GaryCon XVI Retrospective: Days 0-1

Since I’ve returned home to South Louisiana, I’ve had no shortage of friends asking, “Now what were you doing in Wisconsin?” So to simplify those conversations–and for other gaming enthusiasts who are interested in GaryCon–I thought it might be helpful to make a few posts recapping each day of my trip to Lake Geneva, WI to attend GaryCon.

What is GaryCon? And what is a roleplaying game?

GaryCon is an annual gathering in honor of Gary Gygax, who passed away on March 8, 2004. Gary was one of the co-authors (with Dave Arneson) of the roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons. If you don’t know what roleplaying games are, it’s a cross between collaborative storytelling and make-believe. Ordinarily 4 or more players sit at a table together, each pretending to fill the role of a character and facing challenges and puzzles together. Often, it’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy game. Sometimes it isn’t. Regardless, Gary Gygax is the most widely recognized progenitor of this type of game.

Since Gary’s passing, his family has held this memorial convention in his hometown (Lake Geneva, WI) each year. And what happens? Gamers from the world over gather and play games in Gary’s honor. Roleplaying games are the most played. But there are also board games, wargames, card games, and even live-action roleplaying (LARP). I grew up playing board games, even into college and seminary. But I never experienced roleplaying games until I moved in Louisiana in 2011. Since then, roleplaying games have become a constant hobby of mine, playing in person in St. Tammany and online with friends and family.

Day 0: The Journey Begins

The trip to Lake Geneva was smooth. A quick drive to New Orleans and two Southwest flights later, we were in Wisconsin! Thomas and I actually got in a quick roleplaying game on the flight! It’s called Reflections. It’s a rules-light, two-player game, in which each player plays the role of a samurai. At one time, you were friends and comrades, but no longer. Through the game, you unfold the story of how that relationship fell apart and led to outright enmity. By the end, a duel occurs and one–or both–samurai perish. Turns out, Thomas took me down. But I can assure you that he got maimed in the process! My samurai’s life ended right around the time we landed in Wisconsin. My traveling mate and I had to make a pitstop at the Milwaukee Brat House to enjoy some sausages and cheese curds before trekking out to Lake Geneva by rental car.

Once in Lake Geneva, we met up with two guys from my weekly D&D group with whom we shared an AirBnB. Upon realizing that the early badge pickup line was insanely long at the convention, we settled for Chicago-style pizza at Gino’s East, followed by some board gaming back at the AirBnB.

The dice were warmed up. Some skeletons and cultists had been defeated. A samurai’s honor had been maintained. It was time to sleep, so that we could continue the battle in Day One of GaryCon.

Day 1: An Apocalypse, Eight Apes, and a friendly Giant

We had to get to the convention early to get our badges, because our first game was at 8am!

Game #1: Discordia with Skip Williams: Discordia is a game being playtested that is intended primarily for high school children in English-speaking Europe. Skip Williams is leading the design team. If you don’t know who Skip is, he’s a legend in the roleplaying world. In high school, he worked for the publishing company that released Dungeons & Dragons (TSR). After college, he returned and worked full-time, becoming a very well-respected game designer perhaps best known for his work on the 3rd Edition of D&D.

Discordia is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. So swords-and-sorcery with bizarre, apocalyptic sorts of things happening. It was quite a lot of fun! Since it was a playtest, we got to discuss different rules ideas that were being considered, even offering our own suggestions. One thing that set Discordia apart is its regular use of a ten-sided die (or d10). Most modern RPGs use d20s, so it was cool to see a different approach. Skip’s style of running the game was classic old-school Dungeon Mastering. He kept us on the edge of our seat, as we tracked a wagon full of bandits to a fortress high atop a ridge in the dangerous, zombie-infested wilderness of Discordia.

The group was surprisingly small, but that’s to be expected for an early game on the first day. It was just our crew of four and an additional player, who fit in quite well with the crew. We were off to a rousing start! We had a one hour break and then on to one of our most anticipated events:

Game #2: Castles & Crusades Tournament, Round 1: Castles & Crusades is a game very similar to Dungeons & Dragons. Heroes are fighting off goblins, orcs, bad guys, etc. Many of the game mechanics are very similar. This was actually my first time to play C&C, but here’s my personal takeaway. C&C seems like a simplified and easier-to-play version of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our Game Master told us that, in his opinion, the biggest benefits of C&C are the simplicity of planning for sessions. All in all, it felt like a swift, enjoyable D&D game, which I’m always down for.

But, wait! A tournament? How does collaborative storytelling become competitive? Good question.

Each team of 6+ players faces off against the exact same dungeon and bad guys as the other groups. The goal is to get through the adventure as quickly as possible, while not getting killed and getting plenty of loot along the way. Functionally, you’re trying to complete the storyline faster and better than the other guys. We had a great team that we got paired with! So great, in fact, that we made it to the Finals on Thursday!

We had a solid team synergy and really enjoyed playing with Jeremy, who happened to be the author of the adventure we played. Long story short, session one was a jungle adventure, in which we were trying to recover some children kidnapped from a village. The more memorable moments involved a ruthless battle with 8 large apes, which really tore up our Human Ranger, as well as a (successful!) social encounter with a hill giant. According to our Game Master, we’re the only people he’d ever seen successfully befriend the giant. All in all, our strategy seemed to work well.

Day’s End: By the end of the C&C tournament, I was feeling pretty zapped. So, we headed back to the AirBnB to continue our game from the night before. It was a great first day at GaryCon. But reports came in that snow was on the way…

Disclosure of Material Connection: some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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