Tuesday, August 16, 2011

OSRCon Thoughts (Part I)

Originally, I'd planned to write a single post summing up my thoughts and feelings about everything I did and saw while at OSRCon this past weekend, but I've now become convinced that there's enough of interest to justify several posts. Let me start by praising both the convention's organizer, Chris Cunnington, and its sponsor, the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy for making this happen. The con went off without any hitch that I could detect and the facilities at the Lillian H. Smith library were fantastic. So, kudos to everyone who helped inaugurate what I hope will be a long-lasting tradition here in Toronto.
As I'm certain I've stated innumerable times before, I am not a con-goer. I've been to GenCon and Origins once each and am frankly not in a huge hurry to attend either again anytime soon. I find such gatherings simply too overwhelming to enjoy properly. Likewise, I haven't run an adventure for a group of total strangers since I did so at "RPG days" at local libraries back in Baltimore County in the early 1980s. I've got a long-established group of players with whom I've been playing since the early 1990s and the last new player added to that group joined us over a decade ago. Consequently, it's no exaggeration to say that I felt some trepidation at the thought of attending OSRCon.

As it turned out, I had no reason whatsoever to be concerned. I very quickly felt quite comfortable, due in no small part to Chris Cunnington's excellent organization and discussions with me beforehand. But, much as I wish to praise Chris, even more do I wish to praise the con's attendees, who were, to a man, some of the friendliest and most pleasant gamers I've had the occasion to meet. As I noted in a comment to an earlier post, gamers have a reputation for being socially awkward misfits who are in large part responsible for the bad impressions outsiders have of our shared hobby. I came away from OSRCon with the feeling that, while that description may be true of some gamers, it certainly isn't true of most of them, certainly not any of those with whom I interacted over the course of two days. I won't go so far as to claim that "the ugly gamer" is wholly a myth, even if I am sure that he's not as common a creature as conventional wisdom would have us believe.

On Friday, I ran a single four-hour session of my Dwimmermount megadungeon. This session had six players -- the maximum allowed to register -- and involved the exploration of Level 1 of the mountain fortress. All the players used pre-generated characters, resulting in a party that consisted of two dwarves, a fighting man, a cleric of Typhon, a magic-user, and a thief. I was (mostly) using LBB + Greyhawk OD&D, supplemented with a few minor house rules. I allowed spellcasters to choose their own spells and used Jeff's "deck of stuff" to give each character something unusual to play with. I also provided a frame for the session: the PCs were sent by some dwarves to seek out the whereabouts of a dwarven cemetery reputed to be on the first level, as well as to determine what had become of a previous scouting party, consisting of three dwarves and a gnome, that never returned from their mission. This latter bit proved very useful, since it kept the players focused. Otherwise, four hours could easily have elapsed without any sense of "conclusion," if you catch my meaning.
There are many things that stick with me after Friday's session. The first was just how fresh Dwimmermount became when seen through the eyes of players who'd never walked its corridors before. I've been running that megadungeon for 2+ years now with the same crew of players and, while it's still fun for us, familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. Playing it with new people made it all seem new, even to me, and that's a terrific feeling. Also, I felt very much at ease refereeing, since I knew the dungeon inside and out already, having run it many times previously. This afforded me the opportunity to present everything I already knew in an entertaining and intriguing way. Whatever "stage fright" I had when I first sat down at the table quickly evaporated.

What was also neat to watch was how quickly this group, consisting of people who didn't know each other before the con, cohered into a unified party. They acted as a group and did so well. Furthermore, their characters, who began as little more than a jumble of stats I handed them, were true characters by the end of the session, so much so in fact that I found myself wishing I could continue to play with this same group again in the future. It was amazing to watch them them develop tactics and procedures as they dealt with the tricks, traps, and monsters they encountered. There were times when I felt myself transported back to those heady days when my friends I did the same and it confirmed for me that it is possible to go home again. Good games never get old and D&D is a very good game.
There are too many moments from the session to recount and this entry has already gone on longer than I anticipated, so I won't share most of them here. However, the one that really stayed with me is one where, having fought innumerable small skirmishes with kobolds in the caves leading to where the PCs felt the dwarven cemetery was located, they corned a large band of them and attempted to parley with them. One of the dwarves, believing that negotiation might work, offered to help the kobolds against the orcs inhabiting another part of the dungeon in exchange for the kobolds' leaving the dwarven cemetery alone. The kobolds were unwilling to accept this offer, since, as they explained, "We need the dead dwarves to replenish our numbers." Yes, that's right: kobolds are made from dead dwarves in the Dwimmermount setting. Upon learning this, the formerly pacific dwarf raised his warhammer (which he dubbed "Grool") and ran right into the kobolds' midst to slay them. As he explained later to his companions, "I pitied them at first, but, now that I know what they're doing, they must all die!" It was a great moment in a session filled with them.


  1. I wish all of my con gaming experiances ended as well as this one sounds like. The last con i was at, Phoenix Comic Con, had a lot of gaming, but so much of it was Pathfinder Society or some other kind of organized play that i just wasn't interested in. Good to know that one shots are still alive an well somewhere, and if it does happen again, might be worth talking to my family in canada see if i can crash on someone's couch to attend.

  2. Sounds like fun!

    That location looks like it could be a set from an old Star Trek episode.

  3. Sounds like it was truly a rewarding con experience. I agree, bigger events can be really overwhelming, but smaller ones--done right--can really be fun. Glad you had the chance to try out Dwimmermount with a new group!

  4. That Dungeon paper looks ideal for manmade dungeons and even for caverns because it would help out with distances nicely. Looks good with the figures too.

    Can you say where you got it?

  5. That sounds like a great game. And your experience reminds me of one time, playing in an RPGA event way back when, our group likewise started out not knowing each other. By the time the game ended, we wished we could game together regularly, we'd had such fun.

    Re: the kobolds. I don't recall you mentioning that origin story before. Is it something you improvised at the table? It's a great way to explain Dwarvish hatred for kobolds.

  6. Can you say where you got it?

    It's a Crystal Caste "Combat Mat." You can order them here.

  7. It's encouraging to see a grass-roots, "minicon" be successful. (Have good attendance numbers; be well organized; and start off an annual 'tradition'). Perhaps Toronto's OSRCon will serve as a template for OSR events in other cities (US and Canada)?

    I wish there was an OSR event in the Seattle area. I'd definitely check it out, and probably run something.

  8. Re: the kobolds. I don't recall you mentioning that origin story before. Is it something you improvised at the table?

    No, it's something I've known and hinted at for a long time, but never explicitly stated until now.

  9. It's "Brool" James...."Broooool"! Lol. Thanks for mentioning the scene. It was epic and the kind of heroic stuff you play DnD for.
    The twist on Kobolds was very interesting. Initially you pity them as misshapen kin, but once you find out how they replenish, it is war to the death.
    I highly recommend to all making an effort to attend next year. DMs were top notch and the attendees very friendly. People sitting by me chatted as if we had been gaming together for years as we fell into our roles and shared anecdotes. It helped resurrect the heady communal spirit DnD had in the early days, before gaming got so fragmented.
    The dwarven forged warhammer has already prevailed against Dwimmermount kobolds and bugbears, slowly building it's own legend. Join the tale next year!

  10. Great stuff. The overall sentiment is identical to what I've felt the small number of times I've run convention games. (Actually, maybe just once with all-strangers.)

  11. Not to unnecessarily prolong the love-in, but I've got to say that playing with Theo was a highlight of the con (I played the cleric of the group in the Saturday Dwimmermount session) - not only was he great fun to have around the table, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone mime swinging a dwarven battle-axe with quite the relish that he did...

  12. Thanks for sharing your OSRCon stories, James -- I look forward to hearing more. It is great fun to hear what was going on at the other tables!

  13. I enjoyed my experiences running OD&D sessions at last year's minicon and Socal Smackdown last year (and also a very enjoyable, ale-soaked pub game this year organized by Cyclopeatron). Though I explained to players "I don't do one shots" and they could hopefully run their characters again in the future, they pretty much ended up being so. Having enjoyed experimenting outside my regular group, I'm getting enough gaming in with my group to not be very inspired to do more this year. My true joy as a GM is the multiple game campaign. We all might enjoy a new one-night stand affair (all guys dig "strange"), but most of us can agree it's always even better the second time. So even though I'm slated to run a session at Smackdown again in a few weeks, I think I'll be sticking with my regular-irregulars for the remainder of the year. But who knows what next year holds.

  14. Oh James, I also wanted to ask, did you end up turning people away who wanted in the game after your original 6 (the event doesn't look exaclty packed in the photos, so I'm thinking it might not have been an issue)? At my public games I would want 6 max, but a few more would show up and I didn't want to say no to anybody. I figured I can handle a crowd, having run games for upwards of 15 and more in high school. Especially with OD&D, I thought more the merrier, and it actually turned out to be so. Everybody got to do plenty of things in the sessions.

  15. Really appreciate the detailed report. Would love to keep hearing more. Any other blogs out there with some reports?

    (word verification: notbent - I'm clearly not a politician)

  16. It's "Brool" James...."Broooool"!

    Guess my ears are going as well as my eyes :) Thanks for the correction. I'll remember it next time we play together.

  17. Oh James, I also wanted to ask, did you end up turning people away who wanted in the game after your original 6 (the event doesn't look exaclty packed in the photos, so I'm thinking it might not have been an issue)?

    I turned no one away and wouldn't have had anyone beyond the six registered players asked to join, but as there were two rooms worth of games being played, I think everyone who wanted in on the action had a place to go.

  18. Check out Carter"s excellent blog above! He was involved in the Expediton to the Barrier Peaks, as well as running a great game of Labyrinth Lord.

  19. I love how the sconces are torches. Very appropriate.

    Next year I may have to attend. I've never been to Toronto, and this would be as good an excuse as any, to make the trip from Boston, or wherever I'm living then.

  20. James I have the character names and classes from the sheets.

    Day 1

    Mark - the younger - was Ardin the Fighter

    Ian - the artist - was Tezeros the Magic User

    Mark - the older - was Anatharul the Cleric of Typhon

    Theo - was Dalkanaeion the Dwarf

    Steve - Grimglas the Dwarf


    Rob was Zinn the Thief.

    Day 2

    Rob - Another Rob not the Rob from Day 1 - was Endrados the Cleric of Typhon

    Theo was Dalkanarion the Elder, Dwarf

    Matt was Declan the Fighter

    Marc - the older - was Exumbar the Magic User
    also Skarn Raxor the dead, Old Grig the Link Boy, and Exumbar's man servants Alocious and Brantly


    Brian as Dan the Handsome Thief

  21. Inspiring stuff. Thanks for posting these. I particularly like the "searching for dwarven cemetery" scenario. Sounds like fun.