Monday, January 30, 2017

the Winter War meeple encounter

Over the weekend I managed to get over to Winter War 44, the forty-fourth annual gathering of game weirdos in Champaign, Il.  Sometimes I give the false impression that I am an old school guy.  The dudes who founded this convention bought their copies of OD&D at GenCon the year it came out.  One of them wrote pedit5, the earliest documented dungeon crawl computer game.  (The name is designed to look like a legit program, since it was unauthorized use of U of I's computer resources.)  Compared to them, I'm one of the snot-nosed new kids.

I used to go to this convention every year and run stuff and help staff it, but grad school rearranges one's priorities in a pretty big way, especially when you feel you have to work twice as hard to keep up with people half your age.  But my daughter wanted to go and play some games with her old dad.  How can I say no to that?

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to send a message to Andrew.  This young man introduced himself as a fan of this blog, which was quite gratifying.  I didn't chitchat with him much because sometimes find myself slightly embarrassed when I meet a gameblog fan in the real world.  Basically because I can hardly believe that my readers are actual people living in the real world.  In a  later conversation with a mutual friend I learned that Andrew lives in the same town as I.  Andrew, if you are reading this, please send me an email so we can maybe play a game together.

Anyway, my daughter and I played some AD&D first edition run by cool cat Alex Riedel.  You might've seen me post on G+ about fighting doombats, skeletons, and a Skeleton Warrior.  I'm pretty sure that if we didn't run out of time we'd also have faced an Eye of Fear and Flame and maybe a Crypt Thing, too.  There was a "you are about to be murdered by 3 exotic undead" theme going on in the scenario.

At one point I was caught in a death trap with 2 other party members.  I was certain we wouldn't be able to solve the puzzle to deactivate the trap, so I drank a potion of diminution and escaped through the bars of the portcullis that had locked us in.  Imagine my embarrassment when the other two guys figured out the puzzle and also got out.  "Sorry I left you for dead, dudes?"  One guy admitted he would've done the same thing if he had the potion.  The other gave me the side-eye.

Since my daughter Elizabeth doesn't play that much D&D and we were in a mid-level scenario, I urged her to pick a fighter from the pre-gens.  She was having none of that.  She wanted the raw power of wizardry to be hers to command.  I was so proud of her blatant lust for cosmic power.  She managed to hold onto her lightning bolt until the big boss battle and effectively deployed it without catching anyone in a ricochet.  Too bad the dang monster was immune to its effect.

The other game we played was Search for the Emperor's Treasure.
I tried to get Elizabeth to turn to face the camera for this shot,
but she was too into the game to pay any attention to me just then.
Search is a delightful number from Tom Wham designed to emulate overland D&D-type treasure hunting and monster fighting.  The original version was published in Dragon #51.  The game was also reprinted in The Best of Dragon Games, but with a less amazing map.  The original map was done by Darlene Pekul.  She's better known for the classic World of Greyhawk hexmaps and the succubus in the back of the DMG, among other things.  Check this baby out:

You could use this as the campaign map for a pretty sweet little D&D campaign.
The Best of Dragon Games version uses a function but much less pleasing map.  The rest of the components in both versions are illustrated by Tom Wham in his usual cartoony style.

Mertwig's Maze, published by TSR, is Wham covering the same ground thematically and is also fun on a bun.  I recommend omitting the final dungeon from play, though.  It's a bit anti-climactic and not needed at all.  King of the Tabletop (Dragon #77, errata #78) does fantasy battles and strategery in the Wham fashion.  It was later re-made into Kings & Things (West End Games, later Z-Man Games).

One of the most hilarious mechanics of Search for the Emperor's Treasure is that it is fairly easy for your adventurer to be be barred from a town or castle as a public nuisance.  One player's wizard ended up getting kicked out of four different spaces on the map.  That's player-charactering at its best.

As is often the case at cons, the guy running this moldy old game had given it a deluxe makeover.  I've seen this sort of work done with Kingmaker and several other boardgames.  (And I fantasize about doing the same thing to the old TSR mini-game Revolt on Antares.)  Scott, the referee, had the small map (11" x 17" originally) blown up to poster size. And he created some sweet custom character sheets, which were laminated.  He also upgraded some of the playing pieces, which is why the word "meeple" appears in the title of this post.

Instead of the original tiny cardstock chits, we marked are location on the map with these sweet-ass meeple-style silhouettes, from this set:
Actual sizes here range from 24mm to 52mm.  The human figures are roughly scaled to modern 35mm figs.
Apparently these babies were successfully kickstarted and have subsequently completely sold out without me ever catching wind of their existence!  Fantasy Meeples were kickstarted by Gamelyn Games and sold through Meeple Source.

I love minis at the game table because they help everyone understand spatial relationships between PCs, monsters, and objects.  I hate minis at the game table because the spectacle of the tabletop sometimes distracts from the imaginative space where the game is actually happening.  Fantasy Meeples do the job of game pieces while being suggestive rather than definitive.  That's the sort of ambiguity I could use in my D&D games.  And they're cute, too.

So, if like me, you'd like a set of these babies but missed them the first time around, please consider going to this page and leaving a message for Gamelyn asking them to produce more Fantasy Meeples.