Breakout 2017 was a lot of fun. I’m glad I grabbed tickets a million years ago. (I wish I could remember how I heard about it now.) It’d been over a year since I last attended a big gaming event. The weekend was exhausting, but I got to try a bunch of games I’d likely have never played if left to my own devices. I also got to see a bunch of gamers I only know from the internet, and a few friends I don’t see nearly enough.
The organizers of Breakout are indie-gamers so that side of table top gaming was well represented. Lots of indie game designers and players are in attendance. If you want to play indie games this convention has you covered. There was also a really big contingent of people playing D&D 5e Adventurers League. My old DM from back when I was playing 4e public-play is a big part of that scene and was there as well so I got to catch up with him. If you were into boardgames there was an even bigger room full of people playing those. If you are the most hard core of old-school D&D nerds you might find the convention lacking: Kiel Chenier was the only person running anything old-school. Maybe that’ll change as the convention grows.
This was the biggest gaming convention I’ve been to. Of course, I basically go to none so maybe that’s not saying much. There were lots of people and lots of games, anyway. The old-school D&D conventions in Toronto (OSRCon and OSCon) are much more modest in their scope in comparison. This convention was big, but not overwhelming and annoying the way FanExpo has become.
I ended up playing 4 games while at the convention (2 games of Night Witches, a game of Apocalypse World, and a game of Swords Without Masters), and attended one panel. I spent the rest of my time hanging out and drinking beer. My advice to anyone attending a convention is to not go overboard with the gaming. I ended up with a few gaps in my schedule and it gave me time to relax and chat with the other people there. That’s often just as much fun as gaming.
The convention was well organized and well run. People were friendly. I had a nice time at all my games, and the people playing them were are all really welcoming. You can’t ask for much more than that.
OSCon 5.5 was a lot of fun. I played in a game in the morning and then ran a game—what!?—in the afternoon. I ended up skipping the evening session, because I was pretty beat after 9-10 hours of gaming. If I was willing to power through into the night I could have play tested Daniel Bishop’s upcoming adventure, which I am quite sure would have been a fun session. There are so many old-school gamers in the city and I often forget they aren’t all on G+ gossiping about games: it’s nice to meet new faces; it’s always nice to play in person.
My first game was with Galen F, who ran The Idea from Space, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure. Galen began our game by informing us we were off on a quest to save a duke, likely located on an island off the Southern tip of South America. We arrived on the island to find the wreckage of his ship. My fellow adventurer suggested we torch the boat, just in case it was filled with monsters, and then fish out any melted gold from the debris. That really set the tone for everything that would follow. We did eventually find the duke—who we killed before we realized he was the duke. We managed to save two of his entourage, who we returned to Spain—where they probably spread the terrible scourge that had afflicted them on the island. The chaotic Elf in our party called it a win, and who am I to disagree. It was fun to play.
I had skimmed through this module when it first came out, but it arrived in a box containing A Red and Pleasant Land, Death Frost Doom, and Tower of the Star Gazer, so it was kind of easy to ignore. I remember at the time thinking it was goofy. I’m sure if I had read and reviewed the adventure at that time I would have said it was dumb and you should skip it. Now having played it I can see my impressions of the module were off: it is kind of goofy, but it in a good way. The adventure features two neat factions for the players to interact with and takes place on a small island that was fun to explore. I really should make more of an effort to review things I’ve actually played or ran myself: otherwise what are you really saying?
My session after lunch went well, I think. I always feel a sense of dread and panic when I run a game, so I prepared far more for this game then I do for my regular bi-weekly game—something I should probably rectify. I had notes for all the creatures, I pre-rolled their HP, I wrote out a couple words for each NPC of note, I pre-rolled all the wandering monster encounters. In hindsight I should have printed out the map and cut it up, because it was a pain in the ass to both describe and draw. Otherwise I felt the work I did beforehand helped things run smoothly.
I ran Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer using OD&D. The hook for the session was as follows:
Your lords are all dead: a strange people from a strange land. Dirt? Or was it Earth? Whatever the name, their home sounded wonderful. Your natural Carcosan xenophobia has been cast aside for a greater purpose: to escape this wretched world.
In a rocky defile, a cool steady breeze issues from a wide crack in the earth. Within lie the Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer. Why would your former leaders ever want to come here?
The players each had a rumours as to why were they were supposed to be here. Two ended up with rumours about how to find a portal back to Earth (within the Fungoid Garden), while the third received a rumour saying everything about portals is nonsense as the reason they were here was to kill the sorcerer once and for all. After the session one of the players remarked he could imagine the game like an 80s cartoon or procedural: each episode featuring the party finding another possible way back home, but always failing.
My regular Carcosa group played a test run of the adventure, which felt like it lacked some oomph. For a variety of reasons this second play through at the convention felt like it went much better. Because of the route the party took through the dungeon they ended up meeting NPCs and creatures in a useful order. Because I usually play that Bone men are indistinguishable from one another to people outside of their race, Michael Prescot’s character was able to impersonate the eponymous Bone Sorcerer twice—once before they killed him and once after. And yeah, the fact they killed him also seemed like a good way to get closure in an adventure titled Fungoid Garden of the Bone Sorcerer.
The space the convention took place in was quite nice. In previous years it was sometimes hard to play because of all the noise from the other tables. That wasn’t a problem this year thanks to the ample space. Like an idiot I only took a photo when half the tables had packed up for lunch, though.
OSCon is a great successor to OSRCon. Stephen and Boris managed to get a bunch of people out again, numbers back in line with the earlier OSRCons. With the space they had rented i’m sure they were hoping for more, but for their first go at things I thought they did an amazing job. I’m hoping they run the convention again next year. It’s probably far too much work for such a small convention, but i’m glad someone’s taking the time to do it.
There were lots of other bloggers besides myself in attendance at OSRCon. As one might imagine many of them wrote about their time at the convention. Grognardia has a post about OSRCon along with another post about running Dwimmermount with Ken St. Andre as a player and one about the game I participated in. Discourse and Dragons covers the convention as well, and in particular about playing in this infamous game of D&D with Ken. Speaking of Ken, he has a post with lots of photographs about his time in Toronto. Two Americans I met at the convention, Carter and Brendan, both wrote about their time in Toronto and their feelings around the convention. Carter ran the Labyrinth Lord game I played in on Friday afternoon. Steve, who ran the Boot Hill games, discusses the convention and the OSR from a non-D&D point of view in two posts: Reflections Part I and Reflections Part II. Last, but not least, we have Untimately and Akratic Wizardry’s comments on the convention.
After a short break we continued our delve of Dwimmermount. We were joined by two more players: another magic-user, and the dumbest fighter ever–the poor guy had a Wisdom score of 3–who was played to perfection by Steve Conner. It turns out those two characters were with us all along, of course.
At the foot of the steps down to level two were a set of lifeless bones wearing armour with weapons at their side. That’s certainly unusual. Our cleric tried to turn them to no effect. You can’t turn a bunch of bones, after all. We walked further down the steps and then they sprung to life. (Maybe you saw that coming.) So began an exploration of the second level of Dwimmermount.
We headed South, finding a room with 6 pillars. Each pillar was made out of a unique material, and each had a character inscribed upon it. In a normal game we would have spent much longer puzzling out what this room was about. As we were playing for a fixed amount of time we quickly moved on. This came up often when exploring the second floor. Because this was a convention game we didn’t dedicate as much time as probably would have in a normal game trying to understand what the rooms we encountered were about. There were lots of strange and interesting rooms on this floor we quickly glossed over. Our focus was more survival and gold.
From here we went East, eventually stumbling upons the ruins of a library. Some careful searching revealed a secret room filled with a cache of books we assumed were of some value. The dilemma: there were hundreds of pounds of these books. We each grabbed one, and decided to move on. We would come back for them at some later date. (Well, in our imaginations, I suppose.)
We moved North from here, passing a room with shattered statues and a stone gargoyle we proceeded to shatter ourselves. We were waiting for it to spring to life. Nope. James informed us that room was now completely full of broken statues. Destroying things was a recurring theme with our party.
Further on we found a room with writing on its walls we couldn’t read. The funny thing about this situation was that we had previously had a conversation about Read Magic / Language being a useless spell because no one ever wastes a spell slot on it. Both our magic-users had charm and sleep. We couldn’t figure out what to do about the writing so we decided to make a sketch and back track.
Heading North once more, we came across another set of pillars. There were four of them, each made of glass, and they ran floor to ceiling seemingly beyond this level in both directions. Each contained one of the four elements. We were going to move on, but someone had a pretty great idea: the air pillar was empty, so why not smash it open and jump down to a lower level of the dungeon. (OK: maybe “great” is the wrong adjective to use with respect to the idea.) We got to smashing and eventually broke enough of the pillar we could send a man through. The problem: we had assumed we had found an empty pillar; in fact air was zipping through the pillar very quickly. We spent a fair amount of time throwing things down the hole to see how fast they sped away, and if we could hear them landing somewhere safely. After some scientific research we decided jumping down was probably not a good idea. Steve’s fighter needed to be talked off the ledge, so to speak.
The very next room we encountered contained several large glass tubes, with doors. Guarding the giant empty tubes were hobgoblins. Our magic-user didn’t feel like another fight so he shouted, “sleep!” and that was that. We decided we would carry one hobgoblin with us to interrogate later. The rest? Well we fed them to the dungeon disposal system we had just found in the previous room. They zipped away to places unknown.
We explored a little bit more, and would have continued to explore indefinitely had Brendan not asked, “can we grab all of those books we found in the secret room, head back to town, try and level up, and then come back to the dungeon ‘two weeks later’”
And so it came to pass we found ourselves levelling up characters in the middle of a one-shot. James didn’t bother rolling for random encounters, something i’m guessing he would do if this was a normal game. As such our exit was without incident. My character actually didn’t earn enough gold to get to the next level, but other players fared better. (We each were grabbing odds and ends as we made our way through Dwimmermount, hence the disparity.) The hobgoblin we were lugging around was now a charmed hireling known as long hair, because we had fed him a potion of hair growth while he was unconscious. (We learned it was a potion of hair growth when his hair started growing.) With that we headed back into the dungeon, right back to where we left off. Once again, I suspect James skipped a few steps to speed things along.
The very first room we encountered when back in the dungeon was once again full of hobgoblins, but also a metric ton of treasure. God damn it! If we had explored one more room before heading back to town we all would have definitely gained a level.
From here we once again encountered a series of strange rooms we didn’t have time or energy to investigate fully: a triangle painted on the ground, probably magical; a room full of statues of gods with their heads replaced, and finally a locked door. We could hear what were probably horrible monsters behind it, so it was probably for the best the doors were locked.
We were running short on time. We back tracked to the start of the level and made our way East. We replaced one charmed hobgoblin hireling with another, after the first was killed in battle with the second. We pressed on, but ultimately our search for a way to the third level wouldn’t be fruitful. No one can say we didn’t try.
The game was a lot of fun. James wasn’t to fussy about a lot of the more tedious rules one would probably pay more attention to in a typical dungeon crawl. We weren’t really tracking time, how long torches last, etc. I think these things can be an important part of the game, but if you are only playing for 3-4 hours, there are much better things to focus on. James also drew the map of Dwimmermount as we explored. (I made my own copy, as I knew I’d want to write about this game later.) This all helped the game run quickly and smoothly. I felt like we accomplished so much in such a short period of time.
This game was probably the highlight of my time at OSRCon. I felt like we had a good group, and that we all had a good time. If you have a chance to play in a game with James I recommend you take it.
We began with 5 players. We rolled up characters using the original D&D rules, and for a change my rolls weren’t half bad. Strength was my highest score so I decided to play a fighter. We used Brendan’s random equipment lists to pick items, so this whole process was very quick. Buying items is probably the slowest part of the character creation process in D&D. I think we all had characters ready to go in about 10 minutes. The bulk of that time was probably spent trying to find the saving throws tables in the old D&D books.1 When all was said and done we had three fighters, a magic user and a cleric ready to go. We also brought two hirelings with us: Mary the Torchbearer, known for her ability to carry a torch, and a porter of no real repute.
Like all good one-shots ours began at the foot of a dungeon. Our group had marched into Dwimmermount in search of gold, presumably. The stairs into Dwimmermount entered into a room with 5 statues. Thankfully they weren’t booby trapped. Neither was the room. When playing the previous day in Ken St. Andre’s Tunnels and Trolls game, our group spent a very long time trying to get into the dungeon. It’s possible that in James’ actual Dwimmermount game this room is full of machine guns, but if you only have a few hours to play it probably doesn’t serve you well to kill all your players a few minutes into your game. We had 4 doors to choose from, one for each direction, and we chose to go East.
I was ready to just walk into the next room, but Brenden, a more patient and prudent player, thought we had a better chance with this dungeon crawl if we proceeded a bit more cautiously. From this point on every door we opened (that had a circular pull) was opened by looping rope through the pull and tugging the door open. Before we ventured into any room we’d listen for noise first. In this fashion we ventured East till we came across a circular room with a set of masks hanging on the wall. One mask was missing, and in front of where it should have been there was a long dead man, now just a pile of bones. I know what you’re thinking: it’s a trap! And you’d be right. Examining the skeleton revealed the missing mask. There wasn’t any indication on his body that he’d been hit by some sort of projectile. Looking at the wall we could see a small hole where the mask would have sat, so we guessed there was some sort of poison gas trap protecting the masks. Now I was ready to just move on, happy I’d avoided the booby trap. Smarter and/or greedier heads prevailed. We decided to carefully loop our rope through the eyes and mouths of the masks and then tug them all off the wall from a safe distance. Sure enough we could hear the room filling up with gas as the masks hit the floor. Our first “loot”: who wouldn’t want creepy death masks from a dungeon?
From here we ventured South. We ended up on the Eastern edge up of a long corridor. There were plenty of doors to open. We ignored the double doors to the East: never trust double doors. The first set of doors to the South eventually led us to the stairs down to the next level. We weren’t quite ready to head down yet.
We walked back to the long corridor and checked out the next room to the South. We found a library with some books and maps that looked like they might be of value. More loot!
Further South was another door behind which we could hear the muffled voices of something, we couldn’t be sure what. One of the other fighters and myself got in place, and we busted that door open. We encountered a bunch of monsters, who looked monstrous and maybe vaguely dwarven. They were small, anyway. We shouted, “surrender!” but they weren’t having any of that. Myself and the other fighter made short work of the first wave that approached us. The rest started to flee. The magic-user in the group thought we just weren’t speaking the right language. He shouted “surrender and join us”, but this time in dwarven. That didn’t go over too well. The ones that were fleeing ran back, angrier than they already were. Lucky for us we were wearing plate mail.2
At this point we could have continued South. We had heard some noises coming from that direction. Maybe we would have encountered more of these crazy definitely-not-dwarves. We decided the best course of action was to start making our way down as deep as we could into Dwimmermount. We were being a bit too cautious for a convention game. I mean, I hadn’t even named my Fighter.
James has a very slick hardback version of the little brown books that he built using his copies of the old Wizards of the Coasts PDFs and Lulu. I was surprised and how good the hardbacks Lulu produces are. It made me want to print up some PDFs. ↩
It costs next to nothing in OD&D. I think by the time you get to 2nd Edition it’s thousands of GP. ↩
I wasn’t completely sure what my schedule this past weekend would be like: I knew I was quite busy. When I discovered OSRCon was a thing happening in Toronto I bought tickets anyway. Even if I couldn’t go it felt like a worthwhile event to support. I was hoping I’d be able to participate a little bit, at the very least. As it turns out I managed to do much more than I thought I would over the two days the event ran.
I arrived a bit late on the first day hoping to watch Ken St. Andre running a game of Tunnels and Trolls. I wasn’t signed up for any games, and I knew Ken’s game was full, so I didn’t feel like waking up early on my day off. I arrived a half hour after his game was set to start, but managed to avoid missing any of the action. As I settled into a chair away from the gaming table I realized Ken was still discussing the finer points of Tunnels and Trolls. He spoke at length about his game. He’s clearly very passionate about T&T, and happy to proselytize about it when given the chance. Brendan from Untimately had a similar idea as myself, showing up shortly after me planning to watch the game. Ken saw both of us just sitting there and offered to let us join in. Brendan took him up on his offer and picked a troll to play. When he had to duck out for lunch–which was more or less when the game got going–I took over the character. The adventure was interesting, even though we didn’t get too far into the “Dungeon of the Bear”. Our party had a series of misadventures trying to venture down into the dungeon itself. Failing is often as much fun as succeeding with role playing games. Ken is definitely an old-school DM, out to kill his players. (Or as he put it, out to create situations where the players kill themselves.) He is a certainly character, and I’m glad I got to meet him. It was an experience.1
In the afternoon I played a game of Labyrinth Lord run by a Carter Soles of The Lands of Ara, who had made the trip to Toronto from Rochester. I had to duck out early (the reason I hadn’t signed up for anything in the afternoon), but I did get to do a fair amount of adventuring before my departure. Our party was off to investigate a presumably haunted keep, and investigate we did. The thief I rolled up had 2 hit points, so he was a little bit of a coward. Sometimes 3d6 in order works in your favour and sometimes it doesn’t. This character was all kinds of meek. You have to love basic D&D characters: they are the true everyman. I suppose that is part of the charm of playing basic D&D. Our first encounter was against some undead rats. When rats are a scary threat you know you’re playing old-school D&D.
My second day at OSRCon began with the only game I had actually signed up to play. James Maliszewski of Grognardia fame was running an Original D&D game, taking players through his megadungeon Dwimmermount. We actually managed to get through a fair amount of dungeon in a small amount of time. There was a lot of exploring and the occasional fight. I plan on doing a play report shortly. Suffice it to say I had a lot of fun.2
There was a panel discussion in the afternoon, featuring Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame, Ken St-Andre, Lawrence Whitaker from Runequest, and James from Grognardia. It was interesting hearing how these guys all ended up where they are today and their thoughts on writing and gaming. Ed Greenwood is particularly engaging. He explained that his professional writing career began by writing letters to Penthouse for $25 a pop. Apparently Dragon magazine paid $20 a pop for monsters and was more prompt in paying him. The rest is history. The talk probably would have worked better with a moderator leading the discussion and keeping people on point. The talk went a half hour or so longer than it was supposed to, and it felt like no one really knew when it was supposed to stop. Ed Greenwood and Ken St-Andre sitting next to each other discussing the game was definitely quite the scene, so I suppose we shouldn’t complain too much.
The day concluded with another round of games. Like the day before I had to leave early, so I elected to watch Ed Greenwood run a Forgotten Realms game. That guy is amazing. He puts the role in role-playing. I don’t think I’ve seen a DM quite so animated. He would literally act out the part of every NPC the players encountered–even the monsters that can’t actually talk. It was great to watch. I’m not sure how well i’d handle having to actually play in a game like that. He clearly approaches the game as shared story telling. Often I find I just want to kick in doors and kill goblins.
These last two days were the first time I had played basic D&D in a very long time, at least 15 odd years. I was surprised at just how much of the rules I had forgotten. Say what you will about 3rd and 4th edition, but they did a great job at rationalizing the game system. One success of those games is that you can more or less guess the mechanic needed to resolve any action. With basic D&D some situations call for a d6 roll, others 2d6, others a d20; sometimes you need to roll high, other times low. The game is simpler, but at the same time maybe not as simple as it could be. Of course, old-school D&D is simple in ways that that 3rd and 4th Edition don’t come close to competing in. I rolled up characters a few minutes before both the games I played in. If my characters died and I had to start again, I feel like I could have rolled up a character in a few minutes tops. These early games feel light and easy to get in to. 4th Edition feels needlessly complex with all its classes and options.
OSRCon was a lot of fun. I got to meet a bunch of fellow table top gaming enthusiasts and play a bunch of games. I don’t get to play that much D&D, so it was a nice change of pace.
I had backed the project to get them printed on Kickstarter. I don’t know if I’d ever want to run Dwimmermount myself, but I supported the project anyway as a thank you for writing such a great blog. I actually have copies of the levels of the dungeon we traveled through. I had avoided reading any of this material in the hope I would get a chance to actually go through the dungeon as a player. ↩
I recently discovered that there is a small convention that takes place in Toronto focused on old-school table-top gaming. OSRCon takes place this weekend. It sounds like it will be fairly small as conventions go, and the focus seems to be about running and playing games. If you are in or around Toronto it seems worth checking out. How easy is it to bump into people who are into old-school D&D? (That’s a rhetorical question.)