Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Historicon 2023

 I can't believe it's been a year since I last updated this blog, I've been sadly remiss.  I do want to give a report of my experience at Historicon 2023.  

It was held again at the Convention Center in downtown Lancaster, and is without doubt, my favorite convention site.  The hotel is excellent and the location can't be beat with plenty of great food places within walking distance.  This convention there seemed to be an extra energy to it all and it was one of the best I've been to.

I ran two games, both fantasy games set in the Elizabethan era.  The first The Mirrors of Mortlake.  This is actually the third in a series of convention games I've run in what I call The School of Night setting, basically "Elizabethan Frostgrave."  The first, A Dead Man in Deptford, dealt with a search for the lost manuscript of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus that could be used to summon demons.  The second was The Creatures of Croatoan, involving the search for the fate of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.  Reports on these games can be found here:

The Mirrors of Mortlake is about the looting of the library of Dr. John Dee, as well as a large and well equipped alchemical laboratory.  In 1583, Dee along with his associate medium Edward Kelley and their families and servants left for Poland and Bohemia in furtherance of their attempts to communicate with Angels.  Shortly thereafter, the estate was looted, purportedly by an angry mob fearful of black magic believed to have been practice there.

As in previous School of Night adventures the real story was competition between various court and foreign factions to find the most magical treasures.  The most valuable item being sought was an obsidian Black Mirror that Dee used for communicating with angels.  For rules, I used an amalgamation of Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago, and the combat system from The Silver Bayonet.  My friend Jim was a huge help as assistant GM, especailly since we had 15 enthusiastic players. 
Here's a picture of the table layout.  Dee's house at Mortlake was torn down a very long time ago so it's not known precisely what the layout so I felt free to "recreate" it as I saw fit.  
The place was brimming with all sorts of magical and monstrous encounters, such as the mutated frog and mushrooms in the above picture, all caused by run-off from the alchemical lab.  Solomon Kane, heading the Puritan faction, spent a fair amount of time trying to cut his way out of the frog who had swallowed him whole early in the game.
This is the School of Night faction, a cult-like group founded by Sir Walter Raleigh to study "things which Many Was Not Meant to Know."  It was led by Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright, duelist and spy.  They was the villains of the game. but managed to survive and came away with a magical chronometer but not the Black Mirror. and stole the carriage belonging to Mary and Sir Philip Sydney, brother and sister serving the Queen herself in attempting to protect Dee's magical property.

Here's a somewhat blurry picture of the Sydneys and their soon to be purloined carriage.

I didn't have much chance to take many photos during the game but some other folks managed to take some.  Thanks to Catrina Hultberg for taking some great shots from both of my games.

The action in the game was furious and chaotic so I won't attempt to write a narrative of it but some highlights included a massive explosion and fire that destroyed most of the outbuilding of the estate, set into motion by Sweet Robin Poley, a sort of proto-James Bond, working for spymaster Francis Walsingham. At one point in the game, two entire factions were trapped inside a room of the main house by magically created vine which some Welsh brigands attempted to set on fire, only to have Baldrick of the Blackadder faction stop it by relieving himself on the fire. In the end, it was the Irish pirates of Grace O'Malley who made it down into the secret basement below the estate to discover the Black Mirror and convince the Angel guarding it to allow them to take it back to Ireland.

  A fun game and we won an award for it.

The other game I ran was called The Faerie Queen Embattl'd, a fantasy take on the Spanish Armada.  In this world, Mary Queen of Scots escaped the headsman's block by making a bargain with Mephistopheles. Her desire for vengeance became the driving force behind the Armada, which due to a sudden change in the wind caused by Mephistopheles allowed the Spanish to destroy most the English fleet near the Isle of Wight.  The Irish soon join the Spanish for their impending invasion.  At this darkest moment for the English John Dee returns to lend his magical aid to the embattled Queen.  He pierces the veil to Faerie and makes an alliance with Oberon and Titania whose Fae armies join the defense. (I should mention that there is a legend that the storm which destroyed the Spanish Armada was summoned by Dee and this rumor was said to be the inspiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest and its Dee-like wizard Prospero.)

I had 14 players and we used the Dragon Rampant rules with some additional rules from the other Rampant series rule sets, like Pikeman's Lament.  

The game was divided into land and sea portions.  The Spanish/Irish forces had to get to the far end of the land board while retaining at least one of the four ships they started with. 

Most of the Spanish armies had to come ashore in an amphibious landing against an English artillery position and some militia units.

The main English army was in a hastily fortified camp and would be hard pressed through the game.
The English cavalry were led by the impetuous Earl of Essex who also commanded the coastal defenses.  These put up a great defense but were ultimately overcome and Essex slain heroically leading a cavalry charge.

The armies of Faerie emerged from a great wood 

A special note to Walt O'Hara who played John Dee in this game, effectively summoning the Tempest that came close to wrecking the Spanish fleet and zapping a half a dozen Spanish units with a chain lightening spell, he then held off several attacks by whole Spanish units single-handedly!

An "aerial view of the table towards the end of the game.  Despite severe damage by fire ships, aerial attacks and the Tempest, all four of the Spanish/Irish ships were afloat.  The Spanish/Irish ground forces, although heavily battered were still advancing inland and the English had suffered heavy losses and the Faeries almost all been driven back beyond on the Faerie veil (ie eliminated).  However, time was running out for the invaders and they had not secured the town or the road to London.
It all ended up being settled by a duel (as is provided in the Lion Rampant rules).  The two Queens, Elizabeth and Mary of Scots faced off and the vengeful Scottish Queen won the day and slew the heroic Gloriana, thereby becoming Queen of England as well as Scotland.  However, at the start of the game, I had give the Spanish commanders secret orders that the Queen of Scots should be eliminated so that King Philip could assert his own claim to the English throne.  It was therefore neither an English nor Spanish victory but a Scottish one. 

Here's some pictures of the great group of players that participated who all seemed to enjoy the game alot.

If any are wondering why I chose two games that featured John Dee, he's been kind of on my mind lately - I'll be playing the good Doctor as a member of the cast of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire this year.  

We open August 19 and run every Saturday and Sunday through the end of October:  If you are in the central PA area, please consider joining us.

Games in which I played (or had hoped to)

The first game I played in was a Conan adventure where I played the evil sorcerer opposing Conan.  Unfortunately, he got the drop on me and I was slain in the first turn.

I had signed up for Martyn Kelly's fabulous Battle of Beresteczko game, one of the key battles in the Khmelnitsky Cossack Uprising against the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth.  Unfortunately, I had misread the start time of the game and slept through the first couple of hours of it.  (I experience some back issues that day and made the mistake of laying down for a nap that afternoon and didn't realize my mistake until it was far too late.)  I really kicked myself for missing it.  I saw the tail end and it was a magnificent looking game, like all of Maryn's games are, and it looked like a really exciting game.  (Martyn played in my Mirrors of Mortlake game and was the one who blew up half the estate!) The couple of pictures below don't really do justice to how epic this game looked.

I did play in my first game of Blood and Plunder, it was a great time and I really enjoyed the system.  The game was based on the final stand of The Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet. Three pirate ships faced off against two Royal Navy vessels who were of infinitely higher quality.  

As the actual battle took place in a shallow river mouth, there was a danger each time we moved of running aground.  Each of the five ships spent a considerable amount of time immobilized by this but it actually ended up benefiting the pirates. One of our ships that proved more mobile ended up being captured by the much better boarding parties of the two Navy ships.  However, that opened up a path for Bonnet's ship and the other pirate ship to make a run for the open sea.

I was caught by one of the Navy ships, boarded and it looked bleak for Bonnet.  However, the other pirate ship came to the rescue while the other Navy ship ran aground.  We were able to overcome the crew of the boarding Navy ship and then had a clear passage away.  The Gentleman Pirate lived to swashbuckle another day!

Here's some pictures from games that caught my eye. These shots are from a great 54mm Khartoum game.  Spread out on three tables was definitely one of the visual highlights of the convention.

These are pictures of Dave Hill's huge Test of Honor game, always a truly magnificent sight. Each of the half dozen or so games he ran had up to 24 players.  I've played in his games and he does it all by himself and keeps the game running smoothly and with lots of lively action.

Here's some other games that caught my eye.  

Again, it was a really great time, one of the best conventions I've been to in a while, even with some the physical issues and screw ups I had.  Can't wait until next year!