The next day, I had none of the previous day’s problem reaching the Grand Geneva and arrived with plenty of time to spare before 10 am. I ran into Brian Jelke, who said hi to me but then ignored me the rest of the bus ride from the parking lot to the entrance. I guess there’s still some bad blood between me and some of the guys at Kenzer & Company.
It was good I was there on time, because I did not want to miss my only session with Dave Olson. Dave’s DMing skills had been one of the few highlights for me at last year’s GaryCon and he did not disappoint in the two-hour Tower of Skulls: Level 2 scenario. It was my first time playing “5th ed” D&D past 4th level, but the true challenge for us players is that only three of us showed up for the event. The scenario was extremely taxing for three players and we were not able to finish it. Dave was even able to prove wrong my earlier impression that “5th ed” PCs were largely unkillable.
I then had two more hours of downtime to look around. I talked to Terry Pavlet again. I found that Darlene had even more art prints sitting out this day (I wish I’d bought another!). I finally picked up my first Seven Voyages of Zylarthen volume from Black Blade Publishing, making it the first time I think I’ve ever given Allan Grohe money. I ran into Will Schumaker and his son Ben and got to talk to them, assuring them that I was having a much better GaryCon this time. I got to talk to Paul Stromberg for the first time, as he walked me through his Dave Sutherland table display. I got to see what Paul looks like when he’s livid, as an ignorant server had sat a wet tray down on top of an art print Dave had signed. I also got to talk to Mike Mornard for the first time in person, and chatted with Dave Megarry’s wife.
It was odd that, after having six players sign up for B&B and eight for H&H, that I would only have four people sign up to play OD&D: The Invasion of Arun’Kid. But I picked up two extra players and the game went fine with a group of six. This session was particularly interesting because, just a week earlier, I had run this scenario for the first time in about 13 years, at the Games Plus store in Mount Prospect, Illinois. And it gave me a fascinating opportunity to compare and contrast.
First of all, I had run it at Games Plus (let’s call that group Group A) using all of Supplement I: Greyhawk, but this time, I decided to leave out all of Greyhawk except for the thief class and multi-classing. That meant Group B (the GaryCon group) was doing all d6 weapon damage. And it didn’t seem to make any difference in the long term. Of course, there is a dearth of larger-than-man-sized opponents in this particular module, which might have changed that dynamic. But whether we rolled d4, d6, + d8 or all d6 did not change up encounter outcomes.
Another nice thing was that I wrote Arun’Kid with two different ways to approach it, with the PCs either as locals defending their home turf, or strangers protecting strangers they just met. I used the first option for Group A and the second option for Group B. I had never run this using the second option before; it had always seemed important to me that the PCs be locals so they would feel some loyalty to the village they’re saving. It turned out, though, that Group A was the one talking about ditching the village, while Group B valiantly never wavered in their support of the beleaguered village.
Both groups had trouble with averting the gnomish invasion (just as they were meant to). Both groups went to the hermit next. Group A cheated on the maze, while group B went through the whole thing. The mausoleum was nearly a TPK both times, but I cheated and upgraded the dog zombies to dog-ghouls. Group A survived because they went with the gnomes and had the gnomes cover their retreat out. Group B was down to the thief, who climbed into the coffin with the shadow and cleverly talked the shadow into calling off his dogs. While Group A destroyed the shadow, Group B treated it as a friendly NPC and managed to communicate with it through yes-or-no questions. Both groups went to the brigand lair, but Group A was disappointed that the brigands wanted to fight instead of negotiate a surrender, while Group B was happy to treat it as a big end battle. They brought the gnomes and the villagers with them and quickly overwhelmed the brigands for what I felt was a more satisfying conclusion. And we finished the whole module in less than four hours both times (with level 2-4 characters; it would take considerably longer at lower levels).
So, I was signed up to run three games and play three other people’s games. Of the latter category, I had so far missed one and enjoyed one. That left room for a different experience playing in my last planned event, Metamorphosis Alpha: Deadfall. Many of the earmarks of poor game refereeing were on display here -- glacial pacing (40 minutes in the first room, trying to find our way out), too much that didn’t make sense (bad guys who just stood there getting life-leeched instead of moving out of range), too much attention paid to inconsequential details (no, I don’t need to know if the lids are screw tops or like Tupperware), and a plot twist that was going to guarantee a TPK without a deus ex machina intervention sometime in the last hour. I stuck it out for three hours because there was free dice involved (if I could name a classic TSR AD&D module -- of course I knew it). Then I killed the alien parasite in my gut the only way I could see how, with suicide.
Granted, I might have got into it more had I not been distracted by the table side dinner service. I had given my server a $20 for a $12 burger and was getting really nervous waiting for him to come back with my change. I was about to go looking for the guy when a different server brought me my change. From what I heard and saw, while everyone appreciated the table side service, the servers themselves were pretty hit or miss.
A benefit of quitting Metamorphosis Alpha early was that I got the chance to walk around the convention one last time. I even managed a quick game of Monty Python Fluxx that I was invited to play by a friendly bunch. If only I’d had that luck picking up open games last year!
The only last problem I had with my GaryCon trip wasn’t anyone’s fault but Mother Nature. I had to drive home to Illinois in a mini-blizzard! But, overall, GaryCon XIII was a success. It was an improvement on last year and the Grand Geneva was a huge improvement over the Lodge. I will definitely be going back next year!