Archive for June, 2011

More Convention Details from The Dragon

I continued sifting through old issues of The Dragon, hoping to find more convention tournament reports.  It was starting to look like issues 2 and 3 were unique in this regard, and I found no info on GenCon X (1977).  I pressed on, mostly because these old issues of The Dragon are a really fascinating glimpse of the hobby back in its infancy, when I hit the gold mine: issue 19, October 1978.

This issue includes both Tim Kask’s usual editorial plus a guest editorial by Gary Gygax, and both of them discuss the recent Origins and GenCon conventions.  In addition there’s also a first hand account of the group that won the Origins 78 tournament.  Apparently that tournament was the original running of modules G1, G2, and G3.  Each module was one round of the tournament, with winners getting to proceed on to the next module.  (Don’t worry Delta, I skimmed past the details about G3).  And not surprisingly, in the middle of this account is a full page add for, you guessed it, the modules themselves.

Tim reports a decline in attendance in 1978, with 2,000 total attendees.  An interesting number, as I’m pretty sure that’s much larger than any of the smaller local conventions I attend these days, but nothing compared to current GenCon numbers (I think it’s now usually in the 20,000 – 30,000 range).  Unfortunately I never can get numbers out of anyone about the local conventions.  I’m very curious how big TotalCon is, being the largest local convention I’ve been to.  I suspect it’s in the 400-600 range, but that’s basically a wild guess.

Tim and Gary are full of speculation in their editorials as to the reason for decline in size: it was too close to Origins, there was massive rain, the location had changed and was difficult to find.  What you really can’t help noticing though is the general attitude of hope for future growth.  Many promises are made that next year will have more attendees, more events, be better organized, etc.  Clearly conventions are a big part of hobby for these guys.

I’m vaguely aware from discussions with Tim and Frank (Mentzer) at TotalCon that these guys still schlep out to a very large number of conventions.  I’m guessing this is a habit formed from many years of practice.  I really enjoy attending conventions, but with my current schedule of 3 a year I’m already feeling the strain.  I can only imagine what it must be like to go to so many more and be such a big part of every one you attend.  I’ve heard arguments that the evolution of AD&D (1e) was largely reactionary to the tournament scene, and I think that argument seems pretty sound.  Conventions and the tournaments run at them must have been constantly on their minds; I imagine it was a big part of their lives and it’s no wonder they’d want to conform the rules around that style of play.

OK, back to the magazine, as there’s one more gem in its covers.  The article “How Many Ettins is a Fire Giant Worth: Competative D&D” by Bob Blake gives us some thoughts on scoring tournaments with specific reference to the Origins 78 and GenCon XI tournaments.  Blake’s argues in favor of objective scoring systems that don’t require discussion between DMs, and pre-tournament briefings to ensure “DM consistency”.  I understand his reasons for these, but you can just feel the soul being slowly leached out of the games here.  DM consistency?  Isn’t the whole point of this game that anything can (and will) happen?

I think ultimately the main problem here is the desire to declare a winner.  Scoring I grant you gives an interesting twist to the game, but maybe it can also get in the way.  The most enjoyment I’ve had with scored tournaments is when the score is really “just for laughs”, with no real outcome for scoring high or low.  When there are prizes involved, or I think even more importantly, access to later exclusive rounds, players are going to care more about the score and less about just enjoying themselves.  And isn’t that why we play these games?

Hmm, well, I’m glad to say that I have appeared to run the clock.  I have no answers here, there’s definitely something enjoyable about scored tournament games, and yet also something dissatisfying.  It’s time to go home though, so I’ll have to muse more on this one and see if I come to any conclusions.

The Ghost of GenCon Past

Thinking about GenCon coming up, and the past GenCons I’ve been to, I decided to make a little post of links to my past GenCon experiences:

1992-2006 – Here’s a post I wrote back on the old blog listing every GenCon I had gone to in the period of 1992 (my first GenCon) to 2006, for a total of 8 times.  Not complete by any means, but it helped me remember which I had gone to and which I hadn’t.

2005 – The first time I blogged about going to GenCon.

2006 – Nothing highly notable coming to mind about this one, save for the heightened airport security we had to go through.

2007 – The year they announced 4th Edition.  We were there, and I remember hearing the announcement with much eye rolling.

2008 – The first GenCon ever without Gary, and sadly I’m still a good year at least away from discovering that the old stuff was the best.  Timing is just not my forte.

2009 – The year we didn’t go to GenCon and regretted it.

2010 -And now we’re into the new blog, and fully embracing old school gaming topics.

Which means this year will be my 12th GenCon over the past 20 years.  Man, that’s only a 60% success rate of attending GenCon.  We’ll have to get those numbers up.

And for bonus points, as I was digging through the old blog anyway, I just had to find out exactly what point in time it was that the old school bug hit me.  I think I can date it precisely: April 7th, 2008, though I wouldn’t really fully embrace it until a year later.

The Dragon

I will try not to bore you with apologies for my absence for the past six weeks.  The next week or two may continue to be rocky as I complete my move, but I hope once the move is done that less time commuting might mean more time blogging.  Anyway…

I was testing out some new PDF reading tech during lunch today (more on that in a later post), and found myself opening up some of the first issues of The Dragon magazine.  What caught my eye was a couple articles about the upcoming GenCon IX.  I have conventions on the brain quite a lot these days.  GenCon (44 I think?) is coming up soon, and next April will be HelgaCon 5, for which I have some pretty big ideas.  Reading these old articles reminds me more of my own little mini-con than GenCon actually, with it’s notes on the having over 44 games that year and listing Gary’s personal address as the contact point for more information.  I’m also just tickled by the idea that the scale of the convention and the magazine were at such a point that it was entirely appropriate to include lengthy updates about the convention in the magazine.  It seems things were at a unique tipping point back in 1976.

Of particular note is this blurb in issue #2 about the upcoming D&D tournament:

These 20 groups will comprise the Preliminary Round. After all are finished, the top five players in each class will advance to the Final Round. Thus we will have five groups of five players each. Again, each group will be composed of one each of the five classes. Those who make the final round will play the same class they did in the Preliminaries, but a different character, again with pre-rolled abilities. As before, the Magi and Cleric will select their own spells, and all players will equip themselves.
At the end of the Final Round, FIVE winners will be selected, one in each class. Each will receive a $10 certificate from TSR Hobbies.

Note the scoring system here scores individuals (winners grouped by character class of all things) rather than the entire group as a whole.  And this is back in 1976!  When I was running my tournament at last HelgaCon I assumed this was a product of late 80’s silver age thinking, but it looks like these kinds of tournaments are far older than that.  To be fair, this issue is touched on in the following issue (#3):

“Why an individual rather than a team event?” At the outset of the design phase, we decided on an elimination event by individuals rather than teams because we wanted to gauge how well strangers could adapt to D&Ding together. A team event is not out of the question, of course, and plans for another tournament are now being made around a team concept.

Fascinating.  The implication here almost seems that they tried individual scoring, and then dismissed it in the following year, though I haven’t gotten to reading those issues yet.  Could it be that somehow this lesson was lost in later years when tournament play shifted into the silver age style I remember so well from the 90’s?  Or is it just that in the early days they were more willing to experiment with all manner of methods, such that attempting to glean a “lesson” of any kind from the output is impossible?

Very interesting stuff.  I’m really looking forward now to skimming through the rest of the 70’s issues.