Old School Role Playing, and Pathfinder by the Pound: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part I

Old School Role Playing, and Pathfinder by the Pound: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part I

Gary Con 2018 Black Gate report-small

My favorite gaming convention is Gary Con, founded in Gary Gygax’s home town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 2009, the year after he passed away. I attended many of the early Gary Cons, but regrettably have missed the last few years. I’d heard the convention had outgrown the local lodge and was now being held in a much larger venue a few minutes outside town, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, and I was very curious to see just how big it has become. So I packed up my car on Saturday morning and made the 90-minute drive north from St. Charles, Illinois, to Lake Geneva.

How much has it grown? A lot. Just a few years ago Gary Con was a few hundred gamers who gathered to remember Gary and celebrate all that he brought to gaming. But on Saturday morning I walked into a sprawling modern gaming convention, with thousands of folks happily throwing down dice in multiple buildings and numerous gaming rooms. I’m delighted to report that, while it had gotten much grander, Gary Con has lost none of its friendly atmosphere — or its focus on the kind of old-school role playing pioneered by Gygax.

The highlight of the con for me is always the Exhibit Hall, which has always felt more like an intimate gathering of friends than just a place to hawk wares. In past years I’ve met many some of the most creative minds in the OSR (“Old School Revival”) community there, including Jeffrey Talanian, author of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG, Daniel Proctor, creator of Labyrinth Lord, Stephen Chenault, creator of Castle & Crusades, and Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing (OSRIC). Every year I also take the opportunity to meet up with friends such as Dave Kenzer and Jolly Blackburn of KenzerCo.

The tiny Exhibit Hall has grown enormously since I’d last attended, however. In fact, there were over 50 exhibitors spread across two halls, including Frog God Games, Goodman Games, Kobold Press, Northwind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Hammered Game Tables, Inner City Games Designs, Pacesetter Games, Total Party Kill Games, and many more. Truly an old-school role player’s paradise!

[Click the images for Gary Con sized versions.]

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The Grand Geneva dungeon map

The first thing I noticed as I was picking up my badge — well, the second thing, after the huge Gary Con welcome board that read “Have Fun Storming the Castle” — was that the convention committee had re-designed the ubiquitous resort map for the Grand Geneva as an old-school dungeon map (for “Secrets of the Lost Lodge”), and pasted it around the con. Now that’s the kind of creativity and fun I remembered from truly old-school gaming conventions.

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The first issue of Howard Andrew Jones’ Tales From the Magician’s Skull in the Goodman Games booth

Once I had my badge I headed right into the Exhibit Hall, which was packed with dozens of vendors selling marvelous wares, not to mention a few hundred gamers. The first thing to grab my eye — since it was prominently displayed in the biggest booth in the Hall, the Goodman Games/Black Blade Publishing space — was the very first issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull, the long awaited new Sword & Sorcery magazine edited by Black Gate‘s own Howard Andrew Jones.

The issue, which comes packed with stories by Black Gate favorites such as James Enge, John C. Hocking, Chris Willrich, and the illustrious Howard Andrew Jones himself, looks absolutely fantastic. Check out our recent interview with Howard, publisher Joseph Goodman, and the terrifying skull itself here. And pick up a copy before it sells out — at only $14.95, this guaranteed collector’s item won’t last long.

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RPG mastermind Jeffrey Talanian in the North Wind Adventures booth

I didn’t have long to ogle Tales from the Magician’s Skull, as immediately to the left of Goodman Games was the North Wind Adventures booth, and the man himself — Jeffrey Talanian, co-author (with Gary Gygax) of Castle Zagyg, and creator of the fabulously imaginative Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I bought Jeff’s slender gaming adventure Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent eight years ago at my very first Gary Con, and enthusiatically reviewed the complete version of the RPG when it was released two years later. Jeff and I have kept in touch ever since, and I was excited to finally have a chance to buy a copy of the second edition of Astonishing Swordsmen (which Bob Byrne covered for us a while back).

Alas! It was not to be. Although he’d brought plenty of stock, Jeff was already sold out of the second edition. In fact, he told me he’d sold out by Friday!

Jeff was kind enough to sell me a copy anyway, with an offer to mail it to me as soon as he got back to his office. We chatted for a while afterwards, and we reminisced about Gary Con II, when he was selling only a single slender adventure for five bucks. He now had a complete line of games, support material, and t-shirts — and a major RPG title.

I asked how Gary Con was going, and he told me it was a terrific show for him. He no longer attends Gencon, as an exhibitor booth costs him around $6,000, and it’s very difficult to recoup that kind of investment when you only have a single game line. Shows like Gary Con are a much better investment for him. In fact, North Wind Adventures was doing fabulously — Jeff quit his job last year, and game publishing is now his full time job.

We’ve covered Jeff’s considerable output with several features at Black Gate in the past:

An Interview with Jeffrey Talanian, the Creator and Publisher of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea by Gabe Dybing
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperborea — 2nd Edition! by Bob Byrne
Check Out the Hyperborea Adventure Kickstarter
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Check out the Northwind Adventure Games website here.

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Goodman Games attractive line of Judge’s Guild reprints

Back at the Goodman Games booth, I was immediately drawn to their new line of quality Judge’s Guild reprints, including Tegel Manor, Citadel of Fire, The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor, and two of my all-time favorite adventure classics: Dark Tower, and Paul Jaquays’ The Caverns of Thracia. I would have snatched up copies of both of those last two immediately, but they were a little pricey for reprints: $29.99 each.

That’s more than I paid on eBay for mint condition copies of the originals twelve years ago. Probably copies cost more than that now, and I expect I’ll shell out for the reprints eventually. The reproductions look very sharp, and they’re definitely on much better paper than the originals!

Stephen Chenault and his awesome map at Gary Con 2018-small

Stephen Chenault and his awesome campaign map

Next up was Stephen Chenault and the magnificently well-stocked Troll Lord booth, right across the aisle from Goodman Games. Stephen’s been very good to Black Gate readers and RPG gamers of all kinds over the years, as his company has produced some of the most acclaimed OSR products on the market, and continues to lead with a wide range of exciting new releases — including their brand new 5th Edition Roleplay and Amazing Adventures lines, which complement their long-running (and much-loved) Castles & Crusades titles.

Stephen was as energetic and fascinating as always. He told me that Gary Con continues to be his best show, and he showed me their fantastic line of new releases. Curiously, Stephen noted that, while he sells some product on both the East and West coasts, he sells by far the most in what he calls the “Gaming Crescent” in the Midwest — from Kansas City up through Wisconsin, into Ohio and northern Indiana.

“It’s very odd,” he admitted. “Maybe it’s the snow.”

Castles and Crusades releases in the Troll Lord booth at Gary Con 2018-small

A few of the beautiful Castles and Crusades titles in the Troll Lord booth

Our previous coverage of Stephen and his company includes:

Castles & Crusades 7th Printing by Howard Andrew Jones
Castles & Crusades Expands by Howard Andrew Jones
The Exploding World of Castles and Crusades
Stephen Chenault lowers the boom in Castles & Crusades at Garycon II
Exploring Towers of Adventure

Check out the Troll Lord Games website here.

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The impressively well-stocked Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018

I could easily have spent my entire time at the show (and all my money) in the Blade Blade/Goodman and Troll Lord booths, but I had folks to meet. Our roving game reporter Bob Byrne had urged me to stop by the Frog God Games booth and introduce myself to the movers and shakers over there, and I was happy to comply.

I’ve been reading Bob’s enthusiastic coverage of Frog God and their Pathfinder products (and their own RPG titles) right here at Black Gate, but that didn’t prepare me for the impressive line of eye-catching releases on display in their booth — including Razor Coast, Cyclopean Deeps, and especially the massive The Blight, a complete city setting detailed in an enormous 5-pound hardcover (with a $160 price tag!)

Keith Hershey and Tom Knauss at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

Keith Hershey and Tom Knauss at the Frog God booth

The first folks I met in the booth were authors Keith Hershey and Tom Knauss, who were very friendly and knew of Bob’s work at Black Gate. Tom was the author of their excellent environmental books, including Perilous Vistas and the upcoming Icebound.

We quickly struck up a conversation around the big news of the show — Paizo’s announcement of a Second Edition of Pathfinder (which Bob covered here). Had the announcement taken them by surprise? In a word, yes. Tom said they were “blindsided” by it, and in fact they’d had to cancel an upcoming First Edition Pathfinder title. Did they think all the attention to the upcoming Second Edition would negatively impact sales of their extensive Pathfinder back catalog?

In response, they wordlessly pointed me towards the table where their first edition-compatible Pathfinder titles were stacked next to a scale. A large sign next to the scale read “Pathfinder by the POUND!! $5″

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth

That certainly made a statement.

Where there are challenges, of course, there’s also opportunity. Frog God Games has a top-notch rep as a producer of Pathfinder support material… Couldn’t they be the first out of the gate with Second Edition title? Surely there would be plenty of demand.

That was possible, they admitted, but the problem was they knew nothing about the new system — no one did. In fact, they claimed that two days ago Paizo had told them it wasn’t happening.

Zach Glazer and John O'Neill at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

Zach Glazer and John O’Neill at the Frog God booth

During our conversation co-owner Zach Glazer arrived, and I was glad to be able to take a picture with him in the booth. My giddy joy at being surrounded by so much role playing coolness comes across pretty well in this pic, I think.

Zach was kind enough to give me a hefty handful of Frog God releases for review and possible giveaways at Black Gate. He also sold me 10 pounds of Pathfinder titles, and copies of Razor Coast and The Blight. (I was surprised to discover my bank, mystified by this sudden string of out-of-state purchases, declined the $238 charge on my credit card when I attempted to pay for it all. But a quick call to the bank sorted it all out, and I left the booth with a very heavy carton of Frog God titles.)

Zach also gave me some cool Frog God swag, including an early preview of their upcoming Bunnies & Burrows RPG, a re-make of the 1976 classic from Fantasy Games Unlimited inspired by Watership Down.

Bob Byrne has pioneered a lot of Frog God coverage at Black Gate, including the best history of Necromancer Games/Frog God to be found online. Here’s a few of his recent articles:

Adventuring in Dangerous Terrain – Frog God Games’ Perilous Vistas by Bob Byrne
Of Necromancers & Frog Gods – Part One by Bob Byrne
Of Necromancers and Frog Gods Part Two by Bob Byrne
Kickstarting The Northlands Saga Complete (Frog God Games) by Bob Byrne
The Lost Lands: A New Campaign World for Pathfinder by Bob Byrne

Visit the Frog Gods website here.

A magnificent box of loot from the Frog God table-small

A magnificent (and very heavy!) box of loot from the Frog God booth

My only regret was that, as I was driving back to St. Charles five hours later, I noticed I’d forgotten to return the crate Frog God had loaned me to lug all the stuff to my car! Ah well. I’ll bring it back to them next year.

Part II of this report is a detailed walkthru of the Black Blade Publishing/Goodman Games booth, which was stacked high with treasures.

The 1001 Treasures of Black Blade Publishing and Goodman Games: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part II

In later installments of this report I’ll cover some of the other exhibitors — including Wolfgang Baur at Kobold Press, PJ & KC at Total Party Kill Games, the KenzerCo crew, and lots more — and pack in a lot more photos. Stay tuned.

Our previous coverage of Gary Con includes:

2010 – Gary Con II Report
2012 – Gary Con IV Report
2013 – The Exploding World of Castles and Crusades
2014 – Explore an Old School Mega-Dungeon with Pacesetter’s The Blood Cult

See all our recent Games coverage here.

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Gabe Dybing

Great coverage, John! You make me regret I didn’t make it out there this year. You make it sound like you went shopping and then went home? Did you play any games?

Bob Byrne

Man: I would have loved to have been there!

James McGlothlin

Great coverage John! I’m going to ICFA in Orlando this week. I was hoping to give a report on that as well.

The following quote caught my eye:

“Curiously, Stephen [Chenault] noted that, while he sells some product on both the East and West coasts, he sells by far the most in what he calls the “Gaming Crescent” in the Midwest — from Kansas City up through Wisconsin, into Ohio and northern Indiana.”

I think I remember reading something similar in Michael Witwer’s biography of Gary Gygax, Empire of the Imagination. Witwer (if I’m remembering rightly) theorized that Gygax growing up and living in Wisconsin was a key factor in producing the RPG, the long, cold boring winters. If Gygax had lived in New York or L.A., we might not have RPGs!


Thanks for the report! Wish I could have attended. I live in Wisconsin (although I’m from New Orleans originally) and Lake Geneva is about 3 hours away. Unfortunately, personal circumstances prevented me from going to Gary Con. Hopefully, next year. I also plan on going to Gamehole Con in Madison this Nov.


My copy of Tales From the Magicians Skull came in today.


Great coverage, John. I am disappointed I had to cancel at the last minute or I would likely have gotten a chance to meet you at the Frog God booth (I am the 5E guy for Frog God). Maybe next year.

We do have some exciting stuff on the docket for this year and next.



I haven’t had time to read it yet. I read the intro and I’m going to read the Morlock story when I get a chance.



A sneak peek can probably be arranged. I can say that we have City of Brass 5E and Tegel Manor 5E dropping later this year along with some new IP for the Frog God Lost Lands setting (I’ll have to run it by Bill & Zach before I divulge anything juicy).


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