More Convention Details from The Dragon

I continued sifting through old issues of The Dragon, hoping to find more convention tournament reports.  It was starting to look like issues 2 and 3 were unique in this regard, and I found no info on GenCon X (1977).  I pressed on, mostly because these old issues of The Dragon are a really fascinating glimpse of the hobby back in its infancy, when I hit the gold mine: issue 19, October 1978.

This issue includes both Tim Kask’s usual editorial plus a guest editorial by Gary Gygax, and both of them discuss the recent Origins and GenCon conventions.  In addition there’s also a first hand account of the group that won the Origins 78 tournament.  Apparently that tournament was the original running of modules G1, G2, and G3.  Each module was one round of the tournament, with winners getting to proceed on to the next module.  (Don’t worry Delta, I skimmed past the details about G3).  And not surprisingly, in the middle of this account is a full page add for, you guessed it, the modules themselves.

Tim reports a decline in attendance in 1978, with 2,000 total attendees.  An interesting number, as I’m pretty sure that’s much larger than any of the smaller local conventions I attend these days, but nothing compared to current GenCon numbers (I think it’s now usually in the 20,000 – 30,000 range).  Unfortunately I never can get numbers out of anyone about the local conventions.  I’m very curious how big TotalCon is, being the largest local convention I’ve been to.  I suspect it’s in the 400-600 range, but that’s basically a wild guess.

Tim and Gary are full of speculation in their editorials as to the reason for decline in size: it was too close to Origins, there was massive rain, the location had changed and was difficult to find.  What you really can’t help noticing though is the general attitude of hope for future growth.  Many promises are made that next year will have more attendees, more events, be better organized, etc.  Clearly conventions are a big part of hobby for these guys.

I’m vaguely aware from discussions with Tim and Frank (Mentzer) at TotalCon that these guys still schlep out to a very large number of conventions.  I’m guessing this is a habit formed from many years of practice.  I really enjoy attending conventions, but with my current schedule of 3 a year I’m already feeling the strain.  I can only imagine what it must be like to go to so many more and be such a big part of every one you attend.  I’ve heard arguments that the evolution of AD&D (1e) was largely reactionary to the tournament scene, and I think that argument seems pretty sound.  Conventions and the tournaments run at them must have been constantly on their minds; I imagine it was a big part of their lives and it’s no wonder they’d want to conform the rules around that style of play.

OK, back to the magazine, as there’s one more gem in its covers.  The article “How Many Ettins is a Fire Giant Worth: Competative D&D” by Bob Blake gives us some thoughts on scoring tournaments with specific reference to the Origins 78 and GenCon XI tournaments.  Blake’s argues in favor of objective scoring systems that don’t require discussion between DMs, and pre-tournament briefings to ensure “DM consistency”.  I understand his reasons for these, but you can just feel the soul being slowly leached out of the games here.  DM consistency?  Isn’t the whole point of this game that anything can (and will) happen?

I think ultimately the main problem here is the desire to declare a winner.  Scoring I grant you gives an interesting twist to the game, but maybe it can also get in the way.  The most enjoyment I’ve had with scored tournaments is when the score is really “just for laughs”, with no real outcome for scoring high or low.  When there are prizes involved, or I think even more importantly, access to later exclusive rounds, players are going to care more about the score and less about just enjoying themselves.  And isn’t that why we play these games?

Hmm, well, I’m glad to say that I have appeared to run the clock.  I have no answers here, there’s definitely something enjoyable about scored tournament games, and yet also something dissatisfying.  It’s time to go home though, so I’ll have to muse more on this one and see if I come to any conclusions.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree that issue is really the best peek at early tournament play that I’ve come across. The scoring formula I use for G1-3 is lifted directly from that article (with another 80% of the detail filled in myself). Most of my impressions come from that issue.

    Regarding the DM-consistency thing, first I think it’s a lot more necessary in a competitive tournament (feeding that back into the core rulebooks, not so much)*. Secondly, I really wish we knew if that article was written in the context of OD&D or AD&D (in theory in 1978 the MM and PHB were available, but not the DMG). If it’s OD&D-context, okay, I totally see that (OD&D doesn’t even have any initiative or round-sequencing rules anywhere within its covers). If AD&D, then I think that points to a failure in the overall reputed project.

    Have you ever played in a competitive multi-round tournament? Personally I love it, but I get pleasantly excited by competitive situations (my one time at GenCon I had a great time — one guy kind of went tunnel-vision on us, but the rest of us still enjoyed a dash character acting while we goal-pursued). I might gamble towards it not being your cup of tea, but figured I’d ask…

    * Somewhere you’ll find an anecdote of the S1 tournament, where a question came up if one of the parties could use a particular no-save-deathtrap in the tomb on the demi-lich himself. In a situation like that it’s pretty important to not have one DM say “yes” and another “no” to the same tactic.

  2. I have played in several competitive multi-round tournaments, mostly back in the early 90’s when I first started attending GenCon. All of those, however, were scored more in the vein of what’s described in The Dragon #2, where one person at each table is declared the winner and moves on to play a second round with other winners of the first round. Back then I always packed my schedule very full too, so in the rare occasion thate n I actually won a round, I would decline to attend the next round in favor of playing what I had already scheduled.

    Just last year I got to play the Stonesky Delve, a very small 1e AD&D tournament at GenCon, and I’m pretty sure that every group got a pass from the first round to the second. I think then each group had their total score tallied across both rounds to find a final winner. However, the scheduling of this was not well communicated, and I had no idea there was a second round that I had access to until I was at the convention. At that time I wrestled with whether to attend the second round or stick with the other thing I had scheduled, and finally decided on the latter, so I have no idea how my group scored.

    In retrospect, that style may be most to my personal taste. I’d prefer to have the score (and any prize that comes with it) be purely a bonus on top of the pleasure of playing the game itself. Once it starts making me have to make tough decisions about my convention schedule, I think it becomes a bit less fun.

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