Convention Reports
A Visit to GenCon 1999

Well, I guess I forgot to put this up last year; this year's GenCon is only a couple weeks away now! Hope it's not too late!

GenCon 1999, like previous GenCons, didn't disappoint with things to do.

Milwaukee is in the process of building a new convention center; the first convention in the currently completed section was GenCon last year. (The other section is currently being built, and should be done this winter.) This year's convention ran a bit more smoothly than last, although there was a bad omen as I arrived about 5 PM on Wednesday - one of the escalators was nonfunctional, and it still wasn't working the next morning. Fortunately, it was fixed that day, and the omen turned out to be not prophetic.

There weren't any major new game releases this year, not like (for example) White Wolf's release of its Storyteller games in previous years, or FASA's release of Shadowrun 2nd edition, or indeed, WIzards of the Coast's sale of discontinued Magic booster packs circa 1996, at their booth in the back of hall. Instead, there was just the usual rush at 10 AM as the doors were opened upon the unprepared dealers, in an unfocused flood of humanity with dollars in one hand and empty bags in the other.

The biggest thing that was related to a product release was something not really a surprise at all, despite the manufactured mystery surrounding "The Big Announcement". Yes, Wizards of the Coast/TSR is releasing Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition at next year's GenCon. The Big Announcement took place in the Plankinton Theater, a very nicely appointed (and old) theater in the only remaining part of the old MECCA center, which among other things, has hosted numerous TSR "radio" plays and one stop of the 1996 Star Wars Special Edition preview road show. This took place with the same amount of pomp, with the MC Ryan Dancey bringing a broadly grinning Peter Adkinson on stage to make the announcement. Over the next hour, we were treated to a number of related items, including some of the direction that Third Edition is taking, as well as some computer games related to the new edition. Dancey made a mistake in announcing that everyone would be getting t-shirts after the presentation, as then any slow part was greeted by cries of "T-shirt!" The shirts we got afterwards are pretty nice, although they are hampered by the "3E" logo that I don't really like.

This year also marked the demise of the TSR Castle, which has housed the TSR section since at least 1994. In its place was the WOTC Castle, a much larger edifice that included all of the TSR, WOTC and Five Rings Publishing things that were spread over three large areas last year. The oddest thing in the new castle was the 5 foot tall twenty-sided die, parked by the dungeon crawl tables. It would have made a good contest to run an AD&D combat using that die for "to hit" rolls, but I suppose that too many unsuspecting victims would have been crushed by that rolling monstrosity once it got moving...

The biggest event of the con for me was the Torg live-action event "Project Ra". This was the magnum opus for a great gamemaster that I've been playing events with for the last two years. This took place in a well-appointed Hilton ballroom with ten judges and forty players over the space of eight hours on Saturday afternoon, and was most ambitious single game I've played in my decade of attending GenCon. It has been said that this event will not be repeated, it was that taxing on the judges.

(In case you are not familiar with Torg, it is a current-day RPG, in which different realities have invaded Earth. Some of the invaders are the super-high-tech Cyberpapacy ruled by a Middle Ages church hierarchy; the pulp magazine-influenced Nile Empire where Doc Savage and the Shadow would feel at home; and Nippon Tech, which invaded secretly with the aid of its espionage skills and ninja warriors.) I was in one of the Earth factions, and high points of this game included:

It was quite an event. The other over-the-top event I was in was a Living City event, in which my character, a half-orc paladin of Ilmater, was far from the most unique person at the table. The other PCs included a legless halfling cleric, an elven beauty shop worker, a female bard who was adherent of Sharess (and spent a lot of the event toying with the halfling and half-orc's emotions - Grunt's tusks hadn't been caressed quite that way before), and a necromancer/priest of Ilmater who looked like a walking corpse. (These last two were played by Shae and George Fulda.) I'm afraid a lesser judge would have faltered under the foolishness this group generated, but David Quick managed to keep us focused enough (between the chuckles) to solve the mystery.

All in all, it was a quite exciting GenCon, and well worth the sleep deprivation to attend. Next year is less than 12 months away!