The Road to Montana (part two)

On the way into town, I swung by a local supermarket. I wanted some bananas for the weekend, and also there was a box of a dozen doughnuts waiting for me. I worked out a deal with one of the locals, Jeff Watson: in exchange for a Wisconsin Badgers ball cap, he would buy me a dozen doughnuts from the store bakery where he works. As far as I’m concerned, it was a good trade: I’m a fiend for doughnuts anyway, so having the bananas and a box of assorted pastries to work on all weekend made my breakfast choices much easier (and cheaper.) The streets of Great Falls are laid out in a grid; knowing the address of the market (and with a little help from looking at Google Maps before I left) meant getting there and back on the path to the hotel was a cinch.

Waterfall in the Great Falls Holiday Inn

Once I arrived and checked in, I was greeted by a lobby full of waterfall, fake rocks, and taxidermied animals. I actually found it sort of charming. I checked in with the con folks at the pre-con party to meet them in person and confirm that I was on-site. I was pleased to finally meet Connie and Robert Thomson, with whom I’d been interacting on Facebook for a couple of years. I also met Don Walsh, co-chair and my main point of contact for arranging All The Things, and Drew Lovec, the other Co-Chair. After that, I headed off to the hotel restaurant to have some dinner. The food at this Holiday Inn turned out to be decent quality: I wouldn’t regret it if I had to eat all my meals here.

Friday dawned, and I made my way to the dealer’s room. I had a box of my books I needed to drop off. A local store — Kelly’s Komix — had agreed to sell them for me in exchange for a cut. After that. I was free until afternoon, so I spent some time in the dealer’s room, looking at piles of stuff that I wanted to take home. I also met Kristen Collins, a regular at GFGR and a very talented artist and cosplayer. If you’ve never seen it, their Loki cosplay (from the Thor and Avengers films) is stunningly perfect. I feel stupid for not having got a picture of them.

At three o’clock was the “Meet the Guests of Honor” panel. I had been warned beforehand that panels were sparsely attended, so we spent the half-hour asking each other questions while the few in the audience looked on. Still having the chance to meet Azariah Cosplay (Cosplay Guest of Honor), Lee Shinaberry (Montana Guest of Honor), Rob Carlos (Artist Guest of Honor) and his wife and manager/agent Jean, and of course writer, editor, artist, and one of my gaming buddies Monica Valentinelli (Special Guest of Honor) — whom I hadn’t seen in a week. Opening ceremonies followed at four, and was in the hotel lobby. We were all introduced to the assembled throng once again, and the hotel conveniently turned off the waterfall for the proceedings. I had a game of Zombie Dice to run at 9, and despite a good number of advanced sign-ups, only two people showed, but we had fun anyway.

Zombie Dice – Table 1

Zombie Dice – Table 2

Saturday was packed full of commitments. I had another Zombie Dice game to run at 10 AM, which was so popular (13 players!) I had to break the group up into two tables for expediency’s sake. At 11 was my first panel: Cthulhu 101, with Don Walsh and local Cthulologist “Cthulhu” Bob Lovely. It was meant mostly as a panel to introduce people to the Cthulhu Mythos, and the modest audience seemed to be mixed in how much they knew about Things People Were Not Meant To Know. It was fun. I brought a couple of props to illustrate how prevalent Cthulhu was in pop culture, even if most consumers had no idea what it was or its history. My next panel, “Lines and Veils in RPGs” was primarily about boundaries and decorum in tabletop games, and how (and whether or not) to deal with mature subject matter in-game. It fell immediately after lunch, and I consequently had to fight to keep from yawning from a full belly. Co-panelists Lee Shinaberry and CthulhuBob Lovely kept a lively discussion going with our one audience member, who turned out to be April Douglas, a former local returned to Montana, fellow game designer, and someone with whom I’d corresponded through Facebook. It was delightful to finally meet April in person, and the fact that this was a subject of interest to all four of us meant that the discussion never really lagged.

At three o’clock was the event I’d been dreading: Secrets in the Alps, an Achtung Cthulhu scenario of my own devising. Seven of the nine people who signed up came to play, so I was happy (and glad I’d created eight characters instead of six!) The players all seemed to have a good time, but I’m not entirely convinced I consistently run a good one-shot RPG at conventions, so I was sweating it the whole time. We ran a tiny bit over time, but still wrapped up in two hours, which was close to perfect. I was gratified that all but one player kept their character sheets, and hope they had enough fun to acquire the game later for future play.

The stress-ball event of the weekend behind me, I now had very little by way of further commitments. I cast about briefly for dining companions, but found none. This is one of the things I fail at regularly at conventions, and there are few things I find more depressing than being at a convention and eating by myself. I roused myself again later for the Ghost Stories event, which had decent attendance almost the entire time as people wandered in and out, and one attendee turned out to be a fantastic storyteller, with several creepy stories of her own.

On Sunday, I had nothing until later in the afternoon. I made a quick pass through the dealer’s room to buy a couple of things I’d decided on, and to dither over a few others. Then I went out to play some Pokemon Go for a hour, returning in plenty of time for lunch, and then for closing ceremonies at three. The banquet was the highlight of the day, and took place at six — after the rest of the convention was packed up. There was a surprise in store for me at the banquet: I’d been admiring a plastic, skeletal dragon that was acquired as part of the convention decor. This year’s theme was “Here There Be Dragons,” so it was entirely fitting, and in keeping with the Hallowe’en season as well. There was a switch that caused lights and sounds to emanate from the dragon’s head, and as I admired it, I was warned that there was a little girl at the convention who wanted it too. I considered the matter settled: I really didn’t need a skeletal dragon — as cool as this one was — and it would be preferable for it to go to a kid, anyway. At the banquet, a “special award” was announced, and as soon as Don Walsh walked up to the dragon, I knew what would come next.
At the auction after the banquet, the convention raised several hundred dollars from donated items. One of those was a Munchkin card with a picture of my alter-ego, Bill Blyden from Dork Tower. The card is titled “Mug the Shopkeeper” and before I left for Montana I asked the artist, John Kovalic, to sign the card, which he graciously did. The card went for $65 at auction — not too shabby. The night wound down with more games, as the convention staff all played — which many didn’t have the time to do during the convention — and I played several rounds of the game Ultimate Werewolf, run by Jeff Beck, who did a fantastic job (and was the winner of my Munchkin card, which I was only too happy to sign for him.). During breaks between the games, I asked around about the little girl who had wanted the dragon, hoping to surprise her with it as a gift. “Oh no,” I was warned, “that family has five kids. Their mother would kill you if you gave them that dragon.” I accepted my fate as the new caretaker of the skeletal dragon. The dragon currently resides on top of a glass display case at Pegasus Games. it seems only fitting.

(l to r) Justin Parcher, Azariah Cosplay, the Dragon, Me, Rob Carlos, Jean Carlos, Lee Shinaberry, Monica Valentinelli. Photo credit: Jennifer Hillmar Keith.

In a tragic postscript, Justin Parcher (left of photo above) departed this world for other realms shortly after the convention. We spoke during the banquet about getting into writing for games, and I gave my card to him, looking forward to corresponding and sharing tips with him. I enjoyed his company — however briefly — and am stunned at his departure. My sincere condolences to his partner, Azariah Cosplay on her loss.
None of us know how much time we have on this earth: make the most of the time you have right now.

I was late getting to breakfast Monday morning, but arrived in time to say goodbye to everyone. I’d eaten my last banana and most of my doughnuts already, and I had miles to go yet before I slept and more stuff I wanted to see on the way.

Mother Nature had other ideas, however. I stopped for the night again in Sheridan, Wyoming, and while I stayed at a different hotel, I ate at the same restaurant again — Sanford’s. As I prepared to leave the next morning, the weather decided to take a turn for the worse. It was snowing as I left Sheridan, and continued until I reached South Dakota. I decided en route that discretion was the better part of valor, and skipped the several stops I’d wanted to make in favor of avoid the worst of any storm that was rolling in. That meant no Deadwood, no giant Reptile Park outside of Rapid City, and no Wind Caves National Park. Sad, and yet I’d seen and done so much it was hard to feel bitter about it.

The snow tapered off as I passed Wall, SD and turned to drizzle, then gave up altogether. I pushed on, and made it to Chamberlain, SD, where I stopped for the night. The next day I drove on, reminded of weather difficulties by the dusting of snow that fell overnight in Chamberlain. I left early, and it was a long drive, but I made it home that evening before my wife, who wasn’t expecting me home until the next day.

On the Road to Wisconsin…

I had a great time on my Montana adventure, and hope to make it back to Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous some day. There’s still plenty of sights I want to experience along the way, and the people I met there were, bar none, friendly and welcoming. I’m grateful for having been invited to be their Gaming Guest of Honor, and hope they all enjoyed having me as their guest as much as I did. I also owe thanks to Steve Jackson Games (especially Hunter Shelburne) for providing a batch of swag for me to give away to the Zombie Dice participants.

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