Not the Same Game

OwlCon was a lot of fun.  It always is.  This year, I didn’t do as much as I’d like due to personal commitments – but I’d like to talk about it anyway.

You already saw my post on what we do in Houston to make the LFR experience special.  If not, feel free to check it out.  So with that in mind, my OwlCon after-action report:

I’m not even in the building before I see people I recognize from prior years.  Players from different groups I’ve crossed paths with over the years.  Met friends-of-friends and players-of-other-DMs.  Its like in Donny Brasco – where you meet “friends of ours”.  Its an instant mood-changer, seeing so many friends that you don’t see as often as you’d like in one place during one weekend.  I was in a bad mood en route to the con.

Jason didn’t make it to the con – he was too busy circling Kinder-Care in his ice cream truck.  I know what you’re thinking – Kinder-Care’s closed on weekends.  I thought that was odd, too.  But I don’t judge.

Friday night was check-in, and every year this process is very smooth for me.  Pre-registering is good – both for the attendees, and the organizers.  Not only does it guarantee your spot in your gaming slot, and let organizers know what to expect – but you bypass a lot of the line.  And if you want to sign-up for more stuff – there’s a big projector showing available game slots.  They’ve done this song-and-dance thirty times now, and it shows.

Thirty years of OwlCon, or as they put it – “OwlCon XXX – it means what you think it means.”  There, on the t-shirt is the Rice University owl mascot in a trenchcoat.  On the lower back, a owl-wing tramp stamp.  Keep it classy, guys – I loved it.

At any rate, we begin where we always begin at any con – the dealer’s room.  I must admit, there was very little there that I felt I had to have.  GameScience wasn’t there this year, which was disappointing.  MechCorps, however, was – and have they upgraded their apparatus.  They had a big-assed camera ship, new mechs, and a second hypno-shelf.  I always enjoy hanging out with the players there – even the ones who give me a hard time for being absent as long as I have been.  I’m happy to report that I got to play a game with Eudodemonist.  If you’re local to Houston, you should check ’em out at  If you’re not, you should see when a Mobile Armor Division is coming to a con near you.  They’ve gotten the con thing down to a science.

Well with that, off to Friday night’s LFR prequel.  I was running Sadamzar: Tears of a Clown, which started off a storyline another table picked up on Saturday morning.  It also alluded to things happening Saturday evening.  I’ll be posting details about it on the Tymanther forums soon, per our coordinator’s request.  I really enjoyed this mod – I started writing it as a dark, depressing moody emo adventure, and by the time I was done it was the silliest damned thing I’ve ever done in 30 years of D&D playing.  Yes, this is the conjoined beholder mod.

In playtest and at the con, the majority of players seemed to take it in the spirit intended.  Its a game, its stupid fun – just go with it.  The storyline worked, the combat was challenging (although I think I made the detached beholders too easy in retrospect) – I’d like to do something with this.  I thought about bringing back the bad guy – a jester lich named Happypants – but that just seems lame.  Maybe I’ll offer it as a PDF for you guys.  I’m proud of it.  The players – most of who were new guys to LFR that Eudodemonist has been DMing – seemed to like it.

In the mod, there’s an audience that heckles the adventurers.  To simulate this, I threw things at the players.  There’s also a band in the mod.  I hum obnoxiously to mimic the band.  At one point, the players killed the entire band, save the pianist.  What to do then?

You sing, “…and the piano sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer…“, that’s what you do.  A silly mod.  I enjoyed running it, and I really hope the players enjoyed playing it.  Friday night was definitely a lot more fun for me than Saturday.

Because Saturday, I woke up, crammed, and went to take my teacher certification test.  Three hours of “wtf?  this wasn’t on my review!”.  If you’re wondering how I did, I honestly don’t know.  It’ll be another three weeks before I know.  My guess?  Flip a coin.  I need an 80%, and if I didn’t get it – I got close.  If I passed, I barely passed.  We’ll see.

I’ll concede that I probably should’ve said “no, I’m too busy for OwlCon this year” when I discovered that my test was on the same day as the con.  Then again, its OwlCon… the damned thing’s been on my day-planner for a year now.  Ah well.

So anyway, I finish up my test and hop on a computer to print out some monsters.  The new Monster Builder Beta is up, so I held my nose and renewed my DDI for another month (one of the reasons I let it lapse is because I resented that WotC was charging the same price for less content – now that the Monster Builder was back, I decided to give ’em another shot).  I go to monster builder, level up/down my monsters (because I don’t know what level tier my players will be), go to print, and…

wtf.  I can’t print with the new Monster Builder, making the product essentially worthless.  Don’t give me that “Its Beta” crap, either – it shouldn’t be in beta, as long as its been out.  I don’t care that the format got changed, nor do I care that WotC charges the same for DDI whether the MB exists or not.  Let me drop two Fundamental Truths on you:

  1. if its used in advertising, it isn’t “free”.
  2. If you’re not paying extra for it, you are the product.

Anyway, so I can’t print from new Monster Builder.  When I try, it looks like so:

I think I can comfortably say that I know how to use a computer, having worked in some form of computer support most of my adult life.  If there’s a way to print in new MB, it isn’t intuitive.  At this point, I can either use the old MB and manually put stuff in or I can adjust my monsters by-hand, or I can do what I did – print screen, crop in photoshop, and print.  It worked, but…

New MB had one of my monsters wrong.

Medusa Spirit Charmer, page 203 in the Monster Vault is in the MB incorrectly.  There’s a world of difference between “first failed saving throw” and “third failed saving throw”.  I didn’t catch it at the table.  I was asked about it Sunday night, answered “that’s how the dice went” and then Monday morning comes around and I started mentally reviewing things.  Things didn’t seem right.  I looked it up, and…

Philip, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I effed up.  I hosed your character and it was completely unintentional.


But I’m getting ahead of myself.  BTW, that’s the last time you’ll be seeing a public apology from me in this blog.  This I swear, and I have some complete dickwad comments already in notepad.

Moving on…

Saturday, after my test and after my printing, I’m still able to arrive to the con early.  I tried to find a game of Munchkin or something quick, but to no avail.  I go to the building LFR is in, and set up… only to be moved later, as Pathfinder Society needed our space.  Moving was a pain in the balls, but the guy running Pathfinder was classy enough to email our coordinator and thank us for making room.  That’s what I like to see – save the edition war for the losers on the internet.

Pay no attention to the fact that you are currently on the internet.

Oh!  I met the gang from Radio Free Hommlet.  If you haven’t listened to their newcast from the last podcast, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Even if you’re not the type to listen to podcasts, check it out.  They hit the nail squarely on the head.  That, and I got d20 radio dice, which was cool.  My kid played at their table Saturday night.

Saturday night was the multi-table.  The parties had a choice to fight the invasion force in the wild, or rush back to warn the town and help in the town’s defense.  Different tables had different scenarios for what happened if a certain number of parties made it back to town on time or not.

My Saturday night adventure was designed to be challenging, but not insurmountable.  I had hoped to create a “ohnoohnoohno” sense of urgency and/or desperation in the combats and skill challenges.  In playtesting, this seemed to work.  However, Saturday night, the party steamrolled over the adventure – even with the unjustly petrified player.

Granted, this was a party of experienced players with kick-ass PCs, but… I sometimes worry that I oversell the multi-table, and then I wound up giving the table a not-challenging scenario.  Bah.  I wish I did better.  The players said they had fun – and I’ve played with these guys and I think they’d tell me if they thought it sucked – nicely.  But… bah.  As one player said, I may be being my own worst critic.  There’s a room full of talented writers and DMs there that bring their A-game.  I fear my table wound up being the low tier.  Incentive to bring something kick-ass for next con, I suppose.

I was scheduled to play other stuff on Sunday, but told our coordinator to call me should my presence be the difference in a table making or not for LFR.  I brought a minimum amount of material to DM with, and headed to my scheduled games.

Sunday morning, I played Settlers of America – hosted by Alex Yeager of Mayfair Games.  As I understand it, Alex is one of their developers.  As we were learning the game, Alex was telling us the thought process behind certain design decisions – what they were going for – and it really enhanced the experience.  Alex was a helluva nice guy, very enthusiastic about showing us the game and teaching it to us.  I lost, but not by such a margin that I was embarrassed.  Alex is also their educational gaming guy – and had some Catan variants to give out to the winners with historical info and stuff.  A really positive experience.

However… I don’t have a normal Catan-playing group, and the America rules are naturally a bit more complex than standard Settlers.  I don’t think I’ll be making the purchase – because when I am able to play, I want to be able to keep it simple for people unfamiliar.  Its an interesting game – with mechanics to mimic the westward expansion.  I’d recommend it if you have a regular board-gaming group, but only then.

Sunday afternoon, I was signed up for an introductory game of Pathfinder…

Wait, what?

Yeah, the abusive spouse finally went too far.  We’ll stay together for the kids, but I’m ready to have an affair.

That’s far too simple an analogy for my current “Smurf WotC in their smurfing smurfholes” mindset – but we’re already in tl;dr territory.  Besides, the mindset goes away when I’m actually at the table.

Anyway, I got a call from our LFR coordinator requesting my presence, so I went to the registration table, dropped out of the game, then went and found the GM in person to tell him.  One runs into many smelly jerky people at gaming cons – I endeavor not to be one myself.  So yes, at least the courtesy of telling the GM you won’t be at his table if you feel the need to drop, please.

I’m very glad I got the call.  There was a family there – mom, dad, son, and daughter.  Daughter was too young for D&D, but she had a gameboy and was fine.  Turns out, they’ve been playing LFR all weekend.  They were local and new to our group.  They played every H1 module our organizer brought.  Fortunately, we had a printer and internet access.  I was asked if there was an old mod in that level bracket that I was fond of.

There is.  AGLA 1-1.  Yes, the one with the pixies.  I really enjoy role-playing the pixies.  Especially when there’s a kid at the table.

It was printed, and while waiting for other players to join us, I edited the mod to conform the the scores of rules updates and monster stat updates we’ve had since 4E’s launch.  They were very patient while waiting.  I’m also happy to report that three experienced players – my son among them – sat with us to play a mod they’ve done several times before.  I’m really big on bringing in new players.  I was very happy to see vets with the same mindset.  We got good players – more importantly, we have good people – in our LFR group down here.

Without question, DMing for this family was the highlight of my con experience.

Many times, I hear people say something like “why go to a con to play the same game I play with my friends at the house?”.  That’s just it – its not the same game.  Mix up your environment.  Play with strangers.  Try new games.  I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about con gaming – there are also great experiences to balance out those stories.  Besides, the horror stories are both cautionary tales and make great table chatter.

If you’re wondering, we had a few more tables this year than last year.  I believe LFR play is down most other places, so I’d call this a success story.  I think we do something really special here in Houston.  We’re not Seattle, we’re not Indy or anywhere else that gets WotC con-love, but I do believe we’re a monkey-fighting force for D&D down here.  Respect.


About Matt Savage

Matt Savage once had a torrid affair with a gelatinous cube.
This entry was posted in Conventions, Dungeons & Dragons, Living Forgotten Realms, OwlCon, Pathfinder. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Not the Same Game

  1. eudemonist says:

    There’s no “DO” in “eudemonist”, you dick! Gah!

    Good review, though. A monkey-fighting FORCE, brutha!

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