11 June 2015


  So most folks that know me know that in addition to a player and a GM/DM, I consider myself a student of RPG history.  I've read Designers & Dragons, I've read Playing at The World, I've read Of Dice and Men, I've read The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible and I look forward to the new Gary Gygax Bio Empire of Imagination.  It is from this passion for RPG history that led me to resolve to make a pilgrimage of sorts to Gary Con.  I'd read about the turnout at Gary Con, and the guest list, and thought that I'd want to attend in the next couple of years and rub elbows with the authors and illustrators of my lifelong hobby.  Then I found out Gary Con was coming to me... sort of.

  Thanks to my new friend Dennis Sustare, now 1st Lieutenant in Her Majesty's Home Guard, I found out about North Texas RPG Con.  Dennis is a D&D luminary himself, having created the Druid class and penned not only his own games but supplements for many others.  He's also credited with quite a few amazing ColecoVision games along with other TSR alumni like Lawrence Schick, Jannell Jaquays and others.  Dennis told us of NTRPGCon, and I talked Mary into letting me go.  I took some days off work, and rolled to the con with Bobby, Ed and Scott.  Dennis had gone up a day before us, and we were joined in Dallas by Aaron and my old HS friend Shawn, who had introduced me to Dragonlance about 24 years previous.

  Walking into the hotel, we immediately saw two large NTRPG logos, one for this year and one for 2014.  We were in the right place, all right.  The logo is designed by Jennell Jaquays, and depicts a dragon with a Texas-flagged shield.  We knew we were in the right place.  Everywhere one looked, one saw gamers and game tables.

  The long and the short of it is this: This was the single greatest con I have ever attended, bar none.  Unlike ComicCons and Fan Days and other endeavors, I was not spending hours and hours standing in lines waiting to pay $50 for autographs.  This was a GAME con, and I spend my time gaming.  Too much time, if there is such a thing, but more on that later.  The guest to attendee ratio was nothing short of incredible.  I told a friend on Facebook that you couldn't throw a kobold and not hit at least two artists or authors.  It was like walking through a TSR Reunion.  Lawrence Schick was over here, Jeff Grubb was over there, Jeff Dee was casually chatting with Larry Elmore and DARLENE.  Name a name in early gaming, and if they were still drawing breath, they might just be in the building.  Steve Perrin, Steve Marsh, Steve Winter... lots of Jeffs and Steves... but everywhere you looked was a yellow badge or a custom NTRPGCON shirt with the name of a luminary from the golden age on it.

   So... what happened?  Glad you asked.  I got to meet some of the folks who made my early years of gaming awesome.  The Red Box from the BECMI set was what I cut my teeth on in 1986, and I got to meet, talk to and game with Frank Mentzer who gave me some great DM advice.  I got great coversations, autographs and photos from both Frank Mentzer and Larry Elmore who were together very much responsible for my lifelong passion for gaming.

  This trip was my gift from Mary to celebrate my 40th Birthday, which occurs later this month.  She got a cruise, I got NTRPGCON.  Now, as much as I love cruising... I think I got the better of the deal.  I invited a group of folks, and those that could make it showed up.  Bobby and I were beaten to the con by Dennis, and we were joined there on Thursday by Aaron, who lives in DFW.  We jumped into our first game- my first AD&D Tournament.  From there it was wall-to-wall gaming for four days.  Here's an overview of the games I played, and I'm not going into too much plot detail so as to avoid spoiling the scenarios that the DMs might want to run later.

1. AD&D Tournament with DM Bill Barsh.

  Bill Barsh of Pacecsetter Games was our host, and I knew we were in trouble when he placed a tablet facing us in front of his DM screen that read "DEATH BY BARSH 3:30" and started counting down.  This was no home D&D game, this was a tournament, and that meant we were on the clock, on our guard, and in deep, deep kimchi.  There was a lot of bickering as players unfamiliar with one another had completely varying ideas of how to pursue the goal.  There was a refreshing amount of problem solving rather than straight hack-and-slash.  THIS was what old D&D was as far as puzzles and traps that so often fall by the wayside in modern gaming.  That said, there was very little roleplay since it was a tournament, and the point was to live long enough to gain the goal with as many party members alive as posisble.
  Yeah... about that...  it was a TPK.  Total.  Party.  Kill.  We died a lot.  Thing is... we had A BLAST.  We also came in second overall.  Not too shabby for a pickup team on their first tournament.

HIGHLIGHT:  Getting to see the Thief who spend the whole damn game invisible be the last PC standing and trying in vain to avoid inevitable death.  I almost cheered.  I know that's mean, but sitting out of every combat to preserve invisibility kinda boned the party in a few places.  Clever, but it's a team tournament...

2. Frank Mentzer's Ad-Lib Dungeon.

  OK, this was just awesome.  Frank asked us each to contribute two items from any gaming experience or book we've had, and he'd turn them into a D&D adventure.  We ended up starting a quest to find a Heartstone for the King, being waylaid by Venger who told us he would allow us to pass (and live) if we brought him three extraordinarily large eggs.  That's when we went on OPERATION: SIDEQUEST and came across carnivorous apes riding ostriches that were playing some sort of polo/soccer game while Eric the Cavalier hung, unresponsive, from a tree.  We managed to pilfer an egg from the ostrich pens, but were forces to watch a masterful Magic-User PC absue the magic system in wonderful ways to sneak his way into the nests of chained velociraptors to steal the remaining eggs we needed to appease Venger...  Yeah, this was pretty damn cool.  Cool indeed.

HIGHLIGHT: After the game Bobby ran into Frank Mentzer, who was bragging on his roleplaying ability to Bill Webb and Tim Kask.  Bobby will be insufferably pleased with himself for the rest of his life.

3. TOP SECRET with Merle Rasmussen.

  Another chance to game with an author.  Merle Rasmussen turned out to be a total hoot, and his adventure had a great twist we never expected in a spy game.  There were a couple of cute anachronisms due to adapting a Cold War module to modern day, but we had a great time.  The group gelled well, and we even managed to figure out the premier trade good for the third world area of the globe in which we were operating.  Toilet paper.  Everyone loves toilet paper.  $50 worth of TP in the right part of the world can get you a few AK-47s and some dynamite.  Important life lesson.

HIGHLIGHT: Being reminded we were on a recon operation by our sole female agent while we were gearing up with assault rifles, explosives, and handguns...

4. RECON! with Dennis Pipes.

  I played a lot of Revised Recon! in high school.  I'd not played since 1993.  Little did I know this was the original Recon! game that predated my experience with the Pallaium revision.  This one is pretty hard to talk about at all due to the plot twists, but it was a ton of fun.  We were operating in Laos, and... well... damnit.  I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.  Thanks to good experience on the part of the players and some familiarity with infantry tactics and COIN, we did OK... at least some of us made it out...  I would eagerly play this earlier version again.  In fact, I'm hoping to score a slot in Dennis Pipes' The Morrow Project event if he runs it next year.  I miss crunchy military post-apoc roleplay from the 80s.

HIGHLIGHT:  Aaron Murphy's heroic death.  Both of them.

5. Battletech with Gary Oliver

  This event was pitched as MechWarrior 1e/Battletech 2e.  My sweet spot.  Well, it turned out to be straight Battletech, but it was OK.  I got to play a Russian brother in a Hunchback, whose brother also played a Hunchback.  We hit all the Battletech high points - there was a Death From Above, there were missiles flying, overheating, annoying hovertanks, the whole schmear.  The best part was for a change I was just playing my 'Mech, not the entire OPFOR.

HIGHLIGHT:  The game master's son, Gavin, was gifted with a Royal Dragoon Guards unit patch to welcome him to the MechWarrior community.  He said he was going to put it on his school uniform...


6. Traveller with Mike Kelly

  I can only describe this game as high-powered.  We were all SOC A knights and dames, and we were wealthy and at ease at our hunting resort as the game opened.  It got awsome from there.  Mike Kelly managed to take a huge chunk of Traveller metaplot and make it into a morning's gaming session.  It was pretty damn awesome to be honest.  I've always loved Traveller, and the GM definitely highlighted the versatility of the Traveller system for us.

HIGHLIGHT: Mike telling us at the end of the game what he'd done with the plot, and my mind being blown.

7. Star Trek with Corbett Kirkley

  OK, aside from Corbett Kirkley sounding like the name of an inventor of self-aware probes that will later return and mistake CAPT James T. Kirk for their daddy... this game kicked a whole lot of ass.  See, what the GM did was innovative and so amazing we're all planning to do something similar when we get home.  The table was strewn with Star Trek props.  There were action figures.  The character sheets were foamcore squares with photos of the characters on the front, and the stats on the back with backgrounds color-coded to the uniform color of the character.  We all got to choose a character- but not for long.  Every so often we'd have a "commercial break" where we re-selected characters and the first player to choose had to do a commercial for a 1960s product.  This idea prevented anyone from bogarting Kirk/Spock/McCoy or being stuck on the ship all night as Ensign Ricky.  It was a thing of beauty.  We all hammed it up and did our best impersonations of the original enterprise crew facing off against a classic foil and a classic villain.  It was GREAT.

 HIGHLIGHT: The whole damn thing.


8. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Oriental Adventures with David "Zeb" Cook

  My final game of the weekend was with an author again.  Zeb Cook took us into Kara-Tur, where we got to play mid-level functionaries of the Emperor's court in search of our quest goal.  We got to see the differences between Western-style AD&D and OA-style AD&D.  The young player to my left had no idea why the "fighter" was able to pick pockets.  There was some incredible terrain and miniatures supplied by some of my fellow players, including a Japanese castle and inn.  This was a great way to end the weekend as I had never played an OA game before.  I'd had individual OA classes in Western games, but this was my first actual venture into Kara-Tur and I got to take the trip with Zeb Cook at the helm.  It was bitchin'.

  So, that's an overview of the gaming that doesn't do ANY of it justice.  I have a few pointers, though, for those of you who might have read this and are considering going to NTRPGCON next year.

  • Register Early.
  • Look a the game schedule.  Pick the things you want to do.  Be ready at midnight on the night game registrations open, and go quickly to get into the games you want.  They go FAST.
  • Don't overschedule.  That was my mistake.  Hell, on Friday we didn't even have a meal break written into the schedule.
  • Check out the guest list.  I had so many moments where I had wished I'd brought this book or that to get autographed...  
  • The Dealer Room.  It is glorious.  Spend only what you can afford, but do try to bring a bit of extra money for those gems you find (like $5 copies of OA) that you must stake home.  Lots of old product, and lots of new product for OSR games.
  • The Wenches.  They are beautiful.  They will get you drinks and snacks.  If you're not a special guest, you'll have to pay for them.  Bring cash to pay and tip if you are going to take advantage of their services.
  I came back from this event with my ganas back and a lot of excitement about gaming, game authoring and life in general.  It was in many ways what my therapist has been telling me to do for four years.  Plus- I got to meet so many legendary game authors and illustrators...  GO.  Seriously.


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