Fear & Loathing in Lake Geneva Chapter: I don’t remember I’ve gotten too damned old to look forward to a 750 mile round trip alone to Gary Con. (The only way I would get my wonderful wife of 42 years to a game con would be in a hearse, unless it is somewhere she has not been yet overseas or a long way away.) In years past, when I first started doing this, I would pick up the Axeman on my way and it worked well. Then he went all domestic on me last year and brought his whole brood of little hatchets; my friend Jonathon rode up last year with me, but he has since moved to Vegas. Through a series of machinations too detailed to go into here, I believe I may have found a suitable replacement for the Axeman—Mad Mage.** It had been a hell of a two weeks leading up; we were bustin’ moves all over the place getting ready for our big Eldritch debut, and I was furiously trying to finish up the adventure I was writing for the con. Just slightly before my nerves snapped, and my body broke down the rest of the way, we got it done, and I finished the adventure. We loaded up on Wed. in the early afternoon and headed the trusty Jeep northwest. The weather was freakishly fine and the traffic was no problem whatsoever. We were following the old route that the Axeman and I used to use to take us to Corky’s for a Chicago Dog and miss a lot of the tolls as well as the Chi-town congestion and idiot drivers. Why is everybody going 85 mph everywhere up there? What the hell are they in such a hurry about? And while we’re there, who the hell taught some of them how to drive? Illinois needs to check the credentials of every driving instructor in the state. In one 30 mile stretch I saw more “very-nearly-accidents” than I have seen all year. When we got to the IL/WI border, the time/temp display said 84, in northern Illinois, on March 21st. Weird… We missed a dog at Corky’s; Axeman stopped with his whole passel of hatchets and also missed out. It seems we may have missed each other by mere minutes; we were there right around 5, and they were still on winter hours and closed at 4. That’s a wad of dogs not sold right there. I hoped it was not an omen; no Chicago Dog on the way? We had been doing is since the days of LGGC… We rolled into LG and stopped at the good old Culvers; if you have to do burgers out, you can do a lot worse than a Butterburger. Back when I could eat cheese, their fried cheese curds found their way onto my tray every time I visited. When we rolled up to The Lodge at Geneva Ridge, home to Gary Con IV (and hopefully V, and vee-eye, and vee-eye-eye, and vee-eye-eye-eye, well you get my drift) and who walks out front but my partner Frank Mentzer who wasn’t coming until tomorrow morning. Hot damn! Good juju workin’. Mad Mage and I get our stuff unloaded and into our rooms and the Jeep is given a rockstar parking place. Jeep never had it so good again; every time Mad Mage had to take her out, the parking sucked coming back. That was about the worst thing about the next four days; in other words, Gary Con IV was splendid. One of the most memorable moments of the entire Con was what I would call a “geek-squared” moment. I finally got to sit down and jaw a little with one of my heroes, Jolly Blackburn. To find out that he had been an avid fan of my Adventure Gaming Magazine and had it in mind when he started his Shadis magazine just geeked me out. Keep in mind that I came to KoDT well after it began. The first I heard of it was when I was helping Tom Meier at Thunderbolt Mtn Miniatures package the original Knights figures that he had made for KenzerCo. I have been trying to catch up ever since. I even picked up a folded-in-half sketch that had been turned into a booth sign and left on Sunday. Hey, it’s a Jolly original. How geeky is that? It just feels good to geek out now and again. Thursday morning I ran a VIP session of the AD&D Open that proved one of the oldest axioms of DM’ing: don’t count on it coming out anything like what you were hoping for, even when you are successful in anticipating several possible outcomes. In a nutshell: they got in way over their heads and had to run away, then stumbled upon something even more dastardly going on, came at it from the back, so to speak, and then proceeded to trash the whole place. It was great fun. For some reason beyond my ken, I have developed a (thoroughly undeserved in my opinion) reputation for TPK’s at Cons. (For the uninitiated, a TPK is Total Party Killed.) The adventure I wrote was unlike anything anyone expected from me, so I decided to come up with something new for Gary Con IV: the TPS. The adventure I wrote for GCIV, the last in a series I have done for them, was a chameleon. It could be played as high fantasy; it could be played as pure sci-fi, or it could be played as a mosh-up of both, a la Sturmgeshutz & Sorcery. I never really said what it should be. I ran it three times with eight players each time. The adventure involved getting past the nasties in the glacier (no mean feat in itself) and getting on to the Tower. Was it the tower of a mad sorcerer slipping between dimensions or flitting through time, or was it some sort of extraterrestrial survey and anthropological expedition? Had the party managed to loot the tower, they would become disgustingly rich. No DM can allow that, so rather than kill them, I played on their greed and the inability of PC’s to resist shinies. I wrote it so that at some point, just about the time they realize they are filthy rich, the Tower self-cleanses by Sleeping them, leaving them on the glacier with nothing but what they came with, minus stuff expended, and disappearing, leaving the mystery unsolved. But, oh, what happened in between. One group, to be completely honest, was a half-TPK. At that point, I told the four survivors that they faced the same, barring some miracle or feat of derring-do. You see, they were the only party of three that thought fighting two 11.5 feet tall polar bears was a good idea; the other two drove them off with fire. Sigurd, the dwarf played my Michael Curtis (he of Dungeon Alphabet fame) had a potion of hill giant strength which he consumed just before he announced his intent to go out and fight the bears single-handedly. Whoa! This little feller had some stones. As luck would have it, I had already prepared a means of wrestling with a bear, just for this adventure. Each time, I warned him that he would hazard one attack before getting into a grapple. Each time, the bear hit him for 11 HP. Each time, he grappled the bear and rolled a 6, thereby breaking the bear’s spine. One dwarf killed two polar bears. He is now known as Sigurd, Bear-breaker. Of such are Con legends and gaming memories built. Paul Stormberg has set up a Legends of Gaming series of games each year. I hope he is referring to the games, and not us old farts running them. Mike Carr runs his Dawn Patrol Mission every year, just as he has at every single Gen Con (some years we began the game at dawn). This year he also did his incredible Giant LeMans game; in the five hours they played (not enough players to form teams and play longer—we sometimes played 24 hours and did several stints) they took over 100 Turns. I heard that he also had a great Don’t Give Up the Ship with a remarkable juvenile admiral. Paul has staged a stunning exhibit for the Chainmail Jousting lists, and jousts were going on all weekend, with two eventual faction champions meeting. For my part, I made use of the sand table erected this year and staged a micro-armor battle for six players set in early Nov., 1944 when the US 10th Armored blundered into the 11th Panzer, just recently refitted, outside of Metz. Even though I had to leave before the end because of a schedule glitch, I know we had a great time cuz they told me so. I also had another first: a husband and wife playing tanks, with their children playing on the blanket on the floor. How sweet is that?!? I started the Circus Maximus Finals with my .30 calibre black powder cannon, and it was a foreshadowing of the carnage that followed. With only seven carts, and the super-size track, it should not have been crowded, but before the race finished there were two wrecked chariots, a dead horse and a trampled driver’s pulped remains littering the track. Congratulations to Ken Haylock for winning the Byron Memorial Race for the third time. It was a close-run race and well done to all who finished, even old Three-horse there limping along the back straight at the end. Proving once again that gamers wallets are as deep as their hearts are big, the auction raised ten grand in an hour. Frank and I were rockin’ and squeezin’, as the beneficiary was Jim Ward. For the last item of the auction, I snatched my well-worn and much-loved black fedora from my head and auctioned it as a magic hat. The lucky winner had only to bring seven of his friends to a table next year, shake the hat, and I’ll be there to run an adventure just for them. I’ll probably test something horrid on them; horrible but memorable. For the $750 it brought, I feel I owe them a Gary Con V memory. I indulged in two other great pleasures, albeit sparingly. One of the world’s fine beers, and the seemingly official/unofficial beer of Gary Con, is New Glarus Brewing’s Spotted Cow. It is still as good as I remembered. On the munchy front, I got some Uncle Ray’s Kosher Dill Chips. I love almost all of the Uncle Ray’s flavors, but their dill is the best. They are from Detroit, but we never see them here in Cincinnati. Wish I had bought some of both to bring home—not that I need the calories…sigh. On reflection, Gary Con was outstanding. Kudos to Luke, and Ernie and Chris and Dale and Harold and Jeff and all the others whose names I’ve forgotten or don’t know but work so hard to make it so very, very enjoyable. And I also thank them for being so very, very considerate of this old man and looking out for me all weekend. They treat their DM’s right out on the Virtual Porch; as I only did tanks in the sand off the porch, I can’t speak for the rest, but I sort of expect they take pains to treat us old guys really well. It was enormous fun to be out on the Porch and being surrounded by tables where Frank’s, Jim’s and Chris’s games were all going simultaneously. It was great talking to Mike and Harold again, and seeing Tom Wham, my buddy since college. It was especially great to get to talk with Mary Gygax, Gary’s wife when I was there, whom I had only been Facebooking with the last two months. It was great seeing… I could go on forever. It was splendid. I think our initial releases, which we wanted to debut here, were pretty well received, and Eldritch was getting a lot of buzz all over the place. I can’t wait for Gary Con V. Mad Mage and I rolled out a little after 4 PM, some later than I had hoped. We dropped in a CD I had picked up from Dan Marcotte, aka Dan the Bard, titled Manticores and Owlbears, and proceeded to laugh our butts off for the next hour. That CD is a must-have for any RPG’er with the slightest sense of humor. Tell him I sent you; look for The Drunken Gnome Illusionist on YouTube. ** Mad Mage is actually Jim Wampler, creator of Marvin the Mage (at mudpuppycomics.com) and a member of my new f-t-f OD&D group. He isn’t really mad, but his mind has a skew that I find compelling. He also smokes some of the most foul-smelling small cigars sold without an EPA permit for burning hazardous waste. Now, I smoke small cigars myself; they were foul on the way up. Thankfully, I had gotten used to them by the time we turned back to the southeast.