I was the first one to arrive at Jim's table as he was sitting down and unpacking for the game. I introduced myself and let him know that this 3-hour game we were sitting down to was one of the prime motivators for my trip to Gary Con. He thanked me for that, adding "You're not trying to curry favor are you?" I assured him my praise was genuine, but suggested that any leniency my toadying could generate would be appreciated. So while we waited for the other gamers to show up, Jim and I just talked. We talked about Eldritch Enterprises -- the new game company founded by him, Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask. We talked about the games he designed. We talked about the recent medical issues he's had to deal with. He was very open and gracious, and it was great just hanging out with him on a one-on-one basis for a few minutes. Even took the seat next to him at the table.
When the other players arrived, Jim shifted into full gamemaster mode. "Now, I have a rather undeserved reputation for Total Party Kills," he said. "I want to make it clear that **I** rarely kill a player off. The players usually kill themselves off." Jim made the following offer:
"Even though I enjoy signing things for people, I never give anyone a personalized signature. I never have done it in the many years I've done this. However, here at Gary Con, if you get through the next 3 hours of my game and LIVE, I will give you a one-of-a-kind personalized James Ward autograph. So far at the convention, I've given away two. Will there be a third? You just gotta survive. That's it."
And the gauntlet was thrown.
In Jim's Metamorphosis Alpha game "We Got Ourselves a Bug Hunt!," we were space marines from the Warden who were taking a shuttle over to board an alien vessel we had made contact with. We were to bring back "something alien" for our superiors to analyze. The youngest player at our table -- Andrew -- was made the Lieutenant of the team and the oldest player -- ahem, ME -- was made the Sergeant. he gave orders, and I saw they were carried out. We all brought a list to the game table of various miscellaneous items we were bringing with us as personal equipment. Andrew announced he had a four-leaf clover. I offered him the use of the REAL four-leaf clover I carry with me. The table (and Jim) roared in approval over this coincidence. Assigned and equipped, we left our shuttle and entered the craft.
When we entered the craft's airlock, we found ourselves in a long, fleshy, gooey, slime-covered corridor. Some of us tried to open doors, some were set upon by xenomorphs, others tried to ID various gooey spheres and blobs scattered throughout. A few aliens popped up, and our weapons ranged from completely ineffective to HOLY HELL I JUST BLEW IT TO ATOMS. It was rough going in just the first corridor (everyone was being ambushed left and right). The Lieutenant reached down to pick up one of the gooey spheres. Not only was it adhered to the floor, the Lieutenant's hands stuck into it up to the elbow, effectively anchoring him. I arrived on the scene to help Andrew, when the "blob" he was stuck in started to crack open.
"SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT!" he hollared.
"Are you sure you want me to shoot the thing you're stuck in?" I asked, glancing at Jim who was smiling.
"YES! DO IT!"
I shrugged. "OK, I back up and fire at the blob." Jim asked how much power I was putting into the shot and I said "I'll just let it go at whatever the default setting is." And the blob and Andrew were both vaporized. Jim took his character card and slowly tore it in half. I don't think Andrew took it well as he suddenly stood up and left the table, stating that he hoped I was the next to go. How right he would be...
After a tach nuke got away from us, the rest of us dashed back to the shuttle, sealing the door and launching just before the explosion occurred, surprising Jim and all of us when we didn't die. We maneuvered to another airlock, docked, chose new weapons that had proven effective, and entered -- all but Michael who stayed back to guard the shuttle entrance and to "hold down the fort" in case we needed covering fire during a retreat. This time, the hallway was clean white walls and floor, plenty of lighting, muzak playing over the comm, and two beautiful redheaded tour guides met us at the door. "Welcome! Enter! Let us show you around!"
As we were led about, we eventually succumbed to the hypnotic entrancing muzak. I wandered into a biohazard containment room which held a giant gooey "brain-bla-bla." (Jim's word, not mine.)
"You feel like taking off your helmet and plunging your face into the brain-bla-bla," Jim said. "Roll a D6. Do not roll a 5 or 6."
I picked up the die and held it to Jim. "Watch. I'm about to roll a 5 or 6," I assured him. I rolled and got a 5. Jim explained that I plunged my head into the brain-bla-bla and dissolved into a mass of ooze. He picked up and slowly tore my Sarge card in half. I laughed and sat quietly while the rest of the game progressed. It was worth sticking around for.
The rest of the team starting getting into trouble when the tour guides morphed into slathering aliens, more of those gooey spheres and blobs turned up, and the hypnotic muzak starting affecting the others. They all started running back to the shuttle. Meanwhile, back at the shuttle airlock, Michael had moved to the pilot's seat to get everyone out of there as soon as they got back. One of the aliens got in and he barely defeated it with just a few scant hit points left. Michael sat back down at the pilot's seat.
"Now then, " Jim said, "you can wait for the others to arrive...risking yet another alien attack that you may not survive...or you can go ahead, launch the shuttle, assuring your survival and getting a personalized James Ward autograph, but dooming your comrades to a gruesome fate." All eyes turned to Michael as he lay his head down on the table. He lifted his head, now laughing.
"I'm sorry guys. I truly am. I launch the shuttle and escape."
The table exploded in good-natured "I can't believe you just DID that!" laughter. It was an awesome screw-over job worthy of a game of Paranoia. Michael got his personalized autograph. We all got a great story to tell. And we all had a great time with a great gamemaster. After the game, Michael and I stuck around and BS'ed with Jim for a bit before we thanked him for the game and wished him well as we left.
Thanks again, Jim. It was a pleasure to game with you. And thanks for dissolving me into a fetid puddle of goo! (I will stat up the "brain-bla-bla" for Mutant Future one day soon.)
A lifelong quest comes to an end as I finally get the chance to meet and game with Jim Ward. A very gracious guy who seemed genuinely touched by the constant stream of copious praise and kudos from players and walkers-by.