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    Entries in Gen Con (5)


    Soylent Green, and Gaming, Is People: Final Thoughts From Gen Con


    Is your Basic D&D set worth millions?The booths have been dismantled, the games put away, the green goblin face paint washed off, and the last of the trolls, pirates and grognards have been swept from the halls of the Indiana Convention Center.

    Gen Con may be over, but the ongoing campaign is not.

    While of course the main reason gamers flock to Gen Con is to demo new product releases – and for sure, there were oodles of new merch on the convention floor, from Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars card miniature games to Wizards of the Coast D&D Neverwinter campaign setting – what I noticed, above all, was the spirit of gaming.

    There's an ad in the Indianapolis Airpoirt about "gaming," but that ad means casino gambling: poker, blackjack, slots. What I mean, and what Gen Con ultimately aims to promote, is true gaming. Play that's not about beating the system or bilking other players of their riches, but sharing the experience of adventure and fun.

    Gaming is people. (Soylent Green is also people, but that's another story.)

    Reflecting back on my four days at Gen Con Indy, here are some final words about the power of table-top and role-playing games.

    trans.gifAll weekend long, I wandered the vendor floor, the hallways and game rooms, but I kept returning to the Gen Con auction. Here, folks unload old games of all types, from D&D products to an old copy of Tunnels and Trolls to a forgotten board game like Dark Tower or Pac-Man. On Friday night, the best of the best collector items were bid on and bought. I watched Kask and fellow TSR veteran game designer Frank Mentzer (founder of the Role-Playing Games Association), both serving as auctioneers, scrutinize an old D&D Basic set, trying to ascertain whether it was a first or third printing and whether the shrink wrap and Toys “R” Us sticker were authentic. I was fascinated by the love and passion these games attract, as well as the desire to get the details right. And the humor: After the winning bid on that Basic set, the auctioneers tore open the shrink wrap to see what was inside. (Sorry, winner, it was nothing special.) The desire to know the "guts" trumped any persnickety OCDism to keep the package intact for posterity's sake.

    Thankfully, more than just old timers are keeping the old RPGs alive. Publishing collectives like The Old School Renaissance Group and voices like the Blog of Holding are intent on honoring the groundbreaking heritage of D&D. A downloadable gaming product called Old School Hack is doing its best to introduce a streamlined, D&D-like RPG experience to a new generation of players. “A hack of a hack of the original Red Box version of a certain popular hack-and-slash fantasy game,” is what the folks say about their wee little product. Old School Hack also won the best free product “gold” award at Gen Con’s ENnies, the game industry’s version of the Oscars/Emmys. I applaud Kirin Robinson, the man behind OSH, who humbly notes, “I’m certainly not any sort of professional game designer, just another hobbyist looking to put together a fun game.” Here are all ENnie winners.

    [Side note: In a funny, tongue-in-cheeky move, at the ENnie awards ceremony, every time Wizards of the Coast won a silver or gold, the “Imperial Death March” theme from the Empire Strikes Back would sound. Hanging out at their spectacular, ruined castle booth a lot this weekend, I know Wizards has a sense of humor.]

    Moosetache Games: Teaching that not all kids games involve a video monitor and controllerSeriously, evil empire jokes and fancy booth bling aside, Gen Con also reminded me of about the enthusiasm of the hundreds of indie gamer designers who exhibit their dreams here. Their only hope? To get a few dozens players excited about their new adventure. Tiny companies, like Moosetache Games, who debuted their new card game Hike, a family card game that encourages cognitive learning and teaches children about nature, took the time to teach anyone who wanted to learn. After all, the best way to try a new game is to play it. And no better way than from the folks who make it.

    I also hung out with the folks behind an exciting new project, Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary, who (like me) aim to tell the whole story of how a simple yet innovative, fantasy role-playing game changed the course of millions of lives, and the history of our culture. And how D&D is still inspiring people to be creative writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers .

    And I spoke to Gail Gygax, wife of the late Gary Gygax, and their son Luke Gygax, who are intent on making sure that the legacy of Gary and his contributions to the game are remembered. They both gave a moving tribute to Gary at the ENnie awards. And their Gygax Memorial Fund is still soliciting donations. You can even record your own video testimonial for the website.

    Which brings me back to my over-aching feeling upon departing Gen Con: that table-top, roleplaying gaming is really about people. Gaming brings folks together around a table to banter and bargain and be boisterous. To share a playful experience outside of work, responsibilities, outside of the boxes we have drawn around ourselves. Adults need as much free, unstructured down time as kids. Let’s not forget that. We need to goof off, too.

    And as cool as richly-imagined digital worlds can be, in game playing, it's the quality and passion of the company around the living room table that count, not the impressive gadgets and graphics. This is a lesson we especially should teach kids, who need to understand that not all games need involve a video monitor and a digital graphics. The power of the raw imagination needs to be preserved.

    Hope to see you at next year’s Gen Con (or any of the hundreds of smaller game cons that have sprung up, including Gary Con IV in March, 2012, where you can game with many gaming legends).

    Now, go play a game. Have fun.


    6 Things I’m Looking Forward to at Gen Con


    Ax me if I'm a geek. See you at Gen Con.I’m headed to Gen Con, the granddaddy of all gaming conventions. The big d20 throwdown runs Thurs-Sun, August 4-7 in Indianapolis, Indiana. And I’m pretty excited to go (it’ll be my second time). Here are some of the highlights I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing:

    1) The annual Gen Con Auction, what the organizers say might be “possibly the longest running yearly auction in gaming history!” (their exclamation mark). In particular, I’m stoked about the Collectables Auction (Friday at 7:30 pm) where celebs from the old D&D TSR days — Tom Wham, Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, and the like — are rumored to appear to run the show.

    Perhaps you are in the market for an old Chainmail rule book, a first-printing Monster Manual or D&D Basic Set, or the rarest of the rare, an Original D&D “woodgrain box” set. Going, going, gone. Details here.

    2) The Kickstarter for Adventurer Conqueror King. Game publisher Autarch is renting a penthouse suite in one of the convention hotels to run a continuous mini-campaign of Adventurer Conqueror King, what looks to be a cool new game system/complete tabletop RPG that supports all the goals those whinny characters in your campaigns have set for themselves. Autarch says ACK lets players build strongholds, lead armies, scour the wilderness, start a thieves’ guild, even name a spell after themselves. Seats at this demo are mostly for backers of the company’s Kickstarter crowd-funding effort, but they’d love to have you stop by and check it out; if a spot opens up you’re welcome to jump in. Stop by the Old School Resource Group, booth #1541, for more info on where to find the location.

    3) The Gygax Memorial Fund, an effort to build a memorial to D&D co-founder Gary Gygax, is raising money, via a few ways: A) debuting a new book, Cheers Gary, a collection of Gygax’s answers to fan questions; widow Gail Gygax and editor Paul Hughes will be at their booth signing copies; B) other merch(bribes?) for donors to the fund include an original D&D monster infographic poster; a Gygax Memorial T-shirt, a Tower of Gygax” T-shirt, and a signed copy of Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks (by yours truly). Come and stop by the Old School Resource Group, booth #1541, or see the Gygax Memorial Fund for more info.

    4) As always, Wizards of the Coast, the makers of D&D, occupy serious acreage on the exhibitor floor. According to my sources, WOTC  will unveil an “extensive suite of products and in-store play offerings around the legendary city of Neverwinter.” These are to include a comic mini-series, a board game, organized play sessions, and a new novel from New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore. The setup alone for their booth is super-cool and castle-like. You can’t miss it. More deets.

    5) If you’re a fan of Ed Greenwood (the dude who brought us  the Forgotten Realms campaign setting and many of its best-known characters, including Elminster, Larloch, Manshoon, and Szass Tam) will once again be leading his “Spin a Yarn with Ed Greenwood” seminar (officially, SEM1127817, Friday, 2:00 PM, Marriott Indiana Ballroom G), which promises “a rollicking group storytelling experience that’s always memorable and highly amusing.” A chance to see a master storyteller in the flesh.

    6) The Artist Alley. I can’t help it. I love fantasy art. Elves, caves, towers silhouetted against a moonlight night, devil-faced foes snarling as they hold battle axes dripping with slime. Here’s a chance to indulge yourself.

    Shameless self-promotion: I’ll also be signing copies of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks at the Troll Lord Games booth (#709) at Gen Con. Exact time TBA. Check here or follow me on Twitter (@ethanfreak) for updates.


    On His Birthday (Today), You Can Help the Memory of Gary Gygax Last Forever

    [Originally appeared on's GeekDad]

    Logo for the Gygax Memorial Fund. Also the Gygax family heraldry, this shield was used by the knight on the cover of the AD&D DM's Guide and was the coat of arms of the city-state Fax in the campaign setting of Greyhawk.Today (July 27) is the birthday of Gary Gygax, who would have been 73 this year had he not passed from this earth in 2008 to dance forever on the astral plane, which (according to the DM’s Guide) is a realm of thought and memory, and also the place the gods go when they die or have been forgotten.

    Gygax, D&D’s co-founder, is gone, but certainly not forgotten. One way he’s being immortalized is in bronze and stone. Previously I wrote for GeekDad about the Gygax Memorial Fund and the increasing likelihood that a monument in his honor will be built in Gary’s hometown of Lake Geneva, WI. The city has granted parkland for the memorial, and the fund has incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

    Now the next step is to raise money, and the hope is for much of the dough to be croudfunded, with this year’s Gen Con and Gary’s birthday as the impetus.

    D&D die-hard and occasional Geek Dad contributor Tavis Allisontells me that at this year’s Gen Con (Aug. 4-7), the fundraising for the monument begins in earnest. Gen Con, you see, was Gary’s baby.

    Over at the booth for ye Old School Renaissance Group (booth #1541), a collective of publishers and fans working to carry the torch of Dungeons & Dragons the way Gygax and co-creator Dave Arneson imagined it, Mr. Allison says Gary’s widow, Gail Gygax, will be “talking about conversations she had with her husband before his death about how he wanted to be remembered, the resulting vision for the statue, and the goals of the Memorial Fund.”

    And I can’t imagine anyone who stops by to drop some spare change in the bucket will be refused.

    This illustration by Erol Otus is the cover of a new book Cheers, Gary a collection of Gary's correspondence with his fans. The image is Gary, as the wizard seen on the front of the original D&D box set.To encourage you to give, Tavis says that cool donor rewards include T-shirts with the Gygax Memorial logo, and a book calledCheers, Gary “which selects the best of his correspondence with fans at the EN World Q&A threads.” Editor Paul Hughes will be signing books, which have an Erol Otus illustration on the front cover depicting Gary as the wizard seen on the front of the original D&D box set.

    The big goal?  Raise $500,000 via Kickstarter. Allison thinks it’s doable, with your help, of course.

    “I think there is real potential for the Fund to achieve the $500K goal for this campaign through crowdfunding alone. This would be the most ambitious Kickstarter goal in history, but it’s not unprecedented and if Gary doesn’t have ten times the dedication than Robocop does I’ll eat my dice bag,” Tavis says.

    To help continue the Fund’s momentum, and in recognition of everything Gary meant to gamers everywhere, Allison asks for your assistance in getting the word out about these efforts. Even if you can’t make it to Gen Con, please pay tribute to Gary’s birthday and the role D&D played in your life by posting news to your blogs, social networks, and communities that the Gygax Memorial Fund will be at Gen Con booth number #1541, and that folks can donate in memory of Gary at Gen Con, or directly on the website,

    See you in the dungeon.


    Newsweek and Penthouse sexing up the con scene

    In an effort to reach out to the geek community, or perhaps as a nod to the fact that geeks ARE a force to be reckoned with,  both Newsweek and Penthouse magazines recently posted articles attesting to the hotness of Comic-Con and other cons. Newsweek's piece sez: "Something about open-bar events, en-masse hotel bookings and spandex costumes just encourages people to pair (or triple) off." And Penthouse journo Shari Goldhagen (in "sexy Robin" costume") wants to sex-up the con scene: "Once I get past the fact that my T&A are on display, there’s something exhilarating about being Robin. People line up to take photos with me. A pack of teenage boys hums the “dun nun ah dun nun ah” theme from the sixties TV show starring Adam West; I get three more marriage proposals than I’ve gotten in real life." 

    A bit like my fond memories of Dragon*Con from last year. Frustrating ones, as I set off in search of a lady geek. You'll have to read about it in the book ---  Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. 



    Comic-Con turns 40 years young....

    One of the heavyweights of the con scene rolls into San Diego again: Comic-Con. And it's an older granddaddy than I originally thought. The con celebrates 40 years this year. Funny-- D&D celebrates its 35th this year (not to mention 30 years since I first learned D&D, and 25 since I graduated from high school. Yikes! But that is another story...

    Comic-Con is a fanboy and fangirl paradise, with guests ranging from Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, Ray Bradbury, Seth Green, Stan Freberg, June Foray (voice of Rocky in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show), a screening of  "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog" (which I experienced at Dragon*Con last year -- very silly and fun) ... more highlights here.

    Sigh... wish I was going. But I can't. I will be headed to Gen Con in August. More on that later...


    --- Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks