Of the many modern structures in existence, few are as specialized yet utilitarian as the convention center. Even the earliest designs were enormous structures, sometimes created for one-use purposes such as a world’s fair. Designed to host commercial activity, the convention center often serves the same function as the trade fairs of ancient times, when merchant caravans would assemble in large fields outside a nearby city to trade among themselves and the inhabitants of surrounding areas. In size, the modern convention center (from the 1940s and onward) can range from a small facility of thousands of square meters to enormous “cities within cities” of multi-level structures miles across. Such behemoths have their own power plants, attached hotels, gigantic docking areas, and operations centers. Often, convention centers are divided into halls, each capable of hosting a trade show or convention simultaneously.
Usually, except for late at night, convention centers bustle with nonstop activity. Convention centers run on a cycle known as setup-show-teardown, in which exhibitors’ freight and personnel arrive to ready for a convention, then hold then show, and finally pack it all up for a return home or travel to the next convention. The halls are rarely empty, instead being filled with (at minimum) tables and chairs, but more often with curtained dividers between spaces, which are filled with tables, chairs, or elaborate displays of wares (including signs, samples, and salespeople).
A firefight within a convention center can be a dangerous proposition. Most cover provided by display booths and signs is concealment only – bullets and energy beams can blow through such objects. Visual distance is limited – mostly to the long axis of the series of aisles that run the length of the convention floor between booth spaces. The shorter aisles often stop or bend or are choked with packing materials during setup or people during a show.
Of course, fighting during a show will result in mass collateral damage to people and property, and it can create a panic that could lead to more deaths as people shove and trample each other to make it to the distant exits.
Depending on the show, there may be some hard cover and potential weapons. An industrial machine show would provide solid hiding space behind large machining centers or robots, while a military show could have combat machines, drones, and robots. These industrial devices might emit mild EM signatures and a lot of heat, fouling infrared and other combat sensors.
Police and firefighters can be expected to respond en masses to reports of fires or combat at a convention center. After all, such places may be one of the crown jewels of a city and its reputation – it wouldn’t help the city to have its visitors mowed down. Modern convention centers are well built to avoid problems with fires and the like. Many convention centers also feature a small fire-fighting force and somewhat underwhelming security guards. But actual combat can easily overwhelm architectural design safety standards. Some numbers that might be helpful: the size of a booth space (3 by 3 meters to 15 by 15 meters, usually averaging US$ l50 or Easy Funds roll per square meter at today’s rates); height of ceilings (10 to 20 meters); number of people on a floor at a medium-size convention (5,000 to 10,000); time to get service from a vendor (30 minutes to an hour or more); noise level (rock-concert during setup, much less during a show unless a lot of machinery is being run).
Noncombat complications include surly union workers (bribery is possible, but modern contracts tend to outlaw such activity), crabby customers, giant bureaucratic maze of forms and procedures (despite this most conventions are astonishingly well-organized), high-speed load lifters racing to and fro, too much heat (despite huge volumes, most convention centers get sweaty-hot during setup), lost freight, and ridiculously high charges for sandwiches (US$10), cold water (US$3) and electricians (US$60 per 20 minutes).
Don’t Miss …
The Burnside Convention Center is hub of economic activity in a typical medium-sized city. Unknown to residents and most of the workers, the center was built on an extradimensional gateway node. Unfortunately, this node leads to some rather nasty infernal regions populated by an assortment of evil beings.
Once every three months, the dimensional bar- rier weakens, allowing access to Earth via the node. Fortunately for its inhabitants, the area around the node is sealed with another magical barrier that prevents infernal access to outside the convention center grounds. Those “in the know” can spot the edge of this barrier (Moderate divination or Very Difficult search roll) – its flowers, plants, and other outdoor accents burst with life and vigor – much to the puzzled pleasure of the groundskeepers. When the node opens each third month, the denizens of these infernal regions set up a little trade show of their own. The various demons, devils, and vile spirits set up hideous booths – displaying their evil and vile wares and services and vying for con- tracts for souls, infernal hit jobs, and the like. The convention starts at midnight and lasts three hours. At the end of the three hours, everything is sucked back into the node in a furious hellstorm.
Evil human sorcerers and their ilk know of the convention center and eagerly await its arrival. There, they can sample the wares from the infernal planes, pay to learn new sorceries and corruptions, and bargain for their souls or the sacrifices they make of unwitting victims.
Secrecy, of course, is paramount to the operation. In a somewhat “realistic” world, there may be divine rules at work specifying that normal people cannot find evidence of the supernatural … or else. In a more cinematic game, the convention center owner takes great measures to keep the general public unaware to prevent troubleshooters from crashing the event.
The owner of the convention center, James Balthazor, participates in the Convention from Hell and is well paid to make sure absolutely no one is around during the event unless they have a special ticket to attend. He carefully uses bribery, blackmail, and mind-affecting sorcery to ensure the privacy of the event. (Players’ characters may need to overcome such spells to enter the grounds, usually Moderate to Very difficult willpower tasks).
The players’ characters become aware of the Convention from Hell in one of a variety of ways. Perhaps the characters are accidentally mailed a ticket after subscribing to an occult magazine. Perhaps Balthawr’s headstrong daughter insists on going to the show, thinking her father is merely up to some illegal activity and the characters are contracted to restrain or rescue her. Or, maybe the characters are tasked to follow a necromancer bent on bringing his latest captive to the convention to trade for a Zombie-creating spell.
If played as a humorous scenario, the Game Master should stress the absurdity of the show – little demons running around setting up booth walls, rigging lighting, fine-tuning torture racks and like. Vendor demons dressed like used car salespersons pester the visitors with special show-only offers and one-time deals. The characters might even witness a group of devils getting into a brawl with the Union of Infernal Heat Producers and Distributors (IHP&D) reps.
In a serious scenario, the entire atmosphere is very deadly: the characters must constantly be on the lookout for aggressive foes seeking an advantage and must “act the part” of evildoers (Moderate to Difficult con and disguise rolls are appropriate, as is liberal use of intimidation). One slip and they could (literally) bring Hell down on their heads.
The booth sections will feature a litany of abhorrence the likes of which mere mortals have a hard time adjusting to – Game Masters should play up the gore, fear, and hopelessness on display. If the heroes are here to rescue someone, they had better figure out a way to frame a group of infernals for their deeds – a common enough practice for these beings. Once the fireworks begin, they can hopefully escape with their captive.
Things to See
+ Waxed-paper cups of soda pop, with clear plastic lids and straws
+ Large black or metal posts with wide elastic or thick rope strung between them to mark offline- forming areas
+ Metals poles, about two and a half meters tall, with a dark purple, dark blue, or black thin curtain hung on a metal bar between then
+ Folding chairs with plastic seats and backs and metal legs
+ Large gray-brown plastic trash cans
+ Two-meter long folding cables covered by white plastic sheets and encircled by white, black, dark purple, or dark blue skirts of a thin polyester material
+ Information booklets or fliers
+ Small free items (pens, pencils, magnets, mugs, first-aid kits, etc.) – with company logos on them
+ Paper name tags, attached by adhesive or pins or kept in clear plastic holders on lanyards worn around the neck
People to Meet
Most convention workers are tradespeople and have 2D in each attribute. Each should have skills appropriate to their profession, such as tech 4D, artist 3D, hide 6D, repair 4D, streetwise: convention center 4D, intimidation 30, and con 3D. Security guards have marksmanship, brawling, and security at 2D+l to 3D.
Demonic Sales Rep
Surprisingly friendly, these lower planar creatures come in numerous shapes and sizes and can be found attending to customers at d1eir booths. If a characters is so foolish as to offer his soul for trade, the demon will cheerfully take down the character’s information so that the home office can get in touch with the person at the soonest opportunity.
Demonic Sales Rep: Reflexes 3D, brawling 4D, sneak 4D, Coordination 2D, throwing 4D, Physique 3D+2, lifting 4D+2, running 6D, Knowledge 20, business 4D, Perception 2D, Presence 4D, charm 60, persuasion 6D, intimidation 60, willpower 4D. Move: 10. Strength Damage: 2D. Body Points: 21. Wound levels: 3. Disadvantages: Employed (R1), anyone who knows its true name can command it completely; Sense of Duty (R3), totally committed to making the sale. Special Abilities: Attack Resistance (R1), +1D to damage resistance total against weapons not blessed or enchanted; Immortality (R1), a holy symbol and proper ritual returns it to its realm.
Things to Do
+ An acquaintance of the players’ character calls and, in a worried voice, says no one has seen her nephew since he attended the last trade show. The nephew was hired by the acquaintance’s company to set up and tear-down the booth. The company sells some kind of exotic or military technology: high-capacity storage, cutting edge optics, laser systems, or early nanotechnology.
Oddly, the corporate reps at the show were reportedly from one of the company’s “black” divisions, engaged in some cop-secret work. Supposedly, they were to meet with very select clients at the show. The characters are asked co look into the nephew’s disappearance, as the police have turned up nothing.