Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Return to Gary Con: Day Two, Part One


Zenopus game. Source: Larry Hamilton of Follow Me and Die!

This is a continuation of my Gary Con XI report. The previous installment is here.

Friday was my first full day at the con, and I started it off by running the first scheduled session of my game, In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. This was the third time I I've run it, the priors being a playtest with my local group, and then a session at North Texas RPG Con in June 2018. That game had nine players (including Chris Holmes!), but this one had ten, making it the first with every single pre-gen in play. Also new was that I made "minis" to represent the pre-gens:


Reference photo of my tokens for the game. Source: me

The discs are real wood, ordered from a woodcraft company in Arkansas, 1" in diameter (& 1/16" thick), so they fit the squares on standard battle mats or dungeon tiles. I used them during the game for marching order and larger battles. While the pictures may look woodburnt, they were actually drawn with a Micron .05 black ink pen. I considered a paint pen, but I tried this first and it worked well enough. I started out puting a letter on each to help with recognition, but dropped that part way through as unnecessary. The back of each was labeled with the PC name + "Gary Con XI". After the game I gave them out to the respective players to keep as a memento. I also painted other tokens with different colors for opposing forces.

In the center are:
Boinger, Hobbit, 4th Level Fighter
Zereth, Elf, 4th level Fighter/3rd level Magic-User

Around them, clockwise from left are:
Lady Hortensa, Human (Amazon background), 6th level Fighter
Sir Geoffrey, Human, 4th level Paladin [with a Prince Valiant haircut]
Brother Ambrose, Human, 5th level Cleric
Murray the Mage, 5th level Magic-User
Olaf & Haldor, 2nd level Fighters (both controlled by a single player)
Maximillian, Centaur, 3rd level Fighter (I gave him a weird human-horse hybrid face)
Bardan, Dwarf, 4th Level Fighter
Sunna, Human, 4th Level Thief

I always like fold-up "id cards" (aka "table tents") during con games so I can tell who the other players are quickly. At North Texas I wrote some out beforehand, but since I'm running this repeatedly I decided to type up a sheet I could repeatedly print out and cut up. 





The font is a faux medieval font I found call Blackwood Castle, more readable than actual Olde English fonts. Futura is of course even more readable but has less flavor. 

I was so wrapped up in running the game that I forgot to take any pictures, but luckily one of the players, Larry of Follow Me an Die!, took several shots including the one at the top of this post. I had just given out the character sheets so everyone is studying them intently. Here's a shot showing Larry's set up, including his id card, character sheet, and the players map:


Larry of Follow Me an Die!

I started the session with some background on Basic D&D, how J. Eric Holmes came to edit it, introducing each pre-gen, and the background for the Zenopus dungeon. Due to the time limits, I started the PCs right at the dungeon entrance. As the con description indicated, "Murray the Magic-user has located a previously unknown means of entry to the old dungeons and has gathered you all in hopes of finding the legendary brazen head of Zenopus, a mask reputed to have the power of speech."

I'm not going to write up the entire game to avoid spoilers, as I plan to run this again, and also make it available for others to run (hopefully with art by Chris!). But the session was great fun, with enthusiastic players and some memorable incidents. It plays out differently each time I run it, which is what I was hoping for. There is actually enough material for several sessions if time allowed.

Here is another picture Larry took of the minis in action, which I cropped this to hide their opponents.


Larry of Follow Me an Die!

Some of the specific rules I used for this game:

-Dexterity for initiative. I made a list of the pre-gens, ordered by initiative, and simply went through the list each round of combat. I gave all of the Monsters dexterity scores prior to the game, so they simply went at the appropriate spot in the list.

-All weapons did d6 damage, except two-handed weapons were +1 to hit and damage. Some large HD monsters did 2d6 or 3d6 damage per blow.

-Fighter classes could make one attack per level against "ordinaries" - normal humans or humanoids. This is mentioned in OD&D volume 2 for monsters, and then more clearly described for players by Gygax in the OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who played in the game. It was great to meet & game with you! Cory (Boinger), Clint (Sunna), Demos (Zereth), Eugene (Geoffrey), Ioan (Max), Jeffrey (Murray), Jesse (Ambrose), Larry (Olaf & Haldor), Steve (Hortensa), and Wade (Bardan)

Next up, Day Two continued: En Garde and Discovery of the Unknown.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Return to Gary Con: Day One

I drew a Skull Mountain on the back of my badge since half the time it would flip around

So I made it back to Gary Con!

The first time I went, two years ago, I had great fun playing in games run by former TSR employees or associates (Merle Rasmussen, Dave Megarry, Tom Wham, Dave Wesely) and attending events (Horticultural Hall reception, Charity Auction). This time I leveled up to GM, signing up to run two sessions of my Zenopus Dungeon sequel, In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. 

I arrived one day earlier this time, on Thursday, flying into the Milwaukee airport. MKE is a nice small airport, and the only one I've ever been to with a used bookstore, and a good one at that, with a bunch of shelves of old SF/Fantasy paperbacks, including many Appendix N authors. I didn't have time to stop there on the way in, but I did on the way out (I'll show what I bought later).

After picking up my rental car, I drove west to Lake Geneva, a pleasant trip on the highway once you get out of the area around the airport. Snow was everywhere unlike two years ago when it was held in late March. As I neared the town on a country road I stopped at a random deli, Shavers, for a sandwich. I looked for cheese curds in the fridge but didn't buy them since I wasn't sure when I would be able to get into the room I was sharing (smart move, as it turned out to be after midnight).

Once at the hotel I checked in to Gary Con registration (behind Erol Otus...!) and picked up my GM folder and black GM cup. This year's cup design features a stylized Aboleth, a Lovecraftian monster that first appeared in I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City:


Gary Con XI cups. Source: Gary Con FB group?

My first event was a card game, Jasmine: Battle for the Mid-Realm, run by its creator Darlene, perhaps best known in D&D circles for drawing the legendary World of Greyhawk maps. She did all illustrations for this criminally overlooked game herself, and released it in 1982. I featured one of the cards on my blog last summer. The story elements of the game tie into her comic strip of the same name that ran in Dragon magazine.


Playing Jasmine: Battle for the Mid-Realm 

Darlene is still has original copies of the game for sale, and I picked one up from her last June at at the North Texas RPG Con, but hadn't had a chance to play it, so I
 thought this would be a nice way to learn the game. The game is for 2-4 players and has four factions, and I chose the one for Jasmine:

The Jasmine Faction. Source: BGG, photo by Hawklord

Each turn you can rearrange your faction cards between battlefield and fortress stacks, and they stay there until your next turn. You draw a random card from the deck and then take an action, which can involve playing a card or attacking another player the cards in your battlefield stack. It was quite fun, and our game featured lots of twists and turns. Despite losing Jasmine to death near the beginning of the game, I managed to bring her back and somehow ended up winning the game...!

Also playing in this game was Paleologos who I've corresponded with for years on Dragonsfoot and by email. Astute readers may remember that he designed my go to map for Portown. We also played in each other games and generally had a great time chatting throughout the weekend.


The Harrison Ford lineup. Source: me

After dinner I missed my scheduled evening game due to a time mix-up on my part, but was luckily able to jump into my pal Scott's Savage Worlds game. Scott always comes up with great concepts for his con games, and this one did not disappoint. In "Harrison Ford's Theatre", every player takes on the role of a Harrison Ford character from a different movie. I was Richard Kimble and joined Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Jack Ryan and the Air Force One president as we traveled from scene to scene from the movies trying to figure out why were all together (edit: for this game, since we had an extra player he added Alexei Vostrikov, the captain from K-19: The Widowmaker). It was a lot of fun, with a great group of players who got into character (one wore an Indiana Jones fedora). If you are wondering about the cards in the pictures, they are used for initiative in Savage Worlds. 


The Harrison Fords in the Death Star Detention Block! Source: me

Next up --- Day Two, Part One: first Zenopus game!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Gary Con XI Bound!



Later this week I'll be attending Gary Con XI in Lake Geneva, WI. I'm scheduled to run two sessions of In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus (formerly known as Return to the Tower of Zenopus, see teaser below), once on Friday morning at 9, and once Saturday evening at 7. Each session is currently full. I ran this last summer at North Texas RPG Con; this will be its first appearance at Gary Con.

I've also signed up to play a number of RPGs: Call of Cthulhu, En Garde, AD&D, Boot Hill and Empire of the Petal Throne.

The Gary Con XI Event Guide can be downloaded here on the GC site. 124 pages (!).

Among much other info, the Event Guide includes the following Holmesiana:

*The "Pioneers Who Have Passed" section includes J. Eric Holmes (page 5).

*The "Why We Are Here" tribute to Gary Gygax includes a quote from his Preface to the Holmes Basic rulebook, along with a thumbnail of the blue rulebook cover (Lizard Logo printing) (page 7).

*Pat Kilbane ("Bizarro Kramer" on Seinfeld), who is one of the guests of honor and is working on a documentary about Gary Gygax, started with Holmes Basic in 1979 (page 24).

*The 2nd annual Legends Tournament on Friday night is a sequel to B1 In Search of the Unknown written by Mike Carr and Paul Stormberg, 40 years after the original (page 44). I'm signed up to play in one of the teams competing in this!

*There's a full-page advertisement for Tales of Peril on page 52. And the book will be available for purchase at the Black Blade Publishing booth during the con.

*Thursday afternoon from 3-7 PM, Mike Mearls of WOTC is running his own game titled Return to the Tower of Zenopus, with the teaser: "Long ago, a band of adventurers dispatched by the mysterious sage Jeric D’Holmes plunged into the tunnels beneath the ruined tower of Zenopus. The dungeons beneath the tower were long thought empty, but now ghouls, goblins, and worse plague the small city of Portown by night. Could the source of this evil be found in this supposedly abandoned dungeon?" (page 64)

*A Blueholme game, "A Tale of Two Temples" is being run twice, Fri 9-1 PM and Fri 7-11 PM: "Deep under a long abandoned temple of Law, a Temple of Chaos thrives and with it a sanctuary for outlaws and exiles. This knaves’ haven now harbors the most famous thief in the known world, and the King has chosen you and your friends to bring him to justice. We’ll be using Blueholme rules for a 70’s style dungeon crawl, so bring your iron spikes, holy water, and ten foot pole"

*The blurb for my game appears on pages 74 and 105:
"Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and return to the dungeon under the ruined tower of the doomed wizard Zenopus to search for his legendary talking mask, forty years after adventurers first braved the passages. Play as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes’ stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set"