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As GenCon goes, some of mine are just grand and some so-so. I’ve never had a bad one, so like pizza I can rest assured that no matter the quality, it is still GenCon. :)

After my first day of putting in some solid work volunteering, I put in a whole lot more work over the course of the weekend. Of course, my time was about 1/2 of what the “full-timers” were putting in at about 40 hours. These guys (and gals) floor me. I don’t know how they do this and get anything else done. I’m not sure they did get much else done.

The Auction was absolutely packed at times this year, especially for the Charity auction Saturday night, but I’ll get to that in a minute. One disheartening realization with the Auction this year was a smaller quantity and variety of RPG material. A lot of the old favorites are just not being sold anymore and there’s less and less each year. Is this hobby really fading, or is more of the used material just in the hands of the online stores and ebay? For example, I heard of only one copy of the 1992 Greyhawk’s “From the Ashes” being sold and I watched it go for a decent, though not obscene amount. If you want obscene, look what the book dealers are charging for it on Amazon.

As the years wear on, fewer of these products survive and they appeal to fewer still gamers, but they are no less desired by those who want them or want a spare copy. However, Auction still has the deals. Consider the companion piece to the one sided above, the year-older “Greyhawk Wars” which went for just $15, but which you’ll find on Amazon again for no less than $40. Naturally I have them both. I love Greyhawk material and the world was my first real non-custom fantasy setting that I explored in depth. Despite my interest in the Mystara setting and campaign that Frank Mentzer created, it was actually some years later that I explored it. Still to this day love Greyhawk and with the Realms I’m always looking for new information for it. I liken it to finding a new novel from your favorite author and setting to expand your understanding of his/her worldview. Speaking of, in fantasy for me lately that’s been Scott Lynch. Somebody needs to get him tied down to his computer and forced to type cuz the boy’s got work to do. If you haven’t read his stuff and you like low/rare magic fantasy settings, do yourself a favor and find his paperbacks.

Ok, let me talk about the Charity Auction a little. Remember this is the last event of the Con and these guys are worn out by this point. That they’re a little loopy is a tremendous understatement. Right before they do this they auction all the unclassifiable crap that gets dumped on them over the course of the weekend. The “mystery” box this year was a box of porn. I kid you not. Someone dumped a volume of vintage VHS porn on them. Amazingly or perhaps not so, it sold for $150. As was noted by a dear friend of mine “They do know you can get that free these days on the internet, right?” Perhaps, but I’m not willing to pry.

I have to say I was impressed by those who still had money Saturday night how willing they were to spend it for charity. There were so many older gamers and gamer couples there all willing to shell out serious cash for sometimes minor stuff. Some of it was not so minor of course, with custom-painted dice bags worked up by some of the best artists in the industry (I didn’t see one go for less than $50) and a medallion Frank put up for Auction for the Gygax family’s new Con that if I’m not mistaken went for around $450. Impressive. I can’t wait to see the numbers.

I passed on Sunday for many reasons, but one was that I was emotionally, physically and financially drained. Plus, people I would have rather attended the Con with were unavailable, which reduced it in some ways for me. It’s not as fun if you can’t share it, as some of you likely understand. When you’ve seen it all before, what’s the big deal?

I’m hoping in the podcast to go over old stories and memories of GenCon’s past. My first was by far the most eventful and my first exposure to a lot of new aspects to the industry. I went as a volunteer for a gaming company I eventually ended up writing for, and got to see the best and worst of downtown Milwaukee (best – tie between Saz’s hamburgers in the mall and the Safehouse/ worst – panhandlers…frickin’ panhandlers).

For now though it’s off to catalog my new (used) purchases and to see if once again I’ve bought duplicates of anything. I know of at least one. I ended up with an extra copy of Harpoon. I love the game but this is I believe copy three. Any takers? :)

So I survived my first full day of volunteering at Auction. Most of it consisted of my playing gate keeper at the Auction Store. It was a bit of a torturous thing. You’re _that_ close to all those games and can’t touch. Can’t thumb through them. I did meet a lot of interesting people, though and many had a variety of comments regarding my not letting them in as quickly as they wanted.

One guy asked “Oh so you’re the sheriff huh?” I replied “Look buddy, I’m just the guy they got standing at the entrance.” No, I don’t have an inflated sense of my own importance. Sorry to disappoint.

Although some people were difficult to deal with, most readily handled the waiting, bumping and annoying hassles. I was a little rough myself getting started, but I finally figured the pace of things and kept the line moving. Of course, I had my share of hassles. I had a couple difficult souls and I had a couple of emergencies. Kids wandering far away from their parents (please don’t let the 10 year old lead the other two younger ones away to find mommy in some nondescript nearby location!) were one crisis and a woman trying to buy a truckload of games for her 3 year old (all under $5 – if you’ve got kids, you know how critical it is that they have variety and that it’s cheap for you), but needing her husband who had the list and cash to pay for them waiting for 30 minutes while he took his time coming over to the room.

Customer service at a Con. Have I been reduced to this? :) Everyone else was a blast. There were some interesting people and hey you still get to bid on anything that comes up. I certainly did. I fought for a shot at a nice collection of FASA Star Trek books. It was a lot of the Intel and Romulan/Klingon guides mixed in with the original rules in an old rules box set. Bidding went over $40, which I didn’t really want to spend, but I should have. It was a nice collection.

There weren’t that many RPG’s this year, which is sad. The used book industry in that area seems to be diminishing. I’m sorry to see that trend accelerating. It sucks. I miss tabletop RPG’s more and more every year and mourn the lost companies.

Hey on the bright side I did get to meet Frank Mentzer and chat a bit with him. The guy’s a legend, but of course he wants to be treated like anybody else. He’s very cool. I botched my mentioning to him that his Basic Set revision was my first gaming product. I imagine it’s easy to do. I’m not a fanboy for much, but gaming is definitely one of those things.

The staff’s outstanding. These guys are a well-oiled machine. They’ve been doing this a long time and it shows. Not much gets missed and product just frickin’ moves. A nice side benefit has been to peak into the collectibles room. It’s like walking into a bank vault. You’re afraid to touch anything…and you know, you shouldn’t. Old gamer books are fragile. :)

I did get to stop in for a bit of the NSDMG lecture on the Cold War. Wish I could’ve stayed for Mark McDonough’s talk. The brothers were always entertaining. I never did hear the official on what happened to Dan. I imagine it’s not good. I miss his stories at the NSDMG. That was a very funny individual human being.

Well that’s the first day and I’m tired as hell. I’ll be back tomorrow with more amazing insights into the phenomena that is GenCon.

The title says it all. We finish our tales of woe with some interesting further discussion about just how bad someone can screw up your game and make you wish you’d never agreed to play with them. And, we digress and side track often, because that’s sort of what we do. Enjoy.

First Day at GenCon 2010

I’m exhausted. That’s the best way to put it and I need to sleep, but I thought I’d post a quick note on Day 0, better known as the extremely active day before the Con starts.

I volunteered to help out at Auction this year, surmising that since I spend so much time there, it would be logical to help out. Well, of course the first couple of days are all about getting new material entered into the system, sorted and put up in the “warehouse” or “shop” as directed.

There’s a lot of gopher work involved and at my age that’s an interesting task to try and undertake. Most everyone there was exceptionally friendly and we all tried to have a good time despite the extreme amounts of work to be done. There were some minor “personality” issues with one person, but otherwise things went swimmingly. And sadly, I get to experience that being in a supervisory position for years has left me less than fit for runner work. Ah…age. :)

Otherwise, combined with my day job, I’m tired as hell and I’m going to turn in. I’ll discuss the Con more as the weekend progresses. Take care all.

Told you I was busy working on something. :) In this episode, I attack the issues brought up in some of my early posts about problem gamers and how to deal with them (and in some cases how I have dealt with them). Joining me is my good friend and EERIE co-host DK. This discussion ended up taking more than an hour (and likely could’ve taken several), so Part II will be on the way shortly. ENJOY!

Ok, now that I’ve figured out libsyn’s new and rather byzantine interface, I have uploaded Episode 1 of Tales of an Old School Gamer. My EERIE Radio cohort, Fizz, joined me for the inaugural episode. We discuss how we got into gaming a little bit and later on the demise of the Friendly Local Neighborhood Gaming Store (FLNGS). Enjoy! You can visit the web site or download it directly here.

Ok, so real life’s taking a bite this time of year and it’s causing me enough grief that I can’t easily post, but prepare for I have managed to get you some content in a slightly different form.

Tales of an Old School Gamer is now live as a podcast and will be found at http://tosg.libsyn.com. The show will release (preferably) monthly, and I will continue to drop blog posts here as often as possible to fill the gaps in between releases.

This month of course will be interesting because tomorrow starts GenCon, where of course I shall be. :) If you’re in town, stop by the Auction. You’ll undoubtedly find me there. Should I be able to break free from the Auction area, I’ll likely be stopping in to the RPG podcast and blogging forums just to see who’s where, what’s what and all that good stuff. The guys (and gals) that I met at last year’s forum were a real pleasure to speak with and I hope I get the opportunity to see them again.

My hope is, should libsyn behave and play nice, to get a few episodes up in honor of GenCon and to give you a taste of what to expect. I hope you find the end product enjoyable and I’ll certainly accept any feedback you might have. Now, let’s hop to it and get those files posted.

Everybody’s got a story when it comes to munchkin gamers. They are the reason most convention-run games have pre-gens. They are also one of the highest causes of stress in a gaming environment a GM or player can face. Suffice it to say, if Steve Jackson writes a game parodying your existence, you’ve reached the level of epic problem in the hobby.

I suppose most of us at one time or another entertained the idea of or indulged in munchkin behavior. Consider it. Sure it’s well beneath you now, but in your past, perhaps when you were young, it was all about what you could accumulate rather than how your character or the campaign developed. Did you ever describe your character by starting with “Well, he’s (she’s) got a +5 Holy Avenger (Longbow, Demonslayer, whatever), Full Plate +5… blah blah blah blah blah” or perhaps mentioning some treasured and rare artifact that’s equally BLAH? If you did that, you suffered a bout with munchkinism. Most of us grew out of this in our early teenage years, but not all of us and it’s to those I’m referring in this article.

In my now decades of running and playing RPG’s, I’ve had the displeasure to be exposed to a whole variety of munchkin gamers. I suppose the question most people have when encountering one is to wonder why. Why are they doing this to my group/game? Do they get off on it? Do they have some inferiority complex that requires them to try and prove they’re better or that they can always win? Didn’t they grow out of it years ago like everyone else? I have yet to find the answer to this. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that if you aren’t one, you’re best hope is for you and/or your group to survive them and if you are one, well, I hope you’re enjoying World of Warcraft. Watch I say that and people will complain I’m picking on Warcraft. I play it too people. It’s called Warcrack for a reason.

How did we handle them in the old days? Well, a bar of soap in a sock did wonders…oh, you’re probably wondering more about in group setting. Mostly given that these were friends of ours we tolerated them to some degree and all stewed as we watched them try and ruin our GM’s (or my) carefully crafted setting. Then it became of game of making that player’s character miserable and ensuring that things happened to it that no amount of maxing hit points and equipment would solve; petty I will admit but immensely satisfying. The other option was, and this usually wrecked whatever campaign we were in, to join them. If they couldn’t be stopped, we would all go into this virtual arms race to see who could outdo the little treasure, sometimes with the assistance of the GM. The satisfaction of this avenue was also short-lived.

If such persons are irredemable in their quest to acquire as much loot as possible or be the most powerful player just to say they are, then often your option is simply to cut bait and move on. Some people, you just can’t reach (cue Struther). Ostracizing a friend or an otherwise good acquaintance isn’t a fun thing, but having them in your game environment just breeds animosity and contempt, so which is preferable?

That said, in another light the existence of perpetual munchkins does provide some of the best gaming stories out there. I shall never forget one almost archtypical example of the species who in his waning years in our group tried to consistently build characters who were “like a Jedi, but tougher”. Don’t get me started on the number of miraculously successful rolls that were made on such characters as well. Not like rolls don’t get fudged during any given game, but when you’re known for fudging every single roll, again that’s the kind of thing that indicates a problem.

If you have similar stories, I always like to hear them, so please sound off in comments. If I think up any, and I try not to on the advice of qualified mental health professionals, I’ll do the same and expand on the post.

Soon To Be Live…

When I first decided to start an RPG blog about a year ago, I had thoughts of eventually transitioning to a podcast format. I’ve done podcasting for other fields of endeavor for the past couple of years and since most of the people I enjoy that hobby with are also gamers, the natural conclusion for me was to mix the two.

Of course, everyone and their grandmother podcasts these days just as everyone and their assorted relatives started blogging a couple of years ago. How is this different, one might ask? I’m not sure there’s benefit in trying to be edgy, trendy or flashy, especially in terms of tabletop RPG’s. They’re not exactly cutting edge themselves anymore. My purpose for the blog also was mostly for a touch of nostalgia and reminiscing and thus that will be the focus of the podcast.

I’m sort of a people watcher. Watching people for me is an anthropological experiment. Gaming has been the ultimate for me in this regard. Not only have I gamed with numerous groups and personalities over the years, but I’ve attended conventions that have allowed me to do even more. You really get to explore the human condition and you don’t even have to like people that much or be that extroverted. :) My lessons and our bs stories are a good portion of what I intend to share on the podcast, all at least loosely related to gaming of course.

Expect to see the first episode rolling off the truck within the month with more soon to follow.

Swashbuckling had certainly been tried before as an RPG. GDW had introduced the genre to the gaming industry with its legendary “En Garde!” in 1975 and a smattering of other titles including one by Fantasy Games Unlimited, Flashing Blades, followed over the years. The definitive work on the “real” era of Swashbuckling and Swordplay circa the 1600′s was probably GURPS Swashbucklers, with its stellar research and the venerable GURPS system to back it up.

All these systems were limited, though, to historical settings and time lines. Unless a GM wanted to heavily invest time and effort into creating an alternate history in order to fool players or at least keep them guessing as to events’ outcomes, this simply wasn’t feasible. Let us not forget, there was also the matter of keeping players feeling like they were more than small cogs in an already running machine. Such feelings can quickly lead to frustration, apathy, boredom and the end of the campaign.

There never was a fair answer to this, not until 1999 with the release of Alderac Entertainment Group’s 7th Sea. An interesting note to start this discussion is that 7th Sea RPG was published in tandem with a very popular card game. Both are now out of print after only about a 6-year run. Even more interestingly, finding an easy reference on Alderac’s home page to the fact that they’ve even heard of 7th Sea is nigh unto impossible.

7th Sea rejected previous models of Swashbuckling adventure RPG by modifying the setting. As can be seen from the wiki entry and as is known to just about anyone who played the game, 7th Sea was basically a 1600′s Bizarro Europe setting with analogs for most historical European powers and several auxillary powers of that era. It was fully stocked with a compliment of very in-depth heroes and villains that controlled the destiny of the known world, but who could all play a part in and be affected by a campaign with no significant loss to any GM-inspired storyline. Another fun fact about 7th Sea, the original supplements were supposed to cover the state of affairs and the condition of the world in only one year, 1668. It was thought that as they progressed, future supplements would be marked with later years.

One thing that impressed me about this game line was the incredible amount of high-quality support material, with each major nation and secret society having their own impressive sourcebook, each again with its own equally impressive cover art. This extensive support made it all the more puzzling when AEG decided to kill the line several years ago. Apparently, although the game had a rabid fan base, they didn’t exist in sufficient numbers to justify continuing production. A sad reality of such games, especially one so intimately tied with a card game, is when gamers move on, companies will these days cut bait rather than support a flagging line.

I recall the system being exceptionally easy to learn and the point system for character development fairly flexible. It was easy enough to play it very hard-nosed with slow character development or cinematic with rapid, but controlled leaps. Membership in Secret Societies and new fighting styles bore huge costs, for example, but the game lent itself readily to flamboyant storyline development and I as a GM certainly made use of that.

My group at the time had craved a shot at such a setting for a long time and quickly grew to love the often fast-pace of the game, mixed with an insanely rich storyline and a, as was noted on wiki, an almost Lovecraftian undertone to some elements of sorcery in the game. Looking back, I seem to have a knack for injecting or enhancing horror in many of the games I’ve run and this one was no different. Unnerving the players seemed to imprint on them almost as much if not more than making them laugh. Each one of their characters left a considerable impression on the other players to the point where years later we were all still sharing stories of their particular adventures or comedic moments. This remains the only campaign I wrote a follow-up piece of fiction to years after the campaign had completed; such was the continued interest in the characters by the players.

I had always wanted to play a game like this, but until 7th Sea the results always fell short. It was just as easy to play a round of Sid Meier’s “Pirates” and call it a day. 7th Sea, later called Swashbuckling Adventures, was one of those settings that produced such a detailed campaign setting that it was like waiting for the next installment in your favorite fiction series to come out. As a parting shot, its very last supplement, Rapier’s Edge (which if memory serves was marked with a later year), even contained a timeline treatment for what they had planned to happen over the next couple of years of game play. For a busy GM, the timeline was a godsend and for anyone else it was worth its weight in gold for ideas.

This game had it all for cinematic gamers, dedicated role players and even card gamers. With such wide appeal, I expected it to still be around and selling, but admittedly I don’t know as much about TCG’ers. I’ve heard they’re a more fickle lot and move on rather easily and if this is the case perhaps I have only them to blame for the loss of this line. :) Because 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures was so intimately connected with its namesake TCG, it conceivably couldn’t survive on its own.

Thus it joins the sad and long list of games on the bookheap of RPG history, but during its tenure it burned brighter than almost any other. This is a game I would readily recommend for almost anyone to play and any collector to have in his or her collection. Any interest in that era makes ownership of this game a must.

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