HelgaCon III - Top 5's

As a final executive-summary of lessons learned, I wanted to boil down a "Top 5" list for each of the things that went right and wrong (in the style of Game Developer magazine). HelgaCon went so enormously well that I had an overabundance of "things that went hugely right" and a tiny little trace of "things that went a little bit wrong", so I was really scraping for the latter -- I'm forced to steal something from last year's gaming to fill out the list, in fact. At any rate, if you read none of the other HelgaCon posts in detail, read this one.

What Went Right (Best Practices)
  1. Win conditions for convention games. Setting explicit "win" conditions tremendously ramped up the interest, focus, and excitement in all my games. This includes things like (a) an elimination-style brackets game, (b) tournament-style scoring, and (c) setting a major in-game goal. I'm convinced that something like this has to be used to replace campaign-style leveling up and "new toys to play with" awards.
  2. Showing wilderness encounter charts. In a very concise format, players get a concentrated, playable dose of campaign setting information. They can use this information to strategize about the exact advantages and disadvantages to different travel routes and adventuring locations, connecting gameplay to campaign knowledge in a deep way. It simulates well the lifelong experience and rumor-mongering that their PCs would have. Anticipation is raised to an intense degree when encounter checks are rolled.
  3. Using d6 dice as oracles. For miscellaneous DM adjudications, it's a great balance between looseness, simplicity, and DM intuition to have these decisions based on some chance-in-6. Even if I'm almost certain that something couldn't work, give it a 1-in-6 chance anyway; maybe we're all surprised. Granularity makes it a snap to get in the habit of measuring anything in terms of chances-in-6.
  4. Critical hits charts. I'd never used sophisticated critical hits tables before, but I really like the concrete detail that they occasionally spice into the game. (Mine are from Dragon #39.) It seems easier and fairer for me as DM to step in and override specific, occasional nonsensical results than to make them up out of whole cloth on the fly. Just one or two fumble/criticals in a game generate a great "anything can happen" fog-of-war texture.
  5. Book of Spells and Book of War. Not to toot my on horn gratuitously, but these tools I've developed seem to solve the exact problems at the table that I designed them for. Book of Spells (available at Lulu; see sidebar) gives every wizard player a concise, immediately accessible explanation of their spells; no passing-a-hardcover-around-the-table required. Book of War (future publication) is resolving mass battles efficiently, elegantly, and intuitively, in harmony with D&D mechanics, usually in under an hour.

What Went Wrong (Things to Fix)
  1. Haste. My whole G1 game was knocked rather askew by a version of haste cobbled together from 1E and 3E sources (starting with 3E's +4 AC bonus). I've definitely got to tune that down, a mediation for which I started with the "Spells Through the Ages" article, here.
  2. Give players the riddle in Tomb of Horrors. This "thing to fix" I had to dig up from the 2009 convention. Due to a particular accident of play, my players were without the riddle at the start, had part of it in the middle, and then were without it again at the end. The part in the middle was rather shockingly more satisfying and fast-paced. Players had some "in" to the series of puzzles, and were hard at work deducing and clue-finding, instead of mere random trial-and-error. It's an entirely different game when you've got the riddle.
  3. Remember OED saves. Already, I've run out of items which I expect to have widespread applicability, but here goes. Things like sleep and magic missile have a tradition of not allowing saves. Although that language is not in the LBB's, and I've committed to giving saves to all spells that directly and negatively affect the target, in practice I couldn't avoid the knee-jerk reflex to skip saves for that stuff. It's surprisingly hard to remember when the game is running live.
  4. Have others take photos. I regret not having better documentation for my latter games. Obviously my mental processing budget is totally unable to think of this while I'm DM'ing, so in the future I've got to ask a player to do a bit while we play.
  5. Make photo-realistic river tiles. Now I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Anyway: The hand-drawn river tiles I made clash quite a bit in the photos from my Book of War game. Shouldn't take long to fix. That's all!


  1. I think your point about the riddle from the Tomb of Horrors gets to the heart of my big beef with the module, which is that without any insight into what problem you're supposed to be solving, the reliance on completely random trial and error ends up being *really* frustrating.

    I'm happy to play whatever game the module designer wants, as long as I know what game I'm supposed to be playing.

  2. I think that showing the wilderness encounter charts is a fantastic idea - presenting the 'common knowledge' about what dangers lurk in the area. Neat neat neat!

  3. Balancing spells, making sure they enable fun instead of killing it, is the perennial bugbear of D&D.

    I'm not sure any edition really got it 100% right. So I'm interested in your continuing efforts.