Historicon 2018, where all the bodies are buried


Just kidding about the bodies thing.  I had to lead with an attention-getter.

Historicon 2018 was last weekend, at the Lancaster Host “resort”, Lancaster, PA. Like all great HMGS conventions, it started with the Mighty Susquehanna.

Once you are across yonder Susquehanna, your path will take you to our favorite shambling wreck, the Lancaster Host. Looking better than ever.

The front of the Lancaster Host. The only way in is the former handicap ramp on the right side, or the Lampeter Room.

That’s an example of your “basic intentional irony”, there. It wasn’t better than ever. I can say the giant piles of slag and rubble which were present at COLD WARS 2018 have been removed.   The giant steel CONEX containers, which took up so many parking spaces at the previous con, were still present.  I’m going to get more in depth about the facility later, we’ll get to that presently.

Weirdly, I parked in front of the convention the entire time easier than I could behind the convention which is the exact opposite of what is normal.  Given that the room I stayed in was about as far from the front of the show as you can possibly get, it actually would have been easier to park out in the back of beyond.  Go figure.

I’ll get back to the facility in a bit.. for now, onward to the show.   I showed up just in time for the staff briefing and immediately started the brief on learning the registration system.  I actually was assigned to Events and the Help Desk, as it turned out, but it doesn’t hurt to learn things.  As I said back in the Cold Wars 2018 post, the new Registration system (that is, the system to get you into the show, prints tickets and etc) works very well, and might be the best I’ve seen for small events.  What a giant leap forward we have taken here.  If only it was around ten years ago.  Result: More people pre-registering, tiny lines, really fast throughput.  The downside: if a guy shows up to game and pre-registered events, the system will spit out however many tickets he pre-registered for.  If he adds a spouse, it will spit out that same amount of tickets again.  So people were using the tickets to get into events, and “overbooking” them.  I hear they are working on it.

1. Wednesday: Up and Rolling, new EVENTS procedures 

The intention of Wednesday night is to be open in advance of the convention.  So after “class” we ended up building the GM Help and Awards desk, building the pegboard and recording the vast number of cancelled, relocated or changed games on a chart everyone could read.  Our process is changing from having tickets printed by a printer before the convention and spending Wednesday sorting, punching and bundling them for each day days in advance to a process where we print them the night before each day and Events guy sorts and bundles the tickets every night.  I think.

The massive amount of cancelled games by Friday afternoon. We made an effort to reach the GMs who committed to running these games to try to get an explanation for the cancellation.
The equally large number of CHANGED/RELOCATED and ADDED (New) Games. I’ll discuss this below

Like registration, Events Management is an evolving business processes as well, and I welcome these changes. When you start auditing the numbers, HISTORICON experienced a significant percentage loss in events run by cancellation. Roughly 10% of the games scheduled were not run due to cancellations (numbers based on what you see above plus cancellations leading up to convention, after PEL deadline. We kept the numbers. Jody Miller, the convention director, wished to have every GM that cancelled on Historicon to be contacted in some fashion, so we could get some idea why. So if you got called, it was either me or Dan Murawski wondering why we had an empty table with people sitting around it at the show. We also had events guys out on the floor, every time slot where games were running, auditing the tables to see A) if the event was set up, B) How many people showed up to play and C) if the person running it is the same person who is registered to run the event. I’m relatively sure we got a decent sampling of numbers between Thursday and Saturday. Why is HMGS auditing tables? I think we are trying to get a “right size” number for events at conventions. I know that for the first time maybe ever, people were actually getting rejected for running events at HMGS conventions (by people, I mean a friend of mine, Ed Watts, for certain). I don’t know how widespread this was. I do know that the renovations at the Host caused a scarcity of space for HISTORICON 2018; if you check the second picture of two above you will see the rooms that had to be moved around due to the HOST ROOMS being unavailable (among other things). We did attempt to communicate the changes via the whiteboard you see above, as well as the big email Joby Miller sent out Monday, detailing some of the challenges that Historicon 2018 was going to face with the Host, especially since the facility had not bothered to communicate how their construction was going to impact our con in advance. Swell, thanks, Host. Let me reiterate something. NO, the staff of this convention did not have any idea that some of these room changes had taken place until we got there. YES, communication was maintained with the Host in the lead up to the con, and NO, they didn’t mention the changes. So if you have a beef with events, please understand we had to work with the facility we had and had to move mountains to make changes at the last second to accommodate everyone who had been screwed over. I am not part of the HMGS leadership, BoD or even a staff lead, but I was there and observed this myself.

2. Thursday: SOCOM and SORCERY, and other things

So as I had committed to by being a volunteer, I had a long session working the Events Desk on Thursday, which was made somewhat difficult by the slim number of games being left for that day. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is our new system makes pre-registering for games the true path forward. That means the older method of tickets and peg boards is taking it on the chin these days. I do know we didn’t have a lot of games to start with; after the morning rush we didn’t have much at all.

The peg board at START of Thursday, like maybe 10 AM

After my shift, I was immediately on board to play my first scheduled game of the convention SOCOM AND SORCERY run by Miles Reidy. Miles is the gentle philosopher who runs the Lair of the Ubergeek blog, and a good read it is, too. I had never made that connection before for some reason. If you were at COLD WARS you might have noticed the WW2 era prequel to this game, called DAK and DRAGONS. I didn’t play in that one but I did in this one. Hmmm.. what can I say about this game? A coalition force versus an OPFOR force are both trying to capture an evil-ish Egyptologist who has succeeded in summoning ancient Egyptian spirits back from the dead! The Coalition force was US Rangers, US Marines, Brits and I dunno, maybe French? versus an OPFOR of mostly vaguely Afghani types. Along the way, we encountered.. resistance.

Recent aerial reconnaissance has discovered ominous Egyptian
ruins near the head of the Nile River. It must be something big as multiple
teams of crack troops are being dispatched to find out exactly what is going
on. SOCOM and Sorcery is THE definitive historical simulation of modern
squad level tactics vs. the Dark Gods of Egypt. Perhaps you can answer the
age-old question – can a TOW missile take out a Dragon? SOCOM and
Sorcery 2.0 is an improved version of last year’s very popular game and uses
simple homebrew rules. Children are welcome w/ Parent.

One of the Coalition teams takes on a charging hoard of Centaurs and an armored Rhino, straight out of Herculoids.

The Marines player never even moved his troops. Meanwhile, we're killing like champions.

After the mountain range (where you can see I placed a sniper, who came in handy), we encountered a Saurian jungle, replete with dinosaurs. Note the suspicious trap doors. It’s almost as if we are being invited to…
.. an underground lair beneath a pyramid! That’s my Ranger company forming up before breaching the wall.
This lead to a maze of underground chambers, and a big central denouement in the grand chamber.

So, what can I say about SOCOM AND SORCERY? It was ridiculous, outrageous, ahistorical, fantastical, in your face, transgressive and challenging. In other words, it was tailor made for me. Miles Reidy plays the stereotype of the “historical GM” well and then demolishes it with over the top hilarity. I liked it a lot. Might have been the favorite game I played all weekend. My team came pretty close to winning this thing but one of the OPFOR guys (on a motorcycle. Underground) zoomed in and scooped victory at the last possible second. What a pisser. It was my friend Jeff Wasilewski, though, so that was okay. 🙂

I probably took a gazillion and six pictures of this one, which can be accessed here.

Got finished with SOCOM around 4PMish, and had a couple of choices.  A younger, more energetic me might have scampered down the hill to the dealers area to spend lots of money in the one hour I had available to me.  The older, cynical me with bad knees said “Piss on it.. let’s get something resembling real food for dinner“.. so off to Ruby Tuesdays and their excellent salad bar.

Food.  Let me talk about that.  The food at the Host was simply awful.  Like, the worst in years.  The chow line near the bar was the only one operating in the hotel, and all they could manage was Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, and Pulled Pork sandwiches, plus chips and soda, or fries.  The Host explained that their kitchen was severely restricted due to the ongoing renovations.  That’s okay? Well, understandable, I suppose but not really, these renovations seem to just keep on taking forever.  Let me tell you what wasn’t okay.  Right in the middle of the convention, THE HOST RAISES THE PRICES OF FOOD BY ABOUT 50% ON ALL ITEMS.  So not only are we being fed greasy slop of dubious origin, we now had to pay half as much again for it.

I’m really, really, getting tired of the Host and their excuses.  I’m not hiding it.  I used to be .. well, not a fan of the host, exactly, but perfectly willing to go to shows held there. Now, just not so much any more. There doesn’t seem to be anyone at the tiller. It’s like the new owners are deliberately trying to alienate one of their oldest and dependable customers.  Check that.  It’s not “like” that, it IS that. Remember how I bitched and moaned last Historicon about the move back to the Host from Fredericksburg? Maybe it makes sense from a dollars and cents perspective but.. what about comfort? Having a fun time? The Host management could care less about our making our stay during the shows a pleasant one. I think at this stage, the best thing to do is just keep our end of the contracts for the next two shows and never come back.

After a lovely dinner of mostly-salad-bar, I came back and attended the evening session of the flea market “Wally’s Attic” in this case because it was up in the Showroom.  I found absolutely nothing I was interested in spending money on, but did bump into a lot of old friends and got to shuck and jive and talk HMGS BS.  You know, like we do.

Don Carlucci enticed me to play a fictional naval engagement they had set up on the floor of the stage. I liked the view of the engagement.. the ships are yards away and one guy moves them (in stocking feet). You assume the role of the commander from a distance. The rules were Seekrieg, and played like this:

after five minutes of charts, checking armor plating, distance and penetration factors, with weather and aspect modifiers.. my eyes glazed and a I was fantasizing about rolling a six for close air support:

A little out of period for pre-dreadnoughts but eh, what the heck.

Funny thing, getting old.  I had zero interest in staying up until 3 AM to discuss HMGS politics.  So I sloped off to bedsies.

3. Friday: Events, Presentations and Primal Screaming with Shrek and Donkey

Showed up Friday for an events shift to minor pandemonium.  Friday has (traditionally) more events scheduled than Thursday so we opened early and dealt with rush hour for about a solid hour before it petered out and we once again didn’t have much in the way of tickets left.  The Game Awards/Help desk portion got started and they were sending out GM teams to find the best in each time slot.  I have to tell you, they were pretty strict.
(Godzilla foot)

Once again there that “common terrain table” set up lent by the Miniature Building Authority. Nice port setup. I noticed Stan Johansen using it for a moderns game.

The special effects were AMAZING! WTG Stan!

Friday proved to be a day of challenges, big and small.. and smelly.  Since I wore my orange “volunteer” shirt with pride, I was approached by a very upset individual explaining that someone had.. how to put this.. decorated the walls in the bathroom.  With organic material.  Do I have to paint a picture?  Whoever did this certainly had to.

Finger painting! With effluvia! It really happened! Fortunately I was working with a staff lead that could keep her head about things.

Games were really kicking into gear on Friday, which is the most popular day to run events at H’con.

I was going to go to the SPI seminars (shocker, I do attend one or two) being run by our guests of honor, Al Nofi, Jim Dunnigan, Howard Barasch and David Isby. Alas, it was not to be, as Joby required an assist putting together a presentation about the new convention center in downtown Lancaster. More about this later. I did get done in time to visit the exhibitor’s hall for about an hour, and I bought some stuff for Mad Maximillian from Eureka USA and Stan Johansen miniatures.  After a quick dinner at Sonic, I parked (again, in FRONT of the hotel) and went down to the evening game starting at 1900 hours.

Jeff Wasilewski and his son, Nicholas, collaborate on ‘musical wargames’ that are usually held at Historicon. I’ve been in them before.  I have always found them to be a weird gumbo of improv theater, music trivia and primal scream therapy– but don’t let that throw you, they are always entertaining!  The Historicon 18 game was SHREK AND DONKEY INTO THE WOODS– which I think is a reference to the famous Disney movie series and the musical and movie Into the Woods (2014).. which I haven’t seen– so I admit shamefacedly that half of the references were lost on me.  The “hook” of this game is to use a very rudimentary set of skirmish rules married to the very loosest of plot structures, crammed with all sorts of primary and secondary characters from the main musical theme.  I opted for Jack, of Jack and the beanstalk fame, represented on the table by a cute little Victorian tyke.  I had my reasons. If you are a primary “famous” character like Shrek and or Donkey, you had better measure up to expectations musically and with your accents.. I wasn’t sure I could pull of a Scottish Ogre for several hours and the jive-talking donkey didn’t seem like he had a lot to do. Since the only big goal of the game seemed to be defeating the giant (from where I was standing.. i.e., in front of the giant), why not choose a character for which the giant (actually his widow, as turns out) had a particular antipathy for?

There’s Jack about a foot away from the Giant’s right toe. The props in a game like this are amazing.. the Wasilewski team spent many a spirited evening looking for Chinese legs.
Yes, there were plenty Shrek era toys as well. Here we see Cinderella (in blue) whom I allied with early until it became clear our big master plan to trip the giantesses’ feet with Rapunzel’s hair was being duplicated by another, far louder, self-congratulatory set of players. So it goes!
Where did they find all these Shrek toys?
And… finale. Since I had given up on getting in front of the crowd pulling off the caper we had tried with the hair, I opted for my secondary goal, finding “Milky White” and escorting her off board. I admit, I tried to feed the baker’s wife to her, Mason Verger style, because it looked like she was making a play for the cow. Still, all was forgiven after the cow puked her up. So when asked what great achievement I had made to claim victory at the end I did my best Paton Oswalt impression.. Uhhhhhmmm.. found a cow????

Victory in these things usually goes to the person or group who can scream the loudest and has a small modicum of talent in the Euterpian art. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.

Personally, Donkey’s player earned it for a spot on Eddie Murphy impression, in my opinion.

Really the point is not to win, exactly, but to try to pull off something outlandish and entertaining, somewhat in the scope of the rather rudimentary rules. This is actually harder than it looks, and requires imagination, improvisation and an encyclopedic knowledge of music trivia.

At end of the evening, I was for early snoozeland again after a Guinness for me parched throat..

Saturday dawned and Joby was once again pushing hard to have the people who had cancelled without notice at least contacted. I called a few myself. Saturday tickets went in the usual point-blimfark as is usually expected. Again I had an evening to game in and a day to kill once I was off shift. Even though the hours are long I had a pretty great crew of volunteers to work with, with senses of humor and a can-do attitude. We were cracking each other up constantly.

As always there was some great games displayed in the passing show.

Age of Reason, by Mike M.
Lace Wars


Hmm.. you know, for a man of the cloth, “The Minister of War” wouldn’t bless my dice while visiting SOCOM and SORCERY. What happened to Faith, Hope and Charity, Father?

I was going to meet my friend Mark for lunch at Red Robin down the street, but he was late so I attended the second day of SPI lectures from the Nofi, Barasch etc. (Dunnigan couldn’t make it). It was all rather entertaining and an eyeful about how difficult retail was back in those days. There were some seriously unprincipled characters running around here and there– not the SPI staff, but some of the people they made deals with later, were pretty sketchy by modern standards.

Here’s a little bit of Al describing the old days.

It was a great addition to the show and I’m glad someone could line this up.

Mark and I got lunch, talked about politics and societal ills, and did hit the vendor hall later. I bought a mix of small stuff- A range of homicidal clowns (why? Why the hell NOT?) Some Frostgrave figures, some books, some terrain. I was pleased I didn’t overdo it. Some vendors had purchased a keg of beer and were sharing, which made the crowd quite mellow and happy

Beer selfie

I was very impressed with that.. just a nice gesture of goodwill.

Oh, I got a ticket for sumptuous feast from the Vista Dining room I had to spend for dinner.  There were people staring at me while I was eating, which was kind of unnerving.

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5 comments

  1. I had a good time at the convention. Food was awful, awful, awful. Fortunately we got fair warning, so some of us brought stuff to make sandwiches all weekend. Worked out fine. Took a chance on hot food one night. If was neither hot, nor good. The chicken, which used to be good, was really poor.

    The sleeping rooms were nice. Mine and others were missing refirdgerators, but otherwise they were clean.

    Ran six games. Interestingly the number of folks who showed up bs those who prefer registered was better than normal. Still, I had lots of standbys I tried to accommodate.

    I am looking forward to Fall In, Cold Wars, and Historicon at the new venue.

  2. Walt – it was a pleasure having you play on my SOCOM and Sorcery game and I’m glad you had fun despite playing in a very serious historical, umm, game.

    I find myself of two minds about the con. I had a great time gaming wise. I ran my game 8 times over the course of the 3 days and had great players each time. The overall “energy” of the gaming aspect of the con was great – and I think improved over fredericksburg.

    Then there was the Host – it’s a disaster of a place. I’ll assume good intentions from the new owners but suspect the overall is a bit more complicated than they thought. The food was the worst. I love going to the HMGS events but don’t think I can tolerate another event at the Host. Lets hope the new venue works out for 2019.

  3. I thought I saw a pic somewhere of the signs the Host plastered all over banning outside coolers/booze from being brought in. Anyone got a copy ?

  4. The Host ate up a huge amount of stored good will at this con for me. It really was like a set for a zombie movie with random sheet rock walls thrown up everywhere for extra bonus. I hope they really do a great job on the rehab, the Stockholm Syndrome will only take them so far.

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