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Gary Con: a four-day celebration of the life and games of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. Held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, I have been attending since Gary Con II.
Day 0 – We arrived on Wednesday, got checked into the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa and immediately saw some old friends. There were a few things I needed to run to the Piggly Wiggly for, so I did that, we had dinner at one of the on-site restaurants, and socialized a bit before bed.
A pretty low-key start, but that’s typical and appropriate.
Day 1 – I started the con out with a DM’s Guild Workshop run by some of the folks who came out to Gary Con from Wizards of the Coast (Mike Mearls, Trevor Kidd, and Chris Perkins among them). It was about building backgrounds for your game, or more specifically gothic horror backgrounds since their current thing is Curse of Strahd. I found it more helpful than I expected and was sad that was the only workshop I could fit into my schedule. I hope they come back next year!
Next was my Paranoia game, “Bugs in the System.” I run 2nd edition Paranoia because it’s my favorite version and I’ve never seen the need to add more different complex systems to it for any reason, particuarly a convention scenario. There were several familiar faces at the table and a few new players. They all failed to kill the team leader multiple times, though. I failed, as well, as he didn’t die once. I must be losing my touch. Still, the game was a success and everyone seemed to have fun. The session ended with them aiding, however inadvertantly, the giant mutant cockroaches in lauching the Starship Warden.
After Paranoia, I managed to hit the Dealer Hall for a bit. It was bigger than in previous years, more spacious, and with more vendors. I managed to avoid spending ANY money. Most excellent.
That evening’s game was run by James Carpio of the new TSR Games. It was a playtest for their new espionage RPG written by The Admistrator himself, Merle Rasmussen (who you may remember from such RPGs as Top Secret). It was a fun game and since I wasn’t rolling a d20, I did fairly well, though I did whip out an Australian accent while undercover in the U.K…. I have no idea WHY I defaulted to that instead of a generic British accent. Or Irish. Or Scottish. No, I had to go to the other side of the planet. Still, we succeeded in our mission and I got to fly a drone into the back of a sniper’s head… causing him to fall off the building and set off a car alarm. Oops.
Day 2 – I started the day with an Adventurer’s League game. The one I signed up for was cancelled since I was the only person who signed up, but fortunately, there was another table with an open slot. Players were still working through the earlier adventures in the series, I was a non-conformist who signed up for the third adventure in the series.
I swore off Organized Play after two years straight of bad experiences at Gen Con. I tried Pathfinder Society for a while, but the GMs were hit-and-miss and generally, I found not playing to be preferable. So, I didn’t have really high hopes.
The adventure, which took place in Barovia (I also swore off Ravenloft after an incident in the early ’90s), was enjoyable, and though my tiefling paladin died, we defeated the villian. Or rather, the other two players did while I provided a convienient distraction for the attacking werewolf.
You see, all weekend, my d20s rolled like warmed over shit. Seriously, I could not succeed on a roll to save my life, whether it was D&D or Dungeon Crawl Classics. I was so digusted after the D&D game, I went out and bought a whole new set of dice. Naturally, that didn’t work. Must have been user error, an 1d10T error, if you will.
I followed the D&D game up with wandering, Dealer Hallering, and general socialization until my afternoon game: Women Only – Tomb of Horrors, played with the original AD&D, as it was meant to be experienced. The group played cautiously, and it took an hour before the first death. Well, the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth deaths. Can you guess? Look in the first comment for the answer (a few people who read this blog will be spoiled by the answer).
Also, kudos to the 9-year-old girl, whose name I cannot remember, who had the best comments of the game. To the Petrie sisters & mother: I finally met someone worse than my mother! And, her HORROR when she realized what she said: “Stop sticking your poles in holes!”
As a 9-year-old, I doubt I would ever have realized the implications of that phrase. There were also jokes made (not by me!) about the Tomb of Whores. Apparently, I don’t enunciate as clearly as Paul Harvey.
The evening was pretty much free. I think I planned to find a pick-up game, but ended up socializing instead.
Day 3 – Day three was Numenera day. I ran two events set in Monte Cook Games’s Cypher System Numenera setting and was grateful to have one player in both games who was familiar with the system. Not that I was completely inexperienced, but it had been a few months since I tested the adventures and when you bounce back and forth between wildly different systems, it can be difficult to keep things straight. Both games went well. “The Wailing Sore” got high marks for being really weird, but I think “Locks of the World” was better paced, even though I missed giving out the key clue to unraveling the mystery. I’m not sure how that happened; I must’ve given my play-test group a bit of information I didn’t have written down in my notes.
Still, the games went well, despite both being the games for which I had no-shows. There were plenty of walk-ons (or as one gamer described himself, squatters) for the first game, so I ran a full table. The second game had two empty seats when we started, but Numenera is a flexible enough system that being short two players didn’t matter.
I’m fairly certain I planned to run a pick-up game in the evening, but instead we had dinner with some friends, then called it a night.
Day 4 – I hit the Dealer Hall once last time before they closed, because someone at Goodman Games came up with these scratch-off Adventures and if you “won” 1000 GP of treasure, they’d give you a $10 gift certificate at their booth and I won! Well, I bought enough cards to earn enough loot (really, it was $5 of cards for $10 off, so I still came out ahead). Whoever designed these crack card is a freakin’ GENIUS. If they have them at Gen Con, BEWARE. Your wallet will cry DOOM. DOOOOOOM. They’re fun though!
I only had one game: a Dungeon Crawl Classics play-test. My dice, once again, decided rolling well was not as fun as being horrible to me. My first three rolls were (in order, 3, 1, and 1. I did roll a 20… at the worst possible time when I wanted a low result. So yay.
Still, the game was fun and during the short break, I ran into the Geekpreacher (who is a good friend). Running into him isn’t all that unusual, but he told me how he got into a bidding war with Tim Kask over my fantasy novels at the Gary Con auction. Mr. Kask was interested in them, but Geekpreacher knew his birthday was coming up, so he out-bid him, then after encountering me in the hallway, had me present them to Mr. Kask during his video panel. It was quite a thrill to be introduced as the author of books one of the Old Guard was interested in and be able to present them to him as a birthday gift. I hope Mr. Kask enjoys my books.
There was one other game on Day 4, but it was an invitation-only off-grid game. Bob Brinkman ran a continuation of his Mountain Monsters-inspired Call of Cthulhu game. For those of you not in the know, Mountain Monsters is a “reality” TV show on Destination America. It’s basically Finding Bigfoot (or insert crytid of your choice here) when a team of West Virginia hillbilly hunters. The show is just as over-dramatic and silly as you’d expect, but is surprisingly good fodder for Call of Cthulhu. We closed out the con with this 8pm – midnight game and it was suitably epic. The sad part is I hear our friends from the UK, Simon Todd, his daughter Bernie, and his business partner Andy will not be able to attend next year. Part 3 won’t be the same without them!
Whether or not it’s related, I saw a spike in sales that day, as well. I put all my books on sale during Gary Con, but I didn’t mention it during my brief appearance in that panel (I did mentioned at other times, especially if the topic came up).
The on-site restaurants were excellent. Of course, it is rated a 4-Diamond Resort by AAA, so quality is to be expected. Not only did I not gain weight, despite feeling like I overindulged (particularly in gelato), I actually lost a pound or two, I think. Tableside service was also excellent. I actually felt like I had options other than fried fat with a side of fried carbs in a fried basket of fried (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I ceased to be able to eat that for a meal many years ago).
Gary Con was bigger than ever, yet seemed less crowded. Mostly because the venue was much, much larger than previous years’. All the GMs and players I gamed with were excellent, and even the Organized Play, which I poo-poo at Gen Con, was good. It was the best organized and most fun OP I’ve ever experienced at a convention. So, kudos to the organizers for that.
There were a few things to complain about, no con is perfect, but I provided feedback I hope the organizers will find helpful.
The next morning, Xil-ta arrived at Boccob’s Barge just as the crew woke from their sleep. He inspected the helm and revised his estimate of the repair time down to just three days. Of course, that did not mean it would be less expensive, much to Sumner Redhorn’s disappointment.
As they discussed the repairs with the Arcane, First Mate Rexor reported that several of the crew did not show up during roll call: Bo’sun Zorag, Kagark, Corva, and Pallas. In the meantime, Xil-ta reported to Captain Straxius that he needed to return to his shop to retrieve some supplies and had his next favor to ask of the crew: travel to a world called Eorôe and retrieve a crystal of ice from there. It was more than simply frozen water, however, as large as a man and they would probably have to deal with the giants on the world in order to retrieve it. Xil-ta didn’t know in which sphere Eorôe was, however; the crew of Boccob’s Barge would have to locate it, and figure out how to keep the crystal intact on their own.
They had a few days to mull over the details, though, because there was a matter of their missing crew. Rexor figured they weren’t deserters, as all their gear was still in their footlockers. Veya, Flint, and Zinni were certain Kagark wouldn’t just abandon them, especially his precious Veya, so they decided to hit the taverns to look for them after Straxius paid a visit to Red Ríognach’s Pleasure Barge.
Red Ríognach was more than just the madam of a brothel; she was one of the Rock of Bral’s premier information brokers. Drunk, oversexed sailors have loose lips, and no one (with the possible exception of Luigi the Beholder) knew more about the Dwarven, Elven, Human, and others’ fleet movements than Red. Her information on Illithid, Neogi, and Beholder fleets were limited however, since the crew of those fleets didn’t frequent her brothel.
When they entered The Pleasure Barge, they were greeted by Red’s major domo, Murray, the Demonic Talking Skull. After his usual tirade of bluster and regret (“There’s so much tasty here and I have no lips and no arms!”), he got down to determining if they were punters or dark seekers. After sussing out “dark seeker” referred to a client of Red’s seeking information, they were permitted to pass through to see Red.
Information she didn’t have was as good as gold to Red, so she accepted Straxius’s account of the Mind Flayer-Beholder battle at the edge of Realmspace in exchange for the location of Eorôe. It was in a sphere called Patria, approximately fifty-eight days away at standard cruising speed through the Flow currents (Radiant Flow à Arcane Inner Flow à Casa Flow. Due to the direction of the currents, the return trip would be about five days shorter.
Their first stop after the Pleasure Barge was the Rock Rat Tavern. After buying a round of drinks, especially for the giff from the HMS Mandragora who were looking for a fight, the crew determined that Kagark and Zorag were drinking there the night before, and overindulged. They were dumped in a couple of rooms upstairs, but were gone when the barkeep kicked all the hungover drunks out in the morning.
The crew decided to split up to cover the remained taverns the ship’s crew commonly frequented. As they did so, Straxius and Sumner noticed someone follow them out of the Rock Rat Tavern. Straxius cast a quick suggestion spell and lured their tail over. Thanks to the enchantment, he revealed he was Van Sallus, a former member of the Red Knives who overheard the crew of Boccob’s Barge inquiring about their missing crewmates. He said he, too, was looking for a missing friend: his sister, Gwen. He believed they were all abducted by the Red Knives, a group of thieves and thugs he left when he found out they were diversifying into selling slaves to vampires for food. Furthermore, he told them the Red Knives main headquarters was under The Red Bull Tavern; the tavern was just a front.
Straxius recalled Flint, Veya, and Zinni as Van explained that going in through the front was a bad idea and he knew of a back entrance that lead directly to the holding area where any prisoners would be. He led them to a decrepit, abandoned church in the Middle City called the Church of Tenebrous. An aura of unease surrounded the building and it was only through sheer force of willpower that they were able to proceed into the building.
The Church of Tenebrous was dusty, full of cobwebs, and falling apart. Plaster fell from the ceiling in chunks as they made their way through the pews and flickers of apparitions appeared in the periphery of their vision as otherworldly moans filled the air. They pressed on, eventually finding the door that lead to the crypt, just as Van Sallas described.
They followed the stairs down, down into the crypt. Flickering scones lit the chamber in dim yellow light as they picked their way through the resting places of the dead. Rats scattered underfoot. Eventually, they reached a dead end where they found the secret door Van Sallus described. It opened into a portion of the Rock of Bral’s sewer system. Following his instructions to stick to the level path, they waded through the muck to another dead end.
Another secret door and a quick passage through rock and they found a wooden door. Beyond that: a small living area. They heard voices coming from a chamber nearby and, after verifying no one else was in the living chambers, they burst in on the meeting.
Five ghouls, three Red Knives, and a Mind Flayer were gathered around an oubliette discussing prices. Veya charged in after hearing Kagark’s voice from the depths of the oubliette and the battle was joined. The illithid immediately began casting a spell that was interrupted by a counterspell from Straxius and the three Red Knives laid into Veya, wounding the barbarian woman severely. Flint turned the ghouls with the power of Sune.
The illithid opened a portal and stepped through, leaving the ghouls and Red Knives to the crew of Boccob’s Barge. One of the ghouls was unaffected by Sune’s power and paralyzed Flint. Straxius cast a suggestion at one of the Red Knives, convincing him the battle was won and he should celebrate at The Laughing Beholder. The remaining ghoul and two Red Knives were slain and when Flint recovered, he herded the cowering ghouls to the back bedroom where they were locked in.
The crew helped the half-dozen prisoners out of the oubliette. Kagark, the three missing crewmembers, Gwen, and one other were all there and greatly relieved. So too relieved, were the dead Red Knives, of their possessions, that is, among them a magical marble elephant (a figurine of wondrous power), a wand (a wand of binding), and clockwork-embellished short sword (a giant slayer). They also found invoices proving the Red Knives were dealing in slaves and planned to frame the Jugglers for it. Straxius turned the papers over to the town guard who indicated they would follow up with them at their ship tomorrow.
They returned to The Laughing Beholder, intent on dealing with the Red Knife they sent there, only to discovered he never arrived. A mystery for another time….
A bit of investigation and a bit of combat made of a rousing second session. Either I’m more into the game right now than I’ve been in a long time, or running my own material is much easier now than it was a couple of years ago. It’s possible 5E’s ease of preparation is making it better for me than Pathfinder was, even though I was running an Adventure Path. The fact that I don’t have to read, read, learn, and read someone else’s material is possibly another factor. I just flat-out told everyone I intended to be more generous with the magic items than Hoard of the Dragon Queen was. I think part of that is I love the quirk tables included in 5E for magic items; I plan to expand them.
While writing up this synopsis, I discovered I printed out the wrong version of the Flow map to put under the plexiglass on my table. Oops. Oh well, it’s accurate enough for now until I get around to sending the proper version to Staples. The next session should see the crew getting back into Wildspace… unless they get distracted by the Rock of Bral some more….
As an aside, I did seriously consider calling the campaign “Brain Eaters and Beholders.” “Favors of the Arcane” is a little more sophisticated, I think.
Last night we kicked off a new D&D 5th edition campaign! In our last campaign, two characters died during Hoard of the Dragon Queen and the other players conceded defeat. Defeat is not death, however, even when one is looking down the maw of a hungry, angry dragon.
The sad thing is, I still don’t have a name for this campaign. When I finally think of a cool and fitting one, I’ll edited the title of this post to reflect it. Until then, it is the Generic Game of General Greatness! 4Gs are 4x the G-rated of 1 G! (Yeah, that means absolutely nothing to me, too.)
The action started with Zinniana Namfoodle, Veya Knockrot, Flint Rockbottom, and Kagark:
Blood sprays in a crimson fountain as the great white dragon tears into Broken Sky. With a swiftness belying its size, the beast snatches up Tobin, ripping into him with aplomb, its dagger-like teeth piercing the bag of holding in the bard’s pack…
With an unearthly wail, its head stretches and distorts as it is pulled into the forming rift. The magical effect is unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of. You scramble to gain purchase on the slick ice to no avail. The dragon’s bones crack and shatter as it is forced to pass through an opening far too small for its gargantuan bulk. Blood and gore spray in all directions as cosmic forces rend flesh and organs. Yet, the pull is too great, despite the terrible things hurling themselves at you.
The stark blue-white of the icy citadel vanishes as you disappear through the rift. Darkness surrounds you, yet you know you are not dead. The dead don’t feel the pain of their most recent battle, and all your wounds still ache.
In the distance, you see what looks like a blurry rock in the void. It moves closer and you see that, not only is it the size of a city, it is hollow with odd protuberances and what look like glowing eyes on rocky stalks. The glow fades and the object turns, then speeds away from you.
Your senses dull and the pain fades. Curiously, you feel neither hunger nor thirst, nor do you perceive anything. In time, hours, days, weeks, who knows… everything fades until you are left with nothing but a vague sense of existing.
Time ceases to have meaning as you tumble through the void. You stray out of thought and time. Every moment is as long as a life age of the world. Color returns to your sight: a kaleidoscope of rainbows. You become aware of it dimly, unable to determine when exactly you crossed the threshold. Light suffuses that which was once dark. Sticky threads diffuse your sight and bind your arms and legs. You’re jostled and feel a sharp pain in your side. Then, the threads are torn away.
You squint against the blinding light. The air is filled with odors and sounds you forgot existed. Eyes that lay unused for weeks? Months? Years? You have no way of knowing how long it has been since you last saw anything, but slowly, the light dims and the world comes into focus.
A worn and well-lined face stares down at you as grubby hands pat your pockets. It is a bearded man who has seen too much life and too little luxury. He backpedals at your sudden intake of air. Your lungs fill again for what seems like the first time in centuries, though for all you know, it could be mere hours since your battle on the citadel.
Blimey! They’re still alive! Captain! Captain! Those floaters we found are still alive!”
The four survivors were pulled from the Flow by the crew of what they soon learned was Boccob’s Barge. All around, they could see a rainbow of colors surrounding the ship. The navigator, a human wizard named Straxius explained to them that they had been found wrapped in cocoons of astral spiders in the phlogiston. He and a minotaur warlock, Sumner Redhorn helped secure them aboard the ship while the rest of the crew gathered up the silk from the cocoons and prepared to make way again.
Over the next week, they became acquainted with Boccob’s Barge her crew, and her captain, a half-elf named Fallar Goldeneye. They learned about the Crystal Spheres and the Phlogiston, and how fire was the bane of all Spelljammers in the Flow. Captain Goldeneye offered to drop off the survivors on Toril, since they were headed that way anyway with a load of cargo from Krynn.
They arrived at Realmspace and one of the ship’s wizards opened the portal through which Boccob’s Barge passed out of the Flow and into Wildspace. Short after receiving a quick lesson on the nature of Crystal Spheres, the lookout rang the alarm bell. A ship was bearing down on Boccob’s Barge!
It was quickly identified as a Tyrant ship and Captain Goldeneye panicked. Despite sounding battle stations and giving the order to flee, the Tyrant ship fired its primary weapon. The first beam took out the part of the main deck upon which Captain Goldeneye was standing. The next cut through the hull, halving the helmsman and damaging the helm. Before the ship could get off a third shot, two Nautiloids engaged the Tyrant ship and they sped past, leaving the wounded Hammership to limp its way to Toril.
Several of the crew were killed and the First Officer was incapacitated. Straxius took charge. The ship’s Carpenter reported that the damage to the helm was too great to risk making port on a planet; they needed to put in to the Rock of Bral for repairs. Fortunately, it was on the way.
Once they arrived at the Rock of Bral, they docked and Straxius took Sumner and the survivors to talk to their employer, Herzog Steelarm. They went to The Laughing Beholder, a tavern frequented by Herzog and run by the only friendly beholder in known space, Luigi. Herzog was sympathetic to the loss of Captain Goldeneye and assured them he would notify their clients on Shou Lung that the delivery was unavoidably delayed.
After dealing with official business, they sought out Xil-ta, the Arcane, one of the few beings on the Rock of Bral capable of repairing a Helm. After convincing his assistant, the Rastipede, Jerry, their need was true, the Arcane made his appearance to negotiate with them. His price was high, but not unexpectedly so: 45,000 gold for the repair. Naturally, the crew didn’t have that kind of money, even with the funds in Boccob’s Barge’s strongbox. Xil-ta indicated he would trade favors for money.
Straxius didn’t feel he was empowered to make any such deals, since he was not Captain of the ship, nor was he the owner. In fact, with Fallar Goldeneye dead, they didn’t know who the owner was.
To the Hall of Records!
At the Hall of Records, they learned Fallar’s next-of-kin was his brother, Rylael. They found him in an opulent townhouse in Middletown. He seemed more put out by the news of his identical twin brother’s death than upset and informed Straxius he and his brother were connected, so he already knew about it for over a week now. He wanted nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the ship and told Straxius he was now Captain and in exchange for doing nothing, he would take 5%. If the crew needed him involved in any of the decisions regarding the ship or its business, he wanted a larger cut.
Straxius and the crew agreed quickly that these terms were acceptable and left Rylael to his wine. They returned to Xil-ta and made a deal with him. His first task for them was simple: collect an outstanding debt from Ra-Jareez, captain of the Sugar Moon, a Tradesman out of Midgard crewed by Nkosi.
They decided to attempt a stealthy approach first and used invisibility and silence on Zinniana, giving her instructions to go straight for the Captain’s quarters and avoid the crew. Though the First mate of the Sugar Moon seemed to smell her passing, with no visual or audio confirmation of his suspicions, he went back to work directing the crew as they loaded and unloaded cargo. She found a trapped and locked chest in the Captain’s quarters, but nothing resembling a pouch with the money Captain Ra-Jareez owed Xil-ta. She returned to her compatriots and they finally decided to speak to the First Mate.
His name was Chezan and he was annoyed that his Captain had gone to a tavern while the rest of the crew worked. First mate Chezan was more than happy to tell the crew of Boccob’s Barge that if the captain had sufficient funds to pay Xil-ta, he took them with him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name of the tavern Captain Ra-Jareez went to, either the Black Bull or the Red Bull.
Straxius knew the Black Bull had a reputation for being a haven for assassins and violent thugs, whereas the Red Bull didn’t have much of a reputation at all. They decided to investigate the Red Bull first. The barkeep confirmed that Ra-Jareez was a patron, but he was already passed out drunk and they hauled him upstairs to sleep it off. Straxius kept the barkeep distracted while Zinniana slipped away to find Ra-Jareez. She found him sleeping with a pack at his feet. The gnome purloined the pack after discovering it was apparently magical and found a sack of coins within. They left a note with the barkeep for Ra-Jareez to read when he awoke.
They made their way back to Xil-ta’s shop, but by now, the Arcane was gone. Straxius counted out the money they found in Ra-Jareez’s pack and explained it was all the Nkosi captain had. Jerry thanked them and agreed it would be Ra-Jareez’s responsibility to retrieve his haversack and the rest of the belongings within.
Jerry told them Xil-ta would be back in the morning and bade them goodnight. They returned to the ship to rest and wondered what errand the Arcane would send them on in the morning….
A lot of role-playing happened and I think everyone got a good introduction to the setting. Fittingly, the players with the surviving PCs from Hoard of the Dragon Queen were all pretty much unfamiliar with Spelljammer and its tropes and the players whose characters were crew of Boccob’s Barge were familiar with it. We didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way it worked out. Serendipitous, eh?
A crunch-light session was an excellent way to ease back into D&D after several months of play other systems.