Gary Con Report: A Virtual Tour of Black Blade Publishing

Gary Con Report: A Virtual Tour of Black Blade Publishing

Allan T. Grohe Jr. in the Black Blade Publishing booth,
a mobile pilgrimage site for old school gamers

Gary Con! The tiny annual gathering that grew out the impromptu gaming event at Lake Geneva’s American Legion Hall after Gary Gygax’s funeral in March 2008 has now been going strong for fifteen years, and has grown into my favorite gaming convention. I attended Gary Con II in 2010 (my photo essay coverage of that ancient event is here), and was frankly astounded at how much it reminded me of the early days of Gen Con (which also took place in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin). Gary Con is a celebration of the life and work of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, and it has become the most important annual gathering for old-school gamers.

Gary Con XV is usually held across four days at the end of March, and this one took place March 23-26th, 2023. I made the one-hour drove across the state border into Wisconsin to attend on Saturday, March 25. As usual, I spent most of my time at the con wandering the fabulous Dealer’s Room, taking in the amazing volume of new and upcoming gaming releases.

One of the highlights of Gary Con every year — perhaps the highlight — is Black Blade Publishing’s magically overstocked booth, run by the friendly and knowledgeable Allan T. Grohe Jr. The booth contains half a dozen tables positively groaning under the weight of hundreds of products from dozens of exciting companies. Here’s a virtual tour of the booth, with over a dozen photos, and some of my most exciting finds.

[Click the images for Gary-sized versions.]

A wall-sized banner greets new arrivals at Gary Con

Black Blade Publishing is a publisher of old-school, tabletop role-playing-games based in Wichita, Kansas. They publish Stuart Marshall and Matt Finch’s OSRIC, a remake of the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), and one of the most popular D&D retro-clones. But they also operate as a distributor for many of the most exciting and innovative companies producing adventures and game books of interest to old school gamers.

If you’re an old school gamer — someone who still harbors a fondness for the classic role playing games of the 70s and 80s, including Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, Runequest, The Fantasy Trip, and hundreds of others — then you’re well aware of the adventure modules and supplements produced by legendary companies such as TSR, Judges Guild, Chaosium, Steve Jackson Games, Game Designers Workshop, FASA, Fantasy Games Unlimited, and many others.

A peek at just a few of the gaming treasures piled high at the Black Blade booth

Wandering through the Black Blade Publishing booth is (as I observed a few years ago) like browsing a well-stocked game store in an alternate 1979. There’s the exact same sense of excitement, the inexpressible joy of finding adventures for your favorite niche RPG, the delight at finding a new publisher, the love of a well-packaged adventure with head-turning artwork, and a delightful range of items that make you ask, “What the heck is this?”

The booth contained hundreds of products from some of the most innovative publishers in the industry, including:

Judges Guild
North Wind Adventures
BRW Games
Goblinoid Games
Bat in the Attic Games
casl Entertainment
Expeditious Retreat Press
Pied Piper Publishing
Chaotic Henchmen Productions
The Twisting Stair
Gene Weigel Games
Reverse Ettin Games
Mothshade Concepts
Tuesday Night Games
Mad Martian Games

and many, many others.

Some of the featured products at the booth: Broken Castle (Gene Weigel Games), the
six-volume Halls of Arden Vul (Expeditious Retreat Press), Hoard of Delusion (Axe Mental
Presents), the OSRIC rulebook (Black Blade), The Heroic Legendarium (Storm Fetish Productions),
Malevolent and Benign (Expeditious Retreat), and Monsters of Myth (First Edition Society)

Highlights of the booth? Beyond a doubt the most eye-popping item on offer this year was the incredible six-volume megadungeon Halls of Arden Vul from Expeditious Retreat Press, one of the most talked-about gaming releases of the past few years. Weighing in at a massive six volumes (including one dedicated just to maps!), it is perhaps the most ambitious megadungeon ever created, totaling 1,122 pages and containing:

2,162 Encounter Descriptions
14 NPC Factions
10 Massive Levels
15 Extensive Sub-levels
7 Dangerous Exterior locations
149 New Monsters

Check out Bryce Lynch’s detailed review at 10-Foot Pole, and order copies from DriveThruRPG.

A closer look at The Halls of Arden Vul (Expeditious Retreat), and Genial Jack (Lost Pages)

On a much smaller scale, but no less interesting, is Jonathan Newell’s Genial Jack from Lost Pages, an adventure set inside (yes, inside) a giant whale.

Here’s the enticing description:

Genial Jack is a serialized setting of nautical weirdness and whimsy – horrors and wonders from the deep, mysterious isles, absurd pirates, surreal monsters, sentient storms, and, of course, a whale the size of a mountain. Each volume will reveal some aspect of the bizarre seascape traversed by Genial Jack, beginning with an account of Jackburg itself – the ramshackle, symbiotic city built atop and within the beneficent Godwhale.

PDF copies are just $4.99 from DriveThruRPG.

The map book for The Halls of Arden Vul

On a smaller scale, the item that grabbed my attention was The Gardens of Ynn by Dying Stylishly Games, a procedurally generated point-crawl adventure set in an ever-shifting extradimensional garden.

Described as “a big garden full of whimsy and delight and surreal perils,” this slender volume contains some terrific artwork illuminating a truly unique setting, including:

  • Systems for generating locations within the garden, including hothouses, memorial gardens, chess lawns, the Mask Gallery, hypnotic gardens, fleshy gardens and of course the Splicing Vats.
  • 50 monsters tailored to the Gardens, including myconid composters, rose-maidens, rust-bumblebees, floral spiders, bonsai turtles and the enigatic Sidhe.
  • Details for The Idea Of Thorns and other dream-viruses.
  • Tables for generating treasure, Ynnian mutations, and various other useful details.
  • A unique class of Ynnian Changelings, human survivors adapted to the garden.

PDF copies are available at DriveThruRPG for the criminally low price of $5.

The Gardens of Ynn (Dying Stylishly Games)

I could go on and on, but for the benefit of brevity I’ll just mention a handful of other enticing titles:

Anthony Huso’s The Mortuary Temple of Esma – which Beyond Fomalhaut calls “a great AD&D module… I have known Anthony’s work since the early 2000s, when he created some of the best Thief fan missions of that time, with a signature design style featuring expansive, sinister cities, labyrinthine plots, and high drama… The Mortuary Temple of Esma was inspired by the eerie and strange Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, the “White Album” of Gygaxian fantasy scenarios.”

Adventures Dark and Deep from BRW Games — one of the more elaborate and highly regarded D&D clones, Adventures Dark and Deep explores the question, what if Gary Gygax had not left TSR in 1985, and had been allowed to continue developing the world’s most famous fantasy role-playing game? Based on Gygax’s original plans for expanding AD&D (as detailed in articles Dragon magazine), Adventures Dark and Deep provides new character classes like the jester, savant, mystic, and mountebank; new spells; a new combat system; new monsters; rules for weather and natural hazards; new magic items, and tons more.

The Fire-Pearls of Aya-Ghan (Reverse Ettin Games) is a short, system-agnostic RPG adventure set in the lost world, Azor, a “Bronze Age Mediterranean smorgasbord with dinosaurs and ape-men” (it was ‘dinosaurs and ape-men’ that sold me). Designed for a low magic pulpy Sword & Sorcery setting, it’s a tidy little adventure that can be run in one session, but the booklet contains enough material for an imaginative DM to expand into 3-4 game sessions.

The Twisting Stair is an old-school dungeon design newsletter. Each slender issues contain new maps, geomorphs, and old school goodness. Only three issues have been published so far (#3 came out in 2019), but they’re still well worth a look.

Here’s a closer look at the interior art for The Gardens of Ynn.

Interior art for The Gardens of Ynn

Since just listing product titles doesn’t do justice to the great work Allan did setting up the booth, I’m going to use the rest of this article to share a few more pics of his displays, which prominently features:

A full assortment of Hyperborea adventures from North Wind Adventures
The best current offerings from Judges Guild, including the excellent line of classic reprints
The Majestic Fantasy RPG (Bat in the Attic Games)
Empire of the Petal Throne from the Tékumel Foundation
The Ice Kingdoms campaign setting (Mad Martian Games)
Dead Planet (Tuesday Night Games)
A fabulous line of OSRIC adventures from casl Entertainment
Adventures Dark and Deep (BRW games)
The Nevermore Mines (The Merciless Merchants)
Shadowbrook Manor for Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid Games)
Original Fantasy RPG books (Mothshade Concepts)


Left: An assortment of Hyperborea adventures (North Wind Adventures), classic reprints
from Judges Guild, and The Majestic Fantasy RPG, including Blackmarsh (Bat in the Attic
Games). Right: Empire of the Petal Throne from the Tékumel Foundation.


Left: The Ice Kingdoms campaign setting (Mad Martian Games). Right: Dead Planet
(Tuesday Night Games), OSRIC adventures from casl Entertainment, and much more


Left: Adventures Dark and Deep (BRW games). Right: Shadowbrook Manor for Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid Games),
The Nevermore Mines (The Merciless Merchants), and The Fire-Pearls of Aya-Ghan (Reverse Ettin Games)


Original Fantasy RPG books from Mothshade Concepts

To keep tabs on Black Blade Publishing, check out their Facebook Page here. Tell ’em Black Gate sent you!

Check out all the details on the history of Gary Con, and keep you eye out for details on next year’s show, at their website.

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
2018 – Old School Role Playing, and Pathfinder by the Pound: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part I
2018 – The 1001 Treasures of Black Blade Publishing and Goodman Games: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part II

See all of our recent Games coverage here.

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Troy chrisman

when is next year’s Gary Con?

Troy chrisman

might be worth the drive from Missouri.


Epic reporting. I need to get there.

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