Every week or so, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
I first attended Gen Con a couple of years before I went to work for TSR. Then I missed almost the entire first decade of this century until I returned thanks to Paizo and my association with Pathfinder Tales. Since I’ll miss that glorious convention for the first time since 2010, it seems only right to experience it vicariously through a few friends and colleagues who’ll be there this year.
It’s entirely possible that Lisa Stevens and I first met at a convention, either through the Role-Playing Gamers’ Association (RPGA) or in the exhibit hall. But only after I moved out to Seattle did I see her very often. Usually she was talking Greyhawk or wrangling a team for brand management meetings. I saw even more of her when I moved from Dragon Magazine to Star Wars Insider, since she and her partner Vic Wertz are superfans. Then when Lisa, Vic, and Johnny Wilson formed a new company, our team went with them as part of the original Paizo Publishing.
Lisa and Vic have a country estate I like to call “Wayne Manor,” but really it’s more of a Star Wars museum with one of the best home theaters I’ve ever seen. They invested some of their Hasbro buyout money to hire Doug Chiang to design it for them, and a fairly easy Google search should net you a few photos of the amazing setup.
Parties (and the Indiana Jones pinball machine) at Vic and Lisa’s are one of the things I most miss since leaving the Seattle area, but for the past few years I’ve been able to see them once or twice a year at conventions. Not this year, alas, but I did manage to ask Lisa a few questions about those conventions and her long history with Gen Con.
1. What’s your earliest Gen Con memory?
My first Gen Con was the last year it was at UW Parkside in Kenosha. My friend Rich and I drove all day from Minneapolis and arrived at the campground near the convention in the dark. Back in those days, most of the attendees stayed at the campground because of the lack of hotels in the area. Rich and I proceeded to set up our tent by the lights of our car, only to find we had forgotten the tent poles and the stakes. We scavenged a somewhat straight and sturdy stick from the campground and found a few screwdrivers in the car, and ended up with a wobbly tee-pee for our lodging that first year. Of course, we didn’t plan to spend hardly any time there, so it didn’t really matter. And when you are exhausted after a day of gaming, you hardly noticed. Thank god it didn’t rain that weekend! Gen Con was amazing! I got to have my first character, Erwyle Antella, drawn by Clyde Caldwell, and discovered the RPGA, where I had the chance to watch Rich play in the finale of a tournament with Harold Johnson DMing. The highlight for me though was the dealer’s hall. I had never seen such a huge selection of gaming stuff under one roof. I spent many hours going from booth to booth and spending way too much money. The only let down of the con was the various games we had registered for. They all kind of stunk except for the RPGA one, so Rich and I became card carrying RPGA members and never played a game at Gen Con after that which wasn’t run by the RPGA.
2. Looking back on all the years you’ve attended, about how much of Gen Con was “just for fun” and how much was for business? These days, do you get to blend the two?
It is pretty funny that you ask this. I went from all out, nothing but solid RPGA gaming from the moment I got up until late into the evening, until 1987, when I went for the first time with my company, Lion Rampant. That year, I didn’t game at all. Just worked the booth and started getting to know folks in the industry. Since 1987, I really haven’t done much gaming. Gen Con has become almost entirely a business convention for me. I hope to change that this year with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. We do marathon games of it at the various conventions, which is very conducive for me to jump into a game between meetings. You can’t do that with a long RPG game that might take 4 hours. At PaizoCon this year, I was able to play the ACG quite a bit and it was a blast! Save Ranzak for me!
3. What were the high points at Gen Con for each of the several companies you’ve been associated with?
Lion Rampant: The first year we went as a company, we just had Whimsey Cards. And Dave Arneson came up to our booth, talked to us and bought a pack. We were all just standing there with our jaws on the floor. Holy crap! That was DAVE ARNESON! The next year, we won the RPGA’s Gamer’s Choice award for best new RPG for Ars Magica and it catapulted us into the industry, with new distributors coming out of the woodwork and translation opportunities appearing from nowhere.
Wizards of the Coast: Our first year with a full booth at Gen Con was very cool. Jesper Myfors created a life-sized castle based on our first logo design. We also shared the booth with a small tech start-up called America Online. Of course, the high point for WotC was the release of Magic: The Gathering in 1993. We almost didn’t have the game at the show because of delays in airplane flights, but by the time it arrived on the Saturday of the convention, we sold it as fast as we could take someone’s money and write receipts. Everywhere I went in the convention center that year, you saw folks playing Magic. It was crazy!
Paizo: It would have to be the year we launched the Pathfinder RPG. We had no clue what the reception was going to be for the game, and to have that wave of humanity descend on the booth and to sell out of the stacks and stacks of Core Rulebooks we brought was exhilarating!
4. Tim Nightengale founded Paizo Con, impressing you so much the first year that you had the company take it over from him. How does the Paizo Con experience differ from Gen Con?
PaizoCon is much more intimate. Every year, I get to see a lot of the same folks over and over again. There is a lot of camaraderie and friendships made amongst the attendees. PaizoCon is also a great show for the whole Paizo staff to take some time and talk to our customers. Gen Con is just so much go, go, go, go! It is a whirlwind where I rarely get time to just sit back and enjoy the show. PaizoCon has many more chances to do that.
5. What is your greatest convention gaming memory?
That is a super tough one for me. So many memories over the years! Having dinner with Gary Gygax one evening and talking about Greyhawk for hours! Working in the TSR Castle the year WotC bought TSR. Seeing the line for Magic: The Gathering stretch all the way around the dealer’s hall in 1994. The big nerf gun fight at the TSR Castle in 1989. The crazy White Wolf parties we threw in our rooms during 1989 and 1990. I could go on! Gen Con is one of my favorite moments on the year. I get to see old friends and make new memories.