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!

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 4

Final day of gaming at Virtual GameHole Con 2020. I played in a 0-level funnel adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC), and I consider virtual convention gaming practices vs. convention gaming in person.

DCC core books, and my four 0-level characters, two have the stamp of death on them.

For the final day of gaming at Virtual GameHole Con 2020 I played in a 0-level funnel adventure for DCC – Hole in the Sky. I began with four 0-level characters and two survived!

The adventure began with 5 players controlling 20 0-level characters. The fun thing about DCC 0-level characters is that you begin with nothing. Our characters began with 4 hit points, and my characters – a dwarven mushroom-farmer, a dwarven chest-maker, a slave, and a halfling trader – had no armor and their weapons included chisels and a club. Like so many DCC adventures, there were some wonderous things (e.g. an invisible bridge that we traveled on for days), and strange dimensions with weird creatures. People are suspicious, and a single hit can from a monster or an unfortunate fall can kill you instantly. I own the Goodman Games stamps that you can use on your character sheets if your character dies and when I lost two characters during the latter part of the adventure, I was able to use the stamp of death on my slave and halfling trader since our judge (who normally does it when you game in person) couldn’t do it obviously due to distance gaming on Zoom. The game ended well for my two dwarves with them acquiring armor and weapons – a great start as they can now begin their careers as level 1 dwarves.

I spent Thursday – Saturday getting used to rolling digital dice on Discord and Roll20, but today our Judge wanted us to roll our dice by hand and it felt good to do real table-top gaming. Real hand rolling is for me what RPG gaming is about. One takeaway from this virtual convention is that although I can see some uses for virtual rolling, hand rolling is superior. Also, as an educator I know that a person learns best by doing. The more you rely on VTT’s to do all the calculations for you, the less you are going to learn about the game. I play DCC heavily at Con of the North, Gary Con, and GameHole three times each year, and in between I run Castles & Crusades in all my multiple weekly games, so I sometimes need to be reminded of certain DCC rules. My Roll20 experience was relatively easy (once I figured out the minimum basics of that interface) and all I had to do was click a button and everything was done for me. But it is a bad system if you actually want to learn the game (or advance your current knowledge of it). I did more actually DCC system learning in this Sunday game than in the previous three games I participated in on Friday and Saturday. When you are forced to learn what you add/subtract, and you have to do the calculations yourself you have to learn. I do worry about the slow dumbing down we are experiencing as we rely more and more on technology to do things for us as we just sit back and push buttons and don’t have to engage our minds as much.

This Sunday game was also completely theatre of mind – no maps or anything – and I think in hindsight a little art sharing or a generalized layout of a couple of areas we traveled to would’ve been helpful (and I am not trying to criticize my Judge for the game, he was very good, but some visuals do help). Although I am a theatre of mind person myself, when I run my C&C games on Discord I always have screen share in use to show my players a piece of art or a dungeon map fragment. So although I will not go back to my 3E days of dwarven forge and dungeon maps (that tactical stuff slows things down way too much and reduces ones ability to imagine things outside the box), it is helpful to have some visual assistance to help guide your imagination. After the adventure today I looked up Hole in the Sky and was of course impressed by the art inside (DCC stands on its own with its very unique style of art) and things came together a lot better for me when I could connect my experiences with the visuals.

There are several reasons why I game at conventions:
1. To try new games, or to play the games I love that are overshadowed by the giants of 5E and Pathfinder (i.e. DCC, Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, C&C).
2. Meet new players who I can join with again at these same conventions in the future, or, if they are from Minnesota, might game with me in person.
3. Experience different GM styles so that I can improve my own games. This convention I experienced a couple of different takes on how to game on Discord (slightly different from how I run things in my games), I experienced Roll20 for the first time, and I played in my first Zoom game.

These experiences all had their strengths and weaknesses technology wise. The sad thing about gaming virtually is when the game is over everyone instantly exits the virtual gaming table and disappears. Whereas in person you can chat afterword and gain new friends. I really missed that.

One takeaway from this is that as soon as we begin gaming in person again I will return to visiting GaryCon and GameHole (these Wisconsin conventions are just 4-5 hours from where I live in Minnesota), Con of the North takes place 15 minutes from where I live, so I will obviously game in person there, but I will consider virtual gaming in the future for other conventions further away from me (so, for example, I would love to visit North Texas RPG Con since I am an old-school gamer and I have only heard good things about that Con, but I really don’t have an interest in driving or flying down to Texas. So if virtual gaming becomes a long term part of that convention, then I would register for that virtually. Virtual gaming conventions are in some ways a frustration, but they can also open up new opportunities).

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 3

A magnificent Day 3 at Virtual GameHole Con playing Dungeon Crawl Classics versions of the classic AD&D modules Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and Hall of the Fire Giant King! After two epic games fighting giants, the third in the giant trilogy ended up being a battle to the death with many casualties DCC style! Another great reminder to me why DCC is one of the best convention gaming experiences you can have.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rules and Quick Start Rules

Yesterday I played in a DCC version of the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. We put part of the steading on fire, took down the kitchen staff, and then ended the adventure by entering the Chief’s main room pretending to be kitchen servants and then taking them all down by surprise.

For this morning’s adventure we all moved up a level from 3 to 4 and began our mission to take on the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. We fought our way through ice trolls, hill giants, frost giants and their shaman, and after taking down two fire giants with mighty deeds, got the fire giant ambassador to surrender and hand over his parchment of introduction to the frost giant jarl. With confidence we then approached the two frost giants at the entry to the jarls great hall seeking entry, but when our negotiations broke down we entered yet another battle. We were feeling confident (since we had successfully taken care of the Hill Giant Chief the previous day and most recently the trolls and giants in the frost giant area), but then the situation got a lot more chilling when a dragon appeared! But with spellcasters spell-burning themselves to maximize an arsenal of magic missiles, the halfling burning luck to assist the priest in healing, and my dwarf using his powerful dwarven hammer and shield bash pounding out one mighty deed after another, we took it down. However, after defeating the dragon our four hour game had come to an end. So although we didn’t get to take on the Frost Giant Jarl, ending the adventure by defeating a dragon will always provide a sense of accomplishment!

After a one hour break we reconvened for our third game we took on the Hall of the Fire Giant King. Would our luck hold? No! Although we were elevated another level to level 5, one’s luck can only last so long, it seems. Almost immediately upon entering the hall of the fire giant king we took down several fire giants and the fire giant king went down with minimal struggle, but it was not as easy as our time in the hill giant and frost giant lairs due to our Roll20 digital dice rolls not always going in our favor, which forced us to burn luck and spell burn.

Still, we defeated the fire giant king and we were only 30 minutes into our game. What more was there to do? My dwarf, Gromlir, sat on the throne and pretended being king for a moment pondering options with the rest of the group. After some time to think we chose to explore the mountain halls to discover what was going on. After some upper level wandering we eventually passed to the lower levels and encountered two ettins, and when a fire giant forge worker began hurling anvils at us, we escaped down a narrow stairway (which giants could descend only with difficulty), and entered a large chamber divided by a lava flow. Making our way over the lava flow we encountered a couple of chimera and managed to deal with them.

Throughout all our combats in the fire giant halls our rolls were not always in our favor and we had all been burning our luck (my dwarf’s luck score had gone from 12 to 1 during our adventure, the halfling had used up all of his luck as well, and our magic user was no longer able to spell burn). It was then that we were attacked by three mind flayers! We were in the greatest danger and were now out of luck! At one point three of our group were about to have their brains sucked out of their heads only to have party members like my dwarf shield bash a tentacle off and free a person. But with no spell burning and luck available to boost our dice rolls, our unending success had come to an end. When all was said and done the three mind flayers took down most of us (including my dwarf Gromlir). But those of us who lost our lives to the mind flayers gave the last two characters a chance to live long enough to take down the final illithid. As most of us lay dead with our brains having been devoured, the two members remaining swore over our dead bodies to tell others about the mighty deeds we had done and how we managed to defeat the hill giants, frost giants, fire giants, and mind flayers.

Over the last two days we had 3 game sessions lasting 12 epic hours. This is what convention gaming should be like! Tomorrow for the last day of GameHole I will be in only one game, but it will be a 0-level funnel. How many of my 3-4 characters will survive the onslaught? I find out tomorrow!

Virtual GameHole Con 2020, Day 2

Day two at Virtual GameHole and today I spent the afternoon playing in a Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) interpretation of the classic AD&D module Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. This module is always a joy to immerse oneself in, and through the lens of DCC almost anything can happen!

The DCC Core Rulebook and a supplementary book of charts.

As you will find on these virtual convention games, the gaming platform will vary from game to game based on the GM’s preference. In my Swords & Wizardry game yesterday we were on Discord voice and text chat, today it was Discord voice and Roll20 VTT. I have never used Roll20 before, so I was a little slow in the game at first (all the games I run online are Castles & Crusades games that embrace a Theater of Mind approach that is met simply by using Discord voice, text chat, and screen share, and we all roll real dice in our hands like RPG’s are meant to be played!). Several others in this group were also inexperienced in Roll20, and perhaps as a result we were a little slow starting off in communicating as we approached the Hill Giant Steading, and did a lot of preliminary hunting about to find the best way to proceed (although caution is wise when approaching a giant stronghold!).

We did have a good group of players, though, so once we got acclimated to this environment we made steady progress (I even managed to grudgingly accept digital dice rolling!). The team work built up, and began making bolder moves, spell burn occurred, luck was burned, and it very soon became a full-on DCC convention game! At the end of four hours we managed to make it through the outer ring of the Steading, entered the main hall, and then took on the Hill Giant Chief. My human warrior was quite pleased to step forward and take on the chief with another as the rest of the group took on frost giants and fire giants. Our DCC characters were level 3, and yet through some might deeds and typical DCC madness we prevailed!

Although the campaigns I run are all Castles & Crusades, the games I play the most at conventions are DCC. There is something about getting together with other gamers and be able to go ALL OUT to see what gaming madness you can achieve in 4 hours that makes DCC, in my mind, the BEST game for conventions. All those critical hit and fumble charts as well as spell charts and deed die options leads to epic collapses and staggering successes in a way that no other game that I am aware of can produce. When you only have four hours to game, DCC gives you the most exciting experience!

Tomorrow the DCC madness will continue as I will be with the same Judge and several of the same players to take on The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King!

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 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

Con of the North Diary – Day 1


I am attending my first Con of the North. I enjoyed my first day! For this Con I wanted to try games or approaches to gaming that I haven’t experienced before to broaden my mind. In my teens and 20’s I don’t think anyone could’ve convinced me that there were better games or even better rules than AD&D – I was a purist. I have a much more open mind now. With my rules-light Castles & Crusades game I am incorporating game rules and DMing styles that have inspired me from other games that I participate in, the options and possibilities have really opened up for me.

This afternoon I spent over 4 hours playing: Tekumel: Jakalla Underworld Crawl. I had heard of Tekumel but never played it. It was fun and I enjoyed seeing new ways to resolve problems with player descriptions and different types of die rolls.

By the end of this weekend I will also play a couple games of Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). I look forward to immersing myself in their brutal, bare-bones ethos: “Remember the good old days, when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level? Those days are back. [DCC doesn’t] waste your time with long-winded speeches, weird campaign settings, or NPCs who aren’t meant to be killed. Each adventure is 100% good, solid dungeon crawl, with the monsters you know, the traps you fear, and the secret doors you know are there somewhere.” The game also requires Zocchi dice, which are d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30, in addition to the standard set of 7 polyhedrals (d4, d6, d8, d10s, d12 and d20).

I am also playing an AD&D 2nd edition game using Dwarven Forge terrain. Although I love the dungeon terrain that is being made these days, I personally sold mine off and have gone back to nearly 100% theatre of mind. Still, for a 4 hour one-off game I will allow someone else to do the work of building a dwarven forge dungeon for me to explore with AD&D 2nd edition!

In the vendor room I also picked up two books for the Midguard setting (Kobold Press) for 50% off. Although these are for Pathfinder and 5E, the setting has some unique takes on (Norse) gods and other things to inspire me in my own world. Sure, there are modern gaming things I don’t like (Dragonborn!), but there are some nice ideas that can inspire me. For example, I am tired of vampires and liches – they are over used. Midguard, however, has a unique Ghoul Empire. That is something different that I want to use in my game, and since I already have their Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex, I have 800 pages of monsters ready to use, now I have 700 more pages of campaign setting to draw from.

Finally, in the mail today I got the very rare Castle Zagyg Yggsburgh setting by Gary Gygax. Before he died he was converting his city of Greyhawk to Castles & Crusades. This book is out of print and cost me a pretty penny (so no one else is touching this book!), but now I have a proper Gary Gygax city setting that is a part of Castles & Crusades and will fit nicely into my campaign world.