Con Man

Houston doesn't have many avenues for orc slayers to meet each other. For some reason, cities like San Antonio and Austin host monstrous science- fiction gaming conventions, while we get the shaft. That's why John Simons, the owner of Midnight Comics, is stepping in to fill the void by hosting this weekend's Midnight Con for role-playing gamers.

"Give them a place to play, and it builds," Simons says. The former desktop publisher, who opened his shop in 1994, recently moved to a new location with 2,000 square feet of playing space upstairs. Simons hopes that providing players with a place to play will drum up business and keep clients loyal. When he moved, his regulars helped him load the trucks.

At Midnight Con, also referred to as a mini-convention or "minicon," a few hundred gamers will spend the weekend playing both old standards and hard-to-find collectibles.

In the world of role-playing, Dungeons & Dragons still reigns supreme. In homage to the gaming giant, the minicon will stage a D&D battle -- with a twist. Players will use D&D versions one, two, three and 3.5 to create characters. Then the virtual warriors will battle it out to see which system is better.

But role-playing extends far beyond J.R.R. Tolkien imitations. You can also play the role of a character in a soap opera, a superhero or even a monster in a B horror movie. "At a con, you usually see a few you won't see anywhere else," Simons says.

Minicon participants will get the chance to preview Gunshot, a historical miniatures game coming out later this year. Gamers will play gun-slinging cowboys in the West Texas town of Rattlesnake Bend, taking sides in a dispute over a colonel's daughter who, against his wishes, wants to elope with a cattle rustler.

Players can also try out unusual titles such as Pass the Pigs, in which they roll miniature plastic pigs like dice. Scoring depends on how they land. (If they end up "piggybacked," then you're out of the game.)

Another favorite, Land of Og, requires cavemen players to communicate using a vocabulary of only 18 words. Out of those, just three are verbs: "bang," "go" and "sleep." (For some mysterious reason, the latest edition has added the noun "verisimilitude.") In a recent game, a player's request to "bang" a female player elicited this response: "You small hairy thing."

Tacked on to the event are auditions for a small independent movie, Geek Farm, about an escort service that rents out geeks to jaded women -- the idea being that ladies want nerds who will appreciate them (dream on, guys). It's curious that they would hold auditions at a convention where D&D dudes are a dime a dozen. Just what are they trying to say?

Simons, at least, doesn't agree with the geek stereotype. "Everyone plays games," he says. "It's just a matter of finding one you like."

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Dylan Otto Krider