Some readers may recall that I attended my first game convention, a late bloomer at 47 years old, by making the trek to Historicon 2017. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I left the weekend with a heady enthusiasm for this hobby I'd only recently discovered.
This year's Historicon marked another first for me: Crafting and running my own convention game.
Back in December I recruited some friends and new acquaintances I had connected with in the D.C. metro area to establish a monthly game group, the Second Saturday Scrum Club. Every month we meet in my dining room and somebody sets up a miniatures game for us to play. In late spring we gathered to try a new set of intriguing rules by Ganesha Games' Andrea Sfiligoi, Sellswords & Spellslingers. They were a hit with the group, and the next day Steve Braun offhandedly mentioned how perfect they would be for running a scenario based around Robert E. Howard's classic Conan yarn, "Beyond the Black River."
I asked Steve if he wanted to collaborate on the idea and run it at the upcoming Historicon? He was game, and so we were off.
Beyond the Black River with Conan and Co.After I had nailed down the basics of the scenario, created several custom card decks, and crafted at least the preliminary terrain pieces, I ran a playtest at June's Scrum Club gathering (recap with in-game photos and crafting tutorials). Running the scenarios was immensely helpful, and I incorporated some key revisions to help get the game off to a faster start. Still, there was much work to be done in the month before Historicon rolled around in mid-July.
|My wife Ellen and I drove down to the Outer Banks, N.C. for a week of much need relaxation and rejuvenation.|
|I even spent part of an afternoon re-learning, after 35 years, how to play Tunnels and Trolls.|
|One of the settlers' cabins for scenario two of my planned game, shown here with the roof partially painted but the frame still untouched. These parts were 3D printed at home the week before vacation.|
|Painting complete on the two cabins (and partially complete on one of the settler figure). Duck Donuts provided good fuel that morning to power through some painting.|
|Painting in progress on two Pictish village huts (still needed to add a wash with Army Painter "Strong Tone" and then finish off with some dry brushing).|
|I'd managed to paint two of the three Pict village huts before leaving for the Outer Banks, as shown here. These, too, were printed with PLA on my home 3D printer.|
|The final Pict hut painted while at the Outer Banks with two captives (painting in progress) for scenario one of my game.|
|I'm not really a miniatures painter, and these are a couple of the first I've tried in about 35 years. I did my best while at the Outer Banks, because I really needed to have some settlers who could be rescued for scenario two in the game.|
|"What did you do on vacation?"|
"I painted a pile of severed heads."
I tried to incorporate touches like this from the original story as often as I could.
|This is a bit of Fort Tuscelan, which features in scenario two.|
|Again, 3D printed with PLA and painted up by me in the past couple of weeks.|
|Some of the major foes from the story that make an appearance in the game. All but Zogar-Sag (second from right) were contributed and painted by the incomparable Steve Braun.|
Before leaving for the Outer Banks, I had managed to complete a couple of other key parts of the project. I discussed in length the process of creating the river sections in my last blog (recap), but here's a nice shot of three sections all together, which would span the 3' length of the play area. I like how these came out, and I especially like how cheap and quick they are to create.
Welcome to My JungleIn the previously mentioned playtest I had only managed to get the mounds cut and painted but ran out of time to flock them as jungle terrain (again, more details in earlier post).
It was crucial, however, to finish these bits of scatter terrain in time for Historicon, or live with the shame of a half-assed table set-up.
|Sitting at the dining room table, prepared for an afternoon of jungle madness.|
|I ended up with a nice tray of jungle terrain that was actually more than I could comfortably fit on the 3'x'3' play area.|
|Gigi couldn't resist rolling around in the plastic foliage much of the afternoon, occasionally prying some loose and dashing off out of arm's reach to bat it around.|
I had accumulated a lot of material over the past year in anticipation of making jungle terrain: old spices, mulch for flooring lizard terrariums, several kinds of Woodland Scenic bushes, about eight different varieties of plastic foliage bought from Michael's on sale, plastic bamboo, and a few different palm trees ordered cheap on eBay or Amazon.com.
I had actually been accumulating all of this material to make terrain for games of Congo and Pulp Alley--two rule sets I've long wanted to try. Committing myself to running this Conan game at Historicon forced me to finally pull these pieces together.
Cards, Tokens, and Other Playing Aids
|I felt it important to get all of the rules down for players on one small sheet of paper. I used the back side for a map to help orient them in the drama that would unfold in the two linked scenarios.|
|In order to speed up the activation process, I assigned each PC a number and then drew cards from this deck.|
|Sample "Scenario," "Item," and "Event" cards with accompanying tokens or miniatures.|
|Slasher and Pict canoe patrol painted while at the Outer Banks.|
|Some carrying cases picked up on Amazon to keep it all organized.|
|Something I did that I believe helped me keep the game on track was create this single-sided sheet of game master notes.|
|Everything fit comfortably in two bins (and a poster tube not shown in which I stored the grass mat and magnetized border guides I created).|
|Players took turns picking characters, first the swordsmen (left row), and then the bowmen (right row)|
|Subotai attempts to escort a young merchant to safety who he stumbled across lost in the woods, while Slasher the Hound sniffs up ahead for danger. A pile of severed heads in the foreground had recently given a number of characters a good scare.|
|Oh no! A rampaging drake unexpectedly rips through the jungle, knocking unconscious one of the group's warriors. Slasher tries to keep the lizard at bay while Subotai and his mates feather it with arrows.|
|I painted that giant drake around 1982 when I was 12. Never thought he'd see action again all of these years later.|
|Fighting a jungle cat!|
|The Picts whoop, chant, and dance around the village as Zogar-Sag summons dark beasts from the jungle to consume the human sacrifices tied to the pillars.|
|The saber-tooth tiger, in Zogar-Sag's thrall, pads closer and closer to the captive sacrifices.|
|Not far behind, the legendary "ghost" snake slithers toward the village gate to feast on the human flesh promised by Zogar-Sag.|
|One captive is swallowed whole before Conan and company can prevent the grisly death.|
|Picts sneak around the foliage to attack the Aquilonian woodsmen from Ft. Tuscelan.|
|Shortly after one of the two captives perishes, Conan and his crew manage to take Zogar-Sag down with a few well-placed arrows, breaking the enchantment and sending the giant snake roaming the jungle for any meal it can find, man or beast!|
|Subotai in a pointblank range standoff with some Pictish archers.|
|The giant snake attacks some of the woodsmen raiders, but before long it'll be tangled in combat with the demon coming to investigate all of the noise.|
|Conan goes down!|
|A nice shot of four of the five players in this game (Jared is on the far right). I subsequently have learned that the gent in the black t-shirt, Joseph Bloch, runs an excellent blog, Greyhawk Grognard, and has published some cool OSR rules and supplements.|
As I suspected might happen, the first scenario took about three hours, which was longer than I had hoped. I was banking on the revisions I incorporated from the playtest shaving the playtime down to two-and-a-half hours, but it didn't work out that way. Since there wouldn't be adequate time, we decided to wrap up the game after concluding scenario one rather than embarking on scenario two, which would have entailed Conan and company fleeing from a soon-to-be overrun Ft. Tuscelan so as to help some nearby settlers get across Thunder River to safety.
While it was disappointing to skip scenario two and not put my river terrain, Ft. Tuscelan, and the settlers' cabins on the table, I was glad that the first game played well and without any real hiccups. Players volunteered unprompted that it didn't drag or feel poorly paced, claimed they had a good time, and lingered around to chat with me and each other for a good stretch after the game. I was glad for this, because every single one of them was great to game with, something I was especially grateful for as a first-time convention game master (and, frankly, a neophyte to miniatures gaming in general). I think the next time I run this at a convention, I'll likely try to sign up for and divide the scenarios across two separate sessions (maybe recruiting Steve Braun to run one).
On a parting note, I recommend folks always create some signage for the table so that passersby have some idea of what game is being played. Below is the front and back of a sign I had sitting on my table that I noticed caught several folks' eye and prompted them to linger and watch a bit. It also allowed me to put the name of our new club out there at Historicon.
|Table signage...can't tell you how many tables I walk past at conventions like Historicon and have no idea what is being played. Mine had just enough information to pique folks' curiosity.|
Scrum Club's Mega Space HulkThe next night was good friend and fellow Scrum Clubber Jared Smith's turn to run a game, an expansive set-up of Space Hulk that can accommodate up to nine players and requires three full box sets to pull off. Jared kept building cool new board sections and scatter terrain since last February's first playtest (recap). He had also run it a couple of times the month before at Origins in Columbus, Ohio, so by the time it hit the table at Historicon, Jared had the game finely tuned for maximum fun. The only bummer for me was the flooded room tile Jared and I crafted a few weeks ago still didn't get drawn and placed in the game (you can read about the special room mechanics we devised in the playtest recap). Oh, well...maybe when Jared runs it at GenCon!
As an extra treat, Thomas Coffren of the Pour Morale Gaming group, who I had played in a Conan game with at Historicon 2017 and who had played in my Conan game the night before, showed up to play in Jared's Space Hulk game, too. He's the exact kind of player you want in your game: smart, boisterous, collegial. Going forward, I hope to play in many future games with this new gaming buddy!
|Jared welcomes you to his game of Space Hulk...and your doom!|
|My new favorite gaming pal, Thomas, in the Cheers shirt.|
SOCOM and Sorcery
I've been wanting to play one of Miles Reidy's games since seeing the massive tables he sets up at these conventions. Fellow Scrub Clubber John Sears had mentioned to me over a year ago that whenever he attends the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society conventions, he always tries to sign up for one of Miles' games, and now I know why: They're great fun! Miles doesn't win all of those awards at Historicon for nothing. You can see him working all year long on various projects, including this one, at his blog, Lair of the Uber Geek.
I was excited to see the two games Miles ran at last year's Historicon would be reprised this year: "DAK and Dragons" and "SOCOM and Sorcery." The former is set during WWII (DAK being the acronym for the Deutsches Afrikakorps expeditionary forces), and the latter is essentially the same scenario in a modern setting (SOCOM being the abbreviation for U.S. Special Operations Command).
Here's the program description for "SOCOM and Sorcery":
Recent aerial reconnaissance has discovered ominous Egyptian ruins near the head of the Nile River. It must be something big as multiple teams of crack troops are being dispatched to find out exactly what is going on. "SOCOM and Sorcery" is THE definitive historical simulation of modern squad level tactics vs. the Dark Gods of Egypt. Perhaps you can answer the age-old question--can a TOW missile take out a Dragon? "SOCOM and Sorcery" 2.0 is an improved version of last year's very popular game and uses simple homebrew rules.
|I played on the NATO side; here are my units arrayed before me at the beginning of the game, eager to march into battle.|
|A decent shot of the length of the table. At the very far end you can see the catacombs arrayed for exploration. The jungle in the middle of the board contains several entrances to access them.|
|The dangerous jungle mid-section of the board that the allies and axis of evil are all pushing toward in order to keep the scientist from falling into the hands of the other side.|
|Here the scientist has fled into the jungle and sits perched atop an ancient temple. When we get closer, he'll flee into the catacombs beneath the temple, prompting both sides to give chase.|
|A giant armored rhino and some centaurs charged us in the desert as we pushed toward the distant jungle.|
|The jungle was host to all sorts of pre-historic menace.|
|Including a T-Rex who chomped a few Axis villains.|
|Jared took this pic of me having a blast!|
|My soldiers racing through the catacombs toward the inner chamber where the scientist was now being held captive by the great Mummy King. We needed to rescue him before the Axis of Evil troops snagged him.|
|Here's a shot of Scrum Clubber John Sears and his son in an earlier session of this game played with Jared.|
How did it all end? My unit managed to push its way to the catacombs' inner chamber, where we snatched the scientist. Meanwhile, some of my compatriots repelled down ropes into the chamber from the jungle above, ultimately offering us enough cover to rush this valuable asset to safety. Huzzah!
My only disappointment: Having to run off to help Jared set up his Space Hulk game instead of getting to have dinner with Miles. Bummed to have missed the chance, Miles!
Zorro and the Dastardly PlotThe only other game I actually got to play at Historicon was on Sunday morning. I've learned to stick around for Sunday mornings, despite most folks having left the convention, because that is when the HAWKs (Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielers) schedule their most enjoyable games (for me, at least).
This year I got to play in Duncan Adams' Zorro game. When every other game master at the convention is trying to create battlefields that cover vast expanses requiring multiple tables, Duncan has created a fully absorbing romp of a game that fits entirely in the confines of a craft box. The play area is a beautifully crafted tavern in miniature (1/56th scale) with a couple of floors for the action. When the game is completed, it all folds up and shifts around to fit neatly in a closed box (which I wish I had taken a picture of). Seven of us (!) managed to huddle around this box and engage in sword fights and subterfuge, the perfect way to end the convention. Each player had three figures and a secret mission to try to accomplish in the game, which used Buck Surdu's fun Blood and Swash rules!
From the Historicon program:
On the distant fringe of the Spanish Empire the pueblo of Los Angeles has become a hotbed of intrigue. El Zorro--treasonous outlaw or peoples' hero, depending one your perspective--knows that something evil is afoot. Can he uncover the plot in time to defeat the evildoers?
|My three figures' stats and their secret mission.|
|Jared played the tavern staff. The right side of the sheet lists the attack tables we all used in the game.|
Aliens with the HAWKs
Earlier in the weekend, one of the HAWKs members staged an Aliens game using action figures instead of minis. Looked fun!
Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago
To my mind, Jeffrey Hiley's tables are showstoppers: beautifully crafted evocations of a setting that span multiple tables accommodating at least 10 players. His Frostgrave table from last year's Historicon still haunts my memories of that weekend, and I occasionally daydream in idle moments of what it might look like in my dining room.
His latest table crafted for Ghost Archipelago deserves no less rhapsodic praise. I again will long regret not getting the chance to play on it, but getting to spend a few minutes watching others have adventurers in miniature was a treat in and of itself.
For work-in-progress reports on the making of this great battlefield, I encourage you to go check out his blog, Xin's Lair. One of the inspiring things about seeing his methods is that all of this is accomplished with material and techniques anybody can acquire and learn; Jeffrey just practices them at a level of experience that is remarkable. He definitely gives me something to aspire to.
|Jeffrey at the table's head.|
|Note the dragon head's glowing mouth and eyes!|
Siege of Fort St. Elmo
I know nothing about this game except that it was beautiful to look at while folks played.
This Is Not a TestI didn't have an itch to play a post-apocalyptic skirmish game until I saw this amazing set up. What beautifully evocative terrain. Scrum Clubber Walt O'Hara got to play in this game, and I'm looking forward to hearing what he thought.
|That's Scrum Clubber Walt sitting at the table's far corner.|
NecromundaI know nothing about Games Workshop's Necormunda, but I do know an amazing looking set-up when I see one. Jared got into one of the several sessions of this being held over the weekend.
All sorts of games, and games for all sorts
World War II aerial dogfights
A massive multi-player game
|I wish I knew anything about this game other than it accommodated something like 20 or more players and used a cool castle by Miniatures Building Authority.|
Bolt Action in Stalingrad
|This picture only captures a part of a really large, beautiful board.|
Skirmish SanginThis appears to be a modern skirmish game (which sadly I know nothing about). The fella who ran it at the table next to Jared's Space Hulk game was affable despite the sweltering conditions in this room that lacked air conditioning, and I enjoyed chatting with him while he set his table up.
Loot!I'll say that I was a bit disappointed in what I came across in the the flea market (Wally's Basement) and the vendor's hall this year, finding fewer unique or "must have" items or real bargains. What I did snag, though, was pretty cool.
|I bought a half sunken ship at last year's convention, so when I found a bargain on some tentacles I can paint to go with it, I had to scoop them up.|
|Some nice terrain pieces, one ready for the table and the other needing some paint and flock.|
Stuff I didn't buy...
|Perhaps a bit too on the nose? A shelf from one of the vendors selling DVDs. I don't remember stumbling upon this category at my local Blockbuster.|
|Perhaps the scariest (most ridiculous?) looking RPG I've ever set eyes upon. This cover is sure to induce weeks of nightmares. I almost bought it just to light it aflame and then bury it in a deep, deep hole.|
In the past year I've gone from never having attended a gaming convention in my life to having attended six (Historicon 2017 and 2018, Fall In, Trident, Barrage, and Origins). I'm not sure how Ellen is putting up with it, but as ever, she's the most amazingly supportive wife a guy could ask for.
This year's Historicon was great fun, and it was satisfying to have run my first convention game. I'll feel much less trepidation about it going forward.
I really only had one frustration with this year's Historicon, and that was the venue, the infamous Host "Resort." It was so run down and in such disarray that I found myself compelled to apologize to my friend Jared for dragging him to the place, especially after the amazing experience we had had at Origins just a month before. The room in which Jared had to run his Space Hulk game on Saturday evening had no air conditioning and was at least 20 degrees warmer than the next room over. Sweat poured off of him and his players. That's not the experience HMGS should subject a first-time attendee and game master to. And not only did the place feel and look a mess, but the onsite food was horrendous, causing us to spend precious convention time going off-site for meals. I don't think I will bring any more friends to an HMGS convention until the Host is completely abandoned, which I understand is slated to happen next summer when Historicon will be held at the Marriott. If HMGS is truly interested in growing its membership, finding a more inviting space is essential. I'm glad I haven't ever tried to talk my wife into accompanying me to one of these shows at the Host.
Helping to offset the terrible environs in which we had to game this weekend was the really helpful HMGS volunteer staff, who were unfailingly cheerful and ready to assist in any way requested. The automated check-in process, in particular, was dreamy and a significant leap forward, rivaling even that of much larger cons like Origins. It's good to see the convention making significant progress in the areas in which it has more hands-on control.
We ended up having our best meal of the weekend on our way out of town, swinging into the nearby Amish countryside for brunch at a joint called Gracie's. We had an amazing meal there that started with home-made soft pretzels and a house-cured "Deluxe Bacon Sampler." I'll definitely be making stops at Gracie's an HMGS tradition for as long as the cons are held in the Lancaster area.
|My weary look of gratitude that we were having a civilized meal to cap off a fun weekend.|
Scripts, Post and otherwiseBelow are a couple of related posts by other bloggers about these games:
- Game designer Joseph Bloch was a player in the Conan game I ran. You can read his recap of the game and about his first trip to Historicon on his Greyhawk Grognard blog.
- Walt O'Hara, aka Mister Nizz, wrote about the playtesting of my Conan scenario at his blog, Third Point of Singularity
|My favorite picture from Historicon 2018, courtesy of Joseph Bloch!|