GECON IX, Baby! It was happening. TSR was on a roll. The last supplement for OD&D had just been released, Empire of the Petal Throne was a reality, and Fritz Leiber’s board game, Lankhmar (based off his original cork board-game that he and Harry O. Fischer had designed and played far back in the day), was being released at the convention. As I had helped co-design the latter (see 1st link below) I was in charge of the Lankhmar tournament as well as having both Fritz Leiber and the Mouser (Harry O. Fischer) in attendance. Yeah, baby, Fantasy on steroids was pumping through our veins, even though as the con’s Chairman I only got an average of 3 hours sleep per day in between all of this action which included me DMing several sessions of my Sunken City adventure for prizes. But who needs sleep at cons? Just eat hot dogs to refuel and move along!
Guest Plan (Gygax and Kuntz): Gary and I conferred pre-convention on the escort and care of guests: He would cover Fritz and Harry and I would cover M. A, R. Barker and Bill Hoyt (stalwart MMSA member and ex-C&C Society member) who had driven the Professor to GENCON. My duties were later expanded to guiding and touring Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson; and as this conflicted with my Lankhmar tournament I was in a spot until Will Neibling stepped in and offered to adjudicate the tournament for me. I checked back with him when I could as he had to crash course himself on the new game to teach it to the players, but he managed and I thanked him profusely and made sure that he received a free Lankhmar game as well.
MAR Barker: There were lots of EPT and related events transpiring at the convention and his integrated game/world was selling well. Barker and Hoyt were staying at the Holiday Inn (now the Geneva Ridge where GARYCON is held in March; so, yes, fellow gamers, the “great one” has walked those hallways, though under a different brand name). In fact he left a piece of history at it, so to speak. The story goes thusly: We had ducked back to the ‘Inn and to Barker’s room for him to change clothes before going to dinner (in Williams Bay). As we descended from the third floor I asked Professor Barker, “So, how many languages do you know?” Hoyt and I listened as he nonchalantly recounted the type, how many years studied, spoken and/or written, etc., this as we descended by level to lower level. As I opened the door for him to exit the building he finally finished: “And six months of German...” Bill and I laughed in utter astonishment due to the staggering number of languages he’d rattled off!
Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson: Two of the three founders of Games Workshop and the two editors of Owl & Weasel (later transitioned to White Dwarf magazine).
Here I was escorting them about Lake Geneva, telling jokes (a fish story, one of them), answering questions and otherwise serving their needs. We also had a great time at the Gargoyle Restaurant (not far up Broad from the con and where we held the Strategist’s Club dinner which I oversaw for seating and menu via interaction with the the Gargoyle’s management and kitchen crew--pretty easy with only two main selections: chicken breast or sirloin steak--but it did keep me running until one of the two, whether Ian or Steve I cannot now recall, quipped, “Hey Rob. When are you going to eat?”); and we also introduced them to the Next Door Pub (the best pizza anywhere). At their request several of us stalwarts gathered on Saturday to take a picture together (see below) as Ian and Steve had to depart the con early Sunday. Great chaps all told and a boon for the advancement of TSR products and D&D role-playing in Britain in the near future.
L to R-- Fritz Leiber (Legendary Fantasy and Science Fiction Writer); Gary Gygax (Legendary Game Designer, Seminal D&D/RPG Designer/Co-Founder, President of TSR, Co-Founder International Federation of Wargaming); M.A.R. Barker (Creator of the World of Tekumel, and the RPG based upon it, Empire of the Petal Throne, Esteemed Professor); Ian Livingstone & (kneeling, foreground) Steve Jackson (Co-Founders of Games Workshop, Editors of Owl and Weasel and White Dwarf magazines); Rob Kuntz (GENCON Chairman, Game Designer/D&D Author, President of the LGTSA)
Fritz Leiber & Harry O. Fischer (aka Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser)
I introduced TSR’s redo of Fritz’s and Harry’s game, Lankhmar, prior to Fritz’s seminar. Fritz and I gathered to the seminar area and I announced his presence and spoke briefly about the publication of the game for the convention. I then pressed a copy of the game into his hands. Fritz accepted it as the audience applauded; but there was an instant impression on my part due to his manner that he was just a tad uncomfortable, a very slight confusion on his part that his body language silently spoke to: “Hey, this is great, but I don’t know what to say about this new version.” As I moved aside and went about my other duties Fritz delivered, as I was later informed about, a great recounting of Lankhmar’s inception as both story-line and game; and how both of these avenues were linked to his friendship and early creative collaborations with Harry Fischer.
My next hook up with Harry and Fritz was on Sunday at the guests and staff banquet at the Gargoyle--this time upstairs unlike the SC’s dinner which had been held downstairs. I actually got to sit and eat when others did! To top it off I was seated right next to Fritz. We engaged in conversation for about 2 hours and I even got him to autograph one of my Lankhmar paperbacks--IIRC, Swords and Deviltry. I remember little of what we talked about. I was running on empty at that point and still had work ahead to close out the con, make sure the site was cleaned (no day-after cleaning, night of closing only), secure and lock up the Horticultural Hall and return the key. I was pleased to note that Fritz was in much better condition than myself and that he had thoroughly enjoyed the convention, so I was not pressing him as a fan. Plus I was, of course, in awe of him although Fritz was not the type who required so much as inspired such a reaction. My keyword impressions about Fritz: Unassuming, Open, Erudite, Gentlemanly, Magnanimous, Friendly, Approachable, Encouraging, Soft Spoken, Quietly Assured, A Font of Knowledge... An all around great soul.
Select staff then adjourned with Fritz and Harry to Gary’s office at TSR. As the after-dinner chatting continued there an inspiration hit me. I immediately went downstairs to shipping and returned with two copies of supplement #4 to D&D, Gods, Demigods and Heroes (Kuntz & Ward). I then gifted these to Fritz and Harry.
What happened next was insightful. Both of them became rapt as they alternately paged its contents or regarded me as I described the inspirational route of myth and legend that had borne it. There was real interest in their eyes that I was later able to relate to their studies of such literature and which had inspired their own stories--and so the cycle had continued. The detachment I had briefly felt from Fritz over his “new” board game was no where apparent in his reactions or in Harry’s to GD&H. What Harry did next startled me as he insisted that I autograph these gifts; and “Fafhrd” nodded in agreement. As Jim Ward was not present (he had either returned home or was at the hotel) I inscribed them with my name only. The modern day “geeked out” does not fully describe my reaction to such an unexpected reversal!
GENCON IX Final Note: This convention, this meeting, had been constructed around and for Fritz Leiber and his counterpart in S&S Harry O. Fischer. Yes. There was Barker (and in SPADES what with his temple display, the games, etc.) but this was all about the interest on an ancient, un-payable debt. Gary, Brad Stock and I had labored to redesign the Lankhmar game in time for the convention; Gary even arranged for Fritz to tour the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay. The observatory complied by opening its doors so that Fritz could look through one of largest refractor telescopes in the world. Gary had taken Fritz and Harry under his wing and had feted them at every turn. As much as Gary was chuffed with himself for all of this it was all sincere.
So, GENCON IX wasn’t just about the man who coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery.” It was about celebrating two aged and revered adventurers who had extended their adventures to folks like us for an eternity that continues to this day.
Text © 2019. Robert J. Kuntz
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