Tag Archives: D&D

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 …

Randomness is Inspiration

I’m a big fan of random tables. I always have been – there’s something about having a table of possible results but not knowing exactly what the result is going to be that really appeals to me as both a writer and a designer. Many adventures in the Cut to the Chase Games backlog, or at least the seeds of those adventures, were generated using some combination of random tables. I’ve created whole random adventure generators for AD&D 2nd Edition, ones that I cringe over now but I still pull out every now and then to look over fondly.

For me, a random table is a good way to jump start inspiration. If I’m given some crazy elements and told to make a scenario out of it, my mind begins to work to try and stretch the fantastic to encompass some sort of plausible set of adventure parameters. This is one of the many reasons I fell in love with the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Appendix A: Random Dungeons is a literal treasure trove of possibilities. I know it pulls a lot of inspiration from the 1st Edition DMG but that’s not the one I grew up with – I grew up with the AD&D 2nd Edition books, and random tables seemed relegated to the treasure tables and that was it.

But then the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook came along. It used geomorphs for the random maps, something that never appealed to me, but it came with a lot of really fun tables for random traps along with one of my all time favorite tables for adventures – the random dungeon premutation table. This table was a list of big, thematic changes that could be made to a dungeon setting to make it unique. I still refer to this table from time to time to get inspiration when the well feels a little dry and so far it hasn’t failed me.

All this talk of random tables has put me in the mood to roll some dice. Excuse me while I bust out my Dungeon Master’s Guide and throw a little adventure together!