Archive for August, 2010

Gaming Lit

As far as I’m aware, there are precisely two biographical books that focus on D&D culture during it’s inception: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf, and The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange by Mark Barrowcliffe.  Both were written by men now in their 40’s who were adolescents in the 70’s when introduced to D&D.  Gilsdorf’s is almost in the form of a travelogue as the book flips between the adult author investigating current geek culture and trying to find his own place in it, and retrospective on his youth.  He also covers a much wider range of fantasy elements, his own most powerful obsession being Lord of the Rings, not D&D itself, though D&D obviously plays a large part.  Barrowcliffe’s work is more of a direct biography of his youth and obsession with D&D at that time, and though he does touch on a few other tangential fantasy sub-cultures, D&D dominates the content of the book.  Of the two, I’d say I enjoyed Barrowcliffe’s book more, simply because it’s those personal experiences in the early days of the hobby I find most interesting.  Perhaps this is because I’m somewhat younger, and never really got to enjoy the fad period of D&D.  By the time I wanted to play, finding others to play with was already becoming difficult.  I’m going to try and avoid these personal introspections of my own experience though and focus on evaluating the books.

I can sum both of them up very quickly: fascinating and disappointing.  I really enjoyed reading both books, and burned through them very quickly.  They’re both well written and enjoyable to read.  Unfortunately, both of them come to similar conclusions that I find absolutely infuriating: that D&D is a childish pursuit that may have helped the authors through difficult times but is best left in the past.  It seems to me like both authors feel such strong correlations between the awkwardness and difficulties of their youths and the main activity of the time (playing D&D), that they cannot divorce the two.

The closest analogy to this attitude I can come up with is playing the recorder.  When I was in the fourth grade I learned to play the recorder, I bet that’s a pretty common experience to anyone reading this.  It’s a fairly easy instrument for a child to handle and is thus usually our first experience with musical instruments.  Thus we all seem to assume that the recorder is  child’s toy, an instrument any serious musician should avoid.  Never mind that there are actually some very accomplished recorder virtuosos out there, and that most people listening to a skilled musician playing one are amazed to learn the recorder can be played in such a way.  (Doubters should give a listen to The Renaissonics — I recommend Alta Vittoria, third down on the list.)  It appears to us a childish thing for no reason other than we experienced it in childhood and not adulthood.

Ultimately, the experience of D&D is the experience of intimately socializing with a specific group of people.  The experience is extremely variable depending on whom you choose (or are forced) to play with.  While I’ve had my fair share of puerile moments at the gaming table, I can clearly realize this was because I was playing with puerile individuals.  Over time I have learned to become discerning about who I play with.  I hope this does not come across sounding elitist, but it’s the simple truth.  People I do not enjoy gaming with simply don’t get the invitation to come back, and through time and natural selection I now have a fairly sizable group of people I can share my genuinely fun and entertaining hobby with.

In his final chapter, Barrowcliffe mentions playing once more as an adult as part of research for his book:

They were all there — the sneaks, the silents, the megalomaniacs and the plain weird.  This may have had something to do with the fact that I had to seek out an adult gaming group because, well, how would you feel about a forty-year-old pitching up out of the blue to play with your adolescent son?  If you’re still playing into your twenties and beyond then you’re an addict.  Maybe there’s a whole load of normal adult gamers out there, but I just have bad luck.

There are a whole load of us out there Mark, maybe you do just have bad luck.  If that’s the case then I feel genuinely bad for you.  It’s a shame that simple bad luck would taint an enjoyable hobby to such a degree that you feel the need to attack it.  On the other hand, maybe your derisive attitude or other personality flaws make it such that you can’t find us or our games because, well, we don’t want you to.

How Important is XP?

I had a great session last night.  The game has felt a big sluggish the past couple of weeks, as the party continued to push their way through one dungeon after another.  It was starting to feel very hack-and-slashy, and I think several of the players were starting to wonder where the roleplay was.  Last night was all in-town roleplay, everyone was laughing and having a good time, and as a result there was no XP to hand out at the end of the night.

The interesting thing is that this seemed to bother me more than my players.  I play pretty by-the-book for XP awards, which means its awarded for monsters and treasure only, though I do use the OD&D 100 xp per monster instead of the B/X charts.  This may seem a lot at lower levels, and yet after eight months of play my players have not yet reached fifth level.  Actually, this seems about the right rate to me.  It means the players will hit level 15 after about two years of play, which is the longest I’ve personally ever seen a campaign go, both in terms of real time and levels.

I’ve come up with rules for plot based XP in the past, but it never catches on.  The players just don’t seem very keen to think about the game at this meta-level.  Interestingly though, it seems they also don’t care if a great night of roleplay is not rewarded mechanically in terms of XP.  Perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit, perhaps they’re high-minded enough to consider the enjoyment of the evening reward enough.  In which case, I guess I think that’s awesome, and I should be happy that XP gain remains a nice enticement to get them back into treasure hunting instead of spending all their time yacking with the locals.

Of course, no XP at the end of the session doesn’t mean there was no XP all night.  The party had just entered a large city, and was very keen on tossing their hard-won cash into some serious revelry.  I decided this was a great time to pull out Jeff Rient’s Carousing rules (actually I used the version out of his Miscellaneum of Cinder, which are somewhat different from what’s on his blog).  The players really got into it, some of them diving right in, others undergoing serious internal debate about the pros and cons, and at least one taking the high road and trying to keep the others out of trouble.  Funny thing is, the results were really not so bad.  Two of the three of them made their saves and bought themselves some XP, while the one that failed only ended up with a poor tattoo.  Actually, two other players got into the description of the tattoo and made up their own tattoos as we described the three of them stumbling into the tattoo artist’s hut, despite not being required by the rules to get one.

I think this was probably the spark at the tinder box for the night, as by the end of the night they were proposing a plan of action so outlandish I really was at a loss of how to deal with it.  I even had one of the NPCs try to talk them out of it, though to be honest at that point I was mostly focused on playing the NPC accurately and not really thinking of the repercussions of what they were about to get themselves into.  Thankfully he failed, and now my mind is reeling with inspiration of new directions to take the game.

I just hope that the players are feeling as reinvigorated as I am.  Having a fired up GM is certainly good for the game, but having everyone at the table fired up is when it really shines.

Oldschool Outside the Box

Sometimes I try to talk to Jenn about the whys and wherefores of old school.  One point I think we disagree on, or that I’ve been unable to communicate properly to her, is the idea that a simplistic system encourages cleverer play which in turn leads to more enjoyable roleplay.  For example, I make the argument that without a skill system the players can, and are encouraged to, try and do anything.  And when they try something that I never imagined and completely surprises me, I in turn am forced to be imaginative and create something exciting, and thus some of the best play emerges.

Her argument, I believe, is that system doesn’t really matter.  You can do anything in any game.  Nothing is preventing a good GM from making stuff up on the spot and handling unusual requests in a creative way.  Of course, she’s right, but I don’t think the two ideas are necessarily exclusive.

Frank Mentzer wrote an excellent post on Dragon’s Foot which is what got me thinking about this.  Here’s a little quote from it, but I recommend following the link above and reading the post in its entirety:

What about…
Expressive playing of a role (facial things, voice, whatever)?
Imaginative ‘what-if-I-try-this’ by players?
Alternate routes to success (out-of-the-box thinking)?
Shifts between in-character and out-of-character so the game event includes socialization and humor?

The answer (from newschool players) seems to be “It isn’t codified, so it’s irrelevant and not worth doing.”

And by contrast, 3.5-ish Pathfinder (sorry mods, just a fleeting comparative) does emphasize those things, as best they can, and with detailed Advice on how to do it.

Sure, we could think outside the box and do whatever we want that’s outside the rules as written in any system, but the modern games tend to completely ignore this and leave us to our own devices.  The old games actually talked about this stuff, warned us it would happen, and gave some little tidbits of advise on how to deal with it.  Can we take those lessons from the old stuff and bring it forward to the new stuff?  Absolutely.  But it’s harder.

Why is it harder?  I think it’s simply a case that the old games put our expectations in the right place.  The emphasis on the importance of these ideas is right there in the text.  Our brains are ready to deal with it when it comes up.  Let’s face it, this is not only the “best” of roleplay, as Frank puts it, but also the hardest.  We need to be mentally prepared for it.  By completely ignoring it in the text of the new stuff, we sweep it under the rug.  Out of site, out of mind, and soon it’s completely forgotten in favor of more time spent in complex tactical combat systems.

I’m sure some day I’ll be convinced by Jenn to run some Warhammer FRPG again.  I’m sure I’ll bring some of the old school lessons learned with me.  I’ll have to be the one setting the expectations, probably with some house rules and maybe a little discussion before we start playing.  It’ll be difficult, but I think I could handle it.  It is a little daunting though, and in the mean time I’m enjoying myself some good old Basic D&D.

Convention Games

The final analysis I want to do on my GenCon experience is to look at the game I ran and the games I played, and see what lessons I can learn for future convention games I run. GenCon has made me even more excited to attend more local conventions. My own gaming group’s mini-con will be coming up next April, and before that is TotalCon 25, for which apparently I’ve become the old school cheerleader.  So, lessons learned:

Simplify.  The two games I enjoyed most were the AD&D tournament in which the objective was simply map out a cavern and the LL game in which the objective was simply to invade a crypt and steal some treasure.  My own game was most successful when the party assaulted the tower.  Sure, some players had a good time talking to NPCs in the tavern, but with 8 players and only 1 GM, at least half the players are going to be sitting passively during such encounters, and possibly getting bored.  Even worse was the games that tried to be a “murder mystery” style game, where the entire thing was like that.

I’m not saying a convention game needs to be a dungeon crawl to be successful.  However a clear starting objective and a focus on a concise area to explore I think will only help make the game better.  The most interesting parts of the games will be the tactical decision points.  Do we go left or right?  Do we talk to the dragon or attack it?  Try to include lots of choices, but make sure the choices are presented in a clear way.

Don’t Be Too Soft.  A TPK in a convention game is not nearly as bad as a TPK in a campaign.  In fact, many players will likely appreciate the challenge.  The LL game I played in was a TPK, but it felt like it was on a razor’s edge.  If the dice had bounced another direction it could have been a glorious success.  On the flip side, having a way to keep the killed players involved isn’t a bad idea.  Henchmen seem the obvious route for this.

Have a Win Condition.  Scored tournament games, even if the scoring is completely irrelevant, is an excellent motivator.  Or simply having a discrete goal other than kill them and take their stuff is great too.  In fact, I think it’s extremely interesting to have a standard dungeon crawl where the goal is something completely tangential to killing stuff and finding treasure.  Players are already motivated to do that anyway.  It’s much more interesting for the players to have to weigh their greed for treasure or desire to fight against another objective, like mapping out an area or saving a hostage.

Add Detail.  Square rooms are boring.  Giant chasms with rope bridges or caverns with exits high up the side of the wall are exciting.  An undead queen is OK, but an undead bandit queen is awesome.  Even though it never really came up in the game what the heck it meant to be a bandit queen or why a bandit queen would be raised as undead, it still instilled much more character into the enemy than simply having a wight or ghoul or whatever at the end.  Also, the fact that she was essentially a spell casting ghoul was great.  Custom monsters rock.  Everyone knows fire kills trolls, but how the heck do you deal with mud men?

I have so many ideas now.  I can’t wait for the next con.

Bring Out Your Dead

Because it amuses me, here is the current death toll of my game:


  Name Details Controlled By Cause of Death
1 Liam O’Gara 2nd level Elf Ranger Player: JA Mauled by a Mountain Lion
2 Grut 1st level Dwarf Fighter Player: MW Killed by Kobolds
3 Strang the Unlucky 1st level Human Fighter Henchman being controlled by Player: JA Killed by Hobgoblins
4 Melchior of the Three Fingers 2nd level Human Fighter Henchman Killed by Troglodytes
5 Koode Dood 2nd level Human Magic-User Player: MS Face severed by evil faries
6 Talen-Zin 3rd level Human Magic-User Henchman Killed by evil faries
7 Fedyeka the Bastard 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Poison needle trap
8 Kashiim 3rd level Human Fighter Player: MW Digested by a gelatinous cube
9 Elif Gooten 2nd level Halfling Magic-User Henchman being controlled by Player: MB Petrified by Medusa
10 Yogund Fruze 4th level Human Paladin Player: MB Poison by bite of Medusa’s hair
11 Gentleman Jack Getz 4th level Human Thief Player: JA Killed by party after turning into a were-boar
12 Janse Marlense 1st level Human Ranger Player: MB Killed by Brigands
13 Evynd Knifewielder 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Left for dead in a brigand lair
14 Motya Karamazov 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Lava breath of an animate statue
15 Ure of the Evening Eye 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Lava breath of an animate statue
16 Prince Te’Waharoa 1st level Human Fighter Player: JA Lava breath of an animate statue
17 Hare Sarlicsson 1st level Human Thief Henchman Poisonous gas inhalation
18 The Man with No Name (Klint) Level 4/1 Human Thief/Magic-User Player: PA Poisonous gas inhalation
19 Deacon Silver Level 5 Human Cleric Player: BJ Bitten by poisonous spider
20 Blood Mallet Level 2 Human Fighter Player: DD Eaten by a ghoul
21 Kellen Level 2 Human Fighter Player: JA Fed poison potion by own party while paralyzed
22 Thrain Fireknife Level 1 Human Fighter Henchman Killed by flaming zombie
23 Atseden the Fastidious Level 1 Dwarf Fighter Henchman Crushed by the hammer of an animate statue
24 Ozmo Level 2/1 Halfling Magic-User/Fighter Player: MM Died looking up at two descending Gargoyles
25 Bloodmallet Level 4 Human Fighter Henchman Stung by a Wyvern
26 Kellen Level 3 Human Fighter Henchman controlled by Player: MM Decapitated in fire ball blast (friendly fire)
27 Achlor, Rasheed, and Brand the Mace Normal Humans and Level 1 Human Thief Henchmen Frozen by the breath of a white dragon
28 Bazil the Dancing Sorcerer Level 6 Human Magic-User Player: MW Bisected by a Frost Giant
29 Yel Level 1 Human Fighter Player: MW Eviscerated by zombies
30 Bjorn Bigflask Level 1 Halfling Fighter Player: RV Cored by gray ooze
31 T. Walker Level 2 Human Ranger Player: SS Poisoned by giant spider bite
32 Emrys Level 4 Elf Magic-User/Fighter Player: MM Disturbed yellow mold once too often
33 Emrys Level 4 Elf Magic-User/Fighter Player: MM Over-charged a wand of magic missiles
34 Raede Level ? Elf Magic-User/Fighter RL Killed by horde of skeletons
35 Savin Level ? Elf Magic-User/Thief Player: RV Died alone on the road of Lycanthropy
36 Sir Thom Level 6 Human Paladin Player: JD Beheaded by a demon
37 Aweirgan Level 4 Human Paladin Player: NP Beaten to death by confused party member
38 Post Normal Human Henchman Stung by giant flies in the Red Swamp
39 Bloodcleaver and Jeb Human Berserker and Norman Human Henchmen Exsanguinated by stirges
40 Klaus Normal Human Henchman Bitten by a giant centipede
41 Drummian Level 1 Elf Cleric Player: JD Eaten by a phase spider

I think that’s roughly in the order it happened.  As for explanation of the henchmen controlled by players, originally the idea was simply to allow the players to take over a henchman as their primary character if their primary character died.  This extended naturally through play to also use them if a primary character was in some way incapacitated.  Rather than sit out for the session while your guy is paralyzed, why not control the henchman for a little while?  This practice has not proven healthy for the poor henchmen.

Oh, also, the two unknown deaths.   Currently the players are on a quest to find out exactly what happened to those two.  They went off on their own and never returned, so it’s a mystery to the rest of the party.  Quite literally too, as I had the player play a private session to figure out what did become of them, and that player no longer plays with us at all (for unrelated reasons), so the group really has no clue what happened.

EDIT: I have bolded the names of those characters who were later Raised from the Dead by the party after their death.

Miniature Madness

Apparently, having bought not a single ounce of lead at GenCon, when I returned home I felt the need to make up for my error.  Why is it though that all the best stuff these days seems to come from England?  And furthermore, that all these English companies have no ability to track orders, so I have absolutely no clue when my stuff is going to get here?  It’s probably because I myself will be traveling to England in another six weeks or so, which means the stuff will likely arrive either moments before I leave or after I return.

Before I left for GenCon I became aware of this new 10mm scale dungeon set by Germy.  I admit I’m intrigued by the smaller scale of the hobby.  I’ve never attempted to paint anything that small, and I’m curious how it would go.  Also, after playing some Battlelore I realized I quite like the feeling of a truly vast battlefield the smaller scale gives you.  Finally, I’ve always been a sucker for stuff like Dwarven Forge, though I’ve never been able to convince myself it was worth the money for such an impracticable product.  All these things wrapped up together?  OK, fine, I plunked down my money and ordered  Pendraken’s Dungeon Pack.  You can expect pictures when it arrives and I start painting.

One thing my miniature collection always seems to be missing is basic armed villagers.  I’ve frequently seen a need for figures that are not quite soldiers, but also not defenseless peasants.  I guess I was looking for the village militia — you know, the poor schmucks who help the PCs defend the town against the rampaging orcs, or whatever.  I did some hunting online, and while Reaper makes some nice townsfolk, the variety of them that are actually armed is limited.

Then I ended up on Foundry’s site, looking through their historical medieval line, and what did I find?  Several groups of armed peasants, and a pack of poorly armed archers — perfect!  And of course with shipping from the UK not being very cheap, it hardly makes sense to order only a few miniatures, so I got two of the above packs.  Sigh.

I guess I’ll have some painting to do in the future.  Unfortunately with no way of tracking any of these shipments, the real question is when?

GenCon: D12 Fantasy and Sunday Wrap-up

D12 FantasySunday morning came all too soon, and I had just one event scheduled: a fantasy setting miniatures skirmish game called D12 Fantasy by Redshirt Games.  I roped Jenn into buying a ticket for this also during pre-reg.  Pretty much every year we play some kind of miniatures game together.  I keep hoping to find some new game that I can set up quickly on the spot for a miniatures game without roping me into collecting and painting a huge amount of new figures.  I already have tons of minis and terrain, and I really don’t need to pushed into collecting more.  I just want something simple I can toss together with my existing stuff when the mood to play a miniatures game strikes.  I was hoping D12 Fantasy might be that game.

However, the draw of one last go through the exhibit hall was difficult to fend off.  Jenn decided not to play, but I convinced myself I needed to play one last game, even if it meant not seeing the exhibit hall until later in the afternoon.  Our plane Sunday evening was repeatedly pushed back by the airline from around 5 to around 7, so there was no rush to get out, but I wasn’t sure how early in the day the exhibitors would be packing up to leave.

It turns out the game was in this weird “hallway”, which was actually a small chunk of the exhibit hall itself walled off that lead to the main CCG area.  In 2008 this was the video game exhibitor’s area, so I guess they had to do something with the space, though it did give the impression that maybe they had had trouble selling all their booth space.

The game itself was OK, though our GM was a bit distracted as other folks from Red Shirt kept coming by to distract her.  Worse yet, she told us the game would speed up once we got accustomed to the rules, and even though we did get a handle on them after a few turns she still insisted on calculating every number for us and explaining through it, which meant play did not speed up at all.  Also, it’s just a little annoying to have someone explain a complicated turn sequence to you that results in the same outcome you and your opponent already came to.

The system itself was fine, nothing too unusual for this kind of thing.  Unfortunately the part that was simplified was movement and terrain.  The battle field was split into a 12×12 grid of large squares, so there was no measuring of movement we just counted out squares.  Tactical positioning choices were thus not a major consideration.  The complexity was in the math of the outcome itself — a lot of different modifiers came to each roll from either side.  This is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I’d like.  What I like about miniatures games is when the terrain is very important and precise positioning of your mini is a big part of the strategy.  I want the math to be easy to get through quickly so I can take a lot of turns moving my guys around and make more large scale strategic decisions.

Two of the six players were a father/son team, the son a young kid of 10 or so.  Dad had a game he was personally running right at noon, when our game was supposed to end, so he had to leave a bit early to get there and prepare.  I latched onto this and told everyone at the table I would also have to leave early.  So did two other guys.  So the game came to an abrupt end at 11:30, much to everyone’s relief I think.  I’m not sure it was the game’s fault, as I said it was a fine game simply not to my personal tastes.  It probably had more to do with it being Sunday morning and everyone wanting to cram in as much convention as possible or perhaps start to get ready to leave.

I roamed the exhibit hall as soon as I left, met Jenn for some lunch, and then we roamed the exhibit hall again.  Fortunately it felt like it was in full swing, though the myth of “good deals on Sunday afternoon” did not seem to hold true, as everywhere I asked did not have any particularly good discounts to offer.  I don’t think I bought anything, but it was nice to feel like I had plenty of time to say goodbye to the convention before heading back to the hotel, where we’d sit for an hour or so before heading off to the airport.

All in all, an excellent convention.  I’m already looking forward to next year, and thinking about what smaller local cons I can attend between now and then.

GenCon: Auction

Saturday night I had a ticket to a D12 Fantasy game, another game I had duplicates of.  The second one was for Sunday morning and Jenn had a ticket for then too, so I was pretty sure I’d be skipping that game.  Originally I was thinking of maybe running a pick-up game, but I ended up at the Charity Auction instead.

Auction Store FindJenn always catches the auction, but I had never been.  Too busy playing games I guess.  But this year I really wanted to get my hands on some old out of print stuff, and the dealer’s hall just wasn’t cutting it.  So I went to the auction to see if it had anything better.  Turns out, it was a gold mine.  I only wish I was there for the official roleplaying portion.

My first visit they were auctioning mostly board games I think.  I got in line at the auction store while I watched.  Apparently the auction store has stuff that either didn’t get sold during the regular auction, or some stuff that’s put there intentionally.  Most of it has a rolling price depending on what day it is — the longer it sits in the store the cheaper it gets.  I was really hoping to get my hands on a 1st edition PHB, one with the excellent Trampier artwork.  I even saw several people exiting the store with such books in hand.  Unfortunately, by the time I got in there it was all Monster Manuals and Fiend Folios left.  Sigh.

Auction Store FindI did find a copy of the Moldvay expert book, which I already have two of, but at $1 it just seemed too good to pass up.  How can I have too many copies of these books anyway?  Maybe some day I’ll drop the LL pretext and just switch back to B/X full time.

There were a fair number of old modules to be found.  I picked up a copy of I1, for no other reason than it was the most appealing looking one to read.  I didn’t notice at the time, but apparently the thing is still in its original shrink wrap.  Yikes!  Now I face the moral dilemma of whether to tear off the shrink to read it or leave it as a collector’s item.  I admit I have a slight collection bug, but it seems crazy to me to buy something solely for collect-ability, especially a book that yearns to be read.

AD&D Monster CardsI decided to come back again later, and even though the schedule indicated that all the roleplay stuff would be done in the mornings and they were supposed to be on to TOVA, they were still doing a few roleplay items.  I figured what the heck, and bought myself a bidding card (it was only $1).  I bid on a few items and usually got out-bid.  At one point an item came up for two of the four sets of AD&D monster cards.  I had some of these back in the day, but they were long gone.  I was outbid, but the next item up was a complete set of all four, though in lesser condition.  I bid and actually won at $9.50.  I was totally psyched, the one thing I actually won a bid on was something I really did want, it wasn’t just about the excitement of bidding, and for a pretty good price I think.

By the night time it was on to the charity auction, which I watched with Jenn and Bigfella.  I bid once or twice, but it always went well above my range.  I took a good amount of footage of this, but I won’t bore you with it.  The one thing I will share is a quick clip of a bid on some World of Warcraft cards.  Apparently they included a still usable code that would get you a pretty sought-after mount in game.  They had three cards, and the bids were given per-card.  The winner had the option of buying as many of the cards at the winning bid as he wanted.  Presumably they’d give runners-up the chance at the left-overs, but the winner actually opted to buy all 3 cards.  Here’s the video:

The auction was a real highlight this year.  Next year I’m definitely going to try and make a bigger effort to be there for it, especially during the roleplay items.  I’ll get my first printing PHB yet!

GenCon: Costume Parade

I have a tiny digital video recorder I bought as a lark recently, and decided to bring with me to GenCon.  It has no view finder, but can be clipped to clothing and easily ignored.  I mostly thought to use it while roaming the exhibit hall, so I have a ton of footage of that.  I’ll try and edit that stuff down and maybe do a little VO for it to make it more interesting to watch.  That will take some time I’m sure as I’ve never really done any video editing before.

On Saturday afternoon I clipped the thing to me as I was approaching the exhibit hall, and in an amazing bit of serendipity, about 30 seconds later I came across the costume parade going the other direction.  It took me a second to realize what was going on, but then I promptly stopped to watch the parade and got the entire thing on video.

You’ll have to excuse the odd angle.  I had the camera clipped to the band of my hat so it would record what I was looking at, and hadn’t noticed the thing got a little tilted.  And to the guy who asked that someone post pictures of him to Facebook — I’m sorry, but I have no idea how to link video to facebook and no clue what it was you were supposed to be dressed as, so I imagine you wouldn’t find it even if I did.

Here’s the video:

GenCon: Tunnels and Trolls

Saturday morning I got up and wandered on over to the Hyatt for my Tunnels & Trolls game.  Burn-out was starting to be noticeable, our GM eventually joined us after we were all gathered together but he looked a little shell-shocked.  And the first thing he tells us is that Ken St. Andre (original creator of T&T) would like to play with us, but we may have to move to another location for him to do so.  Everyone was ready and willing to do so, but it turns out Ken was just downstairs, and so he came up to play and we didn’t even have to move.

Now, I own the many editions of T&T (including even the mythical 6th edition), and have played plenty of solo adventures, and even once ran a game of it for my group.  I’ve never played though, and sadly though I own 7th edition, I had dismissed it as overly complex for my taste.  Naturally it turned out that was the edition we were playing.  Still, several folks at the table were quite knowledgeable in the system and happy to help me spin up my character, and though my rolls were crappy, I felt like my guy had a little character to him and I was excited to play.

Except then I discovered the GM made one of the classic blunders — he tried to run a mystery plot at a convention game.  Mystery plots can be enjoyable, but the fact is they can only really engage one or two players at a time.  Someone inevitably takes the lead talking to NPCs and putting the pieces together, while everyone else just coasts along.  Perhaps in a home campaign this can still be fun, especially if the other players are all invested in the setting and NPCs involved.  But at a con game, where you have zero context, it’s a horrible bore.  Sure, I probably could have asserted myself to try and be the guy who drove the plot, but it would have been at the expense of someone else doing it, and frankly I just didn’t have the energy for it.  Thankfully the game was a shorter one — only 3 hours, and I decided to just put on a glad face and ride it out.  I suppose I could have just up and left, but with Ken there, well, it seemed just a bit too crass.

Interestingly, I think Ken, though being nice to a guy who was at least a casual acquaintance prior to the con and possibly a friend, pretty much agreed with me.  At one point during a break he said something like this (and my apologies to Ken if I get this horribly wrong as I paraphrase here):

I hate these adventures that take so much time to explain how everyone got here, instead of just getting to the adventure.  My adventures start with “You’re surrounded by goblins, you remember how you got here and you wish you didn’t, what do you do?”

Now maybe he was talking about another game and not this one specifically, and perhaps his analysis that the game was dragging because of too much introductory stuff was a bit off the mark (I think the entire scenario was flawed), but ultimately I think Ken is pretty much dead on here.  The one thing I added to the game I ran that I didn’t do the first time I ran it was add a quick fight at the start to get the party to gel right away.  Then when they were in the tavern following leads it started to slack off, and while some players were excited about it, others were clearly growing bored.  But perhaps I’ll save all this for a final summary post so I can compare all the games I played in and see how it might affect how I prepare for the next convention game I have to run.

Ultimately, I don’t think the GM was a bad GM, I just think he chose a bad scenario to run at a convention.  The fact is, it did not feel horribly railroaded like the Warhammer game, the players were given plenty of lee-way to tackle the problem as they saw fit.  We tried a lot of pretty crazy ideas, including setting up  a fake meet with a bunch of smugglers to try and entrap them into giving away their superiors.  Though as I think about it, if the GM had been a bit more flexible, he might have realized that this was the most engaged we were and altered the plot a bit to make this pay out instead of falling flat as it did.  Ultimately it ended up feeling like a waste of time.  Hmm, which is worse, a GM who is obviously reading from a script such that you know you’re being railroaded, or a GM who lets you try all kinds of things that simply fail completely due to them not fitting into the preconceived story?  As I write this, I think I’m changing my mind completely, and will likely avoid both these GMs in the future.

Now, if I could manage to get into a T&T game run by Ken St. Andre, well, that’s a different story.  His game sounded pretty darn exciting to me.