Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Game Hole Con III (part 1 of 2)

This blog post is going to be my experience at Game Hole Con III.

I felt the post-convention blues yesterday - everything just seemed kind of lame and I didn't care about the ordinary world much.  Basically, business as usual, except intensified a bit.  However, I'm my usual self today.

Running games at a convention is the equivalent of playing music live.  Everything is faster; smaller details fall by the wayside, and you're probably less inclined to go off-script and improvise because you're not GMing (performing) in front of your usual gaming group in your home, friend's basement, local library or game store.  No, you're doing it live in front of a bunch of people you don't know.  It's a bit nerve wracking and the pressure's on.

Plus the noise and distractions!  Subtlety is usually lost.  Forget about speaking quietly, hushed tones, whispering, or even delicate gestures.  You either speak loud and clear so the whole table can hear or you've lost a couple people along the way.  This goes for movements, too.  Either grand and sweeping or not at all!

Basically, it's like GMing with one hand tied behind your back.  Of course, it's also very exciting and gratifying to deliver a great gaming experience to people you've just met, who trust (or at least hope) that you're going to give them something enjoyable.

If you're +Frank Mentzer or James Ward you get to have a slightly more private room.  Even though this is my third time attending and running games at +Gamehole Con (and I've self-published about 10 well-received RPG books), I'm still fighting at the front lines.  It'll probably be awhile before I can watch the battle (with lake view) from a cushy office back at HQ.

So, all my games ended earlier than planned - because I couldn't help but speed things along.  Except for the impromptu "off the books" session on Friday night, they all ended on a high note, mysterious cliff-hanger, or with the utter destruction of that corner of the world.  Friday night's game came up against the lateness of the hour (about 10:30pm - I'm old and lame) so I cut their dungeon exploration a bit short... plus I had a big day of gaming ahead of me.

I got extremely lucky with a few things.  First, the weekend before the con, I had completely lost my voice.  I can't remember the last time that has happened, but it did.  While I was voiceless, I kept thinking, "Thank Cthulhu this didn't happen a week later."  But then on Monday I still couldn't talk, Tuesday I was extremely horse, Wednesday wasn't much better... I was starting to panic.  My voice was noticeably better on Thursday, and by Friday I was pretty much out of the woods (though still coughing).

Second, each and every session saw at least one friend at the table.  Even though I consider myself a non-paid professional Game Master who doesn't need such comforts, it's still really nice to have a familiar face amongst all the strange ones.  So, that was really cool and I appreciate having +Tim Virnig+Brandon Watkins+Jacob Nelson, +Forrest Aguirre, and West there.  Little did I know that a few others knew of me, but I'm terrible with names and so few people have their actual selves as avatars.


I'm not going to do a detailed session report for each and every game.  Just certain details that stood out or illustrate a particular point.

I ran my one-page zine, "The Sanctuary of the Scarlet Sorcerer", on Friday night; Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence on Saturday (back to back); along with The Outer Presence on Sunday.  By the end, I was ready to be done.  Although, by Monday night I was wishing I had another at GMing sometime mid-week.

I set up Liberation and Purple to be run with Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Now, I do love that system and the whole DCC vibe.  But when I've run it in the past, I hack it or dumb it down or Basic-D&D-it into oblivion... only keeping the mercurial magic and a few other bells and whistles, while drastically altering the rest.

Recently, all the games I've been running this summer and early fall have been based on a d6 dicepool system.  I suddenly found myself looking awkwardly at the d20 and thinking... I'm not ready to go back.  Luckily, I had been turning over my d6 dicepool ideas over and over in my mind.  Trying to come up with something that's even lighter, easier, and noob/one-shot/convention friendly than Crimson Dragon Slayer.

Just before Friday night's game, I came up with something workable and tried it out then and there.  It worked really well and use that for every session, except for Outer Presence.  I can attest that no player complained, balked, or criticized the core game mechanic I used throughout the convention.  That right there was a great opportunity to playtest the system.

Just as Purple was getting underway, +Doug Kovacs sat down and watched for a few minutes.  He even jokingly said that he was there to make sure I was "running the game right".  Some nervous laughter followed along with my admission that the game was going to be unorthodox, but still adhering to the Heavy Metal aesthetic from which practically all over-the-top, science-fantasy exploitation flows.

I dressed up!  Weeks before the convention, I bought a renaissance / LARP / pirate / Cosplay shirt (black) from ebay.  I wore that, the black velvet cloak I've had since college, a gothic halloween medallion, the fanciest black jeans I own (and was married in), and my black dress shoes.  It's exactly the type of thing I would wear to a Satanic ritual.  So, that felt appropriately inappropriate (which is right where I like to be).

Also, a couple months ago I decided to grow out my "wizard beard".  So, I probably looked like an extra from some Game of Thrones knockoff.  The facial hair still in phase 1, but just wait until Game Hole Con IV.  By then, my beard shall have taken over half the known realm!

I also brought in a lot of props.  Some fantasy calendars that had big, colorful pictures that I could show the entire table.  And a realistic foam sword (my wife: you paid how much for a fake sword?!?), plus a bunch of other illustrations, Terminator mask, glow stick, etc.

Taking the temperature of the room is important for a GM.  More so in a convention setting.  One table contained a jokester - one of those guys who has everyone laughing, like, every 10 or 15 minutes for the entire session.  He was seriously hilarious.  Now, it would have been a mistake for me to set myself up as his opposition, trying to "play it straight" and keep things serious.  So, I took his lead and upped the gonzo, humor, running jokes.

For instance, a couple people (including the jokester) recognized the pre-generated character name Xeljanz from the rheumatoid arthritis commercials.  That ad came on TV not too long ago when I was scribbling notes down for the convention PCs and seemed the perfect name for a dark elf or half-demon character.  Well, Xeljanz became a lighting rod for comedy.  So, too, the jeweled, egotistical sword named Zirkik.  Throughout the session, we kept calling him Zurich, Xerox, Zeke, Zircon, etc.

Also, plenty of premium Nyborg (space cocaine) was lying around the violet-black sand surrounding the islands.  I gave everyone a bonus to attack if their characters were coked out of their minds.  GMing at a convention is all about adapting to expectations, desires, and game table "texture" - those unexpected events that create myriad ripples and wrinkles in the pattern.

Rule #37:  It should be easier to die in a convention game, but also easier to be resurrected.

Purple had the weirdest ending.  I kind of painted myself into a corner, but it was super-cool.  Like my choices were silently being stolen away by Salvatore Dali.  So, I didn't mind and just went with it.  The party hid from the Purple Putrescence overhead.  Normally, a black pylon is the safest place to hide when The Thing That Rots From The Sky comes around.  But one of the players asked an innocent question to no one in particular: "Do you think we're safe in here?"  I took it upon myself to roll my 33% rule.  If the percentile dice came 01 to 33, they would not be safe at all.  The dice came up 27 or something.  So, one of those gargantuan, veined, purple tentacles wrapped itself around the pylon and uprooted the thing.

The adventurers did the only logical thing - experiment with the colored crystals until a portal opened.  They did, it did, and they escaped... to another universe that was far more Lovecraftian than even the one tenanted by the purple islands.  They had heard about a dream vision or prophecy of a man in black who would destroy the world.  The PCs thought they had met him earlier but were unsure, now there was this other dude cloaked in black and surrounded by glistening flesh full of eyes, tentacles, mouths, and leering mutant faces.

I knew I couldn't top that, so ended it right there.  Fade to black...

Liberation and Outer Presence went more as expected... but that's going to have to wait until tomorrow or the next day.

If you have a question, comment, or anything else.  Please leave a comment below!


p.s.  Special thanks to +Meredith Spearman for taking notes and then a picture of those notes.  Zirkik loved the attention but couldn't understand how his name got so mangled.  I'm pretty sure he blames Glarg or whatever that half-orcs name was...

p.p.s.  Thanks to +Tim Virnig and +Glenn Holmer for taking pictures.

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