On the Scene: Escapist Expo 2013



Greetings once again, dear readers!

If this is your first visit, a very hearty welcome to Berling’s Beard! Last weekend I was lucky enough to travel to beautiful Durham, North Carolina for the second annual Escapist Expo and it was just a blast. I’ve mentioned the Expo in a previous post and my hopes then were definitely met! The Merch Hall was probably three times larger this year, the open table top gaming spaces were nuts (more on those below), apparently Red Bull was sponsoring a ‘lounge’ where friends could plop down in comfy chairs and play any number of XBOX360 / PS3 titles, and last but not least, there were a number of very exciting new games being demo’d.

What has stuck with me the most however are a number of truly socially inspirational panels at the Expo. I feel like that’s an unexpected comment to make. When was the last time a panel challenged you to be a better human being within your own sub-culture and succeeded? I get the sense, in many different situations, that we’re of the mind that, as humans, we’ve got things pretty well figured out within our own sub-cultures. Thus, when the experience of another human in our sub-culture reveals and challenges misconceptions or outright lies, it really is an amazing feeling. Personally, the two panels that made me reflect on what I think I know about my sub-culture were “You Game like a Girl: Tales of Trolls & White Knights” and “The Geek Syndrome: Asperger’s in the 21st Century”.

“Game Like a Girl” is a panel that’s actually been presented at both PAX East 2013 and PAX Prime 2013 by a number of gaming luminaries, specifically Anja Keister [Co-producer & performer, D20 Burlesque], Shoshana Kessock [CEO, game designer, blogger, Phoenix Outlaw Productions], Iris Explosion [Sex Educator, freelance performer], Stella Chuu [Cosplay model, freelance performer & model], and the incomparable Susana Polo [Managing Editor @ The Mary Sue, NOTE: Susana was not able to attend the Expo Panel, so I didn’t get to speak to her directly]. I heard very good reviews about this panel at PAX East 2013 and confirmed them with my own experience at Escapist Expo 2013. In short, this panel is an incredibly savvy and intelligent method to examine, discuss, and discover issues facing women in our sub-culture. Make no mistake, these folks have been trolled in really scary and completely disgusting ways because of putting this panel on and they deserve immense credit for their bravery in continuing to stand up and be leading voices on this issue. While much of the discussion wasn’t new territory for me personally, it is extremely eye opening / mind expanding for what I consider to be the ‘average gamer’ (note, I’m specifically not tagging the label ‘average gamer’ with a gendered connotation, it includes ALL of us in the sub-culture). Anyway, I highly recommend this panel. Go see it if you can!

[UPDATE 10/24/13 The Video of this Panel; only audio until about 2min mark, then video kicks in]

“The Geek Syndrome” was moderated a very sincere young man named Will Vinci and paneled by an Escapist Magazine contributor that I’ve name checked on here before; Dr. Mark Kline. Specifically this panel was about Asperger Syndrome / Disorder (as of May 2013 this disorder has been folded in to the larger diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder) and how this disorder (for simplicity’s sake, I shall use disorder hereafter) might show its symptoms. Generalizations are difficult, if not impossible, as every person affected by this disorder shows different symptoms however on the whole it can be characterized by an inability to recognize and adapt to social cues. Will Vinci had been diagnosed with this disorder and his personal story was powerful. Many members of the audience were either friends or family with a person diagnosed with this disorder and it was very refreshing to have an open discussion about what people’s experiences have been, how to cope with such a diagnosis, as well as how to broach this subject with family or friends who may have this disorder but have not yet been diagnosed. Specifically I was interested in table top, video, and mental games that could act as an ‘on boarding’ process for recognizing social cues. So many misconceptions about the disorder were cleared up in my mind and, as I thought more about it, I realized that some of my closest gaming friends might even have this disorder. Obviously, if one looks too hard for something, they’ll find it, but that said, it was eye opening nonetheless. It was very interesting to learn from Will the moderator that just being diagnosed is a step in the right direction because it can give someone suffering from this disorder a better understanding of their difficulties with other people. This understanding can be transformative and empowering. I really enjoyed this panel because I learned so much and the majority of it was just a discussion between the panelists and the audience. There were some touching and funny stories from the audience. All around, exactly the type of panel I find the most value in; educational, empowering, and empathetic.

[UPDATE 10/21/13 The Video of this Panel]


Photo Credit: Anja Keister

Lastly, yours truly did in fact moderate a panel! Yes, my first panel ever and I’m moderating. How fun! On Saturday, October the 5th, ‘Dungeon Mastering: Skills & Secrets’ made its debut! I can’t tell you how anxious I was right before, I couldn’t even finish my bacon! MY BACON, for GODS’ SAKE! But, after some very timely advice (thanks, Mom) I took the stage with five other amazing DMs! Though we were in the smallest of the Panel Rooms, the place was packed, and we had standing room only. I was super honored to have Alex Macris (General Manager of the Escapist & Designer of the Adventurer, Conquer, King System) and Mike Capps on the panel, as well as three of my closest DM friends / contemporaries; Chloe Mirzayi (the y is silent), Danny Norton, and Dan Alicea (pronounced ali-say-a). Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and challenging me, on a daily basis, to be a better person and DM. Of course a HUGE thanks to EVERYONE who showed up to the Panel, you all made it the success I was hoping to find. I’ll be posting the video footage of ‘Dungeon Mastering: Skills & Secrets’ in the very near future.

Okay, so let’s get down to brass tacks, what’s the scoop this year?


First off, I was lucky enough to have an amazing DM named Ryven Cedrylle run a four hour session of 13th Age the OTHER table top RPG put out by once employees of Wizards of the Coast, specifically Rob Heinsoo (lead designer of 4th edition D&D) and Jonathan Tweet (lead designer of 3rd edition D&D). If you haven’t heard, which is fine, the more well known of the two right now seems to be Numenera which is a product of Monte Cook (lead designer of 3rd edition D&D) and very difficult word for me to say quickly in a row. 13th Age was a very fun time. It’s always important, for me at least, to realize that if I can trust my DM and my fellow players with my fun, I’ll have a good time (almost) regardless of which system we’re using to game. However, I can say this specifically about 13th Age; characters are super unique and immediately tied to the setting from the get-go using the ‘one unique thing’ and background parts of character creation, combat is quick and lively, the game is not tailored for the passive gamer but instead expects one to be quite active in terms of collaborative story telling, the combat powers are interesting though swing wildly from character to character (my fighter had half a dozen actual 4E style powers on sheet, while the Ranger had maybe two) and last but definitely not least, the campaign world is a very captivating one. I encourage you all to try this game out!

The open gaming area of the Expo was pretty tight. Not only was there a huge ‘game on demand’ section put on by Foam Brain Games, but there were no less than four good sized rooms for open gaming / scheduled Con games. I ended up spending most of my time in the balcony one room. It was in the Carolina theater and so had direct access to beer (both bottled and draft!), snacks, and paper towels (also important for someone with a big wingspan like me). This is also the spot I used for both of the table top games I had on the Con schedule: a four hour romp through my own Adventurer, Conquer, King System adventure; BrassBlack Tower, and then a two hour intro game to D&D NEXT. A big shout out to all my players who made each of these games just super fun. I had a very ye olde school ‘loot everything, be afraid of everything and so take time to research and examine, okay let’s take risky chances’ group at my ACKS table, which turned out really really well. We didn’t get through the adventure, but I think they got a very good sense of the system and yes, one PC did in fact die! My NEXT game had 7 players packed in (lucky, the tables were REALLY big where I was, so that helped) and it was GREAT to finally see the Bard class in play. If you didn’t know, this is my favorite D&D class; so it was really special on a personal level. My players got a great taste for the system and had tons of keen questions/comments at the end of the session. Though they, as well, didn’t ‘finish an adventure’ they did get to muck around in a sandbox and get a feel for how NEXT can easily provide an ‘old school module’ feel.

GlamazonsFor those of you who want piping hot game info, the product I heard about at the Escapist Expo 2013 that piqued my interest the most was Glamazons Vs. The Curse of the Chainmail Bikinis, a bluffing card game with the goal of getting your paper doll Glamazon a suit of armor that covers her entire body! Not only did I hear about it, but also it seems the kickstarter went up on October 8th, 2013! I’m so excited to see this type of cheeky critique make it’s way into the larger gaming sub-culture, especially surrounding one of the most egregious tropes of women depicted in the Fantasy genre. I think the creators are going about this very intelligently, because they’re acknowledging that Fantasy depictions of women can be desirable and sexy (check out the art) while making a game about dressing them in bad ass warrior armor and realizing they ARE bad ass though not only due to their desirable or sexy attributes. Anyway, I am totally pledging to this project and I encourage you to do so as well. Good luck, Glamazons!


Okay, so the last thing about Escapist Expo 2013 is a really big shout out to the Staff of Durham’s own Mellow Mushroom pizzeria! I’m one of those people who, unfortunately, has been sorta ruined by living in NYC too long. I go other places and the food does not meet the standard I’m used to (I know, I know… I’m THAT guy). So, imagine my surprise and elation at finding a pizzeria outside the Tri-State area (NY, NJ, CT) that has AMAZING PIES. Seriously, if you’re ever in Durham, NC check this spot out!

Alright dear readers, that’s about all I’ve got for now. We’ll be seeing each other a little on further down the trail. I shall leave you with one of my favorite musical acts the world over and a video that perfectly sums up the creative style of Contemporary Van Art that I want all my games infused with.

~Your buddy Berling

About Berling

Ken Breese (he) Writer, Narrative Designer, and Game Master for hire focused on Inclusion, Table Top RPGs, Nerd Culture, Critical Thinking, and the Politics of Gaming.

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