The easiest thing for me to do for these reports is simply try and go through my experiences chronologically. No need to discuss the travel, here is how my first real day of GenCon went this year:
Got up early for my first game, my “Back to Basics” game I was running at 9 AM. Originally this was meant to be my only early game this year, figuring I never sleep well on the first night anyway so I might as well start the convention off with a bang. Strangely, I slept pretty well Wednesday night, and was only a little groggy as I headed off to my first game.
That game, by the way, was fantastic. When I scheduled it I had left the description extremely vague. As usual, I got a strange mix of newbies and old hats. I had two kids that seemed in the 8-10 range (brother and sister, possibly twins?), whose mom came along to keep an eye on them but did not participate herself. I also got an older mom with her teenage son, both playing. The group was rounded out with three typical gamer guys with various D&D experience, and one no-show though his friend turned in his ticket. The no-show would be filled in half-way through by a guy I played at least two games with last year who happened by and was happy to fill in a seat for an hour and a half.
The adventure is a one-sheet I wrote ages ago for my home campaign that was only very recently explored by my home group. It’s made of six geomorphs by Dyson, and connects the Gloomwood forest to “the shelf”, a sort of land time forgot area in my world that also contains the tree of life and source of all magic. The shelf is a plateau atop a huge cliff, and unless one is an expert rock climber the only way up is through a cave system behind a waterfall. I gave my GenCon players a very brief bit of background and then told them to head into the caves and find a way up to the top of the cliffs.
The highlight for me was teenager’s mom playing a 5th level magic-user with a wand of cold blasting a bunch of aquatic trolls as they emerged from their underground pool. Funny thing is she was disappointed in the fact that she didn’t kill any of them, though personally I think she saved the group’s bacon by freezing all the trolls in knee deep ice. Frankly, I think I really enjoyed just being forced to come up with the results of what happens when a group of trolls standing in knee deep water get blasted with a wand of cold. I gave them a save to not get trapped, which naturally all but one failed. This same woman gave me the best GM compliment I think I’ve ever got. She said to me, “I’ve been coming to this thing for years and always wanted to learn to play D&D. I feel like I finally have.”
The game ended with a climatic battle against a purple worm, which only managed to swallow and consume one of the players before the rest beat the thing to death. (Another enjoyable visual: 10-year-old boy playing a fighter drinks a potion of growth to attack the worm, all in a tunnel just big enough to hold either one.) Plus, all this was done in just three hours, which I was worried wouldn’t be long enough, but seemed just fine in practice.
In the afternoon I was scheduled to play Tunnels & Trolls with Ken St. Andre. However, I was really starting to drag energy-wise, and was anxious to see the auction and dealer’s room. I had another game 7-11 that night, and figured I’d just have to pass on the T&T. Good news is, he ran several sessions of it and as we’ll see later I was able to get in to another run on Friday. So Thursday afternoon was spent roaming the exhibit hall, checking out the auction, etc. I think I really needed that down time, as by the evening I was getting ready to play again.
Thursday night’s game was called “Corsairs of Umbar” and was set in Middle Earth using 2nd edition AD&D rules. And all that is ultimately moot, as we spent most of the time just interacting with each other while the DM sat back and laughed at our foibles. Our characters were all pirate lords that ruled a small area, plus a high priest and the head of a magician’s guild, and one “mysterious stranger” who turned out to be an exiled prince of Gondor. Each player was given his character sheet and other background info in a sealed envelope. There were clearly lots of side-plots and machinations going on.
Four of the eight players — the mysterious stranger and three of the pirate lords — were clearly buddies that had all come together, and perhaps spent some time earlier down at the bar. This was concerning, but none were really seriously inebriated, and ultimately perhaps the extra good humor played well in this case. They were actually lots of fun to play with, and perhaps more inclined to stab each other in the back. As I understand it, we went seriously off the rails on this one, never even coming close to the main plot and instead being drawn into all our little side-plots. I ended up befriending one of the four friends and we plotted to reveal the priest as an agent of Sauron. This was actually a hilarious situation, as the player of the priest was also required to play his second in command, whom we had charmed into helping us. Watching him play his own destruction was hilarous:
Us: “Lead us into the temple, friend!”
Charmed Priest: “Oh please tell me there are guards there.”
GM: “There are, but they recognize you and let you right in. As you search the private sanctum of the high priest you find a zombie hidden in a closet.”
Charmed Priest, rolling eyes: “Of course there’s a zombie! You know, these things happen some times.”
We ended up asking the priest to force the zombie outside, then shouted in alarm: “Look out, an evil necromancer is attacking us!” Then we killed them both. The player playing the priest later got his revenge when playing another character who was asked to arbitrate a dispute by use of a borrowed ring of detect lies. The owner gives over the ring and is asked “were you part of the plan to betray us?” “No, definitely not,” he says. “He’s lying!” cries the ex-priest, who is himself, of course, lying (DM was never consulted).
Yeah, it was the sort of game I could never imagine running. Everything pointed towards this game being a complete disaster, and yet, I think it was the most fun game I played in. I’m curious how it ran for later groups. I suspect it’s entirely up to how good a group you get, and in this case, I think I lucked out. I wish I had the mental agility at the time to write down the names of the guys I was playing with. I would play with those guys again in a heart-beat.
In retrospect, Thursday was clearly the best day for me. It was only marred by my low energy in the afternoon, and my general mental unpreparedness for actually being at GenCon. It’s too bad really, if all that stuff had happened on Saturday, I may have come away saying this was the best GenCon ever.