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OrcaCon 2017: Review

OrcaCon ProgramSusan and I went up to OrcaCon for the weekend. It’s a local gaming convention in its second year, with an emphasis on diversity and creating a safe space for gaming. It ran Friday through Sunday, 1/13 through 1/15, at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Everett, WA. Rumor is that it had around 1,000 attendees. I am no good at judging crowd sizes but that sounds about right to me.

Check out the cool program book there! (Oooh, visual aids.) Not only was there an awesome map, but the back six pages or so were a Mutants & Masterminds quick-start. This is the most useful con program book I’ve ever seen.

If you are too busy to read through the thousand words or so that follow, my quick recommendation: this con is definitely a must if you’re in the Seattle area, and it’s worth some travel if you like really well-run regional gaming conventions.


The Holiday Inn is a standard Holiday Inn with convention space. It was plenty big enough for the con, with the exception of hotel rooms. The hotel is renovating and turning into a Marriott, and some unexpected delays led to loss of some third floor rooms. People in those rooms were bumped to the nearby Best Western — less than a five minute walk, but they also had on-demand shuttles. Also, people who were bumped didn’t have to pay for their rooms, which is quite classy. I booked late so was stuck in the Best Western without compensation but it wasn’t at all an issue. Next year they anticipate having plenty of space for everyone again.

The hotel restaurant was excellent. Totally normal average not awesome not horrible food, but they put together a special condensed menu for the convention and emphasized quick preparation. They clearly got the whole lunch rush problem. They also had $1 tacos for people on a budget. To round out the offerings, the hotel set up a little drink and snack stand along one hallway. Really solid.

The gaming space was standard ballrooms with tables. The acoustics were excellent; I never had trouble hearing my game. I had one game with a very quiet person who was a bit hard to hear, but leaning in solved that. The organizers did one clever thing and one not clever thing for tables. Bad first: there wasn’t any good way to tell which game was at which table without hovering over the table and peering at the tiny schedule taped along the edge. Numbered tables or signs would have been much better. Smart: they had table stands showing the number of slots available in a game; made it easy to see if there was someone looking for players.

I heard that there was a gaming basement in the hotel garage, which was borne out by the con map, but I didn’t get down there. Word on the street is that it was “creepy.”

The con organizers have a really good relationship with the hotel and the city. The mayor of Everett showed up Friday to tour the con and so on, perhaps because one of the con organizers is a Washington state senator. The city apparently considers the con to be a significant economic driver for Everett and is highly interested in making sure it sticks around. This is a highly impressive level of community relations for a convention.

Dealers and Stuff

Teeny dealer’s room! No smaller than I’d expect from a local con, though. There was one local retailer, some arts and crafts, the D-Bag people, and a Pelgrane Press booth. Maybe two local retailers, can’t recall. Oddly, the retailer(s) had board games but no RPGs; the only people selling RPGs were Pelgrane, who were repping Chaosium as well as Pelgrane. No harm done, I don’t go to local cons to buy things anyhow.

OrcaCon also runs a community table section, which had a mix of people from the Wizards of the Coast LGBTQ+Allies Group to Dragonflight to the Langley Whale Center. Moderately interesting and a cool feature.

Geek Chic was one of the con sponsors, and they had reservable tables set up so you could try one out for real. This is awesome and I am going to take advantage of this next year. Way better than just looking at them briefly at a con.
They had some tables set up for company demo purposes in the main demo ballroom, too.


OrcaCon has a full-featured harassment policy. Excellent. There were Backup Project ribbons available alongside a set of preferred gender pronoun ribbons, with some blank ones so you could choose your own. Also excellent. I heard some of the diversity panels had rough moments, but overall solid.


Really wide variety of games! There was a room for Pathfinder Society and a room for Adventurer’s League. I did not see any gang wars going on between them despite close proximity and they both looked about equally busy. There was a fair bit of indie gaming but I’d say the majority of the non-organized play stuff was what I think of as mid-majors: Atlas Games, Pelgrane Press, Evil Hat, Green Ronin, and so on. It was an excellent place to try games I’d been wanting to play. In fact, I checked off two boxes from that list despite skipping one game thanks to sleep deprivation, and I still got to play Feng Shui twice.

In order, speaking of which:

“The Sky’s The Limit,” Feng Shui. Straightforward adventure in which we surprised some thugs at a Native American burial ground in Eastern Washington, then high-tailed it back to Seattle to have a climatic fight against a demon in an under-construction skyscraper. Good clean fun. I played Dmitri, a Russian bear demon who was cursed to wander the earth until the Tsars returned to the throne. This goal was not resolved during the adventure. I learned that Supernatural Creatures have no skills and that this is more limiting and annoying than I’d have expected, but not to any serious degree. I might steer new players away from this archetype, though. We had one new Feng Shui player who had a blast, flawless victory! I also found out that you can get serious about min-maxing the game. Who knew? This game made me want to run Feng Shui more.

“The Van Helsing Letter,” Night’s Black Agents. This is I think this year’s NBA Free RPG Day adventure. I have that sitting around somewhere so I could check, but perhaps later. I played, uh, Varoutte, a French ex-DCRI intrusion specialist. We didn’t do the usual “go round the table, establish your character” bit, which made me feel a tad less connected to my character, but the GM was in general excellent and it was awesome getting to play the game instead of running it (which I’ve done once). Plus I got to play with Susan. Best game of the con. I like the way Gumshoe works for spy thrillers and the GM had the feel of Europe down pat. This game made me want to run Night’s Black Agents more.

“Tower in the Mist,” 13th Age. The GM has a small game company that’s published a 13th Age sourcebook and this adventure. My character was a half-orc barbarian named Ghaz. The system was great, as I had expected; the adventure was a bit more whimsical than I liked. Barbarians have a little bit of strategic choice, and not a lot of difficult tactical choices, which was exactly why I chose that character. I will whine a little bit about not getting to choose my own One Unique Thing, there, whine complete. We played without a battle map and it was totally smooth. The other players were cool and I got to play with Susan again, always a bonus. It did not make me want to run 13th Age more but if I was in the mood for a D&D game I’d go there first.

“Hong Kong Task Force 88,” Feng Shui. Also a Free RPG Day adventure. The GM was the same dude who ran “The Van Helsing Letter,” and he was awesome again. I played Sally Lam, a plainsclothes cop who fought her way out of the traffic enforcement division and into detective work to seek revenge after gangsters killed her undercover fiancé. Haunted by fears of failure, she compensates by shooting bad guys and drinking. It took me like four hours to realize what I’d done there. Today I learned that you can play Judy Hopps at a Feng Shui table and nobody will notice at all. Even me. the other Feng Shui trick I learned at this table: write up a handful of melodramatic hooks and hand them out as possibilities (but not handcuffs) for one-shot games. This game made me want to run… you know.

Various and sundry quotes:

“I’m going to use my Info: Occult skill and talk to Blondie. Who’s in the morgue.”

“When the musk-ox milk goes bad, you know it.”

“My pistol is an angry pistol.” (It was.)

“Did you want to go all the way up the elevator?” “It’s further away from that, so yes!”

“Is he actually in the elevator?” “He is exactly where the elevator was.”

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