Friday before last I packed my bags, filled up a 30-count box with CDs (my iPod battery being drainsville), and motored south to Champaign-Urbana for Winter War 36. Here's how it went down.
First thing Friday night was Jeff's Encounter Critical game. He's already given the lowdown on our escape from Planet Gamma via a Left Turn at Alba-Quirky, which most people reading this have already read. I've run EC, at least as a play-by-post, but never had a chance to play. It was a hoot. Jeff didn't hand out any XP, but my PC Zeerok almost certainly gained enough for a level, what with (unsuccessfully) Reading the Mind of a dead snake person by popping its skull and poking its brain, getting the handy (ahem) mutation of telescoping arms and discovering a cure for space zombie contamination. It's too bad a few of the players seemed more interested in hanging out with their (non-playing) pals. I mean, this was a game where we slipped a mutant house-plant a mickey, flew a rocket into orbit and hot-wired a lunar rover. So their loss, obviously.
On Saturday morning I played something new for me, Cartoon Action Hour by Spectrum Games, a game that emulates the classic action-adventure cartoons of the 80s. The event was pitched as post-apocalyptic cowboys: good enough to lure me in! CAH turned out to be very fast-paced and rules light, and the cartoon-inspired setting made for a great mix of wild action and meta-game humor about commercial breaks and Action Playsets. Royce Thigpen's scenario Waste Riders was great fun. We battled our recurring foes the Ant-People and their King, had a shoot-out on horseback while chasing a Mack truck loaded with kidnapped townsfolk, and trojan-horsed our way into our nemesis Black Bart's supermarket fortress to battle his giant cyborg. What's not to love?
Up next was Matthew 'Alex' Riedel's Arcane Vault of the Magic Goddess, a 1e game featuring a buried temple to Isis and some great tricks and traps in the vein of the classic tournament modules. I can easily imagine Dave Sutherland illustrations of our hapless thief getting stuck to the wall of a magnetized pit, torched by a flame trap and, fatally, squashed by a golem! We players did more dithering than delving, and consequently didn't get to explore too much of the Vault itself. Happily, it was a runner up in last summer's Fight On! / Otherworld Miniatures adventure contest, so I'll be able to read the rest when FO #4 is published. Mike 'Chgowiz' Shorten has more on the session here.
Speaking of Cha-gow-izz (the cognoscenti say "Chicago Wiz"), he and Alex Riedel switched places for Mike's Sunday AM game, A Mob is a Terrible Thing. The moment our front line slipped down a greased slide and started getting pelted by rock throwing kobolds I had my suspicions that we'd come down with a case of Tucker's Complaint. Sure enough it was a running battle from then on, with kobolds lobbing flaming oil, rocks and javelins then running away before Alex's bloodthirsty dwarf could smash too many of them. Nothing but bad luck for my PCs: tripping and falling while chasing after a spooked henchman, trying and failing to catch a flaming gourd molotov, falling into a pit full of grey ooze, dying...
Mike's a very physical DM, on his feet for most of the session, and he pushed the pace by immediately responding to every spoken action -- unless we very clearly stated we were just planning, every damn thing that came out of our mouths was in play. Loads of low-down dirty high-adventure hijinks. Read more from Mike here and, hey, why not download the adventure for yourself?
A quick dash out for a sandwich and it was back to the table for Jeff Rients's Big Stoopid Dungeon Party. I believe that my thief LaQuinta was the first to die -- in hindsight grabbing the giant glowing ruby wasn't the smartest thing, but I had hopes of fencing it to my twin sister LaCinco. Ah well. My second character was a scholarly magic-user, who spent much of the adventure on donkey back, writing bad haiku during pitched battles and taking over mapping when our first cartographer perished. This was the limit of my usefulness since I'd prepared Read Languages and we discovered no ancient rebuses in need of decoding.
Jeff had a knack for catching individual player's voices out of a din of crosstalk and smart-assery, and a low key, almost deadpan style that worked really well with a table full of rambunctious gamers -- we didn't need any egging on to generate our own excitement. I can't imagine playing in a regular game with that many players, but as the giddy, goofy, edge-of-exhausted culmination of a con it was just about perfect.
With only a stop for coffee I was on the road and gone like a train. With just enough traffic to keep me alert and a Scandinavian audio-assist from Opeth, Robyn, and Finntroll, I was home by 10:30pm. WinterWar is a great convention. I had a fandamntastic time, and hope to make it down again next year.