Gaming Conventions

Over the following years, I began to take a special interest in the game convention listings within Dragon magazine. I really had no idea of what a gaming convention consisted of but the concept was appealing to me. My folks were great about encouraging my new hobby and in the spring of 1983, we made the jaunt from Rochester, NY up to St. Catherine’s, Ontario, for the Niagara Gamefest & Computer Show.

Niagara Gamefest & Computer Show

It was the most amazing thing in the world to me. I had played D&D (perhaps AD&D by now) with my neighborhood friends for a few years by this time. However, we were a very isolated group and at times it seemed like we were the only ones out there. This small, weekend convention opened my eyes to how popular this hobby indeed was.

Everywhere I looked, there were new RPGs that I had never even heard of. On top of that were the wargames. I had been familiar with miniatures from the tiny gaming store (Campaign HQ) which existed in downtown Rochester. Despite this, I had never seen anything on the level of the massive miniature armies that were on display at the wargame section of the convention.

1980s Car Wars

Probably more important to me than the sensory overload was the reaction that I received from other (mostly older) gamers. Here I was, a 12-year-old kid, and everybody treated me as an equal. It was the most welcoming environment that I had ever been in.  It didn’t matter whether I was in a Car Wars event with college kids or trying my hand at Napoleonics with guys who were in their 50s, it was all good. I was hooked.

Later that year, we traveled to the grandaddy of them all. Gen Con was held at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside that summer. If my first convention had amazed me, this simply blew my mind. It was everything that I had experienced before, times 10!

The campus was in a rural setting, near Racine, so my folks felt comfortable dropping me off in the morning and then picking me up at then end of the day. I had been late in registering so I only had tickets for a couple of events. It didn’t matter, as the concourse of the of the campus was filled with open gaming events that anyone could play.

Gen Con 1983

I don’t think I had a spare minute the whole time that I was there.  Groups would literally, just huddle up on the floor and break out with a session of some game. People would be playing Ogre just a few feet from a group running Champions, while across the hall, a couple were engaged in Ace of Aces. Again, it didn’t matter that I was just a kid. All I had to do was stand around for a few moments and somebody would be asking me if I’d like to join a game.

The miniatures battles that took place in the wargaming area were immense. The largest of these was a multi-day recreation of one of the crusades. I literally watched for hours, fascinated with the detail of the models and terrain.

The dealer’s room at Gen Con was massive. Games, dice, miniatures, apparel, and every other possibly gaming-related item were on sale. I would just walk from booth to booth and listen to everyone pitch their products. 

Often vendors would have “mini-games” set up to let folks try out their system so this filled a bit of time as well. I was lucky enough to meet Mark Acres & Tracy Hickman, while playing a demo for GangbustersMark had helped design the game and Tracy would go on to co-author the successful Dragonlance series.

I have very fond memories of my first gaming conventions. I returned to Gen Con the following year and Origins the year after that. Gaming is a hobby which has always had a certain, social stigma attached to it. I’ve always found the shared experience of a large gaming convention to be very refreshing.

I find myself living in Indiana these days. As such, I can often be found roaming the halls at Gen Con in Indianapolis. Things don’t feel quite the same to me but I’m still drawn to return, year after year. Returning to the hobby after so many years, I’m happy to see how diverse things have become.

How about you? If you’re reading this, something caused you to land here. Have you experienced game conventions? If so, which ones? What did you enjoy? Please share in the comments.

The Final Rest of Grondo-Ri

Intro

I’ve mentioned previously that I use Campaign Cartographer to make maps for my games. I had a bit of free time mid-week and stumbled onto this tutorial. The following post is the result of a bit of doodling, along with some prep for my group.

The name of the titular character comes from my dear friend Mike’s Fantasy Hero campaign from the early 1990s. As was often the case with that game, certain elements have stuck with me over the years.

My group has been doing quite a bit of river travel of late. I’m not big on completely random encounters but sometimes I need an interesting little drop-in, to keep everyone entertained. This was the case with The Final Rest of Grondo Ri.

At the end of last session, the PCs completed an objective. I’m not entirely sure where they will head off to. However, I’m fairly certain that they’ll be traveling by riverboat. I also know that wherever they head will be a journey of at least a couple of days. Rather than just handwave the travel, I decided to have something interesting for them to encounter.

Hard to say whether they take the bait or not. It’s possibly that they will pass right on by. That said, I’ve found that if I keep a few encounters like this on hand, I tend to be more prepared for things coming at me out of the blue.

As I have mentioned previously, my intention for this blog is to provide GMs bite-sized source material. Hopefully some of you will find something that you can plug into your game and run with. These will likely never be full scenarios, just enough to get the juices flowing and set you on the path to adventure.

Grondo-Ri

Grondo-Ri was an orc shaman who lived roughly 100 years ago. He was cruel, even by orc standards, and lead his tribe with an iron fist. The brute was infamous for leading raids against the dwarves of Khared Draz and even successfully moved his people into some former dwarven territories.

Art by Bartek Blaszczec

It’s unlikely that the PCs will have ever heard of this fellow prior to this encounter. However, he was fairly notorious in the region. It should be relatively easy to dig up lore about him after the fact.  

While historical accounts of Grondo-Ri exist. There is no mention of whatever became of him or his tribe. Lost to the sands of time is the fact that the orc was killed by his own people.

The tribe had taken up residence in an abandoned dwarven outpost near Dhag Ladur. Intoxicated by frequent victories, most of the tribe followed the shaman blindly. However, there were some among them who felt that a change was needed. Tribal elders disagreed with the acts of cruelty they had witnessed and felt that the spirits of their ancestors demanded a change.

Following a skirmish with a band of mercenaries from the human settlement of Sarburg, Grondo-Ri received minor wounds. Seeing this as their opportunity, the elders poisoned the poultices used to treat the shaman and allowed him to die.

The mummified body of the tyrant was entombed in the southwestern corner of the complex. They then completed their coup by convincing the rest of the tribe that they could communicate with the shaman from beyond the grave. Holding elaborate rituals around a large brazier, the elders would claim to receive direction from the fallen leader. They had succeeded in wresting control of the tribe.

However, something unforeseen happened. One day, whether by pure coincidence or spurred on by the restless soul of the shaman, the earth shook. Despite having been expertly crafted by dwarves, the subterranean complex started to collapse. Pillars crumbled and ceilings failed, until the entirety of the orcish tribe lay dead and buried. There, in the dust and rubble, the mummified body of Grondo-Ri awoke.

Map Locations

1.      The Shore

The shore is indeed muddy here. PCs will have difficulty walking anywhere on the beach proper and until they make their way into one of the cavern passages.

Various bits of junk have washed up along this stretch and you should tell the players that they can make out the shape of items just under the mud. For any characters wishing to dig through the mud to investigate, roll a d10 and consult the following table to tell them what they’ve found:

1.       A Bottle of Rum

2.       Purse with d10 gold coins

3.       Broken Necklace

4.       A Lone Sock

5.       Table Leg

6.       Candle

7.       Piece of Chalk

8.       Broken Lute

9.       10’ Pole

10.     Oar

Stock Art by Jacob E. Blackmon. commissionprodigyduck@gmail.com

A giant freshwater crab has been using the stretch of beach to hunt and is lurking in the water nearby. If the party spends more than 5 minutes on the beach, the creature will attack. Adjust the crab’s difficulty (or possibly add other crabs) as you see fit, depending on your party and their capabilities. Due to the mud, the beach area should be considered difficult terrain for the PCs to move around in. The crab will experience no such hindrance.

Should the party defeat the crab, close inspection of its carcass with reveal a silver dagger with a pearled handle that had been buried in its shell during some previous encounter.

2.      Pool Cavern

This pool is fed by a freshwater stream and is considerably more clear than the water back in the river. It is roughly 20’ deep.

The item in the pool is actually a jewel encrusted goblet that once belonged to a dwarven clan leader. It was looted by the orcs under the leadership of Grondo-Ri and came to rest at the bottom of the pool after the collapse of the complex.

The goblet is worth a substantial amount of money but would require someone to strip down and fetch it unless the PCs can come up with another means of retrieval.

3.      Mushroom Cavern

There is nothing of note in the cavern aside from the mushrooms. Despite the odor, they are edible and tasty. If harvested, the large mushrooms will effectively produce the same amount of light as a single torch.

Once removed from the cavern, the mushrooms will lose their glow and edible properties within 1 day.

4.      Meeting Room

Before the collapse, the orcish tribal elders would use this room as a secret meeting place. After concluding their ceremonies in the shrine, they would access this room via the hallway and secret door (location #5). The bones in the room are actually the remains of two of the elders who happened to be here at the time of the collapse.

Yuri Perkowski Domingos
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Since the water level dropped, two carrion crawlers have been exploring the caverns. Hearing the approach of the party, they have retreated to area #5. However, they are hungry and will immediately attack any party member who comes within 5’ of the fallen door.

If thoroughly searched, the room will yield the following items.

  • 2d20 gold coins
  • 1d10 silver coins
  • An antique bullseye lantern
  • 4 assorted gemstone

5.      Hallway

The entrance to this hallway was nearly blocked off by the collapse. However, if party members can squeeze through the first 5 feet, the remainder of the hall is in relatively good shape.

It should be clear to PCs that unlike the caverns, this passageway has been dug intentionally. Characters who would have such knowledge will recognize this as dwarven construction.

A set of stairs leads downward for 10’, before coming to an apparent dead end. The secret door leading into area #6 should be quite easy to find, as it was intended only to be a secret to those who were inside area #6.

6.      The Shrine of Grondo-Ri

This is the room were Grondo-Ri was buried. The elders would perform their pseudo rituals here in order to convince the rest of the tribe that they were receiving guidance from their departed leader.

The jars and pots in the room contains all manner of herbs and concoctions. All of these are long past their usefulness. The bits of the shaman that were removed during the mummification process were also stored in these containers. However, they have long since turned to putrefied liquid and evaporated.

The sarcophagus is indeed lacking its inhabitant. However, an ornately designed staff is held within. The Staff of Grondo-Riis a roughly 6” tall iron-shod oak staff. It is topped off with the head of a horned beast. The staff will radiate magic if any party members happen to attempt to detect such things.

The exact properties of the staff are up to you and what would work for your game. However, I will give you some further lore about the item to help you make your decision.

  • The shaman was quite charismatic and was never without his staff. One might speculate that they was something about the staff that made him seem larger than life to his followers.
  • He was said to have wielded elemental magics; this was thought to be an ability imparted to him by the spirits of his ancestors but it’s certainly possible that some of this came from the staff.
  • It is also possible that the staff itself was cursed. This could account for his turn to cruelty and brutality.
Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved. dean-spencer@live.co.uk

Grondo-Ri’s undead corpse has aimlessly wandered rooms #6 & #7 for decades. It is currently in room #7 and will attack in 1d4 rounds after the PCs enter room #6.

I’ve mentioned that Grondo-Ri was mummified after his death and I have also mentioned that he awakened in undeath after the collapse. All of that aside, it’s entirely up to you to decide what exactly he has become.

Since I’ve put this together without knowledge of what system you are playing or what power level your players possess, it’s impossible for me to fully define this encounter. In my game, I’m running this as a fairly low-level one-shot, though I think you could scale things up easily enough.

My suggestion would be to make him be a unique creature, so as to best keep your PCs on their toes. He cannot speak but he will approach the party with unbridled rage and make horrible guttural sounds as he attacks.

If you need to flesh things out a bit, I suppose you could mention the lifeless skeletons of some of the departed elders lying about the room. Then, at a certain point in the combat, Grondo-Ri could cause them to rise and fight. Whatever you like. Just have fun with it.

7.      Antechamber

The contents of the coffers, sack, and books I will also leave up to you. My suggestion would be to make these rewards commiserate with the level of difficulty of the Grondo-Ri fight. One thought would be to have one of the books contain a couple spells that would be useful for one of the party members. The other could be a history book pertaining to something in your campaign setting, thereby setting you up for more adventures down the road.

Beyond the double doors to the north, the hallway is completely caved in. No amount of digging by the PCs will allow them to continue further.

Plot Hooks

How you use this is entirely up to you. I am merely trying to plant some interesting seeds for you to run with.

  • Straight: You could run this as a straight random one-shot with no ties to any other part of your story. In this case, the party stumbles onto the cave complex, explores it and ultimately deals with the undead version of Grondo-Ri. Making their way out with whatever treasure they find; the party never looks back.
  •  Research: Perhaps the party was quested by some interested party to uncover whatever became of Grondo-Ri.
  • Find the MacGuffin: Someone wants something located within the complex. It could be the Staff of Grondo-Ri, the jewel encrusted goblet in the pool, or some other item that you have decided to place there.
  • Knowledge is Power: If word gets out of the party’s discovery after the fact, it could open doors to other adventure threads. A mysterious sage may wish to investigate the complex and uncover the embalming methods used on the orc shaman. Dwarves may travel to reclaim the lost settlement. A superstitious young orc leader may seek to reclaim the remains of Grondo-Ri, as a manner of ascending to power within his tribe.
  • Cursed!: Rather than a straight fight, perhaps the undead orc places a terrible curse on the party, requiring them to go on yet another adventure in order to cleanse it.

The End

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read. If you find any use in all of this, please take a minute, and drop me a note. Until the next post. Good Gaming!

My first gaming store

Over the following years, I graduated from that original D&D boxed set to the hardcover AD&D books. I also acquired my first set of polyhedral dice (while they were included in later versions of the boxed set, mine merely came with laminated “chits” which you had to cut out and select randomly).

Photo by Alperen Yazgı on Unsplash

I was loosely aware that there were other products made by TSR Hobbies, because of the ads in the back of some of my rulebooks. As I recall, “Boot Hill”, “Dawn Patrol”, & “Gamma World” were all featured. Despite living in a decent sized city (Rochester, NY), I had never come across any of these products in any of the few bookstores where I had been able to find gaming products.

I am not certain when it opened but at some point in the early 80s, my parents took me to visit “Campaign Headquarters”. It was an actual, dedicated gaming store and was quite eye-opening. I was like a kid in a candy-store, just filled with wonder. Thinking back, it was just a single, dimly-lit room but it was fascinating, nonetheless.

The walls were covered with blister packs of lead miniatures. Most of these were of the historical sort, though I believe there were some Grenadier fantasy miniatures as well. It was clear at that point that there were far more role-playing, and wargaming games than I had ever imagined.

While I certainly could have spent days in the store, my parents were ready to roll shortly after our arrival. I ended up using my allowance to purchase Dragon Magazine #55. It was the first time that I had seen the publication and it was very exciting to me at the time.

How I came to discover role-playing games

I was 7 years old in the fall of 1977.  It had been a big year already, with the release of Star Wars during the past spring. The summer had been spent running around the neighborhood, shooting imaginary Storm Troopers, and debating the fate of Darth Vader.

It was around Thanksgiving when I became aware of a new animated TV Special. The Hobbit was coming to television. Now, for those of you much younger than I, you must understand that the late 70s were a much different time. We had cartoons every Saturday morning, without fail. However, aside from the annual Charlie Brown specials and perhaps Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, animated specials were almost unheard of.

If you are too young to have lived through this, it’s hard to describe just how odd this was to see on network tv.

Rumors had spread through my school like wildfire. The Hobbit was something totally different. Not only was this a new animated special, but it was a story of wizards, dwarves, elves, and even a dragon! Truly, this was something not to be missed.

I’m not sure what I did wrong. Perhaps I had knocked the gravy over and into my Aunt’s lap during Thanksgiving dinner. At any rate, as luck would have it, I found myself quite grounded for the world television premier of The Hobbit.  It was devastating! I was certain that quite possibly; nothing good could come of my life from that day forward. You see, in 1977, there were no DVRs (or VCRs for that matter). As a matter of fact, there was a great likelihood that if you missed a show on TV or even a movie in the theater, that it would be gone forever.

During the following week, I was forced to listen to my young friends tells stories about The Hobbit.  They would go on and on about the goblins, the spiders, and even some strange thing that they referred to as “Gollum”.  I was devastated. Within the span of one year I had been told that I was too young to have a poster of Farrah Fawcett in my bedroom and now I had missed The Hobbit! Things were not looking good.

The versions I grew up with.

Then, a wonderful thing happened. I came home from school one day to find a paperback book lying on my bed.  My parents had purchased me a copy of the novel (truth be told, at 7 years old, I had not even realized that The Hobbit was originally a novel). While it was certainly quite a bit larger than any book I had read thus far, I was intrigued by the maps and “strange writing” which I found just inside the front cover. I set about reading it right away.

I was hooked immediately. Shortly after finishing The Hobbit, I moved on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. By the time that these were all finished, I was clearly a fantasy junkie. I would devour new fantasy novels as fast as they would come.

During the summer of 1979, a strange thing occurred. I bumped into a friend of mine while playing tag in my back yard. He was incredibly excited about something but was having trouble explaining it. Apparently, he had been playing some game, with the older kids who lived on the next road over. He said that it was a game that had Hobbits in it but that it wasn’t a game about The Hobbit.

The whole thing was terribly confusing and made no sense to me at all. When I asked him about the board, he said there was no board. When I asked if there were cards, he said there were no cards. I was a 9 year old skeptic, to say the least. Certainly if a “Hobbit game” or “game that had Hobbits in it” existed, it would have to be listed within the pages of the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog (everything worth having as a 9 year old child was!) It was not.

Then, one day, my friend and I happened to accompany my mother on a trip to Scrantom’s (a local card & stationary store in Rochester, NY). As we were checking out, I saw a curious looking box, sitting behind the counter. The box was adorned with a picture of a large dragon, sitting on a huge pile of treasure. The words “Dungeons & Dragons” were printed across the top of the box.

“That’s it!” yelled my friend, “that’s the game!”

I received that very box for my birthday, that following January. Like a blind man who has never seen, I immediately understood about games without boards.  Indeed, it wasn’t a game about Hobbits, though the Halflings mentioned were certainly similar. It was like nothing I had ever dreamed of. Suddenly, I had the ability to do more than just read fantasy stories; I could create them and watch them unfold before my eyes.  The years to follow were filled with all kinds of great gaming memories.