This past weekend my wife Lute, our daughters and I attended Fire & Ice, the local gaming convention held every year in Manitowoc. We got the car packed and on the road in decent time. I only forgot one essential item, and Lute remembered it before we were out of town, (as opposed to previous years when I had to drive all the way back to Sheboygan to get something).

I had scheduled to run one game, a Teenagers From Outer Space game. Because of a scheduling quirk, I had to start it at 2:00 pm, when the doors to the convention opened. I didn’t get any players, which was highly disappointing.  The TFOS game has gotten to be a Fire & Ice tradition with me and I’d hoped to get more interest. 

Traffic was slow; we didn’t get a whole lot of people until after 5:00; but Lute sold a couple pieces of jewelry at our dealer’s table, (enough to pay for the adorable stuffed winged ferret she bought from the ladies a couple tables down from us). I also made a possible contact with a guy who runs a small game company and is looking for freelance artists. We’ll see what comes of that.

The drive to Manitowoc was uneventful Saturday morning; no stuff accidentally left behind. My first game was scheduled to run at 9:00, the same time as when the doors opened, and I was apprehensive about getting enough players. I had chatted the day before with one guy who has been in some of my GURPS games in previous years, and he said he was planning on sitting in on my afternoon game, but that morning he had a game of his own to run. I was relieved when a father and his son showed up to play in my game, and when shortly afterwards another kid joined too.

The first game was a heroic fantasy game  I’ve been trying to run for several years now. Each time I schedule it, something happens and I have to cancel. One year a blizzard kept us away from the con the day the game was scheduled; another year I had to work Saturday overtime at my job (the only time that whole year I had any overtime at all). So I was determined to run this plot one way or another.

I called the scenario “Miss Adventure”, and the premise was that a king was holding a beauty contest solely for dungeon delvers. The members of the party are accompanying one of the contestants. But there is danger in the contest: not all of the contestants are Lawful Good and many would stop at nothing to be crowned “Miss Adventure!”

Actually running the game presented a couple unexpected challenges. For one thing, the presence of two 10-year old boys in the group meant that I had to drastically downplay some of the saucy bits I had in mind.

More annoying, one of the lads was a budding psychopath whose reaction to every encounter was “I kill it.” Or, “I look for something to steal.” And he was the party’s mage. Finally, after sneaking into the castle to rob it in the middle of the contest, braining the cook who happened to find him, and repeatedly kicking the cook’s unconscious form when I wouldn’t let him finish off the guy with a lightning spell, I had the King’s guard throw him in a dungeon cell. And so the little git announced that he was going to kill himself. Not dramatically, mind you, or angrily. Just because he was bored. Finally, I let him and took away his character sheet.

Later on, I had a brief chat with the lad’s father. He said that the boy had never played an RPG before and that in the next game he played he was calmer and better behaved. Well, as long as it was a learning experience for somebody, I suppose.

But apart from the little monster, the game went fairly well. The other players ran their characters well, and followed the clues to discover the Sinister Secret behind the beauty pageant and defeat the Big Bad.

The afternoon game was more serious. I used the “Infinite Worlds” setting, which is kind of the default setting for the GURPS system. The players were operatives recruited from multiple timelines to deal with trouble in a myriad of Alternate Universes. This particular game sent the group to a Victorian-Era timeline where one of their scouts has gone missing. The team arrives to find the City of London uninhabited, and themselves in the middle of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

This was the game I had the highest expectations for, and this was the one where only one player showed up: the guy I had talked to the previous day. So I snagged my daughter, Gamera Rose, to give us critical mass and ran it anyway. The game went okay, but it would have been better with more people. The main plot twist in this particular game was that the Martians had formed an alliance with Professor Moriarty, who had invented a medicinal extract of bread mold to protect them from earth diseases. The party wrecked Moriarty’s hide-out, managed to sieze a Martian Fighting Machine and wreaked holy havoc. Fun Stuff.

But while I was wrecking London, in the real world snow was starting to fall and Lute was becoming nervous. She hates winter driving, especially in bad weather; and although the snow wasn’t at blizzard level, there was enough on the ground to make roads trecherous and enough falling to impede visibility. We left the con earlier than we had Friday, before it got dark.

Lute was not at all happy about returning for the last day of the con. The previous year, she’d had no jewelry sales at all on Sunday. But I had one more game to run, and she had a table to pack up.

By morning the snow had stopped and except for the sides streets, the roads were pretty clear. My Sunday game was a Supers game featuring the Justice League; a setting I had run at this con twice before and which was pretty popular. This time around, I only had three players, but it still went well. The players picked Green Lantern, Zatanna and Batman; and that turned out to be a pretty good team.

I was a bit worried about the plot going into the game, because I didn’t have a really good grasp of what I wanted to do with it and had put the problem off while I finished prep work on the other games. Well, now there was no more putting it off. But I improvised, and ideas came to me during gameplay that I was able to work into the plot as if I had planned it that way all along. That’s one of the experiences that make Role-Playing so much fun; when it becomes a kind of narrative jazz the spontaneously goes off into unexpected directions.

When I got back to our table, I learned that my wife had made enough sales to make her happy. All in all, despite the stress, I think it was a good weekend.