Crazed Gamers Celebrate 40 Years at Gen Con

The National Association of Crazed Gamers (NASCRAG) will be celebrating its 40th anniversary of tournament play at Gen Con this year. NASCRAG's success is proof that competitive Dungeons & Dragons has always been a part of the game's history.

The Gamers Get Together

NASCRAG got its start back in 1979 with the D&D Open. The Open was a three-round D&D Tournament that began in 1977 and it was hugely popular. It was so popular, in fact, that in 1979 hundreds of people lined up for the tournament only to be turned away (Gen Con did not have its ticketing system worked out at that point). Among those turned away were a group of friends that included Len Bland and James Robert. They looked at all the disappointed people and asked, “Why not run our own tournament?”

The next year they wrote a three-round tournament of their own about a time-travelling wizard and called it Fez: Valley of Trees. It was a huge success. Eventually the first six adventures were published by Mayfair Games in their Role-Aids line. NASCRAG's earliest incarnation was, fittingly, “The Fez Tournament” or “The Brotherhood of Fez”.

The emphasis on "Fez" shifted when Gen Con changed its rules about reimbursements 1982 so that individuals couldn’t get compensated for running games, but gaming groups. Bland changed the name to "NASCRAG" to ensure compensation continued, and the rest is history. There's some dispute as to exactly what NASCRAG stands for. Although it's officially it’s the “National Association of Crazed Gamers”, there's plenty of evidence that it's also the “National Society of Crazed Gamers."

Len and Carole Bland ran NASCRAG up until a few years ago when Ross Davidson and Dave Mitchard took over as event organizers. Len is currently the "Chief Lacky Emeritus" and Carole is the "Squirrel Queen" because, according to Dave, "she was in charge of all the nuts." Ross handles the technical details like working with Gen Con, filing paperwork, handling scoring, keeping the trains running on time, etc. Dave handles the people, website, general promotion, and any creative work. Indy Bill Cavalier deals with judges, wrangles writers, and is the group's artist.

Climbing the NASCRAG

NASCRAG runs five qualifying rounds at Gen Con; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. on Saturday. They score each team using a proprietary scoring system and the results are posted on the NASCRAG website (preliminary results are posted daily). The top 16 or so teams advance to the finals. Although Dave couldn't share how the scoring works, he was able to divulge that the basic breakdown is roughly 50% story or action points and 50% role-playing. "Solving riddles and puzzles gets you points, advancing the story by interacting with NPCs, following story threads, all those sorts of things."

The role-playing side is a little more subjective. "The characters are all pre-gens, so we’ve given them personalities, back stories, and PC interactions. It’s all right there on the character sheet. It’s up to the player to bring it to life." There are a number of check points players can be awarded as they tick off various expected behaviors and then a 1-9 overall role-playing rating for each player character. "The best players never come out of character for the whole game," said Dave. "That’s hard, but it’s so much fun to judge a table like that."

Prizes are sponsored by gaming companies (14 in total this year) ranging from Dwarven Forge to Green Ronin, Evil Hat to Fantasy Flight Games. Prizes include minis, t-shirts, books, hardcover gaming supplements, boxed sets, and more. The prize pile is generally worth about $3000-$3500 and split it between the top teams. "We even had a copy of Starfinder in 2017 from Paizo, which was nice because it was a huge release for them," said Dave. "They sold every copy they had."

A NASCRAG game is more about the roleplaying and having fun than hardcore battles and min/maxing. "Not to knock that style," said Dave, "but there’s plenty of people running those sorts of games at Gen Con. We want to offer puzzles, riddles, roleplaying, and humor. You’ll laugh a bunch playing a NASCRAG event."

NASCRAG Adapts

NASCRAG has changed to reflect the change in demographics of its players. "It’s gotten much hipper and more gender mixed," said Dave. "Our group has always been mixed with regards to gender. Maybe 60/40 male to female. But that’s probably the overall ratio at Gen Con now."

The event has also gotten funnier. "I think initially NASCRAG was a bit more serious than it is today," said Dave. "It was billed as 'The Original Thinking Man’s Tournament.' More of a focus on the riddles and puzzles I suppose. We’ve gotten looser and more fun as the years progressed."

That's not all that's changed. NASCRAG's emphasis was originally Dungeons & Dragons, but they switched to Pathfinder with the release of Fourth Edition D&D. "A lot of people were kind of disillusioned with D&D at that point and we were among them. I hear really good things about D&D 5.0, but the Paizo people have been so good to us over the years with prize support that we aren’t thinking of switching back."

The format also switched from three rounds to two rounds a few years ago. "Three four-hour rounds of gaming is a big commitment to ask from a player," said Dave. "Especially when there’s no guarantee you’ll keep advancing and two of the rounds were on Saturday. In the past we’d occasionally run a one-rounder in addition to the regular tournament. Just sort of hit or miss when someone wrote something cool." Since 2012 NASCRAG hosts the additional one-rounder every year and donates all the proceeds to the official Gen Con Charities.

In celebration of NASCRAG's 40 years at Gen Con 2019, Dave is working on a book detailing NASCRAG's art and history that he hopes to have completed and published on Amazon. "We’re also working on special swag for the event. Pin trading became a thing at Gen Con this year, so we’re thinking about an enamel pin and commemorative dice. And our award party is going to be crazy this year. We usually have live music. Captain Ambivalent and His Accordion of Gold will be playing and probably some others."

Perfecting the Art of Competition

The organizers have learned a lot about running a tournament in the intervening years.

"The tournament aspect is something that really spices up the game in general," said Dave. "There is something on the line. Something to win. We see it when we playtest. We try to simulate that edge, but there’s just an intangible energy to competition that you can’t simulate."

NASCRAG's dedicated artist Indy draws up to 30 pieces of original art every year for the event. "That way you can envision your character and the scene very clearly and pick up clues and hints as well," said Dave. "Indy has a loopy, cartoony style that’s actually informed our play style over the years. He’s drawn almost a thousand illustrations for us at this point." You can find his work in the Knights of The Dinner Table comics. He’s also done book covers and other illustrations for the Robert E. Howard foundation.

Playtesting is a critical part of running a good tournament. NASCRAG runs adventures up to six times before presenting them at Gen Con. The organizers try to anticipate anything the players can throw at them. "Of course, we are constantly surprised anyway," said Dave. "But a well written and edited event that your judges have time to prepare with is crucial."

One of the basics of tournament play is acoustics: you must be able to hear each other. "You can’t roleplay at the top of your lungs," said Dave. "Some of the halls in the convention center are ridiculously loud. We run our games out on the playing surface of Lucas Oil Stadium – home of the Indianapolis Colts. The 288-foot ceiling keeps the noise level reasonable. Some people don’t like walking the two blocks (all indoors) to get to LOS, but it is worth it."

NASCRAG primarily picks its judges from winning teams from the previous events. For players who want to participate, all it requires is buying a ticket at Gen Con. For more info see the NASCRAG web site.

In the end, Dave emphasized that what defines NASCRAG most is its sense of community. "People pitch in to write, edit, photoshop our maps, playtest, build props, all sorts of stuff. Organizing the teams, collecting tickets, press-ganging players walking by, everybody pitches in. These people are some of my best friends in the world and some of them I only see once a year for four days. It’s very much a group effort."

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
that sounds pretty cool. I've always wanted to tick Gen-Con off my bucket list but its too big and expensive these days. I'm guessing GaryCon has this kind of old school tourney action as well, and probably in OD&D or 1E!

In any event thanks for the article. :)
 

NascragMan

Visitor
Hi guys!

Our scoring system at Nascrag is based on two parts: Objective and Roleplaying.

Objective points are how well you did in the adventure. Did you solve the Riddle or Puzzle without a hint? Did you avoid the pointless combat by tricking the trolls? It's about accomplishing goals and progressing in the adventure.

The Role-Playing points are more subjective. Each character has a thorough description and backstory. You're given a score based on how well you role-play the character. Some of the best roleplayers never leave character. it's awesome.

Then there's the fun factor. Is everyone at the table (most importantly the judge) having fun? Are you contributing to the fun or dragging it down?

It's a blast. We have so much fun putting this event on every year. The players are amazing and hilarious. We get in trouble from Gen Con every year for being too noisy.
 

NascragMan

Visitor
They are both original characters :)

The Mad Scientist is Axion of Evil (Aka Randal Cox) from the Evil team of Evil - http://evilgeniusofevil.com/

and the Lizard Man is Draggor (aka Ross Davidson), Nascrag's official Gen Con Event Organizer.

I'm the victim in the middle - Dave Mitchard
 

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