Tag Archives: Conventions

GaryCon VIII Retrospective

GaryCon VIII was held over the past weekend in Lake Geneva, WI, and it marks my fourth year in attendance. And I’ve got to say, this was the best GaryCon yet, with a new venue that sprawled out with plenty of space, friendly and accommodating staff, and a lineup of games I was incredibly excited to run and play.

GaryCon is a special con for me. It was at GaryCon VI that I ran WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen in 2014 for the first time publicly, using the then playtest rules for “D&D Next.” I had a great table of players and a fantastic time, taking what I learned for playing it with total strangers at a con and returning to the document to clean it up. At GaryCon VII I was anticipating launching the Kickstarter campaign later in the year and wanted to kick the tires on both the D&D 5th Edition version and the Swords & Wizardry versions, so I ran the full trilogy twice, once for each system. It was a total blast! Kobolds were mowed down in waves by the players, but I still managed to get two TPKs out of the six sessions. Without sound tactics kobolds are dangerous foes!

This year, since I have been converting Tower of Skulls to the various game systems with anticipation of releasing it very very soon, I decided I would run that for as many players as I could. The tower is a fun dungeon crawl, with combats and puzzles galore, spread out across four levels (the top two levels are reserved for special encounters). I set up my events in 2-hour blocks, two for each day, with each day focusing on a different level of the tower. Thursday was level 1, Friday was level 2, and Saturday was level 3 (I’ve learned in my years of running games at cons to *never* run a game on Sunday for out of state conventions!).

I am notoriously bad about taking pictures, but luckily I had a player who took a lot of them (Thanks Paul!). I’ll post them up here soon, as I also created an actual “Tower of Skulls” for display. I meant it as an eye-catcher and it did a great job.

The trick with Tower of Skulls is resource management. The encounters are not meant to be deadly on their own, but as you climb higher escaping the tower becomes difficult along with resting and recovering spells. Running it in short 2 hour blocks was a great move and it worked fantastically, but I decided to be lenient and let each group start fully refreshed and ready to tackle the tower. Ideally this would have only been the case with Level 1 – the players running through Levels 2 and 3 would find that they are low on spells, hit points, hit dice, and items.

Overall, though, I think all the players had fun puzzling through the puzzles and fighting the monsters, which I tried to make interesting and engaging individually rather than just combat for combat’s sake. The maps I had printed out for miniature use, which also helped – every room has something going on which is difficult to convey without visual aids. I encourage GMs to do the same as it is not resource intensive – you could even print out each room as a separate piece, which I think I will do going forward.

I played in a handful of games, including a Call of Cthulhu game where I lost 10 (!) sanity points walking up to a cursed Scottish lighthouse and a D&D 5th Edition game run by Mike Mearls, and had a blast at it all. I met some really cool people and made some cool connections as well, so we’ll see what comes out of that (hush hush). I picked up the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardry too, along with an OSR WhiteBox variant for swords & plants called Warriors of the Red Planet. We’ll see how that plays later!

GaryCon VIII was a fantastic time, and I’m already looking ahead to what I can do to grab peoples’ attentions at Gamehole Con in November and GaryCon IX next year. I’ve got some ideas …

GenCon 2015 Wrap-Up

GenCon 2015 was a great success! Cut to the Chase Games had a handful of games on the schedule, and they went swimmingly (except for the third one – I think there was a mixup on my DM dashboard – see below). I didn’t have any products to showcase so no booth or anything fancy like that, but I sure spent a lot of my time gaming it down with lots of terrific folks!

I had three sessions for Cut to the Chase Games on the books – TG1 Lost Temple of IbholthegTG2 Tongues of the Screaming Toad, and TG3 Shadow Out of Sapphire Lake, along with a pile of Adventurers League games for Baldman Games. Let’s look at each one.

I had a great table of players for the inaugural run of TG1 and, though we didn’t finish (the modules are not meant for 4 hour slots!) we all had a lot of fun and got past the titanic toad that guards the temple. Here’s the pic of the players at the end of the session. Great people, and some Minnesota boys to boot!


I was perhaps most worried about this one, because it’s a bit of a mystery to begin with, which is always tricky to pull off. Who knows if the players are going to pick up on the bits, or if I’m going to have to push them? Thankfully, the table was another set of FANTASTIC players and they all got into it quite well. So much fun. Again, we didn’t finish – but we got past the mystery part, so that made me quite happy.


So this one was my middle game on Friday, and in retrospect I think there was a mistake on my DM dashboard at GenCon. I was sitting in my room, nearly alone, waiting for players to show up. Nothing! I figured it’s GenCon, people get busy and can’t make it to games, but to have no one show up? Pretty strange. Afterwards, I investigated and found that my dashboard sent me to the wrong Indiana ballroom. Blergh. So no TG3 players or pics. Sad face.

I really enjoy judging for Baldman Games – last year was my first year EVER running a game at GenCon, and it was for Baldman running new games of 5th Edition. I had so much fun I ran Adventurers League games at Gamehole Con in November in Madison, Winter Fantasy in Fort Wayne in February (sucky drive!), and Origins in Columbus in June. Next year? I’m hoping I’m going to have my hands full of Cut to the Chase Games slots but who knows? The Epic on Saturday night was fantastic – I got to run the Tier 3 table (12th level average party) and the players really got into the swing of things down in the bowels of the hedonistic fire giant city, tearing it up with colossal gladiators in a coliseum of blood and terror.

My view for most of GenCon

My view for most of GenCon

GenCon is such a whirlwind of movement, people, sights, and sounds that it can be quite overwhelming. I also learned earlier in the year that 7 sessions (or roughly 30 hours) of ANYTHING at a convention is my limit – I get worn down and my voice goes bye-bye otherwise.

What does the future hold? Hopefully nothing but awesome things for everyone! Game on!

GaryCon VII – Day 3

Saturday wraps up my scheduled events for GaryCon VII and it was a fun day. The morning started off simply enough, though I had to park quite a ways from the door to the Geneva Ridge resort – no surprise there, since Saturday is typically the busiest day of most cons! But I got to my table in time and got setup without issue. Before too long I was running a group of players through WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye, which I was honestly a bit surprised about. This was my only game that did not sell out during pre-registration, and in fact NO tickets for it were sold! I half expected to sit at the table alone for 10 minutes or so before packing it up to find a pick up game elsewhere.

But lo and behold players showed up! I had a blast running the AD&D 1st Edition game, which I generally play fast and loose for the sake of game speed and excitement. It just feels natural, and given the haphazard fashion with which the rules are put together for that early edition, I can be forgiven (I hope!) for not having it all memorized. The players seemed to have a blast too.

After my first game, I wandered down to the lower levels of the con to check out the dealer room. I hadn’t had much of a chance to wander through it before so I decided to poke around at what was available. I ended up with a handful of Robert J Kuntz adventure modules put out by Black Blade Publishing and a copy of WEGS Old Skool. I then found myself in the “VIP” area where the tables are a bit larger and the names are a bit bigger than the rest of the con sites.

I have always wanted to play in a board game called Dawn Patrol at GaryCon – it is a WWI game of flying aces and the descriptions made it sound like so much fun. They’ve bee running the game at GenCon since the beginning (longer than any other game!) and they had a nice setup here at GaryCon. Big table, friendly people, and it caught my eye. I listened for a couple of minutes on how to play and immediately knew I wanted to give it a shot, so I ordered pizza from the resort to be delivered to the table and sat down.

Little did I know I would be sitting down with Mike Carr, the designer of the Dawn Patrol game originally so many years ago! He was incredibly friendly and, though the sheet for my plane (a French SPAD XIII http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPAD_S.XIII) was quite daunting I was eventually picking it up. Turns out Mike Carr grew up in St. Paul a stone’s throw away from my current location! Small world, that’s for sure. It was a lot of fun playing and I’m going to try and look up the Dawn Patrol players in the Twin Cities to see what I can get in on.

As a side note, Mike Carr also has done a lot with AD&D at the beginning. He was an editor on a lot of the original books (PHB, DMG, and MM!) and wrote In Search of the Unknown, an introductory module for AD&D. That blew me away when I looked him later – that module was a big influence on my early gaming days at the Mound Westonka Library in Mound, MN. Holy crap!

The Dawn Patrol game went right up to my last schedule game for GaryCon, AD&D 1st Edition WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold. I had a player who wrapped up the trilogy in this session (amazing!), and the players were victorious over the wicked Over-Kobold in the final showdown. Afterwards, one of the players pointed out a few things I forgot about AD&D that I truly appreciated, and I’m even more glad he waited until after the game. He was right, of course, but in the midst of things I neglected a few mechanics. I’ll remember them now!

A great day of gaming  behind me, I am quite exhausted. I think I’m going to try and look up some WWI movies in the next few weeks …

GaryCon VII – Day 2

Wow, what a day. It’s Friday, it’s just after 8 PM, and I am bushed. My throat is raw from doing kobold yips and yaps all day, which I should probably tone down for tomorrow – but we’ll see. It’s so much fun! And it’s one of those easy things I can do to really make the scenarios stand out for the players at my tables.

This morning I ran WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold for 5th Edition and it went incredibly well. Great table of players, and I wound up with 7 instead of 6 – which worked out quite well actually. Two of the players were brand new to 5th Edition, but I got the sense that they picked up on the system pretty quickly. Which is good because I realized WK3 is a tough module, especially in a con setting. I shuffled some things around for the final confrontation and really made it a tough one – perhaps too tough, since things were not going well for the party by the end of the slot. We stopped with the characters escaping but the Over-Kobold was unharmed. Very fun.

My 4 PM slot was WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen for AD&D 1st Edition (the stat blocks were written for Swords & Wizardry which is very functionally the same thing as far as monster stats go). I only had 5 out of the 6 players show up and no one came over to join as a walk up, and 2 of the players were new to con settings. I knew going into it, but it was really brought home how much low-level magic-users in 1st Edition are really weak. At 2nd level you can cast 2 spells, and while one of them could be sleep (incredibly powerful against 1d4 HD kobolds!) it still only has a limited radius. The players took some unexpected directions and ended up face-to-face with the Kobold Queen – only to have an INCREDIBLE series of bad die rolls run against them that turned every character into puppy chow. It was a knock down, drag out fight that the characters were up to their necks in, but in the end their bad luck cost them their lives. Oh well. I had a lot of fun and I think the players did too.

Tomorrow I’ve got WK2 and WK3 for 1st Edition AD&D and I’m a little nervous about them to be honest. Low-level 1E is so dangerous! And I’ve only got 6 pregens for them to take, and you really need all 6 to survive I think. We’ll see.

GaryCon VII – Day 1

It has been a good day at GaryCon VII in Lake Geneva, WI. A good night’s sleep (well, OK night’s sleep) and I was fresh for WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen at 10 AM. The players at the table were great, and though it ended with a total TPK I think they all had a good time. I know I did.

Break for lunch, chat with a few people, getting excited for GameHole Con in November, and then it was back in the trenches at 4 PM for WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye. I was looking forward to this one as I only finished writing a few weeks ago – this was the inaugural run of the module. There were points I now know I need to shore up, some clarifications that need to be added, and a map handout that would have been convenient – but overall a good experience. Also had a great table of players (7 of them!) that really made the session shine. Favorite use of my favorite spell so far (gust of wind).

Tired and exhausted, I retired to my hotel after cleaning up after WK2. Tomorrow is another full day – the final D&D 5E session for the weekend for me (WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold) and then it’s a switch over to good ol’ 1st Edition AD&D with the Wrath of the Kobolds series all over again.

Good times. Noodle salad.

GaryCon VII – Day 0

GaryCon 2015 called and I have made the journey into the hallowed depths of Wisconsin into the very heart of Midwestern Gaming, Lake Geneva! Today has been a largely uneventful day, filled with driving mainly, but I made good time and managed to get my badge for GaryCon before the lines were too long. I have a sneaky suspicion that there’s going to be quite a wait for badges in the morning.

I’m running the Wrath of the Kobolds series while I’m here in two sets, one for 5th Edition D&D and one for 1st Edition D&D. Writing the modules and converting them to each of the editions was surprisingly easy – the differences come in how they play more than how modules are written for them! Combat specifically is a bit more loose in 1st Edition, but that’s part of the fun! This con marks the first time I’ll have run the entire trilogy for an audience (WK1 Caves of the Kobold QueenWK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye, and WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold). The first one I ran last year at GaryCon VI and before that I had GM’d it a few times for my home group.

Sadly, I did not get one of the convenient rooms at the Geneva Ridge Resort – I’m down the road a bit in Delavan at the Sky Lodge Inn. It’s a nice if generic place, clean and reasonable for rates. I’m NOT looking forward to parking at the resort, that’s for sure. Previous years has proven that’s quite a gamble and with the con only growing in size I’m sure this will be the worst of the years. Time will tell.

Back from Winter Fantasy

I’m not going to lie, I’m not a big fan of Fort Wayne, IN. The city just doesn’t seem to have much in the way of interesting things in February for a visitor from Minnesota. However, I am a BIG fan of Winter Fantasy! So I guess as long as they hold it in Fort Wayne I’ll keep heading out there (though Minneapolis would be much closer, hint hint, and just as cold to live up to the name of Winter Fantasy).