Monday, March 26, 2012

On and Off at Gary Con IV -- Part Four

Day Four—Sunday morning, the 25th

Tom Wham & Dave Conant
Tom Wham
It's another gorgeous Spring day. After a cup of java, and phone calls back home to my son and my mother, Janet and I are off again to the convention. Tom and Dave are already getting prepared for another game in the hotel's lobby. 

Drive Safely!
Nearby, a fellow conventioneer is preparing to leave. He had a really good time. He tells me this is the best of small conventions—where else would you able able to meet TSR staffers so easily? It's so much more personal; it feels family-like. I agree wholeheartedly. He'll be back with his wife next year and will take extra time to visit the area. The idea crosses my mind that Gary Con should organize for its fans a visit of TSR's old headquarters on Sheridan Springs Road. On a Sunday afternoon, it ought to work.

Fresh from the dungeon
Janet and I head downstairs to the dealer's room. I get another thank you from Jeff Easley for last night. He's had a good convention. His business here is better than at Gen Con. That's amazing but I can understand why. In the process I end up with one of his prints—the one depicting the painting used for Wrath of the Immortals. Kindly, he signs and numbers it. I'm ecstatic.

Labor of love.
The young & hopeful
We walk over to Diesel's table. I get a small pendant with the Leo zodiac symbol for my son's birthday this summer. Janet begins a conversation with Diesel about artwork, our web page and his. I turn and gaze at the folks across the aisle who are painting miniatures. I play with the camera and get a few more shots. Next to their table stand a series of illustrations. I recognize one from Diesel's own hand, the lizardman from the first edition Monster Manual, I think. Neat. Snap!
Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't.
Bobby & Chris
Onward for a last look at the convention site. On the way out we meet two of my gaming buddies, Bobby and Chris. Bobby is all excited because he just realized his previous boss, Harold Johnson, had a long history with gaming and TSR specifically. 

We tell him more about Harold's involvement with Gen Con and his theatrical performances. Harold was in one of the early reader's theater productions of the Weis and Hickman Traveling Road Show that helped market the Dragonlance books.

James Ward once again at work
Our last stop is in the gaming room in the back. Jim Ward is there, running another game. Frank's at the next table. Luke Gygax gets up and greets me. He apologizes for not being able to introduce me to his wife. She had to leave for a family event. Next time, for sure. I let him know about the possibility of organizing a tour of old TSR for the fans. He smiles and says it's perfectly doable. We shake hands one more time. Good luck then! Yeah, okay. See you next year.

Not to be outbid, Frank Mentzer

That's it for us. Janet and I head outside. It's the end of this little adventure. We'll be back next year. Now, I get to go home and finish putting down all my thoughts in writing. Hope you enjoy them.

Photos can be downloaded from:

or viewed on Facebook in the:
Gary Con IV Album


In Memoriam

Dave Arneson
Bob Choby
Michael Cook
Penny Eifert
E. Gary Gygax
Don Kaye
Keith Parkinson
David Ritchie
Jim Roslof
Don Snow
Dave Sutherland
Don Turnbull
Janis Wells
Jean Wells

On and Off at Gary Con IV -- Part Three

Day Three—Saturday evening, the 24th

Much of the day is spent writing and cleaning pictures. Saturday's big event for Janet and me is the TSR Dinner. Margaret Weis and I put together this event, hoping to bring together more than fifty former TSR employees, many of whom who haven't seen each other for nearly two decades. Tension mounts all day. I'm not entirely certain how well this will go.

At last, Janet and I get in the car. It's late in the afternoon. Her badge is ready at the registration desk, and Jeff Hammerlund kindly makes TSR pins available. Nice touch. I give Janet a quick tour. Hallways and game rooms are packed. People are lining up to bid for the silent auction. I wish that I had more time. The dealer's room is already closed, of course. We'll come back tomorrow just for that.
The Auction

F. Mentzer, Auction Meister
We head off to the auction. It is for the benefit of Jim Ward who's run into medical troubles since last year. We're glad he's still among us. The auction is going well thanks to efforts of many. Live long, old friend. Janet and I head off to the bar and immediately connect with old friends and acquaintances already there. It isn't long before everyone shows up and fills the area.

J. Ward, Mrs. Gygax, Heidi Gygax, & Luke Gygax

The maître d’hôtel comes by, waving menus. “Order now if you want your dinner served on time!” It will be a bit of a logistical headache for the kitchen to get fifty or so individual orders ready for us when we all migrate to the dining room. I mentally cross my fingers. Use the Force, Bruce... Use the Force! Janet and I dutifully fill out ours, but by the time we look up, the busy fellow's waltzed out of the room already. Yeah, okay. Nothing a quick manhunt can't solve. Now back at the bar, I pick up a glass of Chard and a copious serving of the local Spotted Cow brew, which I never got around to finish. Too much running around, recognizing familiar faces, and chit-chatting for that. Things are looking good.

Allen Hammack & Diesel
Dale Donovan and his daughter scamper off. The little's one getting bored. It's time for her dad to entertain her. Janet and I grab their seats and join Cindy Donovan (Cindy Rick). They moved back from the Seattle area. Cindy tells us about the challenge of moving yet again and recovering piles of nearly forgotten boxes still in storage. Shudder. Jim Lowder joins us. So does Penny Williams (Penny Petticord). Skip had to go back home and will miss the party. He and Penny live three hours away, and the only one available to feed the pets is (drum roll, please) a gamer who is attending Gary Con as well.

Jonathan Coke & Sue Weinlein
I made it halfway though my beer when Sue Weinlein joins us. She too has returned from the West Coast. The circle grows in more ways than one. Anne and Ben McCready (Anne Gray) make their entrance. I haven't seen them for ages! Forget the beer. I rush off to greet them. What a blast! We talk about each other's kids and discover all the news, the old and not-so-old ones. By the time I look around, the bar is nearly full. Dan the Bard is in a corner, singing his heart out.

Greetings from all of us!
Gary Con's photographer herds everyone toward the back for a group shot. After a dozen and three-quarters takes, we're done! We got the sillies something fierce. Soon, an unspoken word magically signals everyone to head for the dining room.

Patty Martin & Doug Blume
It is packed. I think almost everyone showed up. A few came for cocktails, and had to leave to handle other obligations. I'm really glad they showed up anyway. Other guests who were at TSR well before my time are present too. How cool. I'll have to find out who they are. The waiters show up and service begins. It's all working out very well. There isn't much of a wait and if there is one, in such great company, I don't notice it. I'm just too excited.

Debbie Conrad & James Ward

Janet's on my left, Doug Niles on my right and, one seat farther, Margaret Weis. Liz Baldwin, Mike Car, Sully, Doug Blume, and Jim Ward are across from me. Kifflie Scott, Debbie Conrad (Debbie Poutsch) and her husband sit near Janet, and Jean Black heads the table.

Liz Baldwin & Jean Blashfield Black
I lean over to Jim and ask him if he knows anything about Dave Arneson's old campaign notes. “I'm sure Arneson recovered them after David Ritchie finished working on the modules. Why do you ask?” I tell him of fans in Norway who really would like to access them. Jim makes a slight grimace. “They were hand-written notes and mostly unreadable. Certainly nothing in publishable form.” That's too bad.

Margaret Weis & Doug Niles
Mike Carr leans toward me and points at the gentleman sitting at the next table, the guy with the straw hat. Yeah, okay. It's one of the mysterious guests. Who's that, I ask. “It's David Megarry. If you have questions about Blackmoor, talk to him. He was a personal friend and gaming buddy of Dave Arneson.” Yeah, okay. Duly noted. Thanks, Mike. I'll have to connect him with the folks in Norway. I finish off my appetizers, grab my camera, and start making the rounds.

Janet Deaver-Pack & Mr. Conrad
There's hardly enough room between the tables for my tripod. Some guests are so busy chatting they don't notice me making faces at them. Others do and wave. Looks like they're having fun. Mission accomplished. Just before heading back to my table, Dave Wise shows up. Hallelujah! I was worried he wouldn't. Sadly, he lost someone very dear to him just recently. But he's a trooper and he made it. That's awesome. The convention's photographer catches us chatting and takes a few shots. I want them. I'll be hunting down the staff at Gary Con until I get them. 

Bill Hoyer, Allen Hammack, Jon Pickens
This episode makes me think that time doesn't stop for any of us, and that we should keep up these gatherings. Gary's gone and so is Dave Arneson. There are a number of others, some I knew well, who also passed away. I stumbled on this while looking for past TSR folks. At times, it led to rather embarrassing and saddening phone conversations. Yeah, okay. None of us are eternal. And to me, TSR is and always will be family.

Harold Johnson, Tim Cahoon, Mr. & Mrs. Megarry
I tell Dave Wise to quit standing around, and shove him over to a spot with Karen Conlin (Karen Martin/Boomgaarden) and the Donovans. They're a happy bunch. Just squeeze in there, big guy. I return to my seat. Entrees are being served. Plates are hot. Food's decent. Staff's friendly. Doug Niles has to ask for another steak. It wasn't done right. No problem, a waiter comes back with another plate. 

Tracey Isler , Charles Kohl, Barb Nish
I watch quietly. It's all working out smoothly. I make a mental note to send a thank you card to the staff. Dinner winds down and people begin switching seats to connect with someone they missed. The conversations linger. Many aren't in a hurry to leave. Terrific. We all sign the poster by the entrance. I get a lot of pats on the back. “Hey Bruce. Thanks! We've got to do this again next year. Keep me on the list.”

You bet!


Our Illustrious Guests
their spouses & children

Lisa and David LaForce
Andrew Conn, Ken Whitman, Lester Smith
Elizabeth Baldwin

Jean Blashfield Black

Douglas Blume

Tim Cahoon

Jonathan Coke

Dave Conant

Karen Conlin

Debbie Conrad (Poutsch)
Peggy Cooper

Cindy Donovan

Dale Donovan

Jeff Easley

Allen Hammack

Bruce Heard
Mr. & Mrs Martin, Jeanine Mielicki

Kris Holder  

Bill Hoyer

Tracey Isler (Zamagne)

Harold Johnson

Charles Kohl

Diesel, Jeff Easley, Mr. & Mrs. Isler
David "Diesel" LaForce

Lisa LaForce (De Leon)

James Lowder

Kathy Lynch

Patty Martin 
The Donovan Family & Karen Conlin

Anne McCready

David Megarry

Frank Mentzer

Jeanine Mielecki

Lori Nevin (Cooper)
Marlene Vail

Douglas Niles

Barb Nish

Jon Pickens

Lester Smith

Stephen Sullivan

Marlene Vail

Charles Kohl, Barb Nish, Kevin Vail

James Ward

Sue Weinlein

Margaret Weis

Tom Wham

Dave Conant

 Ken Whitman

Penny Williams

Janet Winters

and last, but not least, my good friend

David Wise

Doug Blume & Steve Sullivan

If I missed anyone or got any names wrong, please do let me know.  I suspect I may have.  I'll make changes asap.  My apologies to Janet Winters, Lori Nevin, and Peggy Cooper whose table I missed.
Mea culpa!  
Janet Deaver-Pack, Kifflie Scott, Mr. Conrad

I'll endeavor to post pictures taken by Gary Con's photographer, and the "group shot" as soon as I can get my hands on them.  All my pictures will be available on Facebook and on Media Fire for our non-Facebook friends.

I bid you all a good night,

Now breathing with relief!
with a few words from our friend Dan the Bard

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On and Off at Gary Con IV -- Part Two

Day Two—Friday 23rd

It's a foggy day. Aeolus must have heard me yesterday and now looks down at Gary-Land, cool and gloomy. Good gaming weather though. Patches of fog cling lazily to the slopes around Lake Como and their blanket of century-old oaks. I pull into the parking lot under a persistent drizzle. It's almost full. I love it. I hate it. No, wait! Someone's pulling out. Bless your gamer's heart.

Camera dangling from my wrist, tripod under my arm, tote bag slung over my shoulder, I head down to the registration area. Convention-muse-alert! Hang on, there, babe—gotta have a picture. . . or two. By the way, what's your name, O Gracious One? Candy. . . That's Candi-with-an-"i". Yeah, okay. Eye-Candi, I get it. Along comes Luke Gygax. A picture too? You bet. Everyone's so nice. Nobody walks before the objective and waits, patiently. Too cool. I head off in a random direction. Dang, I forgot a close-up of the charming djinni's tat on her lower back. Then again, that would have been awkward.

Los Señores Conant, Mentzer, y Wham
On my way to the dealers' room I spot the Three Caballeros. Hola!  No sombreros today? Never mind. Hasta la vista, amigos!

Jeff Easley
Jeff Easley sits nearby, kind and relaxed as always. A collection of prints lie before him. I recognize the art from Wrath of the Immortals. I take a picture, not realizing there's a nasty glare that will cause me to discard that shot. Rats! That's a do-over. Jeff seems happy. He's got work keeping him busy and out of trouble. Good thing. I'd hate to think of Jeff mugging anyone in a dark Lake Geneva alley. “Gimme the cash or I'll clobber you with my brush!” Right. Can't have enough of Easley's real handiwork. The world is better for it.

Diesel's new passion
Right behind him sits Diesel. I drift over to his table. He's really glad he was able to switch from his work as an illustrator to sculpting. Business seems good. Diesel really enjoys his new art, and it shows. I like the censer, the round vessel on the right. Actually, all the pieces are very attractive. The detail is exquisite.

Frank Mentzer swings by and we chat about old times, Gary, and D&D mostly. I ask him about the origins of the Know World maps in the Expert Set. After a moment of hesitation he answers that part of it came from Tom Moldvay's campaign, but mostly, “if I recall correctly—it's been a while since,” François Marcela-Froideval had actually designed most of this map. I'm stunned. I had no idea that François (a Parisian friend of mine) had anything to do with the old Expert Set. That's one thing about Gary Con that makes it truly memorable. There are a lot of former TSR folks here, each with treasures of information of old times and stories mostly untold.

Frank is pulled away into another conversation, and Luke Gygax shows up. Naturally, we talk business. I congratulate him for this year's turnout. The convention is looking good. “But, if I may ask, aren't we getting close to capacity?” Well, yeah. It's getting there. We both nod. We both like The Lodge. Given the choice, we'd rather stick around. It's a nice place, and the staff bends over backward to help. This is good business for them. “What are the options? Grand Geneva?” (Nah. Too expensive.) “Milwaukee, then?” More than likely. The price is right, and the Hyatt is really interested. I can deal with that. I like the Hyatt too, not because of the hotel's cavernous architecture but because it's where we stayed while running Gen Con. Mecca was torn down in the late '90's to make way for the present convention center, and along with it went many a tale of conventions past. A twinge of sadness briefly stings my heart. Yeah, the Hyatt would be really cool.

Hackmaster, anyone?
“By the way, you're French-Canadian, right?” Am not. I was born and raised in France, on the Mediterranean Coast. Sure, you can hear a bit of an accent now and then. Not everyone does, though. “By the way,” Luke says, “my wife complains she's forgetting her French. She doesn't have many opportunities to practice. She's from Morocco. I bet she'd love having a chat with you.” Of course, almost everyone in the former French protectorate can work out at least some parlez-vous français? 

Ken Whitman was there too!
That's funny, I lived a couple of years in Morocco when I was a kid, in a small town called Kenitra. Back in the sixties, it was still known as Port Lyautey. “Really?” Luke answers. He whips out his cell phone, calls his wife, and finds out she's from a town not that far away. Small world. I really liked Morocco. I remember fondly from my childhood the sand dunes along the beach, hot enough to burn my bare feet, and the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean swelling beyond. My sister and I used to throw beach towels ahead of us, hopping our way to the shore's edge. There also were magnificent oak forests, their welcoming cool shade in the summer, and barbecue parties we had there. Guests were an odd mix of people, French expats connected with my mother, and a few U.S. Navy folks from the base at Sidi-Yaya where my father was posted. Small world indeed.

Ken Whitman shows up and the conversation switches. At one point he and Luke are standing next to each other, trying to see who is the tallest. They turn to me. “Okay, Ken, you win, but just by a hair!”

Time to continue my tour. Dungeons galore, troves of boardgames, and just a whole lot of fun await at every corner. The hotel staff set a bunch of game tables in the lobby and the meeting rooms. I see Skip Williams 'way back there, keeping his players on edge as always. 

There are still some spots available here and there, but next year, it'll be full, I'm certain of it. I was told that a hundred rooms out of the hotel's hundred and seven had been booked as a result of the convention. Not bad. It'll be sold out next year if it's held at the same location.

Kifflie Scott
Steve Sullivan
Along the way I hook up with Stephen Sullivan—Sully—and his wife Kifflie Scott, both involved in a game of Divine Right. Next to them, I recognize Mike Carr refereeing a naval battle. Let me guess, the French vs. the English? Yeah, okay. John Seibel, a gaming buddy of mine, participates. We chat between maneuvers and broadsides. Who's winning? The French I think. Alright! 

Mike Carr
I mosey on to several other tables. There, a castle stands before clamoring assailants. Crank the trebuchet and unleash a charge of the wild hordes! Here, phalanxes of brooding warriors await silently, countless ranks frozen in warlike stances for the return of the gamemaster who will hurl them against each other once again. It never gets old.

  Prepare for Battle!

Dan the Bard
Going back upstairs, I snap a shot of hotel staffers at the buffet. Kindly, they cooperate. We have none of these prison-like faces at vendors in big convention centers, to whom one might feel the need to apologize before ordering. None of that here! Next to them, Dan the Bard adds his own musical touch to the event. A few among his repertoire: A Paladin in Hell, Bard Camp! The Demi-Human Driking Song, Don't mess with the Druids, Gamer's Lullaby, The Drunken Gnome Illusionist, The Fairy Princess Picklesauce, Farewell Dwarven Miner, The Owlbear Song, Shut the Hell Up and Sit Down, Zombie Apocalypse Love Story, etc. They do tell a tale.

Ernie Gygax & friend
The Bar
A clump of boisterous gamers relax at the bar. Not far from them, Ernie Gygax does the same, chatting with a friend with Lake Como's foggy landscape as backdrop. It's still pretty gray out there. I step into the open gaming room. Actually, it's the hotel's restaurant. I think it's the best spot at The Lodge. It'll be full, come Saturday.

Dawn Patrol with Mike Carr
I grab some food and head back downstairs to clinch the last ticket for a ride on the Dawn Patrol. Mike Carr is refereeing. Tomorrow, he'll be the gamemaster for Le Mans, definitely a tradition at Gary Con. But tonight, we shoot stuff down. I end up in the Allies team, with an Se5-A. Yeah, okay. What, no Spad? No Nieuport? Nevermind. I like the Se5-A just fine. I'm pleased to see Tim “Ollie” Cahoon sitting across from me. He used to be the Grand Master of TSR's mainframe computer, back in the company's heroic age. No such niceties as true word processors for the editorial staff. No siree Bob. Line editing was all the rage back then. I shudder in horror at the thought.

Ollie and I are on the same team. Al Hammack, another TSR old timer, is with the Boche—two Pfalzes and three Dr.I's on their side. Mike flies an Armstrong-Whitworth observer craft, and the rest of our team includes four or five Se5-A's. Tally ho! The fight begins. It's a furball right from the start. Sacrebleu! I've got a lousy initiative roll. Everything piles up above, below, and behind me. Yeah, okay. I can see through my rear fuselage now. Great! I veer off. This time luck's with me, and I get to move last. Perfect! I bank on a triplane's tail. Can't get a better shot. I fire my my single-deck Vickers and the wing-mounted Lewis. Take that! Drat! Its a miss. The fight goes on. Rat-tat-tat. . . Four hits here. Rat-tat-tat. . . a couple more there on the same guy. I fail to tail him and he gives me the slip. A Dr.I gets the drop on me. Seven hits! Are you kidding, me? Double-deck Spandau, my man! Yeah, okay. More holes in my canvas. No crits, nothing breaks. The engine's safe, and so is the pilot. Close call. I'm gonna get you for this! Just you wait.

My guns haven't jammed, yet. The Lewis gun is down to one shot. It'll bring me luck. I swoop underneath that devil Hun and nose up toward his belly. Two other Fokkers are buzzing furiously around me. Crunch time; we're one round from the end. Already? Oh man, that felt like just a few minutes. The Germans open up on me. Miss! And miss again! Relieved, I whistle softly: Miss me once, and miss me twice, and miss me once again. . . At last, I get to shoot. Gotcha! Four hits. Not bad. It is indeed a luck shot when the Lewis spits its last round. Smoke pours from the German's engine. Yes! Down it goes. One of my team mates has already abandoned the battle—Ollie, you wet blanket you! Two others already got shot down, and odds are looking bad. I dive and ram the throttle all the way. The Germans are headed in the wrong direction. I'm outta here! I hand my score sheet to Mike Carr. I didn't tally the highest.  Allen did, but I don't care. I sure had a lot of fun.

Game's over and I take a last look around. I find Paul Stormberg while he ends a conversation with Mary Jo Gygax, Gary's first wife. We all shake hands. I have a long chat with him after she leaves. He's with the Collector's Trove, an organization involved with auctioning off E. Gary Gygax's collection, all of 15,000 items. He tells me of the fascinating story that led him to become involved, and his concern for other aging personalities whose treasures still lay buried in their basements. His goal is to assist them or their family put these precious artifacts in the hands of people who will enjoy and preserve them. More than one is in financial distress, and an auction is one way to provide support. Yet, old manuscripts, original maps, reams of games, and a personal typewriter lay in the dark, often forgotten and at risk of being thrown away. Sad. He mentions his plan to put on the market Dave Arneson's collection. I know people are desperately looking for original Blackmoor manuscripts and maps. Paul tells me there should eventually be an online auction for Arneson's collection. He'll keep me in the loop. Thanks. I would appreciate this very much.




It's getting late now. Time to head home, upload the pictures, and begin putting fingers to keyboard to record my experiences of the day. Onward!