It was the twelfth of February, in the year 2016, when three intrepid adventurers stepped over the threshold of a magical citadel in the land of Los Angeles. This citadel is very close to a way station where visitors from other lands arrive in Los Angeles via flying carriages. The citadel is known as the Hilton Los Angeles Airport. The adventurers I speak of are myself (Dean of Lizardo), my wife (Aileen of Baldric) and my best friend (Tony of Lee). Each of us is skilled in the art of chronicling our adventures for the benefit of future generations. Tony and I had taken this journey many times before. As for my wife, this was Aileen’s first such foray.
We were at the Hilton to enjoy the company of others in playing and discussing adventure games: that is, role-playing games, war games, card games, computer games, and board games. When I was but a young lad, I told a Chess player that I preferred war games to Chess. He retorted with the assertion that “Chess was one of the first war games.” This is true, but games such as GURPS, Car Wars, and Squad Leader transport the player to other places and times. Players get to step into the role of a larger-than-life persona (a paranormal researcher in Call of Cthulhu, a military unit in The Russian Campaign, or even a globe-spanning cabal in Illuminati). If you are unfamiliar with these games, go ahead and conjure the magical entity called Google; I will wait. What you will find reminds me of the great scribe Walt Whitman’s response when he was accused of contradicting himself: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” These games plumb depths of the imagination only skimmed by Chess. They transport players to specific and lovingly-defined worlds, and those worlds truly contain multitudes: multiple opportunities to change history with heat-of-the-moment, heart-in-the-throat decisions, and multiple opportunities to shape the destinies of “fictional” heroes; when a player makes a decision in a war game or a role-playing game, his or her character (or army, or cabal) often gets famous or gets dead. The games’ stakes mirror the real-life stakes we all risk when we don our armor each morning. The word “stake” reminds me of a joke about the high stakes of vampire hunting, but I digress.
The Orccon event was organized by a fine and upstanding guild that is well-known to any gamer who travels the byways of the Kingdom of California. The guild is known as Strategicon, and a representative of the guild, Lady Mei Dean Francis, graciously invited us to the February event, which is called Orccon. Lady Mei invited us because of our skills as scribes, and I am indebted to Aileen and Tony for helping me commit these words to parchment. The tardiness of this scroll is solely my fault (too much time in the alehouses and not enough time with quill and ink).
The name “Orccon” is indeed apropos, because it contains the suffix “con,” and what we experienced was indeed a game convention (as explained on the cover of the “program” tomes we were issued upon arrival). As for the prefix “orc,” our party was fortunate, because we lingered at the Hilton from the twelfth day of February to the fifteenth, and caught nary a whiff of an orc. If you are yourself an orc, please do not take offense: I believe I can detect an orc from their smell, but I suspect orcs would say the same thing about me. Anyway, we did not spot any orcs, but we did encounter other travelers: many of these journeymen (and women) call themselves gamers, and are at the Hilton to play games. Others, who gather in the jeweled halls called the Dealers’ Room and Flea Market, devise new and enticing engines of gaming, and sell their wares for fair prices; that is, one does not need to burden a donkey’s back with gold before venturing therein to purchase games.
My companions and I have other skills that I will tell you of now: I and my lovely bride are members of the Educators’ Guild (although Aileen teaches younglings, which I believe requires more skill, patience and constitution than teaching one’s fellow adults). As for my trusty shield-man Tony, he is a member of the Game Designers’ Guild. As such, Tony is particularly well-met when skulking through the august halls of a Strategicon event. As a case in point, I give you this: having passed through the gates of the Hilton citadel merely a cock’s crow earlier, my stalwart companion was hailed from across the room with a hearty “Ho! Art thou truly Tony of Lee? I hath not cast my eyes upon your visage in a dragon’s age!” Embracing him, Tony’s friend Marcello exclaimed to his companions, “Dost thou know who this is? I say truly, he is the co-designer of the WWE Know Your Role professional wrestling role-playing game!” Tony blushingly admitted his fame. My friend later told me the adventurer who recognized him is a member of the Game Distributors’ Guild. Tony agreed to meet Marcello that evening to cross flagons in the Hilton’s ground-floor alehouse. Afterwards, Aileen and I joined Tony in a short trek outside the Hilton and across the Road of Century to sup on food from the faraway realm of Thailand.
If you think my wife immune to such recognitions from fellow Orccon travelers, you would be mistaken. The very next day, our party reassembled to explore the Dealers’ Room. Our eyes met the glittering goodies at the Dapper Devil booth. This company makes game accessories such as laser-engraved plastic and metal markers and tokens. The proprietors of this company are Lord and Lady Godbey. Lady Rebecca Godbey recognized Aileen because both are educators in the fair Realm of El Segundo (also in the Kingdom of California). Tony and I were enthralled by the Godbeys’ products. Being an avid fan of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, I was drawn to the fear markers. For those readers who don’t know, a character in Call of Cthulhu must protect against losing one’s sanity when encountering the monstrosities forged in H.P. Lovecraft’s mind. Perhaps another way to explain it is this: how would you or your character be affected by attending a show performed by the bard called Justin Bieber? ‘Tis the same thing.
Our adventures in the Dealers’ Room did not end there. The learned scribe and artist David Jones taught me how to play Capere, which looks like Checkers but allows players to eliminate each other’s men-of-war in more devious ways. Paul Ali, the designer of Capere, was also on hand to teach us how to play his game. The stalwart magicians from Gate Keeper Games demonstrated how to play The King’s Armory, a game with adventures to be had and castle keeps to be looted. Knowing my proclivity for all things shambling and gibbering, Tony traded some of his gold to buy me a copy of Cards of Cthulhu, a game created by Dan Verssen and published by Dan Verssen Games. Thank you, my trusted man-at-arms!
As the weekend concluded, we met and talked with artist Eric Kelly. Eric is one of those wonderful heroes one looks forward to meeting at a Strategicon event: one who shares their talent and intelligence with others. Eric makes one-of-a-kind treasures such as wall hangings, drink coasters, and medallions from Peeler colored plastic beads. Eric’s company is called Quad Nine Art. Please sample his creations using the magic of the Internet. You will be enthralled.
I had journeyed to this fair event called Orccon back in the lauded age of heroes many call the 1980s (this previous adventure having been chronicled under the title “The Games People Play)”, and Lady Francis asked me how the 2016 event compared to the earlier foray. The main difference I noticed was the proliferation of new, up-and-coming game designers and companies. Thanks to the world-spanning enchantments of the Internet (and one particular wizarding guild known as Kickstarter), these designers are able to raise enough gold pieces to bring new and exciting game ideas to the hordes of gamers who are ready to play them. The ancient guilds of sorcery, with oft-whispered names like TSR, Avalon Hill, and Games Workshop appear to have stepped aside to allow the young practitioners to use their staffs and wands. Methinks this is a positive development: back in the village of Inglewood where I was raised, my parents told me the story of the giant boulder that rolled downhill. Such a boulder “gathers no moss,” they would say, meaning as long as the rock keeps moving, shrubbery would not stick to it. I believe the magic of gaming lurks in the truism that gamers keep rolling toward their destinies: they use tried and true methods, aye; but they also squeeze new wine into the oilskins of their hobby. I say “Huzzah! This is a good thing!”