|The Cauldron Crew|
It was already 19:30, a mere thirty minutes before I was supposed to GM my first session, and we were not yet in Hohenroda. We had come far and we had come fast on Hungarian State Railways, the Austrian Federal Railways, and finally Germany’s Autobahns, racking up a speeding ticket in the process while rain was beginning to fall in earnest, but we were just not there yet. The staff at the car rental agency were out for lunch at the checkout time, and would not show up for a nerve-wracking forty minutes, nor be accessible by phone. On our way North, we were caught in the congested traffic of München’s ring roads, and later rural Bavaria’s labyrinth of third-class roads. Stuck among barns and church steeples, we pressed on to the great Autobahns, heavy with traffic, and mired in cars due to a massive automobile accident. From a rest stop, we proceeded along an agricultural road, hoping the BMW’s state-of-the-art nav software would not lead us into an ambush by Bavaria’s backwoods cannibals (these, we would later learn, are organised and numerous beyond the Autobahn system). In the end, though, in Stygian darkness and incessant rain, the timber-framed houses of Hohenroda appeared in view, and, on a side-road, the central bulk and side-wings of an ominous structure: Schloß Hohenroda.
|World's Least Surly Hungarians|
It is often easy to overlook the work behind good organisation when everything goes smoothly. But things were so tight that it became noticeable: all the background effort translated into an experience where everything went without a hitch, and we could focus on the actual gaming. For being a first-time event, people organising mini-conventions could do well to learn from Cauldron. A lot of the larger gaming events are flabby affairs with plenty of idling, questionable seminars, and filler content. This con was all killer, no filler, with sitting down and playing at its forefront. A concentrated dose of dice-rolling over two days with local signup and a focus on the action. In the end, not only was the time spent well, there was still enough slack in the system to sit down for discussion by dinner, a bottle beer, or the miniatures table.
I ended up running three sessions and playing in two more with old friends and recent acquaintances. Only brief descriptions are provided here:
|The Mysterious Estate|
I GMed Urmalk the Boundless, an expedition to the Pentastadion Necropolis to recover the abundant treasures of a decadent magnate. A series of surface mausoleums were plundered, including one of the most dangerous ones (another was wisely avoided once the risks were calculated). While the adventurers did not make it down into the underground catacombs, nor find a way into Urmalk’s tomb, they made off with decent treasure, and avoided a costly confrontation with a bandit gang by bribing them with a valuable piece of loot coated with contact poison. Devin, 4th-level Cleric (Caelin), died in an assassination attempt after the session, failing to secure a valuable shield he was tasked to recover from one of the tombs to settle a debt. (I mix things up a little by letting players draw from a deck of random items, missions and curses before session if they so please.)
|The Convention's Winner Claims|
|Dr. Becker Racks Up the Kills|
|The Slyth Never Saw It Coming|
|An Expedition to Hohenwart|
It cannot be emphasised enough how well things can go if players are focused on getting things done, and having a common interest. There was a lot of creative play demonstrated over the sessions, from clever spell use to bold and smart decision-making, and sometimes just pure on-the-spot improvisation. It helped that Cauldron Con was deliberately targeted at a specific kind of experience, and set up to deliver on that promise. But there was also the energy brought by the players, who all gave their best over two days. It was good to see that the con spoke not only to the grognards among us, but also a younger cohort; some recently acquainted with old-school gaming, and some entirely new to it, who came to Hohenroda to check out what this all meant. It was all focused, with a good fighting spirit and high cheer, and that’s the best thing.
|The Revievers' Conclave Meets... Again!|
Finally, Cauldron Con featured an auction of riches from the community: treasures from 1980s German comic books to uncommon old-school publications went to lucky buyers, some after an energetic bidding war. Settembrini proved a skilled auctioneer at introducing the titles and their context, and generous lucre was gained by the sellers, as well as various charity organisations. On the final day, an award ceremony was also held: hand-engraved copper cauldrons went to the convention’s best player, most effective looter, the player who died most (“the Cup of Demise”), and the best GM – the mighty Jonathan Becker, who will no doubt fill it with the skulls of his enemies back in the U.S. of A. And that was Cauldron Con 2023. With the pace and energy, it felt a day short, although that may be asking for too much from the hard-working hosts. There was just a lot crammed into it, and there were things you’d inevitably miss – an ongoing multi-day Chainmail battle to determine the fate of empires in the German old-school scene’s shared Greyhawk campaign, an OD&D hex-crawl, the classily named Don’t Fuck the Priest, The Smorgasbord of Adventure, and many more. As always, you can’t come away with everything, but it felt like coming away with a lot. We also saw a pizza vending machine, which proves, once and for all, that greatness is still within mankind’s reach. 2024 sounds like a nice number. Appetites were whetted. Spielen wir AD&D!
|An Assortment of Excellence|
|Vorsprung Durch Technik:|
The Pizza Vending Machine