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!


  1. Excellent recounting of the days events. I am enjoying these reports. Sounds like you are having a great time. Keep up the good work.

    1. Indeed. I'm glad you're enjoying the story too.

  2. Thanks for asking Frank Mentzer about the origins of the Expert Set map, Bruce! If you ever have a chance to ask François Marcela-Froideval about it, please do.

    1. I'm in contact with François, but it's hard to get him to answer back. I suspect he's spending little or no time of Facebook. If he doesn't answer, I'll check with other friends I have in Paris who may still be in touch with him.

    2. Hear, hear! :) I hope he's open to possibly answering a few questions about the Known World map. That single page has occupied a large part of my imagination for almost 30 years (!). I find it fascinating that we seem to be filling in so many of the blanks when it comes to the design of the Known World and Mystara.

    3. I couldn't agree more, Ray. :-)

    4. I just sent an e-mail to François outside Facebook. Wait and see...


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