Like the target at a snipers’ competition, Gary Con is an event viewed through many lenses. As a gamer, I experienced the con through the fun and camaraderie I had at the tables, but as a designer, it was interpreted by who I met and spoke to in the publishing industry. And lastly, as someone with a background in history and archiving, Gary Con was a place filled with those whose roots extend back to the long-ago days when this was all new and wondrous. No matter which lens I viewed the weekend, however, it was an outstanding experience.
Unfortunately, the four-day weekend began on a down-note when I received a phone alert that my first flight of the day was suffering from an hour-and-a-half delay. This alert came ten minutes before I was set to depart for the airport and threw all my travel plans askew. Forty-five minutes of trying to contact the airline on the phone without success eventually drove me to abandon my efforts and drive to the airport anyway. The clerk there managed to get me on another flight, but from another airport, making a $100 cab ride necessary to make my flight. Further complications at O’Hare delayed me again and I finally arrived in Milwaukee four hours behind schedule. Luckily, the Lodge at Lake Geneva was kind enough to dispatch a shuttle to convey me from General Mitchell to the hotel. A very big thanks to Larry the Night Security man at the Lodge for coming to my rescue!
After finally arriving five hours later than I intended, I discovered I had missed the meet-n-greet entirely, as well as the majority of games. Dropping off my bags in my room, I wandered down to the hotel bar looking for something to eat (and was again foiled since the restaurant had long-ago closed). I did spot someone in a tied-dyed shirt playing the Battlestar Galactica board game and soon found myself talking with Allan “Grodog” Grohe and Mark CMG of Creative Mountain Games. Alas, last call followed all too soon and a Diaspora of gamers was sent into the desert of the Lodge’s hallways. A brief snack from a vending machine and a long discussion with fellow gamer David(?) from Stone Mountain, GA closed an overlong travel day.
Friday arrived in much better shape. Determined to remain on New York time, and anticipating a diet of completely fattening meals during the weekend, I was up at 6 AM to take a walk around the Lodge’s grounds. Back at the hotel, I finally managed to acquire breakfast and to meet Tim Snyder of The Savage Afterworld at the concession table. Soon thereafter, the Vendors’ Hall opened and I stepped inside to discover Dan Proctor behind the Goblinoid Games’ table, which was situated next to Black Blade Publishing’s wares. I spent a good hour inside there talking with Dan and Alan, as well as meeting John Adams of Brave Halfling (who had his game boxes for sale nearby), Jeffrey Talanian (of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea), and Jon Hershberger of Black Blade. Across from the Goblinoid Games table was the Artists’ Nook. There sat Jeff Easley, who was kind enough to sign one of his illos in my copy of the Dungeon Alphabet, and Jim Wampler, creator of “Marvin the Mage.” I can’t say enough nice things about Jim, both as an artist and a person. He’s an old-school Gamma World fan to boot and did me a solid during the course of the con. Stop reading this right now and go to Mudpuppy Comics and check out a free issue of Marvin. I’ll be here waiting.
With time to kill before my first game, I wandered the rooms, snapping pictures. There, I ran into Frank Mentzer, who I met last year at I-Con. I was pleased that Frank not only remembered me, but went out of his way to welcome me into the ranks of professional game designers. (I’ll let the “Stonehell Outhouse” comment slide, Frank.) Frank’s always a pleasure to talk to and is generally interested in my own efforts to till a row in the field of game design. That means a lot to me.
As I was wearing my Stonehell T-shirt the first day, it wasn’t long before I had my first fan approach me to say how much he enjoyed my work. I’d see Zach (a.k.a. Nogrod from Dragonsfoot) several more times during the con and he’s another great gamer, one I’d share the experience of Tim Kask’s OD&D game with later in the day.
When 2 PM rolled around, it was off to the wargaming room for a game of Dungeon!, an activity I last enjoyed when Reagan was in the White House. Running the game(s) was Dave Megarry, the original designer of Dungeon! Dave took the time to explain the origins of the game, as well as bring the original Dungeon! prototype board for us to “ooh and ahh” over, but the real bomb shell was yet to come. I had encountered Dave and his wife upstairs an hour earlier as they unloaded a large table from the back of their car. I gave them a hand wrestling the dark green table through the front doors of the hotel, not thinking much of the activity other than I was giving a fellow gamer a hand. Only during the event was the identity of that table revealed: it was Dave Arneson’s ping pong table, the same one where he played the original Blackmoor campaign on decades ago! Having never met Dave in person, this was the closest I’d ever get to him and it was an incredibly cool experience. I could see that the opportunity was not overlooked by fellow Dungeon! player, Tavis Allison of the Mule Abides and Adventurer, Conqueror, King. I’ve met Tavis before and, knowing his interest in the history of our hobby, was certain he was just as floored by playing at Dave’s table as I was.
After finishing the Guinness Book of World Records’ Longest Game of Dungeon Ever (the other game’s players packed up, departed, and went on to marry and see their children graduate from college before we finally completed our game), it was back into the Vendors’ Hall to hang around the Goblinoid Games table. There, I met Jeff “bighara” Sparks and his wife (who is not at all still angry about a game Jeff ran 10 years ago), and signed a few more copies of Stonehell Dungeon.
At 6 PM, I got to play OD&D with Tim Kask. The adventure saw us exploring a frigid glacier and the mysterious Tower of the Phoenix located within it. I had a blast, even though we lost a few party members before we actually got inside the place, and, in true old school fashion, forged the legend of Sigurd Bear-Breaker. Facing down a certain TPK, my dwarf drank a potion of giant strength and challenged two giant polar bears to a wrestling match. He broke both their spines and allowed us to continue the adventure to its completion.
Tim was another pleasure to finally meet, especially since he was one of the judges on last year’s "Three Castles Award." During a break in the game, Tim invited me to the VIP Smoking Lounge (otherwise known as the patio off Tim and Frank’s room where they had stashed one of those big standing ashtrays they had somehow “acquired” the days before) and we talked about the old days of Dragon, the Dungeon Alphabet, and artists. Like his partner in crime, Frank Mentzer, Tim was very gracious, kind, and encouraging in regard to my design efforts. It was great getting to talk with him outside of the game.
The game ended around 10 PM and I had the chance to talk with some more fellow gamers (both newly met and by this time old friends) up at the bar. Eventually, the day’s events began to take their toll and I excused myself to grab a few hours’ rest before starting in all over again the next day.