I’ve been attending San Diego Comic Con International since I was 18 eighteen, and I’ve been a professional RPG writer since I was 21 twenty one, doing many projects over the years, and I’m currently editor in chief for Savage Sign, the Savage Worlds gaming magazine.
For me the gaming room has always been a much-needed respite from the press of the Dealer’s Room and the crowds of the panels and parties. So it was odd to check the gaming track of this year’s virtual Comic Con. But I’m glad I did.
My real-life online D&D games are Wednesday and Thursday nights, and I’m the DM for one, so I missed Wednesday’s Preview Night and Thursday’s The Lost Odyssey, which I hope will be re-broadcast at some point. So, the first gaming-related panel I attended was on Friday: Joe Manganiello’s panel for Death Saves, his D&D and heavy metal-themed streetwear design company.
Death Saves D&D and Heavy Metal
Manganiello is a fun actor (True Blood, Magic Mike, etc.), fitness model and writer, and long-time gamer who I’m a couple degrees of separation from — I also write for George R.R. Martin for his long-running Wild Cards series and Joe’s celebrity D&D game in his Hollywood wine dungeon includes Dan and David, the producers of Game of Thrones, which incidentally is one of the Death Saves clothing lines. (No Wild Cards shirts from Death Saves yet, but who knows what the future holds….)
Regardless, Joe gave a fun Covid-safe interview that Legion M had previously recorded for GaryCon, the Gary Gygax memorial D&D convention run by Gary’s son Luke Gygax.
Nutshell summary? Joe’s a big guy (6’5”) and was annoyed that no one was making cool streetwear in his size, so licensed some of the original artwork from D&D and hired a bunch of the old heavy metal artists to do new D&D art in that style, such as a skull-faced Demogorgon, plus licensed Frazetta artwork as well as The Dark Crystal. Shirts run from Small to 5X. (I’m only an inch shorter than Joe, so very appreciative of the larger sizes.)
Into the Virtual Gaming Realm
Still Friday, I checked out the virtual gaming room. This was held via Discord, and I was able to join the D&D adventure Treasure of the Broken Hoard, which was run via the Fantasy Grounds app.
I’d never downloaded Fantasy Grounds before and was using my older laptop so I could have a mic and camera, so it took a while. But I was able to get it up and running in time to join the adventure. It was a fun mix of exploration and combat run by “Sambi,” an excellent DM.
She was very kind and patient while we all figured out the software, and we all earned the story award Friend of Kraddokk. (You talked with the storm giant Kraddokk and did not desecrate the shrine of Annam. He tells his friends about your interaction with him. This friendship might bear fruit at a later date….)
I tend to be more of a “theater of the mind” type DM and player, so I’ll probably not use Fantasy Grounds for my own games (I’m currently using Facebook Rooms) but it was nice to learn and good to try. That’s the regular Comic Con “try new things” gaming room experience, so made me happy.
Theater of the Mind With Celebs
On the subject of theater of the mind, Saturday had Luke Gygax running the classic 1st edition AD&D module Tomb of Horrors with a celebrity cast:
- Joe Manganiello
- Bonnie Gordon and Xander Jeanneret of The Library Bards (who’s new song “DND” was played as the intermission entertainment)
- David Baxter of Legion M. (and at 6’8”, dwarfing Joe and doing Larger Than Life Cosplay
- Aussie interviewer Maude Garrett
- Anne Carlton stunningly costumed as a priestess of Odin with a runed eyepatch she lifted to reveal her eyelid painted to look like Odin’s lost eye
- All-around Renaissance man B. Dave Walters
- Wizards of the Coast game designer Kate Welch.
What’s to say? Tomb of Horrors is a classic. It was run via Zoom or some similar app, but with some fine costuming and acting. Anne’s, as mentioned, was standout, but Stefan matched her with a wizard hat and full fake beard, playing a crazy old wizard. If you’ve watched Critical Role, Relics and Rarities (sadly I missed Deborah Ann Woll’s second panel earlier in the con), or any of the other roleplaying game shows, you know the fun and antics to expect.
Luke, however, related that his father had run him through the adventure when he was eight, traumatizing him, and he was also the Melf of Melf’s Acid Arrow fame. The classic illustrations were put to good use and there was a lot of fun banter about the four-armed demon on his “Squatty Potty.” The adventure was wrapped up a bit quickly for time but was very good fun to watch.
Sunday had Legion M. presenting Stefan Pokorny’s The Curse, set in his own world of Mythras, with assistance from Anne Carlton.
- Peter Adkinson, founder of Wizards of the Coast back in the days of Magic the Gathering and owner of GenCon
- David Baxter again (upping his costume game from the day before with an amazing tusked orc)
- Game designer Elisa Teague
- Actor Thor Knai.
It was a fun adventure, saving Fort Porcupine from monsters, with Stefan doing fun costume changes swapping a chainmail coif at one point for a ridiculous blue troll wig to play the giant troll. But the biggest star of the show was Stefan’s terrain, since he’s a sculptor and the owner of Dwarven Forge. One camera was trained on amazing modular terrain at all times. Their Wildlands Kickstarter launches August 9th.
The Villains Reign Supreme
For the finale of Sunday, I went to the Villains panel done by cosplayers, including my friend Marc Biagi. This was a new spin on an old standard for Comic Con with panelists costumed as different characters from comics and literature, talking and interacting in character as live-action roleplaying with predictably hilarious results.
This year, they were all villains:
- Dolores Umbridge (Kelly Varner – Fat Savage Cosplay)
- King George III (Chad Hatter – costume designer)
- Captain Hook (Connor Breen – costume designer)
- The Master (Marc Biagi- actor)
The Winter Soldier (Shane Holly – cosplayer) and Marci Bretts moderated the panel.
While I’ve always enjoyed such previous panels, even seeing it blown up on the large screens in the Convention Center doesn’t work as well as the post-Covid Hollywood Squares style editing where you can see each character in their own frame. King George III even had an antique sofa to recline upon and some opera glasses to play with, and the banter was particularly good, almost everyone making fun of Captain Hook and his inability to deal with Peter Pan. Some good inspiration for roleplaying in general, though I’ll be keeping my costuming simpler for my own games.
And then Comic Con was over, but instead of heading to the bar, I went to Facebook, wrapping up with friends. Like every adventure, it begins and ends at the tavern.