Tuesday, March 31, 2015

GaryCon 2015 Report

GaryCon: Day 1 (Friday)

I started the day psyched about the con and happy to be going to it. Indeed, getting there was my favorite part of the trip; I love the drive up Rt. 12 to Lake Geneva. So pretty and scenic, with towns along the way like Volo and Richmond with so much character.

And the convention started well for me. I made it there when I expected to, just before 10 am on Friday. I played AD&D (“Magic Magic Magik!”) run by Seth Warfield, whose claim to fame was getting an article in Dragon magazine when he was 15. It was a simple scenario, like the short pieces in Dungeon magazine back in the day, but for a 2-hour time slot, you knew you weren’t getting an epic storyline. It was light and entertaining and Seth is a whiz with funny character voices. And I got to play it with Will Schumacher and his son David. The rest of the players were fine too, but Will figures prominently in this narrative again later.

If there was a problem at all so far with GaryCon, it was the noise level. It was crazy loud in that room -- GaryCon seriously, SERIOUSLY needs to invest in curtains to hang between tables to absorb sound.

My expectations were high going into the next event, as famous RPG writer/editor Harold Johnson was running AD&D (“Help Me Out Here”). Though I was not actually going anywhere, as by chance this game was at the very same table in the very same room. Six hours into the convention and I still hadn’t seen more of the con than this room! And, remarkably, the room was even louder now. Harold had to shout at us and, if we weren’t sitting in the direction he was facing, we could not hear what he was shouting. As for the scenario...let’s say I had issues with it. Harold’s play style seems heavily influenced by LARPing and we were expected to set aside the mission we thought we were on and hang out in an inn interacting with the NPCs there for a solid hour of game play. I’m glad I got the chance to talk to him later and give him some input on putting more motivation into the scenario.

Real, crushing disappointment came next. I had scheduled to run my Hideouts & Hoodlums game from 5-7 pm. Because of complications when I pre-registered, I did not make it into the online or paper event catalogs. I was hoping to be a pick-up game in the open gaming area and get at least 3 players.

There was a significant downturn in the number of pick-up games available in the open game area this year as opposed to two years ago when I was last there -- and yet people seemed just fine with that. Hardly anyone seemed to be looking for a game to play. This nice lady named Laura came and waited with me for awhile, and Harold Johnson stopped by to chat with me (which is when I got to give him some feedback on his scenario). We talked about the poor visibility of pick-up games at GaryCon vs. other cons (though -- to be fair -- GaryCon had added a markerboard for advertising them this year, which was an improvement over just letting people sit out sheets of papers on tables). After waiting an hour for players, I gave up.

I had skipped the exhibit hall at 4:30, because I had slipped outside to eat a sack dinner in the car. At 6, when I was finally free to see it, I found the hall was already closed for the day. I had Dawn Patrol to play at 7, so I went down to the wargaming room early.

Now, I had played Dawn Patrol twice in the past, but had always shown up late and had to jump into the game without proper instruction. This time I had lots of time to get told how to play the game. I would be sitting at the table with legends David Wesley, who ran the wargame scenarios for Dave Arneson that inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, and John Pickens, who was an editor for TSR for at least 14 years. I had recognized the names, but had not remembered their resumes at the time, so I was not overly concerned for my German pilot’s safety. Indeed, having scored some good hits in turn 1, I was feeling confident going into turn 2.

And then someone scored a lucky hit on my engine, it malfunctioned and stopped because of some bad dice rolls (just like my traditionally bad luck with saving throws in D&D!), and I had to land in a field -- effectively taking me out of the entire scenario in turn 2. Now fed up Dawn Patrol -- and everything else that had gone poorly with my day -- I left the convention two hours ahead of schedule, drove home...and missed my turn onto Rt. 12 in the dark. Luckily, I was able to find my way home via Rt. 31, feeling confidence returning to me once I reached Algonquin and familiar territory.

That night, before I went to bed to rest for the next day, I resolved to lower my expectations for Saturday. Would it help...?

Day 2 (Saturday)

Project Lowered Expectations began by letting Megan sleep in until 9 am before we left for Lake Geneva. Our leisurely drive north included the pleasure of paying Wisconsin gas prices, one last stab at paying under $2.40 a gallon, as Chicagoland prices climbed back above $2.80. We drove around Lake Geneva for a bit, admiring the scenery and the downtown (though failing to find Harold Johnson’s bookstore). This leisurely pace was intentional, for it was my plan -- my scheme -- that we would eat lunch downtown before heading to the convention and hence save money over the convention food prices.

However, the “casual dining” sign outside the downtown Popeye’s fooled me. We clearly had different definitions of casual dining -- mine was that we would find some sort of high-end fast food place inside like Portillo’s, and theirs was that suit and tie was not required. I wound up paying twice as much on lunch there as I would have at the con, but...oh, what a lunch! That ultimate smoked pork sandwich was amazing, and I hope I am able to recall the taste of it for a long time still to come.

Now, I had been warned the previous day about how bad parking would be on Saturday and had been advised to take the shuttle across town. Neither Megan nor myself much cared for that notion, though, so we decided to take our chances at finding parking just after noon on the busiest day of the con. The entire parking lot was, of course, full. To our surprise, though, overflow parking was allowed on this side street leading to a nearby apartment complex. We were able to park a block away down this road and walk back to the con. Undaunted by this short stretch of the legs, we finally reaching the con and registering Megan for the day.

We headed first to the exhibit hall which I was anxious to see, having missed it the day before. I had a load of fun in there, pointing out people I recognized to Megan, saying hi to Allan Grohe of Black Blade Publishing, drooling over Rob Kuntz’s Bottle City module (and wishing I still had my lunch money to put towards buying it), buying a copy of the Gangbusters rulebook for $6 (another guy was selling it for $25!), and chatting with Terry Pavlet about his comic book work and library-hosted comic book conventions after buying his special GaryCon print. We also bought Megan a new set of dice.

A low point of the day also came in the exhibit hall, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Darlene was at the exhibit hall -- famous artist of the original Greyhawk map -- but I mixed her up in my mind with Jean Wells, author of Palace of the Silver Princess. So I’m standing there, gushing over module B3 to her, and she politely doesn’t say anything, but must have been thinking, “What is this nut talking about…?” My mistake eluded me until hours later when I had a head-slap moment.

With the exhibits all seen, we headed out to find some gaming, confident that, with more people at the con today, we would have no problem finding pick-up games to play. This proved NOT to be the case. We played a demo of Brick Wars, a strategy game about building with Legos, that was surprisingly challenging. But after that, there was nothing. Nor were unsold tickets for scheduled events available at the registration table, as in years past. We went to the open gaming area and picked out The Great Space Race -- a fantastic board game -- and set it up, hoping that it would attract *somebody* to play with, but no one passed by and showed any interest. We also found out why you’re supposed to play the game with 3+ players; with 2 players, it was too easy to maneuver around each other and our mines on the game board.

Would we ever turn things around? No -- but Will Schumacher did. You might recall he was supposed to figure prominently in this story.

So, Megan and I had given up on gaming before 4 pm, just 3 hours into our day at the con. We had settled into sitting and listening to Dan the Bard perform -- NOT that there is anything wrong with listening to Dan the Bard, but, you know, we sort of had our hearts set on gaming at a gaming convention. I was even thinking about calling it a day and heading home, beaten and rejected by the con that didn’t want us. That was when we discovered we were sitting next to Will’s wife, Paula. Not that either of us recognized her, having not met her before, but we did when their son Bennett walked up to her. Soon the whole Schumacher clan showed up and we all got the chance to talk and make acquaintance. But no sooner had they left than Will returned to us with a ticket -- our golden ticket. It was for “Revenge of the Over-Kobold”, an AD&D scenario with young but spirited DM Dave Olson. Dave was quite shaky on the actual AD&D rules (surprising, considering he planned to publish this scenario in 1st ed.-compliant rules), but the scenario was fun and Dave was hugely funny when in character. Further, Ringo the Charmed Kobold will go down in my personal history as a favorite NPC (“I get to burn things? Best day ever!”).

Buoyed by this turn of events, we could have left the con at 8 pm feeling much better about our day. We just had one wrong turn left to go -- giving the open game area one more try, we returned and set up the DC Comics Deck-Building Game that Megan had her eye on earlier. We shared a table with a man who condescendingly mocked us for finding the rules overly complex and lacking in explanation before we gave up on the game.

Around 9, we made one final round of the tables to say goodbye to a GaryCon with some high highs but many lows, and left for a late supper on the road home.

Lessons learned: Will I go back for a fourth GaryCon? Possibly. But --

1. Attending a convention on a tight budget is hugely stressful. I had hoped to keep to a $120 budget and we went about $50 over. I would not go again unless I had at least $180 to spare.

What are the other gamers doing? Since I was there last, there has clearly been a shift away from open gaming to pre-registered events, trying out new games to playing known games (with a huge emphasis on D&D and, for whatever reason, Werewolf and Dungeon Crawl Classics) and just mingling and socializing without gaming at all. So where does that leave me?

2. Making it into the event catalog is no longer optional -- it seems like it will now be mandatory for getting players. I would have to register earlier to make sure there were no problems like there were this year.

3. If I want to make *sure* I get to play, I’m going to have to bring the games myself. I would schedule much more than just 2 hours for me to run games. And I would divide my time between trying to run H&H and running other, more traditional fare.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Avengers of the Dinner Table

If only the Avengers had D&D back in 1963...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Jack Kirby Omnibus

I’ve seen “Jack Kirby Omnibus” thrown around as the title, or part of the title, of several reprint volumes from both DC and Marvel. It got me wondering what a real Jack Kirby Omnibus would look like, cross all company lines. So I compiled my own wish list/table of contents for just a volume 1 alone.  This book would clock in at 504 pages and include material from 1938 to 1954, from 10 different publishers and 10 different genres.  Ah, if only…

“The Count of Monte Cristo” [adaptation] (8 pages, 1938, Jumbo Comics #1-2 , Fiction House)
“Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider” [cowboy] (8 pages, 1939, Famous Funnies #62-65, Eastern)
“The Green Sorceress and the Cyclotron” [Blue Bolt] (10 pages, 1940, Blue Bolt #2, Novelty Press)
“Case No. 1: Meet Captain America” (7 pages, 1941, Captain America Comics #1, Timely)
“The Riddle of the Red Skull” (14 pages, 1941, Captain America Comics #1, Timely) - 47
“Captain Marvel vs. Z” (15 pages, 1941, Captain Marvel Adventures #1, Fawcett)
“Riddle of the Slave Market” [Sandman] (10 pages, 1942, Adventure Comics #72, DC)
“Villain from Valhalla” [Sandman] (10 pages, 1942, Adventure Comics #75, DC)
“Adventure of the Magic Forest” [Sandman] (10 pages, 1942, World’s Finest Comics #6, DC)
“The Man Who Created Images [pt. 5]” [Sandman] (6 pages, 1943, All-Star Comics #15, DC)
“The JSA Fights for a United America” [ch. 5]” [Sandman] (6 pages, 1943, All-Star Comics #16, DC)
“Brain Wave Goes Berserk [ch. 3]” [Sandman] (6 pages, 1943, All-Star Comics #17, DC)
“The Invasion of Europe” [Boy Commandos] (44 pages, 1943, Boy Commandos #4, DC)
“The Crimes Set to Music [ch. 5]” [Sandman] (6 pages, 1944, All-Star Comics #19, DC)
“Cabbages and Comics” [Guardian & Newsboy Legion] (11 pages, 1944, Star-Spangled Comics #29, DC)
“Killer in the Big Top” [Stuntman] (13 pages, 1946, Stuntman #1, Harvey)
“Crazy Quilt – Artist in Villainy” [Boy Commandos] (12 pages, 1946, Boy Commandos #15, DC)
 [Lockjaw the Alligator] (7 pages, 1947, Punch and Judy Comics v. 2 #10, Hillman)
“Enter Riot O’Hara” [Flying Fool] (8 pages, 1947, Airboy v. 4 #5, Hillman)
“…My Date Was with Swifty Chase” [romance] (14 pages, 1947, My Date Comics #1, Hillman)
“Death Trap De-Luxe” [Vagabond Prince] (10 pages, 1947, Black Cat #7, Harvey)
“Sunken World” [Boy Commandos] (13 pages, 1947, Boy Commandos #23, DC)
“The Strange Aftermath of the Kansas City Massacre” [true crime] (8 pages, 1947, Headline Comics v. 3 #2, Prize)
“Her Best Friend’s Sweetheart” [romance] (8 pages, 1948, Young Romance #3, Prize)
“Queen of the Speed-Ball Mob” [true crime] (13 pages, 1948, Justice Traps the Guilty #4, Prize)
“City at the Center of the Earth” [Boy Commandos] (14 pages, 1948, Boy Commandos #29, DC) “Vanishing Jewel Salesman” [Charlie Chan] (9 pages, 1948, Charlie Chan #2, Prize)
“Dale Evans – Queen of the Westerns” [Boy Commandos] (12 pages, 1949, Boy Commandos #32, DC)
“This Man I Loved Was a Momma’s Boy” [romance] (13 pages, 1949, Young Romance v. 2 #4, Prize)
“The Man Who Stole a Train” [true crime] (10 pages, 1949, Justice Traps the Guilty v. 2 #4, Prize)
“I Want Your Man” [romance] (14 pages, 1950, Young Romance v. 3 #9, Prize)
“The Last Battle” [cowboy] (8 pages, 1950, Prize Comics Western v. 9 #4, Prize)
“The Man Who Hated Boys” [cowboy] (17 pages, 1950, Boys Ranch #1, Harvey)
“The Scorn of the Faceless People” [horror] (10 pages, 1950-1951, Black Magic v. 1 #2, Prize)
“The Legend of Alby Fleezer” [cowboy] (7 pages, 1951, Boys Ranch #3, Harvey)
“The Bugle Blows at Bloody Knife” [cowboy] (12 pages, 1951, Boys Ranch #4, Harvey)
“The Monsters on the Lake” [horror] (9 pages, 1953, Black Magic v. 3 #4, Prize)
“Let Sleeping Love Lie” [romance] (8 pages, 1953, Young Romance v. 7 #1, Prize)
“The Man from the World of D” [Captain 3-D] (11 pages, 1953, Captain 3-D #1, Harvey)
“Break the Spy Ring” [Fighting American] (10 pages, 1954, Fighting American #1, Prize)
“The League of the Handsome Devils” [Fighting American] (9 pages, 1954, Fighting American #2, Prize)
“Investigate the City of Ghouls” [Fighting American] (7 pages, 1954, Fighting American #2, Prize)
“Bulls Eye, Chapters 1-3” [Bulls Eye] (25 pages, 1954, Bulls Eye #1, Mainline)
“Poison Ivan and Hotsky Trotski” [Fighting American] (8 pages, 1954, Fighting American #3, Prize)
“Trial by Fire” [Bulls Eye] (9 pages, 1954, Bulls Eye #2, Mainline)
“Union Jack” [Bulls Eye] (8 pages, 1954, Bulls Eye #2, Mainline)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The "Secret" History of the Sandman

Or, perhaps, "The Lost History" would be a better title. There is an awful lot of crucial information about the character of the Sandman hidden away in the two Sandman stories in the 1939 and 1940 New York World's Fair Comics. Indeed, until reading these stories in the DC Comics Rarities Archive, I have to say I didn't have a full understanding of who the Sandman was.

Right off the bat, we learn that the Sandman has an amazing amount of back story we have never learned about. This one panel begs the questions -- which other continent (we can presume one is North America)? What crimes is he suspected of?

Billions. Until DC later retconned Bruce Wayne into being a billionaire, the Sandman was the richest superhero in the DC Comics pantheon. And note here that he has invented a raygun for the government that he, as the Sandman, has never chosen to use. This is a man who uses a gas gun, not because it is the best weapon available to him, but because it is a weapon that leaves him with an element of risk. And, when even that doesn't leave him vulnerable enough, he will later go unarmed except for a 'wirepoon' gun.

This is Agent Henry of the Secret Service. He's apparently this Javert-like character who's been on the trail of the innocent Sandman for years, trying to arrest him. It's a shame this conflict is resolved in his very first published appearance.

Later retcons often show the Sandman wearing an ordinary gas mask, but this panel clearly shows, better than any drawing I'd seen before, what the Sandman's highly stylized gas mask is meant to look like. It's easy for those comfortable with the superhero genre to dismiss the Sandman as just a guy in a suit, but the Sandman was a man in a mask, suit optional. Here he runs around shirtless, having swum out to a yacht to confront the bad guys.

Another preconceived notion I had about the Sandman was that he routinely patrolled New York City, or a New York City-like fictional city, like Gotham City or Metropolis. But in 1940 New York World's Fair Comics, the Sandman is home, in a city that isn't in New York, and has to fly to New York to attend the fair. Where is he from, then? My money is on Boston now, being the next biggest East Coast city after NYC circa 1940.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Golden Age Action Comics #8 - Prologue 2

It had been 48 hours since the last bomb detonated in Steinkjer, Norway and 24 hours since the last fire was extinguished. Large portions of the port town had been leveled flat and, from the air, Superman could only count 15 buildings that appeared wholly undamaged.

I can’t be everywhere at once!  Was on Superman’s mind. He landed on a rubble-strewn street and surveyed the scene from the ground with a grim look on his face. Although he had suspected Norway was in danger for weeks, since the sinking of the HMS Glowworm off Norway’s coast on the 8th, but Superman had been distracted in Poland, dealing with the new menace of Luthor, and could not make it to Norway until now.

Superman could hear the sounds of fighting to the north, maybe 40 miles away. It was a situation he was anxious to look into, but there were people here, not only in need, but with useful information he needed.

The town was not deserted -- Superman had seen plenty of people milling about from the air – but they were fearful and staying clear of him. Superman knew he had to do something to show his peaceful intent. He strode into the sloping pile of rubble that had once been a building and began separating pieces of it with his bare hands. He quickly made two piles, one of completely destroyed material that would be no good to him now – largely charred wood, but also limestone bricks that had been completely pulverized -- and another of material that was still intact enough to be refashioned. 

Minutes later, Superman had a good-sized pile of re-fashionable materials, such as steel bars, bricks, and a few sheets of aluminum siding. Next, he used a steel bar as an improvised shovel to begin digging a pit, as he needed access to clay. When he struck clay, Superman moved to the pile of destroyed materials and sifted through it. He separated again the pulverized limestone he had gathered and, with gusts of wind from his super-breath, blew it into the pit. He then fashioned a giant bowl by bending a long sheet of aluminum siding and leaped to the waterfront. The docks and piers were gone, but the Namsen River still flowed past and Superman filled the giant bowl with river water. He then leaped back to his improvised construction site and mixed the water in with his mixture of clay and limestone in the pit, stirring it with steel bars, and fashioning the concrete he needed.

Ten minutes later, Superman had two opposing brick walls built, 10 feet high, 50 feet long, and spaced 50 feet apart, with steel bars jutting out of the ground to serve as posts to help support the roof he planned to build next.  It would be a modest covered structure, but it would give the many obviously homeless people of Steinkjer one more roof to keep over their heads for now. It was also having the desired effect of luring the curious out of hiding, for Superman now had an audience of 11 watching his work.

Du trenger tre, vil vi hjelpe deg å finne noen,” an old, weather-beaten Norwegian man said, daring to come forward and talk to Superman.

“I don’t speak Norwegian,” Superman said ruefully, knowing he would have to rectify that the first chance he had. “I speak English, Spanish, French, German, and Polish.”

“I know English,” another, younger man said, coming forward. “He said we will help you find wood. What are you? An angel?”

“Just a man,” Superman said. “I don’t have wings and I can’t fly, just leap very high and very far. It looks like you’ve lost 80 percent of your town. How many died here?”

“No one,” the man said proudly. “We were able to evacuate everyone in time when we saw the German planes coming.”

“Good,” Superman said, “but that still must have left one thousand to two thousand homeless here.  I will come back and help you build more shelters, but I need to know about the fighting to the north. Who is fighting?”

“The Germans left here and headed north to fight the British forces that landed before them,” the young man said, pointing helpfully.

Superman nodded, as that confirmed his suspicions. “Those are both occupying forces. Do you want the British here?”

The young man turned and discussed the matter quickly with the old man and another friend who had stepped forward, in their own language. Then the young man turned back to Superman and said, “The British tried to pressure us into this fight with Germany. We thought our neutrality would protect us.  But, if we had to choose…we would help the British, because it was the Germans who leveled our town.”

“That seems a fair assessment to me,” Superman said. He recalled his difficulties with knowing which side to be on in the Spanish Civil War and felt relieved to know it would be easier to choose sides this time.  “Tell the others to keep rebuilding,” Superman said. “If the Nazis come through this way again, it will be in full retreat.”