GaryCon AAR

I’m home from an epic GaryCon!

For those who may not know, GaryCon is a large gaming convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin named after Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s basically a megadungeon in its own right.

Players Handbook 1E
Players Handbook 1E

It started after the passing of Gary. His friends and family were all together and decided to play in his honor. Then they did a small con the following year. Then it grew, much like dragons.

I was there entirely thanks to the opportunities provided by Luke Gygax. I’ve spent the last few months helping in his Okkorim setting (which is already really cool and getting better all the time. Not only did I get the chance to play and schmooze, I also got to DM a couple of games, which is the first time I’ve done so at a con since the 90s. I’ve missed that quite a bit.

Anyway, let’s get into what all happened!

I originally planned to get there on Wednesday, but I’d heard there were some things going on during Tuesday, so I moved my plans up a day. It’s well I did, because not only did I get to hang out with some folks, I also got in an early game.

This game was with Stefan Pokorny and was one of the highlights of the week. He is the founder of Dwarven Forge, a company that makes terrain for RPGs. I’d seen it before but this was the first time I’d ever played a game with it. It’s really something cool.

Besides having a whole dungeon laid out, he had two special iconic pieces. One was the demon from the first edition Player’s Handbook (the one at the top). If you’ve been playing D&D for a while, you know this image well.

The more fun piece was doorway in the mouth. The one from Tomb of Horrors. Spoiler alert: This particular encounter has probably killed more player characters than any other single encounter in D&D. If it hasn’t, it’s close.

Tomb of Horrors
Tomb of Horrors

The mouth here is… well… if you know you know.

And all of us knew. It was a door we could have gone through but because we knew, we went around it. Which of course was the wrong way to go. Brilliantly done by Stefan.

For the record, our reasoning was sound, if incorrect in this case.

Anyway, we had a great time, and then I had about a day and a half of schmoozing. The central bar at the Grand Lodge is a pretty nice place, along with several restaurants.

Thursday is when the con really started for me. At 8am, I ran A1: Sinister Sands, a low-level adventure in Okkorim. This group was cagey and also got lucky. It included a couple of players I’d met in the game with Stefan. In any case, they did a bunch right and managed to win in the end without too much stress, though there were a few moments where the dice failed them.

Once that was done, I had a race to run. Let me explain.

The Lodge at the Grand Geneva is a pretty neat place. Overall, the resort is huge, and the Lodge itself is massive. I discovered this at about 12:53pm on Thursday as I was hustling to get to my next game. The Forum hallway is over a quarter mile from Maple Lawn A, and that’s if you go straight to it instead of winding through the various corridors and stairs inside the hotel. I’ll know not to plan an event immediately after another separated by that much again.

My schedule at GaryCon included as many different game systems as I could fit in so I could get a taste, and this was one I was looking forward to. It’s called Fate of the Norns and it’s got a really neat mechanic. You have a certain number of runes, and these are all the things you can do. To move, you play a rune; to attack, to cast a spell, to do anything, you play a rune.

One challenge to Pathfinder 1E is there are so many different action types, you can sometimes lose track of what you can and can’t do. This system had none of that.

It had a number of neat twists, too, especially to someone like me who’s read so much of Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon cultures. It had a great flavor to me, but even without the flavor, having a physical token that shows how many more actions you have remaining was something I may add to my personal versions of D&D.

After that I went to the dealer’s room. It was right next to the game I’d just played, and I had a break anyway. I found all sorts of deals and brought back quite a bit at half off or used or whatever ever. This was great shopping! However, then I had to sherpa it all back to my car. Did I mention it was really, really far away from where most of my stuff was happening?

Anyway, I got dinner, then I went to one of the games I’d really been looking for. It was a D&D 2E Descent into Menzoberranzan. If you’re a D&D player, you know that name. I chose the samurai character since there wasn’t a paladin (and I’ve been reading Rob Hobart’s Japanese fantasy series).

It was a really fun adventure until the final battle. This was entirely due to the whims of fate, not anything the DM could control. I did what the Lawful Good samurai would do and jumped in to save a hostage. Then I missed a saving throw (by a lot) that basically took me out of the fight.

I’d do what I did again, as it exactly fit the character. Luck, good or ill, is part of the game. Overall, I hope I can play more with that DM.

I had a fun moment, though. I played a lot of 2E back in the 80s and 90s. We even played it at my first bachelor party (I’m such a wild, wild guy). I had so much of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide memorized.

That was 30 years ago, though. I figured I’d have huge problems remembering things and I did, until about 2 hours in. Then, suddenly, my brain shifted and I was rattling off spells like mad. That was so much fun, just having that mesh with the memories of games long past.

Anyway, I was exhausted and went back to my hotel. I stayed, by the way, at Timber Ridge, which is the waterpark resort hotel part of the overall resort that the Lodge was just a part of. It wasn’t ideal, and I doubt I’ll stay there next time, but there were advantages.

I started Friday off with my second running of Sinister Sands. This was a fun group in many ways, but they made a tactical decision that made it challenging for me. They were at the hideout of the bad guys and instead of scouting, sneaking, or even just attacking, they knocked on the door.

I’d considered a bunch of tactical setups. That wasn’t one of them. It ended up being a really tough fight for them, but they pushed through.

After that, I played in the Introduction to Castles and Crusades scenario. This is one of the games I’ve been intrigued by. In many ways, it’s simply D&D 1E, but there are some twists. Notably is the concept of primary stats. Many games have this concept, but C&C emphasizes it by making rolls involving these stats at, essentially, +6 as opposed to rolls against other stats. I like that quite a bit.

Next I went to probably my favorite game system of the week, Hyperborea. It, too, is a derivation of D&D 1E but with a bunch more flavor and revamped classes.

I played a runegraver, which is sort of a cleric but without healing spells. Basically, you get to cast all the support spells, plus a couple wizard spells, without having any slots aimed at cure wounds spells.

I like playing clerics, and Pathfinder 1E’s concept of spontaneously converting spells to cure spells so the cleric can  take advantage of their versatile spell list is something I appreciate. The runegraver takes that another step by not even giving them the option.

The particular scenario we played was about as Norse as you can get. We were all vikings adventuring in Jotunheim. Again, this was right up my alley. I’m absolutely investigating this game system more.

Anyway, that was basically 11-12 hours of gaming and I was beat.

However, unlike Friday morning where my first game was noon, I was originally scheduled to get there 8am for another 12 hour set. Worse, game 1 was another Fate of the Norns scenario all the way in the Forum followed by a game in Maple Lawn A.

I couldn’t do it. I skipped out of the first one. There was literally the opportunity to schedule games nonstop, and I succumbed to the temptation. I missed some at the end because of simple fatigue. I apologize to those DMs I skipped out of, and I’ll plan better next year.

White Plume Mountain
White Plume Mountain

However, the first game of Saturday was one I’d been looking forward to. It was a retouched version of an old adventure, White Plume Mountain.

I wanted to play in the module for its own sake, but I was also looking forward to playing with Brand, a great guy from Ealdormere. If there was any doubt we’d have fun gaming together, this game dispelled that, much like a high-level cleric with a zombie.

But to be honest, I was not as sharp as I’d been previously. I did not sleep well any night at the con, which is one reason I doubt I’ll stay at Timber Ridge again. I simply never could get comfortable.

In any case, I was slowed by fatigue. I popped in and out of activity whenever I could, but I walked out of it thinking about the 2 other scenarios I had scheduled with dread.

So I was smart. I went back to my hotel room for a nap and a shower, then came back for a real meal and to socialize as much as possible Saturday evening.

This was so much the smart move. I ended up sharing a table with the DM from the C&C game and we got to chat for a while.

I also got to unlock an achievement. For the first time ever, I met a Twitter friend I didn’t already know prior to Twitter in real life. Yodanno is one of my favorite follows there, posting all sorts of old school D&D stuff. He’s a good guy IRL and I’m really glad I got to finally meet him. I gave him a copy of A Lake Most Deep, too.

In fact, I took 20 copies of A Lake Most Deep to give away. I gave the last two to Yodanno and his friend who was really excited about the hardboiled private eye in medieval fantasy idea.

I wish I’d had more stamina, but around 10pm, I was running down. Plus, I’d realized I might be able to get on the road early enough to get home last night.

Sadly, this meant I missed Stefan’s Black Sabbath tribute party. I’d have had a blast, and if he does something like that next time, I’ll plan better.

I went because Luke gave me the opportunity and I could help out with Okkorim. However, I had other items on the agenda.

I believe the best writing these days is coming from publishers at the CKP range. We’re good, we’re professional, but we’re not locked down into the big corporate ways.

I believe the same is true for the game world. I’m not much of a fan of what WOTC is putting out. It’s bland, boring, and simple. It’s basically McDonald’s. Sure, every once in a while, you eat at a McDonald’s, but it’s not really something you get excited about.

But Frog God Games? Troll Lord Games? Goodman Games? All the others in that range? Great stuff. It’s innovative and aims at making it all cool and fun.  You may or may not like their flavor, just as you may not like the flavor at certain restaurants, but they’re packed with spice and energy.

I went with the hope I could meet with these folks and get more opportunities to write and edit. I had a number of good conversations and hopefully, the follow up conversations will prove fruitful. I have really enjoyed working in Okkorim and maybe this grows into something more.

For now, though, I think it’s time for me to relax for the rest of the day. I made it home at 1am last night with no particular issues. In fact, right now, I’m as fresh as I could hope.

That’s partly because this was just a really good time for me. Nostalgia, professional advancement, new friends, and fun all wrapped into a great big package.

Basically, it was a grand adventure!




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