Monday, October 3, 2011

Dave’s Day

I’d make a lousy reporter. I simply lack the ability to observe events as they occur, preferring to participate whenever possible. This means that any attempt I make to provide a comprehensive picture of what occurred at a function or event is doomed to failure. The 3rd Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day is no exception, so please forgive any oversights I might commit in the following paragraphs or names I might accidently misattribute or misspell. I’ll leave the task of providing a wider, more accurate account of the day’s events to another.
After waking at the crack of dawn to make the drive into Brooklyn, I finally managed to find a parking spot a few blocks away from the Brooklyn Strategist. Entering the space, I immediately met John, the mind behind the Brooklyn Strategist and its operator. The Brooklyn Strategist is not so much a game store as it is a neighborhood resource. It shares time in a community space and serves as “a unique, community-based, interactive board and card-game center, café and social club.” Open Tuesday through Thursday every week and on first and third weekends of the month, it provides a place for game enthusiasts of all ages to get together and share a common love for games of all types. In addition, they run “Game Modules,” weekly series of games with common themes (Ancient Strategy, Sports, Empire Building and Civilizations, etc) that run several weeks and introduce players to games of increasing complexity as they grow familiar with the Game Module’s theme.
For those who can’t commit to a regular Game Module, the Brooklyn Strategist provides a four hour block of play time for $10 dollars. Slap your money down and choose from any one of the many game available for play. If you don’t know the rules, the staff is more than willing to get you familiar with the game so you can play. That’s an excellent way to give a new game a shot before plunking down the $50 a high end board game goes for these days.
The space is clean and open, although the lighting could be a little brighter. Tables are sawhorse affairs surrounded by folding chairs. The entry way serves as business counter, game display, and game sales, and the place is wheelchair accessible. As we gamers know, gaming and the munchies go hand-in-grease-covered-hand, and the Brooklyn Strategist has you covered there. They operate an on-site concession stand, Strategic Snacks, which is stocked with comfort foods made from scratch. The mint lemonade and chocolate chip cookies were both excellent. I really can’t recommend the Brooklyn Strategist enough. If you’re in the area and looking to play a game that doesn’t involve renting shoes or paying a table fee in a snooker hall, the Brooklyn Strategist is worth a visit.

 After getting acquainted with the Strategist, I got down to the game floor to see a few familiar faces. Tavis Allison was already up and running a Blackmoor hex crawl for a group of children and adults. This was the second time I’ve met Tavis and I was again amazed at how effortlessly he keeps young children engaged and focused on a game with complex rules. He had a “hex map” laid out on the table constructed from Heroscape Terrain, which struck me as a brilliant idea. If somebody out there could produce a series of hex-shaped markers illustrated with classic fantasy cartographic symbols that attached to one another quickly and easily (maybe magnetically), they’d probably make a mint from gamers. Just a suggestion to would-be entrepreneurs...
Also sighted was James Carpio of Chapter 13 Press. I met James earlier this year at ICON 30 and got the opportunity to chat with him and Frank Mentzer after the con had ended. James was at the Strategist to run Death Race Z, a new game from Chapter 13 and had artist Ben Morgan with him. Together, James and Ben are the creators of Spookybeans, the gothic comics RPG. Imagine roleplaying in the world of Charles Addams and you’re halfway to understanding Spookybeans. James and Ben have been playtesting the game for five years now and are finally getting ready to publish it. I had a gander at the game in a rough form and it looks interesting. Ben’s art really sets the mood for the game and with adventures with names like “Dave of the Dead” it seems to have a built in audience with anyone who enjoys Chez Goth, the quirky worlds of Tim Burton, Shaun of the Dead, or just likes poking fun at heavily eye-shadowed folks with too much spider-themed jewelry.
I grabbed a table after greeting everyone and catching up with what was going on for the day. Unpacking and unwinding after the drive in, I talked with John from the Strategist who gave me the information I reported above about the place. I promised I’d snap some more pictures once the place got busier, but unfortunately I only got the few I posted in this article. Before I knew it, things were happening all around me and I forgot to try and document the day in photographs.
With more people trickling it, some of whom were children, Tavis gathered the kids together to introduce them to Blackmoor and Adventurer, Conqueror, King. The two adult players from Blackmoor drifted over to my table to make room for the kids. These were Mike R., who turned out to have a strange synchronicity with myself besides just a name, and Tim H., the mind behind the Play Generated Map and Document Archive (

Since a few more faces were needed before I could break out the special Dave Arneson Stonehell adventure I’d written for the day, the three of use sat down to play InSpectres, refereed by Tim. It was my first experience with the game and it was a tremendous amount of fun (I’ll have more to say about it in another post). In short, you play the employees of a Ghostbusters-type paranormal extermination service. Game play is fast, simple, and very much in the new school of game design. Players have almost as much say in the game narrative as the game master and a session can be wrapped up in an hour or so.

Halfway through InSpectres, we got a new player, John, who turned out is a regular reader of this blog (Hi, John!). John took up the mantle of Sally the Intern and saved Mike and I when we got imprisoned in our own mystical glyph like a pair of mimes stuck in an invisible box—an invisible box surrounded by goats that had tasted human blood!

When the game finished (triumphantly for the players, I might add), I asked James and Ben to join us and we sat down to play Labyrinth Lord run by myself (Do I need to submit a detailed report for my Labyrinth Lord Society XP, David?). The tournament/demo style scenario involved the plundering of the Hidden Vault of Evaders Noan. The five players chose from a stack of pre-generated PCs and, after getting the background, entered the vault in search of three extremely valuable gems. Not long after they entered, two more players came over and asked to sit in. That’s how Andrew (a newcomer to Labyrinth Lord and old school RPGs) and Dave (another reader of the SoTPR) joined the party. I’ll have more to say about the scenario in another post, but the party was largely successful (one of the gems was recovered) and I’m pretty happy with the debut of the adventure. It needs a few tweaks, but it might become my convention/on-the-road Stonehell adventure of choice.

It was 3:30 when the Labyrinth Lord game finished up, and after enjoying some compliments on my refereeing, I took a look around the room to see that it was filling up nicely. Tavis had finished ACK, many of the panellists had arrived and were chatting with acquaintances new and old, families were playing board and card games at the tables around the Strategist, and someone (I think it was Paul Hughes from Blog of Holding) was running 4E D&D with a bunch of kids in one corner of the space.

I had some time to kill before the panel started at 5 PM and I largely spent the next hour and a half chatting with people and sampling a snack from the concession stand. These conversations included:
  • Talking with Tavis and Darren Watts, President of Hero Games, about Dave Arneson, Braunstein, and the simple, but radical idea Dave had about playing games where your “piece” got better at them thanks to the experiences had in previous games.
  • Having Luke Crane of Burning Wheel and the Mouse Guard RPG remind me of the Milton Bradley board game Conspiracy, a game that I had completely forgotten about and must now acquire at all costs.
  • Comparing notes with Tim H. on Dwarf Fortress, its complexity and usefulness, and the fact that it lacks any sort of intuitive introduction to game play for people like me.
  • Chatting with Darren Watts out on the sidewalk about Kenneth Hite and how the mark of a good designer is the ability to compartmentalize your own creations, especially when creating for different systems owned by different publishers.
After grabbing a quick bite of Mexican at the Fast Burrito Deli, it was time to grab a seat, for the panel was about to begin. A film crew was on hand to record the discussion, but due to audio issues with the microphone, it’s uncertain if any of the footage will appear online as intended.

The panel consisted of Darren Watts, Luke Crane, Brian Driotcour, David Ewalt, Ethan Gilsdorf, and Nicholas Fortugno, whose credits can be found in this post rather than reproduce them here. The discussion was interesting and very respectful of Dave Arneson’s contributions to the game industry (even in light of the occasional turkey like DNA/DOA). The entire industry of gaming –be it tabletop or digital—would be in a completely different state if it hadn’t be for Dave’s simple yet radical idea. Listening to the panel reminded me exactly how much we gamers owe to Dave and reinforces the sadness that he’s not better recognized for his contributions. As many people there admitted, they came into the hobby through D&D, but had no clue about who Dave was or what role he had in the game that Gygax’s name dominated. It’s a shame that Arneson is only now beginning to gain the accolades he richly deserves at a time when he’s not around to enjoy them. Tavis (and the rest of the organizers) are doing a great service to the hobby, the next generation, and Dave’s memory with these annual Game Days and I hope they endure for many, many years.

The panel ended, leaving me with not only a renewed respect for Dave, but a few laughs (I thought I was the only one who considered the mathematical formulae for explosion damage in Twilight 2000 to be a point of high mockery), and the realization that role-players vary much more than I imagined (apparently the Danes have attitudes about roleplaying that Americans would find almost alien, but that’s one of the beauties of the hobby and the mindsets of those who play it).

It was 6:30 PM by this time and the day was winding down for me. Between only a few hours of sleep in the previous 48 leading up the event and a full session of gaming under my belt, I was feeling pretty beat and facing an hour and a half drive home. There was also uneven ratio between game masters and players, and since I had already run a session, I thought it best if I let someone else run something instead. I had one person, Eric, another reader of this blog and owner of The Dungeon Alphabet, come down looking to play Labyrinth Lord with me at the helm, but I was pretty wiped out and I had to disappoint him (sorry about that again, Eric). I gave him my copy of the Hidden Vault of Evaders Noan as a small consolation prize because I always hate to let somebody down.

A little after 7 PM, I collected my things, said my goodbyes and walked back to my car. To my delight, it was exactly where I left it, free from parking tickets, and I made my way back into the quiet suburbs of Long Island, tired, happy, and proud to have been a part of the 3rd Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day. I hope to be there again in 2012. Maybe you’ll be there too.


e said...

No problem, Michael. I've only myself to blame for not coming earlier. Thanks again for giving me your copy of the adventure. A very fun read!


Michael Curtis said...

Thanks for understanding. I'm glad you enjoyed the adventure.

Havard: said...

Great report! Wish I could have been there. Thanks for sharing :)