Gamehole Con 2021 approaches!

Gamehole Con 2021 is coming (21-24 October) and I am excited!
Today’s Topics: Swords & Wizardry, Old School Essentials, Savage Worlds, Munchkin, Adventures Dark & Deep, Exhibitor Hall.

I haven’t been to a physical convention since Con of the North in February of 2020. The virtual cons over the last year and eight months have been fun in their own way, so I will probably make use of them in the future if I am unable to attend physically (However, I will not be attending Gary Con XIV in person in 2021, so I have been hoping virtual Gary Con goes forward, but sadly it currently only looks like 14 people have signed up for Ethereal Gary Con so far, so I may not even get to participate in Gary Con online next year).

For this upcoming Gamehole I was saddened to not see Castles & Crusades games being offered. I could, of course, run my own C&C games (friends have asked me to do so), however, I run six games in two C&C campaigns each month, that means I run up to 72 C&C games each year, that is a lot of C&C games! So, I use gaming conventions as my time to relax from the pressure of being a GM and just be a player in someone else’s game.

I also love to play different types of games to broaden my perspective on rules and rulings that might come in handy for my C&C game. At Con of the North, Dungeon Crawl Classics has a strong presence, so I get a heavy dose of DCC at that convention, and I expect to again this upcoming February. This time at Gamehole the games I am playing are heavily focused on Swords & Wizardry (S&W) (three games, including the classic Mythrus Tower with Matt Finch), an Old School Essentials (OSE) game, a Savage Worlds game, and a fun session of Munchkin.

As you can see, I will be wearing my shirts promoting the greatest of all RPGs – Castles & Crusades – but I am bringing my S&W and OSE books to use at the gaming tables.

Swords & Wizardry
S&W is a fun game and I look forward to three solid games. Three S&W games will be the most S&W I’ve played at a single convention. It can be fun to immerse yourself in one system (much like I do DCC at Con of the North).

Old School Essentials
I am surprised that OSE doesn’t have more people running the system (I think there was only the one OSE game offered at Gamehole – the one I got in) considering that most OSR designers are now making their games OSE-compatible, OSE games should be offered more at conventions. OSE is a great system and I want to use my OSE books, so we need more people at conventions to run OSE!

Savage Worlds
I’ve never played Savage Worlds before. I’ve heard a lot about it, though, so I am long overdue to get a feel for what it can offer.

I only played Munchkin a couple of times in 2008 when I had moved to St Andrews, Scotland, to pursue my Masters degree. One of my fellow graduate students from Poland was a huge role-player and he introduced a bunch of us to Munchkin. Unfortunately, the Masters programme was grueling and I had to drop gaming to focus on my studies. So, after 13 years I look forward to trying Munchkin out again.

Adventures Dark and Deep
This is more of a public service announcement. I love this game. I wish there was more love for Joseph Bloch’s Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). I have yet to see anyone run ADD at the cons I visit. I want to play ADD. So, if there is anyone out there who also loves ADD and wants to run it at Gamehole or Con of the North in the future, contact me – I will join your game!

When I checked the exhibitor information at Gamehole, I was sad to see that Troll Lord Games and Goodman Games won’t have a location in the Dealer Hall this year (they normally have double-sized booths). It is always a joy to talk with the Troll Lords, and Goodman Games and the people at their table are also great people to chat with. On the other hand, that just means I get to spend my time – and money – in the Dealer Hall on companies and products that I have previously overlooked! Having said that, I have spent far too much money on RPGs and I have already shut down my Indiegogo account and my Kickstarter account will be shutdown early next year as I focus on what I already own. Still, there are so many enticing things to find at a convention, so we will see by next Sunday evening how good I was at resisting the new trinkets, bits and bobs that will be calling out my name in the Dealer Hall!

The Drive
I am heading out for the roughly 4.5 hour drive from where I live in Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday. The lovely autumn coolness and the leaves changing color should make the journey there fun! Maybe I will see some of you there!

GaryCon XIII, Day 4

For my final GaryCon game, I played A Strange Night at the Pint-N-Pony for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). The game was wild, with a GM that encouraged players to try bold actions, and all six of us embraced that idea and ran with it for an unforgettable time filled with laughter and cheers!

This was an amazing end to GaryCon XIII. The Pint-N-Pony adventure was a “funnel” game, which for DCC means each player begins with four 0-level characters and whoever survives to the end makes it to first level. I love playing multiple characters that are simple to use and the DCC 0-level funnel works very well for that. Your character doesn’t have a class yet and minimal abilities, but if they survive, they will have a great backstory for the event that changed their life and set them on the path for glory and gold.

I’ve had my eye on A Strange Night at the Pin-N-Pony for a long time (I missed supporting the Kickstarter for it), so I was looking forward to playing it to see what it had to offer. It so happens that if offers quite a bit for 0-level adventure. The adventure description is as follows:

“The little folk meet each night at a pub secluded from the troubles of big people. Here, after a long day of work, hobbits, dwarves, gnomes, and the occasional wild elf and short humans share simple tales and sip tasty ales. Tonight is nothing new—or is it? Sinister forces have been awakened and emerge during happy hour (hic) at the Pint n’ Pony. Now, in defense of their precious last keg, new adventurers will be born out of the horror of a very strange night! A tale (hic) only DCC RPG can weave.”

Thus we all began with demi-humans, or short humans, and since there were six of us with four characters, that meant there were 24 characters hanging out in the Pint-N-Pony ordering food and drink, so the place was crowded and cozy with all our characters congregating together relaxing like only demi-humans can! I enjoyed playing in an adventure dominated by dwarves, hobbits, and gnomes, in a tavern sized only for them, it gives the adventure a nice shift in tone and structure from the norm.

The judge we had was dynamic, frequently roleplayed in character, he ran his game standing up and moving around, and he was always hoping for players to come up with creative ideas to meet challenges and would happily reward us with “floating luck” (which encourage us even more to use up luck points to try bold things). All of us knew DCC and the 0-level funnel system and also embraced roleplaying hungry hobbits and drinking dwarves. So when the floor exploded beneath us and rat-folk swarmed, my hobbit jumped on the chandelier and kicked rat-folk into the fireplace, my dwarves smashed chairs over the rat-folk heads, and other characters used the stage for higher ground, and hid under/behind tables for cover. Not only were all aspects of the environment encouraged, there were even some rule guidelines to assist (so when Nosco, my hobbit, kicked rat-men into the fireplace, there were checks both I and they could make to determine success or failure, as well as a range of options for what results might occur that round and in following rounds). I will be sure to make use of these ideas in tavern environments in the Castles & Crusades games I run in the future.

Even with 24 characters in this chaos the combat ran smoothly and swiftly. At one point three barrels of ale fell down the hole into the ground and once we dealt with the rat-folk, the three dwarves I had and several others mourned the loss of the ale and were dedicated to retrieving and saving it if we could. The proprietor supported our bold cause and many were offered pans and other tavern instruments as weapons for our descent (we were 0-level, so didn’t have the resources like full 1st level adventurers have). My dwarven miner and someone else’s dwarven mason led the way into the darkness. Most of us had infravision, so we could see relatively well. But sadly, what we saw were two of the three barrels smashed from the fall. Two of my dwarves were rat-catchers and carried nets with them, so they layered them together and several other dwarves came together and carried the remaining barrel of ale aloft as the unique and nearly holy item that we new it was! Climbing down caused the tunnel above us to collapse, so that meant we had to find another way out, as well as deal with the rat-folk that had ruined our joyous time eating and drinking.

I don’t want to spoil the adventure for those that haven’t played it, so I will just say that over the four hour adventure we faced unique traps, disturbing transformations, and amazing magical effects to dazzle our 0-level senses! The creativeness of the players resulted in throwing blankets and nets over monsters to reduce their movement and attacks, inserting the fingers of dead creatures into holes in doors to try and trigger what seemed to be puzzle traps, two different characters placing their hands on the handle of a clearly magical weapon to try and offset what the magic in it might do to one or both of them, and many more. Our excited judge game us floating luck for these action as we used it to attempt further things. Hobbits, dwarves, and gnomes lived up to their bold characteristics and threw caution to the wind!

As you can see in the character sheet picture above (where I used my DCC “you have survived” and “cause of death” stamps), I lost Nosco, my hobbit (to an amazing monstrous transformation), but my dwarven miner, and my two dwarven rat-catchers survived! I will be looking to play in a game with this GM again in a future convention, as well as with any of these players. The game was a blast!

GaryCon XIII, Day 3

For the third day of GaryCon I participated in a six hour Swords & Wizardry game – Rogues in Remballo.

This morning when I was preparing to get on Discord for my fourth game for this Con and my third in the Swords & Wizardry (S&W) game system I realized that I had unintentionally selected different styles of games for each day.
– Thursday: the two S&W games I played were underground dungeon crawls.
– Friday: the Castles & Crusades game I played was entirely outdoors and involved climbing cliffs and aerial assaults.
– Saturday: today my S&W game took place in a city involving lots of role-playing and puzzle solving.
– Sunday: tomorrow the Dungeon Crawl Classics game I will play in will be of mixed setting, as we begin in a tavern and then head into the sewers and the underworld.

Although I didn’t plan this, this has actually been quite enjoyable and I like the change of environments for each game, for I get to explore a plethora of challenges. Steve Chenault’s game reinforced for me the importance of using environment and I look forward to elevating that element of my game. Since I already use weather conditions in my game, further enhancing the physical environment is the next step I want to take to further enhance my game. But unlike weather, which is more of an outdoor phenomena, terrain is something that you encounter under ground as well (I think most prominently of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide from AD&D as one of the top resources for this, which, it just so happens, is getting an homage and update in Kickstarter right now as the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking for DnD 5th Edition).

Rogues in Remballo was the S&W city adventure that I played today. I was specifically looking to play this game for one big reason. Playing in this game would serve as a great introduction to the Borderland Provinces within the Lost Lands campaign setting by Frog God Games. I own most of the Lost Lands material and have read through much of it, but you learn best not just by reading, but by doing, so I saw this as a great opportunity to get thrown right into the setting and learn about the city, the organizations, and local political color. I chose right.

When doing a city-based adventure which would have role-playing and puzzle solving, you need to allow extra time, and so the GM was wise to make this a six hour adventure. We spent the first three hours just navigating a small district within the city and through each interaction with an NPC stable-hand, barkeep, shopkeeper, and captain of the guard, we picked up snippets of information which led to the final three hours of taking on the villains and monsters of the adventure.

There was one major problem I experienced during this six hour game. At about the 3 hour mark there was a power went out (it effected more than 5,000 people in the area where I lived), and it took about an hour for the power to get restored. When I was able to return to the game roughly an hour later the role-playing had come to an end (they had gathered all the information they needed to find the people causing the trouble we were tasked with solving), and the combat portion of the game had begun. The final couple of hours were filled with great combat and even further negotiations with rogues from rival guilds pleading for their lives.

This was an all-around great game. I acquired some great insights into the Lost Lands, enjoyed a well laid-out city adventure with a marvelous balance of role-playing, problem-solving, and combat. I can easily see each GM emphasizing different aspects of the game depending on whether the players are interested or good at roleplaying, and the order and approach the players take in interacting with the abundant NPCs within the district and town. As a result, this makes a great convention game, for it can take many different turns and directions each time it is run. I will likely want to play in this again (if for no other reason than to enjoy it in its entirety and not miss out due to a power cut!).

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.

Gary Con XI Day 4: The End…for now…


Well, Gary Con XI is over. This was my first Gary Con and it was a thrill! Everyone I met were nice, fun, and interesting people – it was a joy interacting with all these great people! The atmosphere at this convention was so relaxed and everyone was happy and helpful. My gaming experience, the events I attended, and the game designers and fellow gamers I met made this an unforgettable experience! 

Next year I will return for Gary Con XII. I plan to book my hotel in the next few days (when reservations open) and instead of three days off I’ll probably take four off so that I have even more time to game, relax, and soak up the experience of being in such a great place with such warm and welcoming people.

However, I will change a few things around next year. This year it was about meeting and talking with game designers, examine and pick up new gaming materials, and attending events that give me overviews of gaming, gaming companies, and the history and background to this convention. Next year it will be time to focus on gaming:

1. I plan to run a game or two of Castles & Crusades myself to get newcomers into the game, as well as give me an opportunity to game with other long-time C&C players.

2. I want to attend more games. If you’ve seen my photos over the last few days, you’ve seen how much my gaming materials have expanded, I now want to play these games! So next year I plan to get into games of Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and any old-game or retro clone (i.e. OD&D, AD&D 1st/2nd edition, D&D Basic Holmes, B/X, BECMI, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc.).

This is just the beginning of what I hope will be an annual holiday event for me.

Vendor Room (4)Empty Chair 2

Gary Con XI Day 3: Gaming celebrities, plus more gaming materials!


Gaming Celebrities.
There has been several big names of modern gaming active at Gary Con (Wizards of the Coast is sponsoring some D&D 5E events here). I several times wandered past these folk – people like Mike Mearls (D&D 5E lead designer), Satine Phoenix (Geek & Sundry), and actor Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Death Saves), for example.

More Gaming Materials.
Yes, I got more gaming materials today. I’ve spent the last several days meeting the game designers and speaking with them. I went and spoke some more with artist Larry Elmore today and purchased one of his art prints, which he signed. Once I get it framed and mounted in my game room I’ll post a picture.

Bill Web and the good folk at Frog God Games (FGG) were once again generous with their time and their gaming products. As you can see from one of my photos, I purchased the full color, 800+ page city campaign setting ‘The Blight’, this is an expensive $120 book. However, they knew how much I had spent the previous two days, as well as my support for the 700+ page Lost Lands campaign setting with 12 poster maps in their latest kickstarter, so I received some more complimentary books and booklets. FGG put out good products and they show great support for their fans. I have a lot of respect for them.

Troll Lord Games – makers of “my game” Castles & Crusades – were also available for conversation again. I had some great conversations with Davis Chenault, designer of the World of Inzae, and Tylermo Morrison. Even though I already have nearly all their books (and I have duplicates of many of them so that both my players and myself are not going to be short of gaming material), I received a discounted copy of the Codex of Aihrde. This is a campaign setting that is very well thought out, having an extra copy for reference is most useful. This is another company that has great customer support and their people care about the gamers who use their products.

Judges Guild has produced some amazing gaming materials since the 1970’s, and when I discovered some full colour maps for their Wilderlands and City State of the Invincible Overlord settings, I had to get them.

OSRIC and Advanced Labyrinth Lord are very well done retro-clones of AD&D 1st edition and 1981 Basic D&D, respectively. These are nice, organized, versions of the classic D&D games.

I have enjoyed finding unique dice for out-of-the-ordinary situations for my C&C game. My players love the critical hit/fail dice I use from New Comet Games. I plan to start using the Dungeon Crawl Classic dice (d3-d30) for unique situations, and today I picked up four more unique dice (see photo) which I will find a use for. Rolling dice for strange situations adds a new level of uncertainty and interest for both the players and myself as GM. I can’t wait to begin using these!

Finally, I attended two events today: ‘Gary Gygax’s World Building’, which provided insights into how Gary Gygax operated and how he worked with other game designers on other gaming projects; and ‘Troll Lord Games – Selling RPG’s’, which discussed how the company that worked with Gary Gygax before he died, and which produces C&C has operated over the last 20 years. This was another great and very enjoyable day!

Gary Con book stack (3)Frog God Games booksJG mapsnew dice.jpg

Gary Con XI Day 3: Meeting game designers


Yesterday I posted about my 4+ hour, 24 person C&C game, but other great things happened as well. At Gary Con I have found a new way to deal with my disposable income…err, wait, I meant I found a new way to dispose of my income! I purchased more mind expanding game books! 

I already have had productive conversations this Con with Stephen Chenault and Jason Vey (Troll Lord Games), Joseph Bloch (Adventures Dark and Deep), Jeffrey Talanian (Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea), and Ben Barsh (Pacesetter Games), amongst others. Well, yesterday I met even more great game designers!

My morning began by walking past someone and realizing “hey, that’s Matt Finch!” So I turned around and said “you’re Matt Finch!” He laughed since he obviously knew who he was. Matt Finch (‘Uncle Matt’ on his You Tube channel) is a big part of the game design and organization of Frog God Games and the Swords & Wizardry game). It was great to be able to discuss those games and have him sign my copy of the ‘Tome of Adventure Design.’

After a long chat with Matt I had to rush to get to the ‘Growing Up Gygax’ event and listened to the Gygax family discuss their life growing up in gaming. Afterward I spoke with and had Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and Luke Gygax sign my copy of the ‘Lost City of Gaxmoor.’

I then headed to the vendor room where I ran into Casey Christofferson, who designed the ‘Haunted Highlands’ for C&C and ‘Bard’s Gate’ for Frog God Games). He has put out some quality products and as art director for Frog God Games he has noticeably raised the quality of their artwork. He signed ‘Bard’s Gate’ and ‘Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms’.

While at that the Frog God Games booth I got ‘Sword of Air’ and had Bill Web sign that as we spoke. Just like the day before, the Frog God Games folk were generous, and after purchasing Sword of Air, Bard’s Gate, and Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms, they gave me a copy of Stoneheart Valley. Some of these books are already discounted a bit for the Con, but if you purchase a good amount of books – and I sure purchased a lot! – it is nice when they throw something extra in to show their appreciation.

By the late afternoon just as I was about to head to the massive C&C game, I went to the artists room and this time spoke with Jeff Easley. Easley was responsible for some of the greatest cover art for AD&D 1st and 2nd edition. For me his cover art work really defined what AD&D looked like for 20 years. He is a quiet and shy gentlemen, but it was great to be able to tell him how much his art has meant to me over the years, and how even to this day his work inspires me and represents much of what I think a D&D world should look like. I purchased an art print from him and he was kind enough to sign it. I will post a picture once I get back home and get it framed and mounted on my game room wall.

Today’s events will be a ‘Gary Gygax World Building’ talk by those who worked with Gary Gygax, and a talk on the work of Troll Lord Games. Of course, I will be visiting the vendors again today looking to browse some more amazing products and speak with more game designers.Lost Lands supplements

Gary Con XI Day 2: Evening. Played in a 24 person game for over 4 hours!


What an evening! For over 4 hours I was part of a Castles & Crusades game made up of 24 players. Most people would scoff at such an idea – for how could you get anything done? How do you manage that many people? Well, Stephen Chenault, our GM and one of the main forces behind the C&C game succeeded. I haven’t laughed this hard with people in a long time – it was almost constant laughter and fun! A few things come to mind as to why this game was successful:

1. C&C is rules-light. There was no time-wasted squabbling over rules or counting squares of terrain for movement. Theatre of mind and good and thorough descriptions of the environment by the GM made this work.

Having broad and flexible attribute checks over specific skill checks and complicated feats also removes game progression obstacles and allows open-minded and free-flowing interpretations to take place in the moment.

Just doing one thing each round was also a key contributor to speed of combat. If you allow multiple actions/reactions each round per character, this just slows things down. I really think if you want a fast-paced game with many people you need to eliminate that stuff and keep things simple and to the point.

Keep in mind that we also rolled initiative each round, so the dynamics of combat was always up in the air and kept things fresh and exciting. Some might think that rolling initiative each round might slow down a game. It didn’t.

2. The game took place outdoors, this allowed people to really move about, trying this in a dungeon setting would not have been as easy.

3. Player management is key. While one person was rolling their die, Stephen was asking the next person what they were doing, then, once they announced what they were doing he went back to the other person and got the results of their roll(s). There was rarely a time when people weren’t doing something – the game was always moving and players were always involved.

There was also a surprising amount of interaction and role-playing. You would think 24 people would be shouting over each other, and yet there was very little of that.

Also, although some people were C&C veterans, there were plenty for whom this was their first C&C game experience and they knew nothing about the game, and yet they picked it up quickly during character creation (all 24 of us had our characters created within 15-20 minutes) and we built up an almost immediate camaraderie within the first 20 minutes of the adventure.

I have rarely gamed with a group that had this much free-flowing, comfortable, banter, and yet managed to get things done – and never with this many people. There were a lot of positive lessons to be taken away from this experience. This was a real fun game. I will be trying to get into this game again next year. Several players had been in this game from previous years and had stories to share with us, and tonight I was able to add to that story. What a great evening!Beneath the Stone Sky (3)

Gary Con XI Day 1: Afternoon. Artists, Dungeons, Conan, Northlands, Archmages…


This morning and early afternoon I’ve spent acquiring the most incredible game products and speaking with their designers!

At the Troll Lord Games booth I had a great and extended conversation with Jason Vey (game designer and blogger). I joked with Stephen Chenault – Troll Lord’s CEO – that I would like to buy some Castles & Crusades products, but that I already own them all!

Over at Frog God Games (FGG) I picked up their Northland Saga and Borderland Provinces and they were kind enough to throw in a bunch of free adventures. FGG puts out some great products and now I have some superb campaign world expansion. With the Northland Saga and extra adventures, I have over 700 pages of Nordic/Viking flavored material to work with for my game world.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is an old-school game that draws on Robert Howard (Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu) and Clark Ashton Smith. Jeffrey Talanian was kind enough to sign my copy. This is another rich resource (600+ pages) to draw on to pull rough and rugged swords, sorcery, and weird fantasy into my game.

Then there was Adventures Dark and Deep, which is envisioned as what 2nd edition AD&D would’ve been if Gary Gygax had not been forced to leave TSR. I purchased The Castle of the Mad Archmage, which is based on Castle Greyhawk. Joseph Bloch was kind enough to sign my copy. It has three booklets – the 13 levels detailed out, a book of maps for the DM, and a book of player handout illustrations – just like it was done in the old days! This should nicely round out the material I already have on Greyhawk and Castle Zagyg.

Barrowmaze Complete and The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia are adventures put together with numerous types of monsters and many types of crypts and barrows to explore. This is old school, so you jump into and explore a barrow, and if you manage to survive, you get back to a nearby town as quickly as possible with your loot and heal up to try again. Classic style game.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). I got their massive 500 page sourcebook and some of their classic dice (d3-d30). One of the many cool things about DCC is that whenever you cast a spell any number of weird things can happen as you roll a die and consult a table (each spell takes up an entire over-sized page). If I ever want a spell to go awry, this is the book to consult.

Then there are the wonderful artists I met – Darlene and Larry Elmore. Darlene is one of the truly great artists. I got a signed reproduction of a piece of art of hers that appeared in the AD&D 1st edition DMG, plus some fun cards. For Larry Elmore I got a signed copy of one of his art books. I was now so encumbered with books I couldn’t purchase anymore (indeed, as you can see from the photos, my DCC book bag handle tore off!). I may go back tomorrow to purchase a signed print of Elmore’s to put up in my new home.

I will soon head back. I am currently taking a brief rest in my Comfort Inn room which is 1.5 miles from the convention, but they offer a constant and complimentary shuttle service to and from the convention. When I return this evening, it will be to attend ‘GM Tricks of the Trade’ by Stephen Chenault of Castles & Crusades – it will be time to discuss Game Mastering techniques and tricks!

I can’t believe how much fun I am having and the great people I am meeting!spinesDCCBarrowmazeHyperboreaDarlene