Last year’s GaryCon, I had such a wonderful drive up Route 12 from Chicagoland to Lake Geneva...followed by so many problems at the Con itself, that I often considered the drive there the best part of my trip. This year was the complete opposite. I had a horrible drive up there on Thursday. I missed my first event I was signed up to play because I had expected the new venue -- the Grand Geneva -- to be visible from a main road, like any normal hotel. It took me a long time to figure out that I had to drive way, way down this little side road to get there. Then once I did get there, and wanted to set up for my noon game early, I found my game room was closed off to me by another group using it. So I spent my first 15 minutes of con time sitting on the floor outside a room I was waiting to go into.
But after that, it got much, much better...and I may have had my best GaryCon yet.
One of the reasons for that is that I ran three events this year. Instead of leaving myself vulnerable to the vagaries of open gaming, which had burned me so bad last year, I had decided to take matters in my own hands. There are lots of good players who come to GaryCon -- I already knew this to be true -- but it is hard to connect with them unless your events are listed in the official event listings, as I managed this year. This year, I was surrounded by them.
First up, at noon on Thusday, was my event Bunnies & Burrows: The Games. I had six players who had never played B&B before, which is fine because I had only played it once before myself. I had prepared a lot of material for a two hour session (I had stretched it out to three hours when I first ran this, so I ran it tighter this time). Though B&B is, as written, meant to only emulate the Watership Down novel, I had a lot of Beatrix Potter and Wind in the Willows influence in how I run the game, and the scenario itself is based on Emma Thompson’s Peter Rabbit sequel.
From my perspective, I think I had a pretty good handle on the game mechanics and just winged things I didn’t know rather than stop to look anything up. For a game where you’re playing rabbits, B&B is surprisingly roll-play over role-play (I had even created some extra mechanics of my own to handle some of the bunny games, but tried to extrapolate them from the original rules whenever possible). If my players were disappointed, they did a great job of hiding it as they balanced dice rolling for the games with role-playing to accomplish their randomly assigned side goals. My biggest mistake -- since I hadn’t run a game at a con in quite awhile -- was running right up to the end of my session. Apparently it’s expected that you wrap up 15 minutes early to give the next group plenty of set-up time, but the DM after me was extremely polite and did not even talk to me about my faux-pas.
I had then left myself a two-hour gap for going around the con and seeing it. I love just soaking up the ambience of a good con -- going around the tables and watching people play, talking to people I knew, and seeing the exhibit hall.
In the exhibit hall, I bought my first art print from Darlene, talked to “Kraftwerk” from Canonfire.com, picked up an art print from Terry Pavlet (like two old men we traded health ailment stories), I bought two Swords & Wizardry products from the Frog God Games booth (including Dennis Sustarre’s module), and the guys from Prolific Games let me playtest a fun new card game of theirs.
It was during this downtime that I first discovered one of the ways that made the Grand Geneva so much better than the Lodge for GaryCon -- water. The Lodge had no water fountains. The Grand Geneva did, right outside the exhibit hall. Better, they placed water dispensers on tables all over the place! There was no danger of dehydrating at this year’s con.
I appreciated the uptick in seminars offered this year and Growing Up Gygax was particularly remarkable. The Gygax siblings seemed remarkably candid and I felt like I learned a lot. Leaving time for an audience Q&A was helpful and the final question -- which games did they last play with their father? -- was inspired.
For the final part of my day, I ran Hideouts & Hoodlums: Palace of the Vamp Queen. Now, the last two years at GaryCon, I have tried to run H&H as a pick-up game and had no luck attracting enough players. This year, when H&H was in the event listings, I wound up with a full table of eight players. Now, this was both a joy for me and a possible disadvantage for my players, as I now see in hindsight that there were no encounters in the scenario that really needed all eight heroes at once. It was largely two really good players taking the lead, four players helping out as needed, and two players growing increasingly silly as the four-hour session wore on. The mood of most H&H games is light, so I was not concerned at first at all the laughing and joking, but when I made the mistake of allowing one character to urinate on the other, it was hard to come back from that and rein it in.
During this session, I was reminded that DMs at GaryCon get free drinks and snacks. Now, I had known about this from past cons, but had completely forgotten about it this time -- earlier, when some people had approached me with a cart while I ran B&B, I had assumed they were trying to sell me stuff and said no thank you. This is a wonderful service GaryCon does for its DMs.
The Grand Geneva also offered table service throughout the day for ordering food from their kitchen. The chicken wrap was quite good; impressive, for being the second cheapest item on the menu.
The heroes found the way down to the lower level, where all the tougher encounters were, pretty early. Then, when they went back up to the upper level for easier encounters, that proved rather anti-climatic. We tried to fix that by forcing a “boss monster” battle with the Vamp Queen that wasn’t wholly appropriate to the scenario, but certainly was challenging and ended the adventure on a high note. A particular high point for me was hearing praise for H&H’s saving throw system.