the Fairgame Archive

2007-08-24: GenCon retrospective
by Emily

GenCon was great, though it was lacking in some key ingredients for me. Such as: Meg Baker, Clinton Nixon, Jake Richmond and the many others who couldn't make it. :( It was nice that some folks who hadn't made it last year came again: Star and Eric from Canada, also Seth Ben Ezra was back. Yay to meet my fellow KF knife-fighter!

It was a really different year than in the past. Not the least because of the diasporazation of the Forge Booth. From one huge, full-to-the-brim booth, we now had the mother ship, the Playcollective spinoff nearby, the feeder Ashcan Front booth, and the veteran tigers over at Burning Wheel-Empires/Memento Mori, along with other indie indies like Hamster Press. There are many great threads about the experience, but my favorite is the first: Jason Morningstar's One Cool Thing you Saw at GenCon.

Some of us had great experiences, some less stellar. It seemed like for some splitting off made the con seem like just another solitary venture again. Fissioning off can lose you the glow of being part of a team, of pulling together.

This is a far cry from the beginning—oh so long ago in 2002 or 03? I looked for threads on the Forge from the first GenCons and they pre-date the Con forum, so aren't easy to track down. This Adept Press and conventions thread, along with the Forge East initiative give a good sense of the pioneering endeavour the booth was at the time. We've only been doing this for four or five years, it's pretty amazing that there are so many game companies that we have this profusion of games and booths about which to praise and repine. (it's a real word, go look it up)

I'm reminded of how the Game Chef contest started with six or seven games. How many companies were in the original Adept booth at GenCon? What's been the change over time? I invite those in the know to chart out the history of this crazily wonderful thing that is the Forge at GenCon.

2007-08-30 22:30:00 Paul Czege

The banner was 2003. Danielle was working out the banner details while I was building the three-sided shelving unit.


2007-08-31 00:11:57 Ron Edwards

2003 is slowly coming back to me now ... I think this was the year that Matt Snyder missed (but Dust Devils didn't), and Matt Wilson had PTA was in playtest (The Moose was 2004). Sex & Sorcery was released. Burning Wheel was there for the first time, and I think that was the year I bullied someone into buying kill puppies for satan. My current hard drive doesn't go back that far.

Ha! I just found some information. From the relevant thread ...

Errant Knight Games (Kayfabe) - Matt Gwinn & Janet Johnson

Half Meme Press (My Life with Master) - Paul Czege, Danielle Hall

The Burning Wheel - Luke Crane

Ramshead Publishing - Ralph Mazza

Chain of Being - Dan Geyer, Cory Katzenmeyer, Justin Williams

BTRC (EABA) - Greg Porter

Memento Mori (Decay, InSpectres, octaNe, et al.) - Jared A. Sorensen

Thyrsus Games (Fvlminata) - Michael Miller

Gilded Moose Games (Charnel Gods) - Scott Knipe

Lumpley Games (kill puppies for satan) - Vincent Baker

Booth folks included Dave Michalak (Nev), Raven, Juergen Mayer, Jeffrey Miller, Matt Wilson, Tom Fitch, and Mike Holmes.

Ah, the much-loved and much-maligned shelf. Before 2003, "we need shelves!" was the constant cry; after that, we heard nothing but "the shelf is in the way!" I swear that Paul's autobiography will have chapters titled like "High School: 20 years before the shelf," and "Our Wedding: two years after the shelf," and so on. Seriously, though, the shelf and the banner were an enormous identity building duo, courtesy of Paul and Danielle respectively.

Here's one thing we can track through the years: money management.

2001: my little cashbox, for Sorcerer. I brought it home full of $20 bills, and Cecilia and I counted it on the dining room table in our apartment. A little while into it, she looked up from all these piles and said, "I could get used to this ..."

2002: Jake's back pocket. What a nightmare.

2003: As I say, my records are sketchy for this year, unfortunately. I think we put Ralph in charge of all the money, but I don't think we had the cash register yet. I took a really hard financial hit this time, because I paid for all the furniture (which is FUCKING expensive, especially the chairs), and because Arc Dream had gone AWOL. (Again, they made good later.) I could see the culture growing but I didn't want to finance it through my losses!

I am now recalling, though, that I tried to be very prepared and organized and therefore made a horrible mistake: accepting commitments and money in February. This was disastrous - the "whoops can't come," the rush to find people so that the booth wouldn't impoverish us, and the badge nightmare that ensued was nothing but the worst. After that, I was smart enough to open a four to six week window, with June 1 as the deadline, with no refunds.

2004: The cash register!! Of course, this led to a different family of hassles, mainly due to miskeys; that would be a feature of cash register use to the present day. Also, everyone paid $55 for their badges, but the badge cost had stealthily jumped to $70, and I ate the damn difference. This was a running problem: up through this year, when a sudden cost appeared, I typically just pulled out the Adept checkbook or Visa and paid it. I didn't spread such things among the primary sponsors until 2005.

See, the general problem was, someone would get an Idea, like flyers (sometimes good, sometimes not or handouts (not so good) or the banner (great) or whatever. Then everyone would realize that there really was no reimbursement or payback involved - we just didn't have any rules for it, and the prevailing ethic was "If you want to see it happen, you pay for it," and sometimes this was fair and sometimes it wasn't. This would come to a head in 2005 with some fancy booklets and card-type handouts that were an insane head-ache for me and Luke, and cost us money, even though they'd originated with someone else, and they ended up being pretty useless. But small versions of little hassles like this were all over the place in 2004. Even labor - Paul worked really hard on the shelf, as he mentioned once or twice, and yet how does such investment factor into the social or policy scene at the booth? No one really knew.

Here's another interesting wrinkle for 2004: it was the first year that retailers and distributors showed up, having learned (going back to my campaign at GTS in 2002 and 2003) that these indie gamez wuz all the rage, somehow. They could NOT, for the life of them, understand the concept of our companies. "But can't I just pay the Forge?" Ultimately, we'd have them write a check to me, and then I'd pass on the right amount to each of the publishers whose games they bought.

This thread is very enlightening about money and 2004:

2005: This was the year with the cash register humming away, and the first really functional use of space, I think. Although as the booth grew and as it became better physically designed, it also became more crowded with customers - this was an issue going all the way back to the Sorcerer booth in 2001; basically, it's the right kind of problem to have. But it's also important to see that the booth as a play space was not jibing well with the booth as a retail space, or at least, not meshing well. And yes, the credit card situation was a true pain in the butt, but it worked and we actually made a hell of a lot of money largely because of it. This was the year that my finances stopped taking such dreadful hits.

In 2006, we had IPR management and Ralph's cash register; in 2007, we had IPR management and IPR's cash register. Very evolutionary.


I think over the next couple of days, I'll hunt down all the relevant threads for GenCon, from the beginning.

Best, Ron

2007-08-31 17:21:11 Joshua A.C. Newman

Man, this is great.

2007-08-31 19:21:41 Vincent

2003 was my first year. Embarrassed, pleased amazement, yes. That was the year John Wick did his Harry Potter high school thing in (Paul says it was) Gordon's suite at the Embassy Suites. I bonded with Paul and Tom Fitch during that game, and the Ron vs John thing was funny to watch.

I ate at the spaghetti factory with the whole Paul-Scott-Tom-Matt crowd, and told Tom especially all about Mormonism. It must've been that year - I also ate pizza with Jake Norwood and barely talked about Mormonism at all. Also Ron and Julie and I wound up alone together at the wrong Irish pub, and I wouldn't trade THAT away for anything.

On Sunday we ate at the Mexican place that's gone now, and I wouldn't leave, even though we weren't staying Sunday night and Drew was really anxious to get on the road. We drove through the night and I'm happy we managed not to kill ourselves.

Kill puppies for satan was successful at the booth beyond all reason. I came home from the con with cash in hand, going "holy crap, I can have fun and make money at the same time after all! That'll show THEM!"

2004 was Moose in the City and Dogs in the Vineyard. I had like 40 copies of Dogs and they were gone on Saturday morning - who'd'a thunk?

This is funny - I remember before the Diana Jones award just following Ron and Julie and Jurgen around, wherever they were going. At one point Jurgen was like, "dude, what's your deal?" and I was like, "waah! I just want to be with my friends!"

Moose in the City was in someone's room at the Embassy Suites but I think it was 2005 when the after-hours Embassy Suites scene really kicked in. In 2004 we did all our game planning over dinner, still, as I remember it.

2004 was also F*ck This, a game I haven't gotten to play enough.

2007-08-31 21:11:12 Luke

February 2003, MSM had pointed me to the Forge. I wanted to go to Gencon. There was this thread about organizing a booth for Gencon. I posted in it; my first post to the forums, "Can I get in on this?" I didn't even sign my name! Ron's like, "Sure, whoever you are, $100 plus badge."

Changed me freaking life.

I had no idea it was the first year in Indie. That's kind of cool. Dro and I came late Thursday and left early Sunday. We both had pounding headaches when we left. But we sold 36 copies of Burning Wheel—everything we'd brought with us. Largely due to Scott Knipe stopping people and saying, "Burning Wheel, best deal at the con!"

Everyone cheered when we sold out. It was awesome.

Actually, we didn't technically sell out. I gave one copy to Ken Hite. Again, MSM, my guardian angel, dragging me over to Ken "Ken who?" and making me give him a copy of BW. He said something pithy and smart to me like, "Oh, you're the guy who wrote this," and asked for a review copy.

I said, dubiously, "You going to actually review it?"

"If it's good, I'll review it."

"You'll review it then," and I handed him a copy. Thus began our torrid love affair.

Dro and I also crashed in Ron's tiny room. It was unimaginably crowded. 2 per bed plus two on the floor. I slept with Jake—to whom I'd barely been introduced. I was terrified. He was a big dude and kind of scary! Dro curled up with J??rgen on the floor. Dro took a hilarious picture of J??rgen sleeping with his mouth open.

2004 I gleefully returned as a primary sponsor. Dro and I demo'd our asses off at that con. We sold like 80 Monster Burner or something. It was nuts. That was the con where Dro's Orc killed Matt Wilson and this other kid whose screen name is Gumby. He massacred them. They loved it.

2004 was the dawn of the Embassy Suites. Free breakfast!

2005 was the beginning of the end. Ron complained deeply about organizing the booth and the costs associated with it. I think he even said he was considering shutting it all down. (Now that I think of it, I think that was yearly ritual.) I told him to share the responsibility with the other primary sponsors. What then happened was that I ended up doing much of the behind the scenes organization. Ron dotted i's and crossed t's. It was cool. We were a team. I campaigned hard for a bigger booth. I had everyone ready for a bigger booth. At some point, Ron unilaterally decided to go with our endcap set up.

It was hella crowded that year.

2006 was the year I'm most proud of, but it certainly was the least fun. I organized the whole booth and paid for everything up front to make sure we met our deadlines.* In and of itself, that's not so hard. But the political campaigning I had to do in order to get everyone to agree to a bigger booth and to bring in IPR was ridiculous. I felt the booth needed to grow and I was going to god damned have my way. It wasn't going to be like last year! There were hours of talks and delicate meetings. Good times! Ultimately, everyone was pretty cool about.

Obviously, it was worth the effort.  It was our most successful year by a huge margin. Greg and I arranged the flooring, Paul had the chairs worked out from 2005, Brennan brought the displays and stock, Alexander managed the stocking and the register, and everyone else brought the enthusiasm and energy for which we are renowned!

I also distinctly remember observing Jason Morningstar absorbing his first Gencon. It was fun to watch!

*In the end, I think the primary sponsors ended up paying like $150 for their shares of the booth in 2006. We had so many buy-ins, I was giving money back to people—even after we paid for the phone and flooring out of the surplus.

2007, I got fired! But it looks like you all had fun and did all right, so that's ok.

2007-08-31 22:57:46 Ron Edwards

Ha. You think six in the hotel room was a lot? Get this.

In 2001, Clinton and I had reserved two rooms in a Milwaukee hotel. I get there first, with all my Sorcerer stuff in the car. I go to check in, and discover that the staff had decided that a reservation by "Clinton R. Nixon" must be a hoax, and so, um, wait a moment, sir (much shuffling and whispering behind the counter). Clinton and his girlfriend got a freakin' honeymoon suite with a jacuzzi out of that deal!

But the point is, in my room, we had somewhere around 12-15 people sleeping there, the whole con. Acres of gamers! Sleeping mats and bags everywhere! Jared and I got the bed and didn't share. Josh Neff wears flashy jammies.

Ah, that reminds me, there was a thread about this:

But that thread doesn't include the anecdote I want to tell here. Get this: at that hotel, it is possible to close the bathroom door and discover that you have *locked yourself out* of the bathroom. One of our crew very brilliantly accomplished this! There's like, 12 people!

OK, everyone except me is there 100% not officially. And the room is very Modern in design: when you come in from the hall, all you see is the bathroom door to your right and this weird, curvy, full-length partition in front of you. You have to go 'round the partition to get into the room proper.

All of which means, I summoned the hotel staff member to unlock the bathroom, claiming I was the culprit. We shoved all the suitcases and gear into a pile. Everyone had to huddle behind the partition, all over the bed and chairs and floor and everything, and be quiet as mice while she arrived and unlocked the door.

It's hilarious. All she had to do was poke her head around the edge of the partition, and she would have seen the entire cast list of the Sorcerer booth, looking like a nerdy version of a Broadway musical in a photo, with really big eyes and tightly closed lips, sitting there, quiet as mice. I must have seemed especially cheerful to the hotel person, because I was about to laugh out loud any second.

Best, Ron

2007-09-01 02:03:57 Matt Snyder

Man, that's a great story.

I get to bitch now! Chimera Creative was a $200 member in 2006, third year in a row.

Also, you can check out this podcast of my brief recollection of the years.

2007-09-01 02:27:45 Ron Edwards

Crap, Matt, my scheme to erase you from the annals of GenCon is now foiled.

Here's another interesting thing that got refined over the years: mutualism and a sense of coherent duty at the booth. Perhaps a bit too organized for many people - Jared and Dav probably chief among them, both of whom have told me they were much happier in the garage-punk phase of it all.

But it had to happen. From sponsors who didn't act mutually or didn't show up, to friends and spouses of participants who got exhibitor badges and had no connection with what was going on, to more stringent needs to focus on sales due to higher expenses, to new problems like over-eagerness ... there's just too much at stake for the newcomers, and too much risk for them to be crowded out, if we let the garage-punk beginnings turn into an over-hip clique.

Therefore, as best as I can, I used organization and hitting the "duty to the cause, expectations of the booth" button in order to preserve the chaos that really matters: the likelihood that people like Justin, Eric, Julia, Greg, and Matt & Kim can get fair attention for their games, each year.

That's why I think the Ashcan Front is the real hero this year, for making sure that edge into the pure-gamer, non-Forge ferment - what Luke once called the "strong hand hoisting me up from the darkness" - is still actually happening. That's the biggest risk the booth ever faced, and continues to face, that the new people (a) first shrink to include only the acquaintances of current publishers and Forge folks, and then (b) become less and less numerous and significant.

We had ten new companies for 2007 ... but three of them canceled at the last minute. Seven is not enough! Next year has to do better. Maybe the Ashcan Front can help with that, and maybe not, I don't know.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. My point is that the increased organization, perhaps what might be called "professionalism," and yet the loss of the crazy-fun zest (perhaps "arrogance" to many) is aimed at trying to keep the newcomers lifted up, by the rest of us, into visibility and successful commerce.

It's a tough price to pay to see that no-holds-barred feeling diminish, though, from when *everyone* was a newcomer.

Ah shit, listen to me maunder on. "Grandpa, c'mon, no one wants to hear about that nowadays."

Best, Ron

2007-09-01 02:58:24 Clinton R. Nixon

Here's some of my favorite recollections:

2001: I love Luke's story about Ken Hite. I have to brag on my introduction of Ken to the Great World of Indie. It's 2001, and it's the Sorcerer booth. I'm helping Ron. Here comes Ken Hite, the man who ain't ever going to pay for a game again. Ron is dead serious about not giving out review copies of Sorcerer. I look back and forth and pull out $20, hand it to Ron, and hand Ken a copy of Sorcerer. If I charged interest on that $20, I'd be a rich man.

2001, part 2: Seriously, that honeymoon suite. That'll teach a hotel to think my name's a joke.

2001, part 3: Joshua Neff, late one night, bleary-eyed, said to me, "You know what's great? Bac-O's." God, I miss seeing that guy. Best guy in the world.

2005: Keith Senkowski spooned me, for real. Also, I got a job at Lulu out of going to GenCon and meeting two nice ladies that worked there. I got royally screwed by RapidPOD and still had a great time. Ben Lehman and I had an experience that made me a better person.

2006: A good year and a bad year! I got to go to GenCon for free! Lulu sent me. But, I had to work the Lulu booth instead of the Forge booth, and it sapped my love of the con. I spent all day sneaking back and forth.

Seriously, did I miss three years in a row? Man, life.

2007-09-01 03:38:02 Ron Edwards

Hey, you know what's my favorite Josh Neff story?

We're at the Sorcerer booth, 2001, and just sellin' like gangbusters, I'm rolling dice at one end of the table and talking a blue streak, and Josh is doing the same at the other end.

And then he looks over at me, having just conducted a sale, and shakes a $20 bill at me. "I just got this from somebody," he says, "and it felt really good! That's wrong! I'm a socialist, God damn it!"

Perestroika, my lad, perestroika ... we must be open to little Freidman moments, sometimes.

On a different note, I have yet to be inadvertently, inappropriately cuddled by a slumbering fellow Forge-ite in the middle of the night. What with this Keith business, and untoward comments about Jeff Lower from a recent posted account, I am feeling left out.

2007-09-01 10:32:08 Luke

Hat trick! I've been midnight cuddled by Senowski, Drozdalski and Tiruchelvam—by practically the entire third world!

2007-09-01 15:25:38 Ben

Ron, if you need a hug, just ask.



2007-09-01 15:43:30 Fred Hicks

My GenCon experience is very brief, but I wanted to toss it in here because it's been a pretty fun ride so far.

2006: I've managed to publish Don't Rest Your Head, pretty much to my abject surprise.  Never expected to have it ready as fast as I did (all hail POD!), and thus was in no real position to be a part of GenCon.

DexCon happened just a bit prior to GenCon, and I got the chance to meet Brennan Taylor there.  I say, hey, Brennan, you seem like a hoopy frood, I'd like to sign up, and I hand him a swack of DRYHes and get more shipped to him pronto.  I also get to meet Judd and play in Dictionary of Mu, and I end up a crazy passionate advocate of that book as a result.

Then Clinton Nixon, hero of the people, emails me.  Says, hey Fred, I know it's late for you to get into the Forge booth, but I'm going to GenCon as part of the Lulu booth this year, and I know you to be someone publishing through Lulu right now.  We'd love to have you in the booth, if you want a space to represent your stuff at the convention.

After a lot of stunned "Uh..." from me, I turn to my wife and say "Uh..." and she says "Go!"  So I scramble last-minute to get myself to GenCon.  I get to observe the Forge booth from afar that year, and run maybe 2 or 3 demos at the Lulu booth.  Due to IPR's involvement with the Forge booth (which I had no idea had resulted from Luke's campaigning—at the time I only really knew Luke as the Burning Wheel dude who gestured at my game and said, "Seriously awesome title, dude."), Don't Rest Your Head ends up being represented over at the Forge booth, and getting sold.

DRYH sells out that GenCon, within a few hours of Dictionary of Mu (the New Hotness for me at the convention, though I end up dropping serious bank on the booth) selling out.

It feels really good.

2007: Spirit of the Century takes off in the craziest way, and I end up becoming a part of IPR as their customer service dude and small-part owner.  The Indie Games Passport idea gets originated and discussed by SOMEONE in the course of the past year, and I forget who that was—but I don't see it happening, so I pick up that ball and run with it.  Working for IPR puts me in an ideal position to gather the data for and compose the Demo Menu and Pricelist items for the booth.  I have Evil Hat buy into the Forge booth for the first time, but at $200 because I feel I got well represented with DRYH selling out in 2006, plus extra for three badges—the full boat of Spirit of the Century authors.  I begin to realize that I really am bad at doing things by half-measures.

I print up 1000 copies of the Passport prior to the convention (judging by the final stack, that was right-sized for 11 booths, even though we only end up with about 80 turned in for the drawing), and 500 each of the price-list and demo menus (of which there ends up being a huge stacks left; by consumption, there were maybe 150-250 of each that get picked up and used at the convention; this may have been due to positioning, or the effectiveness of the on-shelf pricelists that we hung on each shelf).

This is my first GenCon as a part of the Forge booth.  It has a euphoric "With our powers combined..." sort of thing to it.  Rob Donoghue turns out to be a master roper and soft-sell pitchman for the booth.  Lenny Balsera proclaims on Saturday that he has moved beyond the flesh and transformed into a being made of pure demo.  From where I stand, that looks to be about right.  I get in some of both activities over the course of the convention, being (to steal from Amber) something of the Bleys of Evil Hat—second best at everything, but DOING everything.

After a big sprint through the Summer Conventions (Origins, Dexcon, GenCon), this is my first convention of the three showing up purely as an Evil Hat guy instead of a hybrid Evil Hat/IPR guy.  I end up feeling a little useless occasionally, not doing some of the IPR duties, but as I reflect on things, that's probably my "bad at half-measures" brain speaking up again.  But the Evil Hatness keeps me busy, with the networking, and the awards ceremonies, and the Forge Booth Citizen thing.

Prior to this year, following Ron's out-of-the-nest proclamation, I had considered doing a spin-off booth thing for GenCon—but ultimately I didn't want to go that way without getting some on-the-ground Forge Booth experience.  Everything about 2007 at GenCon validated that decision, when it comes down to it, and I'm thrilled to have been a part.

For me, it also revealed the importance in the Age of Diaspora of making sure that you SCHEDULE YOUR TIME carefully if you want to feel like a full participant in the experience.  Rob Donoghue ended up feeling like he missed much of the convention because he never had an explicit, rigid schedule that said "this is the time when you DON'T work" (that's his Vermont ethic for you; if he sees work that needs doing, and hasn't been told he's not obligated to do it, then he obligates himself to do it).  I did what I could to orbit along the Passport Circuit and see what was up all along the way, but I still spent far too little time at the Ashcan Front, never got much time at all at the Burning Dead booth, and despite being right across from the Play Collective, mainly learned about the New Awesome stuff they had there after it was already sold.

Next year, regardless of the booth I find myself in, there will be careful, explicitly scheduled shifts for me and my crew.  We're there to sell, but we're also there for the non-selling fun, too.

2007-09-01 17:23:54 Judd

I showed up to the Forge booth for the first time in 2004.  I walked up to the booth and didn't know anyone's faces yet or even many names yet.  I knew I wanted to talk to Ron about Mu, which was in its beginning stages.

So, someone asked me what kind of games I liked and I kind of shyly told them that I liked lots of Forge games but that it was Dust Devils that got me started.

"Dust Devils?  You like westerns, then.  VINCENT!  DOGS DEMO!"

And Vincent came over and put Dogs in the Vineyard in my hand and ran me through the demo with your brother going to kill the whore his son stole money to sleep with.

And after he told me the situation I started role-playing and he held up his hand and smiled.  "Not yet.  Hold on.  First, roll these."

And he explained what the dice meant and we went to it.

I bought Dogs right there and told Jeff and J.J. that if we had a few minutes, I wanted to try to run it right there at the con.  I didn't play it then but did when I got home.

I got to meet Ron later and he shook my hand and thanked me for playing his game.

"I'm glad you like it," he said.

"I really do."

"I've read the threads.  I know.  Thanks."  Ron and I got to chill out more and just shoot the shit at a panel he was on that we both showed up early with our lunches in hand.  So, we sat outside the room and chatted.

Shit, we've barely had a moment to talk face to face since.

I also played in two games with Luke that con and got to chill with him and Dro after Poisonous Ambition while he rubbed his own feet and tried not to pass out.

That was when he gave Duel of Wits a spin with me and Jeff playing on opposite sides of the table: Jeff an Elf and me a Dwarf for The Gift.

I went home hungry for Burning Wheel and Dogs, as play that year showed.

It was the 2005 when me and Jeff first showed up with Jeff's iPod with a mic attachment.  We recorded a bunch of interviews and demos, huddled around his iPod in the Dealer's Room.

2006 was when I joined up as a publisher with an Exhibitor's Badge with Dictionary of Mu.  I loved seeing the hall before it was set up, though I recall sweating like a pig because they hadn't turned on the air yet.

I dragged my 50 copies of Mu in a plastic bin that my dad moved his kitchen stuff in in 1995 and somewhere among the IPR bins, I often see that bin with KITCHEN written in my dad's hand-writing.

I was lugging those books in that damned unwieldy crate, and was about to pass out from the seven block walk from my hotel when Alexander walked by.  He took the crate and pushed me towards where I would get my badge.

I know its a total cliche to say this but watching him walk off with those books was like watching someone walk off with my child.  It says a whole lot about what the booth means to me that I could be staggering along on the streets of Indianapolis after driving all night, run into a friend, trust him with all of the books I brought and get sorted out with his guidance.

Seeing the booth in action was nifty and inspiring.

Jeff and I got neat interviews with 3 groups of Forge folks: the rookies, the veterans and the stake-holders.

2007-09-01 18:44:35 Rev. Raven Daegmorgan

I only manged to make the one GenCon, in 2001—though my photo gallery of it seems to have disappeared, hrm—and I remember one morning Ron looks at me and laughs, "You're a third of the size of everyone else here and yet you have more energy than all of us combined."

Mainly because I'd work my arse off at the booth pitching Sorcerer all day (in fact, Ron chased me out one day, ordering me to take a break and go have fun), and then spent gods know how many hours at the clubs after hours hanging out and dancing until I would head back to our crowded hotel room (where I would try to avoid stepping on people in the dark while attempting to locate a free patch of floor or couch to sleep for a few hours).

2007-09-01 23:00:18 Michael S. Miller

My Forge booth retrospective could be a list of answers to the question "What stuff did I lug to the midwest that year?"

2001: Jason Roberts & I released FVLMINATA. He had the books shipped to the con, but Kat and I still had to lug 5 boxes of books through the MidWest Express center in Milwaulkee. We were selling through Wizard's Attic, who had a booth right at the front of the hall. FVL was the 4th book in hall! I ran eight(!) scheduled 4-hour sessions of the game. Some time that I was in the hall and had just scared someone away from FVL, Jason said "Some Ron Edwards guy just bought a copy. He's over on the end." I went over and picked up a copy of Sorcerer, exchanged an "I just bought your game" with Ron. Told him I'd come across his site called Haesphestus's Forge and that I'd be checking it out later. Too darn busy to chat more than that.

2002: No exhibitor badge, as FVL was still with Wizards' Attic. Ran 4 scheduled FVL games—took it easy. Had been reading the Forge daily for months and knew exactly what I wanted to buy. Waited outside the hall on Thursday morning and was part of the mad rush to get in. I dropped my entire GenCon shopping budget in less than an hour on Universalis, octaNe, tRoS, Trollbabe, Demon Cops, and others. I think I bought the first copy of Universalis EVER, since Mike and Ralph were still debating over the price ($12 or $15?) when I was thrusting money at them. Paul Czege spotted my FVLMINATA lanyard and said "You must be Michael S. Miller." That was cool! I got into as many demos as I possibly could—InSpectres w/ Jared and Josh Neff, Sorcerer In Utero w/ Ron and Paul, tRoS w/ Jake and somebody else. Occasionally talked up FVL over at the Wizard's Attic booth. Missed Mike Holmes' playtest of Sorcerer and Space.

2003: The year that Indy ran out of food! Also my first year with an exhibitor badge, representing FVLMINATA. I'm fairly certain we were had a 20 x 10 space on an endcap that year, it was just badly placed—way in the back and across from some scifi video game booth with loud speakers. I lugged a box full of FVL and box full of Burning Wheel to the booth, because I had met this mad New Yorker at a con in NJ months before. We all marveled at the beauty and size of Paul's shelf. I met Vincent for the first time. I read MLwM and had my heart stolen from my chest. I nagged Mike Holmes about Sorcerer and Space. I ran a 3-player FVL demo with only 2 players because that's all that were ready RIGHT THEN, and Ron looks me in the eye and says "you can do it with two." And I did. I recall Julie and Ralph and Danielle(?) taking care of the money in the cash box using little carbon-copy receipt books.

I didn't socialize much with the booth folk, and so missed out on a lot of after-hours gaming. I managed to go one night to Ron's hotel room, and got there before the big group got back from dinner and Jurgen was trying to take a nap, but we had a strained conversation until the rest of the folks got back. Then Ron, Gordon Landis, and I played Trollbabe, and talked about superhero movies. And the seeds of WGP... were planted.

I didn't stick around, but I recall Ron, Ralph, Jake and others sitting around in the remains of the booth on Sunday evening, discussing the need for a fulfillment house that would serve publishers and customers. IPR was still years in the future.

2004: I lugged a box of WGP... Preview Editions and BW Monster Burners to the show. Our endcap was more quiet, and only about 30 feet from an ATM, although nobody noticed that until Saturday! I remember asking Vincent about Dogs in the Vineyard, and there were no free tables, so we walked to the back of the hall and crouched down on the concrete floor like crap shooters and he showed me how the dice and escalation worked. I recall saying "I couldn't figure out how to do that with dice, so I did it with cards, instead." I ran WGP demos that ran too long (the 15 minute demo was not yet a science). I think this was the year that I first met Judd in a Fastlane demo that Lxndr was running.

Ralph's cash register, even with the screw-ups, was a godsend with making sales, but nightly cash-out was still a long, somewhat tense process of a bunch of hungry guys waiting around to go to dinner while Julie, Danielle, and Ralph stressed themselves over splitting up the cash properly. To this day, they've never gotten the credit they deserve for that work.

That was also the year for the No Press Anthology, so AFTER cash out, Luke had to split up the NPA money between Lxndr, Ben Lehman, Mike Holmes and me. It was like double cash-out!

THis was the last year that I could even remotely claim to be able to play almost everything at the booth.

I think this was also the year Paul brought the chairs as well as the shelf. It was also just plain neat to see this booth assemble itself out of so many different parts given by so many different people. Everyone brought their own stock and took away their own unsold copies. Restocking and overloading of boxes were insanely difficult (particularly in '05) but the distributed labor had its own charms, at least in retrospect.

Oh, I also playtested Robots and Rapiers that year. And nagged Mike Holmes about Sorcerer and Space. At one of the after-hours games, Andy Kitkowski pulls out these Japanese RPGs and passes them around. They were amazing! And thus the idea for that 4-page comic in the middle of WGP... is born.

2005: With Great Power... fills my trunk on the way to Indy! Also some Burning Wheel banners, I think. We were still in the 20 x 10 endcap, but with pretty good placement. Paul's shelf is starting to get mighty crowded with all the new people we have. I recall doing good, short, strong demos of WGP... and MLwM. This was the first year that Luke and company ran their seminar track, and the close of the seminars saw him—like some hyper pied piper—leading a group of mind-blown gamers back to the booth, ripe for demos. I played in a Nine Worlds demo with two of them and got to see an epiphany before my eyes. Also got to meet Emily and Meg for the first time. Played a good demo of Breaking the Ice.

This was the year for walking people out to the food court with Luke's laptop in order to take credit cards. What a pain. I had at least one guy get so frustrated he walked over to the ATM in the food court and handed me cash for the books.

After hours, I managed to play Dr. Chaos with Ron, Chris Chin, Judd, and some others. I also managed to browbeat Danielle into running PTA for me. Oh, and I nagged Mike Holmes about Sorcerer in Space. Sunday night, Luke, Matt Wilson, Thor, Sen*owski, and some others play Citadels and discuss all kinds of business/distribution possibilities.

2006: Oh, what a year! I drove all of IPR's stock and shelving out to Indy in a mini-van that Brennan had rented. Dalys had boxes poking her all the way out and all the way back. Indiana had finally decided to accept daylight savings time (as it had not in years previous) so we got there far later than we wanted. My full con write-up is here. But I remember helping Joe McDonald, Tim Koppang, and others to refine their demos and pitches. I stayed away from the booth a lot, because there were just too many people in too small a space.

2007: The booth and I went our separate ways—except for me lugging all the shelving. But it looked like things went as well for the booth as the did for me. The great part was that the after-hours gaming is no longer tied to booth service. Anyone can play!

2007-09-02 02:19:03 Matt Wilson

"That was the con where Dro's Orc killed Matt Wilson and this other kid whose screen name is Gumby. He massacred them. They loved it."

The fuck it was! That happened in 2003, my very first Gen Con. Dude watched Dro's orc bludgeon me to death and shouted out, "this game is awesome.!" I bought #278 of the first printing. I also did a playtest of something that only vestigially resembles the current Primetime Adventures during which Dro fell asleep in the first three minutes. Can't get more honest feedback than that.

I'll post a longer Gen Con story later, but now time for sleep.

2007-09-02 07:17:44 Luke

Oh, you're right! Who knew?

The playtest was me, Dro, Matt Gwinn, Matt W (duh) and a young woman whose name I've forgotten. And I swear on the grave of Merv Griffin, we hashed out the producer's budget and fanmail mechanics right then and there!

2007-09-03 19:47:54 Matt Wilson

Luke has the memory of a goldfish. Ralph was in that playtest. Also what's with "young woman?" Like you're 45 or something.

So anyway, here's my timeline. A lot of stuff is a serious blur. Did that happen in 2004 or 2005? Or at all?

2003. I'm like, oh, I'll totally have a game ready. I pay Ron the $100 and everything. Then in August it dawns on me that I'm nuts, but I totally want to go anyway. I meet Ron and Paul and Danielle and Scott and Luke and Dro and Ralph and Mike and Mike and Jake and Gordon and Jared and Andy and Jurgen and Matt Gwinn—and probably Vincent but I absolutely can't remember talking to him—and Julie and Tom, and the first day at the con I'm feeling like who are all these people in this place, and OMG... uh... uh... and this dude walks up and says, "hey, I've seen your posts at the Forge. I'm John Wick," and he shakes my hand, and to this day I think that's cool.  I can't remember what games I played, but I did get mauled by Dro's orc, and I learned that what I had for PTA was lame.

2004. I move to Milwaukee right after getting married and right before Gen Con. Printer says, what? no, we can't get you the books for another couple weeks, so I do this emergency coil-bound thing. I try to show it to Jonathan Tweet and Robin Laws, but they're all "get out of the way, loser, we're trying to get a demo of this new game about canines and wine!" I meet Matt Sny-Dar and Keith, and Andy K and Ralph try to kill me via hypothermia. Lxndr keeps Dro and me awake with teh snoring. Vincent and Ron and Gordon and Calder play Moose via PTA.

2005. PTA revised with John's awesome cover art. I hitch a ride with Keith Sen(k)owski. I room with the BW crew and meet Thor, who lets me use some of his hair product. That creates a permanent bond between us. I also meet Emily and Meg (and the bump that will eventually become Tovey Scample Baker) and probably some other people like JACN and those Scottish wankers. It's the first time I've seen Clinton in frakking ages. PTA gets first runner up for Indie Game of the Year, and Andy's Choice, and Vincent yells out something during the awards that makes everything I've done doubly worth it. Luke straddles me and punches me in the face, while screaming "offset print run" over and over at me. I play Dogs for the first time, and it's not fun but afterward Em and V and Ben and Clinton and I walk the strangely deserted streets of Indy for hours, talkin' and stuff, and that's an excellent memory.

2006. Offset print run indeed. Also, John Harper makes it out, which is awesome because I see him all of once a year and that's bullshit. Keith and I ride down together again. Luke TOTALLY FUCKS UP the room reservation, so it's all Trains, Planes and Automobiles when the seven of us eye that one double bed. Allergies get me for the first couple days. There's like eleven million games being sold at the booth. I meet Jonathan and Chris Chinn. Emily and John and Sny-Dar agree to a Galactic playtest and—John has recently reminded me of this—I look at them having all this fun playing and say, what the hell game are you having fun playing, because it ain't what I tried to write?

2007. Just moved to Jersey City, and decide last minute to go to GC. It's awesome and totally worth what I have to go through to get there.

2007-09-03 21:08:18 Ron Edwards

At the risk of ruffling feathers left and right, I'll try to summarize the different atmospheres and content of controversy that affected the booths over the years. I'm staying a little abstract with it, because otherwise it gets down into complicated little details and byways of argument, and in some cases would simply become gossip. I hope it gets lots of comments and clarifications from others, because one guy's view is not going to be sufficient for clarity. Also, if you have any questions or if anything I say isn't clear or seems totally whacked, please ask!

2001-2001, The first one's easy: System Doesn't Either Matter, You Bastard! This hassle concerned reactions to the existence of Sorcerer and the Forge. Not many people had heard of Sorcerer or me, but most of them who had thought I was the devil. That's one reason why the Brain Damage kerfuffle means absolutely nothing to me; it's tiny and trivial compared to the outright cries for my blood that characterized posting on the Gaming Outpost and at this time. It might hard to believe that only ten years ago, the phrase "system doesn't matter" was code for self-identifying as a *real* role-player, i.e., a proto-LARPer who happened to prefer sitting down. Sound familiar, Em? I mean, dialogue at the Forge was proposing all sorts of terrible things: that if you didn't like gaming with Bob in the first place, that designing games to please Bob is a waste of your time. That it made more sense to play with people who share a common aesthetic goal, at any given instance. That a string of setting-heavy supplements was not only economic foolishness, but also not especially helpful toward people's actual play of the game. That you can and might well publish your game and (gasp) make way more money that way. Our booth culture was absolutely, stunningly alone in this matter, especially in the light of D20 and D&D3.0 being released. The logic of that latter is hard to fathom: "system doesn't matter and hey, throw all of your gaming into this perfect system." But it's true. A good half of Sorcerer's notoriety arose from that essay and the storm of rabid protest against it for the previous 18 months.

2002-2004, The second one is more arcane: Simulationism - Thing or Shibboleth, and in either case, Friend or Foe? This was mainly among us, the people active at the Forge and the booth, with many, many late-night debates and scribblings on napkins, across conventions and social meetups. The Big Model, not yet named, was shaking out into its second phase of development; half the hassle was the ideas themselves, and half the hassle was any number of self-perceived internet heroes trying to position themselves against and within it in some turf-based way. Jared proposed his Beeg Horseshoe ("Sim doesn't exist") and Mike co-opted it in order to refute it ("Does too! Except that it hardly ever happens"). This was the time when various schlimazels kept loudly signing off the Forge in disgust and then signing back on with aliases. This was the atmosphere in which the three specific Creative Agenda essays were written, and when that term was itself proposed. When all the discussions coalesced into the Big Model, most of the substantial critique died down, as a number of the basic disagreements now turned out to be compatible (Sim does exist, OK, OK) or resolved in favor of one or the other (Congruence ain't happening). Discussion continued but swiftly became stupid unless it referred directly to actual play for a basis of understanding; I let that go on at least a year too long before reorganizing the forums.

2004-2005, The third one got nasty to watch: The So-Called Industry Rips Its Own Guts Out. This wasn't really anything to do with me or the Forge directly, but the collapse of Wizard's Attic and Tundra Sales Organization a year later, the mass Hasbro/WotC firings, the failure of a number of distributors and stores, and one or two really ridiculous dust-ups at GAMA (I especially like the part with Ryan Dancey reading the inner-sanctum secretest emails) all combined to make hash of everyone's house of cards. It showed up on our doorstep, greasily, in the form of a bunch of the mid-tier guys who'd built their careers on politicking in GAMA and on finding others' games to own and publish, now trying to "help" independent publishers - i.e., cash in on what was working. At GenCon, it showed up in positive forms, as the new owner, Peter Adkison, strongly embraced the indie scene as a welcome and vibrant feature. That was the year a bunch of us were on a bunch of panels, and I was a Guest of Honor. As an illustrative point, one of the aforementioned greasy-dudes sidled up to me and asked how I'd "swung" it. They'll never get it, will they. Hey, here's a good thing, though - the payoff from my campaigning at GTS for three years: a few but proud, energetic retailers choosing to start anew and nurture actual-play based, customer-based, independent-focused cultures in their stores, complete with a line of small goofy off-standard-sized RPGs on the "Indie Shelf." They're heroes too.

2005-present, The fourth one is ongoing, and bluntly, trivial. It's internal again: stuff like what did Ron say and who's pissed off about it, desperate cliquey crap about being indier or edgier in little groups, and similar junior high bullshit. I suppose it's the price of a successful cultural shift; it's also wrapped up with the perils of blogging and a generational thing in which people don't *know* how it is that they can clicky here and clicky there and suddenly have their game appear on the market, with paying customers *in* that market. H'mm ... it occurs to me that I should clarify: I am *not* talking about the Diaspora as a phenomenon; I think that's a *good* thing, with lots of different sites doing lots of different things. Also, I'm bringing up the bad side of our culture because it should be acknowledged and confronted, and also because it stands in such contrast to the more significant concerns in the previous controversies. For those, the internet was a way to initiate contact, but the contact itself was concrete: (a) in the games themselves, and (b) in the meetups of the real people. Stuff like Camp Nerdly, Go Play, and similar is all in that wonderful tradition, which I'm proud to have had a hand in, and which I think is transforming our sphere of role-playing from Cloistered Geek Nursing Grievances to Wonderful Lusty Geeks Have Fun (the shift from singular to plural is on purpose). But this negative side of it all is different: it's internet interaction for the sake of on-internet status and (false) identity. Bad news. Again, though, I suppose it's the nature of the beast and we'll have to learn to live with it.

Which brings me back to talking about GenCon 2007. I put strong, focused effort into destroying internet-for-internet crap in favor of direct human contact, in a number of cases, and much to my joy others were doing the same thing. Brennan and Fred are my happiest examples, and I hope you guys feel the same. I am used to having great conversations such as the one with Willow, in which I can literally see the internet-based baggage sort of melt or evaporate right off a person's face. I regret not putting a little more toward others, but there's only so many hours ... Anyway, I want to keep this effort going and to bring plain speaking, meetings of minds, and disclosure to one another as much as we can. The internet doesn't exist for itself, or rather, insofar as it does, let the bots have it. I only care about it insofar as it makes real things possible among more people.

Best, Ron

2007-09-04 00:47:26 Vincent

Another controversy, 2006-to-ongoing: does association with the Forge mean a well-designed and solid game, or not? How do we do quality control, and do we do quality control at all? Do we have the means? Do we have the right?

2006 was the year of after-hour conversations like "this 2005 game plays well but the text is crap" and "this 2005 game handles X sloppily" and "this 2005 game doesn't play at all." Also, "what the hell is all this broken reflexive stakes-setting talk in game texts these days?" Also, "I won't talk bad in public about others' game design, out of professional courtesy" vs "I take it as a moral duty to criticize others' game design in public."

2006 was the first year I didn't buy every new game at the booth. a) There were too many; b) they didn't all have subject matter I was interested in; and c) I wasn't confident in all of their designs.

2007-09-04 03:35:38 Ron Edwards

All true, Vincent - emphatically.

My response and thoughts about what to do, however, refer back to one thing I really stand by, no matter what: is that a game is *not* vetted for inclusion at the booth. If it's independently published, and if that publisher ponies up the bucks and the commitment, then he/she and that game will be at the booth.

That means that I want the market to speak. If the person can't stand by their game, and/or if the game doesn't stand up to scrutiny, then it doesn't get bought as much, and that's that. I embrace it as an independent and in terms of getting it out there into the light, but I'm not the market itself, nor a market-fixer.

We've seen that happen at the booth. I think it's integral to the booth vision that we continue to see it happen, and not try to prevent it. I refuse to let Forge booth culture become a quality-control mechanism - which is to say, a nest of preening, self-involved, judgmental pricks.

But yeah, that also means that we don't soft-pedal or speak over-nicely of realities (i.e. lie). If you publish it, your ego is not on the table, or if it is, what happens to your ego is your own damn lookout. Original Forge culture lived by that - a game could not be pilloried just because it had elves; nor could it be coddled and swaddled just because it had a narration mechanic. It had to be played and fairly discussed, and we all knew that one man's poison would be another's inspiration. (And even components within a game: what I got out of The Pool eventually went into Trollbabe; what Mike got out it went into Universalis - verrrrrry different.)

The argument I've always stood by is that merely being an independent game doesn't automatically make it good, but that on the average, perusing and playing independent games pays off more often than for non-independent ones. I think that still holds true. I'm confident that the negative dip we saw in 2005-2006 is self-correcting, both internally (look at Shock! Joshua is a hero!) and externally (there are independent games which met their economic endpoints at the booth, every year).

By the way, I should take this opportunity to point out that I misjudged Mortal Coil in a Forge thread on this topic. I do think its text needs work, and Brennan is also a hero due to his commitment toward that end. I do not think it was in as rough shape as I called it earlier this year.

Best, Ron

2007-09-04 13:16:19 Joshua A.C. Newman

I'll discuss briefly, then bolt, then bring up more, later.

2004: I was muscling about trying to make a system that did the things I want (which turns out to be support Narrativist play). Vincent was talking to me about his game about Mormons, we did some playtests, and I said, "I want my fingers in this pie!" I designed the book for the Gen Con and 1st editions of Dogs in the Vineyard and got writing Under the Bed. There are posts about my early experiences with game design over at the beginning of my LiveJournal. They're cute. Under the Bed used to have stats!

I'd already been a member of the Forge since July 21, 2003 but had been deeply and consistently confused by the various orthogonal spectra of design options. Ralph, I believe, was one of the first people to talk with me, and he said something that required me to completely reexamine my understanding of RPG rules.

Ben Lehman stayed at my house for about a week and said, "You should publish Under the Bed and take it to Gen Con."

I said, "Why? It's not like you can make money selling games."

He said, "Because it would be really satisfying."

He was right:

2005: I hit the booth with Under the Bed. Man, that was fun. I already had one order from Steve Dempsey (How the hell did he know? I put it up on my Lj, and he ordered within an hour!), but I figured it was a fluke. Within 10 minutes of the booth opening, someone bought another one! Then another! If I recall, there were a dozen sales that first day and 40-some (43? 45?) by the end of the con.

I played PTA with Ben, Meg, Eric, and Emily. I realized that I knew how to Produce already and we played a story called Blue Lines about the shady, frail humanity of cartoon characters when they're offscreen. It was hilarious and sad and full of surprising characters. It was about class and race division and privilege as a tool of liberation.

The Mountain Witch also hit, with my book design. I'm still very proud of it.

I also sat down with someone... maybe you, Ron? and said, "I want to do a science fiction game next, but that actually does science fiction."

Emily and I hashed out the basic pieces over the phone and Ben introduced the idea of the Grid.

2006: Big booth, cramped booth. I sold a lot of books, placing respectably among sellers. I went on to spend a year wishing I'd done another couple of rounds of editing.

I played Cold City, which was my best game of the year. Malcolm and I are friends because I was playing a crypto-Jewish ex-Nazi Stasi officer and he was my old boss. Gnarl was had, friends were made. It's a great example of the kind of game I love: challenging and emotionally connecting.

I also played Mortal Coil with Brennan Taylor, Judd Karlman, Steve Dempsey, Paul Tevis, and Remi Treuer. We were Flaming Taft, a punk band in New Amsterdam, 1972. Every single conflict was about whether or not the band was breaking up. It was great. Had Malcolm not gotten in my face, spitting a German/Scotting accent about my ancestry, this would have been the game of the year.

Now, gotta go.

Em, thanks for starting this conversation!

2007-09-04 17:17:49 Seth Ben-Ezra

Here's my GenCon retrospective.

2002 I had just moved to Peoria, Illinois from Erie, Pennsylvaia.  That meant that Milwaukee was actually within driving distance.  So I drove up on Friday night and stayed until Saturday night.

Friday night I played Dust Devils with Matt Snyder, Ralph Mazza, Jake Norwood, and Jason Blair.  In particular, I remember jumping up at one point and grabbing Jake by the collar and shaking him.  In character, of course.

Saturday I could have gone anywhere, but I pretty much ended up sitting at the Forge booth, enjoying the vibe.  I helped demo Little Fears, using Ron's scenario, and I got to sit in on some other demos, including a Riddle of Steel demo.  That evening, I promised that I would return the following year with Legends of Alyria in hand.

2007 was the next GenCon, right?

Well, it was five years later, but I returned this year to the Forge booth, with both Legends of Alyria and Dirty Secrets in hand.  It was a fun experience.  I discovered that I really enjoy selling games to people, be they mine or someone else's.  Had a good conversation with Emily about encouraging post-game reflection.

My biggest concern with being in the booth was simply the vast quantity of stuff there.  I had to scratch my head sometimes and say, "I really don't know about this one."  That was disappointing.

But, the niftiest bit of the con was being able to meet folks like Emily, Eric Boyd, Tim Koppang, Jason Morningstar, Julia Ellingboe, John Harper, and many others.  Even if we had interacted online, getting that face time was invaluable in cementing these relationships.  And perhaps that's one of the biggest areas that we should continue to encourage:  just those basic social interactions that we can enjoy together.

Boy, that sounds sappy.  If it weren't true, you wouldn't catch me dead writing stuff like that.  :-)


2007-09-04 19:00:01 Emily

I'm proud to be a part of this. Kerfluffles, inappropriate cuddling and all.

Thanks to Ron, everyone here and all those else who've made it happen. Now to see what the next chapter holds.



(and, of course, this thread will continue to be open)

2007-09-05 01:47:21 xenopulse

Thanks, everyone. This is very useful, especially since we're working on co-opting Portland's Gamestorm and creating a similar bastion of indie gaming/publishing on our own turf. Paying attention to the different phases that the Forge booth went through can only help there.

2007-09-07 20:51:15 Julie, aka jrs

I'm a little late to this discussion. Here's more—some of which has already been said.


My very first GenCon and I was only there for the weekend.  This was the year of the first Forge booth, but there was a strange dichotomy because there were two sales points. At one end was Ron with Sorcerer and supplements (were there supplements yet?), and a number of mini-supplements; at the other end was everyone else.

Lots and lots of people just hanging out and playing games. The idea of the short demo was not there yet. And quite a few people showing up just to see the Diana Jones Award that Ron had won. Ron ran his In Vitro setting for Sorcerer.

Next to us was a booth with daily electric guitar contests which were hard to ignore.

Other memories: a friend's baby was born (she wasn't at GenCon, but we got the call), and hunting down Ron's car in the garage on Sunday while force-feeding him crackers.


I missed the Diana Jones awards, but I was there for the rest of the con. My exhibitor badge said Tor "short for Victoria" Erickson. I have this strange recollection that the booth was open on three sides with only the one back-drop—not really an end-cap because it was two booths deep rather than side to side. Can this be right?

I knew most if not all the games at the booth, at least well enough to talk about them.

First year in Indianapolis and what really felt like the first year of the Forge booth. We now have the Forge banner courtesy of Paul & Danielle, and Paul's triangular display rack that is used through 2005. And buttons, we had Forge buttons. Funny story, a number of people who stopped by the booth mistook "Indie" for "Indy" and thought the booth was an Indianapolis based game publisher.

Ralph, Danielle and I were in charge of the cash box. We used carbon receipt books. We ran out and I remember unsuccessfully looking for receipt books in the downtown area. We ended up using a notepad to track payments. This was the year of "end of day" cash-out hell, when all the payouts were tabulated manually. We did not want the responsibility of keeping track of the cash overnight. We also learned that early departures on Sunday wrecked havoc on cash distributions. We also had a credit card impresser (supplied by Tundra?) for Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel games only.

(I think Ron's end of the day pep-talks were a way to occupy folks while we calculated sales and counted out money.)

There was also an attempt to get customer information so the game designers could get in touch with them after the con. I'm not sure what happened to that.

This was the year with the very load broadcasting from one of the nearby CCG booths.

Other memories: Stepping on Dro while stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night; meeting more and more people who I knew online through the Forge; Ron, Vincent & I having that gaming and sex conversation at the strange little pub that I have never re-located and Ralph refused to go to a second time.


The exhibit hall now has The Quiet Zone!

Ralph brings a cash register!  Powered by Greg Porter's car battery.

The Diana Jones Award (for Paul Czege's My Life with Master) is displayed once again at the booth!

We have "No Press Anthology", and I believe "War Stories" by Kat Miller is the first game at the booth authored by a woman.

I still know most of the games on sale. Ralph and Luke made me run a demo of kill puppies and the earth did not open and swallow me whole.

Andy K. sells practically everything to the Japanese guy with entourage. And we get the first glimpse of Tenra Bansho and some other Japanese rpg's that have comic-book style presentations about what the players do at the table.

The cash register was a godsend and cash-outs were relatively painless. Its presence did raise the expectation that we would take credit cards which was not the case.

Lots of arguments and hurt feelings about banners, posters, and other such displays. This is the year that it starts becoming a problem. Also concern that we were not always good booth neighbors when our numbers blocked other booths. It was really noticeable that the Forge booth had become a destination spot for GenCon attendees. We also start seeing an increase in the number of retailers checking out the booth.

Jasper has full-coverage, black contacts that made it difficult for me to look him in the eye.

Lots of gaming in hotel rooms; including the F*ck This! game on Sunday night with something like a dozen people. More and more people start staying over Sunday night after the con. And "Moose in the City". And John Wick's game with a cast of thousands. I think all that's been mentioned already.


The booth is packed and there is a huge surge of new games, and I still know most of the games.  I made up a one page retailer sheet listing the games and creator websites.

We have real chairs, sponsored by Forge individuals—all organized by Paul.

Sales were astonishingly good. This was the year when we were not able to fully close the cash drawer at the end of the day on Saturday.

We take credit cards, but when we realize that the first plan is unworkable, have to kludge together a solution that worked due to the efforts of Luke, Clinton, and Andy. There were still problems with the cash out due to aborted credit card sales which had me pulling my hair out over the $800 overage that could not be reconciled with the cash register end of day receipts.

We continue to have problems with banners/posters.

There's also that public bet between Ben and Tim on who would sell the most games. After the con there are some general comments of excessive hard sell tactics at the booth.

Also, this was the year we took over Embassy Suites for after hours gaming. Meguey is pregnant with Tovey, and I learn a Baker family card game.

And who is that very polite James Brown guy with the hat?


Tovey, the first booth baby!

Greg gets us a padded floor.

The first year when there are numerous games that I do not know and do not learn about during the con.

IPR takes over the store part of the booth, and I suddenly have undreamed of freedom. (Although I forget and am sometimes nostalgic over the "old" days when I was one of the cash box/register operators. Having that direct contact with sales and handing over earnings to the designers at the end of the day was a thrill that I miss.)

We have the wall to use for spill over socializing.

Lots of discussion about the number of people at the booth and how we might be able to break out into multiple booths.


The Forge booth had the most attractive and functional space yet. What more is there to say?

The proportion of games that I know versus the ones I don't know continues to shrink.

2007-09-07 21:20:10 Ron Edwards

I hated that bet and still do. Even if Ben and Tim just thought of it as a joke, a hundred other people internalized it as a feature of the booth and of our mini-culture. I think it went a long way toward poisoning the cross-website social dynamic that was just beginning to boom, with all sorts of status-games about who has and hasn't published, and who's sold more than whom.

Best, Ron

2007-09-07 23:32:56 Ron Edwards

I should clarify a couple of things about the 2002 booth.

I was at one end, and Jason, with Little Fears, was at the other. The multi-game mosh was in the middle.

The sales points were distributed a little differently. Jason handled his own sales. I am not sure whether I handled mine, or whether I was stuffed into Jake's back pocket like everyone else but Jason.

The name of my demo that year was "In Utero," not "In Vitro," and it became chapter 3 in the final Sorcerer supplement.

2007-09-08 00:10:51 Julie, aka jrs

Yep, you handled your own sales. I remember there was an envelope dedicated to Sorcerer stuff.

Jeez, I can't believe I wrote "Vitro" instead of "Utero". Wrong biological process there.

2007-09-08 01:57:43 Michael S. Miller

Great Scott, Julie, I had even forgotten about the buttons—and I'm the one that hand-made every one of them! Thanks for reminding me. Also, thanks for remembering "War Stories," another great thing I lugged to the MidWest and promptly forgot about!

2007-09-10 15:38:07 Ron Edwards


The new distribution

Indie Aid at GenCon

Sorcerer at Gencon


GenCon 2002: the lowdown

GenCon 2002: update & policy

GenCon 2002: very important

The Forge at GenCon: CRUCIAL POST

GenCon promotion


What the industry needs (by me!)

This was an important year in other ways too. I had begun the DemonCon activity at my university, which ran for about four years. Luke Crane began the Forge East campaign. Another historical point: the Infamous Five series of threads were begun, and spawned their many spawn, in late 2002. If you don't know what those are, then I recommend a look. All the links are sticky'd at the Site Discussion forum.

You may note that I become less and less patient with Michael Hopcroft during the course of these threads. For the full perspective on this issue, scroll through the Publishing forum for 2002-2003, looking for threads he started. You'll find them. If you read them, all will become clear.


Booth notions (lookit the seed for Games on Demand get planted)

GenCon 2003, thread #1 (note all the people who instantly said "I'm in!!" and then flaked out later; after this, I delayed signups to a later, shorter window)

GENCON 2003: April update

To GenCon game-release publishers (I'm including this out of satisfaction that Ken did not ask for free review copies)

Forge booth 2003

GenCon sales and stock



GenCon aftermath: Forged

GenCon wrap-up from Peter Adkison (this is a link to an open letter from Peter, not to the Forge, but about GenCon in general)

GenCon 2003 spreadsheet summary

You guys are nutz

I've just got to know—how was GenCon

If you check out the late summer posting in the Publishing forum, you'll see a raft of threads about Diana Jones, Out of the Box, and other sources of accolades for My Life With Master and the Forge booth in general. In order to keep the list from bloating too much, over the next few months after GenCon 2003, the No Press Anthology and Andy's revival of the Indie Awards both got under way. Later in 2003, the Conventions forum was begun at the Forge, as clearly the independent presence was now booming everywhere.

In the Conventions forum, in January 2004, you can read threads started by Peter about stuff like the Quiet Zone and other issues that mattered a lot to us.


[GenCon 2004] Primary booth organization (this was the last straw before I finally realized I should organize the primary sponsors privately and early, and only open up discussion and signups for everyone else much later)

[GenCon 2004] $100, $200, and exhibitor badges

[GenCon 2004]

[GenCon 2004] Demo advice

GenCon 2004 newbie questions

[GenCon 2004] Questions

GenCon business/tax questions

GenCon booth: garage sale bin?

GenCon booth monkey questions

[GenCon 2004] Sign-up questons: the time has come

[Forge booth 2204] Booth design and logistics (yes, it's a typo, eat me)

[GenCon 2004] The look & feel

[GenCon 2004] Booth furniture - very important

[GenCon 2004] The folks who'll be there

[GenCon 2004] Pamphlets/handouts

GenCon extras

[GC 04] Forge booth menu flyer

[GenCon 2004] Booth tour idea? Anyone w/own booth?

[GenCon 2004] Contact information and showing up

Forge booth triumphant

GenCon ... from a customer

Forge booth indie RPG booth effect

Next year's booth: storm this brain (I am not sure whether Ralph ever forgave Luke for this thread; the phrase "this isn't meant to be a bitch session" should go down in history as the perfect signal for guess what)

Sad GenCon and A GenCon story, contains swears (Vincent is a nice, nice man)

GenCon thanks

GenCon booth construction and GenCon booth construction (split)

This was also the year that Clinton organized a Forge booth at GenCon SoCal, and in which the little cons and activities on the DemonCon, Forge East model started to boom, specifically the Indie Explosion at Dreamation. I should point out that "apartment cons" had been going on since the days of the Gaming Outpost (1998-2000), but they didn't boom again until about this time and later. See especially Lukes Indie Edge Manifesto

Whew! I am now officially wiped out, in terms of eye-to-screen and also emotionally, through memory. I'll post links about 2005-2007 later.

Best, Ron

2007-09-10 15:43:29 Emily

Let me just say, wow.

Thank you so much, Ron. This is incredible. I feel like we should make it into hard copy somehow. This is a real history.

2007-09-14 21:27:41 Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I realized that I'd forgotten to hunt down the actual play threads following each GenCon. That's a real problem - they're key, for instance, Moose in the City, and many others. I'll have to go back later to find them all. Meanwhile ...

On with the marathon. Jesus, these internet folks got nothin' to do but punch the keys all day long. I think it's pretty neat how you can see the ideas and responsibilities first get recognized, then debated, then picked up by one or another person, and then materialize into a solution and a set of tasks, which then get organized.


GenCon Indy 2005 booth specifications

GenCon booth 2005: first laws

[GenCon 2005] Scheduled events?

[GenCon] I will not settle for evening gaming only

[GenCon] RPG Design Workshop


[GenCon 2005] Buy-ins begin May 1

[GenCon] Previous customer count and freebies

[GenCon] Current lineup

[GenCon 2005] Retailer handout?

[GenCon 2005] Too slow chicken marango!

Booth advice for a first timer

[GenCon 2005] Booth roster (final)

Selling ice to Eskimos (GenCon exhibitors, read this)

[GenCon 2005] Sponsor a Forge Booth chair!

GenCon 2005 booth and credit cards

GenCon convention demos: advice?

Booth monkeys sign-in: what can you run?

GENCON demo-folk: what would help you most?

[GenCon] Booth monkey demo resources

[GenCon 2005] Second laws

[GenCon 2005] Monkey feeding

Easy question: what GenCon booth number are we at? (see me get cranky)

[GenCon 2005] Death's Door demo kit (watch this guy)

[GenCon 2005] Retailer discounts

Forge booth: posters etc

[GenCon 2005] Phone list (the usual cockamamy whirl of connecting at the start of the con)

Forge booth: price list

[GenCon] Forge boother vendors - you must do this

[GenCon] People selling games, a heads up

Final cash register issues

Hauling stuff around (a good example of mutualistic chitchat)

This year generated a huge amount of heat on the forums. Luke and I had a private disagreement too. He saw me rudely annoy a customer who was browsing a copy of Burning Wheel. I saw myself evict an entitlement-centered jerkoff whose money we did not need. Clearly, joint management was needed, and so we talked it over, eventually ending with Luke being the finances guy for GenCon 2006.

[GenCon '06] More space?

15 minute demos for conventions (I think this may have been one of the threads which led to the "toy demo" concept, which in my view did not end up working well)

GenCon 2005

GenCon: between 8 and 12 at the Embassy Suites

GenCon Forge booth - the good, the bad, and the ugly

Selling yourself without selling your soul (or looking like a dick) (in which Jared, effectively, calls me a dick)

Overheard at GenCon '05

GenCon 2005 payouts

GenCon 2005 pictures

Forge Booth triumphant 2005 (wonderful as the numbers are, you can see the unseemly "kicked your ass" competition starting up, among new publishers)

Synchronizing scheduled events with sales

GenCon 2006 suggestion

Forge booth customer feedback

To designers: for the next GenCon!

We should really talk about all the different awards, too. The Diana Jones is one, and the Indie Awards are another. They even intersected in 2004, not especially happily. But as I say, that's probably worth a whole post to track'em and their threads.

2007-09-17 19:02:48 Vincent

2005 was the Diana Jones awards where Dogs lost to Ticket to Ride. Apparently there were politics involved! The way I hear it, I had a much better time losing the award than any of the judges had voting.

In the after-hours, it was the year of, good lord. The saddest game in the history of time, the first ever(?) Acts of Evil playtest, and the Dogs game that went well and truly south, which I maintain was informative enough to make up for how fun it wasn't. On Sunday night I played many much-needed hands of Murray Hula with Julie, Ralph and Meg.

2005 was the year of Ron's family tree, which still hasn't seen the light of day. Well, it hasn't seen the light of internet day, pale and flickering and full of hate.

I had some kind of yummy soup at the Mexican place that's no longer there, full of pork and green herbs. I was really looking forward to that soup again.

At the Italian place Luke was like, "Vincent, I didn't realize, you have a really nice baritone." That made me happy.

Which would mean, improbably, that 2006 was the year of both Mechaton and 1001 Nights at the booth, and the year of my dad's death. 2006 is kind of a blur to me (no surprise). I played Mechaton after hours, I know, but I don't remember what else. Maybe nothing else - oh! I watched Ron, Julie, Joshua, Carrie play It Was a Mutual Decision, and backed horrified away from the table.

I remember lots of talking that year. A big discussion with John Kim about defining friendship, a big discussion with everybody about some nitty-gritties of design. Stakes-setting, conflict building, the good stuff.

Driving home we talked about making a booth of our own. I was against it. Shows what I know.

2007-09-25 19:34:37 joshua m. neff

Wow, what a stroll through the past! Clinton, you absolutely flatter me.

I had such a great time at GenCon 2001 & 2002. 2001 was the first time I'd ever gone to GenCon. I always thought, "Jeez, I don't want to spend all those days hanging out with a bunch of nerds, playing D&D!" But after meeting the people online at Gaming Outpost & RPGnet, & Ron organizing this booth & hotel room deal, I decided, "Hell with it, I'll go!" All of us crammed in that room was loads of fun. (My favorite memory of that room, besides the locked bathroom incident, was Ron teasing Jared, dressed all in black, trying to look scary & Goth, talking all sweet & mushy to his girlfriend-now-wife.) There was an energy, a rough punk vibe to it all. (And my starstruck moment was when a bunch of us sat at a bar drinking, and Clinton took me to introduce me to Robin Laws & Jonathan Tweet. I drunkenly enthused about Everway and Over the Edge. Thanks, Clinton!)

In 2002, I had just moved up to Milwaukee, which made going to GenCon even easier. I missed staying in the hotel with everyone, but I got to bring my new girlfriend (now my wife) and her daughter (now my daughter as well) to the last day of the con. Daughter Morgan's toy dinosaur inspired Jared to run an InSpectres game set in a museum terrorized by a giant prehistoric sloth. I remember the Xig booth had a guitar playoff, & Mike Holmes seriously rocked the house. And that's when I got to play My Life With Master for the first time (as a playtest).

I really wish I could have gone in the subsequent years, but GenCon moved to Indianapolis, and I was in grad school and then getting into my librarian career, and the money & vacation time to go to GenCon just seemed too difficult to arrange. I do miss you guys, though. I had some truly spectacular times at GenCon working the Sorcerer/Forge/indie games booths and hanging out with a bunch of really terrific people.

2007-09-26 19:50:25 Paul Czege

"Paul Czege spotted my FVLMINATA lanyard and said "You must be Michael S. Miller." That was cool!"

Not true! I remembered your face and name from having talked with you about Fvlminata at the Wizard's Attic booth the previous year.

2007-08-30 21:32:51 Ron Edwards

Hi Em,

Well, 2001-2003 were a lot like the early stages of any successful grass-roots endeavor: constant screw-ups, insane inconveniences (including live electric guitars next to the booth, thanks), sudden revisions on the ground, and money problems ... yet, with such a rush of individual success stories, and unpredictable moments of greatness or discovery, that looking back, they seem heady with overwhelming momentum. If ANYTHING worked, it was a triumph, and it was instantly perceived as such and spawned a ton of applications and ideas.

And you know, it was real momentum. In 2001, there was Sorcerer and a sea of ideas. (Don't get me wrong: Multiverser preceded Sorcerer, so did any number of independent games. But Sorcerer identified self-publishing as a deliberately viral feature, and specifically disavowed traditional distribution as the primary means of success.) The key new point was the mentoring - not that Jake or Jared or I had pulled ourselves into the ranks of the mighty, but rather that we looked around and said "we ARE mighty, and how are YOU mighty too? Oh, and we want to promote your work!" By 2002, we had InSpectres, Universalis, Dust Devils, and the makings of My Life With Master, Primetime Adventures, Legends of Alyria, and others were well under way. Remember, too, that all this was before Lulu, IPR, and at the earliest stage, even before Paypal. We were doing this without any infrastructure at all.

I knew from my researches from 1995-1999 that traditional game distribution was utterly absurd, structurally, and that people committed to it were largely in the business of convincing others of a large number of untruths, or at best, a momentary means of grabbing a bigger piece of a small, barely-existing pie. What blossomed in just two or three years was the cottage industry: a community of practitioners, some of whom were also producers, with no barrier to entry, and all of whom were a collective customer base. We were the absolute opposite of what I heard, endlessly from the so-called industry: price-fixing, raise prices and production values, get bigger licenses, consolidate smaller companies, raise the bar of entry through some kind of membership program ... all of it, desperate nonsense. We were the ones who said, "Ah, we'll do it our way." We were not defiant, just different. Even Wizard's Attic, commonly perceived as the edgy new industry idea, was considered pretty standard and boring by us, and not particularly attractive as a business option.

So it's not surprising that the booth itself was a much more chaotic phenomenon. There were handfuls and bunches of what would now be called ashcans scattered all over the place. There were a LOT more people who just had badges, there to converse and play. We played like demons, but conversations were just as common and often demos and playtests just arose out of conversations. I miss it, in a lot of ways - the rather elaborate status-games which I hate so much were simply not present; one didn't have to position oneself relative to me in order to have a specific image in anyone else's eyes (that crap was reserved for arcane on-line GNS debates, not business options). We were a lot closer to the modern Ashcan Front in ideology and activities. I know that when this phase died down, it was the precise moment, the transition into that degree of subculture, in which Jared Sorensen deliberately excused himself, and Josh Neff ceased to show up.

Sure, 2004 saw the booth established as a more straightforward institution. Many features or ideas had been discarded (putting any independent game on the shelf at the publisher's request; having the rack of free games), and as you noted, the con itself was now on its third owner since we started, and its management was far more responsive to input, and explicitly supportive of what we were doing. Hell, I think that was the first year with the banner! Until then, we just had a big-ass Riddle of Steel banner and the huge Sorcerer poster, plus a whole bus stop's worth of flyers.

But getting there was the real cultural revolution, and we could see it blossom with every dinner conversation, every idea floated for a game, and every quick connection among people that provided information about printers, artists, layout persons, and other logistics. It was first-generation Forge and friends. We were considered absolutely crazy for things that are now commonly accepted: criticizing the shitty and stupid aspects of distribution, the notion of a creative agenda driving game design, and taking responsibility for your work's publication.

2001: "Who's that crazy guy?"

2002: "Ron somehow makes this crazy thing work." (more-or-less what I heard throughout the Diana Jones aftermath)

2003: "This thing works, but only for Ron." (verbatim: said to me during a panel)

2004: "Ron? Yeah, he's over there. Great thing he does, isn't it?"

2005: "Where's the Forge booth this year?" which is pretty much where it's been since

It was an exciting transition, and far more successful than Clinton and I ever imagined it would be, so fast. I'll post more about some of the struggles and casualties in a bit.

2007-08-30 20:45:57 Paul Czege

The Embassy Suites hit our radar the year Gordon Landis booked a room there last minute, and after probably fifteen of us played a giant John Wick freeform game in Gordon's suite I think we all realized how ideal the suite setup was for gaming. What year was that?

2007-08-30 21:30:49 Ron Edwards

That was 2004, Paul - still when people were mainly thinking about *inside* hotel rooms as the main evening play zones. Vincent and I were hanging out on one of the balconies; I don't think it was that particular night, but it might have been.

Best, Ron

2007-08-30 19:57:01 Emily

Thanks so much, Ron. And Vincent, please add when you get a chance. This is great information, especially the blathering, actually. The comaraderie is what makes it all work.

This was the year that Vincent and I looked over the Embassy Suites and said, "H'mmmmm ..." If I'm remembering correctly, it may also be the year that we requested a Quiet Zone for GenCon,...

I can't imagine GenCon without these things. I didn't realize how much ground we'd broken in making the con as a whole different.

[In 2004] a lot of the features were established by now: short snappy demos, ropers (not yet called that), and a kind of social triage to get the right customer matched to the right person.

Sounds like 2004 was the watershed year—the booth got it's legs and turned a serious profit.  How much of a struggle was it to get there? And what got lost along the way?

2007-08-30 16:03:28 Vincent

lumpley games was your missing primary sponsor in 2006, I'm pretty sure.

2007-08-30 17:38:41 Vincent

(I'll tell more too, not just that, when I have some time.)

2007-08-27 18:58:09 Meguey

I wish I'd been there in order to offer perspective, Em. It sounds cool.

2007-08-28 13:51:23 Emily

Me, too. :)

Here's the stuff I know:  In 2005, we had a small end cap booth, like twice the size of the Playcollective booth.  There were what, maybe 15 companies? The big games that year were Polaris and the Mountain Witch.

It was amazing. I was blown away by the team work and collaboration. People would pitch my game, and pull me over to demo it for person after person. And taking demos from other folks helped me do the same for them. Looking around on the con floor, the Forge Booth really stood out. We were in constant motion, running games and working together to run the cash register, stock the shelves, get water and so on for one another. Other booths seemed static to me, and lonely.

That was the last year we ran the register collectively.  There was a mix up where the wrong key got turned and sales were minused rather than added for a while. Oops! It was all worked out, but that kind of thing showed how hard a job that is (Julie and Ralph you are still my heros for how much you did toward it) and how focussed that staff need to be.

2006, Brennan and IPR took over handling the money, and that has seemed to work really well. I remember the hassles we had with credit card sales. More heros: Clinton and Andy running people out to the con lobby to run their cards via paypal.

2007-08-29 21:04:47 Ron Edwards

Well, I tried writing a bunch of this out, but it all turned into a messy tome. Here is a very, very sketchy outline. I'll keep posting to this thread to round it out.

GenCon 2001

This was the Sorcerer booth. But it was really a pre-Forge Forge booth, as all sorts of people like Paul Czege, Scott Knipe, Sean Wipfli, Clinton Nixon, Josh Neff, Jared Sorensen, and others came to help via exhibitor badges and demos, and basically making a big party at the booth. You can see a picture here:

(Warning: that page used to have a really cool pic of GenCon 2004, too, but I have to upload it again)

The picture actually shows only about 2/3 of the people involved. We had all kinds of free stuff too, like the first version of Schism (Jared's first book!!). The booth had the shittiest placement imaginable and yet there was a big crowd of con-goers there the whole time, mainly because the pack of us were enjoying ourselves so much.

GenCon 2002

This was the first Forge booth. This was still in Minneapolis. We had a two-booth space running along an aisle, so with a booth on either side. It was also a bit of a cool/whacky game aisle, with Pelgrane Press, XIG Games, Hogshead I think, and others like that in the same two facing rows. It was set up like a cafe space, with two little tables on the ends so you entered through a large opening onto the floor with tons of tables. The two sponsors were Key 20 Games (not the current fulfillment house, but Jason Blair with Little Fears) and Adept Press, and the buy-ins didn't distinguish between exhibitors and what were later to be called "booth monkeys," or for the sensitive, "booth ninjas."

This year was distinguished by the appearance of Dust Devils and Universalis, as well as a newcomer I'd found at the Gama Trade Show, named Jake Norwood, and his big shiny game. My Life with Master was in playtest. I had the first two print Sorcerer supplements and I was working on Sex & Sorcery, hence running the demo In Utero a lot. But I have to emphasize that the booth was about *independent games,* whether at the booth or even whether the author had heard of the Forge, didn't matter. We had a whole rack of free games and flyers and played huge number of games at the booth that weren't even represented there, as long as they were independent.

Oh yeah, and I won the Diana Jones Award that year, and so it was the first year that any number of folks had even heard of "the Forge" and the basic idea. I was regarded as a kind of endearing crazy person, I think.

I just realized I'm blathering a bit, so will sharpen it up to stay in outline form.

GenCon 2003

Thi was the first year in Indianapolis, right? The primary sponsors were Adept Press, The Riddle of Steel, and Arc Dream Entertainment. The latter ended up not showing and not paying, but some time later, they reimbursed me for the promised cost. It was also a two-booth sideways run along an aisle, I think. This year saw the more formal approach toward exhibitors' responsibilities, a lot tighter organization for money management, and the first really strong emphasis on short demos. (That's what I wanted from the start, but it took time to get it across, year by year.)

My Life with Master debuted that year, Burning Wheel joined the fray, and Vincent was there with kill puppies for satan and a kind of embarrassed, pleased amazement about the whole thing.

(more in a minute)

2007-08-29 22:38:41 Ron Edwards

GenCon 2004

This was our first endcap, a vast improvement, because now we had three sides and could have that "cafe" look and feel much better. However, it didn't work as well as I'd like due to that we had all this crap and tables and stuff everywhere. On the plus side, now we had the Ramshead cash register. The primary sponsors were Adept Press, Burning Wheel, Driftwood Publishing, and Ramshead Publishing. I was especially happy to have a number of independent publishers involved who weren't

This was a real blowout year, the one which showed that the "Forge thing" was now a go-to place at GenCon. We made a surprising amount of money, turning big consistent profit for the first time. A lot of the features were established by now: short snappy demos, ropers (not yet called that), and a kind of social triage to get the right customer matched to the right person. We also started the $200 buy-in, I think (might have been 2003?), but it was an option, not a requirement for people who'd been there once already.

I have records for this:

$200: Half Meme Press, Chimera Creative, Behemoth3, Lumpley Games, Digital Alchemy

$100: Dog-Eared Designs, BTRC, Twisted Confessions, Bob Goat Press, Custom-Built Games (no-show), Incarnadine Entertainment, 93 Games Studio

Booth ninjas: Tom Fitch, Dave Michalak, Scott Knipe, Andy Kitkowski, Julie Stauffer, Juergen Mayer; Ben Lehman, Calder Johnson and Jasper Anderton were there too

My Life With Master won the Diana Jones Award, too!

The bad spot was that Jake had just sold off Driftwood to the owner of a retail store who wanted to be the publisher, and these guys did not fit at all. I'll hold off on that topic for a rounding-out post later, but it taught all of us, "independent, and only independent, ever, ever."

This was the year that Vincent and I looked over the Embassy Suites and said, "H'mmmmm ..." If I'm remembering correctly, it may also be the year that we requested a Quiet Zone for GenCon, which was instituted (not say we were the only ones, but I know we did suggest it). I don't know whether this was the first year with it, or the year we asked for it.

GenCon 2005

We stayed with the endcap design, pretty much a physical repeat of the previous year, just with better and better organization, stock management, demo preparation, and more. The primary sponsors were Adept Press, BTRC, Half Meme Press, Lumpley Games, and Burning Wheel.

$100: Muse of Fire, Black & Green Games, May Contain Monkeys, Contested Ground Studios, timfire games, Joshua Newman, Dog Eared Designs, Custom-Built Games, Incarnadine Entertainment, TAO Games, Neo Productions Unlimited, Errant Knight Games, Anvilwerks, Ramshead Publishing

$200: Bob Goat Games, Chimera Creative (I'm sure that you see the reason that after this year, we decided the $100 buy-in was only available for a publisher's first year)

Booth ninjas: Andy Kitkowski, Julie Stauffer, Juergen Mayer, Dave Michalak, John Marron, Thor Olavsrud, and Jasper Anderton

Paul did a great and wonderful thing by organizing the chair sponsorship, so that now we didn't have to pay ruinous rental fees for chairs, we now got to sit in decent chairs, and the chairs had our cool-ass names on them.

This year worked out really, really well for money and the culture and everything else. It heralded the release of The Mountain Witch, Polaris, the Fudge-dice version of the Shadow of Yesterday, Capes, the blue version of Primetime Adventures, and more. It was also kind of a new wave addition to the culture at the booth, with the Massachusetts crowd there in full. It saw the first major invasion of the Embassy Suites, too, with tons and tons of play there.

Dogs in the Vineyard *almost* won the Diana Jones award.

GenCon 2006

I was getting pretty burnt out, and IPR was getting bigger and more central to most of the independent games' commerce, so I asked Luke to take over the money end of the booth. We organized an unusual new setup with a 20' x 20' space, a "peninsula," which is kind of like the opposite of an endcap. Brennan, as IPR, bought into a quarter of the space for a lump sum that I didn't negotiate and hence do not know, and Wicked Dead Brewing Company paid in for another quarter. So we had the whole 20' x 10' for demos. It almost worked perfectly! The store turned out to need a little bit more room. The primary sponsors, then, were Adept Press, Burning Wheel, and timfire games (am I missing someone?).

$200: Bob Goat Press, Custom-Built Games, BTRC, Dog-Eared Designs, Half Meme Press, Incarnadine Press, Muse of Fire, TAO Games, glyphpress, Inciteful Entertainment

$100: Black and Green Games, Blue Devil Games, Blank Shield Press, boxninja, Contested Ground Studios, Divine Legacy Studios (no-show), Bully Pulpit Games, Hamsterprophet Productions, One Thousand One, designs, Paka's Thread Games, Realms, Big Spider Productions, TCK Roleplaying

Booth ninjas: Julie Stauffer, Juergen Mayer, Dave Michalak, and Jasper Anderton

Paul and Tom brought the chairs again, and this time, we had flooring, bought and brought by Greg Porter! Fantastic! Furniture cost was now, finally, the blip that it should be and not a huge expense.

The big lesson I learned here was that, at last, the booth was really fulfilling too many functions. One of them, the garage-punk indie-out-of-nowhere scene, was no longer viable there. I also realized that it was time to kick the older "offspring" out of the nest, with the exception of companies who'd given so much to the booth that they should become life-long members (BTRC, Ramshead).

GenCon 2007

Hooray! At long last, we got a 20' x 20' island, which means no walls, and the true cafe physical setup I'd always dreamed about. Not exactly by design, mind you (see my post in We went back to the original model of primary sponsors, who were Adept Press, Ramshead Publishing, Blankshield Press, TAO Games, and IPR/Galileo Games.

$200: BTRC, Blue Devil Games, boxninja, Bully Pulpit Games, Evilhat Productions (to their credit, started at $200 due to in-booth support last year), Hamsterprophet Productions, TCK Roleplaying, Kevin Allen Jr. Designs

$100: Stone Baby Games, Stolze Freelance, Steampower Publishing (no rep), Atarashi Games, Eric J. Boyd Designs, Dark Omen Games, Green Fairy Games, Divine Legacy Games (no-show), Dark Refuge Games (no-show), Planet Thirteen (no-show)

Booth ninjas: Julie Stauffer

And that brings us up to date. I guess now I'll go back and find some snippets and nuggets and other cool stuff to fill in the institutional memory, and anyone else, please do so as well.

Best, Ron

2010-01-23 11:36:07 Gordon

Stumbled on a reference to this thread, so . . .

In 2004-2005, Custom-Built Games was me, and I was not a no-show (though my gamebooks almost were both years).  As I remember, the Embasy Suites lobby/breakfast area got used for both for "meet here and play in a room" and "play in this awesome open space with everyone else" almost from the get-go.

The John Wick game may well have been 20-25 people - or is memory upping the numbers?  It was a lot, that's for sure.  And the manager from whatever company John was working for at the time paid to have sodas delivered to my room.  I was unaccountably impressed by that.

One of the biggest thrills of the Forge booth for me had always been steering folks to an indie game that would be right for them.  As the number of games grew (and my familiarity with 'em shrank), that got harder to do in a real personal way, but customers became more willing to judge - and buy! - for themselves.


2010-01-26 16:16:19 Emily

Hi Gordon! Thanks for the info. 20-25 people? Holy Crow! Those were good times. And that feeling of helping folks find the right game, or pointing them to one they got excited about that they'd never heard about before: that is priceless.

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