Gamehole 2021 Diary, Day 2

Summary:
I expand my Frog God Game (FGG) selection of excellent products as well as some marvelous new dice that allow me to create things spontaneously on the fly in my C&C games. I had an incredible time in an Old School Essentials (OSE) game (Palace of the Silver Princess) in the morning and a Swords & Wizardry (S&W) game (Baron’s Gambit) in the afternoon.

New Products.
First, my loot for the day. The “Tome of Horrors 2020” expands my monster selection. There are some true bastards in this book ready to be unleashed on my players (with some truly stellar artwork!). The new demonic creatures and fey will be great additions to my games. The new “Torchlight” zine made for S&W (but easily useable for any OSR game) provides some nice options for torchbearers, alternate thief abilities, and a way to do “social combat.” “The Tome of Blighted Horrors” introduces more horrific monster additions to a game. I got a Lost Lands world map. And finally, I got some specialty dice so that I can create a random dungeon in real time simply based on die rolls, add traps on the fly with a die rolls, and several dice that allow me to randomly roll up an NPCs race and class. The race and class dice are made for 5E, but I can just swap out the 5E race/classes for something C&C specific. I love dice that allow me to improv on the spot and these now add more options to my repertoire.

OSE game
As for my gaming today, in the morning I played OSE for the first time. I own all the books and love these neatly organized and richly illustrated tomes based on B/X D&D created by Gavin Norman of Necrotic Gnome. This morning I finally got to play the game. It was also fun to experience it through the classic D&D adventure “Palace of the Silver Princess.” The adventure is your typical adventure from the early 80s with a castle layout that doesn’t make much logical sense, and we all had our characters laugh and roll their eyes at whoever the madman was who had been hired to lay out and create the palace and dungeon. I had an elf, and both me and another elf in the party tag-teamed listening at doors, and there were A Lot Of Doors! We were also reminded of one of the most important OSR rules – if you can avoid combat, it means you stay alive longer. I lost track of how many times we opened a door, saw what we would have to fight, realized that we preferred to live a little bit longer, and closed the door again (sealing it with a couple of hammered-in iron spikes)!

S&W game
I visited Dealer Hall in the afternoon and chatted with more vendors and game designers as well as pick up a few more items.

Then for the late afternoon it was time for my S&W game of the day. I once again had a great bunch of players to adventure with. I have been truly fortunate to have been with such great players so far, and this game took it even further. Puns and play-on-words were non-stop, our GM was also a great on-the-fly referee who lived in the moment and improved things on the spot. This is my GMing style and I love to be able to see other successful improv GMs practice their trade. Being with good GMs and players not only makes the adventure fun, but it can inspire you as both a GM and player. After spending so much time during this pandemic gaming either online, or in small groups in my home, I have welcomed the opportunity to game in person again and embrace the face-to-face gaming experience which simply can’t be beat.

As for the adventure, “Baron’s Gambit” is a straightforward enough and fun adventure that is a great way to introduce players to the S&W game, and do to our great success with two monks, a thief, an assassin, and a dwarf fighter, we intelligently went through all the challenges and the game ended early. But we had such a great time that several of us hung out and had a great chat and drink afterward. The referee is also running a Castles & Crusades game on Sunday and even though it is currently full, I will most likely be able to sit in on his C&C game. So, I look forward to this new game which is firmly in my area of expertise!

From this S&W game I once saw how the flexibility of an OSR game shines through. S&W doesn’t have a formal skill system, so if you want to attempt something, you present your idea to the referee and they either let you do it after you’ve described how you hope to accomplish it, or they come up with a die roll to resolve the situation. The spontaneity of it keeps the game fresh and always new. I really enjoy playing old school games at conventions where you rely on your imagination and not on what you are forced to adhere to on your character. Although the C&C games I run allow the use of a general attribute check if one is needed for a task (it is a nice mid-point between high crunch games like 3E/Pathfinder and no formal skill system games like S&W), at conventions I lean more toward gaming with the least amount of rules that slow you down and prevent you from gaming.

Tomorrow I game in Matt Finch’s always great Mythrus Tower S&W game and then play some Munchkin in the early evening!

Gamehole 2021 Diary, Day 1

Summary:
1. I play in a Swords & Wizardry and a Savage Worlds game.
2. Spend hours speaking with vendors and game designers in Dealer Hall, lightly expand my art and game collection and review Alayna Danner art and Fate of the Norns books (and discuss my love of back-to-basics folk-lore inspired RPGs).

Swords & Wizardry game.
I arrive in Madison, WI, yesterday and registered. Today was my first day of gaming. In the morning I had a S&W game. It was a short 2 hour game called Turf War where we were recruited to look into a gang that was looking to rough up some people in a rival establishment. Lethal combat was not necessary (nonlethal combat would be sufficient). We had some great players who enjoyed trying things out, since this game could emphasize roleplaying over combat, we could focus on where we wanted to be for observation and were all pretty spread out over a neighborhood map. But I had a dwarf fighter with single digit intelligence and wisdom, so after a leader of a rival group came in to the establishment to have his ruffians push people around, Bork, the dwarf, just went up and stabbed the guy with his longsword (instead of using his brass knuckles like the ruffians). And that pretty much determined the flow of the remainder of the adventure as things became serious very quickly. Town guard were called in by one character. Another charmed a gang member and led a group of them on a wild goose chase all over the place, and another threw in smoke bombs to obscure things. My dwarf died in combat (the only casualty of the group), but it was great fun with some great players!

Dealer Hall.
After that game ended before noon, I had seven hours before my next game, so it was time for a quick lunch and then dedicate a few hours to catching up with old acquaintances in the gaming hall and meeting some new people.

I could go on for a long time on this, but I will just hit the highlights. I got to catch up with the folks at dozens of booths, including Frog God Games, Kobold Press, Pacesetter Games, Black Oak Workshop, Alayna Danner (illustrator), and Fate of the Norns. I spent four hours chatting with these fine folk.

Alayna Danner.
At previous Gary Cons and GameHole Cons I had acquired art from Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, and Darlene (the artists that defined what D&D was for me when I first began gaming in 1983). However, I didn’t want to neglect the great artists of today! Alayna Danner has done past work for Troll Lord Games, but now is an important Wizards of the Coast illustrator for D&D 5E and Magic: The Gathering. I’ve enjoyed her art a lot and after struggling with what piece of art I wanted to purchase, picked up a print that was made for MtG. I must admit I know nothing about MtG or the cityscape of Ravnica, but I look forward to taking that piece of art and letting it lead me to my own imaginary place (I am currently viewing the piece – shown below – as an elven city). Ravnica fans will get one perspective from it, I am going to get another. That’s the joy of art, we can all interpret it differently!

Fate of the Norns.
There is an RPG called Fate of the Norns. If you buy the game itself, it is a dice less game that promotes a lot of freedom of choice in what you do. I had always browsed through their unique books, but they can be expensive and I would want to play the system at a Con before I made a commitment to buy their system. But they have continued to expand what they offer and now have system neutral products like the Celtic Cyclopedia, fresh translations of the Eddas (which have impressed some Norse scholars), and there are also new 5E offerings, including a book of Fairy Tales and Myths. With 5E game stats I now have something which I can use for my Castles & Crusades games, so with system neutral and 5E products, I have more I can work with. But what makes this material stand out is the approach it takes with folk lore and mythology, and the art style.

When I left 5E I initially went old school, thus, there was a shift from, for example, full reptile kobolds to the older dog-like kobolds. But in European folklore, kobolds are neither reptile nor dog-like. I had enjoyed the initial shift back to B/X or 1E kobolds, but what I really want is to go back to the folk tale source material and then go in a new direction. Another example is the D&D duergar. They do not resemble the creatures that inspired them. The only game products that I am aware of that have attempted to seriously present respectful folk-lore inspired versions are the Codex Nordica, Germania, Slavorum, etc. from Troll Lord Games. But Fate of the Norns has now done an amazing job going to the source material and giving us a completely new look at creatures like kobolds and duergar. More than that, the art is neither modern D&D art, nor old school art, it has its own look that stands out on its own. I really appreciate the attempt to go to the source and then do something new and original. I will enjoy working my way through these books to pull forth new insights to move beyond what I am presented with in 5E and the OSR.

GameHoleCon, Day 1

Savage Worlds game.
In the evening I returned to gaming using the Savage Worlds system. I had heard a lot about it before and looked forward to a game emphasizing narrative, storytelling, and “exploding” dice. It was a five hour game with only about two combats, so it was mostly roleplaying and investigation, as a result it required more attention than some other games. But by this point in the evening (18:00-23:00) I was pretty knackered from gaming and hours of socializing, so my batteries were a bit low, thus my roleplaying was not what it normally could have been.

Still, in spite of being tired, I did enjoy the game. I liked the experience of rolling dice and if you roll the max on that die you roll again (thus, if I rolled a d6 and I rolled 6, I would roll another d6, and if I rolled a 6 again, I would roll and add yet another d6, etc., each time adding these numbers together), as a result things can escalate quickly!

This is also a game where the character sheet does not tell you all that you can do, if you want to try something, bring it up and state what you think you should roll to get that task done. This is nice, however, Savage Worlds does fall into an issue I see in D&D, in that someone may come up with a brilliant idea and then roleplay out a scenario we all laugh and enjoy, and then the GM asks the person to roll a die and if they roll badly then that great idea and the accompanying roleplaying amounted to nothing. In C&C there have been times where a player has told me they wanted to try something and if they idea is really great I either give it to them as a success, or I have them roll and I make the challenge level really low so that the possibility of failure is very small. I realize that I don’t do this often enough, but that is what I strive for – for it is a role playing game! In the case of this Savage World game, some players had some amazing ideas, but then horrific die rolls caused all their creativity to come crashing to the ground. Sometimes it can be fun to come up with an idea for a character action, fail miserably at it due to a bad die roll and then have to improv how their idea managed to fail so badly, so I don’t deny that this can be fun as well, but I still haven’t found the right way to balance between a player coming up with a great idea to explore, investigate, or roleplay, and rolling dice.

This game was fun and I will probably try Savage Worlds again, but will attempt to plan it earlier in the day when I am more alert.

For Day 2 I will be playing in an Old School Essentials game and another Swords & Wizardry game.