Both the scenarios that you've run before sound good to me. Is there any reason that you couldn't re-run one of them at the con? (Like say they take 3 sessions not 3 hours to play).
No reason at all, except perhaps that I have told too many people about the punchline ending of the "King Arthur in a Box" story. What I might do is generate characters for that one and run it a few times for people who aren't going to be at Pheno as a way of working it into shape. Two of my best con games every have been made up in twenty minutes, in the car on the way to a playtest.
The organisers at Pheno are very reluctant to allow multi-session games, because they are difficult to schedule. One of my friends (who has run about a dozen very successful games at Pheno and Cancon over the years and who has a solid rep, is petitioning for a two-session game next year, a freeform (LARP) for fifty players one session either side of the Sunday lunch break. That's much easier to schedule than multiple two-session games for different groups but the same GM. I don't think of asking for it.
On the other hand, perhaps I can rely on the players at a con to play faster than the lounging lizards in a typical lounge room. Last thing I ran at Pheno' ran five times in three-hour slots with only very slight over-runs, but in the four or five times I have run it privately it has never finished in under five hours.
I don't know anything about Tannhauser, so can't really comment on that idea.
Tannhäuser is the German version (or one of the German versions) of the wide-spread folk story motif also represented by Thomas the Rhymer (Scottish/Borders) and many others. A man goes in to Fäerie (usually as lover of a fairy queen, but sometimes as a minstrel or knight of a fairy king), and he enjoys the bliss of Fäerie and loses track of time. But after a while he starts pining for something in the lands of Men: the companionship of his old friends, the service of his true king, the affection of his true love, or the comforts of religion. Overcoming the reluctance of his hosts he goes home, and when he gets there something tragic happens or is discovered. There are versions in which decades or generations have passed and his friends, king, and lover are dead; versions in which he breaks a prohibition such as against touching the ground and dies or is trapped, versions in which he cannot approach the church or bear the sound of the bells etc.
In the Tannhäuser version a knight spends a year in "the Venusberg" "worshipping" "Venus", but is overcome by a sense of sin and returns to the world of men for absolution. But his priest and bishop tell him that his sins are unforgivable, so he makes a pilgrimage to Rome to consult with the pope. The pope, though sympathetic, reluctantly agrees that his sins are indeed unforgivable. The knight sadly returns home. Three days later the pope's staff sprouts and blossoms, he realises that all sins may—must—be forgiven. He sends messengers hurrying after the knight, but when they get to his home it is too late: the knight has already returned to the Venusberg and will die unshriven. This version attached itself to two historical figures: a Minnesänger named Tannhäuser and Pope Urban IV, who gave it a time around 1264 and a place probably at Tannhäusen in Swabia. A later version in opera padded this out by combining it with the legend of the Sängerkrieg, which moved the action to Wartburg in Thuringia and made the period a little bit more ambiguous.
Thinking about the legend of Tannhäuser I am immediately struck by the thought that in early versions "Venus" must have been Freya (the German pagan goddess who was identified with Venus in the Interpretatio romana
), and in the earliest versions the elvish queen of some sacred hill or mountain.
Thinking further, I speculate about Tannhäuser's sin thus: What can it have been that Tannhäuser feared and Pope Urban IV agreed it was unforgiveable, but that God disagreed and thought it worth working a miracle to say so? Worshipping a pagan goddess is not really convincing, since millions of pagan worshippers have converted without trouble. Neither is "worshipping Venus" as a euphemism for sex, since lots of libertines have been forgiven after more than a year of licentiousness. Had Tannhäuser blasphemed the Holy Ghost (the only sin that a pope ought to consider beyond his powers to forgive)? That seems extraneous to any content in the surviving story, besides being dull, and besides raising the question that blaspheming the Holy Ghost is
unforgivable. Had Tannhäuser been bonking a elvish queen? And might he and a pope both think that was unforgivable. Conceivably, though Tolkien has rather dulled the modern fantasy fan's revulsion against sex with elvish princesses. That certainly wouldn't cut the mustard for an RPG adventure these days.
So how about this: what if Tannhäuser spent a year as the lover not of an elvish queen but of an elvish lord
. Cultural homophobia makes Tannhäuser's anxiety and the pope's mistake more believable. It's a twist, a point of interest. The miracle and its meaning will probably go over well these days, with Tannhäuser gay. One of the young people is likely to congratulate me on "deconstructing" something.
I like it. But I think it is probably a short story and not an RPG adventure.