Our Friday night Mythrus Tower game was held in a small board room with a single long table, whose door generally remained shut to the remainder of the convention. A single game having a private room is not unheard of at GaryCon, heck my Braunstein game also had its own room, so I thought little of that fact. I knew where it was and had peeped through the door earlier when the door was open, so none of this surprised me. That said, nothing could have prepared Dan and I for what we were about to walk into.
When we first walked in ten minutes early, the room was packed. I figured the previous game had not yet let out so quickly retreated, but Dan pushed us forward and boldly asked if this was the 8 PM Mythrus Tower game. “Yes, come on in!” was the surprising reply.
When we signed up for the game it said there were 20 tickets available. I assumed this meant that like the Open it was being run by multiple DMs and that we’d be portioned out. I mean, it even had language about bringing your character from previous Mythrus games or making one on the spot, which sounded like those old RPGA organized games, or even modern day Adventurer’s League. Nope, turns out it’s just a 20 person game, or in this case, 26. Here’s a nice panorama I stitched together of the table, and you can count 1 DM and 25 players – plus one more for me taking the photo.
The room was over-full, and Dan and I had to pop back out to “borrow” chairs from an adjacent room. We positioned ourselves against the wall, sitting second tier to the players who had gotten there even earlier than us. I thought 10 minutes ahead was quite early for gamers, have these guys been here all day? Short answer: yes.
We started by rolling up our Swords and Wizardry characters, a pair of fighters: one dwarf (Dan) and one halfling (me), though I’d be addressed as a hobbit for the rest of the game. Much of the table is dominated by a huge map of what appears to be level 3A from Rappan Athuk (Down the Well). Dan and I agree that we’re pretty sure we’re not actually playing Rappan Athuk, it would have said something in the description, right? Bill then addresses us all, paraphrased thus:
I don’t give XP for killing monsters, because that’s dumb! You get XP for doing cool stuff, and finding treasure. None of my monsters are from the book, I make them up. When you die, just roll up a new character. When last we saw our heroes, they found this old well with deep claw marks leading up the interior as if something clawed its way out, and decide, what the heck, let’s go down it.
Dan and I erupted into laughter. What have we got ourselves into? The players were all in high spirits, and clearly many of them knew each other quite well. Jokes were flying, and one player arrived with a large case of beer which he invited everyone to share. Dan walked up and grabbed us each a cold one. We noticed Bill practically had a bar set up behind him, you can even see the Kahlua and milk pretty clearly in the panorama shot above. Then, Bill jumped up onto the table.
Bill Webb is about the most impressive DM I have ever witnessed at work. He has no notes, he’s either making it up as he goes, or he’s memorized it all. The only time he opens a book is to make us roll on the treasure tables when we find some treasure, a high point that the whole table leans in to witness. He somehow manages to rip through 26 players for each round of combat without overmuch delay, shouting for quiet when the room gets too rowdy. And he delights in being surprised by player actions.
I won’t lie, for me the game was terribly spikey. After the initial high I experienced a deep low as the first encounter opened with a save or be paralyzed for the entire fight. I missed my save, and spent every action reminding Bill “I’m paralyzed.” I started to wonder why the heck I was even here. If it weren’t for the spectacle I might be annoyed at how little I was engaged in the game. But then, something wonderful happened: I fell in a river.
All the encounters in the game are way over the heads of even 26 first or second level characters. Our strategy is avoid combat, try to out-smart each room, and use our stupid numbers to our advantage. We also have one other ace in the hole – Bill gave each of us a draw from a deck of cards at the start that gives us some magical benefit, anything from a re-roll on a save to a limited wish. And there are 26 of us, so there are 26 of these cards in play.
So there we are in this room bisected by a raging river, fighting specters (or rather, running away from specters) and I fell into the river. I missed the roll to hang onto the secure line. I missed my save to catch myself. Suddenly, everyone in the room is on board to save the hobbit. Cards came flying out, I got to re-roll the 5 I got on my save, and I rolled another 5. The repeated failures have the room in stitches, and everyone seems to be getting in on the action trying to save my rapidly vanishing hobbit, but to no avail. I’m finally swept away down a waterfall and Bill says “That’s the first time anyone’s gotten to level 9, too bad the 300 foot fall to get there killed you.”
I started to roll up a new character, but then someone shouted out “card!” Bill read the card being handed in, and it says “He’s not dead yet.” Bill asks, “Do you want him to be alive on level 9, or alive back with the party? I’ll let you choose.” I realize either outcome will be spectacular, but the card wielder chooses to return me to the group. And like that, I’m a part of this party.
Around midnight Dan looked at me and asked “isn’t this supposed to end at twelve?” I shrugged. Dan had a game at 8 AM the next morning (mine wasn’t until 10), so when Bill called a smoke break (they seemed to happen almost every hour), Dan excused himself from the game. Not me, I’m in now. I stayed until the bitter end, just past 1 AM.
And the ending was fantastic – a room with a terrifying chromatic dragon encircled by a prismatic sphere. Yeah, you heard that right, and we’re mostly first level. There were four colored pillars in the room and we knew there must be some puzzle we could work out to try and save our butts. Bill excused himself for a smoke and to give us privacy so we could work out our “one round plan.” Bill clearly didn’t want to know our plan ahead of time, as I mentioned, he loves being surprised.
We organized into four teams – one for each pillar. We had a vague idea of what we were going to do in the first round, and then we figured we’ll wing it. Bill came back, and in the first round we did seem to make some progress. Pivoting the pillars changed their colors, and that of the dragon, but then the dragon breathed on the Green Team and wiped half of them out. In round two I finally got to use my own special card (double move for one round), so I could quickly augment the diminished team. We eventually figured out the pattern and turned the dragon back into a statue, and of course looted its treasure.
As we’re packing up, Bill said I should come back tomorrow. “You get to keep your XP and you’ll be level 2.” At this point I’ve figured out that for a lot of these people, this room is GaryCon. They hole up in here and play Mythrus all weekend. It’s madness, and yet, I kind of understand why. I told Bill I had another game scheduled, but we’ll see what happens.
By 7:30 PM the next night, there we are sitting outside the Mythrus room, waiting for Bill to show up. Dan says to me, “I think we may have joined a cult. And the most concerning part is how excited I am by that.”