GaryCon XIII, Day 2

Played in a Castles & Crusades game streamed on Twitch run by Steve Chenault. An absolutely amazing game with players jumping off a 200-foot high bridge onto the backs of flying beasts and the beasts tossed players into the sky to play with their prey before devouring them! It was aerial madness like you rarely see!

Today at GaryCon XIII I had just one thing planned: play in a Castles & Crusades game with the CEO of Troll Lord Games in one of his infamous “big” GaryCon games. When in person these games can include 20 or more players (I was in the 2019 game and was one of 24 players). When done virtually you have to reduce that number, so this time there were just 8 players (and only a few of us made it out alive!).

For those who have not been in one of Steve’s games, he makes creative use of the outdoor environment. I’ve never been in games where the landscape plays such an important role. At some point you almost always come across a large river that needs to be crossed (usually swift moving!). As Steve has said, crossing a river is a great opportunity to showcase the SIEGE Engine (this is the mechanic which drives C&C and makes it so versatile, and was such a strong drawing point when I was looking for the perfect RPG for me. It is now the game system I use to run all my campaigns).

Unlike most RPG games you experience – especially at a convention – where there is usually some task or goal you are supposed to accomplish during the time limit available, in Steve’s game you mostly enjoy the moment, and since his games take place outdoors, you can roam anywhere you want and there is always something that will spring up and you have to deal with it. You rarely find such an open-world gaming experience.

A Fiedoth “Shovel Mouth” (Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure of Aihrde)

So what happened in this adventure? I think this game should be watched to experience it, but if you want a quick teaser, then I can tell you that most of the game took place on a bridge 200 feet above a fast moving river spanning two cliffs. We fought a large, strange flying creature called a Fiedoth “shovel mouth” with a 40 ft. wingspan. Much like an Orca (which when hunting seals throws them into the air before it kills them) the fiedoth does something similar to those it catches with its tail – throwing them into the air as an aerial plaything! The three hour adventure saw players being tossed into the air, jumping off the bridge onto the back of these beasts, getting partially swallowed and fighting to get out from inside its mouth, and many other attempts at aerial acrobatics. Many things went wrong, since several characters did not survive this adventure. But this was one of those adventures that you want to tell your friends about, and since it was streamed live, others can actually see it for themselves!

Those of us who played in this game learned after it was over that our entire adventure was mostly planned as an encounter, and that the adventure he had planned we never got to! But as I said above, in Steve’s games you end up creating your own path and we all deal with the choices we make. The two C&C campaigns I run possess a lot of occurrences that require improvisation from myself and my players on the spot, so this is a game-style that I really embrace.

If you are interested in seeing this game, then check out the link below.
Troll Lord Games Twitch channel:
The streamed GaryCon game was called “When the Iron Gives Way.”

For those that want to see the an adventure where Steve takes the players onto a challenging river crossing, take a look at “TLG 1500 – The Glade” here:
This game took place the week before GaryCon XIII and I happened to be a player in that game as well.

GaryCon XIII, Day 1

Physical vs. Online conventions and how I might deal in the future with conventions when it comes to badge access. The joy of playing in two Swords & Wizardry games. Digital vs. Physical dice rolling in virtual games.

Gaming Conventions
I love GaryCon. It is a real pleasure to meet different game designers and artists, purchase a load of products, game constantly for several days, meet new people, and try out new game systems. I typically attend three cons each year – Con of the North (in my native Minnesota just a few minutes from where I live) in February, GaryCon in March, and GameHole in October/November.

It was at GameHole last autumn where I experienced my first full virtual convention (due to the pandemic). I actually very much enjoyed the experience, but obviously gaming virtually is different than gaming in person and there are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches. The bad part of virtual games includes not being able to hang out and chat with players/GMs before and after the game and not having a physical vendor area where you can page through books and talk with the designers. The socializing at a physical gaming convention is a genuinely wonderful thing that virtual gaming can’t match.

On the other hand, a benefit of virtual gaming is that if you can’t travel to a convention or can’t afford the trip, then nothing can be easier than gaming from your own home with people from around the country and the world. It is so convenient and saves so much money.

Convention Badges
One positive thing that has happened as a result of pandemic life is the acceleration of certain trends in gaming, such as gaming online, which has in turn pushed forth innovations in the technology which makes this possible. When things return to ‘normal’ I suspect that gaming conventions from now on will include a selection of virtual gaming options for those that can’t attend in person.

In the future I do look forward to a return to physically attending Con of the North, GaryCon, and GameHole (and consider virtual options for conventions in other parts of the country). But, with all the time and money I have saved by doing GameHole and GaryCon virtually over the last six months, I may consider whether the immense cost in time and money is worth it if I am not able to get into the games I want. For example, I have an Ethereal Badge for GaryCon and that meant that others with better badges (e.g. Astral and Elemental) were able to choose their games first. The majority of the games I got into at this GaryCon were not my first choices. I have continually had bad luck trying to get the better badges (they’ve always been sold out before I could get them). I am getting more and more energized and excited about gaming conventions with every passing year and so this inability to get better badges and thus get into the games I want is becoming an ever increasing frustration. In the past you’d just have to suck it up and accept it simply as “the way things work”, but the pandemic has made me aware of how important my time and money is and I am seeking an alternative.

Attending a physical game convention is quite an undertaking when it comes to drive time (I have to take an extra day off of work just to travel to the convention), and money when it comes to car wear-and-tear, petrol, hotel, eating out, etc. Those expenses add up if you’re doing them several times each year. So if I have 6-8 games I want to be in, and I only get 1 or 2 of them and the rest are options b, c, or d, then my enthusiasm drops and my desire to engage in all that extra expense in time and money drops as well. Getting stuck with a lesser badge in the future will probably play a role as to whether I will spend the hundreds of extra dollars and take extra time off of work to physically attend the convention, or instead save my vacation days and hundreds of dollars and just stay home and do it virtually. I would love to hang out with old friends and meet new ones, and that is worth a lot in friendship and socializing, but knowing that most of my games are “leftovers” takes some of the enjoyment away and I now realize that I don’t have to accept that – there is now an alternative. Gaming at home virtually without that investment of time and money makes the letdown much easier to take.

Gaming, Day 1

For Day 1 I was signed up to two Swords & Wizardry games. Both GM’s were great and I was excited to get more S&W gaming done. Hall of Bones was my first S&W game of the day. It actually wasn’t my first choice as most of the games I wanted to get into for GaryCon XIII were already taken when I was eligible to get my tickets (as I noted above). However, I had played Hall of Bones virtually last autumn at GameHole with the same GM, so I knew this was going to be a fun game. I was also using a different character and was with an entirely different group of players. I enjoyed the challenge of having a new character with new players and trying not to metagame. This game session did go slower than the first time I went through it and I noticed that to ensure we could all experience the final encounter the GM removed a couple of dungeon chambers. The other players, if they had never done this adventure before, wouldn’t know this, but I did. But as a GM you sometimes have to speed things up and remove certain things to get players to where they need to be. I understand and appreciate that. In the end, I enjoyed this adventure as much the second time as I did the first time. I look forward to gaming with this GM in person some day.

My second S&W game was Orcus on 34th Level. This was once again not my first choice of game to play, but I genuinely enjoyed myself, and the GM was exceptional. It was an Xmas-themed game that was a little tongue-in-cheek. It was a mixture of being both silly and dark. The GM was damn good, perhaps one of the best GMs that I’ve had. Consider: how often has a GM begun to describe a room and as they do so you are formulating clarificatory questions regarding the room features as follow up? This GM somehow managed to describe the rooms and provide the necessary details relevant for a character as to how it impacts their sight, movement, hearing, etc., all in one go. I was really impressed by their skill. I run two campaigns of my own six times a month and when I can find a GM which can help me elevate the quality of my game, I take note! Of course, one of the other benefits of gaming with a wide variety of people is seeing creativity from other players, since that can also help me as a player and GM to broaden my creative gaming toolkit. This is also a GM I will look forward to joining at a physical table in a future convention.

Digital vs. Physical Dice Rolling
One final thing that stands out when it comes to my enjoyment of a virtual game is whether the dice rolling is physical or digital. I hate digital dice rolling. For me one of the most enjoyable experiences of partaking in a table-top role-playing games is holding and feeling the weight and texture of dice in my hands, rolling them on the table, dice tray, or in a dice tower, hearing the sounds they make, and seeing the result. That means a lot to me and really puts me into the moment (I also have a nice dice collection and I want to use them!). Pushing some stupid button on my keyboard and seeing a number appear on my monitor does absolutely nothing for me, indeed, it pulls me away from the moment. I guess we all have things that get on our nerves and under our skin, and digital dice rolling is one that really bothers me. My response to digital dice rolling is probably silly or irrational, and this will make my life more difficult in an ever expanding virtual gaming environment. On the other hand, I don’t think I am alone in my love for holding physical dice, since one of the most popular crowdfunding projects you see are RPG dice Kickstarters, they almost always well exceed their funding goal.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 57.

At the Viking Thing (Assembly), Gimli “rot face” (dwarf berserker) enters a duel with a Jotun giant, and on their return journey to the Duchy of Aerik they are attacked by griffons and discover griffon egg in their lair.

Game Diary:
Several cases were brought to the Lawspeaker, one of the rare and ancient Elder Dwarves names Skafti Forgefire. In the previous year some jotun giants moved into the Moon Peaks mountain range in the Duchy of Aerik. They had also attacked the walls of Ironguard Motte. That in itself was of no real concern to those assembled at the Thing, for these Vikings do two things – trade and raid, and as long as they are not raiding each other then there is not much concern. However, when the jotun giants entered the Moon Peaks they were infringing on the territory of the stone giants. Asta, the stone giant godi (chieftain) had brought a case against the jotun giants for that. The situation got more complicated when Kell Ironguard had enlisted the services of The Army of the Light to find and stop the jotun giants that attacked his town walls. The adventurers went out, found, and killed the jotun giants. This resulted in Kalf, the jotun giant godi to bring a case against Gimli and his companions for compensation.

If that weren’t complicated enough, Kalf’s brother, Asbjorn, choose to pursue blood vengeance against Gimli and his Thingmen, and recruited Bogar, the hill giant godi. In the previous two sessions those ambushes occurred and both Bogar, Asbjorn, and giants under their command were killed. This meant that the lawspeaker now had to balance the deaths of a hill giant godi, and the brother of the jotun giant godi, with the fact that they were trying to circumvent the law by engaging in blood vengeance. Skafti calculated everything out and determined that first, the dead jotun giants in the Moon Peaks were worth 5,000 gold pieces. Second, that Bogar and his dead two hill giants was worth 2,800 gold pieces. Third, Asbjorn and his dead five jotun giants were worth 5,500 gold pieces. This leads to a total compensation of 13,300 gold pieces. But, once he took into account that (a) the jotun giants should not have taken up residence in the Moon Peaks, (b) that Asbjorn and Bogar should not have pursued blood vengeance (which if they succeeded in killing Gimli and this Thingmen, would likely have resulted in “Outlawry,” which would’ve led to a 3 year expulsion from the Borderlands), and (c) Gimli returned the personal belongings of Asbjorn and to the other godi in good faith at the Thing, Skafti reduced the compensation to 5,000 gold pieces. At this point Kalf, the jotun giant godi said he would be happy to duel Gimli as an alternative for monetary compensation. This would’ve been a challenging battle.

Yet, the political maneuvering was still not complete, for the frost giant godi, Hokleid, whether because of a painting of himself that Gimli had given to him as a gift, or because he hates the ideas of weakness in giants, proposed that Kalf instead have a crippled jotun giant name Flogwar duel with Gimli instead. Flogwar, due to a previous major battle with some mighty beast, had mostly lost the use of his left arm (the muscle mass and fatty tissue had been torn away and there was much scar tissue), with a similar wound on his left leg. These injuries meant that he couldn’t hit as hard nor move as swiftly. Kalf bowed to the suggestion from the more senior and powerful frost giant godi and Gimli said he would duel Flogwar.

Gimli and flogwar took their places on the dueling island. Flogwar moved in with a mighty first blow – a critical hit – and Gimli’s armor was destroyed from that single blow. But the tides turned quickly, and Flogwar missed his next two attacks, whereas Gimi entered Odin’s Fury, and in his berserk state pummeled the crippled jotun giant with a barrage of attacks and just like that his giant body fell to his knees, and his handicapped left knee buckled underneath and he fell to the ground where Gimli finished him off. Justice had been served.

Griffon (picture D&D 5E Monster Manual)

The next few days at the Thing moved quickly by. Gimli swore his allegiance to Thorgrímr Osricsson on his armring, and when the time comes (i.e. when Gimli reaches 9th level and can get followers), Thorgrímr will hand over his elite group of berserkers and place them under Gimli’s command and give him his own land and longhouse. Asfrídr, Thorgrímr’s prophet of the dead/cleric used her Norse magic and cured Gimli “rot face” of the flesh rotting condition he had acquired when he jumped into the Pit of Chaos in the Barrowmaze. He still had severe scarring from that condition, but at least the constant sight and smell of moist flesh rot was gone.

Eventually it was time to return to the Duchy of Aerik. The journey back would take a week and it was early on that the group was taken by surprise by six griffons that came down from the sky to snatch away and feed on the four horses the group had (two were pulling their wagon, and the other two were roped behind the wagon). Griffons know how to hunt horses and almost immediately two of the horses were killed and a couple of griffons had picked them up to take them back to their lair. There were ten characters, however, and through a concerted effort to (a) protect the remaining horses, and (b) kill the griffons that were taking away the other horses, they concentrated their firepower. Griffons are tough and aggressive creatures, and whenever the group took one of these aerial creatures down, another one or two would swoop in to fight At one point Balthazar (elf-mongrelman wizard) was taken up into the air by a griffon, and when it was killed he came crashing back to the ground. But overall the group faired well, losing two horses, but still retaining the two they needed to pull the wagon back to town.

But the druid and several others knew that if you could find the lair of a griffon and it had an egg, you could possibly raise that creature as a flying mount. They put their heads together, and with the help of the gnome druid, Belden, who had a snowy owl that could scan the skies, they discovered the griffon lair was 3 miles south of them. Keeping a couple of characters back to guard the wagon and two horses, the other 8 set off to the griffon nest. When they arrived they found three more griffons, and after a series of ranged attacks and spells killed the remaining beasts. Searching the lair they found much treasure and a single griffon egg. Their was intense negotiation (i.e. a roll-off with d20s) and Kiaria (human seeker) won possession of the egg. She now looks forward to raising this animal up to be her mount (but she also wants to keep this secret, for many others would want to procure such an import and precious treasure!).

Next session the group returns to the Barrowmaze. What lies in wait for them?