Gary Con: family legacy and a life well played
In late March, a friend and I traveled from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to attend Gary Con XV 2023. This convention is held annually in Lake Geneva, WI and run by Luke Gygax, son of Gary Gygax, the co-creator (along with Dave Arneson) of Dungeons and Dragons.
D&D was first published nearly five decades ago by the original TSR company, and the convention continues to celebrate that legacy as it grows, expanding into multiple systems, new version updates, campaign settings, the recently released D&D movie, and more.
Luke, who I had met at Gary Con, founded this convention in 2008, following the passing of his father, as an opportunity for friends to gather together and really honor the life, works, and legacy of Gary Gygax.
Admittedly, with 3 kiddos of my own now, I couldn’t shake the notion that it would be pretty cool to do something so important, and culturally significant enough, to one day warrant an annual convention being planned and held, by our kiddos, in my honor.
Started and originally held in an American Legion hall for what has now become known as “Gary Con 0”, it has grown to require the larger space/capacity offered by The Grand Geneva Resort.
Signage could be found throughout the convention with the simple, yet profoundly meaningful, tagline, usually accompanying a high quality image of a character, mid action: “Celebrating a Life Well Played”. Throughout my time at Gary Con, I couldn’t help but find myself reflecting on that tagline and, while expressly related to Gary Gygax himself, it seems a noble pursuit for us all to aspire to living “a life well played’.
Families and kids enjoying games at Gary Con
While volunteering at the convention, one particularly interesting interaction I had was with a family who had traveled and attended Gary Con together, which is something I hope to do with our family one day. This family included a young girl, 9 years old, who was DM’ing her 1st game.
From talking to her family, as far as they knew, this kid was the youngest person to DM a game at Gary Con XV!
Excited to observe, I made sure to mark down the time and location of her game the following day. When I had arrived that day, even as a spectator, I was invited to sit at their table and watch the game play out.
The game was called: “The Untitled Flumph Game”, and it ended with each player controlling a flumph to cause chaos ala the Untitled Goose Game. The big bad was a mind flayer that was squished by a sledgehammer dropped by a flumph!
What may otherwise be assumed to be a convention focused more on longtime players, it was cool to observe the kid aspects and involvement at Gary Con.
Beyond Luke Gygax’s own kids being present, youth badges were sold, and I felt that the whole convention was a very welcoming atmosphere and environment for kids, encouraging them to participate in all aspects of the gaming experience as both players and, as described above, as DMs.
Meeting cool people at Gary Con
While volunteering at Gary Con (we continually checked in to see if there were other things that needed done), we also occasionally made our way over to the autograph tables when we could. We met some amazing individuals! Of note in the TTRPGs for kids space was:
Elisa Teague – coauthor for Wardlings RPG, G.I. Joe RPG, Power Ranger RPG, Transformers RPG, and many, many more
Joe Manganiello – in addition to his acting career, he teaches D&D to kids at UPMC Children’s Hospital and is currently developing a D&D TV show
We also met with several other TTRPG creators and figures, including Ed Greenwood, Jim Ward, James A. Hunter, Merle Rasmussen, and Larry Elmore.
I also had the opportunity to chat with Reverend Derek W. White, writer of “The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle for the Imagination”, winner of the GenCon Film Festival 2022 Best Gamer Film Award.
There were some media celebrities too, largely from Joe Manganiello’s gaming group, who attended. Admittedly, there was a temptation to get a little ‘star struck’ here; approaching for pictures was a delicate line to walk, as I tried to not interrupt their own convention experience. These attendees included Vince Vaughn, Tom Morello, Paul Wight, and D.B. Weiss.
Gary Con being an entryway to TTRPGs
This trip was a fairly significant, eye-opening, experience for me. It was my first ever convention experience, and it also coincided with a time of great reflection and reevaluation of my own values and beliefs concerning a number of issues, both within and outside the world of gaming.
While my friend and I are both fairly new to (but eager to learn about) the wonderful world of TTRPGs, we attended largely to volunteer and spectate (and also got to attend the special screening of the new D&D movie). If you are new to TTRPGs and D&D but want to learn, going to a convention, while no substitute for playing, is a great entry point.
This year, I believe attendance pushed close to 3,000 people, and, as more people become interested, especially with the new D&D movie, I’m curious to see how it grows.
Thank you Howie for sharing your insights from Gary Con XV! I’m glad it was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to Gary Con XVI!
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