TactiCon 2011 approaches!

I live in the Denver area. The Denver Gamers Association hosts two gaming conventions each year. The bigger one is Genghis Con, held over Presidents’ Day weekend in the winter. TactiCon is held over Labor Day weekend in late summer. This means that it’s time for TactiCon 2011!

My first gaming convention ever was TactiCon 2010, where I ended up running three Living Forgotten Realms adventures and playing in six others. I had a blast. When Genghis Con 2011 rolled around, I once again ran some adventures (one of which I had written myself), played in a few LFR games, and tried my hand at GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu.

I’ve had so much fun running games at these conventions that I decided I wanted to try to Iron Man TactiCon 2011. I’m running games in all nine slots. That’s 36 hours of DMing over the course of three days. 12 hours a day. Wow.

I’m happy to say that I’m mostly ready. I have completely finished preparing the adventures for eight of the nine slots already in MapTool (for use with my projector setup), and I’m part of the way done with the ninth (I should finish this afternoon). This will leave me with time to polish the three adventures I’m running that I’ve written myself, get props and handouts together, get pre-generated characters on hand, re-read each adventure, etc. I’m taking Thursday off work (even though the convention doesn’t start until the evening), so I’ll have one more full day to do some prep work before the point of no return.

For those of you who will actually be at TactiCon and would like to play at my table, here is the schedule of the games I’m running (all of them D&D 4th Edition Living Forgotten Realms):

  • Thursday evening: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Friday morning: MYRE 3-1 The Staff of Suha (written by me)
  • Friday afternoon: MYRE 3-1 Tallinn’s Tower (written by me)
  • Friday evening: MYRE 3-1 Descent Into Darkness (written by me)
  • Saturday morning: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Saturday afternoon and evening: SPEC 3-2 Roots of Corruption – Dark Seeds (two slots)
  • Sunday morning: CORE 2-4 Lost on the Golden Way
  • Sunday afternoon: LURU 2-4 Need to Know

I’ve run the three MYRE adventures before (obviously) as well as the two-slot SPEC event. I’m done prepping CORE 2-4, and I’m working on LURU 2-4 today.

Am I nuts? Maybe, but I think I’m going to have fun! I’ll be exhausted afterward, but that’s why I’ll have Monday to recuperate (Labor Day).

Running my third homemade D&D4e adventure at the FLGS

Woo hoo – I finally got to run the third adventure in my Staff of Suha trilogy tonight! (Adventure one and adventure two have been previously published.) I ran it as a MyRealms game at my friendly local game store. This was the inaugural run of the adventure, so it’s still a work in progress, but it was so much fun.

First, I should mention that my players were awesome. I had a father and son at the table whom I’ve played with before (I love multi-generational gaming families). I had a new player who was playing his third game of D&D ever – super nice guy.

And I had a husband and wife pair; I had met the husband a few weeks ago at D&D Encounters when he was a brand new player, and I managed to kill off his character in that first session. We’ve kept in touch, and his wife was excited about playing, too. The wife made homemade gluten-free cookies for me and my wife (who’s allergic to gluten) to thank me for helping with their characters and getting them into the game tonight. How sweet is that? I really, really like this couple, and I’m hoping that I’m making some new friends here.

Anyway, the adventure itself started off with a little exposition, then moved into the first action scene. I won’t go into too much detail here; I’ll put up a full post about the adventure itself once it’s polished (after I run it at Tacticon over Labor Day weekend). Suffice it to say that the first battle began with the PCs in total darkness. I forgot some of the abilities I had given to the leader of that fight, but it was still a good battle. Lots of PCs were bloodied, but none fell unconscious. The party interrogated the leader, who gave them some information but then died in anguish (he evidently said too much). And the party discovered one of the three artifacts they were seeking.

We had some exploration after that. This was technically a skill challenge, though I’m running it as several scenes that each have their own success and failure consequences. I really, really liked this approach, and the way that the PCs worked together. I’m getting farther away from the formal skill challenge structure and closer to just scenes that use skills. This particular challenge consists of three scenes, followed by a combat encounter, followed by the final scene.

The second combat encounter began with some sneaking and spying and conversation, but erupted into battle when the assassin in the party had to be true to his nature and took a swing at a bad guy.

I skipped the final skill challenge scene because we were running way short on time, and just threw the PCs into the final battle with fewer minions than I originally planned. I was pleased that the party took advantage of two different terrain effects in this battle, and even though I forgot about a mini skill challenge that was supposed to be running during the boss battle, it was a cool fight. The boss wasn’t quite as interesting as I had hoped, but he wasn’t bad.

Enemy lair with ziggurat and magma river - no grid

I ultimately had to end the battle early because the store was closing, so I declared victory for the PCs and called it a night.

Lessons learned:

  • I need to shrink some of the encounter maps. One map has some terrain effects that work in blast areas; an overly-large map encourages the monsters to spread out too much, making the terrain effects less attractive.
  • Minions that explode upon death are fun, but only in moderation. I think my second battle is overdoing it. Maybe I’ll make them non-minions and have fewer of them.
  • If I’m going to give the PCs cool magic items to use during the adventure, I don’t want it to be too hard for them to figure out what the items do. I think I’ll have this auto-succeed during a rest (I was previously requiring an Arcana check).
  • Players are easily tempted by treasure. If you dangle something valuable-looking just out of reach (literally, in this case), they will move heaven and earth to get it.
  • Having an in-game time limit does a nice job of ramping up the tension (and provides an incentive not to take back-to-back short rests to maximize healing powers).

I hope to run this adventure once for my home game players before Tacticon. Once I feel that it’s polished, I plan to release it on the blog, and then I plan to release the whole trilogy (edited and updated) as a single big adventure. I’d like to make it look a little bit pretty, too, and I’d be willing to pay for some help with layout and maybe even commission some artwork. Does anyone have suggestions on this sort of thing? How do I find and hire a freelance layout person?

TactiCon Days 3 and 4 (Saturday and Sunday)

The big weekend days of TactiCon were so big and busy that it took me until Monday to be able to write about them!  Thank goodness for the Labor Day holiday.

Here’s the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” summary:

  • Both of the games I ran on Saturday went great – the projector was a big hit.
  • I played in a very cool custom adventure Saturday night with a novice DM – another good experience.
  • I played in one game on Sunday, which was marred by the most annoying player in the world.
  • I got great reviews from my players and walked away with a free D&D book for my time.
  • I’m looking forward to running and playing more games at the next convention in February.

Saturday: Running the first game

Saturday was the day that I was signed up to actually run two games, though I had run an impromptu one the previous night when the need arose.  I got to the venue right at the scheduled 9:00 AM start time, which meant that I was later than a DM should be.  I arrived at the room where I would be running the game, and my players were already there.  I felt a little bit bad for running late, but no one seemed to mind.

The morning session was a repeat of the game I had already run the previous evening at TactiCon and earlier in the week at my friendly local game store: CORM 1-1 The Black Knight of Arabel.  My party of six players was actually a little underpowered compared to most of the parties I’ve played Living Forgotten Realms with, and it was kind of refreshing!  There was one brand-new D&D player (I love that so much!) and several characters that weren’t optimized to the hilt.  It was still a balanced party, though, so there wasn’t a problem.

This party was the first one I’ve seen that decided to go into Arabel after the initial shadow attack, rather than going after the dark rider on a distant hill.  This meant that I got to run the in-town skill challenge for once, and I had fun with it.  The party took on the optional combat challenge in the brewer’s basement to recover the broken obelisk – a better battle than I was expecting.  The final battle was run pretty much as scripted – I didn’t ramp up the difficulty at all, and it was still a good challenge for the party.  They, like the last party to go through that encounter, played “Grab the Baby from the Evil Cultist”, with the party bard eventually putting the baby in a balcony to keep it out of harm’s way.  Interestingly, this party never met the titular Black Knight of Arabel and finished the whole adventure having learned nothing about him.  Weird, but it worked out okay.

I had an hour between games, so I dashed to the hotel restaurant to get a burger to go.  The service was slow, and I was a little bit nervous leaving my laptop and projector set up in the hotel room with no one around, but when I got back everything was just as I had left it.

Saturday: Running the second game

My afternoon game was with a more experienced party, and we were playing the adventure that I was less sure about from a fun perspective: TYMA 2-1 Old Enemies Arise.  The first battle is the hardest one of the adventure, and I basically told the party as much during the battle so that they wouldn’t be too afraid to use daily powers as needed.  This party lacked a true defender, so the warlord played that role and found himself the target of a savage beating, ending the battle with only two healing surges remaining.  The group decided to take an extended rest in town, and since that made sense within the story I decided to allow it.

I ignored most of the scripted skill challenge because it just didn’t make any sense.  The party is supposed to talk to two different farmers outside of the skill challenge to get information about the kobold attacks.  Then they’re supposed to go BACK to town to start the skill challenge of gathering clues about where the attack is coming from, even though they already know at this point.  And this is supposed to require four successful checks.  Stupid.

So, once they knew that the attacks were coming from the west, I moved into a simpler tracking challenge, followed by some checks to narrow down which cave the kobolds were in.

The first cave combat is one that I ran for my online group a week before, and it was only so-so that first time.  I changed it.

  • As written, there are five trapped squares, and whenever any square is triggered, spears pop up from all five squares. This is boring – once the trap has gone off once, the players will just walk around all of the trapped squares, making the trap mostly irrelevant.
  • I upped the number of trapped squares to ten.
  • I also made it so that each square triggers independently, leading to an awesome minefield experience as the PCs tiptoe across the cave.
  • Finally, I gave the trap savant something to do – his crossbow bolt now pushes the target one square on a hit.

This encounter ended up being a lot of fun.  One character charges in and is hit by a trap.  The rest of the players tiptoe carefully, hoping to avoid the traps.  The decoys jeer at the players, trying to pull them onto traps and to hit them with their swords.  The savant shoots bolts from afar, trying to push players onto traps.  The final encounter after that one wasn’t super-interesting, in part because the dailies all came out, but everyone seemed to have a good time overall.

Saturday evening: Playing in the special event

In the evening, the LFR game was a special one written for the Con called In the Blink of an Eye.  All of the tables of all levels were playing in the same setting, but in different parts of it.  Our group scouted for a way to sneak into a castle and ended up going in the royal family’s emergency escape tunnel.  We were attacked by iron snakes that came out of the walls, retreated when bloodied, and reappeared later.  It made for a surprisingly cool fight.

We then dealt with a trapped corridor using skills, at which point we were at the stopping point for the adventure with time to spare.  The DM decided to make climbing some stairs into an athletics check, at which my heavily-armored paladin failed again and again, taking a little damage each time before finally succeeding.  He is now known as Rohgar Stairslayer.

It was fun to play at the table of a new DM.  She knew the rules well enough but was lacking a little in confidence.  I could see a lot of myself from a few months ago in her – a very interesting process.

After the stopping point, a 16th level rogue from another table was sent to join our party (I’m still not sure why) and we fought a hydra.  It was a 6th level solo, but with unloading of dailies we finished it in two rounds (without the high-level rogue having to do anything significant).  I’ve heard complaints about solos, and I understand them now.


On Sunday I decided to sleep in, so I only made it in time for one LFR game.  The DM was one I had played under before at Enchanted Grounds, and he had lots of 3D props for the table (trees, bushes, rocks, etc.) which were pretty cool.  I liked the module, too – AGLA 1-1 Lost Temple of the Fey Gods.  The experience, however, was heavily marred by the presence of one player who was totally mechanics-focused and asked endless questions trying to push the envelope (Can I hide here? Can I see around this corner? Will I get anything useful if I use Arcana now? Could we put away our torch, blinding the rest of the party, so I can use low-light vision?).  He was horribly irritating to play with, and I pitied the DM for having to deal with him.  Had I been running the game, I think I would have paused the game, pulled him aside, and explained that he needed to just play rather than trying to squeeze every non-existent advantage out of the game and sucking the fun out of the table.  If he couldn’t do that, I would have removed him from the game.


At the end of the convention, there was a little ceremony to thank the DMs.  Everyone was given a choice of various RPG products (I picked up the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide – I figure I should probably take a look at it) and was recognized for their work.  There’s another somewhat bigger convention in February, Genghis Con, which I’m now looking forward to!

Overall, I had a great time at TactiCon.

  • I did get minis for Rohgar and Kern (though nothing for Zaaria) as well as a couple of miscellaneous minis for players to use at my table.
  • I ran three games and got fantastic evaluations – seventeen perfect scores and one score of 9 out of 10.  I’ll take that!
  • The projector setup worked beautifully and the players loved it.
  • I played a bunch of LFR and got Rohgar to level 4 – woo hoo, I can play in H2 adventures now!
  • I discovered a cool board game, Fresco, which I think I might pick up for myself.

I did not get to play any non-LFR RPGs, but I think I’ll remedy that at Genghis Con in February by just signing up for a slot in advance and diving in, most likely into Savage Worlds.  I’d also like to run a few more sessions if possible – maybe 4 or 5 next time.  It should be awesome!

TactiCon Day 1 (Thursday evening)

As promised, I am blogging about TactiCon.  The convention began Thursday evening, with your intrepid reporter learning a lot about how conventions work.

First, when the brochure says that the Exhibitor Hours begin at 3:00 and registration begins at 5:00, that does NOT mean that the exhibition hall for people to shop in opens at 3:00.  It means that people who are involved in running the convention can start getting set up at 3:00, but there’s nothing for players to do until 5:00.  Oops.

Second, it’s important to sign up for particular events in advance if there’s something in particular you want to play.  I had pre-paid for my badge, and it was waiting for me, which was great.  However, I hadn’t registered for any individual games, and the two low-level Living Forgotten Realms games this evening were already full.  I bought a generic ticket and was told that I might be able to get into a game anyway.

I left the hotel and came home to take my wife to dinner before heading back to the convention, getting there just before the 7:00 PM start time of the evening’s RPG sessions.  There were a total of five players with generic tickets who wanted to play low-level LFR, and the organizer persuaded a guy to run an adventure he had never even read before.  What a trouper!

The game was interesting, to say the least.  We played CORM 2-1 For Crown and Kingdom.  It’s actually a pretty cool module, and for running it completely on the fly I think the DM, Leo, did a nice job.  He ran the skill challenges in the manner I hate, though: “Okay, this is a complexity 1 skill challenge, requiring 4 successes before 3 failures.  You can use Perception, Nature, History…” Ugh.  No role playing, just roll the dice.  But since he had no chance to look over it beforehand, I won’t fault him too much for that. He also let the game get bogged down in some rules discussions – I feel confident that I won’t let that happen at my tables.  If there’s disagreement about a rule I’ll go with what seems most reasonable and move the game onward to the fun parts.

My favorite part of the evening was talking with a pair of other people at the table.  There was an older guy who had never played 4th edition before but who had excitedly rolled up an eladrin wizard and was ready to go.  He brought his wife along, and she had never played an RPG before and really had no interest in playing, either.  Still, she was willing to let me talk to her about the game, trying to give her a basic overview of what she would see and what everyone was doing.  She paid polite attention to the game, and we chatted about music afterward.  She even thanked me.  I don’t think I created a new gamer, but I at least had a positive interaction with someone who clearly was not a fan of role playing games.  Baby steps.

I think I’ll bring my projector setup and leave it in the trunk of my car tomorrow, just in case they need someone to run another ad hoc game.  I mostly plan to play, but I’d be lying if I denied wanting to show off my sweet setup to as many people as possible!  I do want to get at least one more LFR game in as a player, just so I can get my half-elf paladin, Rhogar, up to third level so that he can finally equip the two seventh-level items that he’s carrying around!  Ten XP shy…

Blogging TactiCon

August is GenCon month in the RPG world.  I’m jealous, of course – I live in Colorado and was not able to make it to Indianapolis for the convention. (Side note: The company I work for does have a big presence in Indy, and I’m thinking about seeing if I can get them to send me out there for a business trip just before GenCon next year – free plane ticket for gaming!)

That doesn’t mean I have to be out of luck entirely – Labor Day weekend in Denver means TactiCon!  Now, I’ll admit that I don’t really know exactly what TactiCon is all about yet (the brochure is here).  I’ve never been to a gaming convention of any sort before.  But hey, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house so I might as well make the most of it.

I’m signed up to run two Living Forgotten Realms games for D&D 4th Edition on Saturday using my fancy-schmancy new projector setup.  Now that I know it works, I’m really excited to use it at the convention.

I’m also planning to do some shopping at the Con.  I don’t currently own any minis, and while the projector setup means that I don’t ever plan to own any monster minis, I would like to have minis for my own player characters, my wife’s player character and some generic player characters to keep on hand in case I run a game where they players lack minis of their own.  I’m assuming that a convention is a good place to get minis, right?  I don’t mind paying a little bit of a premium to get high quality – preferably metal instead of plastic.  My shopping list includes:

  • A cloaked figure with a comically oversized sword to represent Kern, my Githzerai avenger
  • An armored character with a normal sword to represent Rhogar, the character I play in LFR games
  • A dragonborn mace-wielder in chain mail to represent my wife’s runepriest, Zaaria (or really any dragonborn character – Barbara loves dragonborn)
  • A few other minis to fill out a random party – something wizard-like, something archer-like, something cleric-like

Naturally, I want to play some games, too.  I haven’t played LFR in a while, so if I could get into a couple of games to get Rhogar up to third level, that would be cool.  I love board gaming, too, and it looks like there are a ton of games scheduled.  Honestly, aside from D&D, I mostly want to explore games that I’ve never played before.  I want to check out new board games and play at least one session of an unfamiliar RPG.  I’ve heard good things about Savage Worlds, so I might try that.

What recommendations do you have for me, a con virgin?  It’s not GenCon, so it won’t be totally overwhelming, but what should I try to see and do?  I’ve taken two days off work, so I’m going to make the most of it!