Friday, June 22, 2012

Throwing Rocks in Texas (Part 1)

It’s been more than two weeks since NTRPGCon and I’ve yet to chronicle my exploits in Bedford, TX. Partly to blame was the inevitable post-con crash that afflicts most of us who spend four days in the company of our far-flung comrades in dice bags only to return to the mundane daily grind, but I also came home to find my internet connection on the fritz for a week and that took the wind out of my sails. Enough time has passed to fill my proverbial canvas anew, but that also means the following may be corrupted by time and faulty memory. Take this all with a small pinch of salt.

Unlike my journey to Gary Con, the trip down to Texas was a breeze. Once again, I got to fly in a turbo prop from Long Island down to Philly before graduating to a real, honest-to-goodness jet plane. Some folks might see that as a quaint means of travel, but with my love of the past, there’s nothing like taking a ride through the skies and watching the props whirl just outside the window. Plus, the guy sitting next to me had the largest carry-on bag in history, so the flight attendant (although I think I can call her a “stewardess” if the plane has propellers) moved me up to the front row in return for promising I’d open the emergency hatch in case of a crash. That is assuming a prop didn’t break free on impact and turn me into Wash in the closing half-hour of Serenity.

From Philly it was a nice flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. The young guy beside me, hailing originally from a formerly French-controlled African nation and having the most unique accent I’ve ever heard, spent the flight watching either that movie starring Real Navy SEALS™ or the longest Armed Forces commercial in history (it’s the same thing, actually) with French sub-titles. We arrived in Texas without trouble, but I learned that the previous evening saw Biblical thunderstorms in D-FW and interrupted the travel of fellow NTRPGCon attendees.

A brief wait (less than 15 minutes) had me in the Holiday Inn shuttle and en route to the hotel. Another con attendee was in the van with me, but was suffering through his own version of my trip to Gary Con. He apologized for his surliness later and now I must apologize because I can’t remember who that was. Sorry, brother. Refresh my memory if you’re reading this.

At the hotel, I learned that since I was technically two hours early for check-in, my reserved room with the rest of the con folks wasn’t ready and would I mind another room on a different floor? Knowing my gaming kin, “Yes, please.” So instead of being ensconced on the fifth floor, I had a quiet little room on the second floor right by the stairs down to the lobby. Again, after my room in Lake Geneva (literarily the farthest room possible from the action of the convention), it was a godsend. And those stairs meant I could avoid the elevator and work off some of the big Texas meals I figured I’d be eating while in town (more on that later). Mike Badolato, one of the con’s organizers wandered by as I was checking in, so I got to put names to faces from minute one. He was just the first of many folks I’d get acquainted with over the next four days.

With my bags safely stowed in my room, I wandered down to the ballroom and grabbed my con badge. I ran into Allan Grohe manning the Black Blade booth, saw a few other familiar faces from Gary Con, and got settled. The area was quiet. Vendors had yet to arrive and most of the gaming tables were vacant. I began to wonder if this whole North Texas thing was all hype, but then learned that the Charity D&D game was underway down in the “Longhorn Room” (what else would you expect in Texas?) and that’s where the masses were gathered. Rather than join the crowd, I hung around the ballroom for awhile chatting with the stragglers and new arrivals. Out in the common area beside the lobby, Jeff Dee was setting up his display table and I introduced myself. We chatted about his Kickstarter projects and Goodman Games for a bit before Jeff kindly taught me how to play Cavemaster, his new Neolithic RPG. Folks, Cavemaster would be one of the bright lights of the con for me and I can’t recommend picking up a copy strongly enough. The whole premise (“it’s an archeological recreation of the first RPG played by our caveman ancestors”) and game mechanics (it uses rocks. Really, rocks.) are unmitigated genius if you enjoy turning an off-beat concept into high art and unique but simple rule resolution. I’d get a more in-depth crack at Cavemaster before the con was over, but Jeff taught me the rules in less than three minutes.

The Charity Game finished not long after and who should I run into by my Gary Con partner in crime and soon-to-be fellow panelist Tim Kask. Tim and I caught up, talked shop, walked the parapet, and then, (and there’s no way to write this that doesn’t sound sleazy) went back to his hotel room so he could show me his Snakeriders. Tim and Frank Mentzer, his fellow Eldritch Enterprises compadre and my own convention buddy, were roommates for the con and Frank rolled in shortly after. We chatted about upcoming EE projects (I’m eagerly awaiting “Spider Bitch on the Rag,” although I’ve been told it will have another, more commercial title when it hits the market) before they invited me to dinner at the hotel restaurant. The three of us headed out to eat and encountered the plague of NTRPGCon: the wait-staff (emphasis on “the wait”). The slow service would become the running joke of the convention. It was obvious that the Holiday Inn was not prepared for gamer appetites—or merely human ones—and I suspect that this is the primary reason NTRPGCon V will be held at a new location.

Dinner was mind-blowing, the highlight of the con for little old me. Halfway through my burger, I realized that my table companions were Jennell Jaquays, Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, Jim Ward, and (briefly) Erol Otus. That song from Sesame Street—“Some of these things belong together…”—started running through my head, but everyone was very welcoming and encouraging and we had a blast mocking Alien vs. Predator on the restaurant TV. Nevertheless, it was a reminder that somewhere down the line I had crossed a threshold and was now officially a game designer of very small renown. Thank you all so very much for warm welcome.

When dinner wrapped up, Tim, Frank, and I hung out on the patio and they told me secrets Man Should Not Know about the old days with Gary and TSR. I don’t actively ask about the Old Days when I’m with those guys, wanting to avoid being a rabid fanboy, but I’ve learned that just by hanging around with them and letting them talk, I pick up a few interesting anecdotes along the way. I’m like the Margaret Mead of the gaming industry. Luckily for the guilty, I don’t always recall all the tales the next day, but the ones I do remember are doosies. At last, the late hour and the flight caught up with me and I managed to get to bed at a respectable hour—but not before dropping $40 on some old Judges Guild stuff from the con store. It would be the first of several purchases I’d make before heading back to NY.

Next up: Emirikol is killed and the Tim & Mike Show makes its debut. 


Zanazaz said...

Good grief. I had planned on attending this year, and I just earlier today found the flyer. Here I am practically in the same city, oh wait it was the same city... AND I MISSED IT AGAIN. GRRRR...ARDGGGH! Oh well, next year, I have plenty of time to plan for it.

Bighara said...

I may have to try and make NT next year. It sounds like a great time.

Badmike said...

My booth looks like a garage sale that exploded! Next year we'll have more room and I can spread those boxes out a little more.

Some points:

Yes the restaurant's problems are one reason we are switching to the Marriott next year, but also, I think we maxed that place out! We were very pleased by the attendance and show of support for old school gaming.

Hanging out with the old guard and hearing them discuss sundry bits of old school lore is one of the reasons why the con is so fun. I realized this the first year while sitting next to Dennis Sustare and Jennell Jaquays as they discussed their years at Coleco at NTRPG con I. Learned lots of great stuff that night!!!

Badmike said...

Oh, and Cavemaster rocks!