Saturday, March 24, 2018

(Nostalgia) Lehigh Valley Games Day 2?

A friend of mine made two discoveries this week as he went through boxes in the basement while waiting out the latest snowstorm:  (A) A Ghostbusters boxed set and (B) a booklet from Lehigh Valley Games Day, May 10, 1997.
Sometime in 96 or 97, I helped a local store run CoveCon, a one-day gaming convention, at the Blue Valley Farm Show outside Bangor, PA.  With all the chaos, with all the pie-in-the-sky desire to run games we wanted to run, rather than just D&D, with all the lack of dealers, somehow, the show broke even. 

Even more surprising was the appearance of Andy Dawson, a Steve Jackson-phile from the earliest days of their Men in Black program, and his associate Ron, who ran a game store in South Jersey.  It was Ron's 11th hour appearance as a dealer that helped make the con break even, and most of us were happy to hand over the territory to them to run another con. 

Here's the thing, I don't think they turned out a con with only events starting with the letters A-C, so I assume there's more events, but I don't remember anything about this con.  I remember being an active part of Lehigh Valley Games Day, but I don't remember running Archaen Vacation, which I can assume is part of my normal, PCs go to Talislanta shtick I've done for years.

But I've come upon two realizations: First, this has to be the second Game Day.  The inaugural Andy/Ron collaborations was the precursor to the Garden State Games Faire which occurred in November 1996.  Secondly, without seeing the other sessions, I may have skipped this con entirely.  By May of 1997, I was in my lost the girl, the apartment, the car, and a dog-if-I-had-owned-one Country song, so making it to the con was problematic.  But I also know I had pledged to the '97 Garden State Game Faire before cancelling, so this is indeed a cryptic time for me. 

Still, the last names might mean nothing for the casual reader, but they represent the pinnacle of quality gamemasters in the Lehigh Valley in the mid to late 90's.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

The League of Extraordinary Flea Market Finds

With all the chaos of this past week/month/lifetime, I never posted the individual figures I grabbed from the flea market at Cold Wars.  But first, more kvetching...

My phone refused to take a charge Wednesday night, died overnight, and I couldn't get it to a shop for a thorough cleaning until noon. 

If it had worked, I would have gotten this picture from my intern before walking in...

Nothing like the hot water faucet of the kitchenette getting ripped off and flooding the office.

After a visit from ServPro, a million fans, blowers, and dehumidifiers, and a relocation to a computer that doesn't have the same access I have, I'm just about to move back to my desk. 

At least my carpet got clean. 

Between that, my mother re-admitting herself into the hospital, and my normal course of bat-guano crazy stuff, I can wait for this week to be over.

That out of the way, here are some finds, plus a new friend. 

The Zulu on the left was from the Hobby University paint and take.  Still slightly red from the Ancient Brick paint I mistook for a darker brown.  I'll need to find a plot device to dump an ol' timey prospector and a buffalo soldier in a Pulp Egypt game (the buffalo soldier may become a new lieutentant for Lt. Col Ovaltine... or a foil), but the others make new generic NPCs.  

Hopefully over the next week I'll do the touch-up or repaint, and properly flock these guys.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Snow Day Song of Blades and Heroes

Mother Nature has blessed us with four Nor'easters in the last month, but we've been fortunate that we've been four or five miles inside the "messy and annoying" snow versus the "Oh God, what did we do to deserve this?" amounts.

We got hit yesterday with the least snow of these springtime storms (but still within the forecast), yet school decided to cancel again.  We've paid for enough emergency daycare for the girls, so a horrible sacrifice would need to be made.  I stayed at home with them.

The whole concept of a day-off gaming-pa-looza is always nixed a few minutes after I wake up, with the never ending pile of dishes, laundry, and annoying pets, BUT I did sneak down to the painting bench to go through all my Cold Wars spoils, mount and prime a few, and get a little bulk painting for some of the units already in the queue.

Once my wife got home, I took Maja aside and we crossed another bucket list item. An actual game (x2!) of Song of Blades and Heroes.

I own a bunch of the books, I'm on multiple groups, but with Maja not being able to grok the multiple activations last year and the two-player nature of the rules to being congruent to our game days, I've put it on the back burner.

But a snow day was perfect to break out a green cloth, six goblins, a giant spider, and one of the dollar store houses to try the rules.

The first spider attack was a massacre as Maja's goblins either failed to activate, or she went for broke with multiple dice and the resulting multiple failures ended her turn. 

If there had been a story, the first game was the spider invading the unknowing village, the second was the organized response.  Maja's goblins were methodical in the second game, only rolling one activation for each figure, staying in a formation, leaving no goblin behind.  The spider took out two goblins, but with overwhelming numbers on their side, it was just a matter of time until they took out the monster with their pointy sticks.
A reenactment of Maja's triumph
With SoBH, off my bucket list, I can now proceed with... more SoBH.

And it is that time of year for me to purchase marshmallow peeps and giant hollow chocolate bunnies... for wargaming purposes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ballad of the Pigeon God #50: The Curse of Amber

Our heroes have been declared dead by a nefarious King, and marked for death if they prove him wrong.  While they ponder a course of action, they have decided it wise to take a job in far-off Nouvelle Avennio.  Their patron only wants them to resurrect her son....

Talis Makolin: Knight of the Pigeon, Bard, Lover Extraordinaire.  Half-Brother to Echelon.
Echelon:  Cleric of the Eastern God of the Sea, Pigeon Aficionado, ex-Baron.
Mellandria:  Magic-User, ex-Baronial Scribe, tinkering in the arts of alchemical resurrection.
Velandro:  Pious priest of Akana. 
Dimitri Kobblecroft: Gnome Cleric and Conspiracy Theorist from Masgoth who also knew the King of Crosedes was the infamous Dread Lord.

4 Undec 1072  - Golgonoza, Principality of Appresca
Upon the ship's arrival in Appresca, Echelon, Dimitri, and Velandro were forced to register as clerics and per the laws of the land, their spell use was greatly curtailed.  Their patron's representative, Petit Singh, reinforced the punishment for unauthorized divine spell use:  Death.

12 Undec 1072 - Estate of Genevieve de Sephora, Principality of Nouvelle Avennio
They finally arrived at the Palace of Genevieve de Sephora.

There was a huge gathering taking place.  Petit-Singh informed everyone that there was a wedding between Andre David Ambra and Magdelina de Sephora.  Dozens of members of the de Sephora family had arrived for the nuptials. 

Singh threw fine silken clothing at the heroes:  for now, they were to be "hired" as extra waiters for the celebration, and they were quickly shown the servants quarter. 

13 Undec 1072 - Estate of Genevieve de Sephora, Principality of Nouvelle Avennio
The next day, they joined the rest off the staff to clean the house for the party

"This was really most undignified!"  - Talis Makolin

In the afternoon, they finally met Antian's mother, the Lady Genevieve de Sephora, and she explained that her son was presumed dead after using a "Doomsday Spell" to defeat an enemy army in war.  She explained that prophecy said there those who were bathed in gold from the heavens would bring him back, and Petit-Singh watching them escape the grain explosion in dazzling sunlight was not coincidental.  Once the wedding was over, more time could be dedicated to bringing Antian back.

After an evening of more servant preparation for the wedding, they staggered back to their rooms and collapsed. 

That night they all found themselves together in the same dream.  They found themselves looking at a boy studying in a library.  They quickly discovered that he was Antian (although as a child).  They parlayed with him and asked him if he wanted to return with them.  At that point his 'father" arrived, turned into an ogre and attacked us.  After great effort, they managed to kill it.

The scene transformed into a wooded glade and everyone (including young Antian) were met by a Unicorn.  The mythical beast spoke telepathically to them and the told them that they were reliving some of Antian's' memories (He saw his strict father as an ogre) and that they were to urge him to do the right thing and correct his mistakes.)

Then they woke up.

14 Undec 1072 - Estate of Genevieve de Sephora, Principality of Nouvelle Avennio
At one of the pre-wedding soirees, Talis decided to let those better suited to manual labor do the less complicated work (like Echelon and Dimitri)  While they slaved away serving food, drinks, and cooking in the kitchen, Talis donned his outrageous hat and went about the arduous task of pumping the partygoers for information. He was forced to endure a night of drinking and card playing, only with the occasional interruption to dance with a number of beautiful, rich women.  One striking woman in particular, a Viscountess, seemed to have vital information, so they retired to private quarters to "exchange it."

Every moment must have been so painful for him.

Meanwhile, Echelon had been approached by a woman and told to meet her upstairs because she had information on how to bring Antian back.  When he and the other four heroes managed a second to get away, they found her in her room, encased in amber, and was quite dead.  They wisely stepped back out of the room, wiped the door handle, and quietly left undetected.

That night, all five heroes found themselves in the midst of a great battle.  Everyone was clad in full armor, holding lances, swords, and shields, and astride war horses with barding.  Antian was a mid-teen now and was coming under attack.  The entire party tried to get to him.

Talis spotted Antian's father, isolated and under heavy attack.  He quickly realized that the father was going to die, so he rode to him, skillfully using his lance to fell any of the enemy foolish enough to stand in my way.

Unfortunately, it appeared that they could not change Antian's memories too drastically, because he could not reach the father before he was fatally struck down.

Reinforcements arrived to drive much of the enemy off.  Talis tried to get Echelon, Velandro, or Dimitri to heal Antian's father, but it was too late.

The army's general approached Antian and told him that the young prince (Antian) was in charge. With the enemy scattered, the general advised Antian that the army was poised to attack the city and kill every last man, woman ,and child.  Antian was about to give the order it when our heroes  intervened, convincing him to show mercy.

The "General" (a copper bearded man) threatened us and rode off...

Then they woke up. 

17 NonDec 1071 - Chateau d'Echelon, Barony of Eding, Kingdom of Crosedes *FLASHBACK*
Winter was coming.  The window seat at the end of the second story hall showed snowflakes were dancing down to earth as the frost creeped out from the window frame.  This was not a normal sitting spot for Mohammad, mentor of Echelon and cleric of Tshang Kai Ching.  The legless priest had previously called down the divine power from the heavens to save his friends, and this power surge had turned him agoraphobic, spending his days in the close confines of a broom closet, communing with his god.

But today, staring into the abyss of the outside sounded like a good idea.  He worried about a great number of events that had transpired since he had been reunited with his last protégé.

But not so worried that he didn't grab an extra blanket for the window seat.  That window was drafty after all.

Marching up the stairs at the opposite end of the hall was a small dog-man, wearing an oversized helm and a tunic emblazoned with the symbol of Akana, the god of law and order.

The kobold stopped and stared a moment at the Mohammad.
"Hello Master Mo!  Why you out today?"

"Good afternoon, Brother Dag.  I stare at the sun like others stare into darkness.  I do not fear it, I only wish to comprehend a greater understanding."

The kobold tilted his head, confused, "Okay!  Hey, you wanna know Velandro's big big secret for me?"

The guru laughed, "Sure, Brother Dag, I promise to maintain your vow of secrecy."

"Velandro going far away to find Count Zabty and have him kill mean King.  I get to be high priest of home! "

"How are you going to be a high priest, my friend, you are but an acolyte of your faith?"

"Velandro says I must show the true virtues of Akana.  That means I must stay and guard the home!"

"But Dag, your faith calls for not just an adherence of true law, order, and justice, but an expansion.  Sitting here at the Chateau would maintain order here, but that just means the chaos will swirl around our borders.  Ask yourself this, young Dag.  Does Akana wish you to hide here in safety, or spread law and order where it is foreign?"

The little kobold was puzzled.  His brow furrowed as he thought for many minutes. 

"Dag needs to find new friends of Akana.  Make new friends of Akana, to help us.  I know people who need Akana.  We leave tomorrow.  Thanks Master Mo!"

The kobold scampered back down the stairs to find his wife and children, and tell them Velandro's new mission for them.

Mohammad gave a faint smile and turned back towards the window.  His stoic demeanor was tempered by a song he soon muttered from his lips.

"Looking out my window
Looking at the snow 
Nothing left but pain
Why'd you leave me and go
Sad alone and blue
Looking out my window woman
Tryin' to find your friend
Why did you all leave me?
When we're so close to the end?"

Next: #51 The Mark of Amber

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Cold Wars 2018 AAR

Ah, March!  Even with the snowflakes still swirling around, the promise of Spring right around the corner and the opportunity to have a weekend at Cold Wars makes hope spring eternal.

Of course, problems arose even before the convention weekend, as I hadn't even gotten around to making reservations at the Continental when news of its purchase and shuttering for renovations by Dutch Wonderland became public.  With everything else going on with my life, I figured I would lessen the imbibing and find a cheap place with a clean bed a few miles away from the Host.  More money for the Dealer's Hall, after all...

Friday morning, I loaded a few figures in the car, kissed my wife goodbye and headed out for a normally uneventful two hour drive to Lancaster.  Of course, the fates along I-81 had other ideas as a half-hour in, I was beset by a snow squall.  Blinding snow and icy conditions forced me to take the next exit where I could pull into a gas station off a divided state road and weather it out for the 20-30 minutes.  Once the squall ended, the plows (and the sun) arrived and within minutes there was little evidence that the storm had actually taken place.  However, unable to make a U-Turn, my normal path through Lebanon was re-routed through Reading with little consequence.

The Host's parking lot was still full of containers of various and sundry materials, making finding a spot unbearable.  By nearly noon of Friday, the overflow lot was getting filled up fast.

The first obvious change was right after I snuck in through the side door, formally relegated to the flea market.   The numerous tournaments were still set up, but the room felt short, thanks to a new (partial) wall on the far side.

Emerging through an opening in the wall, I fond the new registration-land, with no lines!

Even better, preregistrations could be picked up electronically!   I'm a little worried about the lack of ID or confirmation to guarantee someone doesn't abscond with your registration, but I did notice an HMGS email afterward with a QR Code to scan.   We might get into the 21st Century before the 22nd arrives.
I grabbed lunch (where they had no change... puzzling) and with no afternoon flea market and my  2pm cancelled, I wandered down the Trail of Out of Shape Wargamers towards the Expo Hall for the dealers.
The tournament area
Work continues on the hall... and the balcony is back, with two stairwells nearing completion!  Also, the natural lighting is great, but with a few displays in the way, there were a few dark inhospitable reaches for certain booths.  I picked up a number of items off my long term want lists, while leaving some cash for the flea market.  I could always hand over plastic to the dealers on Saturday, plus it's nice to feed them some paper before they need to hit a bank for change.

Late in the afternoon, I wandered over to Golden Corral for a bite and made some lodging provisions with a friend.  No need to lose a parking spot to drive a few miles away for a cheap room, when someone is offering you a bed at the Host for free.  Success!
Blood and Plunder
With that off my mind, I snagged a spot at the final Blood and Plunder demo for the day.   I had a chance to play it at The Weekend last Summer, but this demo included ship movement and combat, plus the fellow running the demos was squared away and completely zoned in to run this demo.

It was a great introduction and sales pitch for the game, although I knew what tactics our side would play, when the young man sitting next to me, politely interrupted the spiel to clarify, "So what you're saying is, we can take our ship and try to crash it into the other guys' ship?"

Between superior maneuvering and more accurate cannon volleys, the young man came up a mere two inches short of his lifelong pirating dream, as the hated Spanish boarded our French vessel and killed us to the man.  Regardless, we all had a blast, plus Firelock Games was nice enough to offer freebies for all the partiicpants.  ViscountEric appreciates cool new dice. 


From there I ran back into my friend Jim and helped set up his Tactica Vikings game.
Tactica Vikings
A few "Guest Stars" leading the Vikings

I didn't think the Power of Christ could convert Vikings on the spot.
Finally, I was in my element: setting up terrain and figures, plotting out the game, and bullshitting around without a care in the world. I took it upon myself to help GM the less active corner of the table, with simple Viking raid on a village that got some advanced warning, and I was content with the world. With the game moving smoothly I took a moment to sit down and crack open a beverage for the first time this weekend.

Then my phone rang.

It was my mother.

And like any man at a convention without wife and kids for some time, I let it go to voice mail.
Hey Hackmaster Fans, Ironwind Metals/Ral Partha still produces the minis. They're pricey, but they look great.  
But when it she called back immediately, I wisely answered and thank goodness I did.  For the three minutes on the phone I heard complete nonsense.  Not the normal conversation we hear when we talk to our moms or mothers in law, but absolute gibberish, save four words interspersed throughout the noises.  "Struck, head, dollar store."
I was not going to get a sip of that beverage.
A few calls to get to her county's 911 plus a few more calls to friends and family, and an ambulance was dispatched and we were going over short-term logistics.   Within an hour I was talking to a nurse at the ER and was provided a sigh of relief.  No stroke, no blockages, just some crazy high blood pressure to prevent her from speaking, but not enough to disorient her from calling me twice... and packing a bag in the five minutes before the paramedics arrived.
Still, I was the closest one to the hospital, so I knew I should check in, less things go from bad to worse.  But I'm a selfish son, and the new "midnight" flea market had just opened up ten minutes prior.  I ventured forth through its new location in the poorly lit, all-black theater, all the while answering call after call and providing updates.   Twenty minutes later I was on the road. 
Elizabethan England
Better news: She was stabilized by the time I got there and soon she was admitted into the ICU as a precaution.  By morning, it was a game of wait and test to ensure there was nothing stranger occuring, but with nothing else I needed to or could do, my wife, my mother, and my sister who was driving down from Boston all told me to go back to the con.
All three drive me crazy, but they're good people.
I got back before noon, scarfed down some food for the first time since my Golden Corral late lunch the day before and ventured back into the dealers hall and flea market for a few more items.
I ran into Jim again, and we set up the big Gnome Wars game in the hotel lobby.
The California Imperial Guard lands in Tsingtao
It was a fabulous games of grim slaughter, pinpoint artillery strikes (I'm pointing at you Captain Six!), brutal hand to hand fighting in the woods, and oddly enough, only one Swiss unit, my California DOT Engineers.   We even had a few first-time wargamer move figures, chuck dice, and talk some friendly trash just like a seasoned veteran.  I hope they come back to play again and again.
British marines storm the German flank.
The Irish used a special power to land troops behind enemy lines, but the Germans persevered, even if only two figure were left on the board afterwards.
The California Imperial DOT Engineers follow all regulations before docking.
The German heavy machine gun waits for the allies emerging from the woods.

The Irish (and a few hapless Engineers) prepare for the assault.

By the time the game wrapped up and we packed everything up, I was beat, and despite another offer of a room (I have good friends), I decided to head back to Wilkes-Barre for a little family time before I was ventured back to deal with the potential discharge of my mother on Sunday.
That all being said, let's cover all the important points.
SITE:  The Lancaster Host is still the Lancaster Host.  With many of the captial improvements and constant renovation, it's better than Lipstick on a Pig, but some of niggling issues of years past were still there.  Food stands unable to break a five, much less a twenty, running out on certain food a few minutes into a meal rush.    Despite the offers, I didn't get to see the new rooms, but those I talked to that stayed raved about their rooms, which breaks even when I compare the online issues I read about.  Just like Fall-In, some of the rooms were hastily put together at the last second to get as many rooms as possible,   I will also say, I saw a lot of hotel management walking around, but not doing anything of obvious import.  Food was passable, and after a full season of overpriced hockey food, the prices were acceptable.  (Sidebar Rant: But why would you charge $9 for a meal and $2 for a drink and not provide your staff with change for over 90 minutes?   Don't they realize all these people are hitting the ATM before arriving and are chock full of $20 bills? /rant)

It goes without saying, if the containers aren't removed from the parking lot, things are going to meltdown at Historicon.
Lodging:  Didn't need to use any, for better or for worse, but I can comment on the Continental.  Numerous dumpsters on the property and curtains torn from the windows.  I wouldn't be too surprised if they re-open before the Summer's out.
More Young Frankenstein
Events: I'm a gnome guy, so that's my focus, but there weren't too many events that piqued my interest.  And unlike some people who demand beautiful figures and terrain to draw in new people (who are already on site).  I saw plenty of people surrounding a table with felt on felt.

And since people complain about no-show GMs, I can relayed an offical/unofficial conversation I overheard regarding some staff's concern about how many cancellations were legit, confirmed family or medical emergencies.  Add the number of teachers we have who had days off taken away for snow days on Friday, and it's completely understandable.  I'm just happy I didn't pick this con to run anything or I'd probably be added to the list.

Also, a big shout-out and congrats to Hobby University, who migrated to the old registration area (and air flow!) for all their classes.  The paint and take is a moment of calm in a sea of insanity.

Dealers:  Perhaps it was the weather, but the walk around to the back of the Expo Center was not the Bataan death march from Fall-In!  I only witnessed one fellow resting along the side of the trail.

The natural and interior lights defintely need to be adjusted, or adjustable.  Or perhaps I just need to see the eye doctor.  I missed MBA and a few others, but it was nice to see new vendors, plus the booth offering a 3-D printed copy of your head for a figure was pretty sweet.
Flea Market:  Some portions of the new flea market made dark section of the Dealers Hall look like the surface of the sun.  Some of the tables by the entrance even resorted to table lamps to light things up.  The other issue with "Wally's Attic" was the flea market vendors lugging their stuff up the stairs.  Some weren't aware of the freight elevator until after they set up (allegedly).  Still, I only bumped into one person between the Friday night  and Saturday afternoon sessions (and it was my fault).  Plenty of cool items to be had and most guys were even more amicable than usual.

My plunder:  Only took a picture of early Friday swag I acquired.   First off, the complimentary backpack/satchel/bag was the greatest and most useful freebie in HMGS Inc history.  Blue Cold Wars Bags were brimming with goodies in the dealer's hall Friday... and not knocking into people.   The cup is pretty sweet as well.

  • Eureka: Mid East Civilians for my Pulp game. 
  • Eureka  Mice Warriors for the kids Mousling Fantasy game (or Song of Blades and Heroes). 
  • Ten Samoan Fita Fita from Recreational Conflict.  
  • Two MDF houses from Dave's Baggage Train.
  • The new Maggie Thatcher Post-Apoc figure from Brigade Games.  I so needed to get a second one for a punk rock paint scheme
  • A much needed quart 'o various bases, although they did not stock 25mm rounds.
  • Flea Market:  A visit to TreeGirl's table.  Good luck on literally a Marathon homework project.
  • Flea Market:  Assorted Old West and Pulp painted figures.  
  • Flea Market:  An old 40k Lascannon for my not-ready-for primetime Gnomish Space Marines
  • Flea Market:  Battletech Dice from the late 90's 
  • Flea Market:  A bunch of old 3M bookcase games, including Point of Law.
  • Flea Market:  A copy of Once Upon a Time
Given most of the tax return went towards a "new" car, I was bit more frugal than I usually am.  Need to put in some OT and offset that for Historicon.  

Historicon is back at the Host in July 12-15 and will probably be a day trip for me.  Event registration for the PEL ends in less than a month!

Fall-In! is also at the Host in November 9-11.  Between its theme, Revolutions and Civil Wars and those that start them, the HAWKS Battle in a Box Contest, I may take another crack at the Samoan Civil War.  

Oh yeah, Mom came home Sunday afternoon, and my sister is staying there for a bit.  Guess the great Era of Leaving Mom to Her Own Devices is probably over.