DexCon After Action Report, Part 1

Whew! I’m still recovering from four days spent in sunny Morristown, NJ at DexCon XIII. Joe Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard assembled an elite team of DMs—him, me and Rich McKee—to run old-school games, creating a gaming track with the delightful name of “Invasion of the Grognards.”

The convention space, at the Morristown Hyatt, was pleasant and spacious, and Raul’s Empanadas down the street makes a mean empanada (surprise!). But that’s not what you’re here to read about, gentle readers! So, D&D:

I’d scheduled four sessions of play in my home megadungeon, the Chateau d’Ambreville, to provide a slice of actual old-school dungeon delving. I was a bit nervous; much of the fun of the dungeon crawl comes from being invested in the long-term development of one’s character and party. Would convention-goers enjoy the game without that attachment? (The answer turned out to be a definite yes. Read on!)

Thursday was slow; few people had shown up to the convention at that point, and the halls were all but empty. The sign-up sheets for my games were likewise almost empty, with four players spread across four sessions!

Only one person showed up for my first session. Not wanting to turn a player away, I let him roll up three characters and pick a destination. He chose the Keep on the Borderlands. Hearing from the locals that a party of adventurers had just visited the Caves of Chaos and trounced a tribe of orcs, his party went to the Caves… where they entered the cave that the PCs in my home game had just cleared of orcs. Instead of moving on to a more fruitful cave, he spent the next hour turning over corpses and searching rooms that had been picked clean.

This would prove to be a theme for the rest of the convention.

Thursday evening was spent as a player, roaming through the Castle of the Mad Archmage. The adventure was fun but frustrating, as teleport rooms confounded my mapping efforts and much of the party seemed bound and determined to get us all killed in entertaining ways. The characters were pre-gens, which saved valuable time from being spent on chargen but made it a bit harder to engage with the game.

Friday brought in more people wandering the halls and signing up for game sessions. Five players turned up for my afternoon game, including a father and his preteen son (player of the infamous “X the Dwarf”). The party headed up to the Chateau d’Ambreville, but decided the place was too dangerous to enter! Instead, they explored the Chateau’s infamous watchtower—long since stripped of valuables by prior adventurers—then went on to visit the ruins of Ambreville town, where they were encircled by undead and only barely cut their way out. They had fun despite only acquiring three copper pieces: a sure sign of success!

Despite my fears, no one had any problems with jumping right into the old-school dungeon delving mindset. There was no need for a grand mission; the quest for gold and magic was enough! Presumably some element of self-selection was in effect, as the adventure description was clear and straightforward in this regard. As to character creation, it went quickly, even accounting for house rules—especially coming up with special abilities for each character. More time was spent on buying equipment than anything else! The main bottleneck was a lack of rulebooks; I should have printed out copies of the relevant material beforehand.

For the evening, I played Shock: Social Science Fiction, one of those wacky new-school games that the kids are talking about. Despite only getting about a third of the way through the game due to time constraints and a surfeit of players, it was absolutely brilliant. We sketched out an entire setting in the first hour: far-future transhuman Earth academics visiting a lost colony where hunter-gatherers with elaborate marriage rituals are at risk of occupation by ore-hungry technocrats. The remaining three hours were packed with drama, largely centering around the technocrats’ discovery that according to the arbitrary measures of genetic “fitness” that defined their caste system, the hunter-gatherers would automatically be placed in the ruling caste if they were to be conquered and assimilated as planned.

Mind you, not only isn’t Shock an old-school game, it’s hardly a role-playing game at all. It would be better to describe it as a story game—that is, a game for creating stories. If that’s your bag, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re looking to play a character and get into his or her head-space, though, it won’t give you what you want.

Next post: Saturday!

10 Responses to “DexCon After Action Report, Part 1”

  1. 1 scottsz
    July 15, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Thank you for a great report! I almost made it there… glad to hear all went well.

  2. 2 Naked.
    July 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    If they had really cool special house-rule special abilities, let us know so we can steal them.

  3. 3 FredH
    July 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve long been curious about how well Shock would actually play in practice. I own it, but never quite got my head around it enough to try.

  4. July 15, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    @scottsz: Double Exposure runs two conventions a year; the other convention, Dreamation, is typically in January. Dreamation is heavily oriented toward new-school “indie” games nowadays, and I suspect that audience will prove to be surprisingly friendly to old-school play. But maybe not. We’ll soon see!

    @Naked: In terms of special abilities, a couple of clerics took the power to “swap out” prepared spells for curative spells, as per 3e. A fighter took “General Knowledge,” in the vein of later editions’ Bardic Knowledge ability, allowing him a chance to know stuff about just about anything I felt like explaining. An elf whose only spell was protection from evil was specially adept with that spell, so that it lasted longer and was more effective. A cleric of Loki had an improved movement rate, and a thief took the ability to sense his environment in the dark.

  5. July 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    @FredH: Shock isn’t the most clearly written book—especially if you have an early printing—and some of the rules are unintuitive, like how Praxis works. But once you’ve gotten the rules working more or less correctly, the game is really great. The players need to be on board, though; there’s a lot of involvement with the game on a meta level that you don’t get in a typical RPG, which makes everyone a GM in some respects. I think it’d work poorly if played passively.

  6. 6 Naked.
    July 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Special Abilities: hmm… I don’t know if it occurred to anyone until very recently (was it naraoia or Sternum who thought to give a 1st level cleric a laying-on hands spell?) to give a cleric a first level ability of cure spells.

    I’m still pretty sure the special ability of my next character, cleric or otherwise, will be ‘sweats holy water’. Take that, ghouls!

    Shock: does this game lend itself to pbem? I’ve been looking into play by post or email and this sort of game might be ideal.

  7. July 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I played in the Saturday session and had a great time. That was the first time I had a chance to be the mapper in a D&D game in years. It was great meeting you and Joe. I am looking forward to next year/Feb. I’ll be posting my DexCon report tonight or this weekend.

  8. July 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    @Naked: I don’t know that anyone’s actually tried to run Shock by post or email, but it does seem like a good candidate. The limited duration of Shock games works in its favor here, as it means that a game might actually reach its conclusion before falling apart as PbEM games so often do.

  9. July 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    @rmckee78: It was good meeting you, too! I regret not getting the chance to play in one of your games, and I hope to remedy the issue at Dreamation.

  10. 10 John
    October 15, 2010 at 4:33 am

    I think you should put some thought in to how you want to re-stock your dungeons. It seems like some of these people missed out on adventure because you were sticking to the history of your world a bit much. If the area has already been cleared out you could either-

    1. just run it as it was before. Who is going to know? Especially if it is just a one off.

    2. restock. Roll on the room contents tables again to see what is there. Think about how long ago the area was cleared and what would happen in that time. If it was yesterday then the carnage will still be fresh. Other creatures will be coming to investigate as well to pick over the bodies, looking for valuables, as well. If it happened further in the past then the bodies will be gone and the place will be occupied by other creatures.



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Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2010

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