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.