DunDraCon 2020 wrap-up

With a young son there’s always some negotiating around scheduling come convention time. This year my wife had an excellent opportunity to a design for a show at A.C.T., one of the premiere theaters in the Bay Area. (In fact you can actually buy tickets here to see her show if you’re reading this in late Feb. of 2020.) She needed to be at rehearsal all day on Sunday, so I had to cram a weekend of fun into about 36 hours.

I did my damnedest.


After driving a game designer buddy of mine around for a little book shopping, something that’s become a fun tradition over the years, we dined at In’N’Out and headed to the show.

I had time to squeeze in a game of The Expanse, Green Ronin’s AGE system game that allows you to play in the universe of the books/show. Mostly I found myself disappointed that I couldn’t fit Michele Picard’s Friday Delta Green game into my schedule, but such is con life.

Zombie World

After reconnecting with some Con buddies, it was time to head over to what I anticipated would be a large table for my Zombie World game. I wasn’t disappointed. DunDraCon chronically has more demand for RPGs than they have sessions, so in the end I ran with seven players. Honestly I don’t know if I’ve ever nailed a session with more than 6 players, but that doesn’t stop me from trying every so often.

The game had some lovely moments. There was a little PC/NPC romance that tragically could never be consummated because of some shared guilt. (Dear reader, I will spare your tender sensibilities by just telling you they had something to be very guilty about.) My favorite reveal was discovering that the Doctor kept finding excuses to send the Scout out in the hopes that he would get bitten so he’d become a nice fresh zombie specimen. The cards never cooperated, though. Many draws from the Bite Deck, but no bites.

So, our game turned out to be more atmospheric than epic. If only I had contrived to bring that zombie toddler back! Oh, well, there’s always next time. (You can read my other musings about Zombie World here.)


I wasn’t scheduled for an early game, so I slept in! I wasn’t scheduled for an early game, so when my boy woke up at 6:30am, we hung out together for awhile and then went on a short family hike. (Get some exercise during the Con, folks, there’s only so much con sweat you can inhale safely.)

After a leisurely morning, I was back at the Con in time for a ridiculously good lunch at a Vietnamese fusion place called the Slanted Door, apparently a satellite of a popular place of the same name in San Francisco. Among other things I got my first taste of Hong Kong Milk Tea. Go try some. It’s good.

humblewood_boxIntroduction to Humblewood

Hit Point Press’s Humblewood is a new setting for D&D 5E that had a ridiculously successful Kickstarter last year. You play in an ancient forest where the races of men are unknown. I bought the boxed set to use in my GMing business, and decided to take it for a spin as a “teen-friendly” session at BigBadCon last October. I wish I could tell you that Hit Point Press has been really excellent about supporting my convention runs. Yup, sure wish I could tell you that.

To make a long story short I’ve needed to do a lot to make these games happen. When I was prepping for BBC, I put together character concepts, and then character sheets. After combing through the Humblewood adventure I couldn’t really find anything that would make a great one-off, so I got to work and designed a runaway freight train of a prequel to the main Humblewood campaign. I put way more work into all this than I thought I’d have to, but I loved the results. Now I’ve got characters people really respond to and an adventure that I know inside and out.

humblewood_detailAlso, since I didn’t have to do any hardcore prep this time around, I upped my production game. I put together some standees with the character art to put on the table, which reminds the players who they’re talking to, along with adding some curb appeal for passers-by. (This is something I learned from ace GMs like Dovi Anderson and Jack Young… who I’ve heard picked the technique up from Matt Steele.) In any case the Humblewood art is maybe the most solid part of the game production, so having it at the table is pure win.

And, oh, my table. What a fun bunch! I asked DunDraCon to put my game in their dedicated teen room, and I ended up with a good age mix. There were two younger boys and their dads, along with a teen. The dads weren’t the usual old-school D&D heads, so I had the kids tutor their parents.

I like to leave the relationships among the pre-generated characters up to the table. So we spent a while working those out, then after a short break, we got after it.

My Introduction to Humblewood game takes place over a day, so there are no long rests. It’s a bit of test for younger kids… will they blow all their good spells, or will they be able to hang in there suspecting a big fight is coming? There was a lot of really cool role play, and thanks to our work building the relationships there was a lot of investment in the world.

Here’s a nice example of that…
One of characters, Crassus, has been sent to the remote town the game is set in because, well, he’s just a little crook in training. In the game setup he’s staying with his Aunt Agnes. Crassus’ player, one of the young kids, decided early on that he hated and resented his aunt. But later, when he discovered Agnes was in mortal danger, he raised his eyebrows and said, “We have to help her,” in this fantastic full-hearted way. And his friend added, “Oh, yeah, it’s like when you have a little brother, you kinda hate them, but still, they’re your BROTHER.”

I love doing epilogues at the end of a one-shot. And young and old alike came up with really, really good stuff. Including a ritual to commemorate the disaster that almost destroyed sleepy Meadowfen.

The Cool Kids Game

As many of you know, it’s a Con tradition to do some off the books after hours gaming. I’ve been invited to a few of these sessions over the years and they’re always interesting. This time around I decided to do my own cool kids session of Cthulhu Dark. Dark is my new jam. It’s so great already and I’m just starting to figure out how to play it with nuance. (Life is short… go get your own copy of Cthulhu Dark here.)

I played with my mysterious patrons–more on that another time–and some of their friends. I won’t say I was at the height of my powers (I ended up GMing for 12 out of 26 hours) but I believe a good night was had by all.

Since my Con was effectively over, I said my goodbyes. I got a lot closer to some of my con buddies this time, and I’m hoping to see them more often throughout the year.

Bonus Sunday
Brian and Xander hanging in open gaming.

Bonus Sunday!

With my wife at rehearsal, I had a lot of time to fill with my son for the rest of the holiday weekend. When I floated the idea of dropping in on the Con for the afternoon he was genuinely enthusiastic. We headed to open gaming where my beloved friend and writing partner Brian was kicking ass at a game of Fantasy Flight’s Outer Rim. My son impishly trash-talked the other players on Brian’s behalf, but everyone took it in stride.

I got a chance to take my son around and meet some of my friends at the show. It’s the last time DunDraCon will ever be in its current hotel, so it somehow seemed fitting to roam the halls and rooms with him one last time.

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