For those of you who don’t know, Gary Con is an annual game convention held every March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to honor the memory of the father of role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax. Their focus is on the one thing Gary loved most: gaming! I’ve been going since 2010 or so.
Wednesday is usually a quiet day at Thursday – Sunday convention. Arrival. Check-in. Settle into room. Get badges. For many, it is the longest continual socialization time of the convention.
This year, many people attended a pre-con party at Frank Mentzer’s home. While I would like to have gone, when I heard smoking would be allowed in the house (albeit confined to one room away from most of the guests), I had to decline. Any amount will play hell with my wife’s asthma, and we’re both sensitive enough to it that the lingering smells on everyone’s clothes (our own included) would be a problem. Contrary to what many smokers think, non-smokers CAN smell it on them for hours and hours and it gets on us, too, when we’re around smoke. When it induces respiratory problems, that’s an issue. Nevertheless, I’m sure everyone there had a great time, and I’m sure many stories will come out of it that will be told for years to come.
After checking in and getting settled, we decided to try to rustle up some gaming action. I brought with me Sentinels of the Multiverse, Project Ninja Panda Taco, and Edition Wars, but was unable to drum up any interest. Rather than assume it was because the games held no interest to anyone but myself, I will instead assume that my Game Master badge intimidated everyone. Instead of gaming, we joined some friends for dinner and conversation, which was just as good as gaming, in my opinion.
Thursday was a fairly low-key day. I started off by wandering around, visiting with Jolly and Barbara Blackburn of Kenzer & Co. (and Knights of the Dinner Table fame) and visiting the Dealer Hall. My first game of the day was supposed to be a HackMaster game at 10AM, but I screwed up during registration and signed up for a 10PM game by mistake! Resigned to my failure, I wandered around some more and purchased some old Spelljammer supplements out of pity for myself (they were still in the shrinkwrap, so I essentially bought NEW items from the ’90s!). My next game was in the afternoon, a Savage Worlds game run by Gygax Magazine called “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1940.” I played Indiana Jones. The other characters in play were Ms. Fury, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. We had a few empty chairs, so no one played Tarzen, The Rocketeer, or The Shadow. There were car chases, Nazis, and zeppelins, as you might expect from a pulp-action game. It was a lot of fun and further cemented my wife’s preference for Savage Worlds over Pathfinder. I, too, have been leaning towards less crunchy systems over the last couple of years, and Savage Worlds and Fate are quickly rising to the top of that list for modern RPGs.
In the evening, I ran my first Paranoia game, “Groovin’ to the Oldies.” I ended up running two sessions of that particularly adventure, and will talk about my games later.
Friday started off with my second Paranoia session. The rest of the day was very low key and I only had one game in the evening, a Top Secret game set during the Cold War called “Operation: Good Night.” We took the role of western spies assigned to extract a Soviet defector from East Berlin. It was interesting to play an RPG set in setting I was somewhat familiar with, having grown up in Germany during the Cold War (though I never visited Berlin). Our group ended up having two moles, but we accomplished our primary objective without any gun play. It was a good game, though a little more gritty & realistic than I was expecting.
Saturday was the big day at Gary Con. It was the busiest from an attendance standpoint, and from a play standpoint for me. My wife ditched both of the games we were scheduled for (one of which was a game I was running!) because she was personally invited by James M. Ward to play in his female-gamer-only game “Monty Haul’s Lesser Tower of Doom.” I, of course, was perfectly OK with this, since when a former TSR luminary and con Guest of Honor invite you to his game, you don’t say no. Publicly, I acted hurt and betrayed that she ditched her husband’s game for another GM’s game. 😀
I started my day with “The FATE (sic) of Skull Island.” It was another pulp-action game set in the 1940 (I’m sensing a theme here), but using Fate Core. I had the books from the Kickstarter, of course, and I played in a Bulldogs! game at Gen Con two years ago, but I rated my comfort level with the Fate system at “Not at all comfortable.” This game changed that. I played a Dashing Barnstormer named Henry “Hank” Jericho, Captain USAAC, Ret., who was a veteran of both wars. From the event’s title, you might surmise that King Kong was involved…and you would be wrong, but his larger cousin EMPEROR Kong was. We had great fun and when the game was over, I had to dash downstairs to run my Star Wars game (WEG, 2nd edition Revised & Expanded), “A Simple Job.” All four of the players who showed up for my game had been players with me in the previous Fate game, so at least no one was waiting for me since I scheduled the games back-to-back. As with the Paranoia games, I’ll talk about my Star Wars game later.
After dinner, we tried to scare up some interest to play Edition Wars, Sentinel of the Multiverse, or Project Ninja Panda Taco, but again, my GM’s badge intimidated everyone. We instead got involved in a couple of games of Bang! The Dice Game and Cards Against Humanity. Never before have I felt guilty for liking a game (and I know there are folks out there who absolutely LOATHE Cards Against Humanity). We noted that the game at least took shots against EVERYONE and not just any particular ethnic group. Still, I understand the loathing some people have for the game, I just don’t particularly agree with it.
Sunday was Gary Con’s slow day, and my day started early with another Top Secret game, this one set in the modern day, run by the game’s creator, Merle Rasmussen. It featured a lot of trading and negotiation, but felt very action packed. It was a ton of fun and all the players received a printed version of the adventure “Operation Rendezvous Oasis” (which will also appear in issue 4 of Gygax Magazine) as well as a new-in-box, shrinkwrapped copy of Merle’s first game, SQWURM from 1979! It was a blast. Originally, I tried to get into Jim Ward’s Sunday game, but due to registration hiccups, there were a lot of games I couldn’t get in, and I didn’t even think to try to get into this one. I figured since it was Merle’s first convention appearance in 30 years, and Top Secret is still pretty popular, that I wouldn’t have a chance. To my shock, there were still seats when I finished registration, so I quickly saved my spot.
After the game, I ran into Harold Johnson in the Dealer Hall. I’d heard he was running a book shop in Lake Geneva, so I wanted to talk to him about what it would take to get my books in his store. When I showed him my books, he was excited and wanted all the copies I had with me. My novels are now carried in the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva, WI. This pleases me to no end, since Lake Geneva is essentially the birthplace of D&D and without D&D, I probably wouldn’t be writing.
When we returned to the hotel, Gary Con was essentially over, but we managed to play a couple of games of Elder Sign. I now have another game added to my “To Purchase” list, and I bought the electronic version for my Kindle Fire.
Gary Con was a rousing success for me in many ways. My books are carried in a book store now, and I had a lot of fun. It was the best Gary Con yet. There were hiccups, to be sure (we never got to play in the Gary Con Joust as no one was ever officiating when we’d try to play), but overall, it was great. My games…well, I’ll consider them fun failures. All three ran too short. The length was the only failing of the Star Wars game, so I could beef it up with another encounter, and run it again with no other modifications (though I would like better miniatures for the vehicle segments). The Paranoia game, however, is a different story. I got all the jokes in there (I referenced disco, Saints Row IV (Dubstep Gun), Fraggle Rock, Borderlands, The Simpsons, and the Matrix), but the game was so deficiently lethal, it played more like a wacky Gamma World game than a Paranoia game. There were 2-3 deaths at most out of the 6 characters in play, far from the 400%+ death rate I should’ve had. I just didn’t have the right mix of pre-gens and Secret Society missions. I think if I add two more encounters and change up the pre-gens to all be Red clearance (I had a mix this time just to change things up) and re-write all the Secret Society missions to focus more on interparty conflict, I can get it to the right length. The ending though…I like the ending. As a response to criticism I received last year (about always ending with a button press nuclear explosions), I changed it so the button press either reboots the sector or [SPOILERS] ends the Simulation, ala The Matrix. The criticism was about the button press, not the nuclear explosion, so I misinterpreted that, but I really like the idea of Paranoia taking place in a simulation run by our Insect Overlords to keep humans occupied before they toil in the underground sugar caves (there’s your Simpsons reference…from the 90s). Oh well, they can’t all be home runs, and since both groups chose to End the Simulation, I have a perfect excuse to not run Paranoia next year since there are so many other games I want to play and run. I’m considering running all my games in costume next year, and I’ll have to fit the games to the costume so that would mean I need to run Star Trek, Fallout, and a western. I have a year to work on that.
Thanks to Luke Gygax, Dale Leonard, Gene Drebenstedt and the rest of the Gary Con staff for a great convention! I’m looking forward to next year!