Friday, April 10, 2015

The Third Gary Con Report - Building A Convention Game

Marvelous picture by Kevin, showing the scene of the action


Less marvelous picture by me, of the game-ready table

Marvelous picture by chgowiz, showing the Expert Guide and his map

I promised all of you a post on how I design my games, and I hope this will help; please do feel free to ask me any questions - there will be a post coming up with some of the ones that I got and my attempts at answers...

Back when I originally looked into going to Gary Con this year, I had not been planning on running any actual game sessions; I had mostly thought of going in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the publication of "Empire of the Petal Throne" by TSR, and doing mostly question-and-answer sessions for people. That's usually what happens when I surface from my Underground Secret Lair (the game room) and show my bright smiling face in public. I very rarely get out into the light of day, due mostly to my work schedule, and I wanted to be able to give people the 'biggest bang for their buck' - or, as we used to joke, 'the biggest Doomkill for your kaitar'...

Much to my surprise, I got asked by a reader of the Gary Con forum to run a game; I put in an event request, and Gary Con approved it. (And they weren't desperate for games, either.) So, now having booked the thing, I had to come up with something. Fast.

Convention games, whether miniatures or RPG sessions, have a few limitations and needs that games in a 'home campaign' don't. I believe that if one is doing a convention game, then one should do something that the gamer can't usually get at home or at his FLGS; my reflexes lean in the direction of doing something that's a little different and a lot more memorable then what normally goes on in gaming, even at Gary Con. (There are some pretty awesome events there, I can tell you!)

Now, for Tekumel we have a pretty limited selection of 'game-ready' adventures available. I don't count  "Nightmare Maze" as particularly 'game-ready', as the map is very hard to use; you are limited to "Tomb Complex of Nereshanbo" in the published works, and Phil's mighty Jakalla Underworld in the unpublished stuff. I happen to like "Tomb Complex", and I've run it a lot; the infamous Battle of the Stairway, in which the stairway scored a Total Party Kill, was one such. However, since it is the only published adventure, I thought I'd go with Jakalla because it's of the same vintage as EPT, and as such would - hopefully! - give that 1975 feel to the game.

And, to make it nicer from my perspective, I have the maps in digital format; The Missus had been working on a fully-interactive version of the Jakalla Underworld, where the GM could mouse over a room, click on it, and get the description of same in a sidebar on their screen. So, I had the thing available to use, and this led me to the notion of projecting the map up on the wall for people. My thought process on this comes from watching many, many RPG sessions in progress. Players trying to keep accurate maps of the underworld that they explore often lead to problems in game flow, and I really like to keep things moving as fast as I can - it's more fun for me, and more exciting for the players, I've found, to try to do things in as close to 'real time' as possible. So, I thought, bring one of my LCD projectors and provide the players a big 'tactical display' for them to use.

I also brought some of my vintage figures, as I thought that a) it might be fun for people to see and play with the original figures I did for our games out at Phil's in the late 1970s; b) it might be fun for people to see just how we used the figures in our games; and c) I like miniatures. I also brought my set of the wonderful 'cardboard heroes' for Tekumel done by Uni Games, and which are very light and portable. I also brought my sets of IKEA wooden blocks, in honor of that game where we fought in the palace of Bassa, King of the Black Ssu; I used the blocks I had back then in 1977 when we fought out that game session...

I have been given to understand that 'pre-generated characters' are the norm for convention games, these days, and while I normally don't like the notion I thought that most folks would not want to spend game time on rolling up stats. So, I generated 12 men and 6 women as 'starter' third-level people, and left the skills and spells blank for the players to fill in and surprise me. (They did, too.) I did toss in some goodies, as the Jakalla Underword is a killer if you're not prepared for it. I wanted these players to  have a good time, and hopefully survive.

In my usual 'Braunstein' tradition, I put all the PC sheets in nice big envelopes; I put the PCs name, occupation, and a picture of them on the outside, and this would be all that the players had to go on - they would be picking their PCs 'blind'. I also included a color ID badge for all the PCs, so that we could all tell who was who at the table, and a special one-off gift ('swag', it's called) to mark the 40th anniversary of EPT and Gary Con.

As the players arrived at the table, the pre-registered players got first choice on the PCs, then everybody else. Katie, being the lady present, got her choice first as well. At the stroke of 7:00 p.m., everyone opened their envelopes and I then gave them a half hour to get everything organized. They did, and as I reported earlier, we were off and running.

I had the fight of my career. It was incredible.

One thing I would do differently, if I did this again; I would not use the LCD projector, as it's impossible to really control the lighting in the room. I would have liked to have an active display, like an LCD TV / monitor, and I now have this in hand - The Missus has invested in both a massive 40" unit for the game room - it's HUGE!!! - and a very portable - I can lift it by myself - 32" unit for traveling with.

Have I mentioned just how much I appreciate The Missus?

So, there we are. Questions? Comments?


5 comments:

  1. Well now I have to ask. Can you recount the tale of the Battle of the Stairway? I confess I've never heard that before, and I love hearing old battle tales from the days of yore.

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    1. Okay - to hear is to obey... :)

      So the Aethervoxes are a little bored, and want to do a 'straight dungeon crawl' for once. So, I pull out "Nightmare Maze", and the fun starts. The crew is just a little too over-confident and sure of themselves, and the Priest of Belkhanu says "I open the door." I go "WHAT?!?", as normally this player is very careful about doing this - this time, he didn't look, listen, or anything. Sure enough, he and half the party get ensorcelled by the minor demon waiting in the room, and they all start fighting with each other.

      Okay, so far, so a normal game. Until, I pointed out, the party was still standing ***on the stairway*** that leads down to this particular room. We now have a melee between the PCs, including a Nlyss and a Tinaliya, on the stairs, complete with flying daggers and the Priestess of Ksarul's syringes full of paralysis potions. One PC gets a syringe to the brain - somebody rolled a natural 20, always deadly - and drops dead; the Nlyss gets one in the left buttock - there's a table for this in S&G III, for heaven's sake! - and goes down the stairs, taking about half the party with him as he body-surfs over the rest of the PCs.

      There was *nobody* left standing in the party. One of the NPCs, a scribe, had to organize the torch-bearers and suchlike to carry the bodies up out of the underworld, and send back to Butrus for litters and bandages.

      The NPC then had to talk their way back into town, bribing the gate guards, and then the party had to endure the parade with crowds as they were carried back to their clan-house. It took weeks for them to recover; we all in pretty bad shape from laughing so hard during the game. Nothing went right for them, including some spectacularly bad dice rolls.

      They were very good sports about it, though. They paid for a nice bronze plaque to commemorate the adventure, and installed it on the stairway in question. It's still there, in my campaign... :)

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    2. QUICK EDIT!!! My mistake - it was "Tomb Complex of Nereshanbo" I was running, not "Nightmare Maze of Gigresh". Sorry about that!!!

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  2. I ran The Jakallan Underworld at Con of the North last February. I was filling in for a referee who couldn't make it at the last minute. We had a blast and a TPK. It was glorious.

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    1. It's wonderful, ain't it? I never seem to grow tired of the thing, and this after some thirty-five years of running around down there! :)

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