Tuesday, March 26, 2013

GaryCon V - Day 2

Note to Self: Do Not Schedule 8AM games for Thursday at GaryCon.

Thursday morning did not creep up on me, it hit like a sledgehammer to the back of the head. It wasn't that I was gaming until the wee hours of the morning – we finished around 12:30 AM or so, if I recall correctly. No, it’s that I can’t fall asleep in hotel rooms, particularly not on the first night of a stay and certainly not without my wife and family. Add into that the fact I felt the need to get up by 7 AM and, well, it was only a few hours of sleep when all was said and done.

Why so early? Two reasons, the first of which is rather innocuous. I had an 8AM game to learn how to play Hackmaster. This would give me time to shower (first rule of gaming as my kids can recite – always shower) and grab a bite to eat before the game.

The second reason is something I really should talk to the Powers That Be about – souvenirs. You see, each Thursday morning of the convention, for the last four years, I've fretted about souvenirs. I want to make sure to, at the very least, get a t-shirt for myself and each of my kids. I also knew they had glass beer steins on sale and I could not remember if I pre-ordered that with my platinum badge. Some years they have these really sweet commemorative coins…like this…

GaryCon I and II:

GaryCon III and IV

In past years they've had commemorative dice and mini figures as well. And in past years, I was lucky/persistent enough to be around before they sold out of things in which I was interested…sometimes just barely.

So on Thursday morning, before the 8AM game, I wanted to be ready and in line just in case. Only, they didn't have any of it out an available. I understood – they wanted to sort through all of the pre-ordered stuff as well as anything that people were to receive as part of their badge purchase. I checked periodically in the first couple hours of Hackmaster to no avail. Of course, by the time my 8AM slot of Hackmaster ended, they were in full sales swing. Again, this year, I was lucky to get the shirts I wanted. Also, this year, they seemed to have a lot more of stuff so there were even coffee mugs available on the last day. So maybe it’s not something I should concern myself with…though I think I’ll offer to volunteer next year to help get that all going. Onto gaming…

My 8AM slot was, as I mentioned, Learn to Hack. I’d never played Hackmaster before, but was well aware of the system. One of the mantras for me, personally, at conventions like GaryCon or GenCon is to try at least a game or two of things with which I am not so familiar. So I did as the event catalog described – I brought my dice and no experience.

A gentleman named George Fields ran the slot and, as described, he walked us through the basics of character generation. It was complex, but with years of experience in the various forms of OD&D/AD&D/D&D it was pretty easy to pick up. Once we all had our characters, we ran through a couple of combats to get a feel for the system. It was fun and interesting, though I’m not sure I’m sold on Hackmaster as a system.

At noon I was originally scheduled to play in an AD&D game with one of my friends running it – a kind-of continuation of a game we play every year at GenCon. Unfortunately, he had to back out a few weeks before GaryCon, so I had an eight hour opening in my schedule. But this is GaryCon…no worries.

Just before I finished the Learn to Hack slot, Doug Kovacs came around and we decided we’d have lunch together when my slot was over. So after we finished the slaughter I went out and purchased my t-shirts (yay!), Doug and I went to his car (at this point I was without a car as my wife had not returned with the kids in tow) and drove into Lake Geneva proper.  Again, one of the great things about GaryCon is an opportunity like this to just sit and talk with someone like Doug for an hour or so…about like, parents, siblings, and what make us tick.

When we returned, I went back to my room to gather myself. I returned to the restaurant to find Doug along with a couple of his friends already playing a board game….actually more of a card game.  It is called TheRed Dragon Inn. I’d never played before (imagine that!), but it was a lot of fun. Essentially you are the adventuring group back from a successful plundering and you are sitting around the tavern in the midst of drinking and debauchery. You have an alcohol counter, a constitution counter, and some gold. The first two, alcohol and constitution, are on a circular track heading toward each other – so as you gain alcohol and or lose constitution, the two markers head towards each other, one clockwise, the other counter clockwise. When they meet, you’ve passed out and lost. All the while you are trying to keep the gold in your pocket from being taken in drinking contests, gambling contests, or the party illusionist tricking you out it…because if you are out of gold, you are out of the game.

I’m seriously going to be looking into this game. It was simple, fun, and could change each time you played depending on the character you chose and the luck of the cards. All in all it was a blast and I made it to the end, only to be beaten by Doug in the closing moments.

After The Red Dragon Inn, we decided to try a reprint of a game from, I believe, the 60’s – called NuclearWar. To be honest, I can’t really tell you much about this game. The rules were very difficult to follow so we just made stuff up for a while. Add to this the fact that about half way through the game, I got the call from my wife that she and the kids were pulling into the parking lot of the hotel.

By the time I unloaded the family and their stuff, it was about 7PM. I took the opportunity to grab a quick nap, and by 8PM my son, daughter and I were downstairs getting settled at our table for our first game of DCC – the Dungeon CrawlClassics Role Playing Game.

In the Court of Chaos is apparently a forthcoming DCC adventure written by Michael Curtis. You remember Michael – the GM for Day1’s impromptu Gamma World game. Oh, and he was running this game of DCC as well! Unfortunately, I don’t want to say too much about this adventure as it is still officially in development. But I can say this…

In a nicely written and well delivered opening scene, we the adventurers were swept into the courts of chaos. There were met several Lords of Chaos who “requested” our aid in retrieving an item from the Lords of Law. After giving us some time to consider their offer, and a moment to add a great little twist, we were on our way.

 I can say one of my favorite moments was when my son, the wizard of the party, tried to cast a Comprehend Language and rolled a fumble on his spell check (the second fumble in row, the previous being a Color Spray that shot bursts all over the place). He then rolled to see the results of the fumble and got a misfire. For almost the rest the game, one of our party spoke in dragon tongue…completely incomprehensible to everyone else in the party….and the target played it to the hilt, doing nothing but grunting and gesticulating to communicate.

Oh…and I died!

Michael ran a great game. It was a bit loud in the room at the start, but we were the late game and the room cleared after a while. After, Michael handed out ribbons to both survivors and victims that were added to our convention badges. And we get to have our names as play-testers…even Colin!*

The kids and I stumbled back to the room and crashed at about 1 AM. We had to get our rest for Day 3…

*Harley, he literally crossed his name off the player list and wrote in Colin….I kid you not.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

GaryCon V - Day 1

It’s that time of year again; the time when winter is grasping desperately, but no less effectively, with its frigid, desiccated caress. Yet spring tries with the temerity of a newborn foal to stand. And one of the first signs of spring for my family and me is GaryCon.

GaryCon is a gaming convention held in the honor of the Father of Roleplaying Games, E. Gary Gygax. Gary Gygax passed away in March of 2008. After his funeral many of his friends and family gathered informally and gamed in his honor. The following year, in 2009, Gary’s son Luke Gygax, along with many of the Old Guard of gaming, decided to continue this tradition. In the intervening years, GaryCon has become a kind of living memorial to a man who influenced many lives.

Every year it’s been run publically, from 2009 until now, I’ve attended GaryCon. The first year it was a mad dash to Lake Geneva’s American Legion Hall to spend a Saturday gaming with a hundred or so others…treading the creaking wooden floors gamers once tread to attend early GenCon. This year there were over six hundred people filling the rooms and halls of the Geneva Ridge Resort in Lake Geneva.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. For my family and me, one of the great aspects of this particular gaming convention is that it takes place about 50 minutes from our home. This is very handy for several reasons. On Day 1 it is convenient because my wife can drop me off and then return home. This allows me to start my convention on Wednesday night while my family doesn’t join me until later – thus avoiding school absences and keeping us at one vehicle when Day 5 rolls around.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…

I was settled into my room at about 2PM only to have my boss call and request some things. Since I wasn’t officially on vacation yet, I had to fire up my laptop and get some work done. I thought this would be a bad omen, but the work went quickly and I was done by 4:30 PM. I wondered downstairs to pick up my badge, as well as those of my family.

At this point you can tell it’s a pretty low key affair. Some folks are just arriving; many do not arrive until Thursday or later.

But it is clear there’s still important work to be done…then again, it seems Chris is always busy during this convention.

Registration took all of about 5 minutes and I was back in my room checking emails to ensure my boss didn’t require any last minute changes…and taking a nap. Yet another sign I’m getting old.

I woke about 6:45 PM or so. One last check of emails and then I was going to head down to the bar to hoist a couple. As luck would have it, the inestimable Doug Kovacs sent me a text message about 7:15PM to see if I was around. Next thing I know, I’m in a Gamma World game with Michael Curtis running it, Doug Kovacs on my left, and next to him Jim Wampler.

I had not played Gamma World…well, non 4e Gamma World…since 1979. I grabbed some d6’s and was off to the races. Michael used the 4d6-drop-the-lowest, and I rolled pretty well except for Dexterity. Some random generation of Mutations and my basic character looked something like this…Vico Din Fenrik (a note on names – people were batting about the idea of using chemical names from the various drink bottles on the table…I went with a different chemical I sometimes have to ingest):

Now those random mutations were awesome, in the powerful sense, for some in the group. For me? Well, I got physical mutations of Attraction Odor, which attracts carnivores 30-90 kilometers away – and Narcolepsy, which gave a 2% chance to fall asleep for 6-60 minutes in a stressful situation….awesome in a completely different way. I did get one mutation that turned out to be really quite powerful – Intuition. That mutation provides a +3 per die of damage.

Then Michael rolled us some random weapons and tech equipment– I got a stun rifle with one...that’s right, one...charge and an energy cell charger. I’m still not quite sure what the latter does. After that it was random gold and a bit of shopping. This took me a while due to not being as familiar with the equipment list as I am with the standard fantasy setting’s list. Given my mutations, I figured that Vico was kind of the feral outside. Who wants to hang out with a guy that attracts carnivores? So I went with a kind of barbarian-in-apocalypse feel…except for one purchase.

Remember that Intuition mutation? Well, I found I could afford an Energy Mace. This weapon does 10d6 of damage. Intuition gives me a +3 to each damage die. So I figured if/when I hit with this weapon the results will be quite spectacular…at least 40 points of damage (if I roll one on 10 dice)!

The last thing I purchased was something called a Neutralizing Pigment. I’m not sure what these are (some kind of salve you put on), but Michael ruled I could find one (gray) that cut down on the aforementioned Attraction Odor enough that existence wasn’t a constant battle with swarming carnivores – it was a one shot after all.

By this point, we were all set to go. I took about an hour and a half to gather and build our characters so we took a quick break and then settled in.

What follows make shake any collectors to their very core. As we started, Michael pulled out the original dice from this set. How did we know they were the originals? Well, for one thing, they were still in the plastic bag…

Then he proceeded to tear the bag open. I’m not kidding when I say we were surprised…not in the sense that we didn’t know what was about to happen, just that he’d do it. So, of course, I had to get pictures of him tearing open a bag of dice that probably hadn’t seen fresh air in 30 years…

With all the preparations behind us, we played…

According to my notes, our little party was made up of:
Skell  (bony arms) – Jeff
Ash (The Flammable) - ??
Badge (The Honey Badger) – Zach
Gigantor (6M Tall) – Jim W.
Frictos (Pure strain human) – Doug
Vico (The nervous savage) – Me

Our tribal leader of the Fenrik clan was Benzoate. Since it was a good year and we, the “warriors” of the clan, had some down time, Benzoate was sending us to the Palace of the Ancients. It was a tribal tradition to send boys there as a rite of passage, so we knew something of it – its location being the most important at the moment – but also that it held artifacts of The Ancients.

Off we trudged to the Gorge of the Dead Worm and scaled the western edge to find the Arrow of the Ancients that would take us to the Enters and from there into the Palace. There, lying in the shadows was the massive metal Worm for which the gorge was named. We were tempted to climb down to investigate, but Frictos used his magic speaking device to consult with Benzoate who told us to forge ahead (Doug’s character had a communicator but no matching one, so he would “communicate” with our chief, who did not have a communicator, to determine what to do on occasion).

The Arrow was not so much a road as a straight path with these strange metal stands that stood about a meter and a half in height and were capped in a u-shaped manner (think mini American football goal posts). They were pretty consistent, though they did change in height as the terrain changed, thus keeping their tops on a straight and level path. We followed the Arrow until we finally came upon The Enters, a dark cave into which the metal rod path led. I fired up a torch and into it we delved…

After a few dozen meters of trudging into the wide cave, we noticed that the metal stands seemed to veer slightly to the right, and that the slight echoes seemed to indicate a larger area ahead. Sure enough,  we soon came upon stair case on the left the led to an open cavern of sorts, complete with pillars and a yellow line painted on the floor along the edge of the raised area (think underground railway station – because that’s what it was). There were large planters that contained massive albino killer plants with shooting thorns.
After some positioning and an initial foray against the grotesque horrors, Vico finally decided to rush in. the energy mace, as expected, dealt serious pain, smashing the creature into a pulpy mess. At which point, while raising his weapon to rush the second planter, Vico’s narcolepsy (with a whopping 2% chance) kicked in…and he crashed to the floor, asleep.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, our fearless leader, Frictose, had wandered off towards a darkened opening strewn with small bits and pieces of the see-through metal the Ancients used. After killing the remaining creatures and slapping the shit out of Vico to wake him up, the rest of the group noticed Frictose’s absence. One of the other character’s mutation let us know there was something nasty in the darkened corner in which Frictose was last seen, so off we went. On the ground just beyond the once-upon-a-time-store-window lay Frictose, his mouth and nose glowing with a bright blue fluid substance.
Vico immediately leaped into the room to try and aid his companion, only to have the bright blue icy fluid quickly extricate itself from Frictose and hurl itself at Vico’s face. Vico dodged just in time as Skell let loose a blast from his energy weapon – just missing Vico but hitting the creature. Vico was saved; but alas! Frictose was no more – felled by a slurpee.

Vico stripped the body of anything useful, as well as the communicator, and off we went, following the sense of radioactive mutations one of the characters could pick up. Past a door and down a hall we came upon small curved half wall (think reception desk) that filled a portion of the next corner. Behind it were three humanoid creature with crossbows. Without much in the way of ranged weapons – at least not many charges in them – Vico decided to rush them and let the energy mace have its way with them. Once again, the Intuitive mutation paid off and soon the opponents were so much slime on the walls and floor…at which point the GM reminded me he was keeping track of how many charges were being used. Heh.

At this point we decided to call it a night. It was after midnight, and many of those involved had been traveling for a lot longer than the 45 minutes it took me to get to Lake Geneva; not to mention that everyone had busy days ahead tomorrow.

So there you have it. This is the kind of thing that makes GaryCon so special for me. The convention hadn’t even officially started. I had planned nothing for Wednesday night other than perhaps catching up with folks over a couple of beers. And yet here it was, 12:30 AM, and I was finishing up playing in a game I hadn’t played in 30 years with some new friends. That is why GaryCon rocks.

Oh…and I found out later that we are looking to now make this game a yearly event – that is, we’ll keep the same characters and next year on Wednesday night we shall continue their adventures in the Palace of the Ancients.

Many Kudos to Michael Curtis who ran the game and did a fantastic job of making the unfamiliar easy and had a great way of describing the scenes in a way that made something so familiar seem wonderful and mysterious. Thanks to Doug Kovacs who invited me to play and who made Frictose so funny. And thanks to the folks who let me play and who I hope to see next year.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gary Con V - Thanks

I’m starting with this aspect because knowing me I’ll fizzle out in posting about GaryCon and this is too important to leave until the end…only to get left out due to my own laziness.

Thank you.

Thank you Chris and Luke and Dale. You have created a convention and atmosphere that is second to none. I am thrilled to bring my family every year. If I had one convention a year to go to from this day forward, it would be this one.

Thank you to all the volunteers who setup, breakdown, and in between try their very best to make everything run smoothly. Those who bring drinks and snacks to the people running games so the rest of us can enjoy playing; those who help registration and those who sort out souvenirs; those who spent countless hours figuring out how to get us places to play…it may not be said as much as it should, but thank you.

To the hotel staff who did a fine job and seemed to be all over the place this year…Thanks! And Well Done!

Thanks to all the people who ran games…for me special shouts out to Michael Curtis who ran three of the seven games in which I played; to Tavis Allison who came to this convention, even though he had recently-born twins at home and a broken ankle, because he made the commitment to do so and then ran Night of the Walking Wet well into Sunday morning when he had a hell of a travel day to follow; and to all those that were so kind in running games in which my kids played – they had a blast.

Thanks to all the other attendees who, year after year, are so nice and friendly and welcoming that my kids have said repeatedly, “Everyone here is so nice.”

Last, but never least, thanks to my lovely wife who puts up with this nonsense every year and supports it so much that we’re already planning next year. She truly is one in a million.