Now that the first 75 or so copies of Castle Xyntillan are in transit (and some are already arriving at European destinations!), and I have an evening when I am not packing boxes and writing invoices, it is time to settle down and recount this unlikely encounter of three D&D reviewers. Like great minds tend to do, we met in Athens – not the original one, but at least a namesake.
As fortune would have it, my old university has a long-standing cooperation programme with Ohio University, Athens – now over 30, it extends to courses, student exchange, common research, and of course academic visits, which is where I came in. I arrived by plane in Columbus, and took a bus to Athens (I can’t drive, which I assure you is a better idea in Hungary than enormous countries like the US). The frostbitten prairies of Ohio receded to give way to forests; then Athens emerged with its red warehouse buildings, cranes and flocks of white birds which could not have been seagulls. There was a bitterness in the air; chimney smoke, acrid chemicals, and cold November air. The bus stopped at a mid-century red brick station, a massive cold structure of glass and steel windowpanes, filled with activity. I alighted, carrying my briefcases – one with an abundance of paperwork, and another with a spare shirt, toothbrush, personal effects, a laptop and a ham sandwich – to the nearest Uber, and my hotel.
|View From the Uber|
I spent most of these three days on campus, at the usual workshops and meetings, which are largely the same all over the world from Athens to Yekaterinburg – the name tags, brochures, conference materials, powerpoints (although some are using Prezi nowadays, a hipster thing from a Hungarian startup), even the sandwiches and coffee – Italian espresso machines (probably partly made in China) have pretty much conquered the globe. All in all, an American conference is like a conference everywhere else, but there are more genders, and the auditoriums are bigger.
Eager to finally see local colour, I eloped from the afternoon sessions on social engagement with an eye towards sustainable urban development to see some of the city. In Athens, do as the Athenians do: as usual, I followed the crowds for a while, but most people were eager to get inside to avoid the weather, and most of them either went to offices or to shopping centres. Athens is fairly chilly this time of the year, although I was told it can be even colder, -18 degrees and below; the winds did not help, and I forgot my cap in my hotel room. Following student tips, I tried some hipster cafés near my hotel, which were quite like the hipster cafés in my town, with approximately the same kind of people, except the artisan hamburger is better in its homeland, and they serve it with a sauce which is authentic to this corner of Ohio (I did miss the famous Ohio chili dog, unfortunately – maybe next time). I tried to look up a game store in the vain hope I would pick up a lonesome woodgrain box or something unique for a steal, but no luck. After trying Ohio’s original chili con carne, I retreated for the night, and had a drink on the hotel’s top floor, enjoying the view of the Athenian skyscrapers, and the industrial sites beyond the city perimeter.
|City Lights (from Another Uber)|
|Hotel Bar, Rooftops|
However, the gaming gods would be kind after all. Browsing a conference programme, I happened upon a name that sounded oddly familiar – had I shipped a zine to this person? It was not easy getting hold of him on campus, but I eventually caught up with Prince of Nothing, who was apparently there at some training programme involving tensile plastic filaments or project management (one of these two, he will have to correct me if I am wrong). Turns out he had been here a few weeks, and already discussed an evening meet with none else but Bryce Lynch – none of us three Athenians, but brought together by random circumstance!
|Empowering the Arctic|
Prince was either speaking Dutch, or speaking English with a cold, or either of these two while already slightly drunk. Bryce talked very fast and very excited, so I did not understand either of them perfectly, so we got along mighty fine. We did talk gaming for a while, although now that the OSR is dead, and no exciting new thing is taking its place, the general tenor was tinged with an amount of gloom (the diner’s green formica and aluminium tables, and the hypnotic neons must have contributed, although by that time we must have had a few whiskey sours on top of the beer – they had Coors, which as I understand is an authentic American experience).
We asked some frat guy to take a group photo, then I took another with the photographer standing in for my place – under the posts by Prince and Bryce, people have expressed some scepticism about the picture’s authenticity, but this is nonsense – the picture is authentic, and all people depicted on it are real. In any case, I think Bryce is trying to explore new venues with computer game reviews, which is where the real audience is at, although I extracted a vague promise about continuing his OD&D megadungeon. Prince, who somehow became more understandable after a few drinks, was mostly talking about the genuine American atmosphere the place was having, a matter on which we would all agree – Bryce had an eye for these places even though he had never been in Athens previously, despite having some distant kin in Ohio (apparently into organised crime? Bryce will have to correct this, I was out to take a leak in the diner's mosaic-bedecked toilet, which was perhaps even more reminiscent of the movies which capture the American experience). In any event, we spent some of the evening discussing various forum personalities and blog issues. Prince has grand plans to continue reviewing LotFP modules, which he called his “life’s work”, and I was mostly anxious whether Xyntillan would get published or some natural or man-made disaster would prevent its publication in the last possible moment. Bryce showed us his game dice, painstakingly explaining their origins and which of them killed which AD&D characters in his fondly remembered 2e days. I did not have any dice with me to show – they were in my briefcase in my hotel room, as always, so I could not show them my original self-inked Gamescience sets and the original OD&D-style GaryCon dice Lord Metal Demon gave me when he visited me this Summer. Unfortunately, our meeting was all too short – I had to return to my hotel to sleep off the drink and have time to pack my stuff (I did pocket Bryce’s pen by accident, which I promise to return to him if we ever meet again – although frankly, like most academics, it is some crappy thing he must have gotten for free in a conference bag).
|A Cold Winter Morning|
The next morning, I checked out from the hotel, and went for the airport. A local post-doc was kind enough to take me to Columbus, as he was heading in the same direction. We talked about academia, mainly, and how it was all going downhill from America to Yekaterinburg and presumably beyond that. It turns out he had also gamed in his 20s, although it was 3.5, and he thought the Pathfinder crowd was just too weird, so fortunately, we did not press the issue. He switched to football, which I mercifully know nothing about, but nodded sympathetically enough to convince him I was really into it. At the airport, I checked in my luggage, purchased some American memorabilia at the duty free store (including a fridge magnet, a plastic cactus and a small novelty bottle of tequila from Texas). The airport hamburgers were also done with a lot of skill – I did not dare to try the wilder maple syrup burger, although next time I should – although nothing beats the ones in Athens. With that, I drank a last bottle of Coca-Cola, and headed for the gates to catch my flight and take one of the reserved seats with extra leg room.