• Situation Report: Fall 2009


    The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things…

    —Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and The Carpenter” (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There)

    There may not be a whole lot of activity here in my little corner of this here series of tubes, but life does not stop when a person fails to update his blog regularly. To wit:

    The Secret Lair

    The Secret LairThe podcast is still going strong, with a new episode appearing every few weeks or so, and a new installment of our webcomic appearing only slightly less frequently. In the most recent illustrated adventure, which I shall henceforth refer to as the Irradiated Arachnid Incident, the side effects of a spider-bite are not what you might expect. Meanwhile, Chris and I managed to convince our wives (yes, there was alcohol involved) to join us in a discussion of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, that book they made into that movie with that one guy. We also sat down with Mick Bradley, with whom we have had dealings in the past, to discuss that most mysterious and misunderstood style of roleplaying, the story game.

    Recent episodes of the podcast have featured staff reports from some creative (and incredibly generous) folks we are fortunate to call friends, those being Dr. John Cmar, Jay “Kingfish” Lynn, Natalie Metzger and Ken Newquist. These reports speak of schemes of ever-escalating complexity and crackpottedness, with a smattering of bizarre truth thrown in to blur the line between the real and the surreal.

    Game Night

    Approximately every two weeks, the gamers descend upon the International House of Johnson for one form of interactive entertainment or another. We’re currently in the middle of a Savage Worlds campaign run by Chris Miller, but last night we took a break from polyhedral dice and roleplaying to rock.

    Live at the International House of Johnson - Photo by David MeadArmed with fake guitars, fake drums and a very real microphone, we took to the virtual stage in Rock Band 2 on the Xbox 360. Four adults and the aforementioned fake instruments do not fit particularly will into the area around our “entertainment center”, but that didn’t dissuade us in the slightest. Some of the songs we rocked out to:

    •  “Re: Your Brains” and “Skullcrusher Mountain” by Jonathan Coulton
    • “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
    • “Here it Goes Again” by OK Go
    • “Take it on the Run” by REO Speedwagon
    • “The Best Day Ever” by Spongebob Squarepants (featuring guest vocalist Kyle Abraham Johnson)
    • “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull (featuring Chris Miller on vocals and no one on the fake flute)

    After the out-rocking concluded, we gathered at the dining room table for Monty Python Fluxx, followed by Fist of Dragonstones, the latter of which I thought was woefully underappreciated.

    Olde Fartz

    After a bit of a late-summer hiatus, the Olde Fartz Distance Learning Center is back in session. Our favorite game of late has been Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, though we did return to our roots for an evening of WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos a few weeks ago. There’s also talk of playing some Team Fortress 2 and Dungeon Siege, and P.G. Holyfiend keeps yammering about Sins of a Solar Empire, too. Yammering, I tell you. Enrollment in the Olde Fartz has increased to the point where we have abandoned Skype voice conferencing in favor of a TeamSpeak server. If you’re interested in joining the fun, drop me a line and I’ll take your application to the admissions committee.

    Con on the Cob

    Con on the CobLast year I managed to attend all four days of Con on the Cob, a local gaming, art and general geek convention. This year, Laura and I only attended on Saturday, but we still had a lot of fun. We both bought new dice (practically a con requirement) and I bought Dominion, an excellent card game from Rio Grande Games. 1Laura and I have played several times since the convention, but the four-player limit means it’s tough to include at Game Night (when we typically have six or seven people). There’s one … Continue reading We watched a bit of the Iron Artist competition, then briefly fled to a nearby restaurant with Chris Miller and Rachel Ross for dinner, then it was back to the con for a couple of games of Dominion. Next year, I think we’re going to shoot for attending on both Friday and Saturday so we can do a little more gaming and maybe record an episode of The Secret Lair on-site.

    Alas, I have no convention photos to share this year, as the battery charger for our Fujifilm Finepix J10 went AWOL right before my sister’s wedding. 2Did I mention that my sister got married? And we drove to Chicago for the wedding? And that Kyle wore suspenders? And that the bride and groom were joined “by the power of the Internet”? … Continue reading A new charger has been purchased and will hopefully be delivered in time for Hallowe’en costume photos.

    NaNoWriMo vs. NaBloPoMo vs. HoNoToGroABeMo

    I have no intention of attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days come November, nor will I make any real effort to post at least one blog entry a day in the same time period. On the other hand, I fully intend to shave off my beard on October 31st and then spend a month failing to grow anything resembling a manly face-mane. That’s right, for the third year running, How Not to Grow A Beard Month will return. Mega-kudos once again to The Cynical Optimist for creating and maintaining the website.

    The Great Superhero Movie Project

    Despite a general dearth of new reviews, I have been watching and rating various superhero movies over the past few months. There are currently 112 movies on the list (with more to be added soon); I’ve seen about 90 of them, rated about 60 and reviewed a paltry 11. Yeah, I have a bit of catching up to do in the review department.

    1 Laura and I have played several times since the convention, but the four-player limit means it’s tough to include at Game Night (when we typically have six or seven people). There’s one expansion to the game (Intrigue) with a second (Seaside) on the way, both adding cards and allowing for additional players, so it might just grace the Game Night table someday soon.
    2 Did I mention that my sister got married? And we drove to Chicago for the wedding? And that Kyle wore suspenders? And that the bride and groom were joined “by the power of the Internet”? No? I should have. Sorry.
  • Con on the Cob 2008: Day 3 – Tomb


    Tomb is a board game in which each player recruits a party of stalwart adventurers from the Troll’s Head Inn and sends them to explore crypts in The Goldenaxe Catacombs. The objective: kill monsters and get loot. I happened upon an impromptu demo run by Todd Rooks on Saturday afternoon on the third day of Con on the Cob.

    The game starts with players populating the crypts of The Goldenaxe Catacombs with a wide variety of Monsters, Traps and Treasure (Crypt cards, which are placed face down in the crypts). There are 16 crypts in the basic game, 1The flip side of the game board is The Tomb of the Overseers, a more advanced game featuring 22 crypts and more advanced rules. each of which can contain a specific number of Crypt cards; crypts close to the Inn can hold only 1 card each, while those in the far corners of The Goldenaxe Catacombs hold 5 cards.

    After the crypts have been populated, players spend one or more turns in the Inn recruiting characters and (optionally) drawing Inn cards. There are four character classes: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. The majority of the 84 characters appear to be single-class, but a number combine one or more classes; such was the case with Ichaerus, a Cleric/Fighter/Wizard I recruited early in the game. Each character has four stats and a special ability. The stats—Attack, Skill, Magic and Holiness—are each defined by a number of Green, Blue and Red dice. Here are the stats for Grim, the Cleric I recruited on my first turn:

      Green Blue Red
    Attack 3 1  
    Holiness   3 1

    When Grim makes an Attack, he rolls 3 Green dice and 1 Blue die; when he makes a Holiness check, it is with 3 Blue dice and 1 red one. All dice in Tomb are 10-sided, and the color of a die indicates its chance to roll a success: 2Each die face is either blank or decorated with an axe; axes indicate success. Green dice have only a 30% success rate, Blue dice have a 50% success rate, and Red dice have a 70% success rate. Grim has a fairly puny Attack, which is the domain of the Fighter class; his Skill (the primary stat of the Rogue class) and Magic (important to the Wizard class) are both nonexistent, and his Holiness (as one might expect from a Cleric) isn’t too shabby.

    Grim also grants each character in the Party an additional Blue die to all of their rolls for each Wound they have. This was an ability that I completely failed to remember during the game, which undoubtedly made things a bit more difficult for Ichaerus, The Iron Duke (a Fighter), Ricart Darpor (a Rogue) and Sir Aleron D’Ilchant (another Fighter). These five characters comprised my party for much of the game, but I managed to stumble on a bit of luck early on and my party was pretty stable. The three gentlemen I was playing with weren’t so fortunate, and as a result the four of us managed to get at least 16 recruited characters killed over the course of about two hours.

    A game of Tomb in progress.


    As long as a player has at least one character in his party (maximum party size is five), he may enter the tomb and begin exploring crypts. When a party enters a crypt, a symbol in the entrance indicates which player becomes the Crypt Master. The Crypt Master picks up all of the cards in the crypt, announces whether there are any Traps to disarm, and controls any Monsters. In the event that the crypt contains only Treasure cards, they are immediately given to the player whose party entered the crypt.

    Each Trap, Monster and Treasure card has an XP (experience point) value, occasionally zero; successfully disarmed Traps and defeated Monsters go into a players Bank, and Treasure looted from crypts can also be banked, though players have the option of equipping their characters with any Treasure they loot. Banked XP is (for the most part) safe; equipped Treasure, on the other hand, is lost (along with its XP) if the character to which it is attached is killed. Equipped Treasure may also be pickpocketed by Rogues from other parties, though the consequences of failing a pickpocket attempt can be severe (up to and including the death of the pickpocketer).

    During his turn, the actions available to a player depend on where his party is currently located. In the Inn, players may recruit additional characters to the party or draw two Inn cards. There are four types of Inn cards: Items, Spells, Prayers and Tactics. To be eligible to draw Spell or Prayer cards, at least one character in the party must have dice in Magic or Holiness, respectively. 3Additionally, a player must discard all of his Spell cards if his last character with dice in Magic dies. Ditto for Prayer cards and Holiness. There is no hand limit, but Inn cards have no XP value, so eventually the party will have to venture out of the Inn. In the Tomb, a party may move, pickpocket, or enter a crypt (normally, a party may not move and enter a crypt in the same turn).

    Battling monsters in the crypt.

    Apart from the standard Inn and Tomb actions, it is also possible to cast Spells or Prayers or use Tactics, provided the card allows it. One card, for example, allowed me to immediately return to the Inn and recruit two new characters; assuming I was in the Tomb, this would normally take three turns: one turn to return to the Inn (which can be accomplished in a single turn, regardless of distance), a second turn to recruit the first character and a third turn to recruit the second character.

    While some Spells, Prayers and Tactics are used in place of a normal turn, others can be used to react to something another player has just done. These cards can be played outside of a player’s turn, but do not otherwise affect the turn order. In one case, after an opponent’s Rogue had failed to pickpocket my Rogue (and, thus, was killed), I used a React to immediately recruit him into my party.

    When the final crypt has been opened and all Crypt cards have been removed from the Tomb, the game is over and the player with the most XP wins.

    Despite a very lucky start, the ability to move around the Tomb more than twice as fast as most of the other players and some sneaky tactics that made it difficult for any party but my own to enter the final crypt, I still managed to fumble and lose the game by 10 points. My downfall was brought about by two things: first, a monster that forced every character in my party to make a Skill, Magic or Holiness check before battle began; a failed roll meant death, and four of my five characters either failed the check or were killed in the ensuing battle. The second component in my defeat was a decision to retrieve two monsters from my XP Bank to fight for me in the final battle. The monsters were worth a total of 13 XP and both were killed in the course of battle. That thirteen point loss more than accounted for my ten point deficit at the end of the game.

    Had my convention budget been larger by about fifty dollars, I would have done what one of the other players at the table did: run immediately to the dealer room and purchase a copy of Tomb. The game was a lot of fun and, despite a minor rules snafu, ran very smoothly. I’d play it again in a heartbeat, and I’m very curious about The Tomb of the Overseers side of the board as well as the campaign play Todd mentioned.

    1 The flip side of the game board is The Tomb of the Overseers, a more advanced game featuring 22 crypts and more advanced rules.
    2 Each die face is either blank or decorated with an axe; axes indicate success.
    3 Additionally, a player must discard all of his Spell cards if his last character with dice in Magic dies. Ditto for Prayer cards and Holiness.
  • Con on the Cob 2008: Day 4 – WEGS


    Con on the CobThe final day of Con on the Cob began with WEGS, The Wickedly Errant Game System. In terms of game philosophy, 1What did I just say? “Game philosophy”? Sweet Gygax, what the hell is wrong with me? this game was about as far removed from the previous night’s Marvel SAGA game as it’s possible to get. Whereas “The Quiet Room” was all about character development and letting the players create the story, “WEGS 101: Old Skool” was…well, old school; all mechanics and very little roleplaying. 2Very very little. As in none.

    Character generation in WEGS takes all of ten minutes: roll your stats, select a race and class, calculate your derived stats and that’s it; you’re done. The character sheet is single-sided and there’s no equipment to buy; if you’re a warrior, you’ve got a melee weapon, if you’re a ranger you’ve got a ranged weapon and so on.

    After my character sheet was filled out, I selected a miniature figure (there was nothing appropriate to my elven ranger, so I selected what appeared to be a large gnoll with a bow). “Okay,” said Larry Wickman, creator of WEGS, “This is the castle, and the monsters will be coming through this door.”

    “What’s my motivation?” I asked.

    Wickman grinned. “This is the castle,” he said, “and the monsters will be coming through this door.”

    WEGS: Storming (out of) the Castle.


    The game started as a single-player demo, but by the time I was ready to place my figure on the map I had been joined by three others: a mage, a warrior and a sage. The first two were played by experienced “Wegshogs”, the last by another newbie.

    From the first round, I found myself harassed by a ranger in the castle’s eastern tower (assuming we were assaulting from the south), and we traded shots back and forth for much of the game until I was able to put him down and turn my bow toward the array of baddies that had poured out of the castle gate.

    WEGS combines a percentile-based challenge system with “spoints” that can be used to boost the odds of success. This adds a distinct game-of-chance (read: gambling) flavor to the game, which Wickman enhanced by moderating with a style that was part old school game master and part Las Vegas craps dealer. As each player’s turn to act came around, Larry rattled off a rapid-fire stream of options, odds and percentages, cajoling players to use their poker chip “spoints” to turn that 63% chance of success to 73%, 83%, 93% or even 103%. 3Technically, even spending points to boost a stat to 103% doesn’t guarantee success, as there’s always a 4% chance for any action to fail, just as there’s always at 3% chance that … Continue reading

    Once we found our groove, the gameplay was quick and brutal. Heroes and monsters exchanged blows (or spells, or arrows) back and forth in rapid succession, but soon we found ourselves up to our eyeballs in teeth and claws. At the beginning of the game (when it looked as though I’d be the only player) Larry had asked me whether I’d like to play Mild, Medium or Nasty. An hour later I discovered that Nasty does, indeed, live up to its name. Heroes are very tough to kill in WEGS, but these monsters were out to demonstrate that “tough to kill” and “impossible to kill” are two very different things. Our elf warrior was on the brink of death, burning Phew! points to stay in the game, 4This stat allows a character who has lost all of his or her wound points to narrowly escape death. Phew! our mage had seen the ugly end of a Hill Giant’s club and had only two wound points remaining between her and a pine box, and our ranger could probably have hired himself out as a professional pincushion. Even our wily little gnobbit sage had taken a few hits. Things looked pretty grim.

    But we were heroes, and we had a few cards up our sleeves. Or at the very least in our hands. WEGS gives each “Arktype” an optional set of skill cards that allow special feats like “Blitz” and “Snap Shot”. Playing these cards could do anything from lower an opponent’s Invulnerability to raising a hero’s Ruggedness, and in the end it was those modifiers that saved our collective bacon, along with some clever spellcasting and a sage who was very generous with his spoints. 5The sage class is similar to the classic cleric archetype. He’s not exactly a healer, but he’s at his best when he’s supporting other characters, whether it be donating from his … Continue reading

    It was a close contest, but in the end the monsters just couldn’t wring that last bit of life from the heroes. The game, which was essentially a single combat encounter, had lasted nearly two hours. That’s two hours of dice-rolling, number-crunching, hack and slash fun. Just the sort of thing to provide a counterpoint to the four and a half hour story game from the night before.

    WEGS isn’t going to win any accolades from the story gaming crowd, but it’s not meant to; it is an unapologetic return to the early days of pen and paper adventures, when the “role” in “role-playing game” was often spelled R-O-L-L.

    1 What did I just say? “Game philosophy”? Sweet Gygax, what the hell is wrong with me?
    2 Very very little. As in none.
    3 Technically, even spending points to boost a stat to 103% doesn’t guarantee success, as there’s always a 4% chance for any action to fail, just as there’s always at 3% chance that an action will succeed, regardless of how impossible the odds may appear; Wickman doesn’t believe in automatic failure or success.
    4 This stat allows a character who has lost all of his or her wound points to narrowly escape death. Phew!
    5 The sage class is similar to the classic cleric archetype. He’s not exactly a healer, but he’s at his best when he’s supporting other characters, whether it be donating from his pool of spoints or providing mystical buffs.
  • Con on the Cob 2008: Day 3 – Marvel SAGA


    Con on the CobThere was a time, roughly eleven years ago, when I lived only a few blocks from Waldenbooks. Every week or so, I’d walk to the bookstore and spend a chunk of my hard-earned salary on…pretty much anything that caught my attention. One thing that definitely caught my attention was a new role-playing system from TSR called SAGA, which eschewed the familiar polyhedral dice in favor of something called a “Fate Deck”. This mechanic purported to give players more direct control over whether their actions would succeed or fail by replacing the element of chance with a hand of cards from which a player could choose a suit and value appropriate to the level of effort they wished to expend in order to succeed.

    To give the new system a little breathing room, TSR set Dragonlance SAGA about 30 years into the future of their existing AD&D campaign setting and called it Fifth Age (though the Age of Mortals, which the source material claims is the Fifth Age, is actually the Sixth Age; it’s all very confusing). I bought the Dragonlance SAGA setting and every supplement I could find, and when TSR released the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game under the SAGA rules, I bought that, too.

    Unfortunately, I’m better at collecting roleplaying game system than I am at actually playing them. I read through all of the source materials and then, like so many other systems I’ve purchased over the years, the Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes SAGA sets were tucked away in a box in the crawlspace.

    SAGA never really caught on with the gaming populace—it seemed that people really liked rolling those dice—and I assumed that the system was a relic of a bygone age. I never dreamed that anyone might actually be using it.

    Enter Kevin Kreiner.

    Marvel SAGA

    Kevin, as it turns out, loves the SAGA system. Just not the way TSR tried to implement it. The Fate Deck mechanic, according to Kevin, doesn’t work well with a fantasy setting. Nor does it work well in the standard Marvel Universe, where gamma-irradiated doctors and high-tech–battlesuit-wearing millionaire playboys and aliens imbued with the Power Cosmic all run (or fly, or jump) around through the same cities. But a superhero universe where all powers have a single point of origin; well that, Kevin says, is a different story altogether.

    Kevin ran his version of a Marvel SAGA game Friday night at Con on the Cob, and—no offense to anyone I’ve gamed with in the past—it was the single coolest roleplaying game experience I have ever had. Ever.

    Here is the description of Kevin’s game from the Con on the Cob guide:

    The Quiet Room
    Marvel SAGA
    Carlysle Institute
    They said you were crazy. They sent you here. But you’re not mad, no, not at all. You KNOW things. You can DO things they cannot explain. You’ve got to get out of here. But THEY have their ways of keeping you. THEY have the Quiet Room.

    Kevin came to the game with three things: a legal pad (which he borrowed from someone right before he sat at the table), a pen and a Marvel SAGA Fate Deck. No notes. No pre-generated characters. No rulebooks. No maps. No miniatures. Just paper, a pen, and a Fate Deck. And from that, with the help of six people around a big square table, Kevin created a fantastic role-playing game.

    After a brief explanation of what each of the four suits in the Fate Deck meant and how cards could be played, Kevin dealt each player six cards and had us assign one or more cards to our Intellect, Strength, Agility and Willpower. The only restrictions were that we couldn’t give any trait a value greater than 10 and that we had to leave at least one card unassigned. After jotting down our selections, Kevin collected the cards, shuffled the deck, dealt three cards to each player, and began the game.

    I don’t know if what happened in the next four and a half hours was a story game in the strictest sense—in my experience there is no game master in most story games—but we sure did tell one hell of a cool story, and for the first time in my roleplaying experience, the game mechanic didn’t interfere with the narrative at all. Once we figured out how to use the cards and realized the potential they contained beyond merely indicating a number and a color, the game really opened up to us. We were playing super-powered characters, but at no time did I have to record the specifics of my powers on a character sheet or worry if the power “worked” in a particular way; it seemed like imagination and game mechanics simply flowed together naturally.

    The story Kevin ran is a journey of discovery; an awakening for (in our case) six heroes. Kevin told us afterward that he has been running this particular scenario for several years and it is different every time. Clearly, Kevin brought something to the table beyond just a pen, a legal pad and a deck of cards; Kevin also brought experience, a quick wit, and a fertile imagination. 

    Listening to Kevin explain how he derived certain elements of the story was like living the last few minutes of The Usual Suspects. I felt like Agent Kujan, looking around and seeing all of the pieces fall into place. Some of it confirmed my suspicions, but much of it hit me out of left field. 

    I’m being purposely vague about the details of our adventure because the last thing I want to do is spoil it for someone who might have an opportunity to run through Kevin’s scenario at a future con. If you’re the type of gamer who likes to know the probability that an attack is going to hit based on the dice you’re rolling, or if you need numbers to define every aspect of your character, this isn’t the game for you. But if you’re not afraid to put the dice down, set the graph paper aside and get involved in a story, then seek out Kevin’s game. You’ll be glad you did.

  • Con on the CobI didn’t plan for Friday to be my shortest day at Con on the Cob, but a bunch of bacteria hit me with a vicious gut punch and my plans changed; instead of staying until the wee hours of Saturday morning, I was on the road home at 6:30pm.

    Unfortunately, leaving early meant missing missing performances by The FuMP artists Positive Attitude, 1I’m linking to MySpace now? I feel dirty. Power Salad 2Confession time: Kraftwerk owes Power Salad a debt of gratitude. The Power Salad song “WarCraftWorld“, a spoof of Kraftwerk’s “Computerworld”, is so well done that it … Continue reading and Worm Quartet. 3Hey, parents! Check out “C is for Lettuce” for some handy child-rearing tips. Fortunately, I was treated to a Dementia Circle hosted by Rob Balder the night before. 4In my head I refer to this as “An Intimate Evening with Rob Balder and Friends”. In attendance: the great Luke Ski, Chris Mezzolesta (at most half of Power Salad), Alchav (at least half of Soggy Potato Chips), several con attendees and a bottle of Coconut Jack.

    Before my untimely departure, I managed to:

    1. Shaintar: Immortal Legends by Sean Patrick FannonPlay in Sean Patrick Fannon’s Shaintar: Immortal Legends game. The session, entitled “A Legend of Your Own”, was created on the fly using the Modular Adventure Creation System (M.A.C.S.), which defines essential elements of the upcoming story through a tarot-like card layout. Dispatched to a small southern mining town to investigate a potentially illegal local governance change, our party found the local populace under the watchful (and stern) eye of a mercenary band. After an intense battle involving a showdown between our ogre and their orc/ogre hybrid and the unexpected arrival and subsequent nullification of a warrior-mage, the party learned that the administrator of the silver mine had been abducted (along with his family) and were being transported to the nearest hive of scum and villainy. Horses and heroics followed, leading to a final showdown that extended the game beyond its alotted four-hour time slot, but ultimately resulted in free and grateful dwarves, a beaten and bruised party of adventurers and a slew of dead bad guys.
    2. Buy more dice. Yes. Because I needed them.
    3. Hear CRAP perform. Perhaps my irony sensor was on the fritz due to a headache and mounting stomach problems, but this did not rank as the highlight of my day.

    1 I’m linking to MySpace now? I feel dirty.
    2 Confession time: Kraftwerk owes Power Salad a debt of gratitude. The Power Salad song “WarCraftWorld“, a spoof of Kraftwerk’s “Computerworld”, is so well done that it gave me an intense craving for some old school electronica and I wound up buying Kraftwerk’s 1981 album, Computer World.
    3 Hey, parents! Check out “C is for Lettuce” for some handy child-rearing tips.
    4 In my head I refer to this as “An Intimate Evening with Rob Balder and Friends”.
  • Con on the Cob 2008: Day 1 (Thursday)


    Con on the CobThis is my first year attending Con on the Cob without a press badge, so naturally a made the rookie mistake of not pre-registering, which would have saved me ten bucks. If there’s a lesson to be learned, leave it to me to learn it the hard way.

    After completing registration and taking a quick tour through the marketplace (many of the vendors were still setting up their booths), I gravitated toward the gaming rooms, where I found a game of Savage Worlds Necropolis, a flight combat game called Blitz Jager, and an introductory Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game titled Flames of Initiation run by none other than Gus, our Game Night™ GM.

    There was a spot open at Gus’ table, but I wanted to attend the Evolution of a Podcast seminar at 7:00, so I opted to merely observe as the four mercenaries set about their tale of danger and…well, mostly danger.

    At 7:00, I wandered over to the seminar, which was presented by Sorg and Lunchbox from the Wrestling Mayhem Show. Despite a rather small audience, the presenters were very enthusiastic and energetic, recounting the tale of how their show evolved from a weekly streaming audio show to a weekly streaming video show and podcast.

    At 8:00 I returned to the gaming rooms to find Gus and his party still adventuring and several other games beginning, including the card game Chez Geek (a Game Night™ favorite), the storytelling game Scheherezade, and what appeared to be a pick-up game of The Savage World of Solomon Kane.

    Unless I wander into a pick-up game tonight, I don’t think I’ll be getting my game on until tomorrow. I’ve signed up for A Legend of Your Own, a Shaintar: Immortal Legends adventure run by Sean Patrick Fannon (who I interviewed about Shaintar at Con on the Cob last year).

  • Con on the Cob 2008: T Minus 1 Day


    Con on the CobLong-suffering readers of this blog 1Why are you still reading this drivel? will undoubtedly recall that November is typically a busy time in these parts. November of 2007 was filled to the brim with novel-writing, blog-posting and beard-growing. To top it all off, there was Con on the Cob, four days of gaming and geeky fun in Akron, Ohio. 2Not to mention interviews with cool people like Larry Elmore, Sean Patrick Fannon and Brannon Hollingsworth.

    Oh, how things change in the space of a eleven months. For starters, I’ve decided to give National Novel Writing Month a pass this year. I’ll still be doing daily blog posts and growing what passes for a beard around here, but I just don’t feel like starting another novel that’s just going to fizzle out somewhere around the middle of the month.

    The other big change is Con on the Cob. Convention organizer Andy Hopp moved the event up a month, just because I asked him to. 3Untrue! He also moved to a larger venue in Hudson, Ohio, which is considerably closer to the International House of Johnson. Thanks to the new schedule, I won’t have to worry about facial hair or compelling protagonists while I’m trying to get my geek on; I’ll be able to focus all of my energies on the con, which starts tomorrow.

    Tomorrow? Yikes! Where’s my dice bag?

    1 Why are you still reading this drivel?
    2 Not to mention interviews with cool people like Larry Elmore, Sean Patrick Fannon and Brannon Hollingsworth.
    3 Untrue!
  • Origins 2008 Wrap-up


    Here’s how it went down: Chris Miller and I hit the road in the MVoD at approximately 6:00 Friday morning, armed with a cooler full of bottled water, some geeky t-shirts and our Zoom H2 digital voice recorder.


    • Arriving at around 9:00, we met Mur Lafferty, Jim Van Verth, the Pink Tornado, Cmaaarrr and SciFi Laura for breakfast at Max & Erma’s, buffet style.
    • Registration. Piece of cake! Pro tip: pre-register; it saves time and money. I decided not to buy any event passes because I wanted to play it by ear. I didn’t even pick up a handy program guide; I was totally footloose and fancy free.
    • The Board Room: Rio Grande Games was giving away two free games with the purchase of a $16 pass to the Board Room. I snagged Crocodile Pool Party and Dragonriders. I wound up selling Dragonriders for $10 to a random guy in the hall about four hours later.
    • While in the Board Room, we played Pandemic with Mur, Jim, Cmar and Laura. I want this game, but it is apparently very scarce at the moment.
    • Lunch at The North Market. I played it safe and went with a known quantity: General Tso’s Chicken. During lunch the phrase “Give in to your sapphic desires!” was uttered, entirely within the context of the conversation.
    • Arkham Horror on Flickr, by codeshamanBack to the Board Room for some Arkham Horror with all the expansions. We were joined by Shannon Farrell and Carlos (whose last name I can never remember). Three and a half hours later, we had to wrap up the game due to time constraints. By the end of the game, Cmar had tapped Granny no less than fifteen times; she was exhausted, but he was not.
    • Eventually we found ourselves gathered for dinner at Buca di Beppo with all of the above plus David Moore, Mario Dongu, Rachel Ross, John and JD. No vicious Internet rumors were started after I finished my linguine. None.
    • Karaoke at The Big Bar on Two in the Hyatt. Paul Tevis nailed Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Rob Balder performed “Always a Goth Chick”, his parody of Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman.” Everyone else sucked. One whiskey sour, one Long Island Iced Tea and two gin and tonics later, it was…
    • Bedtime!


    • Breakfast with David, Shannon, Cmaaarrr and SciFi Laura at Max & Erma’s.
    • Chris had to return home unexpectedly due to an emergency (don’t worry, everyone’s fine).
    • I took a quick trip to Best Buy, where I bought a Fujifilm Finepix J10 digital camera.
    • I met up with Gunnar “Miscellaneous G™” Hultgren and Jon “Man Mountain” Pollom for lunch at The North Market. How many days in a row can I eat General Tso’s Chicken for lunch? The world may never know.
    • Wonder WomanArmed with my new camera, I roamed the halls of the convention center looking for photo-ops. I managed to get a picture of Wonder Woman, but that was about it. I also visited the dealer’s room and carefully avoided the Chessex Bin o’ Hepatitis (more commonly referred to as the big dice bin; I was tempted to pick up some cheap dice, but the idea of rooting around in there just wasn’t very appealing).
    • FeedbackLater in the afternoon, I attended the Heroes and Villains costume contest, sponsored by the Ohio Gamers Association. There weren’t hundreds (or even hundred, singular) of contestants, but there were some very good costumes. Matthew “Feedback” Atherton, winner of season one of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? was the master of ceremonies and he did a very good job and hung around to chat with people afterward. He even did a promo for the upcoming release of Mur’s superhero novel, Playing For Keeps (available on, August 25th). The guy is just too damn likable.
    • Mur “dragged” us to a barbecue where we played Mad Scientist University. The card game was ridiculously fun, owing to some excellent players with truly wild imaginations. I knew we were in for a treat early on when Ralph Melton equipped dwarfs with decoder rings, shrunk them down Inner Space-style and injected them into a human being to decode RNA. We created a bizarre continuity involving vampires, penguins, the Moore sphere, and a fifty-page index written by mosquitos. Much of the game was recorded by David Moore and may eventually be released to the public, but only after heavy censoring by the Department of Homeland Security.
    • Tannhäuser in ProgressDavid had to run off to play the role of an NPC in an ARG and it was Mur’s evening with The Pink Tornado, so Jim, Cmar, Laura and I went to the Board Room and broke out Tannhäuser, which is essentially a first-person shooter board game. I had played once before but opted not to participate, instead providing occasional helpful (I hope) tips with the rules based on my prior experience. I started zonking out around midnight, so it was soon…
    • Bedtime!


    • At 10:00, we met for breakfast with the gang and Max & Erma’s. How many days in a row can I eat the same buffet for breakfast? Three.
    • After breakfast, David, Mario and I returned to Room 929 to record The Secret Lair Origins Report. Assuming I didn’t completely fail my Use Zoom H2 Digital Recorder roll, we should have that posted in the next couple of days.
    • At noon, I dashed to the dealer’s room to buy AmuseAmaze, a word game that I thought Laura might enjoy. By some stroke of luck, I found the rest of our merry gang playing some sort of card game and managed to say my goodbyes before dashing back to the Crown Plaza to…
    • Pile my luggage and loot onto a cart, load up the MVoD and hit the highway.

    And that pretty much wrapped it up for Origins 2008. With Mr. Miller soon moving to the Los Angeles area, I don’t know whether I’ll be inclined to attend Origins 2009, but I do know that my next convention is Con on the Cob in early October.

  • Origins 2008: The Visual Record


    A few days ago, while still at Origins in Columbus, I suggested that photographic evidence of my presence there (not to mention some of the bizarre and shocking things I had witnessed) would be forthcoming.

    I am not a liar.

    Fujifilm Finepix J10
    All of the photographs you will see were taken with my new Fujifilm Finepix J10, a camera I purchased at Best Buy on Saturday morning and then forgot I had in my pocket for much of the remainder of the day. My absentmindedness is the reason you do not see even more photographs to shock and amaze, for the opportunities to capture the following events were missed entirely:

    • A raging mob of Pokémon, led by a twelve-foot-tall Pikachu, turned the tables on a group of young children, chasing the terrified youngsters (all aged between four and nine years, by my approximation) through the convention center, muffled shouts of “Gotta catch ’em all!” echoing through the hall as bystanders watched in stunned silence.
    • During a corset fitting, a buxom young woman’s cleavage collapsed in on itself, creating a localized singularity that consumed every scrap of leather and link of chainmail in a five-meter radius before evaporating. Thirty-two seconds after the incident, the Troll & Toad booth quietly expanded to fill the empty space.
    • A group of investigators actually won a game of Arkham Horror. After the initial celebration, all six participants spent the remainder of the convention attempting to replay every move made throughout the game to ensure that they had not somehow broken one or more rules in the course of play. A representative from Fantasy Flight Games was quoted as saying, “No way. No [bleep]ing way.” He then indicated that an upcoming expansion, entitled The One That Makes Winning Impossible, would correct the rules loophole that allowed the victory. Pre-order sales for the expansion have already broken records.
    • SuperDeluxe Settlers of CatanDuring a game of Settlers of Catan, a player expressed a genuine desire to receive wood in exchange for sheep. He was understandably surprised when all four other players began to pelt him with wooden tokens and other small objects.

    I am far from the only photographer to provide a visual record of the convention, and the curious may find additional evidence of strange goings-on elsewhere on the Intertubes, provided they know where to look.

  • Origins 2008: Rumors, Baseless and Otherwise


    You may have heard rumors that I am presently attending the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. I can now confirm that this is (as of this writing), absolutely true.

    You may also have heard rumors concerning the absence of one Mr. Ken Newquist and whether or not Mur Lafferty was somehow responsible. Though I cannot say with absolute certainty that this has no basis in fact, I have reason to believe that it is patently untrue.

    Finally, there is another dubious assertion that Cmar, M.D. goes around wearing a prosthetic noggin so as to appear taller than four feet and two inches, and that he uses a complex periscopic device to look down upon those around him through eerie, ever-staring artificial eyes. Is this true? I don’t know, but having spent considerable time with the man yesterday I have come to the conclusion that it could go either way.

    Radio IsopodIf you were under the impression that the rumor of the doctor’s false head was the last of the bunch, then I’m afraid you were deceived. It is unwise to believe everything you read on these Internets, even on this very blog. Here is the true final rumor of the moment, one I can happily assure you is one hundred per cent accurate and true: Natalie Metzger, known in some circles as The Fuzzy Slug and in other circles largely overlapping the first as minitotoro, has released the first episode of her fantastical new podcast, Radio Isopod. You would do well to listen to it; you might even recognize a voice or two.

    While you do that, I shall remain at Origins, attempting to substantiate or disprove the scurrilous scuttlebutt as I become aware of it. At some point, I expect there will be photographs.