Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter War recap, part I

This last weekend was my local con. Winter War has been running for as many years as I've been alive. Situated in the heart of grognard territory, it's a storied little event. The offices of Judges Guild and GDW are both about an hour's drive from here. The founders of the con bought their copies of OD&D directly from booth at Gen Con where it was first offered for sale. The guy who runs the auction wrote the very first CRPG. (It was called 'pedit5' because Rusty was attempting to hide this unauthorized use of university hardware. A prof eventually found it and deleted it.) One time Marc Miller brought to the con this new sci-fi game he was about to release. As one of the gang put it yesterday "We didn't like some of it and we told Marc that. I'm not sure Traveller ever got harsher criticism than from the Winter War con staff." Judges Guild even released one of the Winter War D&D tournaments as a pair of adventure modules.

That's the milieu in which I offer my crazy little con experiments every year. Most of the time I don't think about it. But every once in a while I'm working on something like the OD&D game I ran yesterday and I wonder what the hell I'm doing. As one of the snot-nosed Basic D&D kids do I really have any business trying to invoke the atmosphere of the D&D scene as it existed back when I was in diapers? Am I running a fun game or just constructing phantom nostalgia for an era that I will never truly know? Isn't playing swords & elves as they did it in the disco era just a trifle bit meta, like playing a all-holodeck scenario in a Star Trek game? I can be a moody mofo sometimes but the answer to these sorts of funks is always the Six Magic Words: shut up and roll the dice.

So enough background and introspection. Let's talk about the con and what happened this weekend. Friday night I got to play the boadgames El Grande and Ra. The latter was a new one for me. Ra is a charming little auction-based Eurogame with an ancient Egyptian theme. It's designed by Reiner Knizia. I can't think of a game of that dude's that I've disliked, not that I've played all ten jillion games he's made. My favorite bit in the game is that if you have a tile with an Egyptian god on it, you can use it to snatch another tile off the board without paying for it. My god steals stuff for me, what has yours done lately?

During the game my sister, our new game friend Jennifer, and I debated the questions "What the hell is up with stinky gamers?", "Why are some gamers such sexist dipshits?" and "How are the two populations related?" This subject comes up every year, though I'm not sure we arrived at any new conclusions that night. On Sunday the guy in the all-weekend Advanced Squad Leader tournament offered a new data point: in his experience the guys who are looking to mooch off of other con-goers for sleeping quarters are the most likely to be the smelliest. Not the fellow who splits the room fee and ends up drawing the short straw for bed priviledges, but rather the kind of guy that shows up with no lodgings arranged and hopes you'll let him sleep on the floor of your room for free. This latter type, so my source reported, has little use for the niceties of civilized behavior. And you sure as hell don't want to spend all day next to them, separated only by a tiny ASL hexmap.

The big news of Friday night was that the new local game store, Armored Gopher Games, was under new ownership. This was a great development, as the new owner turned out to be Dave "Red-Headed Maniac" Hoover, one of the coolest cats in the local RPG scene. So I suddenly have a new favorite gaming store. Which is nice, because I had given up on the other FLGS in town. I had been avoiding Armored Gopher because I had it from a reliable source that the old owner was a sketchy character.

This venue would be as good as any to admit that I kinda yanked Dave's chain on Saturday. I told him "Hey, man, you're my new favorite game store, but I'm probably going to buy one last thing from [the other guy in town] because you can't get it in." I knew that would totally get Dave's goat when I said it. "What is it and how do you know I can't get it?" was his immediate reply. "The HackMaster player's book. It's totally out of print, dude." Dave pointed out that out of print and out of distribution were not one and the same. Which I knew, I just wanted to see what ol' Dave would do if I laid down the gauntlet like that. So he made some phonecalls and within minutes of our conversation he had hustled up a copy for me to pick up at the store, which I plan to do tomorrow. I'm absolutely certain that Dave didn't make that happen because I'm a friend or because I had challenged him to beat the more established competition, he did it because he knows that to make a game store work in this day and age you have to bust ass.