GaryCon VIII: An Adventure

March 15, 2016 Author: Jon Johnson (Sir)

It has been one week since my annual return from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, widely regarded as the place Role Playing Games were conceived. I have made the trek for the past seven years to participate in GaryCon, a small- to mid-sized congregation of game players celebrating the life of Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons. Gary passed away March 4th, 2008, with his ceremony followed up by the best way to remember the man – impromptu game playing. It was decided shortly thereafter that this could and should be a yearly event, thus GaryCon was born.

GaryCon VIII was held March 3rd through the 6th at a new facility, the Grand Geneva Resort. Having been located for six contiguous years at another Resort that has had as many names as Hank Pym (Google is your friend, readers) and having outpaced their size, a move was bound to happen. The Grand Geneva is the current name of Lake Geneva’s former Playboy Club, that of the creation of Hugh Hefner and the small chain of infamous clubs he ran alongside the magazine. This particular resort is not unknown to gaming conventions, as GenCon X was held there o so many years ago, to much more amusement then as now. “New” should have been the title of GC VIII, as more than just the location was new. Many staff members were new, many game scenarios beyond the ‘old school renaissance’ were added to bolster new attendees, new guests were added and a new web-based registration system replaced the old one. Expectation was high for GC VIII, with results defying the odds.

Disregarding the now legendary registration snafus that have plagued GaryCon for a few years, culminating in the worst high-speed train wreck of computer glitches and programming for this event, GaryCon VIII pretty much flew straight and true, like a well-thrown paper airplane. The staff of the Grand Geneva was the most courteous and genial you might imagine, to the point I was requesting they stop calling me “Mister Johnson”. While I had a few technical problems when checking in, everything was handled with ease and courtesy. The only drawback – the site was massive. We had rooms in building #1, a long, uneven walk to the main structure where the con was being held. For someone like me who was running a multitude of games, I got a lot of exercise going back and forth between the room and the tables I was stationed at.

The overall layout of the con was chaotic, as a few other events were being held at the resort at the same time. Maps were available to everyone, but they did tend to be a little confusing. Noise levels during game sessions could be a little loud, particularly on Saturday, traditionally the largest attended day of conventions, but as a game master, it is expected. Chalk every small bit of discomfort up to growing pains at a new locale, all of which were mostly overcome by the final day of the con. For GaryCon IX, I have little doubt that difficulties discovered this year will be smoothed out by then.

I ran six four hour games at the con and played in one ten hour game. For the past four years I have played in fewer and fewer events due to an ever increasing total of games I’ve run, with this year capping out at the fewest I’ve registered for largely due to the multitude of problems during pre-reg. Three of the games I ran were the annual GaryCon Open Tournament adventure, of which I was recruited to assist with at GaryCon V. The Tournament adventure is a throwback to early GenCon’s and the famous D&D (and AD&D) modules that were mass-produced to a hungry audience in the late ‘70s. Tournaments were meant to be short, timed and scored events for a team of players to play, competing against other teams going through the same adventure. For GaryCon, there are two rounds to the tournament, with a number of first round teams competing to become the final two teams battling it out for the top spot. For the past two years the winning teams were razors edge close, with the judges having to make difficult decisions in picking a winner. It’s a fun event centered on an all-new, original adventure that is made available for sale during the convention and many players return every year to get involved.
mar15-1My other three games were of my own device, using pre-created rules. I’ve been working on a series of adventures using a variant on AD&D First Edition rules with only thieves as playable character classes. GaryCon VIII was the third time I ran this, with the game scenario surrounding a group of river pirates. As a thieves-only adventure, there are some limitations as to structure, but every game has been a learning experience for me as GM. I didn’t have a full table of five players this year, but we played well with four after recruiting a player walking by. Another game I run every year is an ongoing Cyberpunk 2020 adventure that I started at GaryCon II. With the exception of one year, it’s been a sellout, though I easily add players at the time of the event. I run it as a series of interconnected adventures, usually set a year apart. Last year I miscalculated the time needed for the scenario and we chose to end it halfway through, with me promising to pick it up shortly thereafter for this year. To my surprise, I had the highest returning number of players registered with 6 out of 8. The game ran the extreme length of the four hours with none of my hoped for mass destruction occurring from my part. 2017 will change that!

The third of the three games I’d created for the convention was an experiment in futility. I designed a simple assault adventure utilizing characters from the mostly-forgotten television show Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, with a lite-Cyberpunk set of rules. To fill seats we recruited players for a full table of six and it was all downhill from there. While most of the players seemed to enjoy themselves, I felt it was lacking and needed much more. I’ll continue to experiment and see if it’s worth picking up again.

The lone game I played was on Sunday, the final day of the convention. Sunday has become, at least in recent years, the only “free” day I have, as I rarely choose Sundays to run a game. For the past two years I’ve gotten involved in a latter-afternoon to late night game of the original Civilization board game, which takes a good, long time to complete, if you’re capable. This year there was a brief change in the event, with Peter Adkison running the newest version of Civilization, “Mega-Civilization”. Mega-Civ is a much larger board, allowing up to 18 players. While we didn’t have 18, we did have a full table of seven, easily reaching the older game’s capacity of players. I got stuck with Assyria, jammed between two other starting civilizations and coming to conflict fairly quickly. The game was held in what the convention was calling the “Chaldea Room”, the former ‘Hugh Hefner Suite’. A number of events were held in this apartment sized suite and we players were provided with food and drink – not a bad afternoon of gaming! For those that have never played the old Civ game, this new, “Mega” version, while not easily available, is a beautiful recreation of the earlier version, with many new cards giving added nuance to game play. For lovers of the old game reluctant to give it a try, very little has changed, though it does take some time to get used to calling Crete “the Minoans”. I loved it and plan to play again next year.

GaryCon is an exceptional convention held in an exceptional town. Lake Geneva, even in March, is a lovely area with a great little downtown. Though I barely left the Grand Geneva Resort site during the con this year, I do intend on rectifying that for GC IX. Those never having been before, I can recommend any number of places to visit to break the standard eating fare of the resort. The New Glarus Spotted Cow was flowing heavily, as per usual, with some of the resort staff somewhat surprised at the heights of gamer imbibing. Official GaryCon cups were once again available for discounted beverages, including Spotted Cow – a convention necessity at this point. Table-side service for food and drink was available to all during the show, a great service for those doing epic hours of games. DM and GMs are supplied with drinks and snacks by the convention staff and I was kept quite hydrated by them over the three days I ran games.

Con staff was easily found at their appropriated HQ, where they sold convention merchandise and handled disputes, answered questions or generally kept the peace. Merchandise was at an all-time high, with everything from GaryCon dice to hoodies to the first Aloha shirt being sold. With Gary Gygax being an aficionado of loud, “Hawaiian” shirts, it’s become regular wear at GaryCon. Last year a photo was taken of wearers of loud shirts massed together, which continued this year. I was unable to participate due to delays and a game I was running but I hear it was an amusing photo session.

GaryCon is more than just the games that are played. It’s a gathering of fun, similar-minded people remembering the life of the man that connected them all in the first place. It’s a gathering of his friends, his family and a place to keep his love of games alive where many of those games were conceived. GaryCon is the most social, entertaining, amusing, life-changing, friendship creating, inspiring, laugh-inducing time, which I heartily recommend to all lovers of games, particularly those that defined what RPGs are. GaryCon is a celebration of Gary Gygax, “A life well played”.

GaryCon IX will be held at the Grand Geneva Resort on March 23rd to 26th of 2017. Watch the website for announcements, information and eventually a merchandise store. Or join the discussion forums to learn even more.

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