Fall-IN! 2018: The Sinkhole that wasn’t

Or: the toilet that got ideas above its station and tried to be a bidet

Standard disclaimer.  I’m not a member of the HMGS BoD.  If I say anything in this post about HMGS plans or policies, it’s just me saying it, and not officially from anyone but me.

So another early November dawning, and a cold and kind of rainy drive Northward to Lancaster for FALL IN!  The new pickup truck packed up pretty snug, as I was running a game for the first time in a long time.  The drive was pretty long for a change.  I like to head to Lancaster using the 495-270-15-30 route rather than drive on the Interstate.  It’s a more bucolic drive. This time, there was a pileup at a major intersection along the way, so they closed Route 30 for a few miles.  I got WAIS to help me figure this one out but I did lose time– it was nearly dark when the standard proclamation rang out on the Wright’s Ferry Bridge.

Pulling into the parking lot, immediately I was getting a weird vibe from the Host.. for one thing, the sign wasn’t lit up.  Another broken thing? So I unpacked in the rain and went in.  Once again. as at Historicon, plenty of parking spots up front, none around back.  Not sure how that works…

The Host.. well, tsk tsk tsk.. where to begin? The new owners have promised changes and a total facelift since they assumed ownership in late 2016.  In late 2018, the Host looks like this (See right).  The facade is the same as ever, the parking lot STILL has large steel conex boxes, and there’s the general aura of nothing being finished…. still.  There’s so much to add to that statement.  The front of the Host is about the same as it was at Cold Wars 2017, with the idea of moving the hotel entrances down to the old Lampeter Room still being in play.  What was evident this time around was MORE stuff was started, more stuff is unfinished.  For one thing, in their infinite wisdom, the owners decided to renovate the only working standard elevator in the entire hotel– forcing people with disabilities who wanted to go down to the Distelfink or Dealer’s area to literally go outside (in the driving rain on Friday) and come in through the loading docks.  The Host is as inaccessible and decrepit as ever.  We all know how wheelchair unfriendly the building has been in the past.  If anything, it has become more so.  Everything is crumbling and in disrepair.  I have to wonder who is giving these people advice.. why the hell would you start building new elevators (over by portal C in the back) and before you’re even started that, you put your old elevators out of commission?? Why, why, WHY?  Haven’t they heard of the ADA?  How do the regular, non-convention guests deal with these challenges?  Wait, I don’t have to imagine that, I’ll just read their 1.5 star Yelp review.  Ouch!

Registration: first night (Thursday):

The new-ish registration system.  Wait time for me: 5 minutes.  Maximum.

Typing about the Host just gets me grumpy these days so back to, you know, that convention I went to.  First thing was convention director Dan Murawski’s pre-convention pep talk for the staff.  I should mention, I usually will volunteer for Dan so I was on Events staff, working for Bill White directly.  Trust me, it’s not for the free hotel room. Oh, no.  It’s really for the brightly colored staff shirt, which was dayglo safety green this year.  You can see a saucy little hint of one under my lumberjack shirt, here.  One aspect of the first night that is going 100% swimmingly these days is the registration.  I pre-registered and got the QRC Code in an email on Wednesday.  I just walked up to the scanner and bim, bam, bing, I’m in the convention with a printed badge and tickets.  This is the system HMGS has needed for 20 years.

Events (Friday and Saturday):

There had been many changes to the inside of the host, as well, which made FALL IN  a challenging event to navigate.  In addition to the inexplicable decision to take the only functioning elevator offline, there were vast swathes of the Host that weren’t available for the show.  The Distelfink was only 2/3 functioning (the Host had partitioned of the back portion of the room  off for renovation)– so about 20 tables traditionally used for running events had to relocate two days before the convention, up to the old Dining area.  Did they notify the convention staff in advance?  Of course they didn’t, we only found because Brenda Zartman did a live recon before the event, which is why we received “the state of the Host” email before the convention.  This begs the question, does our contract have any stipulations that allows for recompense when the vendor stiffs us like this?  We contracted for a certain layout that the Host fails to deliver constantly.  Don’t they owe HMGS money now?

The facility still has major problems with the physical plant here and there.. and the plumbing.. oh boy, the plumbing.  I had my own adventure there.  The toilet in my hotel room, which I never even used, started making a gurgling sound worthy of Pennywise the clown on Thursday night and bubbling up.  Gingerly, I depressed the flush handle.  A small fountain jumped up out of the toilet… getting everywhere.  I called the front desk the next morning, when I noticed the small pond in front of the now overflowing toilet bowl.  A doleful Spanish plumber came up and began working on the situation while I was prepping to run my game on Friday.  He emerged from the bathroom an hour later, looking even more doleful, and said “I geev up!”  So they moved me to a new room.

Once again, the convention event staff (myself included, but mostly Bill White) had to furiously juggle with the layout to find a new home for all the vanished table spaces, in addition to the regular cancellations and additions.  Cancellations were rife this time– from the inexplicable “we’re at the  table but it’s empty and the GM hasn’t shown up yet” to “I set up and none of the players did” scenarios.   We made a diligent effort to track down no-show GMs and at least record who they were and what they were supposed to be running.  I could display the classic empty tables at the Distelfink picture, but someone will always say that a picture of an empty table doesn’t take into account the event that played on it earlier or will run on it later.  It just seemed to me there were fewer events run (but maybe not scheduled). 

The games that did get run seemed pretty good to my inexpert eye.  That’s good, not great or serious eye candy (including the game I ran, of which more later).   There were no giant showcase games, even not many theme games that I could detect (aside from a couple of Spanish Civil War and Russian Civil War games on the schedule, there might have been more).  Of the giant “event” games of yore, there were not many in evidence beyond the multi-table Roman Gaul game that plays in the lobby convention after convention.   With that said, the ones that did get run were plenty entertaining from my perspective. 

Games (all weekend):

There was a lot of stuff being run; it’s impossible to capture it all, but I did take a bunch of pictures, most of which are now on Flickr.  If you want to see a screen show, click here

Other Notes:
The Host had ripped out the kitchen for renovation, so food service was a no-go.  They did improvise this time with a great idea, they hired a local catering service (Coffee Co) to provide food stations (a coffee cart upstairs, and a grill with hot food on the balcony).  This latter choice was a good choice, the food was plentiful, decent and affordable, and an improvement over the dismal fare of Historicon.

I have to give the staff of Coffee Co points for performing Yeoman service in a chilly situation.  There food prep area was semi-shielded by a plastic tarp but it couldn’t have been very comfortable.

The bar replacement (yes, they tore down the bar) was not impressive.  They reused the standard round tables and put out a roll-up bar.  It lacked chairs, so people would show up, have a beer, stand around and leave. 

Game I ran: JUNKWAFFEL, a Mad Maximillian 1934 adventure

Yes, I know I stole the title from a Vaughn Bode comic.  Sue me, he’s dead.  I ran this event on Friday night with Jon Lunberg.  This event worked out with some serendipity.  Jon is like another “iron man” of HMGS, running events all weekend.  Because he didn’t want to move his setup three times, he asked for me to set up for our 1900 hrs. game on D-24 early, so he could run his early game of Dracula’s America (or something like that) on the same terrain.  Win-WIN, brother!
So if you know of my last year or so’s tinkering with this game system, you’ll know the general idea.. some kind of apocalypse, some kind of breakdown of social order, driving around in the waste land, etc etc only it takes place in the 1930s.  My first attempt running this scenario (a variant of the “death race” published in the book) ended up with me learning a lot about running it. 

Blurb: Nobody knows exactly how the world ended, but it’s been deucedly hard on all parties concerned. Racing & fighting using  a mixture of weaponized vehicles fighting in a post-Apocalyptic world. Only, it’s not the future apocalypse. It’s the apocalypse
that took place in 1934. Remember that? Join players as they participate in a Grand Guignol road race at the end of the world, their Bentleys, Bugattis, Fords and Deusenbergs transformed with the latest deadly weaponry from relics of the
Great War

The event came off really well and everyone playing said the had a great time.  That’s encouraging.

We ran the entire course, had a clear winner and lost of mayhem and destruction.  The combat system, which I had thought was relatively bloodless when I was solitairing the game, proved to be very deadly after two plays and a thorough understanding of the mechanics.  I had come up with a set of optional rules called “the Chaos Factor” which I was going to insert into the game to give the people who weren’t active something to do, but I changed my mind, and let the game stand on its own.  I’ll post this idea as a future post,however, as I did put some work into it.  Jon and I agreed to run it again at COLD WARS.  Here’s every picture of JUNKWAFFEL

I didn’t do a lot of shopping at FALL IN. Nothing much grabbed me.  I picked up some great political personality figures from Brigade, joined the expiring Frostgrave Nickstarter, and bought some terrain pieces.  As for the flea market, I was even less enthused, after dragging myself up the stairs and using a flash light to see what people were selling.  I was at the Exhibitor space– which is, it hardly needs to be mentioned, inaccessible for many people with disabilities in the current state of the Host’s renovation plan.  I managed to engage with some members of the Board of Directors and they let slip that the Tangier outlet mall had had a giant sinkhole develop in their parking lot, which in my mind is a visual equivalent of a gift.  What a pity.. when I went to investigate they had filled it in with gravel and boarded it over.  Not even worth photographing.  Sigh.  I was thinking the Host was on the verge of becoming a lakefront property.   What was of interest, was the other thing the BoD member mentioned– that Cold Wars will continue at the Lancaster Host to 2019 and beyond.  Yikes.  IF the facility doesn’t sink into the mud, that is.   I hope we can make the best of a bad bargain, but if the performance of the Host in the last two years is anything to go by, we need to find an alternative for CW to keep in the hip pocket.

Saturday night, I participated in a game of LISSA 1909 (the other Lissa), using the Black Smoke, Blue Water rules.  This was a fun game.  I was on the Austrian side, trying to fight off an Italian landing on Lissa.  We were incompletely successful, although we did blow up and sink two Italian battleships and were a whisker away from putting another one under.  One of my ships, an older smaller battleship, was riddled with shots and sinking, but in its final round afloat, let loose a slow torpedo that ripped the guts out of its Italian counterpart.  That’s satisfying.

Oh boy.

In the end game, we had decimated the blocking force of Italians but were encountering the bombardment force which featured ships I couldn’t even scratch with my main guns, so I had to turn tail and run for it, and that was the game.  A narrow Italian victory.   I took WAY too many pictures of this event, which you can see in a slideshow here.

So that’s pretty much Fall IN! 2018 for me.  I know that Dan Murawski, Bill White, Brenda Zartman, Heather and Paul and the rest of the staff all put in a fantastic effort, but even I, who tend to be optimistic, felt like the attendance wasn’t what it could be. Lots of empty tables.  Lots of games that went unfilled.  I just don’t think the foot traffic was there.   Oh well, here’s hoping the Host will actually complete a project for Cold Wars 2019!

I know how you feel, Bill, I certainly do…



  1. A good read, as always, Walt. Pretty much sums up my general impressions of the event in terms of the Host, attendance, and wares on offer (though I did pick up a couple of minor bargains in the flea market).

  2. Walt,

    The picture with the subtitle “Oh boy” showed a hideous plaid-and-snot-green-clad leviathan arising on the far side of the table. Who was this? The Colossus of Rhodes post-earthquake? The Kraken after it had dried out in the afternoon sun? Zeus on quaaludes? I’m surprised the contending fleets stuck around long enough to engage in battle–it sure scared the crap out of me. Which is why I’m off to change my trousers.

    Your true pal,

    Chris Johnson

    • Doubtless, this was an apparition of one of those Elder Gods we hear so much about, as in Dagon the water god, or even dread Cthulhu, risen from ancient R’yleh, were he lays dreaming.

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