Skip to main content

Fall In 2019: The Valley Forge Experience

I've never been to Valley Forge, and with no keen interest in or knowledge of Revolutionary War history beyond what I gleaned from high school classes and the remarkable John Adams HBO series a few years ago, I've had no reason to visit it before last weekend, when I attended Fall In, the autumn convention organized by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS). I still can't claim to have seen much of the area beyond the Valley Forge Casino Resort and a nearby Wegman's where I made a midnight run for some milk and cookies after playing wargames all day on Friday.

But I was in the area neither to gamble nor to immerse myself in Revolutionary War tourism. I made the trip to indulge my passion for playing miniatures games with pals who I might only cross paths with once or twice a year at these HMGS conventions. 

I ultimately played in a couple of games, ran one of my own, and helped my friend and fellow Scrum Clubber John Sears run his Star Schlock game. Just as important, I was there to spread the gospel regarding the Second Saturday Scrum Club's own upcoming convention, Scrum Con 2020.

Beyond the Black River with Conan and Company

I once again ran a session of my adaptation of the Robert E. Howard short story starring Conan, "Beyond the Black River." I use a few of my custom miniatures for the game, and I rely on Andrea Sfiligoi's great set of rules, Sellswords & Spellslingers, to run it. Being originally designed for solo or cooperative play, these rules are particularly easy to teach at the table, and by the end of the first round, the players have mastered them well enough to concentrate on what they want to do rather than struggle with the mechanics of how to do it.

All of the players were a real pleasure to game with, and I even had friend Keith Sloan return to play it again after having played it at last year's Fall In. It was also nice to have late-comer Howard Whitehouse jump into the fray. I was sorry he died ignominiously during the game, but I was really pleased he hung out afterward for a good half-hour chat.

(You can read about some of the work I put into creating the game at this earlier blog post.)

Beyond the Black River with Conan and Co.
Saturday, 12:00 PM, 4 hrs., Players: 6 
GM: Joe Procopio 
Period: Fantasy, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Sellswords & Spellslingers 
Play Conan, Balthus, and other heroes as they attempt to survive Pictish hordes, forest devils, and other unspeakable horrors while saving their kidnapped comrades. Will the heroes survive long enough to make it back across the Thunder River? Only Crom knows the answer, and he's not saying! This cooperative game uses the latest pulp fantasy figures from Above the Fray Miniatures. No children under 12. 

Talk about having the tiger by the tail! Conan saves a human sacrifice from the sabertooth tiger at the last possible moment.

One player decided it was better to throw burning oil into the village before entering to save his comrades.

The giant drake turned on a group of picts in the forest at one point near the the end of the game, making a quick meal of them.

"Food for wolves..."

The witch doctor Zogar Sag and his two captives tied to the post as human sacrifices for the sabretooth tiger and "ghost" snake, both of which were making their way through the jungle toward their intended victims.  

Star Schlock

The most exciting part of the convention for me was getting to be there as my friend and fellow Scrummer John Sears unveiled the game he has been working on for a couple of years now. He's named it Star Schlock, and it was inspired by the slew of B-movie knockoffs that came out in the wake of the original Star Wars movie's popularity in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. 

John's work on this game--rules writing, card/dice creation, miniatures sculpting and painting, terrain design--is gobsmackingly good, and it is both inspiring and a little intimidating. John is  a real workhorse, which I admire, and he has been pushing hard to get in as many playtests of this game as he can over the past few months. I'm guessing that, short of his family, I may have played it the most at this point, and it has been rewarding and revelatory to see how he keeps evolving the game. His disciplined doggedness has been a real model for me as I think about my own Desperate Dungeons game design and what I need to do in order to get my project across the finish line.

We managed to get two scheduled and one pick-up game of Star Schlock in at Fall In on Saturday and Sunday. Like my Conan game and Walt O'Hara's Mad Maximilian 1934 game, the Scrum Club ran all of its games in the HAWKs dedicated room at the convention, which was swell because we love their games, too!

Space Ghouls of the Cursed Moon 
Friday, 1:00 PM, 3  hrs Players: 4 
GM: John Sears 
Period: SciFi, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Star Schlock 
Disaster on Moon Base Alpha! The mineral extractors dug too deep, awakening a long slumbering alien intelligence. Roused from hibernation, an inhuman elder being has animated the corpses of the dead, spurring them to wipe out all life on the surface of the planetoid! The colony's defenders race to thwart the shambling cannibalistic monsters long enough to fuel the last escape shuttle. Will they escape the creatures' grasp, or will the ranks of the undead menace grow with fresh victims. 

John front and center finally running his first convention game! And one entirely of his own creation, to boot!

Fellow Scrummer Walt O'Hara swings by in a bright yellow HMGS volunteer shirt to check out John's game. Still trying to figure out what we need to do to get Walt to wear a Scrum Con t-shirt at his own convention. Maybe 2020 will be the year... 

Creepy Hollow

For the first time at an HMGS convention I had a GM completely flake out on his game. Six players showed up at the appointed time to find an empty table with no notice of cancellation. That's extremely annoying, because folks often travel some significant distance to attend these conventions, and if you're like me, you may only choose one or two games a day to play in. 

I hurriedly scanned the printed program and found a game session scheduled an hour later titled "Creepy Hollow." I knew it was already fully subscribed in preregistration, but I took a chance that perhaps a player might drop out and I could squeeze in. Alas, all of the players showed up, and I was going to content myself with watching the game for a while and then semi-despondently wandering the convention hall before slinking off to bed. Lucky for me, Megan and Keith, the game masters, took pity on me, peeled off a character from another player's troupe, and quickly cobbled together a set of character stats for me to use. I ended up having a grand time, and even got to play with a pal named Tom I made at my first HMGS convention back in the summer of 2017.

Megan and Keith used the 7th Voyage (1st ed.) rules for the undergirding of the scenario they had cooked up. These are a variant produced by Crooked Dice Games on their popular 7TV rules. I'm not a big fan of this line's primary conceit that constantly makes explicit its nods to the production aspects of 1960-70s TV shows. I wouldn't mind if the rules and special mechanics of the game incorporated the tropes from that era's TV shows, but I'm less enthused about things like playing a "Time for a Commercial Break" card or stockpiling "Audience Ratings" tokens. Just let me play an "Ominous Fog" card without making it a "Stagehand Breaks the Fog Machine" card. That sort of nonsense dilutes the fiction of the game and makes it all too jokey by half for a game that is already inherently a pastiche/satire of 1970s TV.

That said, everybody at the table was tremendous company for the three-hour game, and I don't know if I've ever played with more entertaining GMs than Keith and Megan Frye at any HMGS convention. Megan had a boisterous, easy laugh, and Keith was intent on making sure everybody had a great time at the table.

Creepy Hollow: The Wrath of the Hessian 
Friday, 4:00 PM, 4 hrs Players: 5 
GM: Keith Frye 
Period: American Colonial, Scale: 28mm, Rules: 7th Voyage/7TV 1st Ed. 
Ichabod Crane (Donnie Jepp) and Katrina Van Tassel (Ramona Wylder) are searching the Old Dutch Burying Ground for the Hessian's head, in the hope of reuniting it with his body and ending  the curse. Lady Van Tassel (Carolyn Lee) has other plans, and even the arrival of the Westchester Militia may not be enough to thwart the Wrath of the Horseman.  Gothic Horror in the Hammer tradition. 

Keith and Megan even created a mock movie poster for their "production."

Megan and Keith Frye getting the game set up.

I played the dastardly Vicar, here doing battle with another player's character in the graveyard.

I was glad to end up in this game with Tom, who I've played in many games over the past three years, from Conan to Space Hulk. We're going to have a game day with his club, Pour Morale, and the Second Saturday Scrum Club someday soon.

My vicar met his end and went up in a puff smoke smelling of brimstone.

Other Games

Well, frankly, outside of the HAWKs room, I saw hardly any other games, and that was the downside of the convention being held at the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Unlike Historicon which was held at what I felt was the far superior Lancaster Convention Center, the venue for Fall In had games spread through an expansive warren of rooms scattered across a very large, labyrinthine floor plan. This dispersion, with lot of off-shooting halls and spread across multiple floors, meant it was hard to see most games without making a deliberate attempt to seek them out. I know some folks complain about the noise levels when these conventions are held at venues with large halls that contain 50 games running simultaneously in one cavernous space, but it sure is far easier as a spectator and casual browser of the festivities when all of the games are in a couple of large halls rather than a couple dozen smaller rooms holding as few as two or three games each. The whole atmosphere was frankly less convivial, especially as you made the long slog from one end of the casino/resort to the other. 

As a result, I literally have no photos of any other games. A first for me.

Gaming Loot

I also came home with precious little from either the flea market or the vendor's hall this time. I bought a pre-painted walled-off garden bed by Novus Design for $20, and an Office Building from Miniatures Building Authority, which was supposedly marked down to $40 from a retail price of $115. It's only worth $40, and barely that in my opinion, and even then I got it home to find the roof wobbles, which was annoying. In retrospect, I actually found more cool stuff for my collection at the Barrage convention last September, which is a con a fraction of the size. Oh, well...

Perhaps the most annoying thing about shopping at these HMGS conventions are the handful of dealers in the vendors hall who can't even be bothered to price their stock. They merely put boxes and packs of miniatures out in plastic tubs or maybe hang them on peg boards, and then have a multi-page printed price list you have to hunt down at their booth and often wait for somebody else to finish perusing it. Frankly, I refuse to spend my time finding a miniature I may think looks worth owning only to have to then go find a price list, figure out how the list is organized, and decipher arcane pricing codes only to discover that the item is priced at regular retail or sometimes even a little higher. If you're going to make me do that kind of work, I'll just buy my stuff online because you've destroyed all convenience in impulse shopping at the convention. Even worse was the one dealer who brings thousands of figures and leaves them all in bins behind their table so that you can't even browse through them. You're simply supposed to look through their cryptic multi-page stock list and request they fetch the miniatures for you. These kinds of vendors are never getting my commerce, and honestly, I'm amazed anybody buys anything from them.

I wanted to buy this cool looking miniature...

...but I wasn't willing to spend the next few minutes trying to decipher a multi-page price list to see how much it might be. Looks like I'll be buying it online.

These folks simply had a number of price lists sitting on a table from which you were meant to call out numbers and have them fetch miniatures for you. Uhm...I'll just shop online where there is a photo and price all in one place.

So...what was my "weird find" of the convention? The below zombie miniatures. I particularly enjoyed the "Dead Poets." They were a bit too expensive to buy for giggles, but I'm glad they exist!

What does the future hold?

Two things are currently in the works. I had originally planned on taking Andrea Sfiligoi up on his offer to publish a version of my "Beyond the Black River" adaptation through his Ganesha Games. While I would be honored to be associated with his company, I also know that my many commitments mean it will be many months before I could turn my attention to completing a version of the game that strips out all of the Howard references. I've decided that I've run the game at four separate conventions now, and it's time to retire it. I will next work on a Conan-inspired scenario involving the Tower of Set. 

The good news is that I am going to make all of my files for that game available for free download to the folks at this blog. I put a lot of time into creating all of the special decks, character profiles, and scenarios, and folks who enjoy Sellswords & Spellslingers will now be able to use these for their own mini-campaign. Look for a blog post in the near future with a link to those files.

One of the reasons I can't find the time for things like publishing my Sellswords supplement is that we are pushing toward our next Scrum Con. Registration went live a couple of weeks ago, and we've already had over 100 people sign up to attend our convention devoted to RPGs and wargames. We can only accommodate around 200-250 players, and some games have already started to fill up, so if you're interested in attending, I highly encourage you to register and sign up for some games as soon as possible.

Sign up for Scrum Con today!




  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Joe, great to play with you in both Creepy Hollow and Conan, sorry for polishing off the evil vicar though you did get your revenge when Valeria got stuck down a hole in the Pict camp. With ref to your disappointment with the game master who didn't show up for Black Sun Adaro Down on Friday. I'm led to believe that he was struck down with food poisoning courtesy of a McDonalds while enroute South to attend Fall In. He missed his Friday slots but did manage to crawl out of his sick bed to run the game on Saturday. That being said he still didn't look well.

    1. I am truly sorry to hear that about the absent GM. Food poisoning is no fun at all. If he called or wrote the Fall In organizers, I would have been helpful if they had put a sign stating as much on his table (and better yet, they could have not even printed by ticket when I checked in for my badge at noon). Oh, well...hope the fella is on the mend.

      And no worries about the vicar...I would have killed the bastard, too!

  3. Great stuff Joe! Your game looked fantastic, and everyone around the table looked to be having a great time :)
    I'm right there with you on products with no prices, awful.

  4. Wish I lived nearby, the tables look outstanding and the games like they're a lot of fun.
    Great loot by the way.

    1. Thanks, friend. The HMGS conventions are always a great time, and attending them is how I've managed to make most of my gaming pals in the past couple of years!


Post a Comment

Well-thumbed posts

Take the High Road: Making Cheap and Easy Dirt Roads

I have wanted some good roads to add to my games for a while now. My first attempt was a couple of years ago when my standards were a bit lower and I wasn't sure how much I was interested in investing in this new hobby. I bought some PDFs of cobblestone roads that I sized, printed, and glued to felt. The result was okay, but the way my laser printer  produced the roads ended up being quite reflective to the point of almost being glossy looking. The combination of glue, paper, and felt also meant the roads had a wavy consistency and almost always curled at the edges. I used them once or twice but was never happy with them. My sub-par first attempt at making roads for my games using felt strips, glue, and printed designs. You can see how shiny and how wavy and curled at the edges they turned out. I never felt good about putting them on the table for our games and eventually stopped altogether. I've been meaning to take another crack at making some roads now that I have

Playing with Yourself: 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' vs. 'Sellswords & Spellslingers'

As the year crawls to an end, I'm looking through this blog and noticing a couple of posts I started and never finished. This is one of them. Back in July 2019, I placed the photos on the page, jotted down a few bullet-point placeholder notes, and then never actually went back and wrote anything to post.   The post was meant to be my informal review of Rangers of Shadow Deep after my first game of it with Josh O'Conner, who set it up for us to try in his basement. I think I never finished this post because I was not very impressed with the game but I knew Josh was, and we hadn't been gaming together long enough for me to be sure my candor about the game wouldn't hurt his feelings and sour a budding gaming friendship. I consider Josh more than a gaming friend these days, and so I'll go ahead and post this with some very short notes fleshing out the bullet points I had left as a reminder for myself back in 2019 (at least the one's I can still decipher the

Lost Art of D&D No. 2: Games Workshop's Holmes Basic (1977)

After Games Workshop attained the license to print a co-branded edition of TSR's 1977 Dungeons & Dragons basic rules book, they set about putting their own stamp on it, designing a new cover and replacing a number of the illustrations they deemed too crudely drawn for their U.K. market.  The cover art was by John Blanche at the very start of his career as a fantasy illustrator. Blanche went on to be a mainstay at Games Workshop, producing countless illustrations for them. His fannish enthusiasm for the material--as an artist as well as a lifelong gamer--has deservedly made him a favorite over the decades. I first encountered Blanche's work in the David Day compendium, A Tolkien Bestiary (1978), to which he contributed five illustrations that sit comfortably alongside the book's chief illustrator, Ian Miller. I have a special fondness for this book, having coveted it as a child during my incipient Middle Earth fixation. My parent's procured an out-of-print copy of t

The Slow Road to Recovery: Historicon Returns in 2021

  I braved the pandemic and the five-hour roundtrip for a one-day excursion to Historicon this year. Two of my fellow Scrum Club mates (Steve and Walt) went for the entire affair, but John, Francesco, and I drove up to Valley Forge Saturday morning, arriving shortly before noon and leaving the convention by around 6:00 for the Washington, D.C. metro area. Four of us (sans Walt) grabbed a mediocre burger at Habit Burger Grill near the Valley Forge Casino before we drove homeward into the night. Francesco kindly drove the entire way there and back. The morning trip was quite lovely, with the tree leaves nearing peak fall intensity. Earlier in the year I had booked a hotel room for three nights of the convention, when the vaccine was initially rolling out. Never would I have imagined at that time an anti-vaxxer movement could be strong enough to leave us struggling to achieve reasonable vaccination rates all the way into November, but the past four years should make absolutely nothing a s

All Together Now: 'Sellswords & Spellslingers' and the Pleasures of Cooperative Gaming

I've always enjoyed a good competitive match as much as the next guy, whether it was sports in high school or video games (HALO, etc.) in my thirties. But regardless of the game, I've always been partial to team play, and the best cooperative games put all of the focus on succeeding as a team. That's one of the reasons I was enthusiastic about getting Andrea Sfiligoi's latest release,  Sellswords & Spellslingers (Ganesha Games), on the table for this month's Second Saturday Scrum Club gathering. Last year I had organized a Halloween game ( recap ) to beta-test Sfiligoi's Run From the Dead , which is built atop the same cooperative mechanics as Sellswords . I was surprised when I discovered these rules were re-skinned for the fantasy genre and released last December ahead of Run From the Dead . Hopefully, the zombie apocalypse version of the rules is not too far behind because I definitely think  Run From the Dead  is the best tabletop miniatures rule s

Battle Beyond the Star Schlock

  A subset of the Scrum Club and some of our friends met for a game on Dec. 30 to close out 2021. In addition to guests Peter M. and Mark A. (visiting from Minnesota), we were finally able to also have Dave "Zeb" Cook over to Scrum Hall (i.e., my dining room) for a game of some sort.  Scrum Con —the convention we organize here in the DC metro area—has been lucky to include Zeb as our guest of honor since its inception in Feb. 2019, and the idea of him coming over to the house to game with us started getting bandied about not terribly long thereafter. Like so many pre-COVID plans, however, the pandemic sadly put the idea on indefinite hold. But when I bumped into Zeb at Historicon last month and we got to chatting, it seemed like we should revisit the idea of getting a game in together and settled on the week between Christmas and New Years.  Fortunately, the Scrum Club has a handful of pretty fun games at the ready that we've prepped and run at conventions over the yea