Dundracon 2023 — Lessons Learned

Joe and I attended DunDraCon in Santa Clara in February. DunDraCon was the first ever gaming convention I attended, way back in …1990? I lost track of it, but attended again in 2017, where I ran my Fate “Kung Fu Wombat” game (though I called it something else back then).
As I’m interested in attending more gaming cons in retirement, I booked us a room and secured tickets to this year’s event.
I didn’t submit to run a game, mostly because I was too late to submit one. More on that later.
DunDraCon has a — being charitable — idiosyncratic system for registering for games. They break down the event into a handful of time windows, such that you will only get assigned one (or zero) sessions during each window. One chooses their top 3 choices for events they’d like to attend per each window. The drawing that determines which, if any, of your choices you can attend, only happens eight hours or so before the window opens1. So, even in the week leading up to the con, even if you registered on the first day of availability, you still don’t know what sessions you will be in.

And, spoiler, you will almost certainly have windows where, you did not get into any session. For the entirety of Saturday, the first full day of the con, I got into only one session. Joe got into zero. An entire day of the conference with no events.

To be fair, not understanding how this was likely to play out, I made two choices that contributed to this problem. First of all, I didn’t register to run any games. Had, I that would have guaranteed that I could have played, and you can be damned certain I would have made sure Joe had a seat at the table. Additionally, GMs get a “priority” registration that increases the chance that you will get into an event when you register with the priority. The dude who ran the game we got into on Friday night said he has never failed to get into a session when he used priority.

The second screw-up was I didn’t book us for events in every window. Many of the scheduled sessions are intended to run 6-8 hours, but the session windows tend to be more like fours long. I didn’t book any sessions for windows where, if we had got into our choices in the previous window, we would still be playing and therefore unable to attend whatever we chose in the previous window. They would have overlapped. Little did I know that there was no chance I would end up in overlapping sessions because we would have been lucky to get into any session at all. For the whole day.

We played eight hours of D&D Friday night, which was fine. The scenario “Bad Water” was one where all PCs were dwarves and gnomes living in the Underdark who had never seen the light of day. We were required to investigate a problem with the local water supply, an underground stream that served the community in which we all lived. It was a bit of a meandering affair that probably could have been a punchy four hour adventure, but it took us all of eight hours. It was fine.

The venue, the aging Santa Clara Marriott is a decent site, and an upgrade from the hotel that hosted the event last time I attended, in San Ramon.

Here are the key takeaways for me, for next year:

  1. Sign up to GM a game, to ensure that we get to play and to get a priority registration.
  2. Book events for every session.
  3. Maybe think about spending part of Saturday at Great America? It is literally just across the parking lot from the hotel.

Joe and I played some D&D and DDC in our hotel room. We made the best of it.

Next year will be better.


I could confirm some of this if DunDraCon’s site

  • 1) hadn’t already archived their event list for this year, so you can’t see how things were scheduled and

2) wasn’t having such performance issues right now that it’s essentially unusable.

Default macros in my macro bar

… when I’m running a game.




Comments: Just a dumb shortcut for running the standard GroupInit API Script. I don’t have to remember the syntax (which couldn’t be simpler). Allows me to select a group of bad guys click on macro, it launches Turn Tracker, rolls their initiative and the bad guys initiative gets added.

Name: GroupCheck



Comments: like GroupInit, just a simple call to the standard GroupCheck API Script. Select bad guy tokens and click macro button. It produces an inline menu in Chat window, where I select the type of check, including saving throws and skill checks, and rolls for each token selected.

Name: SaveApply


!group-check {{
–?{Save|Dexterity|Constitution|Wisdom} Save
–subheader vs DC ?{DC}
–button ApplyDamage !apply-damage
~dmg [[?{Damage}]]
~type ?{Damage on Save|Half,half|None,none}
~DC ?{DC}
~saves RESULTS(,)
~ids IDS(,)

Comments: Nice script I found that uses GroupCheck. For selected tokens, it rolls a Saving Throw, asks what the damage to apply is, whether one takes half or no damage if save is successful, asks the Difficulty, and then applies the results to the tokens after all that. Awesome for area damage spells such as Fireball.

Name: Dead


!token-mod –set statusmarkers|=dead bar1_value|0

Comments: Dead-simple script leveraging TokenMod. Bad guys get the big red X of death and hit points reduced to zero.

Name: TokenSetup


!token-mod {{
–set bar1_link|hp
–set bar2_link|ac
–set bar3_link|speed
–set name|@{selected|character_name}
–on showplayers_bar1
–off showplayers_bar2
–off showplayers_aura1
–off showplayers_aura2
–on token_vision

Comments: Using TokenMod, sets up token for PCs with just the basics. I have a very similar one for NPCs.

Welcome to SkyCity!

The citizens of BezosCorp’s unique crystal toroid located at the L5 Lagrangian point in the Earth-Moon system welcome you to live the life others can only dream of!

Grown from crystals harvested from asteroids and even Comet Halley, SkyCity is a gleaming gem suspended in a perfectly safe and stable orbit.

Come ride your bicycle amongst the green trees and pure air that only your grandparents can remember from their youth on Earth!

Feast on the finest gourmet foods! Real beef imported from Lunar Colony Heinlein! The finest wine and beer from crops grown right here at SkyCity! The universe’s finest chefs all work for BezosCorp!

Swim in the perfectly clear water of Lake Amazonia!

Like to hike? Rock Climb? Run? Ever try it in 1/3 gee? You’ll never want to go back to the oppressive gravity of Earth!

The streets are spotless. Crime is unknown. And those views! The moon is always full! From L5 we see half of the moon that’s visible from earth and half from the back-side! You’ll never grow tired of seeing Earth …..

;jafjqwfd…. … .

Transmission interrupted.

Welcome corporate criminals! You’ve destroyed the earth and now you’re seeking your last refuge where you think the people that you’ve left behind, poisoned and bereft can’t reach you.

Let this be your notice. There is no escape from your crimes. We are the Fist of Destiny. You will answer for what you have done. Our reach is infinite and we have the support of the 20 billion lives you have fled from. There is no nuclear engine powerful enough to escape Earth, to escape us, to escape your fate!

Mission Report #133

Krisskross has joined a group of adventurers into the Undermountain.

This soldier accompanies a unit composed of a goliath, a human story-teller, a dark elf sorceress, and some odd halfling-dwarf hybrid.

Upon arriving in Undermountain, we were confronted by a ludicrous band of humans playing as vampires. They were pathetic and easily bested.

We managed to make our way through a magical portal which seemed to grant random enchantments, as likely to be fell as boon.

We fought a group of manticores, fed ritually by a troll, all of which we eventually bested.

We have continued to explore. My compatriots are typical gold-grubbing adventurers with no higher purpose than to fill their coffers until such time as their drinking and carousing forces them into poverty and they must sally forth again to complete the cycle.

Bloodbath at Gralhund!

They carted the bodies out, one after another…

Last night, this terrible Season of Blood stormed over a new location: Lord and Lady Gralhund’s villa. Neighbors reported hearing what they initially thought was another of the Gralhund’s famous parties being conducted at the lovely compound in the North Ward. However, the evening turned out to be anything but festive. Nearly a dozen armed men, clad in black leather armor (sound familiar, Dear Reader?) met their demise inside the walled villa, alongside an equal number of Gralhund’s own guards and employees.

Lady Yalah Gralhund herself was cruelly put to the sword by these assassins. Lord Orond sustained only minor wounds while trying heroically to defend his dear wife.

The City Watch, in an all-too-frequent refrain, report that they have no leads on the purpose of this murderous assault or on those who may have coordinated it. Citizens reported variously that an evil-appearing human male, tall, broad and clad in — guess what? — black leather armor, was seen fleeing the villa during or immediately after the vicious melee. Other reports suggest that, rather than a man, a mechanical creature departed the villa at that time, springing dozens of feet into the air. Or perhaps both?

It’s clear that the City Watch is unable to guarantee our security, in our City of Splendors during this dangerous time. Lock your doors, citizens. And beware the Black Clad!

Upcoming Game — Waterdeep: Dragon Heist

As we’ve discussed, our next game will be a return to Waterdeep in the latest D&D module “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.” From D&D Beyond:


“In this story, you are D&D heroes with swords and magic living in fantasy New York City. A lot of normal people live here trying to get by, but the city is really run by monstrous crime lords, secret nobility, and a lot of evil people trying to get very, very rich. But since this is a city with laws and a police force, you have to act like detectives or vigilantes to get results, like Batman or Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. Words are weapons, and it’s better to bring villains down by revealing their deep dark secrets than by killing them with a sword.”

We’ll be playing in the “current” iteration of Waterdeep. As much as I have tried to avoid keeping up with the official narrative for Waterdeep (and the broader Forgotten Realms), this game will be firmly set in the setting as it is formally. We are 30+ years in the future from the time of the Open Lord Piergeiron Paladinson. But, while some of the faces have changed except for the newest “Ward:” Deepwater Harbor, the city has not changed, except that it is grander and more cosmopolitan than ever. The above reference to New York City should give some indication of how bustling, arbitrarily corrupt and immune to everyday concerns the City of Splendors is.

For Players: Make Thematic Characters
If your DM and fellow players want to play a game of urban intrigue, you would be well served to create a character that fits in that genre. This way you not only respect others’ fun, you set yourself up to have fun by creating a character well-equipped to handle the sort of challenges the campaign will throw your way. A barbarian suited only for fighting will have fun when combat encounters arise, but when a campaign is mostly based around infiltrating manor houses, schmoozing with nobility, and hunting for clues in ancient archives? You aren’t doing yourself any favors by playing that kind of character.

I will ask that you pick your race, class and background together.  In the first 1-3 sessions, I’m going to ask that everyone complete their Traits, Ideals, Bonds and, especially Flaws.  Please try to have your character’s behavior reflect all of your characters components, not just Race, Class or Alignment.

More from the article:

For Players: Get Involved in the City
Waterdeep is as much a character as any of the DM’s NPCs. Its many wards all have different moods and treat the characters differently. High-class characters with the noble background may feel out of place among rough-and-tumble sailors in muddy Dock Ward, and common city folk may feel like the North Ward’s suburban atmosphere is a bit too clean for their taste—to say nothing of the opulent extravagance of the Sea Ward. Waterdeep is teeming with personality of its own, to say nothing of the dozens upon dozens of NPCs that live there.

Your character has the opportunity to become involved in the city and make a life there. You aren’t a wanderer, camping out on the side of a road as you travel from ruin to ruin. You may have a regular room in the Yawning Portal Inn and Tavern, and get to know the locals. You might want to start up a business of your own and get to know your neighbors and customers. This creates opportunities for roleplaying, but this is a good idea even if you don’t like roleplaying very much. Making friends with the common people of Waterdeep will help you create valuable alliances that may lead you to finding new adventures, new treasure, and other rewards.



TSM Update: The Gathering Storm


…our heroes moved to take on Zanzibar and (presumably) Eyebite. Throm led the way out of the Vault of the Throne, and back through the great Hall of History. Along the way, Tiresius, the Secretary joined the party.

The militia, with their increasing retinue (Alamein, the centaur; Attickus, the ranger; Throm, the Seguran dwarf and Tiresius) followed Throm’s direction back along their path to the great chamber where they had previously slipped past the line of Orc drummers. The heroes dispatched the drumming group who had been frantically pounding away prior to their demise.

Throm led the group further. At the end of a hallway, a large steel door was being guarded by an ogre and orc in chainmail. The heroes dispatched the orc and Throm, in Stone Giant shape held the ogre at bay and tossed him clear once the party was through the steel door. The door was then secured from the inside.

Beyond the door were two similar passages, each festooned with murder holes and capped by a similar steel door. As the heroes made their way down the passage, an oddly uniform series of attacks began: crossbow bolts fired at those who passed, with an interval of clicks and clacks and then another volley of bolts would be unleashed. The militia sustained some damage, but managed to make their way through. The Warden’s Key, once again, proved crucial.

A single chainmail-clad orc spotted the opened door and dropped the rods he bore in either hand, linked by fine wires to some mechanism on each side of the hallway. The orc attempted to flee, but Tia pounced and struck him down before he could take more than a step or two.

The rods were in some way tied into crossbows mounted to platforms in spaces behind the walls of the hallway, positioned in front of the murder holes. Each crossbow was fed via a steel “magazine” and the firing and reloading process — part mechanical, part magical were controlled by the rods held by the orc. The following hallway was configured identically. However, the militia devised a tactic whereby Tia, made Invisible by a spell from Norm, crept down the hallway and surprised the orc operating the automated firing platforms. The orc was quickly overwhelmed.

Throm warned that the path now lead to an ever-broadening passage that emerged into a wide stone stair leading to a “Control” area (per Tiresius) and side stairwells that descended into the mining operation proper.
Norm had made contact with the Kruthik swarm, which was nearby and awaiting his instruction. He could see through the creatures’ eyes that ten or so orcs commanded a few dozen dwarves in two areas at the base of the descending stairs. The militia planned to advance, take the rightmost stairs down, and with help from the Kruthiks, defeat the orcs and free the dwarves on that side, then repeat on the other.

However, as the militia approached the staircase, they realized that a small orc contingent was holding the stairs leading up and would be an obstacle to descending either the left or right staircase. The heroes were able to close within 50 feet of the nearest orcs and unleash attacks before spotted. A volley of arrows and spells, followed-up by charging attacks from the speedy Tovlakov and the galloping Alamein, with Dain astride, crushed this orc force with hardly a blow falling the heroes’ way.

Next came twin assaults on the orc forces at the base of the stairs. However, as the militia carefully advanced on the now-alerted foes downstairs, Norm unleashed the Kruthiks, who boiled forth like an unstoppable tide and within moments had killed the orcs and begun to feast.

Many of the freed dwarves joined the heroes, as did the Kruthiks. Those dwarves too feeble to shape-change were left behind to assist the wounded dwarves lying about in the mines.

This new juggernaut task force, the militia, twenty-or-so Seguran dwarves in Stone Giant form, Attickus, Alamein, Tiresius and the Kruthik swarm moved up the stairs to a great set of double doors beyond which, if the incessant drumming was any omen, the remaining enemy force had gathered in defense.

TSM Update: Hope You Guess My Name

… our heroes faced the necromancer Eyebite and his master, Lord Segur. Eyebite immediately began to animate the skeletal and rotting remains of the many corpses piled near the great doors of the Vault. Segur reached out and magically drew the Warden’s Key from Tia and used it to open the doors.
A great battle then began, with a score of zombies, including some reanimated ogres advancing towards the heroes and holding them in place while Segur made for the great Throne.
The militiamen first targeted Segur, then as he passed out of sight, they moved to focusing on Eyebite. For some reason Uddar and his team held back.
In the mean time, Tovlakov used his superior speed to rush around the growing wall of undead, and to zoom past Eyebite in pursuit of Segur.
The militiamen had their hands full trying to fight their way through the zombies and skeletons. They sought to move past the front ranks of relatively small fry to get to Eyebite. The greater zombies, however, were able to hold the heroes at bay for a while. Eventually, Eyebite, who during this time was a target of repeated attacks seemed to draw sustenance from his undead such that the bolus of damage he took seemed to have little impact.
The heroes’ continued threat, however, did drive Eyebite back and through the great doors. The militiamen followed.
Tovlakov had continued to pursue Segur, despite his significant head start. It soon became clear that Segur could not outrun Tovlakov down this massive hallway with a long strip of red carpet stretching toward an enormous stone throne.
Segur warned Tovlakov not to try to reach the throne. “I don’t have any reason to want you dead,” he said, hinting at some unidentified threat. Segur then met Tovlakov and attacked him with a vicious concealed knife. The two fought, one-on-one. Tovlakov, though, had been worn down in his many travails since falling from the great bridge, and was dispatched by the Count. Segur then set out once again for the throne.
Only the speedy Alamein could stop him. The centaur rushed forward and confronted Segur. The two fought, and once again Segur came out on top. He closed the distance to the great Throne and perched upon it.
All seemed lost. Then Segur seemed to fumble about for something, tapping around on the Throne as if he might have lost something. With no warning, the great dark head of a massive, ancient dragon descended from the depths of the ceiling and snatched up Segur, swallowing him in one bite.
Eyebite disapparated.
After a moment, the great dragon descended on the throne, perched atop it, far too large to be seated. The great wyrm then transformed into a Giant-sized dwarf in armor, with a glistening crown at his brow.
This was the King of Old. This entire dwarven complex had been ruled by a dragon, those many generations ago.
The King, after introductions, indicated that he might wish to rebuild the long-lost relationship between the Dwarven stronghold and Rankford. He asked that the heroes help by freeing the Dwarven slaves still held inside the mine.
Throm indicated that he knew where Zanzibar and his forces kept the slaves. The heroes agreed to free the slaves, to defeat Zanzibar.
The ancient prisoner, who Dain now realized was a physical manifestation of his deity Ilmater, had one final discussion with his cleric, and disappeared.

TSM Update: Pleased to Meet You


… our heroes made friends with some dwarves led by Uddar, priest of Berronar Truesilver. The dwarves had been trying for some time to get through the door leading to the Vault of the Throne. So far they have been unsuccessful. Uddar helped the heroes to identify the creatures heard the previous night clomping through the hallway: kor!

Uddar and crew had helped the heroes up in to the space above the hallway, and participated in the fight against the flameskull. The heroes had hoped to perhaps use the kor’s ability to teleport to pass through the door.

Their other new friend, Jermiah, who they had freed from the previously-explored vampire spawn lair, seemed to feel that the militiamen had it within themselves to open the door. Once the attempt to use the kor’s teleport ability seemed infeasible (or would take too long), the militimen, accompanied by their Segurian dwarf allies Strom and Throm, Jeremiah, Uddar and his three associates, the centaur Alamein and his ranger friend Attickus, the heroes all pushed on the door together…

“You strain, your party members sweating alongside. Dust and plaster fall into your hair. Your muscles burn, tendons stretch and threaten to snap. Your breath is hot and increasingly ragged against the cold stone of the door. Through gritted teeth you urge your allies on for one last push, and the door begins to creak and then with an audible crack and a rush of air, the door gives.

You find yourself blinking in the dim but seemingly omnipresent light of a great stone hall, in the grandest dwarven fashion. The themes that you have seen previously in Dol Seguria — on the forest door; in the spectacular entrance beyond the drawbridge; at the base of the stairs where the orc drummers pounded out their mysterious message — are all represented in this space. The stonework is exquisite, the carvings perfectly in tune with the natural color gradations of the marble, slate, granite and sandstone. The minutely intricate art of the stonemason’s craft converges through the walls and ceilings of the space on two enormous doors. Your back and shoulders still aching from prying open this far more modest door all but groan at the sight of this new obstacle.

Despite all of this grandeur, your eyes quickly settle on the floor before the colossal doors. A hundred, perhaps a thousand corpses repose in an angry and dismaying pile, at places five or six bodies high. Most are skeletal, though bits of dry flesh and desiccated clothing remain here and there. Some have been clearly dragged from the main mass and been gnawed clean. The majority, though, seem to still lie as they fell, in some forgotten day long past, in some horrible conflict or holocaust. Glancing along this dismal collection, you quickly realize that with only a handful of exceptions, while the skeletons seem to represent a great variety of races, dwarven corpses are glaringly absent.

The scene is simultaneously spectacular and spectacularly gruesome. As your brain attempts to take it all in, Strom beside you lets out a heart-rending groan of misery at this tableau, and, simultaneously Throm draws the longsword provided to him by Dmitrov from its well-oiled sheath, and in a single, effortless gesture,slices it through the neck of his brother, such that Strom’s head momentarily hovers in mid-air as his body, now beginning to fountain blood, slides sideways and collapses with a crunch to the flagstones, before the severed head itself thuds wetly alongside.
Throm now turns the shining sword, slick with the blood of his fellow inward. His intent is clear: he means to disembowel himself.
A scant instant before he can complete that task of self-mutilation, there is a flash and a pop and an odor of brimstone, and near the great doors, a foot or so before that hellish pile of deceased, two forms blink into view. One lavishly dressed, his longe blonde hair uncharacteristically unkempt, a smirk on his unshaven face, the other dressed in black robes, white paint on his face, his dark eyes red and manic. “Too late,” Segur says with some cheer to Throm.”

And that’s where we left our heroes.

TSM Update: That’s the Spirit!

… our hero Tovlakov, separated from the rest of the milita due to clumsiness and gravity, sought to find his way back to his militia friends. After tumbling into darkness, he had arrived at a wide passage with options to head back towards what seemed to be the orc drumming line the heroes had seen from Segur’s entrance to the lost mine,and another heading into darkness.

As he moved, Tovlakov ran into the wererat members of the local thieves group. Tovlakov met up with a stout holy warrior named Dmitrov, and together they vanquished some of the wererat menace, and following a hallway with many doors, they freed the priestess of Gond, Pearl who had been held captive here, as had Dmitrov.

Together they continued and eventually the hallway led through a heavy door spiked open and another wererat who the party dealt with. Beyond, a wide passage swept downwards, and a scaffolding, mounted to the near wall, led in a similar direction, but at a consistent height. Tovlakov and his new friends mounted the scaffold and followed it.

After some distance, the heroes observed that the scaffold led to a rough hole in a wall, with just the plank extended a few feet through the opening. Beyond suspended by ropes attached to pitons in the stone ceiling was a small crew of four of these curious grey dwarves, a member of which, it seemed, Dementia Lancaster had been, toiled, attempting to open a hole in the naked stone.

Far below, presumably at the base of the downward sloping passage the team had eschewed, was a small force of various races, urging the dwarves on.

Very quickly a shout arose and the dwarves attempted to surge back onto the scaffolding, chased, as it turned out, by a young adult dragon. The wyrm snatched up one of the dwarves, then quickly returned and made off with a second.

Tovlakov’s crew questioned these dwarves, who only spoke an ancient variant of the dwarven tongue. They indicated that they did this work because Zanzibar demanded it of them. They understood that they were supposed to cut an opening in the ceiling here that would lead to something known as the Vault of the Throne. That this Vault (or, more likely, the Throne) was what Zanzibar and his master or masters were truly seeking down here.

Tovlakov and crew, now with two dwarven additions, retreated. They deduced that the force at the foot of the sloping path would certainly send someone to encourage the dwarves to return to their work. Tovlakov and team set an ambush for this messenger, and managed to nab him, a runner, as it turned out.
Tovlakov just wanted to find his way back to his militiaman party. Through threats and intimidation, they convinced the runner to lead them to another hole that had been cut by the dwarves. This route lead, via an arching passage up a very steep staircase to a hole guarded by elven archers. The party overwhelmed the archers and then descended through the hole to a great dwarven promenade that the militia had previously navigated, lead at that time by the dwarven ghost Mudron Voon.

The party now was lead through this landscape by the grey dwarves, who by a direct passage delivered the party to the Guardian, the great, snake-like Naga who secured the massive doors leading to the bridge from which Tovlakov had stumbled.

The Naga healed the injured among the party and ultimately allowed them to pass:  all except Pearl and Dmitrov. “Only the living may pass,” the Naga pronounced, halting the progress of Tovlakov’s new friends. Tovlakov and the grey dwarves continued on.

The militiamen, having retreated to a previously expolored room as a temporary sanctuary, rested. During his watch, Norm heard a clumsy banging of several creatures passing through the outer hallway.

Once fully rested, as the militiamen emerged into the hallway once more, they discovered the sound of heavy chains moving. Attickus was asked to investigate. He proceed back down the passage towards the bridge, guessing that the sound was of the great chains that raised and lowered the drawbridge leading to this place. Attickus, then, came face-to-face with Tovlakov and his new grey dwarf friends.