Gary Con XI Day 4: The End…for now…


Well, Gary Con XI is over. This was my first Gary Con and it was a thrill! Everyone I met were nice, fun, and interesting people – it was a joy interacting with all these great people! The atmosphere at this convention was so relaxed and everyone was happy and helpful. My gaming experience, the events I attended, and the game designers and fellow gamers I met made this an unforgettable experience! 

Next year I will return for Gary Con XII. I plan to book my hotel in the next few days (when reservations open) and instead of three days off I’ll probably take four off so that I have even more time to game, relax, and soak up the experience of being in such a great place with such warm and welcoming people.

However, I will change a few things around next year. This year it was about meeting and talking with game designers, examine and pick up new gaming materials, and attending events that give me overviews of gaming, gaming companies, and the history and background to this convention. Next year it will be time to focus on gaming:

1. I plan to run a game or two of Castles & Crusades myself to get newcomers into the game, as well as give me an opportunity to game with other long-time C&C players.

2. I want to attend more games. If you’ve seen my photos over the last few days, you’ve seen how much my gaming materials have expanded, I now want to play these games! So next year I plan to get into games of Swords & Wizardry, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and any old-game or retro clone (i.e. OD&D, AD&D 1st/2nd edition, D&D Basic Holmes, B/X, BECMI, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc.).

This is just the beginning of what I hope will be an annual holiday event for me.

Vendor Room (4)Empty Chair 2

Gary Con XI Day 3: Gaming celebrities, plus more gaming materials!


Gaming Celebrities.
There has been several big names of modern gaming active at Gary Con (Wizards of the Coast is sponsoring some D&D 5E events here). I several times wandered past these folk – people like Mike Mearls (D&D 5E lead designer), Satine Phoenix (Geek & Sundry), and actor Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Death Saves), for example.

More Gaming Materials.
Yes, I got more gaming materials today. I’ve spent the last several days meeting the game designers and speaking with them. I went and spoke some more with artist Larry Elmore today and purchased one of his art prints, which he signed. Once I get it framed and mounted in my game room I’ll post a picture.

Bill Web and the good folk at Frog God Games (FGG) were once again generous with their time and their gaming products. As you can see from one of my photos, I purchased the full color, 800+ page city campaign setting ‘The Blight’, this is an expensive $120 book. However, they knew how much I had spent the previous two days, as well as my support for the 700+ page Lost Lands campaign setting with 12 poster maps in their latest kickstarter, so I received some more complimentary books and booklets. FGG put out good products and they show great support for their fans. I have a lot of respect for them.

Troll Lord Games – makers of “my game” Castles & Crusades – were also available for conversation again. I had some great conversations with Davis Chenault, designer of the World of Inzae, and Tylermo Morrison. Even though I already have nearly all their books (and I have duplicates of many of them so that both my players and myself are not going to be short of gaming material), I received a discounted copy of the Codex of Aihrde. This is a campaign setting that is very well thought out, having an extra copy for reference is most useful. This is another company that has great customer support and their people care about the gamers who use their products.

Judges Guild has produced some amazing gaming materials since the 1970’s, and when I discovered some full colour maps for their Wilderlands and City State of the Invincible Overlord settings, I had to get them.

OSRIC and Advanced Labyrinth Lord are very well done retro-clones of AD&D 1st edition and 1981 Basic D&D, respectively. These are nice, organized, versions of the classic D&D games.

I have enjoyed finding unique dice for out-of-the-ordinary situations for my C&C game. My players love the critical hit/fail dice I use from New Comet Games. I plan to start using the Dungeon Crawl Classic dice (d3-d30) for unique situations, and today I picked up four more unique dice (see photo) which I will find a use for. Rolling dice for strange situations adds a new level of uncertainty and interest for both the players and myself as GM. I can’t wait to begin using these!

Finally, I attended two events today: ‘Gary Gygax’s World Building’, which provided insights into how Gary Gygax operated and how he worked with other game designers on other gaming projects; and ‘Troll Lord Games – Selling RPG’s’, which discussed how the company that worked with Gary Gygax before he died, and which produces C&C has operated over the last 20 years. This was another great and very enjoyable day!

Gary Con book stack (3)Frog God Games booksJG mapsnew dice.jpg

Gary Con XI Day 3: Meeting game designers


Yesterday I posted about my 4+ hour, 24 person C&C game, but other great things happened as well. At Gary Con I have found a new way to deal with my disposable income…err, wait, I meant I found a new way to dispose of my income! I purchased more mind expanding game books! 

I already have had productive conversations this Con with Stephen Chenault and Jason Vey (Troll Lord Games), Joseph Bloch (Adventures Dark and Deep), Jeffrey Talanian (Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea), and Ben Barsh (Pacesetter Games), amongst others. Well, yesterday I met even more great game designers!

My morning began by walking past someone and realizing “hey, that’s Matt Finch!” So I turned around and said “you’re Matt Finch!” He laughed since he obviously knew who he was. Matt Finch (‘Uncle Matt’ on his You Tube channel) is a big part of the game design and organization of Frog God Games and the Swords & Wizardry game). It was great to be able to discuss those games and have him sign my copy of the ‘Tome of Adventure Design.’

After a long chat with Matt I had to rush to get to the ‘Growing Up Gygax’ event and listened to the Gygax family discuss their life growing up in gaming. Afterward I spoke with and had Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and Luke Gygax sign my copy of the ‘Lost City of Gaxmoor.’

I then headed to the vendor room where I ran into Casey Christofferson, who designed the ‘Haunted Highlands’ for C&C and ‘Bard’s Gate’ for Frog God Games). He has put out some quality products and as art director for Frog God Games he has noticeably raised the quality of their artwork. He signed ‘Bard’s Gate’ and ‘Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms’.

While at that the Frog God Games booth I got ‘Sword of Air’ and had Bill Web sign that as we spoke. Just like the day before, the Frog God Games folk were generous, and after purchasing Sword of Air, Bard’s Gate, and Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms, they gave me a copy of Stoneheart Valley. Some of these books are already discounted a bit for the Con, but if you purchase a good amount of books – and I sure purchased a lot! – it is nice when they throw something extra in to show their appreciation.

By the late afternoon just as I was about to head to the massive C&C game, I went to the artists room and this time spoke with Jeff Easley. Easley was responsible for some of the greatest cover art for AD&D 1st and 2nd edition. For me his cover art work really defined what AD&D looked like for 20 years. He is a quiet and shy gentlemen, but it was great to be able to tell him how much his art has meant to me over the years, and how even to this day his work inspires me and represents much of what I think a D&D world should look like. I purchased an art print from him and he was kind enough to sign it. I will post a picture once I get back home and get it framed and mounted on my game room wall.

Today’s events will be a ‘Gary Gygax World Building’ talk by those who worked with Gary Gygax, and a talk on the work of Troll Lord Games. Of course, I will be visiting the vendors again today looking to browse some more amazing products and speak with more game designers.Lost Lands supplements

Gary Con XI Day 2: Evening. Played in a 24 person game for over 4 hours!


What an evening! For over 4 hours I was part of a Castles & Crusades game made up of 24 players. Most people would scoff at such an idea – for how could you get anything done? How do you manage that many people? Well, Stephen Chenault, our GM and one of the main forces behind the C&C game succeeded. I haven’t laughed this hard with people in a long time – it was almost constant laughter and fun! A few things come to mind as to why this game was successful:

1. C&C is rules-light. There was no time-wasted squabbling over rules or counting squares of terrain for movement. Theatre of mind and good and thorough descriptions of the environment by the GM made this work.

Having broad and flexible attribute checks over specific skill checks and complicated feats also removes game progression obstacles and allows open-minded and free-flowing interpretations to take place in the moment.

Just doing one thing each round was also a key contributor to speed of combat. If you allow multiple actions/reactions each round per character, this just slows things down. I really think if you want a fast-paced game with many people you need to eliminate that stuff and keep things simple and to the point.

Keep in mind that we also rolled initiative each round, so the dynamics of combat was always up in the air and kept things fresh and exciting. Some might think that rolling initiative each round might slow down a game. It didn’t.

2. The game took place outdoors, this allowed people to really move about, trying this in a dungeon setting would not have been as easy.

3. Player management is key. While one person was rolling their die, Stephen was asking the next person what they were doing, then, once they announced what they were doing he went back to the other person and got the results of their roll(s). There was rarely a time when people weren’t doing something – the game was always moving and players were always involved.

There was also a surprising amount of interaction and role-playing. You would think 24 people would be shouting over each other, and yet there was very little of that.

Also, although some people were C&C veterans, there were plenty for whom this was their first C&C game experience and they knew nothing about the game, and yet they picked it up quickly during character creation (all 24 of us had our characters created within 15-20 minutes) and we built up an almost immediate camaraderie within the first 20 minutes of the adventure.

I have rarely gamed with a group that had this much free-flowing, comfortable, banter, and yet managed to get things done – and never with this many people. There were a lot of positive lessons to be taken away from this experience. This was a real fun game. I will be trying to get into this game again next year. Several players had been in this game from previous years and had stories to share with us, and tonight I was able to add to that story. What a great evening!Beneath the Stone Sky (3)

Gary Con XI Day 1: Afternoon. Artists, Dungeons, Conan, Northlands, Archmages…


This morning and early afternoon I’ve spent acquiring the most incredible game products and speaking with their designers!

At the Troll Lord Games booth I had a great and extended conversation with Jason Vey (game designer and blogger). I joked with Stephen Chenault – Troll Lord’s CEO – that I would like to buy some Castles & Crusades products, but that I already own them all!

Over at Frog God Games (FGG) I picked up their Northland Saga and Borderland Provinces and they were kind enough to throw in a bunch of free adventures. FGG puts out some great products and now I have some superb campaign world expansion. With the Northland Saga and extra adventures, I have over 700 pages of Nordic/Viking flavored material to work with for my game world.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is an old-school game that draws on Robert Howard (Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu) and Clark Ashton Smith. Jeffrey Talanian was kind enough to sign my copy. This is another rich resource (600+ pages) to draw on to pull rough and rugged swords, sorcery, and weird fantasy into my game.

Then there was Adventures Dark and Deep, which is envisioned as what 2nd edition AD&D would’ve been if Gary Gygax had not been forced to leave TSR. I purchased The Castle of the Mad Archmage, which is based on Castle Greyhawk. Joseph Bloch was kind enough to sign my copy. It has three booklets – the 13 levels detailed out, a book of maps for the DM, and a book of player handout illustrations – just like it was done in the old days! This should nicely round out the material I already have on Greyhawk and Castle Zagyg.

Barrowmaze Complete and The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia are adventures put together with numerous types of monsters and many types of crypts and barrows to explore. This is old school, so you jump into and explore a barrow, and if you manage to survive, you get back to a nearby town as quickly as possible with your loot and heal up to try again. Classic style game.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). I got their massive 500 page sourcebook and some of their classic dice (d3-d30). One of the many cool things about DCC is that whenever you cast a spell any number of weird things can happen as you roll a die and consult a table (each spell takes up an entire over-sized page). If I ever want a spell to go awry, this is the book to consult.

Then there are the wonderful artists I met – Darlene and Larry Elmore. Darlene is one of the truly great artists. I got a signed reproduction of a piece of art of hers that appeared in the AD&D 1st edition DMG, plus some fun cards. For Larry Elmore I got a signed copy of one of his art books. I was now so encumbered with books I couldn’t purchase anymore (indeed, as you can see from the photos, my DCC book bag handle tore off!). I may go back tomorrow to purchase a signed print of Elmore’s to put up in my new home.

I will soon head back. I am currently taking a brief rest in my Comfort Inn room which is 1.5 miles from the convention, but they offer a constant and complimentary shuttle service to and from the convention. When I return this evening, it will be to attend ‘GM Tricks of the Trade’ by Stephen Chenault of Castles & Crusades – it will be time to discuss Game Mastering techniques and tricks!

I can’t believe how much fun I am having and the great people I am meeting!spinesDCCBarrowmazeHyperboreaDarlene

Gary Con XI – Arrival.


I had a very leisurely and enjoyable 5 1/2 hour drive to Lake Geneva this afternoon and was one of the early arrivals. I picked up my badge just as registration had opened up and the line was very short.

You can see in the photos that I’ve already picked up some items to celebrate and remember this convention. I chatted for quite awhile with one of the vendors as they were setting up. They said this was the best gaming convention they attend, for the people that come here are down-to-earth, friendly, and approachable.

Speaking of which, I did approach a couple of the great AD&D and C&C game designers to sign some of my books but they were busy reconnecting with old friends and so I decided to approach them again later during the convention. It is a wonderful feeling to just casually stand next to a bunch of the Gygax family, old TSR alumni, and Troll Lords (makers of Castles & Crusades) – this is the game I grew up with and it is the game I have now returned to since after all these years it still can’t be beat.

Even though people were just arriving and setting up today, and it is cold outside (-6°C), everyone was in really good spirits. There is a real family atmosphere here at Gary Con. I am really looking forward to the next 4 days!

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