Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Theron Goes To Fort Worth

(For certain values of Fort Worth, anyway.)

This past weekend was the eighth annual North Texas RPG Con (NTRPG Con). I last attended five years ago, had a great time, and then procrastinated my way out of returning for the past few years.  When my plans to attend Chupacabracon were scuttled by a scheduling conflict, I decided to get back up there, and bring my son (C-Monster) along. He's sixteen, and a long-time convention veteran. I wanted him to see some of the history of the hobby.

By way of brief introduction, NTRPG Con very intentionally cultivates an Old-School vibe. I've heard it referred to as "GaryCon South," and I can't really comment on that, having not been to GaryCon. What I can say is that if you want to attend a small, friendly, laid-back convention where the guest list reads like a "Who's Who" of the RPG industry prior to 1990, then you ought to give this one a look.

The game programming is, obviously older versions of D&D and OSR heavy, along with other games from TSR's heyday. I'd volunteered to run two non-TSR games from that period, because I like to point out to people that a lot of amazing stuff was going down back then, and not just in Lake Geneva.  Interestingly enough, there was a LOT of D&D 5e stuff being played as well. I think that's a definite stamp of approval from the Grognard Set.

We left Thursday morning and got to enjoy the lovely downpours that plagued the Houston area most of last week. It wasn't fun, but we got to Dallas/Fort Worth just in time for Rush Hour, so there's that. Anyway, we got checked into the hotel, grabbed something to eat, and got our badges.  My first game was scheduled at 6 PM. While C-Monster didn't have anything on-tap, he decided he wanted to play D&D and signed up at an open table.

My first game was supposed to be a 5e Castle Amber scenario, GMed by Lawrence Schick. Unfortunately, his plane was late and by the time he arrived, he was in no shape to GM. He was very apologetic, but it wasn't his fault. On the bright side, I met some cool people at the table while we were waiting (Alex Kammer, who runs GameHoleCon, and Bill Meinhardt, who probably has the largest D&D collection on the planet). Also, Frank Mentzer hung out with us for a while, just shooting the breeze. So, bonus!

Meanwhile, C-Monster was fulfilling his dreams of being a Drow Assassin. I didn't hear from him until he came back to the room.

Friday AM, I got up and took a spin around the dealers' room. I found a World of Greyhawk boxed set that was in absolutely pristine condition, for forty bucks. Sold! Looking through it, I realized that pretty much everyone credited in it who's not Gary Gygax was at the convention, and I formulated a quest...

(I also saw a copy of Last Unicorn Games' Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium, the first copy I'd ever seen, for sale. More on that later.)

My first game Friday was Boot Hill, GMed by Steve Winter.  I'd heard tales of Steve's skill as a GM, and I have to say, it's utterly true. He had us roll up characters at the table, which resulted in my creating "Squatch" McGee, a 7'1", 400 lb Bounty Hunter. Instead of a conventional scenario, Steve basically ran us through an Old West sandbox. We were all lawman-types, and he provided us with over a dozen "Wanted" posters with varying rewards.  He set out the classic Boot Hill map, and let us loose. We were free to cooperate or compete, and when a group or individual encountered bad guys, he had one of the players whose character wasn't involved run the NPCs.  Or, if your character died.  It was a brilliant idea, and I plan on stealing it at some point.

Anyway, "Squatch" survived the game, but failed to collect any bounties, what with all the times he got shot. I ended up playing both the big bounties in their separate confrontations, but ran afoul of my opponents' good die rolls.

Also, I got my World of Greyhawk signed by Steve (who edited it).

My evening game was Stormbringer (Chaosium, 1981), run by me.  Six players signed up, five showed. Of those five, a couple had played Stormbringer in the distant past, and I think only one was completely unfamiliar with the game and the source material. That said, the game kind of rocked. The game system is as smooth as ever, and the players did a great job of getting into the spirit of the adventure "The Crystal of Daerdaerdarth," one of my favorite published scenarios. It's a dungeon crawl, but one with a specifically Moorcockian feel, with weird demons and dark magics and, well, pretty much that.

One thing I love about the adventure is a note on the map that says, "No One Has Gotten Past This Point." Before I began, I mentioned this to my players, who made getting past that point a matter of honor. They succeeded, bypassing an impassible obstacle by having an earth elemental tunnel around it. Proper old-school problem solving.

(The PC sorcerer also made a water elemental manifest in the lungs of an enemy sorcerer. That was pretty cool, and basically a fight-ending move.)


Saturday AM, I was moving a bit slowly. One of the sad truths about my GMing is that it simultaneously takes a lot out of me and wires me so I can't unwind. As a result, I was not at peak performance.

Our first game Saturday was ICONS, GMed by Steve Perrin. ICONS isn't an Old-School game by any stretch, but it does feel like a love letter to FASERIP, and Steve's been working with the system extensively for the past few years.

The scenario involved a group of WWII superheroes trying to stop a nazi plot to bombard London via the shattered Bifrost Bridge, using a railway gun positioned in Asgard. We had to fight our way through a few of the Nine Realms, fighting a host of Axis villainy.  I played Fletcher the Bowman, a heroic archer with trick arrows, and had a swell time coming up with newer and crazier things. C-Monster played The Magius, a super sorcerer from an underwater culture who had tremendous mental powers.

Apart from the fun, and the thrill of playing a game with someone who wrote a couple of my all-time favorite games (RuneQuest, Stormbringer), the game was notable for two other incidents. First, while on a bathroom break, I bit the bullet and bought that copy of Dune. I couldn't be sure I'd ever find another, and I've always wanted it. I rationalized that I was buying from one of my local shops (he was up for the convention), so supporting them was a good thing.  The other incident was when I mentioned in passing that I was running Champions later that evening.  "You are?" Mr. Perrin asked. This led to me saying he'd be more than welcome and that I always have a couple of extra characters.  And that's how I ended up running Champions for Steve Perrin.

(Actually, there was a third cool thing. One of the other players was Joe Wetzel, the genius behind Hexographer, Dungeonographer, Cityographer, the ICONS Assembled Character Creator, and a host of other cool stuff. He's also a really nice guy.)

During the break, I was able to catch Darlene, Jeff Easley, and Lawrence Schick to complete the autographs on the Greyhawk book. I also met Douglas Niles, who signed my "Moonshae Trilogy" books.

The game itself went great. I was using the fourth edition of the game (aka "The Big Blue Book"), and running "To Serve and Protect," one of the best early adventures, and this time around, I had a table full of veterans, though some of them hadn't played since the 80s.  Prior to the con, one of my players (Glen Halstrom, from the "THACO'S Hammer" podcast) asked if he could play one of his old characters. I couldn't think of any reason he couldn't, so he sent me a few to pick from and I settled on Escargot, a French power armor user with an OUTRAGEOUS accent.  The remaining heroes were from that list I posted recently of memorable characters from my past campaigns:  Black Dragon, Force, Hero-Man, Mighty Man-Frog, Photograph, and Witchfire.  We had six players, so no one chose Photograph.

How to describe the game? Wonderful fun. It's been a couple of years since I've run Champions, and this is not a low-effort scenario to run, with five combat encounters, investigative bits, and TEN NPC "villains." That said, I pulled it off. Much like the previous evening, it was player ingenuity that turned the balance at the end, which meant I had to wing it, which is exactly as it should be.

We wrapped the game and geeked out for a bit, and I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd hit the bar. Unfortunately, they were closing at midnight, so I was thwarted in my attempt to buy overpriced hotel beer. I went back to the room, talked to the boy about his game (2e Oriental Adventures with Zeb Cook DMing), and finally fell asleep sometime south of 3 AM.

Which is why I woke up Sunday AM in no real mood to do anymore gaming. We were scheduled for Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game I have yet to play, but we weren't up to it, especially with a five-hour drive in our future. However, I still had one autograph objective: I'd brought my D&D Companion, Master, and Immortal books to ask Frank Mentzer to autograph. Unfortunately, every time our paths crossed, I didn't have the books handy. But there was one more chance, as he was playing "Ticket to Ride" on Sunday AM. I waited around the atrium, and caught him when he had a few minutes. I've got to tell you, Gentle Reader, Frank is one of the good ones. Not only a terrific game designer, but a really nice guy who lives his love for the hobby. He happily signed my books, asked if I knew that Terry Kuntz's real name is Theron (I did), and pretty much gave me the perfect sign-off to the con.

I made one more pass through the dealer's area, visited with Joe W again, and bought some of his Dungeon and City geomorph decks.  Then, we hit the road.

Well, not right away. We had one more mission: I'd learned of the existence of Taco Casa, a north-Texas fast food chain founded by a former Taco Bell executive. Their schtick is that their menu is basically 1970s Taco Bell, and I was craving enchiritos (or "chilladas" as they call them). Fortunately, there was one about twenty minutes from the hotel on our way home. Food was acquired and then we hit the road.

Or we would have, if I hadn't spotted a Half-Price Books store. They're based in D/FW, so their stores tend to be a little better than the ones here. I figured it was worth popping in for a few.  Oh, man.

I found a like-new hardback Champions 4e (the original, not the "Deluxe" version) to replace the one I lost. I found The Rebel Alliance Sourcebook for WEG Star Wars. I found a copy of NOVA's deluxe version of Ace of Aces! I left about eighty bucks poorer, but infinitely richer.

Then, we hit the road. :D


  1. Great recap! Your Stormbringer game has me jazzed about BRP systems; I'd never played Runequest/Stormbringer/Cthulhu, etc. prior to last few weeks, and the system is amazingly smooth given its age :-)

  2. Having just jumped into DCC, I have recently heard a good bit about NTRPG Con and would like to check it out. Hope you get a game of DCC soon, I'd be interested in your thoughts about it.