My Tribe - North Texas RPG ConI've blogged before about my experience growing up in Central Texas to a very conservative family of typical Texas tastes - hunting, fishing, racing, etc. I was the bookish gamer whose idea of the perfect camping trip involved playing D&D around the campfire. I was into reading, video games and tabletop. I watched a lot of Star Trek, Star Wars and cartoons. This had the effect of ensuring that I always felt apart from most of my family. My mom's side tended to range from amused to ridicule when they thought I wasn't listening. My Dad's side of the family tended to humor me more, marvel at my foci, but still never quite understand me. That's the short version of the very long story.
In 1985 I read my first D&D books, belonging to the older brother of one of my friends at River Hills Elementary School in Temple Terrace, FL. I was immediately spellbound by the books - AD&D hardcovers with the 1983 Jeff Easley artwork. I'd loved the D&D cartoon, so a game would be great. Unbeknownst to me, my brain was already primed for gaming by toys. Transformers had Tech Specs on the back that quantified each character in a 1-10 scale. Wheeled Warriors had descriptions of all the parts that could be swapped onto the vehicles, this tire was slower but granted traction, this one granted speed, etc. My mind was already thinking of things in terms of comparative abilities. But Eric Ryan's older brother wanted nothing to do with us ten year olds, and I moved back to my hometown of Round Rock after completing the 5th grade.
1986 brought me to Daniel Varner's friendship and home- and his '83 Mentzer Red and Blue books. I rolled up my first PC that summer, and have been hooked ever since. My search for belonging had led me to gaming, and through gaming I found the hobby that defines me, the best friends I've ever had, and the family we have constructed from those friends. While we all love our blood relatives, most of us in our local gaming family have at one time or another felt apart, misunderstood or ill-fitting. We gravitated toward each other and formed a bond unlike that to which we were born - we bonded over our hobby and before we knew it we were watching each other's backs, caring for each other in financial or emotional hardship, helping raise each other's children... you know, family.
Folks who know me know Mary and I fought hard to become mom and dad to Zane and Kaylee, who we adopted in 2013. We know that the family you choose can be just as close or closer than the family you're born to. Why all this talk about family when I'm posting about a convention? Well, a coupla reasons. First of all, I attended the convention with my family from The Royal Dragoon Guards. My closest friends on the planet were with me, with the notable exception of Bobby Dean. Aaron Murphy, father of two of my godchildren and someone I'd gladly take a bullet for (not in the chest, though...) was there. Even a brief visit by my old gaming buddy from high school Shawn Cavanaugh, who may predate all gamer friends I still hang with save maybe Jim Cook... So I was happy to look around and see Ed, Eric, Robby, Randi, Dennis, Jessica, Tina, Raul, Scott... And new friends like Raul's old college gaming friend Crystal.
Already feeling I was among family, Robby, Raul and I walked into the con and I was greeted by name by so many folks who I met through North Texas RPG Con - Alan Grohe, Jon Hershberger, Glen Hallstrom, Mike Badolato, Jimm Johnson, Dennis and Melissa Pipes, the list goes on. You see, North Texas RPG Con is around 350 folks who congregate on a yearly basis to celebrate old school gaming. And about one out of every ten folks there is a game author, illustrator, editor. It was thanks to Dr. Dennis Sustare, who is part of the RDG, that I found out about this con. I wish I'd known about it long before 2015. But '15 and '16 were my first and second NTs, and walking into my third I was blown away that all these folks bothered to remember my name. I'm not published (yet) and I'm no former TSR bigwig, star blogger, podcast host... I'm just me, The Old Dragoon, gamer and GM. But at NTRPGCON, that's enough. You're part of the family. You roll dice with folks, you're in. Follow Wheaton's Law, love Old School Games, and you've just found yourself a tribe.
As a member of this tribe, I've made some great friends. It doesn't matter if you're a bigwig in the industry or someone who has just purchased their first D20, if you attend North Texas RPG Con you can find yourself in a casual conversation about superheroes with Jeff Dee, watching Jeff Easley paint a dragon with house paints, listen to Frank Mentzer hold forth on the philosophy of his game mastering style, hey! Tim Kask just rolled by! Was that Allen Hammack? Merle Rasmussen? Darlene? Diesel LaForce? So many special guests it takes a meaty program to name them all. Sure, I can introduce you to Dennis. Hey, Dennis, can you introduce me to Mike and Liz from Save or Die? Nobody cares. Nobody puts on airs. It's a group of people tied together by their love of gaming, the published and unpublished dive into games with equal relish. Elbows rubbed, autographs signed, TPKs handed out... It's amazing.
This year, the RDG sponsored the Chinaberry room at the con. We got a blurb in the program and a room to do with as we wished. We helped set up tables for the con, got our own room squared away with our recruiting poster, and made a ton of character sheets for D&D, S&W, AD&D and other games for folks to use throughout the con. We made ourselves useful, and provided quite a few hours of gaming fun for others. Our GMs ran seven events this year (maybe more, I can't be sure with the pickup games I didn't count) We became part of the amazing culture Dennis had introduced us to- and the best part? It embraced us back. Our game events filled up despite our not being the authors or published contributors (ok, Dennis, you are the exception in the RDG) and we were complimented on our GM abilities. I was blown away when I got a GREAT compliment on my Shadowrun GM skills from a player who turned out to have written some very good OSR material I've been quite appreciative of myself. I had one artist tell me my Indiana Jones game was his favorite event of the con. WOW. Me. The kid that heard uncles betting on when he'd come out of the closet because he preferred books to football, and here I am getting kudos on the very skills I used to get made fun of over.
I think we may sponsor a room again next year. Why drop the money on a sponsorship if we're not a game company and not selling product? Well, that's a good question, and one we've talked about. We're all paying our ticket to get into the con, so why "purchase" the room? The answer to that is enough of our people in the Dragoons value the experience of being part of North Texas RPG Con that it's worth it to us to basically pay extra for our tickets to support the con. BadMike and Doug don't make a ton of money on the con, small conventions are notoriously hard to keep out of the red. The value is in the experience. It's in knowing we're contributing as best we can to the fun and the ability of others to immerse themselves in the classic gaming goodness of NTRPGCON. We are providing gaming, helping move things, set things up, and entertain folks. Our Advance Party of six showed up by noon the day before the con started to help set up - I wish there had been even more for us to do, we would have done it gladly. For the love of the game, the love of the tribe.
This year we brought about a dozen of us to the con counting Friends of Dragoons. Next year, I'm hoping to increase that by 50% or more. The more people we can bring into the fold to experience the exceptional gaming that happens at NT the better. I think all gamers of an old school bent should experience this. It's almost indescribable, the ability to move among this group of people and game. I can't put my finger on a favorite session, but so many things from individual sessions stick out at me.
Wednesday (Pre-Con Get-It-On)The Royal Dragoon Guards Advance Party arrived on Wednesday. CPT Ed Covarrubias, my esteemed executive officer, 1LT Dennis Sustare of the Home Guard and SGM Eric Stolle got there before my vehicle, with 1SG Robby Houser, MSG Raul Trevino and myself making up the rest of the Advance Party. We immediately set to work doing what needed doing, which was setting up tables with the laminated hex and square mats Doug Rhea had made for the con, along with tissues for cleaning the mats and dice towers. This allowed us to get the lay of the new hotel, the Westin DFW Airport, and see where all the events would be.
We had dinner at Kula, a sushi restaurant that has those awesome Japanese conveyor belts to deliver the food to your table. I love it. It's amazing. Then we headed back to the Westin to do some gaming. We got the room set up and Robby and I played the first of many rounds of Ace of Aces, with Robby kicking my Sopwith Camel's butt again and again in his Fokker.
ThursdayI had one mission on Thursday, and that was to see Ol' Man Grognard himself, Glen Hallstrom, and play some Gangbusters. I'd not gotten to play with Glen as GM before, only as a fellow player, so it was with sheer pleasure that I found Glen was ridiculously awesome in his element as a Gangbusters GM. His voices and characterizations were exemplary, his story was worthy of the genre, and we all had an absolute blast figuring out the murder mystery and the location of the ill-gotten spoils. How good was the game? Raul made it a point to buy a Gangbusters boxed set, and we've got plans to play some Gangbusters back home in the coming year. Oh, and as players we were so much fun for Glen he ran a special Gangbusters session later in the con...
I ran Swords & Wizardry for Raul, Crystal, Dennis and Robby. I had a pretty great time improvising a story set in Karameikos that I think I will just have to use in a D&D campaign in the future. My improv skills were for some reason hotter than they've been in years at this con. Maybe it was the hundreds of person-years of gaming experience dripping from the place, but I was on. And having fun immediately. Raul's friend Crystal was out of gaming for about 20 years, and she had no trouble jumping back in and having a great time.