Wednesday, April 5, 2017

GaryCon IX - part 3

I had to miss day 3 of GaryCon entirely this year, as I had a prior commitment to the Schaumburg Library ComicCon that day.

Sunday, the Mrs. wanted to come back with me to GaryCon and give it another try. The plan was just to have her attend as a free observer.  This time, there was no trouble with getting to the con on time and we arrived early to the table where I would be playing Dragon Lairds with Tom Wham. Also at the table was Kifflie Scott, wife of Steve Sullivan, and "Zenopus", who I know from the OD&D Discussion Board.  Tom was great and let Megan participate. Dragon Lairds, a combination board and card game, was a more complex game than I was expecting and there were a lot of individual cards to learn about. The two hour time slot was not long enough to get more than halfway through the game at our slow learning pace, but everyone had a good time and Tom even had candy bars for everyone at the end -- so we were all winners!

Better yet, Steve sold a poster map he had made of Lake Geneva to one of the other players, and it was made to look like an Old School D&D map. I just had to have one too!

After the game, I figured Megan and I would spend two hours touring the exhibit hall and running into people...but there were a lot fewer people to run into on Sunday and we finished the hall in less than 30 minutes. I did buy some more great stuff, like the "new" version of Palace of the Vampire Queen by Pacesetter, and upgraded my El Raja Key Archive basic DVD to the standard model (which I verified I could do at the con, instead of mailing it back in, after talking to the TLB Games guys to make sure. We walked all around the convention, watching people play games and enjoying the con ambiance, something I always enjoy. But we still wound up at my table very early to set up for running James Bond 007.

While setting up the game, an old friend, Justice Carmon, came over from watching Jeff Dee play and chatted with me for awhile. Luckily, I was feeling pretty confident for my session, as I had seven pages of notes, adapting the solo introductory story from the 1984 rulebook. I had not run the game, as I confessed later to my players, since the 1980s, but I had been studying the rules a lot and felt as comfortable as I could with what I had long considered a clunky game system.

And I expected a full table too; this was the only one of my three games that had been fully booked online in advance, and had two people on a waiting list to boot!  But one person was a no-show, and two people decided to leave and go find a different game to play with their friend, and the two waiting list guys just happened to be there and took their spots.

And those notes I'd carefully taken? The notes assumed they would head right away for the island (the scenario was called "The Island of Dr. No", after all), but for the first hour I had to wing everything as they did lots of serious spywork in Tobruk, Libya tailing suspects, bugging phone booths (this was the 1980's), and catching an assassin sent to kill them. That part actually went great. It was when they trailed the second assassin to the island that things started to fall apart.

Two of them went in undercover to the island, which is what the majority of my notes had anticipated, but the other three snuck onto the island the night before, including their one good sniper...but a sniper who wasn't very good at being stealthy. He was caught and taken prisoner, leaving the player stuck waiting for awhile to get rescued.

One of the two agents in the building went into the duct work to look for the captured agent and the missing agent (their original mission!), just as I had prepared for in my notes. Meanwhile, the other agent inside and the two agents outside tried to create diversions. The agent inside got in a fight with two engineers in the building and -- since his agent was more of an engineer type himself -- it was a slap fight that ended with the agent knocking them both out with a rock.

Outside, one of the two agents got knocked out and was taken prisoner, while the remaining agent was wounded, stole a golf cart-like vehicle, and was involved in a low-speed chase around the island with guards chasing him on foot. Despite my best attempts at keeping the game serious, bad rolls at critical junctures had led us into this Austin Powers-like farce. Luckily, we were getting close to the end of our three-hour time slot anyway. I let the agent inside the duct work find the prison level and rescue the two agents. They joined up with the engineer-beater and rescued the recently captured agent from a single guard, then met up with the driving agent and escaped the island together by stealing a boat. They never did find Dr. No or find out what he had planned or did anything to stop it, but we just assumed James Bond showed up on the other side of the island just as they were leaving. Most everyone had a good time (maybe not the guy who got captured earlier) and, at 5 pm, we all said good-bye to each other and to GaryCon.

But the experience in Lake Geneva wasn't over just yet. Megan and I drove around town with Steve Sullivan's map. For the first time, I got to see the childhood home of Gary Gygax, his home where he first wrote D&D, and the house Dragon Magazine was produced in. We took pictures and video at each to make the occasion, then headed back into Illinois for dinner.

I have long admired the quiet-looking communities I drive through on Rt. 12 going to and from Lake Geneva, like Richmond, Fox Lake, and Volo. I have often thought I would enjoy spending a day just driving up through those towns. But, as we drove around Richmond and Fox Lake looking for a place to eat, we were disappointed to see how few options there were other than bars and restaurants with video gaming. Eventually we settled for a gas station that had a Mr. Submarine attached. I had not eaten in a Mr. Submarine in years and it was sad to find out that, at least this one, was not as good as I remembered. So that was the one dark spot, right there at the tail end of an amazing GaryCon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

GaryCon IX Report - part 2

Day 2 of GaryCon started -- with me already running behind! Sluggish and unable to get out the door when I was supposed to, I headed back up to Lake Geneva from Chicagoland, arriving there a bit after 10 again. This was particularly unfortunate because the game I wanted to play that morning started at 8 am, when Carlos Lising was running a pick-up game of his own fan-made sequel to the Slave Lords modules. He had, through his connections, secured not only a quiet board room to run his game in, but roped celebrity player Luke Gygax into playing!  Better still, my collaborator and Castle Greyhawk webcomic artist Mike Bridges was there with his good friend Jayson. And David Hill, a name I recognized from Facebook groups I belong to, was there.

We had to be out by 11:30, which left me less than 90 minutes to play the illusionist I picked out. Sadly, I was the 13th player in a chaotic hunt for Markessa (the villainous Slave Lord from module A2) that had already devolved into about three separate groups. Carlos was doing a good job of keeping track of everything and role-playing familiars each character had (for some reason), but the hectic pace didn’t give me much time to shine. We also failed to find Markessa (I do like to think my ESP and Invisibility spells were integral to stopping her lieutenant, the Man in Black, though). Besides the star-studded players, Carlos had put together an adventure chock-full of winking nods to the original A series of modules.

Afterwards, Carlos, Mike, Jayson, and me all hung around each other and went to the exhibit hall. Mike got his copy of the Greyhawk map from the folio signed by Darlene. Carlos picked up a paining he had commissioned Jeff Easley to do for him that will be the cover to his fan-made module. Everyone was impressed -- I have seen professionally published work by Easley with less attention to detail than this painting. We wanted Carlos to continue touring the hall with us, but he was a little incoherent after being stunned by his amazing painting. We left him floating on cloud 9 while we perused various booths. I picked up the Hirelings board game for a steal and proudly carried that around with me the rest of the day.

Mike, Jayson, and I stayed together for lunch, leaving the con and heading to Claw’s Hot Dogs, a place I had discovered just the night before when I was briefly turned around trying to leave the con. It seemed a remarkably appropriate name for a restaurant within a short driving distance of convention focused on Dungeons & Dragons (only Claw/Claw/Bite Hot Dogs would have been better).  The food was good, served fast, and came in good-sized portions for the price.

Mike and Jayson had to get me back to the convention quick, though, because at 2 o’clock I was signed up to play “The Wyrd Museum.”  I didn’t know the DM, Robert Fredona, from Adam, but I was hooked by the event catalog’s description of “OD&D with a Victorian twist.”  It exceeded my expectations. I knew I was in for a treat when, not limited to well-known Victorian characters, I got a chance to play Carnacki, the original ghostbuster in fiction. I naturally jumped at the chance. Every detail of this scenario was meticulously, even lovingly crafted, from the custom character sheets that resembled the original 1975 D&D character sheets, to the museum brochure full of clues we were offered at the start of the game, to the table-sized map that had every major object in every room on display as a miniature. I have seldom used the word "sumptuous" with a gaming session, but this was sumptuous immersion. 

The play itself went very well, though that was equally attributable to the players as to the DM's preparation. The scenario itself was almost too straightforward for a four-hour time slot, but The Invisible Man's player wisely turned on us at the end to give us a new antagonist and a more dramatic climax. When someone's character was killed, they got to come back into the museum right away with a London bobby. Rasputin's player, who lost both Rasputin and his first bobby, was an especially good sport.

If there was one flaw in the event, it was Robert's decision to name a "best player at the table" at the end and give out a prize. This was bound to leave hard feelings, especially when the player who (*ahem*) was responsible for coming up with Plans A, B, and C for thwarting the aliens was overlooked, in favor of giving the prize to the only woman at the table, who's performance as Mr. Hyde was no more nuanced than throwing things at people constantly.  *sigh*

No matter; it was time to move on to my last scheduled event of the day -- running the Hideouts & Hoodlums adventure, "Sons of the Feathered Serpent."  And that almost didn't happen.  I had one player arrive very early, and two players arrived on time -- the same couple that showed up at the previous night's S&W game I ran. I felt, though, that the scenario would be too challenging for less than four heroes and everyone was comfortable with my canceling the event if I needed to.  And, in fact, I was tempted to do so because I might have joined Carlos, Mike, and Jayson for dinner if I had.

Exactly at 6:10, as we were all standing up from the table, a fourth player arrived. And after that, we were joined by Timothy LeMaster, who had played H&H with me last year at GaryCon and had been playing in my online H&H campaign since then. 

That is not to say that everything went smoothly once we had enough players. The beginning was a lot of fun, with the heroes all meeting at a fire, having some "Marvel misunderstanding" fights, and then coming together to save a woman. Their investigation led them straight to the hideout and they did fine on the west side of the first level. Of course, that was the easier side. When they had a prisoner lead them to the more populated east side, the heroes found themselves outnumbered and lost their courage.

Now, normally when I've run this game, heroes leave, rest up, and come back to hit the bad guys harder. But this group was keen on thinking outside the box (they were also now down a man because one of them had to leave early). Instead of bearding the villains in their lair, they wanted to find things to do that didn't require going back into the hideout. 

I had to do some physical pacing and some mental shifting of gears, but we got back on track when one of our players came up with a clever plan to offer to work for the main bad guy. This got the 2nd in command to show up to meet the heroes, and two heroes went back with him to meet the main bad guy (gal, in this case). The other two heroes tried to follow them into the hideout. One was captured. The other one was seriously beat up, but managed to escape the hideout. The main bad guys were tough, but more interested in escaping when attacked by the two heroes that accompanied them all the way down to the third hideout level. The 2nd in command was captured, the two heroes escaped out of the hideout with him, then they went back in with the third hero who escaped and rescued the fourth hero. Then they delivered their prisoner and their evidence to the FBI, and ended the game -- after four hectic hours of play -- with me saying they all reached 2nd level and went back with the FBI to raid the lair. 

It was a remarkable session thanks to my players. I expected them to sample, not beat, the whole adventure. No one had ever done it in four hours before, but they managed it. 

Now, my plan was to go home and get some much needed sleep at 10 pm. On my way back through the building, I ran into my friend Will Schumacher and his wife. But it was after that short chat that I saw a sign about a celebration downtown at the Horticultural Hall and free shuttle rides there. Well, I couldn't pass that up. Better still, I found myself alone on the shuttle ride with Allen Hammack and got to chat with him the whole way there. We talked about Awful Green Things from Outer Space and he acted as my tour guide, pointing out places I should know. 

This was my first time in Horticultural Hall, the birthplace of GenCon.  There were tables all around with memorabilia. I had my only chance to talk to Dave Megarry at the con there and I thanked him for adding me on Facebook. Carlos was there and was gracious enough to hang out with me. I got to talk to Paul Stromberg, the brains and the wallet behind GaryCon, because I was next to Carlos. I got to talk to someone about Empire of the Petal Throne. And I made a mess on my face with free cheesecake. By then, I was exhausted, and took the last shuttle back to the con with Carlos and Darlene so I could head home for some much needed sleep.