Blurbs from the Booth-How I spent my Winter (Fantasy) Vacation

It’s that time of the year again-WINTER FANTASY!  I love Winter Fantasy.  It’s the one con a year I can get my wife to go to.  We have a blast, and sometimes, just sometimes we actually get to play on the same side of the DM screen!  This year I went a bit earlier and run a ton of DnD.  Let’s go day by day, and I’ll tell you what I thought.



Ah, winter in beautiful Fort Wayne, Indiana!  I was caught in the massive snow storm that keep many a GM, DM, and player at bay.  I was supposed to run a game, but my table wasn’t there, so I was shipped to an adventure I didn’t prepare, hadn’t read, and was running for some of the major heavy hitters who coordinate the DnD Adventure League.  So, no pressure then?  It all turned out well though.  I had a blast, my players had a blast, and the adventure turned out to be a good one.  It wasn’t as much fun as my current favorite, DDEX1-4, but DDEX1-10 is an awesome adventure that really sets up the next season well.  From there it was off to check into the hotel, but I screwed up and checked into the wrong hotel.  That made for a fun hour.  Even more entertaining, I was going to stay at the other hotel the next day, so I had to move my gear over for exactly one night.  Good times!



The best advice I can give Dungeon Masters besides don’t follow the rules too much is to buy a cot!  I slept like a baby in my room with four other DMs, and hit the floor early.  I was selected to martial for the con, so if you don’t get to your games quickly, I’m one of the people you get to blame.  I got set up and run an awesome adventure.  This was even more fun because I was able to actually read the adventure ahead of time.  Lunch was the ever loved King Gyro that I ate as I listened to the first DnD DM seminar.  Now I expected this to be completely useless.  I’m not a bad GM, so I think I’m ready for anything.  And, this seminar discussed the basics of DMing.  But, honestly, I was pretty impressed.  Sometimes it’s good to go back over the basics, at least quickly.  Then, I was back for more marshaling.  However, most of my players couldn’t make it due to the storm, so I was selected to play Baker Street.  Let’s give this a short RPG rundown!





All tests are six-sided dice rolls with a Sherlock Die.  The regular dice all are successes when you have a value of four or over.  Just like all fun six-sided dice games, 6’s explode and are rolled until they don’t roll a six.  The Sherlock die has a 1, 2, and a 3 on it as well as Watson, Sherlock, and Moriarty.  The 1, 2, and 3 on this die makes 1’s, 2’s, or 3’s count as successes on the other dice.  Watson adds one success, Moriarty makes all dice with a three or less count against your successes allowing for negative scores, and Sherlock lets you name a number and all those count as successes.  That’s the entire base mechanic.  When you do something you’re specialize in you add two extra dice, and when you do something else you use your ranks in that.  Not trained?  Then roll two dice and the Sherlock die.  Done.  Attacks and Defense work the exact same way.  I roll my dodge, and you roll your weapon attack.  Weapons all have a set number of dice, so you roll those dice and the Sherlock die and repeat the basics above if you hit a character by beating their dodge roll.  For each hit with the weapon, you reduce the condition of your target with wounds. Wounds reduce the dice numbers that count as a hit, until you are knocked out or killed.

What does stand out is the investigation mechanics and threat.  When you enter a room, you can roll investigate.  That allows you to get a number of clues.  Those clues all have leads, and you can do a different check to eliminate leads.  This really helps me as a GM and a Player by now I don’t have to try to be smarter than my players or GM, and if I’m accidently way too cleaver for my own good and hide my story too deep,  my players have a mechanic to actually find the story threads.  If the players want to explore again and reduce more leads, they then can search again, but they might raise the threat of the adventure.  As the threat goes up, the bad guys get harder, the Moriarty side of the Sherlock die gets worse, and more problems arise for the players.  It keeps the tension up while still letting the players choose what happens.  It felt organic and fun.


While I like Sherlock Holmes, I was never a diehard fan. But this really drew me in.  It’s after Sherlock “dies” falling off the falls.  Watson hires some help, and that’s where the players come in.  Our game had a chimney sweep, a child laborer, and a prostitute.  Guess which one I was.  I did work hard for my money!  What was fun was all the pregenerated characters were all characters from other Victorian stores and events.  My lady of the night was from Whitechapel, so if I wasn’t helping Watson, things would not end well for me.


All and All, Baker Street is a fun RPG, and I even got a cool new die out of the demo.  Well worth it!  Go give it a try!

Thursday finished with my wife coming into town late, and I ran another DnD game of Tales Trees Tell.  That went well, and my players and I had a blast.  Then, my wife and I did what all red blood Americans do when they’re in a hotel room alone together-We played a game of Star Realms.  I kicked some butt that night!



The wife’s in town, so I bought her tickets to my games that day.  Also our niece came to the show for one day.  I marshaled for the first slot and sat down at my table.  It was an adventure I hadn’t played yet, but I had prepared it called Raiders of the Twilight Marsh.  My players enjoyed that one.  They fought a dragon, I made a horror, and my niece who hadn’t played DnD till then had an amazing time.  Lunch happened quickly as I attended the second DnD Seminar discussing the use of inspiration.  I really liked this one.  It had PowerPoint slides, some good audience interaction, and it discussed giving player’s narrative control.  I want to do that more in my games, so this was right up my alley.  After lunch, I marshaled again, but I still didn’t have any players, so I was given a chance to play Neo Exodus.  This is a new Pathfinder compatible Living setting.  I played a cleric of a semi-computer god.  It was fun, but my only problems where Pathfinder problems.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time.  But, combat takes so long, and set up can be a pain.  However, it was fun.


That evening, I marshaled, and then the wife and I hit the con and played some board games at the GenCon board game library.  We tied played Carcassonne: The City.  Then we hit the hotel room and played some more Star Realms.  I didn’t do as well that night.



Saturday was my easy day.  After marshaling, I run my first table of Pool of Radiance Resurgent.  I had a great time, and my players decided to just bluff their way through it.  Goes to show you how much you can customize this game as instead of having a necromancer dominate the undead you can have a diplomancer just talk your way out of anything the DM throws at the players.  That was a good time.

From then on the con was free for me, or so I thought.  After the 1PM marshaling, my wife and I went to J. K. O’Donnell’s.  God, I love this place.  It’s got great beer, great food, and an authentic atmosphere.  We tried to go Friday night, but there were just WAY too many people there at night!  I had an authentic Irish breakfast which was eggs, blood sausage (not bad by the way), fried vegetables, and other meats.  I’ve always wanted to try an UK breakfast, and now I have. I also got a little tipsy (man am I out of practice!), so my wife and I went back to the hotel, and took a nap (I’m getting old!).  That evening, fully refreshed, I marshaled, and I asked to run a game of Arcanis.  I love Arcanis, but don’t get much of a chance to play anymore.  So, I grabbed all my d12’s, the wife grabbed her old character, and we played a game with some other people from MI.  The evening ended when back in the hotel room with more Star Realms and opening up my copy of Tiny Epic Defenders.  I lost Star Realms, but we did win at Tiny Epic Defenders.  Quick rundown time!


In Tiny Epic Defenders, you make a deck of bad things to happen to the kingdoms’s different locations.  Then, you also shuffle in your action cards.  When a bad thing comes up, a location takes some damage.  When it takes too much damage, the location is considered destroyed and all damage now goes to the capital.  When the capital falls, the game’s over.  When your turn comes up, you can do three actions which can be location’s ability, heal one damage on a location, move, or use a special character power.  When the deck of bad things and actions runs out, you draw a new card from the timer deck, shuffle, and repeat.  When you can’t draw from the timer deck, a major threat appears somewhere.  Now players have to race to do damage to the final monster as quickly as possible.  The mechanics are quick and easy.  Also, I have the deluxe version, so I get a few more monsters and final threats.  Honestly, it’s easy, and fun.


I liked this game, but I didn’t love this game.  Predicting where and when monsters will damage locations isn’t a bad game, but the end game is a bit anticlimactic.  To damage the last bad guy, you spend one action for one damage.  You get three actions, so you just position yourself on him or her and pile on the damage.  It doesn’t feel as tense as the rest of the game.  It’s great game if you have 20 minutes and want a co-op game, but if you want some more meat in your co-op game, you will be a little underwhelmed.



The last day of the con, and the last spots I’m marshaling.  My first spot was open, so the wife and I played Shadow of the Demon Lord with the creator Robert Schwalb.  That was a blast, as it’s always fun to see who makes the game your play.  Also, it’s always fun to play with the creator of an RPG when they’re hung-over and questioning life choices that involve cheese taco rollups!  Let’s do a quick rundown of Shadow of the Demon Lord.



This game is a d20 system, but not the standard d20 I know and love.  Ability modifiers use a flat ability – 10 system.  Have Strength 12?  You have a +2 modifier.  Have intelligence 8?  Then it’s -2.  Easy.  Easy is a word I’ll say multiple times here, and I mean that in the best way possible.  To succeed at most things you have to hit a 10 with your modifier and dice roll.  Again, easy.  Attacks all hit the ability of the target or an armor class that you figure out once.  Easy.  To modify situations you add six-sided dice.  Get a bonus from a character blessing you?  Roll a d6, and add the result.  Get a penalty from a monster?  Roll a d6, and subtract the result.  The adding good dice counteracts adding bad dice, and you only count the highest dice added.  This makes the math MUCH similar or easier.  The biggest number you will add will be around 10.  Done.  This is a really sleek system.  It feels enough like all the RPGs I love while still having its own distinctness.


I had a long talk with the creator about this game.  For all its glory, it felt…short.  And he told me that was by design.  We all have heard tales of grognards who played epic 40+ year games of D&D.  But for every story I hear about that, I read about Pathfinder games that die in under a month.  This game is designed to be played quickly, and leveled up quickly too.  You won’t play one game for 10 years, but you will pay for ten sessions.  When put that way, all my doubts vanished.  It’s a definite shift in perspective when you’re told that although your characters have an awesome story to be part in, you won’t be playing them that long.  But, honestly that’s the truest thing I’ve heard of from the RPG industry in a long time.  As for the in game theme, it’s a grab bag of bad (in a good way).  The Demon lord is an extradimensional thing that is bad.  When it tries to enter our world, its shadow is cast on different things causing a bunch of different things like the zombie apocalypse to lite beer.  That means anything you play can happen in this world.  From plagues to fallen angels, you can decide the Demon Lord’s shadow is causing some sort of havoc in the world.  Also the world is a strange mix of gaslight/steampunk/Lord of the Rings.  Players can be anything from any of those worlds.  I was a clockwork priest of the world who believed that the world and all living things are all made of tiny machines the others could not see.  My crazy choice all slid well into the game.  Robert Schwalb is a fantastic story teller, and any game that has demonic statues fart out baby headed centipedes obviously is going to be a good one.

If you get a chance, when this game comes out on kickstarter, throw money this way.  I know I am.


Due to the unfortunate accidents some other DMs had, I was asked to run one last game.  I hoped in to the DM chair and met my boss in the DnD Adventurer’s league Frank.  I hadn’t met him all con, and this was my chance.  We played a great game of Pool of Radiance Resurgent, and then had some spirited conversations about the future of the League.  I’m looking forward to what’s happening next, and I didn’t get fired, so I left happy!


Well that was my time out in Fort Wayne.  I’ll be back next year.  I had a blast, but I do have some suggestions for next year:

  • Credit Cards-I haven’t seen cash for three months. My family gives my digital money now!  You should be able to take my digital money
  • Day Passes-My niece came for one day and then drove back to MI. That day cost $30 bucks!  My wife played for four days, and that cost her $30.  Something is not right here.
  • Reduce the price of events-$8 is a bit much. Now, I know you have to charge so we all get to play, but $8 is a bit much for four hours.  We’re talking Origins prices here, and while awesome, Winter Fantasy isn’t as big as Origins.
  • Different Games-I love D&D, but this right now is basicaly an only D&D con. I want some different games.  I don’t want Winter Fantasy to be an only D&D con.  If Wizards of the Coast wants to step in, throw money at the con, and make it only D&D, that’s one thing.  But, if this is an independent convention, I want at least a smattering of other games to play.
  • Event books-This year the games weren’t really published off the website. I didn’t know what was happening when.  I had to ask more than a few times to know what I can even play when.  I’m not looking for tome, but even a list of what and when would really be nice.  I didn’t even know when half the DnD DM guild stuff was happening and I ended up wondering into both events almost by accident.

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