TSR GENCON IX: When Many Sought Adventure

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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!
Here’s a (partial) pre-convention wrap up; and though much, much later compared to the Owl & Weasel’s write up from that time (see second link above), well, it’s history.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Robert J. Kuntz

Robert J. Kuntz

TSR Veteran
ah, Gencon. The first one I went to was in 1989, and it was an absolute thrill. It was great in those early days. Eventually, signing up for it (particularly when the Internet really got going) got to be way too much of a hassle. The last time I went was in 2000. While I will likely never try to attend one of the really big cons, I've been looking at going to some of the smaller ones around here (the pickings are kinda slim, though)…
There's Garycon which is a ball. And others. I do find large conventions interesting for all the new stuff going on and the super energy brought to them. I grew up on the smallish more intimate ones--more personal--so I am in the middle on convention sizes but really understand your POV.

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Scrivener of Doom

Yep. Just as with Barker's Temple extravaganza (which was covered extensively in Dragon #34? IIRC) I had to pass over some stuff. Busy, Busy. ;) I don't even recount my own Sunken City adventures (3 sessions) for prizes... Grsk indeed! :)

Not a worry. I definitely wasn't thinking it was an oversight on your part: After all, you were with Fritz Leiber! A couple of smaller adventures do not compare! :)


Fascinating read, Rob! Meeting the real Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, and having them ask for your signature on their copies of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, in addition to meeting M.A.R. Barker, all in one weekend, must have been mind-blowing! I went through The Dragon and found the following about GenCon IX on page 30 of issue #3:

GenCon IX’s D&D Elimination Tournament
by Bob Blake
Several questions have been raised regarding why the tournament was designed the way it was.

1) “Why were there no intelligent encounters?” Our goal was to have each group DMed the same, and I’m sure most would agree that 10 DM’s would run an encounter with the same Theurgist 10 different ways. There was no way to take into account all variables, hence no way to be sure each party faced the same circumstances. I therefore chose to delete intelligent encounters in this tournament.

2) “Why were ‘useless’ spells such as Sleep and Charm Person included on the Spell Lists?” The Spell Lists were made up using percentage rolls for intelligence per Greyhawk. Not all the spells a Mage takes on any adventure are “useful” if he fails to encounter anything to use them on. Also, we were looking for how well the Magic Users prepared themselves by looking at the total spell mix they selected.

3) “Choosing languages was useless, as nothing would talk. All monsters attacked on sight.” Again, this was done to maintain consistency among DM’s, and keep things as simple as possible.

4) “Why only 100 entrants? You could easily have had 200!” Indeed true, but there were two limiting factors. One was physical space to put everybody. The other was the number of DM’s we had — 10. One favorable comment we had was that the size of each group was limited to five, one DM per group. This meant that our limit was 50 entrants per session, and we had time for but two sessions on Saturday. It would have been nigh impossible to hold sessions on Friday, as the DM’s had to be briefed to be sure all understood how situations were to be handled.

5) “Why an individual rather than a team event?” At the outset of the design phase, we decided on an elimination event by individuals rather than teams because we wanted to gauge how well strangers could adapt to D&Ding together. A team event is not out of the question, of course, and plans for another tournament are now being made around a team concept.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my DM’s, especially Dave Griggs, Bill Gammel, and Dave Emigh, who answered my plea for help in SR #7. Gentlemen, you were all superb.

Also, thanks to Rob Kuntz, Dave Meggary, and Mike Carr of TSR Hobbies for their help, and especial thanks to Gary Gygax, who suggested we hold the tournament on the lawn behind Legion Hall instead of in Horticultural Hall, thereby getting us the space we needed.

Plans are proceeding apace for a tournament for GenCon X in 1977. Check forthcoming issues of The Dragon for details.

Anyone wishing a copy of the tournament run at Gen Con IX may write me. The preliminary round and the final round are $2.50 each, a copy of both is $5.00. You’ll get everything you need to spring this on your own D&D group! Send requests to: Bob Blake, R1 BOX 47, Valparaiso, IN 46383.
Finally, accolades to the winners. They were:

Champion Fighter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eric Ortega
Champion Mage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Allen Hammack
Champion Cleric. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stan Wood
Champion Elf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tony Svarenka III
Champion Dwarf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jeff Boyce


GenCon IX Final Update and
Stategists Club Awards

This years SC awards for “Creativity in Gaming” for 1975 were awarded as follows:

Best New Game Empire of the Petal Throne by M.A.R. Barker

Outstanding Designer Prof. M.A.R. Barker

Outstanding Writer
— E. Gary Gygax

Best Miniature Figure Release (Series) McEwan Heroes & Wizards Fantasy Line

Outstanding Wargame Publication: The Strategic Review

Miss Teenage Wisconsin, Jennifer Johnson, was on hand to add a touch of class to the ceremonies and presented all of the plaques.

The Con itself went very well. We had more space and tournaments than ever, but also more people. Sad to say, lots of people were disappointed when they couldn’t play what they wanted. We had figured on
more people than the previous year, but not nearly as many more as we had. Paid attendance was in the vicinity of 1300, with crowds of over 1000 on both Friday and Saturday.

This year’s auction set all time records for goods sold. I “lucked” into the role of auctioneer and enjoyed myself immensely, at the cost of my voice and vocal cords for two days after.

The organizers of GenCon wish to thank every person that attended; for the mob scenes that occurred, only one or two gamers lost their cool in all three days. On the debit side, this years crowd set new records for dirt and litter, necessitating a massive cleanup that lasted two days.

We thought it was worth it; we’re proud of our “oldest and the best” reputation. GenCon X will be better yet: “See you in ’77!”

All good except for the clean up, which was handled primarily by myself and Skip Williams. Everyone else was at Fazio's Restaurant; and I joined them later when it was all finished. I wasn't just a Chairman, I was the main GRUNT. LOL!

Ahh, good old Corporal Liftankerry!! Good times. :D
Yeah. We wore many hats then unlike today where Peter Adkinson regulates responsibilities while sipping on a cold brew... ;) Let's see, mine were: Shipping Manager. Convention Chairman (and broom pusher), answer mailed in rules questions on the product line (mostly D&D), write articles for The Dragon, and when at home, do design work. In between I got to eat and, maybe, sleep--the latter 2 being considered my vacation time... Oh! And still run the LGTSA as its President of 6 years, craft my World and generally be available for play-testing new products, ideas and such as they arose. Hats. You had to have a bunch and be used to rapidly switching them out.

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