday to Monday, but we elected to just go down for the day and play a little Pathfinder Society. Of course, by a little, I mean playing two scenarios which ran from approximately 1pm-1am.
Before we made it to the event, we wanted to stop and check out one of Columbia’s Friendly Local Gaming Stores, Heroes and Dragons. Some of the guys had met the owner at Fanaticon in May, and it sounded like a pretty cool store. We had a great time perusing aisle after aisle of awesome stuff: comics, toys both new and retro, gaming books, board games, used paperback books, a huge gaming space with lots of terrain, and of course, one massive dragon. It’s safe to say we were all really impressed with the store, not only for its size, but also its scope. If you are anywhere near Columbia, its worth a bit of a pilgrimage. Once we were done checking out the store, it was time to head to SCARAB.
I should note, that of the 4-man crew, I was the one with the least Con experience. I went to something in DC with my mom when I was about 13, but that hardly counts. As Cons go, the other guys assured me that this one was a bit on the small side. That being said, all the staff we interacted with during registration and between games were really helpful and welcoming, and it was easy to navigate and get to where you wanted to be. It was held at the Scottish Rite Convention Center, which sounds like it might be a huge venue, but turned out to be about the size of a large church.
Registration was in the center lobby, which included several computers so players could register digitally for games via warhorn. RPGs were in the auditorium at several round tables that were on “stage.” The stage wasn’t raised, and was actually rather roomy and accommodated about 18-20 tables, not all of which were occupied at any one time when we were there. The lighting was a bit distracting in that it was red, blue, and yellow stage lights which tended to cast some weird multicolored shadows, but all and all, not bad. The other half of the event was in the cantina, which was about the size of a large cafeteria. They had various gaming vendors around the outside edge, and another 20-25 round tables in the middle. There was a snack bar that sold drinks and pizza and cookies to hungry gamers, and a pretty large selection of board games that anyone could borrow for an impromptu game.
We were told that the Warhammer guys had moved to the hotel were the majority of the con-attendees were staying, so we missed a bit of the action, but I think its safe to say we saw the majority. I saw just about everybody I had played Pathfinder Society games with in Asheville in attendance. It made for a cool community vibe.
Our Pathfinder sessions were scheduled for 1pm-5pm, and 6pm-10pm. Here is were a bit of the Chaos began. The tables were kind of labelled with number tents, and some had signs on them of what game was going on there, and if they were looking for players. As near as I could tell, these signs were for decoration only. We couldn’t find our table, or even our GM despite showing up early and making an earnest attempt to do just that. At about two minutes to 1pm Scott just yelled out the GM’s name until he responded. The GM led us to a table, at which we learned our characters were not of the appropriate level for the module we signed up for. No level tier was mentioned in the module description on warhorn. While some mods included this very helpful bit of infomation, ours did not. To his credit, the GM rolled with the punches and produced a level appropriate mod from last season.
Our table consisted of six players. Four from Skyland Games, one from Asheville whom I had played with at a previous society event, and one walk-up new to Pathfinder, but not RPGs. The module had a bit of a detective motif, in which we had to gather enough evidence to prove that a public official was involved in the slave trade. It was clear this GM really enjoyed the investigation aspect, and let us wander around and try to discover things with little guidance or coaching. This led to splitting the party, which led to at one point, 3 separate scenes going on at the same time, which led to a lot of downtime for some of table, which led to the first combat not happening until about 4pm. This was a bit frustrating for me as a player. I’m all for roleplaying a scene or two, but once he realized how much time had gone by, he had 3 or 4 combats to do in an hour. This was of course, impossible, and led to a lot of truncating of the actual plot of the mod while we each fiddle-farted around in scenes that had little to no bearing on the story. I really admired the GMs skills of improvisation and letting us go do whatever. In a home game it would have been absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately at a Con, since we had a time constraint, we missed out on some serious plot points and he had to hand-wave some of the bigger scenes and encounters. Of course, we ran over 5pm and nearly went all the way to 6pm by the time chronicle sheets were filled out. I wish I could say I enjoyed it more, but I’ve now read the mod and realized what we missed out on, and am more upset than I was at the time.
The next session was the convention special Blood Under Absalom. This is a special event module that requires multiple tables run it at the same time, with one overseer GM to coordinate events happening at the same time for all tables. We had 3 tables of 6 and one table of 7 playing it simultaneously. This solved the pacing problem of the previous session by keeping all the GMs on task and moving through the different scenes. The difference was like night and day. The first scene was a bar brawl that was led at such a break-neck speed it was crazy. We talked about it on the ride home and agreed it was some of the fastest combat any of us had ever been a part of. Not only that, but you could hear the same frantic pace at the tables around you, making it feel like you were actually in a bustling tavern! WAY COOL! Despite our new GMs rapid fire pace, this mod had way too many scenes to be completed in a four hour time slot. The sad thing was, there were a few that seemed trivial or unnecessary to the flow of the story and took up precious minutes. The climax was pretty awesome, as it required all the PCs at the table to continuously roll until they got a natural twenty. This represented touching the hem of the robe of a master monk. Our table was the first to complete the task, and cheered out in victory! It was a really cool atmosphere and was something you couldn’t replicate in a basement with a few friends.
All and all it was good, but a little chaotic, and bound to grow. Maybe next year we’ll stay for a few days and play more games!
Pros: Good people, pretty good venue, big Asheville Pathfinder crew!
Cons: Organization and signage could be improved, including level tiers in the description of all mods on warhorn so players know what to sign up for.