I prefer going to general sci-fi and fantasy conventions rather than actual gaming conventions. I’ve not gamed all that often with people I don’t already know well, though of course I’d be willing to make an exception for you. If you’re reading this blog, we’re probably simpatico, compadre.
The only tournament style game I ever played in was AD&D, of course, at the Emperor’s Birthday Convention, probably in 81 or 82. The Emperor’s Birthday was originally a wargaming con, but I hear it later amalgamated with Griffcon, and I think they’re both now defunct. It was here in Indiana, but I don’t remember where now. I’m sure one of you knows where it was and who put it on.
Anyway, my high school gaming circle at the time was probably 16 or so strong, with a core of 6 enthusiasts, including me. The others came and went, sometimes playing a lot for a while and then losing interest. We were self taught at playing The Game, we never had any older players to show us how it was done. I was the instigator, I started with the Holmes edition that Mom had found in a yard sale, and dragged all my buddies into it as fast as I could. We moved on to AD&D as soon as it came along. It was in big hardbacks man, how could it not be cooler? It said ADVANCED right on the cover!
So, somebody ran into a flyer for the Emperor’s Birthday con and we decided to register for the tournament. We were all excited to have a chance to play, “Real Big League D&D”, official and everything. I mean, you had to register and all that, that had to mean it was adult and serious and important, right?
We weren’t quite old enough to drive, so we all rode up to the con in a van driven by the father of one of the guys. We got situated at our table and waited for the DM. I don’t remember now if the game was an official TSR module, or something the DM wrote himself. I do remember that it sucked. Not the adventure itself, I never got the chance to read it, the actual play of the game sucked.
I love tension in the game. I like purple prose and lurid description. I want to smell the dank musty corridors, hear the rutch of nailed boots on stone and the ring of steel on bone. I came to D&D from literature and not wargaming, so in my mind, it's atmosphere and immersion that have precedence over calculation and tactics. Only by a little bit though, I do play to win and I won’t turn down a victory for characters sake.
EPs are EPs man, get em’ where you can.
The problem here was that at the Emperor’s Birthday game, our DM was Ben Stein. He had the most boring monotone presentation I’d ever encountered. Just imagine Stein’s voice saying, “You’ve come to a T in the passage. It proceeds both to the right and to the left. Which way do you go? Anybody…. Anybody…. Buehler?”
I’m not exaggerating much here, folks. We were all a bit dumfounded that it was even possible to suck all the excitement out of D&D. Some of our games ended in table flipping and fisticuffs, we even locked a player in his own car trunk one time. This guy was the most egregious example of, “You’re Doing It Wrong!” that I’ve ever encountered.
We might have stuck with it but for the second wrench in the works. When the DM arrived, he wasn’t alone. He brought along his son, probably about 11 years old, and announced he would be joining our party. We thought, “Uh, well, ok…” If the DM thought the kid was mature and experienced enough to game at a “Real Big League D&D Event”, surely everything would go fine.
Nope, the kid was ADHD before it was cool. He was a disaster, charging from one room to another without any party consultation, acting on his own, thieving from party members, recklessly attacking everything we encountered. we were horrified.
We knew this was a timed tournament, there were points to gather, goals to achieve, and we had a rabid badger as a party member. And he was the DM’s son, we were trapped.
Eventually though, a moment arrived when we could rid ourselves of the dungeon albatross and retain plausible deniability. The kid decided to don his ring of invisibility without consulting the party, and sneak across a rope bridge which spanned an underground chasm. There was a bugbear outpost on the other side, and he meant to get there first and steal the choicest treasure items before the rest of us could arrive.
At any other time, this would have been a laudable Old School maneuver. Something any of us might have done in game. But for ruining our first, “Real Big League D&D Event!”, it was the last straw.
As I was watching the bugbears, the DM mentioned to me that I saw the rope bridge begin to sway of its own accord. So of course I pointed and yelled, “Invisible Monster!”. The party opened up on the Rope Bridge, daggers, arrows, hand axes, and magic missiles went flying the length of it to transfix the “invisible monster!” The kid reappeared mid bridge, a pin cushion of adventuring hardware, and pitched over into the chasm. I think maybe the DM realized he was losing us and decided to sacrifice the kid to keep the game going. With great power comes great responsibility. Heh…
Even getting rid of the kid didn’t make the game much better though. The DM was a guy who probably should have stuck to Napoleonics. He just didn’t have the joie de vivre needed give the game life. After a bit, we started suiciding our characters in order to escape. There was a dealer’s room to check out and we were tired of the Underdark Death March. I deliberately set off an easily avoided poison needle trap and went hunting minis. After a couple stupid deaths, the DM caught on to what we were doing and started furiously fudging the dice in our favor so we wouldn’t be killed.
The guys got away with ridiculous maneuvers that would have gotten them stone dead if I was behind the screen. My buddy running a dwarf fighter managed to strangle a hill giant to death with his bare hands.
Now, I’ll still game with strangers if we seem to have some common ground. I had a pretty good game with a guy from work, his wife, and a friend of theirs a while back, but I’m not interested in schedualed convention games. That’s probably not fair from one crappy game so many years ago, but I’m ok with that.
Now, on the other hand, if I ever get to Garycon, I think I’d be pretty much assured that my fellow con-goers would be Old Guard compatible, and it would be an honor to die a messy death in their company.