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Hello, this is Head Scribe Baxter, possibly better known as the “who” in “who the hell wrote this crap?!” for around half of the Short Rest segments. Last week, Len asked me to cover Gary-Con, a convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, celebrating the life of Gary Gygax and his role in creating D&D, not to mention the influence he’s had on the broader RPG world.
Saturday, March 3rd
Got the text from Len; given my amazing talent at living less than 90 minutes away from Lake Geneva, he wanted me to go cover Gary-Con for the podcast. I replied that the car was stuffed, so he can get stuffed.
Thursday, March 8th
…it turns out the car was so trivial to un-stuff, they got it fixed before I got back with my caffeine from a block away. They didn’t even charge me for it. I’d better start planning this trip in a hurry. Saturday’s my only free time for it this weekend.
Saturday, March 10th
7:35a: Got a late start, but I needed to wait for the caffeine to kick in before I risked going on the road. Also, these cats won’t pet themselves, you know. Believe me, I’ve tried.
8:25a: Traffic is quite reasonable, making for a pleasant drive. My phone offers up In The Buff’s a capella cover of “Take on Me” from their Disturbing the Quiet Enjoyment of the Home album. I absolutely nail the high notes.
8:28a: I go back to bass…those heights scare me sometimes.
8:45a: I pull into a restaurant’s parking lot to take a break, stretch my legs, and fix the driver’s seat, which is broken and requires things wedged between the back seat and it to maintain proper position.
8:50a: My bluetooth widget, a key component in feeding Google Maps directions from my phone to the car’s radio, runs out of battery. This predicament is easily fixed by connecting it to the power bank in my pocket, that I can no longer get out because I’m once again sitting upright. Crap. Problem bypassed by using a separate bluetooth speaker, but it’s no good for music, so the rest of the trip passes in silence, punctuated only by the sounds of my not getting lost.
9:00a: I arrive at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa and find some surprisingly reasonable parking (for a convention) not too far from the main event. I don my Pack of Unfashionableness +1 and wield my trusty cane, which grants me +2 on endurance checks, advantage on all curmudgeon skills, and lets me cast darn kids, get off my lawn once per day without using a spell slot. I am ready to go!
9:01a: The DM asks me:
“Are you sure you really want to do that?”
and asks me to roll an Int check. 2. Probably not important.
9:05a: After catching a shuttle to the hotel, I’m in line for registration; I snaffle free copies of the “Swords & Wizardry Light” and “Bunnies and Burrows Light” rule sets from the table while waiting. In very short order, I have my spectator badge, I have the program, and I have finally realized what that Int check was for.
9:15a: Back at the car, grabbing my bag of (swag) holding. Oops.
9:30a: Once again at the hotel, I went looking for the one event I remembered from the website schedule, the Chainmail Jousting Tournament. Chainmail doesn’t seem like the best option to wear for jousting, so I’m curious what was intended by this. After all, being Lake Geneva, the birthplace of D&D, I can’t rule out the possibility that it’s jousting by chainmail armor under the effects of the animate object spell. Promises to be interesting.
9:35a: It turns out that the jousting is being done with a streamlined version of the Chainmail miniatures rules. Each jouster picks an attack target and a defensive posture, they bang their coconuts (no, really, there were coconut halves at the table for each player) to simulate the charge, and then the players would compare their attack with their opponents posture, consult a chart, and get points based on that. The red knight and black knight fought bravely to a draw…and then drew in three more “sudden death” passes, when the black knight was finally soundly defeated in a “just get it over with” rock-scissors-paper match. Huzzah!
This particular room seems dedicated to miniature wargames; in addition to the jousting tournament, I see battlefields covered in units ranging from trebuchets to cannon and back again. One even has the walkers from the War of the Worlds arrayed against a village with a handful of cannon for defense. Across the hallway is what appeared to be more traditional dungeon-delving miniature games. There’s a sexy as hell volcanic landscape set sculpted from styrofoam, and it looks so amazing, I can’t even. All the support columns are disguised as lava flows from upper to lower, so it looks like floating platforms of basalt spilling lava left and right.. I almost wish I could stay til six PM to see that glorious beast in action.
10:30a: After visiting the two artists’ alleys, I’m wandering the hotel looking for rooms associated with the con. I know at some point I will have to face that dreaded den of iniquity, the dealer’s room, but before that I will see the wonders the con has to offer.
The rooms and halls are filled with tables, and many of those table are hosting games, of all sorts of game systems, many of which I am unfamiliar. Despite the event celebrating Gygax, D&D itself is surprisingly underrepresented at these tables. In addition to the miniatures systems I mentioned before, I’ve been seeing card games, card-based RPGs, and tabletop games, as well as RPGs of various flavors. I’ve seen two tables already using the Hackmaster rules, the 1st edition AD&D-inspired parody rules created from the Knights of the Dinner Table comic. D&D is here, but it’s a minority. This variety is a good thing, ultimately, but it reminds me there’s so much in the gaming world that I lack the time and income to explore.
In addition to the wide variety of game systems, there’s also a wide variety of presentation methods. Some games are being played on gorgeously detailed dungeon tile (and wall) sets, others on pre-printed poster maps that fill the table, some on video monitors mounted horizontally to create a dynamic surface, and one group playing 1st edition AD&D using the time-tested and equally effective gridded whiteboard map to draw the dungeon on as they explore. And yet, despite the enormous variety of tools available to play, the only actually vital parts are the players and game masters around each table. It’s pretty amazing.
10:50a: At the Gaming Library room, I espy a series of tables running from wall to wall, laden with an astonishing variety of tabletop games, which I’m informed is only half the collection. I take a pic to make my TTG-playing friends jealous. Me? Petty? Nah.
10:58a: In the hallway, I just overheard a girl asking her companion, “Have you ever accidentally destroyed a space station?” …this is my kind of crowd.
11:30a: I followed the signs to the most distant part of the convention only to find the area to which the LARPers had been exiled. To be fair, I think it’s because that was the largest room after the dealers room, but the lengthy walk there and back still leaves me pondering the possibility that it’s due to somebody on the staff’s opinions on LARPing in general…
11:40a: Stopped to have a chat with the woman at the information desk. Having volunteered for a couple conventions, and worked security for a couple more, I know that relations between the hotel staff and the convention staff and guests can be…strained. Since Gary-Con had been at this location for more than a few years now, was it something that the hotel staff welcomed or dreaded each year? However, she assured me that all was well; the con staff and guests were all very polite, and they were happy to host the event. It certainly matches what I’ve observed here, the hotel staff I’ve seen seem to be enjoying themselves, and guests are smiling and nodding at each other as the pass, making room so everybody can efficiently get to where they need to go. This, too, is pretty amazing.
11:45a: The moment of truth arrives: how well can I resist the temptation of the dealer’s room? Will I leave with an empty wallet?! …well, yes, actually, because I’m entering with one. But I still want to have a look around, see what’s on offer from the world of gaming.
I’m seeing a lot of art objects, coasters, dice bags, t-shirts, costume pieces and such, not so many miniatures but a lot of support for minis, such as 3d-printed castles, extensive tile sets, spell area templates, and such. Books, for the most part, have been for third party works, either original systems or “adaptable to 5e” generic systems. Only two stalls carry the core 5e books that I’ve seen; it’s just my speculation, but I’m wondering if the prevalence of Amazon and D&D Beyond might be making it harder for sellers to justify stocking such items for events like this. I can see the appeal of offering items that buyers might not otherwise get to see in person, to give them a chance to look before they buy that they can’t get online. Quite possibly the most surprising presence to me is that there are two stalls selling gaming tables, something that nobody would really be able to buy on the spot. They’re definitely garnering a lot of interest, judging by the people stopping by to look and ask questions, so I don’t doubt they’ll get their money’s worth out of their stalls, even if there’s not a single sale at the con itself. My only question is, “why do none of these people have a croupier’s rake to let them quickly push or pull minis without having to lean most of their body over the table?” This is a fundamental mystery whose answer I many never learn.
11:55a: I’ve escaped the dealer’s hall having spent only $70 I shouldn’t have. Mission accomplished? As I’m reassembling myself to head back to the car to head home, I’m listening to someone from one of the vendor’s room’s booths talking to, well, it seems to be Tracy Hicks and Margaret Weis, authors of the Dragonlance Chronicles. He’s thanking them for their work, and telling them how much their stories changed his life. And you know? It’s not just him. Reading the Dragonlance books changed me. Reading fantasy in general changed me. Playing D&D has changed me. And I don’t even want to consider the “me” that might have been if I’d looked at D&D and said, “Nah.” I can’t imagine this “me” being an improvement if his imagination hadn’t been fed as mine has. And that brings us back to what this convention is all about: celebrating the life of someone who left his mark on RPGs and the fantasy genre, which has left its mark on us. Thank you, Gary Gygax.
12:05p: I get to the car, drop off my bag, pack, and cane, and start shucking my coat, and I realize there’s a song coming from someone’s car; it’s closed off, but it’s being played loud enough that I can still hear it.
It’s a-ha’s “Take On Me.”
I make my save vs Tasha’s Hideous Uncontrollable Laughter, but damned if it wasn’t a close roll.
12:06p, 12:07p, 12:08p: I can still nail that high note.
When not writing for the podcast, Head Scribe Baxter sings with an acapella group in backwater realm of southern Wisconsin. However, he lacks the gaudy wardrobe and shamelessness to actually take levels in bard.