Con on the Cob

  • 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 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.

  • NaNoWriMo 2007: Day 11 – Where are all the words?


    How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 11
    Hey, wasn’t I writing a novel or something? What happened to that, anyway?

    Yeah, I took a few days off to attend Con on the Cob 2007 in lovely Akron, Ohio. I had a lot of fun, got to do some gaming, purchased some dice (nerd!) and a piece of artwork and pre-ordered a fantasy novel. I also interviewed some very interesting people, including legendary fantasy illustrator Larry Elmore.

    But I didn’t write. Well, not my novel. I wrote about 1,800 words about a game of The Savage World of Solomon Kane one day and blogged at length about the convention, but unfortunately not a word of it counts toward the 50,000 I need to have written in just over two weeks.

    This should be interesting.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 3 – Interviews


    Con on the CobThough I was presented with numerous opportunities to get my game on again today, I abstained. Today was all about earning my press badge, so I wandered around the convention with a digital recorder and badgered people until they agreed to talk to me. Alas, due to a compatibility issue between operating system and digital recorder, I am unable to retrieve the interviews, or I’d spend a little pre-party time editing and uploading them. For now, I will provide a teaser list:

    • Brannon Hollingsworth of The Wandering Men. Brannon is one of five authors who collaborated on the upcoming, novel Skein of Shadows, and tie-in RPG setting, Crown: City of the Fallen.
    • Matt Duhan of Gozer Games. Matt designed Collateral Damage: The Anime Board Game.
    • Larry Elmore, legendary fantasy illustrator. Larry’s paintings have appeared on numerous roleplaying game source books and novels, and he helped define the look of Dragonlance. Recently, Larry did the cover for the final issue of Dragon magazine.
    • Sean Patrick Fannon of Talisman Studios. Shaintar is Sean’s forthcoming fantasy setting for the Savage Worlds system.
    • Steve Kenson of Green Ronin. Steve was the lead designer for Mutants & Masterminds: 2nd Edition and is currently working on the Wild Cards setting book, due to be released in August of 2008.
    • Evil Mike of Pinnacle Entertainment Group sat down for a few minutes to talk about The Savage World of Solomon Kane, the new licensed Savage Worlds game based on the works of Robert E. Howard.

    Maybe, just maybe, I’ll score another interview or two before I leave tonight.

    Once the interviews have been retrieved from the digital recorder and edited (to add intro and outro material as appropriate), they’ll be up on the Con*Live blog/feed and where ever else I can put them.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 2 – Solomon Kane


    The Savage World of Solomon KaneThe Savage World of Solomon Kane
    Game Master: Evil Mike
    Scenario: Schläfrige Höhle”Schläfrige Höhle” (which translates roughly to “sleepy cave”) was the title given on the sign-up sheet for the game, though I suspect that Evil Mike changed the actual adventure at the last minute.

    If you (like me) aren’t a Robert E. Howard fanI have nothing at all against Robert E. Howard; I’ve just never read any of his novels., you may not be familiar with Solomon Kane. Fear not! Wikipedia has a very informative entry about the character. In a nutshell, he’s a gun-slinging, sword-wielding Puritan bent on vanquishing evil in 16th century Europe and Africa. Sounds like he’d be fun at a party, right?

    Solomon Kane mixes muzzle-loaders and swords with witches, warlocks and the horrors of the undead. In The Savage World of Solomon Kane, player characters follow what is called “the Path of Kane”; in our particular adventure, we had all at one point met Solomon Kane and were being guided by Kane’s shaman friend, N’Longa. Our party consisted of:

    • Erlich Goettler (played by me), a German woodsman who wields a two-handed great ax.
    • Montigue Bonet, a former thief. The Frenchman wields a short sword and an intense curiosity.
    • Richard Pettijohn (played by Gus), an English bowman.
    • Enigo de la Vega, a rapier-wielding Spaniard.
    • Joseph Smith, an English hunter armed with a mighty blunderbuss.
    • Sven Jammerhagen, the mighty Norwegian whose two-handed sword deals death with every blow.

    After an adventure in Germany’s Black ForestWas there cake? No. I do not believe there was cake., the heroes travel to the English farming village of Chelsea. Enigo has his rapier sharpened by the town blacksmithI swear that is not a euphemism. while Sven and Erlich quench their thirst at the local tavern. Meanwhile, Montigue and Joseph seek forgiveness of their recent sins at the local church. The priest and the blacksmith reveal that several of the townsfolk have disappeared in recent months, apparently vanished without a trace while working in the fields outside the walls of the town. Enigo and Richard visit the sheriff, an elderly man clearly unsuited to deal with these mysterious disappearances. The sheriff asks Enigo and Richard for their aid, and they agree, recruiting the remaining party members to the cause.

    Though it is already dusk and they learn that all of the apparent abductions have occurred after sunset, the party decides to investigate the cornfields, enlisting the aid of the sheriff’s honorary deputy, though he is only willing to assist them after assurances that he will be protected and no small amount of intimidation.

    As they travel to the fields, the deputy relates the legend of Jack Harrison, a warlock who was supposedly burned alive in those very fields by French marauders who sought to destroy Chelsea’s mint. The deputy’s tale is scarcely finished when the party stumbles upon three mutilated corpses, who the skittish deputy identifies as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their young son.Hmm. That’s a little unsettling.

    The sharp-eyed Montigue spots something unusual on one of the bodies: fresh pumpkin seeds, still wet and covered with pulp. Eying the nearby scarecrows, Sven marches into one of the fields with Montigue following close behind. As Sven nears the scarecrow (whose head is not, as the Norwegian suspected, a pumpkin, but a burlap-covered bundle of straw), the horrible hodmedod comes to life, pulling a scythe from behind its back!

    Montigue steps around Sven and delivers a quick blow with his sword, rendering the scarecrow to little more than tattered burlap and scattered straw. Enigo runs to assist and the very ground seems to come alive, a hulking creature with a glowing pumpkin head rising from the soil to strike at the Spaniard. As quickly as the creature appeared, it is gone again, melting into the cornfield without a trace.

    “Pumpkin Jack!” the deputy cries, seeing the enormous being with its glowing head. The nervous little man faints dead away and his lantern goes dark. Richard Pettijohn readies his bow and sends an arrow through the air toward another scarecrow, while two more of the animated creatures—these, like Pumpkin Jack, with orange gourds atop their shoulders— advance on Joseph and Erlich. The creatures are quickly dispatched, but Smith is unable to accept that they were animated by supernatural means; surely, the hunter says, the scarecrows were carried by bandits who fled into the darkness when the straw men were destroyed by arrow, sword and blunderbuss.Smith has the Doubting Thomas Hindrance, which was played quite nicely by his player.

    Once assured that the immediate threat has been vanquished, Goettler and Jammerhagen examine the tattered remains and discover strange gold coins, which Bonet identifies as having been minted at precisely the time when Jack Harrison was said to be burned alive in the fields. The deputy notes that the mint is nearby, through the woods at the edge of the field, but Pettijohn insists that the body of the young boy be returned to the village before the party continues to the mint. The deputy volunteers to carry the body back to the village, allowing the party to carry on toward the mint, and perhaps the warlock.

    In the dark forest, the adventurers hear strange noises that they are unable to identify. Without warning, eight massive spiders descend from the trees and, after alighting on the forest floor, ensnare several members of the party with their webs. Soon, swords are swinging once more, some with the purpose of cutting away the sticky webbing, others with the intent of destroying the attacking arachnids.

    In the heat of battle, Joseph Smith’s mighty blunderbuss misfires, sending a shot directly at Enigo de la Vega. Acting with near-preternatural speed, Sven Jamerhagen throws himself into the path of the blast, taking a near-fatal shot that would surely have killed the smaller man.During this game, we made use of the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck. Each player began the game with a card that could alter the course of events at some point of his choosing. In this particular instance, I was holding the “Noble Sacrifice” card, which would allow me to take all of the damage dealt to one member of the party standing adjacent to me. Unfortunately, Erlich and Enigo were not adjacent to one another. Fortunately for Enigo, players are allowed to trade cards with one another and the hardy Norwegian was standing next to him. Sven’s player and I switched cards and Enigo was spared from death, much to the dismay of Big Mike.

    Erlich’s massive ax swings again and again, first freeing the woodsman from the sticky silken strands, then smashing two of the spiders. Steel blades flash in the light of the waning moon and soon the eight-legged horrors are all dead.

    In the aftermath of the battle, Erlich heals two of his companions’ minor wounds, but is unable to repair any of the damage done to Sven Jammerhagen by the mis-fired blunderbuss. Despite his wounds, the Norwegian presses on, unwilling to rest until the malevolent spirit that terrorizes the villagers has been defeated.

    When the adventurers arrive at the abandoned mint, they are met by none other than Pumpkin Jack himself. The pumpkin-headed warlock mocks the men, unwittingly revealing a weakness that the sheriff’s deputy had either forgotten in his retelling of the tale or simply did not know: magic weapons that the warlock himself forged.This was an exceptional bit of cooperation by Joseph and Montigue’s players, who played a combination of adventure cards that resulted in the villain running off at the mouth and revealing his weakness. Each player can play only one adventure card per game, so the timing on this was perfect. Montigue slipps into the mint, hoping to find one of the weapons hidden within, while Erlich, Joseph, Sven and Richard prepare to do battle with Pumpkin Jack.

    Enigo, who did not approach the mint with the others, wheels around when he hears a noise behind him. A monstrous spider, easily ten times larger than those the men fought in the forest, is bearing down on him! The swordsman turns tail and runs, shouting a warning to his companions as he leads the giant arachnid directly toward them.

    Sven Jammerhagen, faced with horrors beyond his ability to comprehend, flees Pumpkin Jack’s glowing visage and finds himself instead locked in combat with the massive spider. Though he is severely wounded, the Norwegian still wields his sword skillfully, cutting the beast down even as two more trundle out of the woods.

    Meanwhile, Montigue has located precisely what he sought: a finely forged French rapier hidden in the mint. Drawing the blade, the former thief races back into the fray and finds his hopes realized as the enchanted sword deals incredible damage to Pumpkin Jack, where Enigo’s efforts with his own rapier had proven ineffective only seconds earlier. Weakened by the eldritch energies coursing through the French sword, Pumpkin Jack is destroyed by a blast from Joseph’s blunderbuss. Its master slain, the remaining spider attempts to flee back to the safety of the woods, but is cut down by Sven’s mighty sword.

    Evil vanquished, townspeople safe once more, the six adventurers once again resume their journey on the Path of Kane, not knowing where N’Longa will send them next, nor what horrors they’ll face once there.

    If it’s not immediately obvious, this game was a blast to play. Evil Mike was a great Game Master; he kept things fast and fun, rewarding players when they did something particularly clever and punishing them when they were playing Enigo.Evil Mike and Allen (Enigo’s player) were well acquainted, and Evil Mike apparently had a history of killing Allen’s characters. Under some circumstances, targeting one player for death might seem…well, dickish, but I think everyone at the table would agree that it was done in such a way that it kept the game fun and didn’t take away from anyone else’s (or even Allen’s) enjoyment of the game. Having witnessed the Savage Worlds combat system in action earlier in the day, it was great to get the opportunity to dive in and give it a go myself.