Monday, February 06, 2006

A Good War

Winter War was a friggin' blast. For the first time in a decade or so I missed the first time slot (and the super secret con organizers breakfast, which is a shame since I think this was the first time in a couple years that the chairman had remembered to send me an invite!) but getting to the con when things are already well underway has an appeal of its own. The new site of the con was a bit smaller than the previous venue, and that cramped quality was exacerbated by the table company delivering 8' tables when the order was for 6 footers. Still, I'd rather be squeezed into a happening convention than have plenty of room in a less vibrant event, at least if no one smells. By my nostrils the con was generally light on Cat Piss Men, but one fellow in the rpg room Sunday morning had the overpowering aroma of human feces. I wish I knew a polite way to let a stranger knows he smells like shit, but I don't.

The food at the new venue was comparable to the Chancellor hotel. The burgers were a little blander but the chef salads were better, with a nice strawberry vinagrette dressing that was great if you ladeled it on lightly. The dealers were pretty much the same folks as last year, though the War Store Collectibles was scheduled to appear but no-showed. That's unfortunate since I heard that our new FLGS, Valhalla Games, was dying to be in the dealer room but couldn't get a space. Castle Perilous continued to be the place to go for nifty old gaming crap. Thompson Productions (no known web presence) was selling singles of D&D collectible minis. When I saw the Bulette he had in stock I had to buy it. It's big and cool! Later I got some reasonably-priced Ophidians from him as well. What DM worth his salt couldn't find a use for a big pile of snakemen?

Friday night I ran Dragons of Ancient Days, a session using original D&D with a dash of Supplement I: Greyhawk and a light sprinkling of the Arduin Grimoire. It made my day to see modern gamers (into all the lastest anime and high-faluting Generic Universal systems and campaigns with plots) degenerate into gold-grubbing orc-hackers with such glee. I should have kept track of how many PCs bought the dust and how, but Kathleen was on her fourth character by the time we finished and only Josh made it through the whole game on one dude. I especially like how early into the session some of them retained the notion that the GM was obligated to only use 'fair' or 'balanced' encounters. They outgrew those quaint notions when their 1st level wimps ran into the 9th level magic-user and later a giant slug. Still, it wasn't a killer dungeon by any means. Foes were vanquished and treasure was won. I got quite charge out of running this event and may very well repeat it next year, or perhaps I'll use a different set of slightly less musty D&D rules, like 1st edition Advanced or my precious Moldvay Basic.

Saturday I ran S. John Ross's tour de farce Risus: the Anything RPG, using some of the most ludicrous characters to ever appear in Marvel comics. Osprey, Captain Ultra, Blue Streak, Squirrel Girl and Monkey Joe successfully saved the Central Park Zoo from far lefty supervillains releasing the animals, served a summons on the Sorcerer Supreme without bringing doom upon themselves (ol' Doc Strange hasn't paid taxes on the Sanctum Sanctorum ever since they started assessing him based upon the internal size of the place), and defeated a time-travelling Doom 2099 and his henchmen, the vile and Liefieldian Team EXTREME!!! The heroes even took pity on a couple of members of Team EXTREME!!! When they defeated Broozor they declared his fate to be a nice hopsital bed and treatment for steroid abuse. And Nimbo was reduced to sobbing in the corner, being comforted by Squirrel Girl, who promised to help her work through her body image issues and chronic bulimia. On the other hand, Clawzor and Captain Bow were just beaten to pulps. AND I got to play Mr. Fish and tell no less than two PCs that "No one laughs at Mr. Fish!" Joy! Let me tell you folks, Risus, at its underwhelming 6 pages, manages to provide more mechanical oomph to comedy gaming than any other system I have read or played. The "anything can be a combat" ethos allows you to do great things like forcing the PCs to navigate New York City by entering 'combat' with the city itself! And the Inappropriate Cliche rules lead to many wacky hijinks, such as a squirrel defeating Doctor Strange with his cartoony cuteness.

Saturday was also the day of the RPGnet Gathering at Winter War. This turned out to once again mean lunch with the aforementioned Kathleen (known as coeli on RPGnet) & Josh (UnkaJosh) and RPGnetter BethDragon. I'm sure I've heard and/or read BethDragon's real name more than once by now, but I have trouble identifying her as anything but BethDragon. I spent much of the time listening intently as Beth and Kathleen compared notes for their respective Buffy the Vampire Slayer campaigns. I was delighted by the descriptions of the various soap opera romanceries afoot in their games while at the same time a bit scandalized by how little vampire slaying seemed to come up. But then my usual kind of game involves beating monsters until the candy pours out, so what do I know?

Saturday is also the day traditionally reserved for two defining events at Winter War: the live auction and the Blind Sniper game. The auction is always a raucous affair, as people shout out their opinions of the crap up for sale. For me this year was all about selling rather than buying, and I couldn't help myself when my copy of the Wraeththu rpg came up and no one had any idea what is was about. Me from the peanut gallery: "You play post-apocalyptic hermaphrodites. No, seriously." That got several bidders to perk up!

Rather than explain Blind Sniper all over again, I think I'll just quote an old webpage of mine:
Anybody who likes limited information games like Scotland Yard, Kriegspiel, Battleship, hidden movement wargames etc., ought to get a kick out of Blind Sniper. Gaming guru Bruce Gletty runs this 20-player game behind a wall. Only he gets to look at the copy of the official map (the original SPI Sniper map, the one with the slanted buildings). Only he sees each player’s piece on the board. Everyone else makes do with a map and a secret turn orders/turn results sheet. It’s every player for themselves as everyone tries to achieve the objective and not get killed by other players. Written orders produce results like “see man with flamethrower in hex 217” or “he blasts you with the machine pistol, you are crippled”. Blind Sniper takes a long time with huge turn results lag times because of the written orders/written results stuff. It’s standard operating procedure for the players to put together pick-up games of other stuff.
This year I couldn't play Sniper because my Risus game was scheduled in the same slot as the Sniper game started. But I did managed to get in one of the pick-up games later into the night. After I collected my money from the auction I hopped on over to the dealer area to spend a bit of it. Only two game lines really caught my attention sufficiently for me to consider actually purchasing them. Back in December I blogged a bit about Andy Hopp's Low Life, a Savage Worlds Plot Point Book with a truly unique vision for a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The Dragon's Table had a copy of Low Life in stock and I absolutely fell in love with it. For more on this beautifully drawn and fabulously written Savage Setting check out the official website, The other game line that intrigued me was Northern Crown from Atlas Games, a D&D setting in an alternative fantasy Colonial America. I didn't buy either of the Northern Crown books for sale at the con. Later this week I intend to blog more about why I took a pass, even though I'm still interested in the setting.

Sunday was my Encounter Critical game. The players loved EC and my PCs. I built a new wilderness area (set in the Forbidden Waste region) around the sample dungeon from the rulebook, with the Great Dingus (aka the Holy MacGuffin) as an integral component of Skullbryn the Warlock's spacecraft. The wilderness was pretty tame, but I loved it when they decided to camp out in an old battlefield. Zombies, duh. In the dungeon Roy Beta the Frankenstein Warrior and Obi-wan Shinobi fell (heh) victim to the meat pasting pit, while IG-666 was dismantled by the Cave Ooze. Gipp Ramsey, Snobbish Astrogator convinced Skullbryn that if he was allowed onboard he could navigate them both to the planet of the Hot Bi-Curious Ninja Amazons, while Lady Lotus Blossom got a place on the spacecraft by claiming to also be Curious. Too bad about the navigation beam thing. I had explained it at the beginning of the game when I read the three paragraphs in book that outlines the Vanth campaign, but they had all forgot. When I announced that Skullbryn didn't know jack about building spacecraft and that they were all dead the room erupted in laughter. Great ending to a great event. Earlier in the adventure they had tea with some Sultanate apes, but Lotus Blossom committed a horrible faux pas and it erupted into a fight to the death, in the tea room. Horribly, the dessert cart was among the casualties of the fracas. Best line of the night had to be from the robot to Gipp Ramsey: "Does your phaser have a 'dispose of evidence' setting?" It did.

All in all, I was very satisfied with the results of my three games. But I think I'll probably only run two games next year, and I definitely don't want to run one of them on Sunday morning again. That's too early on a day too late in the con for me to have my 'A' game going. It was very nice seeing all the old hats at the con. I got to play games with great people like Kathleen & Josh Fuller and their friend Doug (whose last name I can't recall), Dave Hoover, and Ray Bott. I also got to chat at least a bit with Paul Pomykala, Thom Hendricks, Chris Gray (or is that Grey?), Don & Sue McKinney, John Pedigo, and Jon Satterfield among others. Messrs. Pedigo & Pomykala and the McKinneys expressed interest in restarting my Mutants & Masterminds campaign in March, so that was nice. I didn't buy a stupid amount of stuff at the dealers' tables. There's more good stuff to report about Winter War 33, I'm only touching the highlights here. Really, the only way to get a real feel for these sorts of events is to take the plunge yourself and go to your local con. And if you live anywhere near Champaign, Illinois you ought to come to my local convention. The more the merrier.