The Carnage of Carnage

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I spent last weekend having a great time gaming at Carnage on the Mountain.  It’s a fantastic convention at a truly gorgeous location, full of really fun and welcoming gamers.  This was my second year attending, and as before it flew past in a blink of an eye.

The hotel is just amazing, I really can’t overstate that.  Our suite was bigger than my first apartment — three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a kitchen / dining room.  It was really amazing, and frankly, a brilliant location for a gaming convention.  Being able to prepare your own meals and not have to go out and scavenge between games is really quite wonderful, especially for those of us with more restrictive diets.

Though some gripe at the manual process of registering for games (paper forms via snail mail), I do kind of like the simplicity of it.  I make a list of the games I want to play, as well as backups, and when I arrive they hand me a list of what I’m playing.  There are no tickets, if you don’t have something to play then you can just pop over and ask a GM to sit in, and if there’s room you do so.  The downside is, that’s exactly the position I found myself in first thing Friday afternoon.  I hadn’t gotten in to either of my choices, and so had nothing to play.

Mike was in the same position, so we roamed around and landed in a Pathfinder Society game.  They were very welcoming and obliging, given that neither Mike nor I knew anything about Pathfinder or the Pathfinder Society.  Note – the latter is something akin to the old RPGA “Living Campaign” style of play, where you maintain a character across games and even conventions.  It was OK, definitely not the kind of game I’d seek out, but better than sitting in the hotel room waiting until 7 PM for the next slot.

Friday night I ran a session of House on Hangman’s Hill, an old Judge’s Guild module I was first introduced to at TotalCon.  After playing it there I obtained a copy and ran it myself at last HelgaCon, where I think it went really well, in part because the party happened to pace themselves through just the right rooms to really feel like there was a solid plot arc through the game.  We were a little more haphazard in our approach when I played it at TotalCon, as was my group here at Carnage.  It was fun play and I had a good group of players, but I think they were rightly disappointed at the end at failing to find a real sense of closure.  This ultimately I think is the problem with these big old rambling modules.  On the one hand, there’s tons of interesting stuff for the players to explore, which really gives them a sense of agency.  On the other hand, they can totally screw it up, or just have a bit of bad luck, and leave the game having difficulty assembling a narrative from it.

Saturday I had no games to run myself.  I played a Call of Cthulhu game in the afternoon with Andre Kruppa, who incorporates some pretty fancy lighting and sound systems into his game.  Andre is a great GM, and frankly I think his game would be really fun with just paper and pencils at hand, but he clearly digs going that extra mile and I have no gripes about that.

In the evening I played my first session of D&D 5e ever.  It was OK.  It was a big group with an even more open sand-box setting, and so again we struggled finding the right pieces to build a plot from.  The DM was very good, and I really enjoyed a lot of his content, though when you’re exploring or solving puzzles it really doesn’t matter what system you’re using.  The actual system I can say is definitely not my cup of tea.  It feels to me like a slight improvement on 3rd, which I suppose is what one would have hoped for out of 4th, and so now that we’ve got it I guess that’s an improvement.  Still, not knowing the system I chose a 6th level halfling fighter to play, and for a fighter with no magic items, geez was there a lot of stuff on that character sheet.  So many options to keep track of!  I know that some people really dig that sort of thing, and I don’t want to dump on that, I can just honestly say it’s not for me.

Sunday morning I scraped myself out of bed to run my last game from 10 am to 2 pm.  I have to say, good on Carnage for inventing this time slot.  They still have games from 8-12 and 1-5, but man 8 am is way too early for me to get up for a game after a long night of booze and chatter, and with a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me I really don’t want to be leaving after 5.  Thus this time slot was perfect, and I was happy to run my game “Gloomwood Falls”, which is really just a 1-page dungeon torn from the pages of my home campaign.  It happens to have a purple worm encounter in it, which never fails to both terrify and delight the players.  This time I managed to swallow 3 of them whole, a new personal record!

The only off thing for me this convention was how few official players I had sign up for my games.  Both games specified 4-8 players.  My first game had 2 signed up, though fortunately we managed to pull in 3 more as we were preparing.  I was very worried for a while there though, and was ready to can the whole thing and go find something else.  Sunday morning I had 4, and by the time we ended I had 7, so that was actually perfect.  I suspect a fair number of folks perhaps left that time slot open thinking they would see if they had the energy on the spot, and then were happy to fall into my game.

So the question is, why am I having trouble gathering players?  The guy running the 5e game ran his game every slot of the convention (it was really one continuous hex crawl, kind of an interesting idea), and also maxed out at 8, and had to turn away people every slot but Sunday.  Is it the games I’m running?  Am I failing to promote them correctly in my descriptions?  Is old school popularity dying out?  (I think I was one of two people running old school at the convention).  Or did I just choose unpopular time slots?

Given my own trouble finding a game to play on Friday afternoon, I’m tempted next year to sign up to run something in that slot, so I know I’ll have something to do.  On the other hand, if Friday is even quieter in the afternoon than the evening, I may have trouble scraping together enough players, and still be left searching for something else.  Perhaps I need to play to the ebb and flow of attendance – maybe try something a bit more experimental that requires a smaller group on Friday, and then do my traditional giant dungeon crawl on Sunday.

And that’s what was in my head when I sat down to right this post.  What happened, how did this become a full on convention report?  I guess I’ll have to save my ideas for future con games for another post.  Hold onto your hats, because I have several ideas, and rather shockingly most of them do not involve D&D!

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