Skull Con was a one-time event held at Walker’s Bluff Winery in Carterville. But, then, for anyone who plays True Dungeon, they already know this. It’s in Southern Illinois because TDHQ is in Carbondale. To participate, had to have a specific token, so it was analagous to invitation only.
There was an earlier event – True Dungeon Celebration – held in the same place, so other people had a better idea what the place was like.
At one point, the Western branch of our group had four Skulls as there was a thought that Andy’s brother could go, but his interest in TD is too casual, so Andy sold his second Skull. I would cover Dave and myself with my two. Dave had to do a family thing, instead. Neither Andy nor I were patrons, so the addition of a patron event to this promised event wasn’t of any value to us.
We decided to pass on some flights early not realizing Russia would invade Ukraine. After that, became a lot of angst over flights, only complicated by our ride from the airport to the Carbondale hotel preferring we fly through Nashville when there were far better flight possibilities through St. Louis. There’s a small airport near Carterville/Carbondale that does flights to Nashville and St. Louis.
Eventually, Andy and I were on Alaska Air from Oakland to Seattle to St. Louis and Andy was on Cape Air from Marion to Nashville, then American to DFW to SJC where I was STL to DEN to SJC to arrive about half an hour later. Our flight from Oakland to Seattle got canceled. We rearranged to have same flight from Seattle to STL but fly out of SFO two hours earlier, giving a very long layover in Seattle.
I wake up from my alarm at 1AM. I finish packing, prep the house for absence, get out the door close to 2:30AM. I get to Andy’s around 3:10AM never having driven there before. As I wasn’t supposed to arrive until 3:30AM, I sat outside for 20 minutes as it was very pleasant temperaturewise. Per the plan, his wife drove us to SFO, where we got there in under an hour.
Meanwhile, Jim and Blaine were driving from Raleigh, NC to Meet Me in St. Louis, um, meet us in St. Louis.
Andy’s wife had vouchers for the Alaska lounge, so we hung out there quite a while. Had a bunch of sausage and had a decent grapefruit juice and grenadine mocktail.
They check into our hotel.
We arrive at STL. It is oppressively hot. So, so miserable.
We get settled into hotel and try to figure out where to eat. My first BBQ choice isn’t open. My second BBQ choice is about to close because weeknight in St. Louis means 8PM is late. We end up at Salt + Smoke. After having gorged on sausage, which was not in my mental travel plan, having a heavy meal was going to be harsh. But, the point of staying overnight in St. Louis was to try to engage some with St. Louis on the trip as I had never been to Missouri nor Illinois and, if I’m going to go somewhere in the world, want to feel like I’m actually in that place and not just passing through.
So, we shared ribs and hush puppies. I thought about getting a pound of brisket, which I would have done if circumstances were different, but I got a double cheeseburger instead. And, thus, began the trip’s blandfest. I dumped a bunch of BBQ sauce on my burger. My brisket chili side got mostly a mustard BBQ sauce to give it any flavor. Ribs were better than those (the chili was a tasteless paste), but the thing I enjoyed the most was my Coke as it was a good sweet Coke.
We retired for the eve.
Wanting to interact with the Gateway Arch in some way, especially as it’s a few blocks away, I set out to walk over to the park and either take a picture or touch it, like how I’ve never been inside the Sydney Opera House, but I’ve touched it. It was fine temperaturewise. Maybe had something to do with how it was raining …
Jim and Blaine were part of a major fetch quest. So, we head out to get sourdough bread. Two people from the San Francisco Bay Area head out to get sourdough bread in St. Louis. We head to Little Italy because other options are either not open or lacking in the sourdough.
I made a critical mistake here. This was the perfect opportunity to “do something” in St. Louis by going into a bakery and not buying anything. But, I’m so used to not caring about going into stores that I waited in the car.
We proceed on to Carbondale to hit TDHQ to check in and do some transmutes (well, I had some transmutes to do, unimportant ones) before hitting the hotel we couldn’t check into yet.
We get there, and I had my next case of dissonance between mental picture of how things would work and reality. Oh, not in terms of not having anything to do but check in and do transmutes as I figured workshop tours weren’t going to happen, but in terms of how busy things were. I somehow thought the whole weekend endeavor would be much more … open.
Because I didn’t have slips in my bagged stuff, I stood outside and slipped my bags. The weather kept changing as I was standing there from decent when clouds blocked Sun to unpleasant and back and forth.
Having wasted everyone else’s time, without getting a Critical Hit Soda from the truck parked at TDHQ, we were finally off to get food.
I had researched some places. I don’t like making decisions that affect other people, and I don’t like most food, anyway, so I avoid deciding where to go. I didn’t realize how indecisive this group is. We ended up going by a Mexican option that I found. I say go by because it was a grocery store. It may have been closed, too. But, since I wanted to eat someplace comfortable, I was happy to go elsewhere. We went to some Mexican place nearby.
The chips and salsa was okay. The chips really needed the salsa, but it was fine. Jim hated his nachos. My enchiladas were what I wanted in terms of components, but the entire plate was pretty tasteless. I dumped a bunch of salsa on it and ate chips with it to give some textural variation. It was food.
We go to the liquor store next door for sour beer as part of the fetch quest. Andy has next to no idea what’s going on with the fetch quest. That I don’t partake of alcohol outside of cooking or on special occasions sipping something for toasts hardly mattered. That both questers don’t partake made this funny as Andy was beer consultant.
We go back to TDHQ to pick up my transmuted trade goods.
We go to hotel to check in.
Eventually, the Nicks arrive. They shall heretofore be referred to as the Nicks.
So, outside of Dave, we had our entire team together for the first time, including Garry Shambling, our growing Shambling Mound.
We went over to Walker’s Bluff as other folks had transmutes to do. We watched the very short meta puzzle resolution that got everyone blessed for our runs as Raven, Laz, and Mike stacked skulls. We eventually had the buffet at 7PM. I’m not surprised that places have inferior versions of food for their group events than their normal food. But, there were virtually no choices. Either burger or chicken burger. Three side choices. No dessert options. It just felt bizarre. Their tasting room had stuff you could order that was vastly superior in terms of options.
We did our run. It was six of us plus two folks related to each other. I played druid to get polyaction in.
It was hot. The dungeon was pretty miserable (until you got to room 7).
Room one, I poly into earth elemental. In VTD, this would have been cooler as the monster did sonic damage, but in person is so much less mechanical.
Room two, I poly into air elemental. We didn’t realize this room was dangerous as we critted right off the bat, preventing the everyone takes lots of damage monster attack and the physical damage immunity effect.
In two combats, I think we Quick Striked twice and won combat after two full rounds. We also were close to time in both cases. Damn, in person play was slow, more like what people online claim about how much time you have where I’ve routinely had combats that were far more rounds than the essentially three we were getting in.
Room three, I tried to recall AD&D 1e psionic attack/defense matrix and couldn’t. I had minimal involvement in the puzzle, as is typical in my in person play. It was fine.
Room four, my least favorite room, though I really hadn’t thought much of the dungeon to this point as the first two rooms lacked decorations and really felt like you were in a winery rather than a TD dungeon. I turned into a fire elemental. The magic immunity(?) meant nothing to me. By this point, the elf wizard and I had talked as he didn’t realize we had meaningful healing in the party, so he had started doing more maho.
Room five was my favorite set up, but the execution had some problems. It was just way too slow. I turned into an ice elemental and was the only one sliding against the fire monk, but the group couldn’t even take out the ice monk. In VTD, this would have been so much more mechanically interesting. A major reason I prefer VTD to in person play is that combat is so vague in person. I have no sense as to what’s going on in terms of crunching numbers.
What in person play has that VTD doesn’t, of course, is sliding. Sliding can be interesting. I think I critted on my first slide in this room, though it didn’t matter.
Room six was a perfectly fine puzzle that I had no engagement with. If it didn’t feel incredibly derivative of prior puzzles, it would have seemed much cooler. Also, having different colors that didn’t matter brings back bad memories of prior puzzles where colors did matter.
Room seven had the coolness. The layout was very awkward. The NPC was a really good aesthetic. I polyed into earth elemental again. All three Freezing Orbs I cast through Quick Blessing succeeded, so I dealt about 320 damage myself (before any DR). Everyone survived due to Sacrifice and bad rolls on Cavadar’s part.
In epilogue, we found out about the curses. The obvious preference was to get curses as it’s a collectible token. I didn’t get cursed. Treasure was trash, as usual in 2022. The bonus reward for the meta puzzle being solved was meh to me. I despise the design of Mystic Orb. I found the methods of acquisition obnoxious. It’s just power for the sake of power.
So, having done the dungeon once, I enjoyed room 7 the most, which helped my overall feeling towards the dungeon, I thought the puzzles were fine even though I didn’t really do anything [again, typical]. Our group was enjoyable. Oh, our bard was a younger person who asked about 80s pop rock songs. I offered up two songs that she had just heard recently that she wasn’t particularly familiar with.
We did get dumped out into the darkness of what’s a very confusing layout. We managed to get back to the hotel through the deep, dark (and hot) night, where I’m not sure we could say it was Paradise By The Dashboard Light.
I had a run at 10:48AM. Jim had run at 1:24PM. Jim and Nicks had patron run at 7:12PM. Jim and Blaine had Grunnel’s Gift ritual at some undefined point. We ended up going over to Walker’s Bluff as group rather than have me jump on someone else’s traversing. I told my best hat ever story to the Nicks.
We got there too early to transmute stuff. To this point, I hadn’t had a Critical Hit Soda soda as there was too much water to be had. I had four trades to do at the con and had only completed one on Friday night.
I cashed in some Aragonite for treasure draws – all trash. We hadn’t done anything about figuing out tinker toy sets.
So, while the quest to complete sets to transmute Totem of Heroism was an activity to do, it also was a distraction from doing other things. I was very much trying to push to get stuff completed as I like getting things over with.
My run was only me from our group. I knew BC to a minor extent. I met Rob. Our bard had never played in person before. He was borrowing from his quartermaster, and I could tell he was underpowered for this level of play (not nearly as much as if this was a VTD Nightmare). Oh, neither of my runs were Epic. Given how easy they both turned out, Epic might have been more interesting, but … I’ll come back to this.
So, I asked him if he wanted to borrow more stuff. I’m reluctant to loan out weapons to people I don’t know even though his options were not exciting. I tried to focus on places that didn’t really change his build but just upped numbers. I “lent” him Goggles of the Deadshot as he was more ranged oriented than melee and Boots of the Four Winds to just up his damage by four.
I was thinking going in that I’d play like paladin, but, when I got there, only options left were two wizards, monk, and rogue. I went wizard as I had a melee wizard build already in the app. I was +21 to hit and +41 damage with melee, +21 spell damage.
Room one was much the same. Room two was not. In my prior run, we smashed monk’s face magic item immediately so never knew how much it mattered. Here, we took 34 damage each before I critted with my staff. Room three I probably did about as much as I did first time around, which worked well as I knew the solution and my trivial involvement didn’t spoil anything. Room four, still didn’t cast a spell. By this point, people realized I had the highest physical attack damage bonus in the party. In one of these rooms, I hit on a 3. In one of these rooms, I critted, then immediately slid too short to hit on next round.
Room five was different. This time, I focused on ice monk because I knew of the fire monk’s retribution damage and because I had generally the best saves in the party and figured the reflex save for fighting the ice monk wouldn’t affect me. They did their elemental shield things by dumping gems on the boards. Like everyone else, I liked that. I just slid right through the stuff. We still didn’t kill either monk. In the moment, I forgot about the option of a late Lightning Storm to try to multitarget murder.
Room six, I pointed out like one, minor thing and the group solved it just in time.
Room seven, I stole the barbarian’s crit by bumping him out and critting myself. We won without any real deaths – paladin had to Sacrifice.
I still have my wizard card. My wizard card with zero spells marked off. While it’s possible to cast and not have any marked off, I never actually cast a spell.
So, neither run was hard. But, that was fine because it also wasn’t stuff like effortlessly crushing monsters and because in person play is much more about puzzles than combat for me … … … Perhaps you see why I vastly prefer VTD. Where I mostly ignore both combat and puzzles in in person play and just spend much of my time looking at the dungeon decorations, in VTD I actually find combat interesting and can find puzzles more interesting when I do things like solo runs before doing other runs so I can see if I can solve stuff on my own.
I actually had a lot of good slides. I had some bad ones. Now, rogues’ flanking helped immensely with crits, but I did some pretty sweet bumps at times to get others into 20s. I played two spellcaster classes and cast a total of four spells in combat, one of which was healing (needlessly against one-punch monk). Since it had been so long, I wanted to slide to see how it felt. It felt better than it had in the past. I think the intense studying of numbers in VTD has helped me care somewhat more about people getting hits or crits in person, even if I still have little sense how I contribute to combats outside of smashing magical face items or adding my 100 damage on a crit with a staff.
The bard was extremely happy with his first in person experience. When we left (into sunlight), he was talking to people about wanting to play again immediately.
Then, I had trades to complete. Then, I had nothing necessary.
I talked with Arnold for a while as he gave me some ammo and I gave him some Traveller stuff for his friends who like the game. Endgame came by for our reverse transmute trade. I traded him an extra Drue’s +5 Baton of Focus for various stuff. I sold Arnold’s friend the +3 Baton of Focus for under list price as I already had one I was trying to get rid of.
I found Arcanist for my final trade. A trade that didn’t seem to make a ton of sense as it largely didn’t affect either of us, but I was done with required stuff at just after 2PM on Saturday.
I found the team, that had finally done something about trying to complete tinker sets. I put together the stuff to transmute a Pharacus’, which was useful not just because I would rather 2x Pharacus’ and 1x GCoD than 1x Pharacus’ and 2x GCoD but because it allowed me to turn a bunch of tokens into a single token, aka cut weight.
We continued to have tinker stuff going on, then headed over to the tasting room for food as I kind of needed to eat something at some point during the day. Oh, I had finally gotten my first Critical Hit Soda soda between final trade and meeting up with the team. I got lemonade with grenadine and peach puree. It was good.
We ordered food. They were out of the Caesar Salad, so I got the Creole Burger instead to go with chips, which was unwise as it was yet another heavy meal, but chips alone wouldn’t have done it. I got my second CHSS with lemonade, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, no cherry because they were out, and grenadine. It was not good. It was very watery where I tasted everything with CHSS #1 and barely tasted the lemonade base with CHSS #2.
Food was okay. Andy’s fries were cooked better than mine in that some of his were actually crunchy.
I had played a couple hands of hearts earlier. I avoided playing Codenames not because I dislike the game but because I’m offended by the idea of jumping through a bunch of hoops to do a game convention only to play something could play at any time anywhere.
I did play Galaga. Yup, arcade machine. I didn’t come close to the high score, which was in the 130,000’s. My second go was only 70,000+. Only two tries, some three and a half decades (probably) since I last played, while I was trying to screw the knob on the joystick back on during my first try while simultaneously playing, gives various excuses for not displaying the culmination of vast amounts of quarters being traded for joystick action in my misspent youth.
The three of us who lacked patronhood went back to hotel.
Andy, neither a patron nor a double runner nor a Grunnel’s Gifter, had nothing he needed to do on Saturday. Blaine had only the single Friday run and GG.
Saturday was the end of the con.
I enjoyed the event. I actually quite enjoy hanging out with people, even people who aren’t gamers but mostly gamers so I can tell geek stories and have people understand them to some degree, though I talk story about other things which only likely made people realize how poorly I suit this world.
But, it was horribly executed. I sent a message to Endgame when we were trying to sync up for the trade that my take on the event was that it was busy and dense with nothing to do. There were way too few events. The staggered times on Saturday meant less coordination of our group, though my missing out on a great breakfast place was fine as food doesn’t actually matter to me a whole lot. Seriously, the con started 3PM Friday and was done Saturday night. No trivia. No auction. No True Grind. No effort to mix players outside of Trent’s Thursday night side pizza get together which we weren’t going to as I wanted to spend time in St. Louis.
I barely met people I didn’t know. Now, it made sense to spend a lot of time with teammates that I hadn’t met in person before, so that did reduce trying to spend time with others, but the format of the event would have seen me largely not meet people if things were different.
I didn’t even get out to the cool fantasy themed park in the Carbondale area because Walker’s Bluff is so isolated and there weren’t like tour groups organized for people who didn’t have a car to just run off. I suppose we should have gone there instead of hotel Saturday night but forgot about it as I was still wondering whether it was better to wait until Jim was done or just bag the day.
The location is just terrible for people flying. Not because of the flying, though people who don’t fly don’t seem to realize that folks like me do things like get up at 1AM to fly only halfway across the country to end up someplace at 6PM. Because of the 2.5 hours from St. Louis to Carbondale or trying to time using Cape Air. It’s just so awkward.
Leave day. Andy has to go to local airport. I had ride worked out with dragon6483 and Kermit. We go to Miniature Market first as I didn’t need to get to airport until quite late. They get me to airport with like three hours before my flight.
I finish a massive water bottle Kermit got me as Pelor forbid I waste even water.
I’m fading. At various times over the weekend, I would nod off as the lack of sleep was brutal. Finally fly to Denver. Andy and I exchange texts while I’m stuck sitting on tarmac in Denver waiting for our gate to clear while he has a real flight delay.
My first flight was okay, only two seats on each side. Second flight someone was in middle seat. It sucked as it nearly always does.
So, I was supposed to get in like half an hour later than Andy into SJC. He got in more than a half an hour later than I did.
His wife drove us back to their place. Then, maybe due to adrenaline, I was not too tired to drive home.
The tiredness actually hit me much more today.
I would absolutely not want to do this same sort of thing again. I would happily take all of the hanging out talking with people, especially teammates, but this event wasn’t just a mess of travel logistics but prevented me from going to Origins where I could have hung out with VTESfolk and gamed vastly more.
I spent more time in cars driving from and to St. Louis than I did playing games, even including Galaga. I don’t know how to emphasize how absurd that is.
Now, this event was probably not terribly different from say my going to Gamehole Con. But, GHC is not a one time ever event. It’s not in a state I had never been to before or involved going to another state I had never been to before. (I got to tell my first ever Gen Con pizza story to dragon6483 on the ride to St. Louis.) I could have had pretty much the same experience at GHC and played way, way more TD.
My expectations weren’t high, especially with how obviously disorganized things were, but it still failed my expectations as I’m a scheduled event sort of gamer not a social butterfly sort of gamer who finds pick up boardgames interesting. I actually enjoy talking about and thinking about gaming more than the act of gaming much of the time, but I still go to conventions to actually play games, and there was four hours of TD in what took two vacation days and wrecked me physically with all of the heavy meals and lack of sleep.
Have this event in early Spring (maybe my hayfever won’t kick in outside of this area), have way more organization to enable people to do more special stuff and not just stuff they could do anywhere, enable people to do everything together not segregate people by having events only some people can do, be longer, have better dungeons in a better location as I actually don’t find the winery a good location – the immersion is way worse than is typical for in person play.