This past weekend was CodConXV, held at the College of DuPage, and was the convention debut of Hideouts & Hoodlums. But that part comes last.
Friday, I raced to Glen Ellyn after work so I could play Toon. It was the first of the “Old School” games being run at the con and the theme of this con was “Old School”. How unfortunate, then, that most of the gamers in attendance all weekend stuck to the RPGA’s adherence to “4th ed.” D&D, the same cosplay group they apparently always game with, the Steve Jackson card game group, or the even smaller miniatures group. Not too many people looking to try some Old School games. No one else was there for Toon – not even the guy who was supposed to run it!
The exhibit hall was interesting, mostly for the “ebay store” exhibiting their collection of used games for sale. I had my eyes on a copy of Tunnels & Trolls all weekend, but did not have $30 to spare for it. Indeed, I had to take in the whole con on the cheap and this turned out to be really easy. I stayed all three days and, not counting gas, it cost me only $13!
I did run into my old friend Darren there, as he’s hugely into the RPGA crowd. We talked for a little bit. I also found the Toon guy an hour later, but instead of playing Toon solo, I joined the Steve Jackson card game group for Kings Blood, a Uno variant that was pretty fun. But the good times were marred by an uneasiness caused by the sign-up sheets for games sitting out – no one had signed up for Sunday’s H&H demo!
Saturday started out very similar to Friday night. The same guy was going to run Car Wars. One of the card gamers, George, and I were looking forward to it. The guy showed up a half-hour later – he thought he was scheduled to run it at 10 instead of 9. George and I wound up playing Munchkin instead. That was fine, as I really enjoy Munchkin and had never played it with a group of seven before. For the first half of the game I had the lowest level character, but after some lucky cards and aggressive playing, I came from behind and, at one point, all but one of us was one level away from winning, going around the table almost three whole times stopping each other from winning. It was exciting and fun. I don’t think either George or I minded that the Car Wars guy ran that without us.
I had planned to stick around with the card game crowd after that anyway, as I was next scheduled to try Greedquest. It was fun, looked great thanks to Phil Foglio artwork, but in play it was a lot like playing the dungeon expansion for Talisman by itself and I had done that plenty of times already. Again, I came pretty close to winning, but that goal still eluded me.
Michael, my DM for his “Dark Ages” 1st ed. AD&D campaign, was running a Swords & Wizardry event that afternoon and I ran into him soon after Greedquest as he was setting up. I had told Michael before that I was going to play a different game in that time slot, as I was already used to seeing him behind the DM’s screen. His sign-up sheet had been blank the whole time so far, just as my game’s sheet still was. Indeed, I was kind of hoping he would cancel his game and come play in the game I had chosen so I could see how he handles being a player on the other side of the DM screen, which I had not had the opportunity to see yet. However, his loyal player Patrick came to his rescue with his own team of Savage World players and Michael’s S&W game was saved.
Coincidentally, the only two 1st ed. AD&D games at the con were running against each other and I had chosen the other one. And, boy, had I backed the wrong horse. The scenario seemed promising enough at first, as we were 1st level spies being sent to find out where orcs scheduled to break off from a passing orc caravan were heading, with four or five possible destinations to choose from. It was a nicely open-ended set-up, but the time limit forced on us made it impossible to explore the locations and we had to head straight for the orcs. Our DM was an old board gamer so, to him, getting us from point A to point B was exciting enough. Our characters had done nothing but buy equipment and travel for two hours before we met our first orc. When we met the main party of orcs, there were over 60 of them! Half of us were ready to call it quits and return to town with the information we had by then, including one of the DM’s friends. We agreed that, had there been half as many orcs or we had at least 3rd level characters, we would have had a chance of winning, but this was impossible. So our DM cheated for us by having the orcs so complacent that they posted no guards at night. Now we were expected to sneak into their camp and kill them in their sleep, using 1st ed.’s infamous assassination tables. There was a combat after that with waking orcs, but I was so put-off by the un-heroic nature of this scenario that I wanted nothing to do with it. Worse, I had snuck out twice already to observe Michael’s game and he and his group were laughing and having fun while my group was frustrated and bored. I went back, packed up my stuff, and came out to watch Michael, et al., have fun and enjoyed that more.
After that lesson in “always trust the DM you know”, the convention took a dramatic turn for the better. A late addition to the convention schedule was an hour-long performance by a “bard” named Dan Marcotte. He was amazing. Basically, he takes real Renaissance ballads and “updates” them to D&D. To get some idea of just how funny this is, you must go to http://www.phoenixlore.com/ and listen to their theme song, “Phil the Phoenix”. Though the real standout was the “Owlbear Song”. We were spellbound for an hour, or at least spellbound when we weren’t roaring with laughter. The cost of admission for the convention was well-spent on that concert alone. He was just that good. He’s been performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire for 13 years, he said, but amazingly this is the first time he had ever been invited to perform at a gaming convention, where his true audience has been waiting for him all along.