Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Inevitable Post U-Con Post

I didn't update the blog or G+ as awesome as I'd planned while U-Con was going on, which is a shame, because it was a really good con! U-Con has the distinction of being the biggest con in Michigan (which isn't saying much these days), but the U-Con organizers have hooked up with Ypsilanti's quite nice Eagle Crest convention center, which I wouldn't call swanky, but it's definitely a nice place. The rooms didn't feel terribly expansive (like those of the hotels that participate in GenCon), but weren't quite cramped, giving the whole thing overall a friendly "just the right size" feeling. One of the things that +R.J. Thompson & I noticed was just how many old school games were on the schedule for 2013: quite a few! I think there was only one time slot that didn't have an old school option, but that was 9a-1p on Sunday, which I'd be surprised if you could find players for.

Friday

I got to the con later than I had planned on Friday, arriving somewhere around 1-1:30p or so. I had a hard time figuring out where to enter and pick up prereg info and stuff, so there's my first "gimme" to the U-Con staff: next year, make sure there are signs outside so folks know where to go. I ran into +Donn Stroud right away, who was running some board games or card games at the time and had the dubious honor of informing me that the vendor hall was not yet open (how I'd planned to kill my time until 3p), so we just bs'ed and explored. Once I got the lay of the land, I realized how convenient the con's layout was.

My first event was +R.J. Thompson's Swords & Wizardry session exploring +James Raggi's Tower of the Stargazer. Now, I've read this module and own it, but I can't say that I'm intimately familiar with it; realistically, my familiarity boils down to knowing that I should be afraid of everything and trust nothing. You know, normal old school paranoia. So, I rolled up a thief and, with 7 other guys (8 players!) we proceeded to think our way through the dungeon making remarkably few mistakes along the way. In fact, we only experienced one fatality (which must be some sort of a record) and that was at the very end and happened when I dared someone to... do something. Whew, really close to a spoiler there. It was a really fun session that set a great tone for the weekend.

Friday night, I ran +Michael Curtis's Tower out of Time in the 8pm slot, a scenario that I'd run several times before and knew how I'd want to change it to give it a little more oomph (and DCC-style deadliness), especially because I ended up with more folks than I had planned for at the table, including +James DeYonke+Matthias Weeks & +John Reyst. Ryan had brought a halfling from the funnel I ran at MichiCon this year, though, so we levelled the little guy up and were all safe on numbers. But, with 7 players, the opponents would need a little extra beef to be a challenge. So, I added some ape men and tiny dinosaurs, along with an entire encounter with a giant horseshoe crab (which was mostly the result of the players screwing around with stuff they didn't need to screw around with, but it was fun. I probably made the encounter with the ape men a bit too difficult, which manifested less in player deaths and more in what came to feel like a 3e-style sloggy encounter. The session was a good time, though and, I hope, turned a few folks on to the DCC system (Keith and Bob, I'm looking your way, gents!).

Saturday

I started off my Saturday by almost running late for my own 2p session, running my own funnel, To Catch A Fallen Star. The last time I was supposed to run this adventure, I couldn't find any of my notes for it the night before, and was stuck having to improvise and run something else (I chose the funnel from the DCC core book). This time, I wasn't as prepared as I'd have liked to have been (I had planed on redrawing the maps, but never quite got around to it), but I think it went smoothly. I had thought to start the adventure in the dungeon, but since there are two entrances, I thought I needed to back the train up and make sure the players had a choice of which entrance to take. Unfortunately, I backed things up a bit too much and ended up adding an encounter that didn't need to be added, which took up valuable time. I had to do a little bit of regulation of a young and disruptive player during this session, but them's the breaks. I learned a few things about writing an adventure for a con here, which sort of chafes when it feels like the impulse is toward railroady-y dungeon design, but hey, if you want 'em to get to the good stuff, you've got to lead them there, right? Especially in a large-ish dungeon.

On Saturday night, I played in +Matthias Weeks's The Eye of Obitu-Que for DCC, which was a blast. Apparently, the path we took through the dungeon was the path least travelled (Matt said no other group had gone that way) and we managed to not lose any PCs on the journey. This was a fun session, and Matt really preps a game before he runs it. Really preps a game. Each character sheet was a booklet that included most of the basic rules and the stuff that each player would need to know to run his character without referencing the rule book. This was a fantastic resource to have a the table and meant that I was carrying around my DCC rule book for nothing. In the end, we accomplished our mission and I, foolish wizard that I was, doomed the world to suffering beneath the baleful eyes of Obitu-Que.

Sunday

Best notes ever
I nearly missed my Sunday session. That's what happens when I only vaguely pay attention to even times. It would have been a shame, too, because it was Ryan's version of Palace of the Vampire Queen rocked out in S&W Complete. Of all the sessions I played this weekend, this session involved the most real thought and planning because we, as a group, decided to actually accomplish the mission set forth in the background for the adventure: rescue the dwarven princess from the clutches of the vampire queen. Ryan gave us the players maps that come with the adventure, which meant we understood most of the dungeon, but were missing key facts, such as "Where's the most likely area for a dwarven princess to be kept prisoner?" or "Where are the stairs that connect level 3 to level 4?" We decided to take the paths of least resistance through the dungeon to get to wherever the dwarven princess was (in my brain, I was picturing a little girl dressed up for one of those ridiculous princess parties, but with a giant handlebar mustache, so she became "Princess Handlebars" to me), meaning we bypassed most of the dungeon. Before we got started, Ryan announced that he expected us, in the time allotted, to get through level 1 of the dungeon and maybe get started on level 2, We didn't quite take that as a challenge, but we did completely disregard it. No, instead we made a bee line for the stairs to level 2 and just kept heading downward.

And we made it.

Well, we made it all the way to the last level and the Vampire Queen, that is, even if we completely missed Princess Handlebars. In the end, our TPK was glorious. While we staked four vampires, we faced down a bunch of armored "these are the V-Queen's personal guard" vampires, a balrog (because OD&D, peeps) and a black pope. If you're going to go out, folks, best do it with style. And by drawing the attention of every single difficult encounter on the final level of the very first dungeon ever published.

Hell yes. It was glorious.

Final Word

I really dug U-Con. The team behind it went all out to make it the best con they could, which showed. My only regrets about the con are (a) not having enough time to go through all the stacks of books in the vendor room and (b) not getting into any games on the con's Fate track. It was really encouraging to see so many old school games on the docket and it gives me hope that next year might have even more. I'd really like to see the con establish an OSR Czar or something similar to help the old school gamers coordinate and help publicize and popularize the old school stuff. Yes, I feel we deserve our own gaming track at the con (at any con, really) and the growing popularity of old school games should no longer be a surprise to anyone by now (not even story gamers, they have to realize we're out here in large numbers, right?).

I'd also like to see a larger (and more populated) vendor area, but I'm sure that if U-Con had the vendors, they'd find the space. That having been said, there are a bunch of Michigan-based games companies and geek enterprises that really could have bothered to have a table. Bill Barsh's Pacesetter Games is here, as is Elder Sign Publishing (more on those guys soon), not to mention the madness that is Palladium. Palladium! THERE IS A GOOD-SIZED CON HAPPENING IN YOUR BACK YARD AND YOU ARE IGNORING IT! My wife, who is hard at work on a business plan for a geek industry business is already planning on getting a booth for next year, so you guys really need to step up and make your presence known.

All in all, this was a great con that was very well organized. Kudos to the U-Con staff for pulling it off. Take some time off, folks, eat some turkey, drink some whiskey. You deserve it. I know that I, for one, am already starting to make plans for you for next year.