Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Inevitable Post GaryCon Post

Man, this has been an eventful year for my lovely wife and I. It seems like all the crap we went through at the beginning of the year (cat dying, van's engine catching on fire, vacations getting ruined, etc.) built us up an awful lot of credit in the Karma department. Apparently, when invested properly, that stuff cashes out nicely. Let's look at the stuff that's been going right so far this year: (a) the Metal Gods zine is doing very well in sales and getting very positive reviews, (b) I started a new job yesterday that's pretty exciting and (c) we had a blast at GaryCon this past week. You knew that one was coming because you can read. Not really any surprises there.

Wednesday

We decided to go to GaryCon well after the Geneva Ridge Resort (that's the name that's listed on GaryCon's website, but it's really something something Lodge) had been completely booked up, meaning that +Kathryn Muszkiewicz+Jason Hobbs & I all had to find accommodation elsewhere. We picked a small hotel a few miles away in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, which was really just a short jaunt from the con site. Katie & I checked in around 5p (I think; I can't remember what time zone the 5p was in, mine or Wisconsin's), shortly after realizing that we liked Wisconsin due to how much it looked like home (Michigan for the uninitiated) since it actually had topography, unlike the other two states we'd just passed through (Indiana and Illinois). It just needs more trees.

Anyway, back to con stuff. Once Hobbs showed up, we made a bee line for the convention. When we got there, folks were already breaking out games. The second we walked through the door, +Rick Hull invited us to play DUNGEON! (an offer which I seriously wish we'd taken him up on, what with Katie & I being recent converts to the awesome that is DUNGEON!), but we went into the bar instead, where we met up with +Jen Brinkman & +Bob Brinkman and played some Cthulhu Flux. Note to self: always remember to ask for the bar's specials or you might miss the fact that the good local brew is free! Yes, the Glaurus Spotted Cow was free and it took me getting through a 25oz of something else to discover that fact. Damnit.

Thursday

We didn't have any events planned for Thursday, which was a good thing because Katie & I felt like absolute shit. Katie might have been slightly hung over, but for me the problem, I believe, were the crappy hotel waffles. I'm of two minds about this: (a) breakfast was free, so there's little point in complaining too much and (b) the damn waffles made me sick! So, we putzed around all morning finding drug stores, places to eat and such before getting to the con and actually registering (we had not preregistered due to my personal incompetence in that field). Once we were good to go, we hit the exhibitor's hall, checked in with John Hershberger who always dutifully mans the BlackBlade/Goodman Games booth, and started scouring the place for deals. Here's the thing to remember: when you find that that thing you've been looking for is right there and a good deal, do not hesitate or say to yourself that you have to think about it! By the time that you come back to get it, that great price on the rare B-series module that you need to complete your collection will have already sold it out from underneath you!

Shortly after the exhibit hall, we made it to +Frank Mentzer's seminar on his history with TSR. It was really cool to hear his story and to get the history of TSR from his point of view. I've met Frank before (at GenCon of this past year), and this was still cool for me. However humble he may be about his role in its creation, Frank still wrote the version of D&D that got me into it, so he'll always have a place close to my heart. Rock on, Frank!

In the late afternoon, we played some Savage Worlds with ... some guys Hobbs knows. I know one guy's name is Brian. I'm pretty sure there was also a Pete and a Paul because we spent some time with those guys the next day. SW was fun. Brian put together a neat scenario that made it easy to create a character and start playing right away. Katie had never played SW before, but picked up the system right away and had a blast with it, despite how hard PCs are to kill. We had to excuse ourselves from the game, though, because +Doug Kovacs needed to chat with me about that night's DCC-related madness and what it would entail.

We ended up playing in the Kovacs/+Wayne Snyder brainchild that is STOUTFELLAS. For those not in the know, the idea is that you're playing dwarven mobsters on a mission from Da Boss, often with ridiculous results. Players included me, Katie, Hobbs, +Rick Hull+Jen Brinkman+Jeffrey Tadlock, and, I believe, Eric & daughter. I got to do an accent all night since my dwarf, Yuri the Smirk, came from the other side of the mountain (and someone had mentioned something about Russian mobsters). I rolled a "poodle" as my special gear on Doug's d200 table of weird and usually pointless gear, so I ran with it and made it a thing. Soon enough, I was having to roll "poodle checks," a game artifact that stayed with us well into the next day.

Friday

Friday started off much better than Thursday did. Despite the madness that was STOUTFELLAS, we had energy, we were feeling great and we were rarin' to go. Which made the "What's New With Goodman Games?" seminar fun. Let me say that I'm really impressed with +Doug Kovacs's ability to keep a secret. Never once did he let slip to the other Metal Gods players that Goodman is doing a reissue of the 1976 first edition of Metamorphosis Alpha and supporting it with a line of modules. Never once! One might have been able to guess it due to the number of MA events the Goodman crew were running, but hindsight and all that. I was actually pretty damn excited by this, despite the fact that up until that seminar, I'd never played MA. Read it a bunch of times, but never played it.

We had some morning strangeness with having to run back to our hotel room, but while we were out, we decided to stop and pick up some beer, especially in light of our bar tab from the previous day (kind of totally out of control), before we came back to play in +Jobe Bittman's 998th Conclave session. I'm really looking forward to the module this session was a playtest for; basic premise: one of the party's wizards has been invited to join the ranks of the universe's most esteemed mages and the party gets an all-expense-paid trip into space for the festivities. Jobe, if you're reading, I love what you're doing with this adventure, but I have some advice: in a con setting, you probably want to move things along in the beginning of the adventure so that the players get enough time playing with all the cool parts that you've put into play at the actual Conclave.

After the session, we hung around a small lobby-like area off the main downstairs space where a lot of folks were drinking the free beer (but we'd brought our own) and, I'll readily admit, we got a little toasty. Jobe, Hobbs and the guys from Thursday's Savage Worlds guys hung out. When Hobbs was explaining our STOUTFELLAS game to them, one of the guys said the dumbest thing I've ever heard come out of a gamer's mouth: "So, what? Do you play these games just for fun or something?" After that we played some games with Joe Goodman before Doug demanded that Jobe & I conspire with him on something mad.

The Friday night DCC session was huge. We had 17 players and 3 Judges. Doug had been teasing the attendees with the knowledge that he had drawn this killer map for a DCC PvP arena showdown. We added to that the copies of Palladium's old Mechanoids RPG that Doug found somewhere and we had a premise: in an impossible future, the Mechanoids had enslaved mankind and were forcing them to exterminate each other in arena combat pitting men against women in single-sex teams. Each team had its own Judge (I had the men, Jobe had the ladies) and Doug jumped in where he could by offering the players things that he had sketched and named, but the way it worked was up to the Judge. This is how +Jeffrey Tadlock ended up with both a "fish gun" and "rocket jock strap." The men's team included: +Dieter Zimmerman+Chris Hooker, Marv (Finarvyn), +Cory Gahsman, +Jeffrey Tadlock, Katie & Hobbs (and one other person, but I can't remember who it was.) The ladies' team was: +Rick Hull+Jen Brinkman+David Baity+Michael Bolam, some guy who'd never played DCC before (and, as the joke goes, still hasn't), +Todd Bunn & +Bob Brinkman. Apparently, the ladies' team had an easier time than the men and apparently I'm a tough Judge, particularly since I'd killed off half the party before we even got to the arena portion of the game. But hey, this is DCC, right? You show up expecting to earn your personal Valhalla, right? What entertained me the most is that my reputation really wasn't earned; most of the PC deaths on my side happened as the result of players' actions. I'm looking at you, +Cory Gahsman. And you +Dieter Zimmerman.

Saturday

By Saturday, we were exhausted. Mentally, physically, just completely worn out. We did, however, manage to play in +Jobe Bittman's upcoming Metamorphosis Alpha adventure, Death Ziggurat in Zero Gravity (or something along those lines). This was a blast. The session started with character creation (fun stuff there, btw, rolling up mutations) and progressed nicely into a little sandbox where we (a group of mutants with 2 true humans) killed some things to provide meat for our tribe and managed to locate something else beneath the sands of the desert biome we were living in. I won't go into detail, but the whole set up was solid and moved nicely into a traditional site-based adventure relatively seamlessly. It felt obvious to me that parts of the module were inspired by the weather of the last few months (please don't make me think about them anymore though, we only just thawed out), which was kind of neat getting to see where Jobe drew his inspiration.

Eventually, we loaded up some cars and took a bunch of folks off in search of pizza at Hobbs's request. Jobe, Doug and +Jeffrey Tadlock accompanied us, and it was nice to go "off the reservation" for a little bit. We made it back in a reasonable amount of time and started marshalling our forces for the night's DCC action. I can't remember what the full title of it was (Doug had this long title for the session that included at least one "fuck" if not two), but the original concept was to be a mish-mash of all the other crap we'd played over the past few days. Mechanoids, Metamorphosis Alpha, STOUTFELLAS, whatever. In the end, it was a mess, but a fun mess. Jobe and Jeff played conjoined twins, Katie was an "action fortuneteller" who could turn into a cat, Jen was a creepy little girl who could turn into a zombie three times a day or something, Rick and David had psychic powers and I played a clone of my poodle from Thursday night, all exploring the starship Warden to keep the computer from killing them.

The session had the most ridiculous non-sequitur ending that I still get a good laugh out of: a robed frogoid wizard-lookin' dude flew down on some kind of hover disk and yelled "Ha! It was all a joke! <extended pause> Joke contest!" You could tell that pause was Doug trying to figure out what came next. It was great. And so, we each launched into our own terrible jokes in hopes of beating Doug's really shitty joke. In the end, +Dieter Zimmerman clinched it for us with the following:

  • Q: What do you call an alligator in a vest?
  • A: An in-vest-igator.
By the time Dieter got around to telling us that one, we were all too stupid to not find that hilarious. 


Sunday

We thought we wouldn't be hitting up the con on Sunday, but +James DeYonke had asked us to pick him up the new Goodman joints, so we went back and did that for him. Got to see the Brinkmans one last time, as well as Doug. The drive home was nice and largely uneventful (I've got it in for you, giant pothole near Paw Paw & Lawton, MI), and took right around 6 hours of leisurely driving. Oh, and I made the thing in the picture with the waffle iron at our hotel. Four crappy sausage patties in a this-time-not-poisonous waffle. Surprisingly good.

Final Word

GaryCon is a really neat con. A bit short of space, so things can feel a little cramped, but thankfully it was March so the typical geek bathing habits didn't stank up the joint. The word I kept using for the thing was "intimate," and it was. It was really cool to see Frank and Ernie and Luke and Jim Ward just mingled in with everybody else. No other con I've ever been to is more down to earth than GaryCon and at the same time had as much clout in one place.

I would gladly do GaryCon again and I'm already starting to think about planning for next year. I'd really like to get a room in the Lodge if we do go, which means I'll have to sort all that out before too long. (Remember that I'm the guy who booked his GenCon room reservation for 2014 the day he was leaving GenCon 2013.) If I do GaryCon again, I'll definitely run something there, as well; I feel like the crowd would be pretty receptive to my own personal brand of strange. And so, it's just a matter of me seeing whether the wife feels like GaryCon planning around the time we get done with GenCon.