Archive for September, 2014

Old GenCon Photos


And for a little more GenCons past nostalgia, here are a couple photos.

GenCon '97 - Look how excited I am to be working the exhibit hall, and rocking my GenCon '93 shirt!

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GenCon '97 - Look how excited I am to be working the exhibit hall, and rocking my GenCon '93 shirt!

GenCon Past and Future

For unknown reasons I find myself again contemplating GenCon.  We missed it again this year — partly because we’re going to have some work done and are strapped for cash for vacations, but also because GenCon has become something of a mess recently.  It appears to be tied up in the geek culture explosion, with record attendance around 56,000.  I’ve read some interesting articles about how everything geek culture is exploding and merging.  For example, can you imagine any convention, be it comic, video game, or board game targeted, without a large amount of cosplay?  GenCon without storm troopers parading down the hall sounds crazy, but back in the 90’s, I’m not even sure if I remember there being a costume contest.

Unfortunately the downside to all this growth is that it’s getting very hard for an individual to go, never mind organize a handful of friends.  Hotels fill up within hours of registration opening up, and the booking sites are just an exercise in frustrating web timeouts.  I have at least one friend who intended to go this year but was simply unable to book a hotel room and so ended up having to stay home.  Certainly the vast attendance numbers is part of the over the top splendor of going to one of these things, but it seems to have reached that tipping point of just being too darn big.

Looking ahead, in 2017 it will be the 50th anniversary of GenCon.  Given that my very first GenCon was the 25th anniversary (1992), I really want to attend that one.  I imagine that one will be particularly insane, unless somehow this bubble bursts before then.  It may be wise to go to one or two before then just to figure out how to work the logistics, but one or two more is all that are left before it happens, and frankly next year is looking pretty doubtful with Jenn planning us a trip to England.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write this post was to once again collate my notes and remind myself which GenCons I have been to, and which I missed.  This is really only for my own future reference, so I apologize to any other readers, but here it is, the GenCon roll: (note, early pre-blog dates will link back to the same original recap post I first wrote about my earl GenCon attendance)

1992 – My first GenCon, a Christmas present from dear old dad.  To this day I can’t believe he actually did this for me.  Also, GenCon’s 25th anniversary.

1993 – My second GenCon, and the first we drove to, or should I say, my friend Chris’s mom drove us.  Also the year Magic the Gathering came out.

1994 – The only GenCon I ever attended entirely alone, and at a time when I was really too young to do so.  I would miss the next year as I got ready for college and said goodbye to high school.

1996 – Once in college I rarely came home for the summers, instead preferring to work on campus.  My friend Lam did likewise, and thus he and I would attend GenCon together for a few years running.  This year we had a really great time, flying out of NY together and catching the CCG bug with L5R.

1997 – A bad year for GenCons – the year Lam and I drove a truck full of miniatures out, got stuck working the exhibition hall, and saw the seedy underbelly of professional convention attendance.  I vowed I would always attend in the future as nothing more than a consumer.  Also, the year WotC bought TSR, and the last year I’d attend at Milwaukee.

Here follows a gap of not attending.  I tried to go in 1998 but Lam didn’t or couldn’t go, but then ended up going last minute without me.  I’ve always been kind of annoyed by that.  Then I graduated college and either didn’t have the time, money, or interest to go.

2004 – Though I started playing with a group of co-workers in 1999, it wasn’t until 2004 that for some reason we decided we should all go to GenCon together.  We rented a van and drove out there.  This is probably the last serious road trip with a bunch of friends I would take, and I think it was also my favorite.  Also, I think this was the only one I attended with Dan.

2005 – The first year I blogged about going to GenCon, so plenty of details and photos in this link.  This is the only year I attended with Scott.  It’s kind of sad that I never got to go to GenCon with both Scott and Dan at the same time.

2006 – Now we are starting to get into a groove of going with Joe, BJ, and Adam.  They’ve been doing this with us since 2004 and it’s solidified as a tradition.  Adam always vanishes into the depths of serious competitive Call of Cthulhu, but Joe, BJ, and I play a fair amount of organized D&D 3/3.5 together.

2007 – The year E3 crashed and video games started to appear in force at GenCon.  I believe this is also the year I started seriously getting into Savaged Worlds and thus ran my first game at GenCon.  Also the year they announced D&D 4th edition.  There are some amusing photos out there of me, Joe, and BJ reacting to this announcement, but I don’t seem to have any because my camera was on the fritz.  Also, this is the last year I’d attend a GenCon while Gary Gygax was alive and present.  I wish I had made a point of meeting the guy during one of these, but sadly I never did.

2008 – Not a tone of great photos from this one sadly, as I replaced my camera with a big heavy SLR that was too painful to use at a convention.  At this point I’m pretty heavily into Savage Worlds, which I think actually started the year before.  Still going with Joe, BJ, and Adam (and of course as always Jenn), but we’re starting to lose steam and won’t attend the next year, though many of us will regret that choice.

2010 – By this year we have a whole new group of friends to go.  Adam is still going, but as always we barely see the guy, and new friends from 38 including Mike join us this year.  Also I’m now in the throws of old school D&D, running Labyrinth Lord games.  This is also the year I discover the Auction, which will quickly evolve from a side interest to a major event I will schedule the rest of my convention around.

2011 – John from 38 joins the band, and I continue to immerse myself in the old school.  This is also the year the size of the convention starts to show, and the scheduling system is very difficult to deal with.  Still, I manage to play in some great games, and the OSR is in full bloom.  I also spent a huge amount of time and money in the auction for the first time.

2012 – Adam and Mike join us again, and this time my family including two younger brothers, my mom, and stepfather all make it down (though only my brothers attend the convention, my family parents find other entertainment).  This is also the year we miss Sunday due to inconvenient flight times.

And that’s basically it.  We had flights and tickets for GenCon 2013, but ended up moving in August and had to cancel our plans.  Then in 2014 we didn’t even try to attend, and thank goodness, because it sounds like it would have been extremely difficult.  I hope this is not the end of my history with GenCon, but clearly careful planning will be required for the future.  In the meantime, I continue to expand the local conventions I check out, and this November I’ll be attending Carnage on the Mountain in VT.


PostScript – I just realized at some point I set up a category on this blog for posts about GenCon, which can all be gotten to here.

Dwimmermount: TL;DR

The following assumes you know the whole back-story of the disappearance of James Maliszewski and his blog Grognardia a couple of years ago. If not, here’s a couple links for you. And in the spirit of the title of this entry, the tldr is this: James wrote a very successful blog recounting his experiences going back to original D&D. He started a kickstarter to publish his home campaign setting, and then vanished suddenly when his father became very ill, and hasn’t posted a word online since. While others picked up the kickstarter responsibilities, many were quite upset about the whole thing, while others had some empathy for a man having an obviously tough time with grief.

OK, so I backed that kickstarter when it first launched. In early 2012 I also had a little personal upheaval to deal with, and as such wasn’t paying much attention to James or his blog. There were offers on the kickstarter to refund my money, but I let it ride. It wasn’t a lot of money and I had already kind of forgotten about it. I figured it was worth the risk that maybe James would return or these other guys would put something interesting together. And then last week, this arrived in the mail:

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Man, I was not expecting such a massive book. Seriously, this thing weighs a ton, and clocks in at over 400 pages. It took me a couple days just to get up the gumption to try and read the thing. I started out skimming and popping around trying to find specific bits of interest. Finally, I picked it up for my pre-bed time reading last night and started in at chapter 1. That first chapter turns out to be an incredibly interesting read. While just the introduction, it includes James’ original intro describing his personal goals, and then a larger chunk from the publisher talking about what problems James had with the project and how they went about solving those problems once James had left.

Let’s begin with James’ own motivations. He was pretty enamored of the idea of a mega-dungeon for some time, and wrote about such frequently on his blog:

There’s never really been a properly presented old school campaign setting, because none that I know of have ever given us the megadungeons around which they revolved. It seems to me that, if I were an old school publisher looking for a “killer app,” it’d be a well-done megadungeon and surrounding wilderness, done in a way that fosters sandbox/hexcrawl play.

I think the quote above outlines not only his original dream, but also what eventually becomes the albatross of the project for him. The introduction to Dwimmermount puts it this way:

As identified by James, the fundamental difficulty in publishing a megadungeon is that it changes over time in response to play.

The final problem James identified for a published dungeon is that the amount of detail which accumulates through the history of play can be overwhelming to the referee. Freedom from extensive preparation was one of the key advantages James found in refereeing Dwimmermount, because at the beginning of the campaign there was little prepared material demanding to be studied before each session. By the end of James’ campaign, a wealth of detail had piled up – but much of it did not make it into the first drafts of Dwimmermount. James’ drafts were purposefully minimalist, so as to avoid burdening the referee with an abundance of material to master, leaving each referee space for individual creativity to make the dungeon his own.

Whether or not you agree that megadungeons are instrumental to recreating old school play, I think the above issues ring true for adapting any home campaign setting into published material. I remember throughout my young gaming life (all the way up to and including college play), I always envied GMs who had long spanning home campaigns rich with history and content. When I started my own old school campaign back in January of 2010, this is exactly what I was setting out to create — my own long living campaign world that would grow organically over time. I think I was pretty successful at doing just that, but would I try now to package that all up into a published work and sell it to the public? Certainly not.

The fact is, you can’t package the magic of the shared history among DM and players. You can package up all the output of this communal creative process, but expecting an outsider to be able to pick that up and have the same experiences you did is laughable. And yet, it seems that’s exactly what is being attempted here:

We have added in much of the detail that James left out, attempting to stay true to James’ intent or written notes while resolving inconsistencies between sections of the text written at different times and filling in gaps where his drafts referred to details not provided. As a result, the final material we have published is considerably more detailed than the first drafts. We think this ultimately makes Dwimmermount a better product, and hope that you agree. For some referees, experts in improvisation and megadungeon creation, the additional material we have added will be unnecessary and possibly even distracting; but we feel that erring on the side of more content rather than less is ultimately better for everyone. In play, it is much easier to ignore unwanted material than to manufacture details from whole cloth, and a majority of backers we interacted with preferred to be able to run the dungeon “out of the box” without being required to add their own material.

A product that is “better for everyone” at the expense of “experts in improvisation” who will find much of the work “unnecessary and possibly even distracting.” This sounds an awful lot like the exact progression of D&D, a gradual removal of reliance on expert GMs able to improvise, and a leveling of the playing field to give everyone a standard experience, even if that standard had become somewhat drab as a result.

I will still attempt to make it through the 400 pages and find the hidden gems for extraction into my own campaign. I’m sure they are in there, and it’s just a question if I can make it through all the verbosity to find them. For my own money though, I kind of wish the book had been closer to James’ original draft, or perhaps something more like Michael Curtis’ Stonehell. Give me loose notes that inspire my imagination and leave plenty of room for interpretation, not pages upon pages of minutiae.

I tore through Stonehell and dropped that sucker right into my campaign world. My players know of its existence, and some love it, and many more avoid it like the plague. It is full of mystery and danger in their eyes – just what a massive dungeon should be. Is it the central tent-pole of my campaign? No. Does it provide plenty of hooks for adventure and exciting play? Absolutely.