GenCon 2013: PostMortem

Here at AmberDawn Games, we believe in the joys of “transparent design”. As such we are sharing this after-action report with you all so you might gain some insight from our successes, as well as learn from our mistakes.

Until recently, AmberDawn Games has been a pipe dream of ours for a great many years. It was pure luck that we were asked by Indie Games Explosion to come and present Space Trouble for the masses to get a taste of. We weren’t even really ready to present it for public consumption, but on a whim we agreed. And I think it was for the best.

It was in late July that we got the invitation. They had heard of the work we did with Mike McConnell on Strands of Fate, as well as Nova Praxis. We are huge evangelists of Strands, and helped write Strands of Power. Our alliance with Void Star Studios has been some of the best stuff to happen to us; giving us the confidence and clarity to finally take the dive and start AmberDawn Games. So, toward the end of June, we said “yes” and took the plunge. Thus began the arduous task of wrapping our head around what that would really mean.

Space Trouble has been in development off and on. Some of the writers and advisors have come and gone, it has gone through some great feasts and depressing famines as resources are allocated and then distributed away from it. This happens to most projects. Development costs time, money, sanity and attention. We’ve come into a bounty of support recently and are hoping to have it out by the start of 2014.

This is relevant as we haven’t had anything to show for it for some time. How the heck were we going to have anything to run at GenCon? It was this conundrum that actually inspired us to write the story with the sophomoric title “The Outer Rim Job.

Laying down a basic plot is easy. Filling out an outline is a little more difficult. Applying the bricks and mortar that make for interesting and balanced characters is grueling. Making sure the story plays at a proper and interesting pace is damn-near impossible without testing. We knew the one thing we didn’t want was to present at GenCon with our pants down. So we ran and tested the story several times before we shipped off to the Con. Before our reps arrived, some things came up to make this harder for us. These Aspects would continue to be negatives that would hang over our heads and we would learn to overcome them.

First of all we weren’t sure our Shirts were going to arrive at all. Luckily they were waiting for us at our hotel, but that place was nearly as much of a shit-hole as Deyama station. So, we had little faith we were ever going to see them. As such, we had a second batch sent to our offices, but they arrived as we were in the air, the day we were headed to the Con. As you can see in the pictures above, we were able to rendezvous with them at our hotel. We learned to not cut things that close again.

Secondly, the lessons from the first problem created a similar snafu with the second. Our lead illustrator ran into some problems in his real life and thus couldn’t get us the design we had in mind for our promotional cards in time. We were going to create a post-card sized advertisement that would promote AmberDawn Games on the front and Space Trouble on the back (we were aiming to have about 200 of these to spread around). By the time the issues were sorted out, they couldn’t be produced or shipped in time. On one hand we were saving some money by not having to have them produced, on the other we feel we missed a great many marketing opportunities as a result. We’ll never know how much this will hurt us later.

The third issue we faced is one of future promotion. We hemmed-and-hawed about whether we should bring our professional photography suite with us or not. We were already packing a great deal of material and gear with us and opted not to. As such, we have few pictures to show for. It’d be nice if we could show you some photos of the table as we played; sadly that is not an option. Next time we will be taking our gear and shooting a few videos and taking photos while the event goes on. That will mean sending more than three Officers to represent the company, however.

We did some things right. It almost seems too frugal, but we packed in lunchables for lunch (each day) and plenty of snacks. As we were warned, the food in the convention center is of poor quality and overpriced. They also have the sick sense to raise their prices as the day goes on and supply dwindles. Our Officers are all various degrees of portley, and one of us is diabetic. I’m interested to see how many miles we walked, but an acquaintance of ours measured his steps out to 26 miles. I am sure we’re not too far out.

We were impressed with the quality of Castle Molds

The hall we were demoing in was VERY loud. We had to yell to run our game. I anticipated as much and brought lemon-heads to compensate. This did a great job preserving my voice, but I went through three boxes, and by the time I was done with the convention, the citric-acid had scalded by gums, teeth and tongue. It’s a helluva price to pay for keeping the one thing you need to do your job. I am still recovering from this; as I refresh I am sure my stress track will clear out.

It’s easy to look back at what we did wrong and mope. Overall the con was about people. It’s why you go. It’s why this place isn’t one booth in a field in Kansas. We met some great people and we all had a blast. I ran the story 5 times while we were there. Each session lasting 4 hours. While a few of our Officers got in on the fun, those others who arrived as strangers walked away as friends.

We got loads of great feedback on the story, the characters, the plot, and the pacing. What matters most is everyone appreciated the intrigue and had FUN! Rest assured, I was taking notes as the story progressed and have now run through the adventure a total of 8 times. This feedback is going to make the product even better when we are prepared to release it to the public. More than mine for experience on this module, we were there to give those interested at taste of FATE as well as the world of Space Trouble. On that front I feel we did a damn-fine job.

Where do we go from here? We’ll we’re already talking about setting aside coin for next year, and we are talking with our Officers about how best to polish and release the Outer Rim Job. We are still on track to release Space Trouble by early 2014, and are spending a few cycles creating two new initiatives…

AmberDawn Agents

We’ll be talking about this more in another post, but every player I talked to said they were interested in hearing more about our upcoming Agents program. We;re still working on the logistics and details, but this will allow those of you in good rapport to sign up to receive demo versions of the modules, adventures, and products we put out. You’ll be able to run your own players through the same paces we do here at the office, and give us feedback. We can’t say for certain, but we are hoping to let this also be worth a discount in the online-store for your trouble.

Flight Plan

Blog posts such as this one are an example of the level of transparency we want with for AmberDawn Games. We believe this will encourage some of you to see how its done and consider developing that thing you’ve always dreamed of as well. In that same spirit, as we go forward we want to show you how Space Trouble (and all future products) are developing. What percentage the writing for each chapter is at, and as we come up to major decisions, involve you (the fan and consumer) in the process via comments and polls; so we can make the product you want to imbibe.


Overall the whole experience was informative, expensive, fun, exhausting, and well worth it all. We got to network with some professionals, partner with others who have similar dreams, and give the people a taste of what we’re about and what’s to come. There is no experience more rewarding that being fed from the glamor of players who are genuinely having fun from our interactive-storytelling experiences.

We are life-long-learners, and this was a forgiving experience. Next year is going to rock even harder.

“May the dice roll ever in your favor”