Archive for the ‘Tournaments’ Category

Thoughts on the Slave Lords

So I ran three more sessions of the A-series.  I wanted to run only first rounds, as I liked the idea of all the scores being comparable.  I ended up running just stuff from A1, mostly as it was familiar and easy.  I would like to run the first half of A2 some day, but just wasn’t up for the extra challenge of running something brand new at the con, and the second half of A2 and first half of A3 aren’t super exciting to me.

Two out of three games were good sized ( 9 and 8 ) while my first group was half-sized (only 5).  For that group I let them choose one extra character to bring along as a dumb henchman (dumb as in he would just attack unless given explicit instructions) and they chose Eljayess, the F/C.  Interestingly they had the other cleric with them but totally missing was all the magic-user characters (Dread, Phanstern, and Kayan).  I also scaled down the encounters by about 33%.  Despite these challenges they did pretty well.  Actually I think they were the ones to do the sewer bit, and ultimately not having a Dread Delgarth player trying to shoot fireballs in 5′ corridors probably helped them.

All in all though, I’m starting to get the suspicion that the scoring is really more strongly directed by luck than by any kind of “player skill”.  I felt all three groups played pretty intelligently.  That said, the last group had terrible luck against the ghouls encounter, failing both surprise and initiative thus giving the ghouls two full rounds of attacks, during which they managed to paralyze both Dread Delgarth and Karaway.  They then followed this up with a miserable turn attempt from Eljayess, and by the end of it they were down to just two characters left (the elf and the dwarf) against the ghouls.  They managed to squeeze out a win, but had to burn their raise dead scroll and pretty much every ounce of healing they had to go on (this was the group of 8, and I even gave them the missing Phanstern’s potion of extra healing).

Compare this to the Friday group that faced the exact same challenge and walked just as blindly into the same trap.  They passed the surprise check, won initiative, and in pretty short order had half the ghouls Slowed and pretty much all of them huddled in the corner cowering against the pair of held up holy symbols.  That group got almost a perfect score, by the way, only missing out as they let one of their party die along the way.

I may very well be over the whole scored tournament thing now.  The one thing I do like about these modules is that the content is clearly scaled well to fit into the 4 hour time limit.  Clearly with the combination of good luck and skill a party can clear through a round in about exactly 4 hours.  I may down-play the scoring part in future.

As for the A-series specifically, I think I’ve likely had my fill.  I could be convinced to run them if a group of players wanted to play through more of it, especially if the same group wanted to try and push through the later rounds as well.  Perhaps though it would be more fun to just let them play out all the content, and if they really wanted just tell them after the 4-hour mark what their score would have been had we stopped there but push on and play it out to the end.

Actually, that’s exactly what I did for my last group, and we played about an extra hour to get them to the end room.  Given that all 8 players stuck around for the extra hour, I think I must have been doing something right.

Convention Games Follow-up

The poll in my post from earlier this week seems to be pointing me in the direction of AD&D for running convention games, at least certainly for running old tournament modules.  To be honest, I was kind of leaning in this direction anyway, but it’s nice to see some proof that it’s the right choice.  This brings my current gaming habits to an interesting point: B/X D&D for my home campaign, AD&D for conventions.  Something about that just feels right: the right tool for the right job.

This weekend I will be running the second half of A1 for a group using AD&D fairly by the book as a practice run.  I will still use simplified initiative and target-20, which I think will be the biggest divergences from the core rules as written.  Other house rules may sneak in from habit, but I suspect will be fairly trivial in nature.  Last weekend I spent some time transcribing the characters to character sheets.  I had the PHB and DMG on hand to fill in some details, and the whole experience just felt right.  Something about flipping between those specific charts, the smell of those books in the air, a #2 in my hand — it really hit all the right nostalgic notes for me.

Assuming this practice run goes well, this is how I will run those games at TotalCon next month.  I really like the idea of billing this as in recognition of WotC’s plan to reprint those books.  I see no reason to buy the reprints myself (I already have two copies of each book), but I like the idea of encouraging others to buy them, especially folks who may not have nor ever had copies.

In the long run, I think I’d still likely use B/X for intro style convention games, but in that case I’d probably still stick closer to the book as written than in my home campaign (when else do I get to play with race as class?)  For re-running old modules though, AD&D does seem like the right choice.  Hmm, I suppose the question is, can I imagine ever writing my own convention game for use with AD&D?  Actually, that might be the distinction, I much prefer to write for B/X than AD&D, but if something is already written for AD&D, I’ll just use that.

Or maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  Maybe I just need to take this one convention at a time.

Scores of the Slave Lords

As I hope to run these modules a few times, I thought it would be cool to maintain some scores.  I’ll try to come back and update this post in future.  Here’s the scores to date:

Date Location # Players Round Score
11/11/11 Providence 8 1.1 270 / 405
1/27/12 Medway 9 1.2 355 / 405
2/23/12 TotalCon 5 1.2 270 / 405
2/24/12 TotalCon 9 1.1 360 / 405
2/25/12 TotalCon 8 1.1 265 / 405


FYI, per my previous post, I’ve decided to eliminate bonus points entirely.  I am also trying to pick out the 9 encounters from each part 1 that count towards scoring.  In the case of A1, part 1, I’ve decided to eliminate room 2, which empty and essentially just a time waster.

Take That, Slavers

This afternoon I got to run the first round of the slaver’s modules (part 1 of module A1) for some co-workers.  I’ve signed myself up to run some of these modules at TotalCon, and wanted some practice, especially as I’ve done a little translating to make this mesh with my own particular brand of B/X style D&D.  Mostly it was just the characters that needed tweaks, especially in the spell list department.  Anyway, here are some quick thoughts on running this module:

The Good

  • Got 8 of 9 players to show up, which was better attendance than when I played this same module myself at last GenCon.
  • Most of the character translation just worked.  I really didn’t miss some of the odd AD&D spells that had to be translated away (eg. Command).
  • Especially pleased with Phanstern who is an AD&D illusionist by the module.  Changed into “Phanstern the Illusionist”, a human magic-user.  Simple use of an epithet in the name and a well picked spell list (mirror image, phantasmal force, invisibility, etc.) really gave the character the right vibe without needing a special class.
  • Got to do some very fun interpretation of bad guy actions when the party hit a big group of them, fought a bit, retreated for an extended period of time, then launched a second assault.  Actually they did more damage than they realized in the initial fight and the baddies were happy to have the time to recuperate and try to lay new ambushes for the party.  All in all I did not feel like the bad guys did anything silly or game-ish in either fight.
  • Party made excellent use of illusion spell in second assault, basically of themselves charging in to draw out ambushers before real charge.  Well done players.
  • There seemed to be a fair bit of interest in running further parts, which I’d love to do.

The Bad

  • Not sure how the party took it, but the linear nature of the map made me a little sad.  Especially in above mentioned withdrawal after a fight, the party wanted to try to find another way around, but of course there was none.
  • Kind of sad that Spider Climb is not part of B/X.
  • Initial fight with lots of ghouls who both got in surprise round and then won initiative may have left the party feeling a bit gun-shy in later combats.  It was a great first fight though, with everyone on the edge of their seats as half the party quickly became paralyzed.
  • Scoring system is whack.  Starts out looking reasonable with simple 9×9 chart with # survivors along one axis and number of rooms encountered on the other.  Then proceeds to list bonus points for each of the 10 rooms — wait, what, 10?  Max points by chart is 405, bonus points can accrue up to 99 more points.  Other four rounds have no such bonus point scheme, but allow for up to 3 discretionary GM points per room, which is still only 27 bonus points.  A2 I see is even worse in having far more rooms than 9, only A3 seems to stick to 9 room limit.
  • Curious inclusion of Raise Dead scroll in equipment list.  Even in AD&D Raise Dead left recipient weak and useless for at least one day.  As there’s no place to rest in this adventure, is the point simply to game the system and recover some lost points due to player death?
  • First room mentions light coming from within, but then rest of module does not mention light sources.  I went with most of it being lit by torches, but the players then started asking astute questions as to who was replenishing the torches (which burn out in just 1 hour) given how slowly they were making their way through the dungeon.  Think in future I should probably ditch the torches and give the players a few more of their own light sources to use throughout the adventure.

Tournament Modules – S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

Apparently I’ve started a new series of posts on tournament modules.  What the heck, let’s go for it.  Actually, there are only two small indications that S4 was a tournament module.  On the cover it mentions that it was first run as a tournament at WinterCon V.  Inside, there’s a mention that the wilderness portion was not part of the original tournament.  And that’s basically it, there-after we hear nothing of it being a tournament or not.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that this was a tournament.  I’d love to see the original tournament material, because this is no small module, and I can’t imagine they handed all this stuff off to the DMs at WinterCon.  The module is so big it’s broken up into two 32 page booklets, the first containing the actual adventure, and the second being a veritable supplement in it’s own right full of new monsters, spells, and magic items.  OK, all of these likely saw print in later books so they don’t feel all that new to me, but still, purchasers of this module when it first came out must have been delighted with the huge quantity of content it came with.

That said, I could easily see incorporating this module into a regular campaign.  The wilderness part is delightful.  Most modules assume you find a map to the location, this one makes you find it.  Also, I’m a complete sucker for modules that include an incomplete player map hand-out.  I know it’s a bit of a trope at this point, but it’s one that I completely love.

As for the dungeon, it’s a pretty solid one I’d say.  It’s broken apart into two levels, connected by a stair that’s somewhat concealed.  I’ll touch more on that issue when I review WG4, in which the connection to the second level is even harder to find.  My point in reading this module (and WG4), was to answer the question: was there a shift in adventure design in the early 80’s away from Gygaxian Naturalism, or is Gygaxian Naturalism by it’s nature, well, Gygaxian.  That is, was it just Gygax’s style, a style that other designers simply never got or emulated?

This module definitely has all the hallmarks of Gygaxian Naturalism.  For example, several rooms are full of fungus that crew from the large quantity of bat guano which in turn comes from the large bat population.  This fungus attracts giant cave crickets which feed on it, which in turn attracted some trolls who eat the cave crickets.  The trolls then start spreading the fungus around further to attract more cave crickets.  You get the picture.  There’s a real sense of ecology to this module.  That said, it’s not like the story of the trolls and the cave crickets is pivotal to the adventure, it’s just there.

That said, I’m not convinced this module, nor WG4, are really good examples of late Gygaxian adventure design.  Though this module was published in 1982, it was first run at WinterCon V which was all the way back in 1976.  And even that’s not clearly the origin of this module, as you can just tell from the reading that this was adapted from Gary’s home campaign (actually wikipedia tells me it was part of Rob Kuntz’s home campaign, but I think those two shared quite a lot of material with each other back then).  I can totally understand how this came about.  It’s 1982, the peak of D&D popularity, and there’s a huge demand for more modules.  Someone in a board meeting looks at Gary and says “Say Gary, you’ve been running stuff for years now, surely you must have some good stuff that could be printed in a module.”  Why yes, yes he did.

Perhaps to really analyze Gary’s later design sensibilities I’ve got to go out and find some Lejendary Adventure stuff.  To prove the above theory, I should probably also be on the look-out for contemporary modules from the late 70’s/early 80’s not by Gygax that also exhibit his same design sensibilities.  All that said, it really is starting to look to me like this is simply Gary’s style.  Sure, plenty of folks in the OSR are now picking it up, and I’d even argue that it really is the best style for reusable adventure design, but that said I’m not positive that anyone back in the early 80’s realized or cared about this kind of distinction.  Gygax wrote modules, and Cook wrote modules, and a whole bunch of other guys did too.  Some of them were good, some not so much, but I bet nobody really bothered to sit down and figure out what elements made for good vs. bad modules.  They were probably too busy pumping them out to stop and think about the process analytically.

Now I’m really deep in the land of conjecture so I guess I’d better stop.  I’ll still write up a review about WG4 soon, and maybe also a little high-level opinion piece on why  I think Gygaxian Naturalism is the way to go.  Now though, it’s time for lunch.

Tournament Modules – A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

OK, A4 is actually one of my favorites, possibly my most favorite, of this series.  Which is really kind of odd, because frankly, the trope it’s based on is one I’ve frequently railed against.  It’s the old “you’re taken prisoner, try to escape” bit.  Not only is it overplayed, it’s often the worst offender when it comes to railroading, especially if you play out the capture.  Fortunately by being a tournament module it’s easy for A4 to avoid this problem: it simply starts with some boxed text about how the party was captured and what they’ve endured, then dumps them into dungeon from which they must escape.

This module is one of the easiest in which to tell the tournament content from the extended content.  The tournament stuff is the first half.  There’s a pretty obvious point in the module where the tournament ends, the extended campaign play stuff begins.  Essentially, the tournament is just about escaping the specific dungeon complex, the campaign then extends this by detailing the island the prison sits on, so you go from escaping a dungeon to escaping a wilderness.  In this post, like the others, I largely ignored the campaign stuff and focused on the tournament.

For a prison escape adventure, this one does not hold any punches.  The characters have no equipment, heck, almost no clothes at all.  The spell-casters have practically no spells at all.  None for the magic-users, a couple for the clerics who manage to memorize only the essentials (cure light wounds. create food and water, etc.) despite the slavers’ system of only allowing them to sleep for a few hours at a time.  There’s one gimme at the front, some spells on a scroll, but the party has no light by which to read them!

It feels harsh, but it really does encourage inventive playing on the part of the players, which I loved as a player and think would be a hoot to DM.  Even better, while advice is given to the DM on how to handle some common tactics players might try, it’s not like each room specifically drops items on the players that have an obvious use.  Some enemies have flint weapons, which clever players will realize can be used to strike sparks and ignite a fire for a light source.  There are bits of wood and pitch in different areas, but these materials have a dozen uses beyond just making torches.

Best of all, the dungeon actually does have multiple exits.  There’s no single right way to finish this module, and the players needn’t hit every single encounter.  This makes A4 a bit unique in the series, and better in my mind.  Both adventures I ran at last GenCon included a multi-level dungeon, with multiple connections between each level, including the surface to the first.  The levels themselves were small, maybe 3-6 rooms in total, but having multiple exits on each really gives the party that sense of choice even if they do end up exploring the entire thing.  Though I think this is to be avoided as well, and A4 and my own GenCon adventures include more content than any party could realistically be expected to complete.

In retrospect, I think our DM was a bit too generous with us.  I’ve tried following our route through the map but I can’t make it work.  I think perhaps he dumped a couple extra resources on us than actually exist in the module.  Also, when we got hold of the scrolls and some light to read them by, he made a point of telling us they could be memorized from like a spellbook, which we latched onto and immediately spent an hour memorizing a spell each.  This is blatantly not in the module, and also seems kind of foolish to me.  The fact is there are more spells on those scrolls than we’d be like to use in the course of the adventure, and there’s no reason to hold onto any resources in a convention game.  If he hadn’t told us that, I bet we would have been a lot less stingy with the spells, reading them off the scrolls rather than hording them for some non-existent future use.  If he was trying to be generous, I think he actually did the opposite.

I’m definitely looking forward to running this, which puts me in a difficult situation at least for HelgaCon.  Should I decide to run any of these at HelgaCon, I’m tempted to follow Delta’s lead and start at the beginning and run one per year.  That makes this 7 years of content though, 7 years before I get to run A4.  Is it worth it?  I suppose there’s always TotalCon.

Tournament Modules – A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords

A3 strikes me as the most unusual of the series.  Broken into three parts (A, B, and C), the first part is the last of the five tournament first rounds, and the second two parts form the semi-final.  It follows the same mechanism as A2 for indicating what parts of the map are not part of the tournament, but interestingly the only addition it seems was made for the campaign version is a single secret tunnel in part C.

Similar tunnels were found in A2 which I guess to be intended as some explanation for how the heck the main bad-guys get in and out of these convoluted death-trap lairs.  I suppose it’s easier when writing for a tournament and you needn’t bother think about what if anything is beyond the last room.

Part A is typical of the first rounds.  Some very interesting rooms to get through in a surprisingly linear progression.  Amusingly there are a couple places where there are several exits from a room which either dead-end, lead back to the same room they left, or join together with the one correct passage to the next room.

The semi-final is broken into two parts each with its own map.  Part C is much like part A, and other pieces of the entire series, being an underground dungeon with various traps, puzzles, and monsters to contend with.  Part B is the odd bit.  Apparently the semi-final starts with the players finding the city of the slave lords (the titular ‘Aerie’), and knowing they must find the secret underground passage in the city that will lead them into the final stronghold.  Part B consists of the entire city, with short descriptions of every building.  There are a few clues here and there as to the location of the entrance to the underground, but most buildings are dead ends.  Given that the scoring for the semi-final is based completely on the number of rooms in the underground explored, the entire thing seems to be nothing more than a massive time waster.  The best way to score high in the semi-final is to find the entrance as fast as possible and get into the underground.

It makes me wonder if part B was really part of the tournament at all.  Given that part C is exactly the same number of rooms as part A, it seems odd to have this bit in here at all.  Don’t get me wrong, it is kind of cool and would make a great sandbox in which you could spend a lot of sessions.  This seems another argument though for it being included for campaign play rather than for the tournament.  The text does seem to indicate it is part of the tournament, but little guidance is given in just how to run this.  A blank player map is included, do they just point to which building they want to check out and the GM runs it from there?  Should there be potential to get in trouble right in the streets?  What happens if the party gets in deep and the citizens and/or guards overwhelm them?  I don’t care how powerful a party may be, a city full of enemies is going to take them down relatively quickly.

Perhaps the idea is that by this point the participants have been whittled down to the most superior players, who know better than to dicker around when there’s a secret passage to be found.  This is the semi-final after all.  Still, for all the effort I’ve read about being put into making sure the tournaments were fair and equal for all participants regardless of DM, this part strikes me as pretty contradictory to that goal.  Different DMs could really run quite differently with the semi-final, and I think even a good party might find themselves running out of time if they had an inventive DM who might enjoy elaborating on this part.

Another interesting thing to note about the semi-final: the pre-gens have changed slightly.  Two sets of pre-gens are included in the module.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between them is some slight changes in inventory, especially around the magic items.  It’s an interesting nod to consistency, assuming the party used up their expendable magic items in the previous round so shouldn’t have them in this round.  Again it pushes that interesting feeling of a consistent narrative — that many groups were simultaneously attacking the slave lords but that this group is the one that got through.  It works to a degree, provided you ignore the fact that every group consisted of the same characters.  It makes me a little sad, as I know it’s the bit I could not replicate with a modern re-running of this tournament.  I doubt we’ll ever see another case of a massive convention running hundreds of players through a single consistent multi-round tournament.  Sigh.

Someone get on that time-machine already.  I want to go to GenCon XIII!

Tournament Modules – A2: Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade

Much like A1, module A2 includes two of the five first round parts of the original tournament.  Unfortunately, unlike A1, A2 does not do a very good job of presenting the tournament material separately from the campaign version.  In this case, the maps are shaded to indicate which rooms are part of the original tournament, but that seems to be the only concession.  Sure, there’s some text in there about running the original tournaments, and ultimately I’m sure the module could be used to run the original tournament, but the presentation makes it much more difficult to read only the tournament content and skip the filler.

And filler it really is.  The rooms that are added for the campaign really don’t add much, in my opinion.  The two sections include an above-ground fort to be raided, and the undergound passages below it.  They are tenuously connected by main bad-guy characters and some secret passages, but I have to wonder in reading this if the underground was even really envisioned as being underneath the fort at all in the original tournament.  The fort adds a bit more for campaign play, in as much as the assault entry point in tournament is very linear and the module offers several other approaches to entry not possible in the tournament.  The underground portion remains fairly linear, with or without the extra material.

I suppose ultimately for campaign play the filler is exactly what you need.  The tournament material is pretty linear, with a few places appearing to have choice of direction but usually one choice quickly terminates.  In campaign play the players need a chance to go the wrong way, find some stuff that’s unimportant to the main plot, maybe find alternate paths to the goal locations.  Ultimately I don’t begrudge the authors the additional material, but it’s not why I’m reading these modules, and I find myself skimming it pretty quickly to get on to the next tournament location.

All in all I’d say this module feels the weakest to me in the series.  The set pieces don’t have quite the impact of the stuff in that first part of A1, though they are still much better than your average module, and the linearity of the adventures seems much more apparent.  Now maybe my perception is skewed because I didn’t actually play this one, and I think I will still try to find an opportunity to run these.  The effort to link the two parts seems a little more ham-fisted, but it’s also hard to see how the second part stood alone in the original tournament.  Perhaps that just means the underground of this module is the weakest of the five first rounds.  Still, I wish I could have seen the original tournament write-ups before they were coddled together into these modules.

Tournament Modules – A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity

As mentioned in my first GenCon post, I got to play a session of A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity this year, and later A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords as well.  I’ve been aware of this series for a while and vaguely knew it had a reputation of being a good group of modules, but had never played or read them.  I enjoyed myself enough that I bought the modules at the auction, which I may have done anyway, but having just played the module definitely left me excited to buy it.  It’s definitely a fun one and highly recommended.

What’s really interesting about this module though is its glimpse into the AD&D tournament scene of early GenCons.  The entire series of modules was originally run as a multi-part tournament at GenCon XIII (1980), a fact I know from reading the module itself.  You see, the module includes copious information about running it in a tournament setting.  I was aware from Delta’s description that the G series modules were likewise originally a tournament, and included some notes for scoring.  I still haven’t read those modules yet either (don’t want to spoil the surprise until Delta completes his run), but I suspect they’re not as detailed about tournament play as this one is.

A1 includes a separate set of maps for tournament play, reduced in scope from the full maps, though likely this is backwards and the smaller maps were expanded for the module instead.  It also has a lot of notes throughout for how specific rooms function in tournament play, the scoring system, and the original pre-genned characters used to play it.  It also has an interesting description about how the module was broken up into rounds for the original tournament:

Originally run at GenCon XIII, this module contains only two parts of the seven part ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS™ Open.  … In the original tournament, modules A1, A2, and part of A3 were used for the first rounds, the second part of A3 was the semi-final, and A4 was the final round.  A1 and A2 each contain two sessions (the above ground and underground sessions).  Therefore there are 5 first rounds, each requiring nine players for a total of fourty-five players in the tournament (minimum).

A1 pretty clearly delineates the two parts, and the funny thing is that while I recall in our running the DM saying something like “you made it a good way through”, in fact I see that we completed exactly the first half of the module, or one round.  Wow, they really had these things timed well to fit a standard 4-hour slot.

What I found really interesting though is the fact that there are 5 different first rounds.  My theory is that in each time slot (say 8-12 Thursday or 12-4 Friday) they ran a different module.  This way nobody who played in a later time slot could gain an unfair advantage by questioning a player in an earlier time slot.  Of course that doesn’t answer the question of how many people from the first round get to proceed on to the semi-final, nor how many play in the final.  I’d be very curious to know how they worked that, though I suppose at that point you also have to know how many total people they actually had, as I assume they ran with many more than the minimum 45.

One thing that tickles me about the idea of multiple first rounds though is the parity with the fiction.  I love the idea of there actually being multiple teams all dispatched at the same time to infiltrate the slavers’ hideouts, with only one of those groups making it through to their innermost sanctum.  Granted there’s nothing really pushing this idea in any of the modules, but I bet having them all played simultaneously at the convention really led to that feeling.  I can just imagine the gamers hanging out during lunch, chatting with each other about which approach their group tried to get at those pesky slavers.

Another interesting thing about the printed module is comparing the tournament maps to the campaign maps.  The tournament maps are in fact extremely linear.  Again I’m surprised to discover this, as I felt when playing that we had made some choices in our path.  It’s possible our DM was running the expanded campaign map and that we simply managed to luckily hew to the tournament path.  Personally, I’m a big fan of having multiple in-roads and some feeling of choice in the game.  Were I designing a tournament game, I think I’d like it to look like an inverted tree, with lots of entry points all leading down to a single final climax area.  But I digress…

I also notice that anywhere where there’s a trap with random damage there’s a note regarding specific damage for use in the tournament.  Wow, they really worked hard at making these things “fair”.  It seems pretty silly given that combat will always be very random.  I suppose at some point someone must have complained about losing a tournament simply because their version of the trap caused more damage than someone else’s.  Given that “number of players to survive” is usually a factor in the scoring, I guess it’s understandable.

Anyway, those are my thoughts reading through A1, A2 is next on my list.  Also, I definitely have to find an excuse to run these things.  The two I played were great fun, and I’m hoping for more of the same from A2 and A3.  Though I have to admit, having now read both halves of A1, the half we played is clearly the more interesting half.

More Convention Details from The Dragon

I continued sifting through old issues of The Dragon, hoping to find more convention tournament reports.  It was starting to look like issues 2 and 3 were unique in this regard, and I found no info on GenCon X (1977).  I pressed on, mostly because these old issues of The Dragon are a really fascinating glimpse of the hobby back in its infancy, when I hit the gold mine: issue 19, October 1978.

This issue includes both Tim Kask’s usual editorial plus a guest editorial by Gary Gygax, and both of them discuss the recent Origins and GenCon conventions.  In addition there’s also a first hand account of the group that won the Origins 78 tournament.  Apparently that tournament was the original running of modules G1, G2, and G3.  Each module was one round of the tournament, with winners getting to proceed on to the next module.  (Don’t worry Delta, I skimmed past the details about G3).  And not surprisingly, in the middle of this account is a full page add for, you guessed it, the modules themselves.

Tim reports a decline in attendance in 1978, with 2,000 total attendees.  An interesting number, as I’m pretty sure that’s much larger than any of the smaller local conventions I attend these days, but nothing compared to current GenCon numbers (I think it’s now usually in the 20,000 – 30,000 range).  Unfortunately I never can get numbers out of anyone about the local conventions.  I’m very curious how big TotalCon is, being the largest local convention I’ve been to.  I suspect it’s in the 400-600 range, but that’s basically a wild guess.

Tim and Gary are full of speculation in their editorials as to the reason for decline in size: it was too close to Origins, there was massive rain, the location had changed and was difficult to find.  What you really can’t help noticing though is the general attitude of hope for future growth.  Many promises are made that next year will have more attendees, more events, be better organized, etc.  Clearly conventions are a big part of hobby for these guys.

I’m vaguely aware from discussions with Tim and Frank (Mentzer) at TotalCon that these guys still schlep out to a very large number of conventions.  I’m guessing this is a habit formed from many years of practice.  I really enjoy attending conventions, but with my current schedule of 3 a year I’m already feeling the strain.  I can only imagine what it must be like to go to so many more and be such a big part of every one you attend.  I’ve heard arguments that the evolution of AD&D (1e) was largely reactionary to the tournament scene, and I think that argument seems pretty sound.  Conventions and the tournaments run at them must have been constantly on their minds; I imagine it was a big part of their lives and it’s no wonder they’d want to conform the rules around that style of play.

OK, back to the magazine, as there’s one more gem in its covers.  The article “How Many Ettins is a Fire Giant Worth: Competative D&D” by Bob Blake gives us some thoughts on scoring tournaments with specific reference to the Origins 78 and GenCon XI tournaments.  Blake’s argues in favor of objective scoring systems that don’t require discussion between DMs, and pre-tournament briefings to ensure “DM consistency”.  I understand his reasons for these, but you can just feel the soul being slowly leached out of the games here.  DM consistency?  Isn’t the whole point of this game that anything can (and will) happen?

I think ultimately the main problem here is the desire to declare a winner.  Scoring I grant you gives an interesting twist to the game, but maybe it can also get in the way.  The most enjoyment I’ve had with scored tournaments is when the score is really “just for laughs”, with no real outcome for scoring high or low.  When there are prizes involved, or I think even more importantly, access to later exclusive rounds, players are going to care more about the score and less about just enjoying themselves.  And isn’t that why we play these games?

Hmm, well, I’m glad to say that I have appeared to run the clock.  I have no answers here, there’s definitely something enjoyable about scored tournament games, and yet also something dissatisfying.  It’s time to go home though, so I’ll have to muse more on this one and see if I come to any conclusions.