|Chirine spent most of the event in the bar area, handing out our cards to the passer-by|
|My Saturday night RPG - the calm before the storm, with Bill, Katie, and Mark|
|The first level of Jakalla's Underworld, projected up on the wall; Kevin posts to the Web|
Well, I tell ya; I had the fight of my life at Gary Con VII, and one heck of a good time. It was a lot of work, and a lot of effort, but I got a lot of help from some really nice people, and it all happened on time and under budget. People told me that they really liked what I did, and I seemed to have generated some good interest in Tekumel.
To begin at the beginning, I packed up on Wednesday and Thursday, and loaded up Thursday night and very early Friday morning. I left the house at 0130, and got to Lake Geneva at 0845 after the usual long haul across darkest Wisconsin. I loaded my Friday seminar session into the Geneva Ridge Resort for my 1400 question-and-answer session, and my suit of armor was posted by Dale at the entrance to the open gaming area and the bar where we were doing all the seminars. I had taped a nice shiny brass bowl to his open hand, and The Missus did a big stack of business cards which went in the bowl - I think that people were highly amused that a suit of armor on a mannequin had his own business cards!
I had a good time at the Friday Q&A. Dr. Raymond of the Tekumel Foundation took time out of his very busy schedule (he was doing a lot of old-school games over the weekend) to be there and answer questions and help explain things for people. I did my usual thing, explaining about Tekumel and gaming with the Professor, and people seemed to be having a good time. The bartenders helped out, too, keeping an eye on their 'doorman' for me all weekend; all of the hotel staff was very kind and helpful, with the front desk staff asking if Chirine could stay with them at night, 'guarding the office'. (Well, you never know, do you?) I did record the session, and we'll see what we get; ambient noise was an issue all weekend, which is nobody's fault - the convention was packed with folks, all having a very good time.
The big push for Saturday was my classic 'pre-school' RPG session, played the way we used to do out at Phil's; I even brought all the old figures that I'd done for our games back in 1976 and 1977, and these seemed to go over well with people. I got everything set up, and sat back to await developments. I had done packets for the players, each with a notepad, color ID badge with their PC name and image, sheets with their PC's information, and a special commemorative figure just for Gary Con VII.
I had The Missus' digital version of the Underworld, as well as the paper back-up, and I projected the maps up on the wall so that all the players could plot and plan more easily; this seemed to go over well, too. I had Bill Hoyt and Mark Eggert along as 'Designated Tekumel Experts', and I managed to persuade one of Phil's very first players, Mike Mornard (The Glorious General Korunme Mnashu hi Chaishyani, Mnashu of Thri'il) to come and play and be the party's Expert Guide. Katie, Bill's daughter, was there as a player, and she got to choose one of the ladies I'd generated. All of the PCs were hidden in envelopes, and the players got to choose their envelopes based on the the name, occupation, an artwork of the PC. What you see is what you get, and all that - just like in the old days.
My goal was not to kill the entire party, but to give them an enjoyable time and introduce them to Phil's wonderful creation. And to have some fun, myself; I didn;t give Mike his usual player-character; instead I generated a Flemish man-at-arms that he'd rolled up out at Phil's back in 1977 or so, and didn't tell him what I'd done. I wanted to surprise him, and I did - his reaction on seeing the player-character packet was worth the drive! As I had predicted several months before, he shrieked, pointed at me, and cried out in a heart-felt tone "YOU BASTARD!!!" He'd completely forgotten about dear old Robert of Barthesville, and was almost in tears that I'd remembered and had gone to the trouble of surprising him.
He looked over the table at all my preparations, turned to me and gave me one of the very best compliments I've ever gotten: "Chirine, you've outdone yourself!" And then, it only got better - Dave Wesely (Major David Wesley, creator of the Braunstein and an old friend) came by the table to apologize that he was not going to be able to play in this game, as he was doing an interview with the Ney York Times. This is a Very, Very, Very Big Deal to me; Dave does not play RPGs, especially of the 'fantasy' kind, and here he is wanting to play in one of my little efforts!!! I was very humbled, especially as I had some very well-known OSR folks playing in the game...
Well, gosh. I'm awed by this. Seriously.
Precisely at seven o'clock, the players opened their envelopes, and we got to work. I had pre-rolled the basic statistics to save time, but the players could choose their own skills and spells. "Surprise me," I told them, and they did. This convention attracts skilled and seasoned players, and I gave them a half-hour to get themselves and the party organized. They did, in amazingly quick time, and we were off and running.
I need to explain that I've been running the Jakalla Underworld for years; and it often kind of dull and boring for me as the players very often can't make up their individual and collective minds and I sit there waiting for them to do something - it's why I asked for and got a four-hour time slot. This lot, however, just clicked, and had themselves set and running smoothly as a group in no time flat.
I knew I was in deep, deep trouble in the first five minutes of play. Normally, I am able to stay ahead of the party by about one to two hours in the game session, and deal with whatever they do with no problems. This lot, on the other had, didn't ask any of the usual stupid questions, but looked in the copies of "Empire of the Petal Throne" I had on the table or asked the Designated Experts; all I got was a series of very clever, very intelligent questions that made me realize that I was dealing with a bunch of seasoned professionals. What made it even more scary was that I knew for a fact that none of them had met each other prior to this game, that while some of them had heard of Tekumel they didn't know a thing about the rules, and were there to learn about Tekumel from me. In the event, I was able to stay maybe thirty to sixty seconds ahead of them; they were that good, that focused, and that skilled.
I was in for the fight of my career as a game master, and I knew it. I loved it; this was shaping up to be the very best convention game ever.
I would like to be able to say that I laughed a casual laugh, picked up my dice with a casual sneer, and started the game with confidence and aplomb.
Yeah, right; if you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. I mouthed a prayer to The Great Gods of Gaming:
"Guys, if you aren't too busy right now, I could really use a bit of help, here..."
And behold! The skies opened, the clouds parted, and a ray of golden sunlight reached down and touched me and cast a halo of golden radiance around my furrowed brow; The Great Gods touched me with their wisdom, and spoke unto me:
And Phil spake, said unto me: "Get in there and die like a man, Chirine."
And Gary spake, and said unto me: "Show them what you're made of, young man."
And Dave spake, and said unto me: "Pass the popcorn, please."
"Gee, thanks, guys."
And off we went. For the next two hours, these people role-played! They had it down, and played their characters perfectly. They were quite literally the very best group I'd ever had at a convention, and they gave me nothing. Nothing at all. No slip-ups, no arguments, none of the usual things that a clever GM can use. These people had a march order that flowed and shifted to meet anything I could throw at them; front ranks peeled off to cover intersections and then swung back in as the back ranks; and all with next to no table talk! They communicated across the table with looks, glances, and hand signals; the ambient noise in the room was pretty high, and they used it as cover to conceal their next moves from me - normally, I can eavesdrop on the table talk to get a grip on the party's thinking, but I got nothing. They'd lean over to talk into each others ears, then a runner would move to the other end of the table to let the rest of the party know what was being plotted.
They evaded, they lurked, they sneaked, and they got right across the best I had to offer. it was a classic infiltration attack, and they did it brilliantly. The one encounter with some guards where I finally had them cornered was a disaster; they had sent out their priest with 'invisibility' as a scout, so I had no surprise and they simply exterminated my minions. Then, having frozen the guards with an Eye of Frigid Breath, one of the guys went about shattering the frozen bodies with his mace to make sure they didn't get up again. The second wave of guards got nailed by the ambush the players had set, and they simply blew the cell door open and rescued the hostage that they were suppose to save.
I had the time of my life; it was like being back with the old Thursday Night players all over again, as we did our best to out-fox Phil at his own game. I loved it.
Sunday, we rested, and had another Q & A session. I packed up, loaded out, and did the long drive home.
I have been to my very best convention ever, in all my forty years of doing this.
Thank you, Luke and Dale and all the Gary Con volunteers, for such a wonderful time; all of the great people at the Sky Lodge and the Geneva Ridge resort for taking such good care of all of us; to Bill, Katie, Mark, Kevin, and The Missus for all your help - I could not have done it without all of you! - and you players, who made it all so wonderful and worthwhile for me!