Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GaryCon IX Report - part 1

My 2017 GaryCon IX adventure began a day early. I had decided to accept the open invitation of Frank Mentzer to come to Frankenparty, the huge gathering at his Wisconsin home the night before the con. It was a little adventurous just getting there from Chicagoland, as I missed a turn and got lost briefly right around the border, but I soon found my way there by another route.
A lot of people were already there by six o’clock, who all seemed to know each other, so I was feeling pretty shy and ready to hide in a corner when I got inside. Luckily, Carlos Lising was there and spent some time sitting with me and talking about comic books. With his encouragement, I hung around Frank Mentzer’s office, listened to him tell stories, and got to touch Gary Gygax’s desk. I completely botched the treasure hunt, though, even with several people offering me help. Frank and Debbie were such gracious hosts that I would definitely like to go back next year.
The next day was Day 1 of GaryCon.  That morning, I left again from Chicagoland, this time bound for Lake Geneva. A wrong turn took me to Grayslake and I thought I would miss my first event at 10 am, but I made excellent time through Wisconsin thanks to their speed limit of 70 and I made it to the Grand Geneva Resort just 10 minutes late. I did not even have time to pick up my tickets and name tag; I had to slip away in the middle of the session to go get those.
My first event was an AD&D (1st ed) adventure called “A Debt of Honor.” My friend Will Schumacher had recommended the DM and I thought he would be playing with me, but Will had dropped out the week before.  Right away, while looking at the characters available to play, Eli triggered one of my pet peeves --  too much house ruling. When I sign up to play a certain game at a convention, I expect to play that game as-is, not someone else’s modified version of it. But the halfling thief looked unaltered; I gladly accepted it even though, in my experience, thieves tend to be unimportant past low level.

The scenario was decent, though the back story was too hard to figure out.  I was glad for so many traps in it, since it kept my thief relevant. Some of the traps were ingenious, though the placement of them was repetitious. As is sometimes the case with these convention scenarios, it’s the fellow players at the table who made the game special. I graded the event with a B and left the table at 2, thinking this was an encouraging beginning, despite my frantic arrival.

Next, I had a ticket to observe Jim Ward's Celebrity Metamorphosis Alpha event (having failed to secure a player ticket). I explained to him in advance how my plan was to observe just the first half of the game before checking out the exhibit hall. This was my first time observing Jim game mastering and was struck by his natural charisma and charm. I picked up some good ideas from him, like letting the players pick any 10 items they want to carry, and shuffling index cards with players’ names on them instead of having people roll individual initiative.

All was going well after an hour (even for the players - only one character death by then), until I found I had some recycling to throw away. That led to a long quest to find a receptacle marked for recycling that ultimately ended in failure. Later, I was told that the bins with tan bags inside were for recycling, but since no one knew that I found they were always filled with mixed trash. Only in this way did the Grand Geneva Resort let me down all weekend.

Because I had wandered so far afield with an empty and unwanted water bottle, I had found myself too close to the exhibit hall. Now, in just a few hours of being out of service range, my phone was rapidly sucking it's battery dry. I was hoping my friend Carlos would have a compatible charging cord, and knew I would  find him in the hall. This would, surely, just be a brief diversion.

I stopped to say hi to Terry Pavlet - always a pleasure. I soon found Carlos again, sitting with his GaryCon companion, the artist known as Darlene. But Carlos had to leave to go pick up a pizza, and Darlene invited me to sit with her.

Now, I have been on the vendor side of a table before, but never at GaryCon, and never has a celebrity asked me to come sit with him or her anywhere. So I abandoned my stuff back in the boardroom with Jim Ward, just trusting my stuff was safer than the characters in Jim’s game, and stayed with Darlene. I told her my personal story of how I discovered Greyhawk and what gaming was like in my teen years. Then, fearing I was boring, I borrowed a story Terry had just told me a short while earlier (I did credit him with the story and didn't try to pass it off as my own). Luckily, Carlos was on the longest pizza run in world history, so I even got to stay and enjoy watching Darlene chat with other celebrities, like Allen Hammack.

She even left me in charge of the table once! Now, I had met and talked to Darlene 3-4 times by now, but she hardly knew me. I realized, though, that this confidence in me wasn't due to my own charisma. Darlene trusted me because Carlos trusted me, and that's how much she trusted Carlos.

Eventually, Carlos did return with the pizza, but then had to run off to help someone else. So now I got to stay and have pizza with Darlene in his stead. Incidentally, Carlos did not have a compatible charging cord, but I could scarcely care, as full as I was with generously shared pizza slices.

One remaining problem though, was that I lost all power on my phone and had no other timepiece on me, and I did not want to be late for my 6 o’clock game of Swords & Wizardry - so I gathered my things (which had been safe in the boardroom) and moved to my reserved table an hour early.

My Swords & Wizardry game was “Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti”, which I had written for Mythmere Games and was published through Frog God Games when they merged. I had seven players, including a couple who dropped in to play because the guy remembered enjoying my OD&D version of “The Invasion of Arun’Kid” last year. One player was Ryan Thompson, who writes his own S&W material and gifted me a copy. Speaking of copies, Michael Badalato stopped by to drop off copies of S&W Light for everyone. Although I’m sure he meant well, this led to some confusion later, as I was running S&W Complete, but my players kept referring to the S&W Light pamphlets in front of them.

Other than that confusion, the game went great. SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW!  The noise level in the room actually helped me (actually, it was mainly from the rowdy bunch playing Keep on the Borderlands next to us) for a change, because they could not overhear each other’s rumors. This party decided to go with most of the expeditionary force of NPCs the town offers them, and it became a running gag for half the session, putting the jungle guide in danger. We got bogged down a little at the gatehouse because they thought it was important to win the fight with the borsin tribe, though most groups figure out to just run from them. They did succeed in finding all the treasure in the gatehouse, though, which most groups don’t do. They completely ignored the well (most groups at least examine it, but no one has ever figured out the whole well complex). Like everyone else, they always assume there must be something good in the temple ruins -- I should really write a supplement someday for the temple ruins instead of just saying it’s empty or making up something.

The druid spent a little too much time scouting alone in animal form for my liking, leaving the rest of the players waiting, but I understand how it was strategically sound to do so -- it even let them avoid some really dangerous giant spider encounters when they finally got to the palace. By the time we finally got to the palace, they went down into the dungeon right away and were really rushing through that first level, as we were running out of time. We stopped after four hours, with two-thirds of the first dungeon level cleared out, and the players seemed to be very happy.

After that, it was time for me to head home. I needed a good night’s sleep back in Chicagoland before the next day’s exciting adventures!

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