Conventions: GaryCon After Action

Wednesday , 1, April 2015 12 Comments

I went to GaryCon VII this weekend, demo’d Squadron Strike for about a dozen people, picked up a case of convention-crud, and sat down and played some Old School Revolution gaming. I tried to run some Dungeon World, but got tired.

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I think, having designed a few RPGs in my time, that I don’t have the nostalgia goggles that some of the OSR fans and players have.

Or conventions aren’t the right place to see OSR in all its grisly glory.

I played a Dwarven fighter.  I had an axe.  I had a shield. I had chainmail. We were going to go rob a tomb.  I asked a small amount about the backstory of The Game So Far.

The GM looked at me like I’d just asked him to do calculus.  Right.  It’s Old School.  We don’t need no steenking reasons!  We’re going tomb robbing because that’s what we do.

I tried out my Obviously Fake Scottish Accent, because, hey, Old School: All Dwarves are stereotypical thieving Scottish mercenaries who squeeze pennies until they bleed, then sell the blood to vampires to extend their profit.

The other players looked at me like I’d just tried to pick my friend’s nose.  Apparently “talking in funny voices” is frowned upon.  Except for the 11 year old kid, who thought it was great.  I changed seats, encouraged him to make up a funny voice for his wizard, and resolved that no matter what, he was going to have a fun time.

He asked me for advice on spells.  I told him that he’d want to be able to cast Light, that you can’t ever really go wrong with Mage Hand, and he’d want to know the Know Direction spell, and that he should know Unseen Servant and Floating Disk.  He didn’t have the time or attention span to pore through all the books, and the other adults at the table were mildly annoyed at him being, well, an 11-year old. And being excited and how this was cool.

I pointed out that his character had an INT of 16, and that he should definitely “Batman” everything.  “Of course, it all went according to my secret plan.”  And make up the justifications after the fact, like any good fiction writer does.

Long story made short:  He used the Unseen Servant as a torch bearer…and used the Unseen Servant carrying the torch to lure the Hobgoblins around a corner so we could ambush them.

I suggested he cast Floating Disk and I clambered onto it.  Now he could spend his move action moving me around the battlefield faster.  He really enjoyed moving my figure over terrain speed bumps to hit the bad guy.  I figured he’d have more fun with that than he would casting Magic Missile twice; I was right.  He also moved me over a water hazard to collect some loot around the halfway mark of the session.

In short, he and I played like a team…even though he didn’t do any damage at all.  And we played in silly voices where it suited us.  The rest of the adults?

Uh.  The running joke was that Rogues were like Lay’s Potato Chips:  You can’t eat just one; the party burned through three of them in the first two hours of the session.  The cleric’s player looked bored.  He barely spoke, and once he ran out of his spells he declared himself useless.  Someone was playing an Elven ranger and discovered that bows plus darkness aren’t a great combo for doing Cool Legolas Stuff.

The adults were, out of character, constantly trying to reach a consensus on “What To Do Next”  Holy. Fricking.  Analysis.  Paralysis.  Billy and I would declare that we weren’t standing around the people talking and were exploring; Billy’s Wizard kept Know Direction up and a light source and I used the Dwarven depth finder ability to keep mapping – and I’d hit anything that came up to us.  Sure, if we found a trap, it’d kill us because we didn’t have a rogue.  However, we’d gone through three rogues already and it’s not like the first two rogues had actually detected either of the traps that had killed them, let alone disarmed them.  Sure, I know it’s a grand trope dating back to the Grey Mouser, but…yeah.  You’re hyperspecialized against one type of encounter that nobody else can deal with it, and then the dice bite you in the ass.

Like most convention games without a clearly stated objective, the game ran out of time before we ran out of adventure, but the GM gave his convention coupon to Billy, which made the kid’s day.  The three adults (Dispose-a-Rogue x3, Bored Cleric, and an Elven Ranger who I don’t remember any details of) had covered about 1/8th the space we did, because they were over-cautious.

The game’s setup was “This is OLD SCHOOL.  Expect character deaths!  I’m going to KILL YOUR CHARACTER!”  It resulted in analysis paralysis from adults afraid to lose.  Billy and I had more fun talking in funny voices and expecting we’d get killed and go off to play X-Wing if we did.

Mechanically, the game was overly complex for what the mechanics actually gave to game play. Because I was familiar with them, the mechanics didn’t jar me from the fiction of the game too often, but hey, when you’re playing a Dwarven fighter, your mechanics are “I tell the Hobgoblin leader that I’ll do him the favor of using me axe to help get his head out of his arse.” and stepping up so that they couldn’t mangle Billy’s Wizard, coupled with rolling well and using the “fight defensively” ability the GM had told me about.  By and large, we tried to avoid encounters and just map.

It reminded me of Pathfinder Society, except that nobody at the table knew the rules that well, and character customization was “nil.”  And there was less roleplaying and creativity than I’d’ve liked.

I had more fun watching Billy play than I had playing myself.

My demos of Squadron Strike went well, and I may have lured a few more backers for the Kickstarter.

  • Jeffro says:

    Well, that’s really disappointing.

  • Great post, great story, and it reminds me of just why I stopped playing games like this with “grownups” like that, who’ve forgotten all the wonder and fun in the minutiae of playing a roleplaying game like a wargame.

  • Kull says:

    Ugh. That game and Jeffro’s Dwimmermount sessions on the same blog, its beauty and the beast. I’m really bummed you had a bad time. I love the OSR renaissance but it certainly does have a dark underbelly. The principle weakness in RPGs is the ever present threat that someone at the table will turn out to be, in the words of Neil from the Young Ones, a negative vibe merchant. You had a few to deal with there. Since when can’t you talk with a silly accent at a game session? For some people I know that is the biggest draw. No BS one of my gaming buddies always plays dwarves for that reason. He’s not even good at it. Seriously, its awful. But nobody minds.

    Excellent job rescuing that kid from a bad experience.

  • Aurumvorax says:

    I have mixed feelings about the cheap shots being taken at mature adults who wanted to play as though you could “win” Basic.  Roleplaying ability develops over time; none of us started out entirely identifying with our characters, but the shift in emphasis back to tactics is regrettable.  (I say “back” because Avalon Hill’s Tactics is where our hobby diverged from strict wargaming.)  There is an obvious parallel between my drunken antics at Jeffro’s Dwimmermount game and the play experience of Ken and Batkid.  I don’t REGRET pissing off all the other players, but at the same time I intend to encourage them to consider their characters’ perspective, and support them when they rise above the agony of strategic decision-making to roleplaying, in the future.

    • Ken says:

      I disagree with one of your assertions.

      “none of us started out entirely identifying with our characters,”

      Ever run RPGs for 10-year-olds? They slide into character identification faster than they slide into their seats.

      It’s only adults who’re afraid of what others will think of them that find this hard…

    • Aurumvorax says:

      Thanks, I think the place I find it hardest to get inside the heads of Basic devotees is that you did start playing before conformity kicked in.  Not that you were all pre-teens or can shunt all AD&D players in with me, but I started playing in high school, and grew to love the game despite, or more likely because of, being tormented by older players and the thought of what might happen to my character.

      • Aurumvorax says:

        I have to laugh at your simile after rolling up a new character yesterday (the particular game isn’t relevant, but if you’ve ever had dinner next to a left-handed person, that might be).  Someone was in my accustomed seat when I got there, and it took a conscious effort of will for me to squeeze myself into another without griping.

  • Don says:

    So you were playing Dungeon World or another game?

    • Ken says:

      I was playing a retro-clone that merged old school character classes with some of the die rolling mechanics of 3.5 – we were rolling and adding to exceed AC. wizards had more spells per day than I remembered from Basic set, but not an excessive amount at 3rd level.

      I wish I’d been playing or running Dungeon World…

  • Don says:

    A great way to play that follows the natural flow of an rpg.

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