Twenty-Eight Years of the Best Four Days in Gaming

Friday, July 8, 2011

Illustration by Clyde Caldwell

Has it really been 28 years already? It seems like only yesterday that my friend Rich Rydberg and I were setting up our tent at a campground in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and excitedly talking about our first Gen Con. The year was 1984, and Rich was in my AD&D group at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota. For the previous three years, we had seen all the coverage on Gen Con in Dragon magazine and dreamed about going to the king of all conventions, but it took until 1984 for all the stars to align.

The convention wasn't very big back in those days. The Parkside gymnasium where the dealer hall was located was hot as heck. But you could see all the luminaries of gaming easily. I ran into Gary Gygax the first day I was at the con! I even got Clyde Caldwell to draw a picture of my first D&D character, and it sits on my wall here at work. The biggest discovery for Rich and me was the RPGA. Since this was our first convention, we had registered for a bunch of random AD&D games, and boy were some of them bad. We hadn't realized how good our home game was compared to some of the games we played in at the con. RPGA changed all that with great adventures run by some of the best DMs in the business!

The RPGA became the center of my Gen Con world for the next four years as the convention moved to the MECCA convention center in Milwaukee. I literally played RPGA events from early morning on Thursday until the last slot on Sunday. Frank Mentzer ran me through The Temple of Elemental Evil. I got to play in the first Oriental Adventures tournament. And slowly, I rose to the top, becoming one of the first Grand Masters and eventually Paragon players.

Now, RPGA tournaments were a lot different back then. This was before Living City, so all the tournaments were either skill challenges like the AD&D Open, or they were roleplaying-based tournaments, where you were given a random character and you had to roleplay it on the spot, and at the end of the tournament, your fellow players graded all the players at the table, with the one with the highest total winning that table!

Of course, it wasn't all RPGA. One convention, I got to play in the first public game using the AD&D Battlesystem, and Rich and my opponents were none other than Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame, and Mike Nystul, whose character created Nystul's magic aura among other things.

My RPGA years came to an abrupt end when I started my first gaming company, Lion Rampant. In 1987, we released Whimsy Cards and the highlight of my show was selling a pack to Dave Arneson. The next year, we came out with Ars Magica and it won Best Game of the Year in the RPGA Gamer's Choice Awards. I'll never forget Rich yelling at me from across the dealer hall as he raced from the RPGA breakfast banquet carrying our trophy.

The First Wizards of the Coast Booth

The years went by and Gen Con became a business convention for me. As I entered the business side, I got to meet all of the luminaries of the industry and talk with them as peers. Gen Con was very social, with deals being talked about at the Safe House late at night. I went from Lion Rampant to White Wolf to Wizards of the Coast in the span of five years. Check out the crazy picture of me at the first Wizards of the Coast booth. We shared the booth with a small little internet start-up, America Online. Back then, it was all Talislanta and The Primal Order, but Magic: The Gathering would become the shot heard around the world in 1993.

Magic almost didn't make it to Gen Con in '93. The shipment got delayed in customs and I literally had to have it put on an airplane so that it arrived Saturday morning at the convention. Word had spread of the game and we literally sold it as fast as we could take money and write receipts. The next year, we had lines that wrapped around the convention hall, with people standing in line for many hours to get limited quantities of Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities, and The Dark.

One cool Gen Con moment happened one year when the staff of TSR and the rest of the industry agreed to a huge Nerf gun fight in the TSR Castle before the hall opened up for business. All the other companies ganged up on the TSR folks and a ton of fun was had by all as we all blasted each other with Nerf until we laughed ourselves silly. Imagine over 100 of the industry's finest running around screaming like kids. It was magical.

My next favorite Gen Con memory was when I worked the TSR Castle as a member of the TSR staff in 1997 after Wizards of the Coast bought the company. I was one of a handful of WotC employees who stayed in Lake Geneva that summer and became part of the D&D brand team when the staff transitioned to Seattle later that year. But for the summer of 1997, I worked at TSR and tradition was that the TSR staff all worked hard at Gen Con each year. Wearing my TSR shirt and talking fans off the ledge (everyone was worried about what was going to happen to D&D now that WotC had bought it) in the TSR Castle are moments I will always cherish!

At Gen Con 1999, I was part of the team that announced the impending release of the third edition of D&D the next year. We had this huge auditorium where we trotted out guest after guest from Gygax and Arneson to Cook and Adkison. Seeing the excitement as we let a lot of the cats out of the bag was really cool. And then everyone got one of my favorite t-shirts, the one where it had a list of things people didn't like about previous editions that were getting fixed in third.

The release of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook at Gen Con 2009.

2002 was my first Gen Con as an owner of Paizo. We had a small table in the WotC booth, where we sold subscriptions to Dragon, Dungeon, and Star Wars Insider. 2003 had us schlepping Silver Boba Fetts. 2004 was the year of the Undefeated cheerleaders. 2005 saw the mountain of Shackled City hardcovers. 2006 saw the release of our GameMastery line of system independent products.

Another great moment was 2007, the year we launched the Pathfinder Adventure Path line. Knowing that Dragon and Dungeon were going away, but that we had this awesome line of adventure product that included some of the best folks in the industry, was satisfying. 2008 saw the release of the Pathfinder RPG Beta. All of us were floored when we sold out of the print version of our Beta playtest. I thought we would be burning the unsold copies. Now it is a collector's item!

Of course, the year 2009 saw the release of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. The buzz had been amazing building up to this release, but we weren't prepared for the rush of people trying to be the first to buy the book. The Paizo staff ran around like shepherds, trying to tame a semblance of order into 500+ people descending on the booth at the same time. By the time the line went around the booth and into the art show area, I knew something had to happen. So Erik and I grabbed a bag and offered to let people give us $60, get their book, and get out of the line. Many people took us up on that offer.

Now 2011 Gen Con is just a few weeks away. I wonder what stories will be crafted from the Best Four Days in Gaming this year?


Lisa's Gen Con Pictures
Lisa at Gen Con 1992. Lisa at Gen Con during the WotC years. Lisa at Paizo's first booth at Gen Con 2002. Lisa at the Paizo booth at Gen Con 2004. Paizo staff at Gen Con 2006.

Lisa Stevens
Paizo CEO

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Tags: Gen Con

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This is a very cool post full of really interesting stories. I would love to make it to Gen Con one day.
It's super cool that you got Clyde Caldwell to draw a picture of your character. I am jealous.


Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I was a participant in the great nerf castle assault. We were using a cardboard standee of Captain Picard appropriated from another vendor's booth as a mantlet or pavise to reload behind. I recall a fairly large number of pog-shooters in addition to the nerf weapons.


Here's to the next 28 years :D


When will we see a Paizo castle?!


I hope to get to at least day day this year, but I'm not certain it will happen.

On a side note: Lisa, I just listened to Know Direction's podcast recording of your Paizocon 2011 Auntie Lisa's Story Hour and I tell ya, while I've been enjoying all of the creative and constructive advise I've gleaned from the Paizocon seminars, that has to be my favorite so far. I loved hearing your story, thanks for sharing!

Dark Archive

Awesome pictures, I love to see these kind. And Lisa is one of those lucky girls who tends to always stay looking young. Cute pics ;o) I'll have what she's drinking please! And keep'em coming!

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

Wow. hard to beleive 92 was almost 20 years ago. Gods I'm old.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Kyle Baird wrote:
When will we see a Paizo castle?!

A castle? Clearly, it would need to be the Spire of Nex. ;-)

(It takes up less floor space, but still towers over the competition.)


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I think 1984 was my second Gen Con, the first I spent all 4 days there. I was probably at the same campground if it was the one a very short distance away from Parkside.
We were first introduced to Nuclear War that night as gamers all over the camp were up all night playing games. Some poor guy in a camper was yelling "Shut up! Shut up!" all night long, his voice getting weaker and weaker as the time went on.

Paizo Employee CEO

SlimGauge wrote:
I was a participant in the great nerf castle assault. We were using a cardboard standee of Captain Picard appropriated from another vendor's booth as a mantlet or pavise to reload behind. I recall a fairly large number of pog-shooters in addition to the nerf weapons.

My group took this little tower in the middle of the TSR Castle. It was the one that had a short flight of stairs and the platform on top had a microphone in a stand. Someone in our group turned on the mike to announce that we had one, and I had to beat off the TSR staffers who stormed the tower to take it back. Man, that was fun. :)

-Lisa

Paizo Employee CEO

Bill Dunn wrote:

I think 1984 was my second Gen Con, the first I spent all 4 days there. I was probably at the same campground if it was the one a very short distance away from Parkside.

We were first introduced to Nuclear War that night as gamers all over the camp were up all night playing games. Some poor guy in a camper was yelling "Shut up! Shut up!" all night long, his voice getting weaker and weaker as the time went on.

Yep, it was the campground right near Parkside. You know, the one with the ice cold showers. :)

Rich and I arrived in the dark and then found that we had forgot to bring both tent poles and none of the tent stakes! So we made a makeshift teepee with screw drivers scrounged from the card trunk standing in for the stakes. It was shakey, but kept us dry. Kind of.

-Lisa

Liberty's Edge

Thumbs up for the Sue Bird shirt!


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Lisa Stevens wrote:


Yep, it was the campground right near Parkside. You know, the one with the ice cold showers. :)

Yep, and someone, over the course of the weekend, tipped over one of the johns. Best Gen Con camping experience ever.

Paizo Employee CEO

Lori B wrote:
Thumbs up for the Sue Bird shirt!

I was going to a Indiana Fever game that night, so I had to represent my Seattle Storm at the game.

-Lisa


That's neat to hear stories from the early Gen Cons. Thanks for sharing. My own two experiences w/Gen Con were in 1992 and 1993. In '92 I flew up and stayed at the university dormitory. It was a fun experience to be around so many other gamers who have a real passion for the hobby.

In '93 I was in the RPGA and a friend of mine and I drove up from Texas and stayed at the same dorm. I had forgotten to print out a map of where the university was ahead of time, but somehow (and it still amazes me) I managed to recognize where to go and we found our way there in the dark only to realize that you couldn't check into the dorm at 2 am! So we found a Red Roof Inn and crashed for 6 hours.

That was the year that I ran some really fun RPGA sessions and got perfect scores from 3 of the 4 groups I ran. I was quite proud of them. I got to meet Storn Cook and wound up commissioning two portraits from him (both of Champions characters near and dear to my heart). I would like to say I met Clyde Caldwell, but he was gone from his booth so I just got his lovely assistant to autograph my purchased prints. =) I was most proud of meeting Larry Elmore, though. I bought some prints from him, too, and got him to autograph them. Cool stuff.

The trip home was as crazy as the trip up, but what else would you expect from two guys driving 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours on a few hours sleep? Never underestimate the willpower of 20-somethings! /salute!

Paizo Employee Managing Developer

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That 2009 photo of Lilz, Lisa, and myself is one of my favorite GenCon photos! Good year and good times!

Liberty's Edge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Adam Daigle wrote:
That 2009 photo of Lilz, Lisa, and myself is one of my favorite GenCon photos! Good year and good times!

I was wondering who that was on the right. I can't believe it's already been 4 years since Pathfinder launched! When I snagged my Kharzoug cover copy of PF#1 Lisa was working the register. I got to chat with James Jacobs for a few minutes at the front of the booth and a few minutes after meeting Lilith, she and I took on the dungeon of old Cosmo's avatars(Swords of Sin dungeon delve) that Chris Self ran us throught (I think). I played it twice and F. Wesley was running it the other time. Good times :)

Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Adam Daigle wrote:
That 2009 photo of Lilz, Lisa, and myself is one of my favorite GenCon photos! Good year and good times!

Huzzah! Yes it was. ^_^


Wow so Lisa had a hand in Ars Magica, WoD, MtG, D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. Um does that mean that if Paizo ever does a supers science sourcebook it'll be the supplement people wanted in Tale of the Comet, only a bit delayed?


Lisa Stevens wrote:
Bill Dunn wrote:
I think 1984 was my second Gen Con, the first I spent all 4 days there. I was probably at the same campground if it was the one a very short distance away from Parkside
Yep, it was the campground right near Parkside. You know, the one with the ice cold showers. :)

Very cool. I went to GenCon twice in the early 80s when it was still at UW Parkside, and the group I went with had a camper/trailer and we probably stayed at the exact same campground.

Sovereign Court

In all my years gaming I never made it to Gen Con, but in just a few weeks my 17 year old daughter will be making her first trip there. She has a Cos Play costume her friends have sewn and a carload of teenage girls are making the trek to Indianapolis.

Lisa you should know without your Pathfinder game, she would never have gone. She joined my "D&D" group last year in 2010 when we put down 4E and picked up Pathfinder. She has been playing with us ever since.

So thank you for the game, and letting me live vicatiously through my daughter. (and you better sign her Pathfinder book)...LOL

-Og

Paizo Employee CEO

Ogwar wrote:

In all my years gaming I never made it to Gen Con, but in just a few weeks my 17 year old daughter will be making her first trip there. She has a Cos Play costume her friends have sewn and a carload of teenage girls are making the trek to Indianapolis.

Lisa you should know without your Pathfinder game, she would never have gone. She joined my "D&D" group last year in 2010 when we put down 4E and picked up Pathfinder. She has been playing with us ever since.

So thank you for the game, and letting me live vicatiously through my daughter. (and you better sign her Pathfinder book)...LOL

-Og

Hey Og:

Glad to hear another success story! And I am always more than happy to sign anybody's books, so have her track me down!

-Lisa

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yay!! I just found my Gen Con 92 T-shirt!

Odd.... it seems to have shrunk while sitting in the closet...


My first Gen Con was the year the Pathfinder Beta came out.
That Pathfinder Beta now sits, though somewhat worn, on my gaming shelf with pride alongside a number of other Pathfinder products. Looking forward to the Paizo booth again this year.

Liberty's Edge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Great blog post! It is fun to look back at the crazy early days of our hobby. My claim to fame is that I was there in 2007 & 2009, and I had a chance to run the first PFS games with the new rule book. Great memories. While I will miss this year, hopefully I will be back next year!


Hi Lisa

I met you in passing back in the Lion Rampant days, I doubt you'd remember, it was so fleeting, before the house at Stone Mountain area. A couple of my high school friends (Josh Timbrook and Wes Harris) introduced me to Mark Rein-Hagen and gang. I believe Josh was working on artwork for "The Challenge" and Ars Magica. I still have a copy of "the Challenge" laying around somewhere.

I went on to college and Josh and Wes went on to work for White Wolf for some time.

I also vaguely remember the house in the Stone Mountain area and by the time I came back for a visit from college, they had moved into their office.

Paizo Employee CEO

B0sh1 wrote:

Hi Lisa

I met you in passing back in the Lion Rampant days, I doubt you'd remember, it was so fleeting, before the house at Stone Mountain area. A couple of my high school friends (Josh Timbrook and Wes Harris) introduced me to Mark Rein-Hagen and gang. I believe Josh was working on artwork for "The Challenge" and Ars Magica. I still have a copy of "the Challenge" laying around somewhere.

I went on to college and Josh and Wes went on to work for White Wolf for some time.

I also vaguely remember the house in the Stone Mountain area and by the time I came back for a visit from college, they had moved into their office.

Very cool! What ever happened to Josh? I know that he wanted to be a big comic book artist someday.

-Lisa


Lisa Stevens wrote:
B0sh1 wrote:

Hi Lisa

I met you in passing back in the Lion Rampant days, I doubt you'd remember, it was so fleeting, before the house at Stone Mountain area. A couple of my high school friends (Josh Timbrook and Wes Harris) introduced me to Mark Rein-Hagen and gang. I believe Josh was working on artwork for "The Challenge" and Ars Magica. I still have a copy of "the Challenge" laying around somewhere.

I went on to college and Josh and Wes went on to work for White Wolf for some time.

I also vaguely remember the house in the Stone Mountain area and by the time I came back for a visit from college, they had moved into their office.

Very cool! What ever happened to Josh? I know that he wanted to be a big comic book artist someday.

-Lisa

I know he's signed up for the V20 project, last I knew. It's been quite a while since I've talked to him or seen him.

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