GenCon 2007 and my 4 days with Gary Gygax

I first met Steve Chenault at GenCon 2006, when I, along with 5 friends attended the event for the first time. Our RPG group had been playing D&D 3.5 for several years, until our DM discovered that there was a company that made an OSR clone RPG called Castles & Crusades. And they were located right in our backyard of Little Rock Arkansas.

Troll Lord Games had been in existence for several years prior. They got their start making d20 OGL products for D&D, and then in 2003, they introduced their very own game C&C, and have been in full support of the game ever since (they just released their 8th printing, you can read about it here).

We got to know Steve and Davis Chenault, co-founders of TLG, along with, Mark Sandy and Todd Gray (all childhood friends from Jonesboro Arkansas) from that 2006 GC show. Over the following year, leading up to the 2007 GenCon event Steve was looking for help in their booth on the Exhibitor floor, so myself and my DM Jason were offered a chance to go with the TLG crew, free ride, badge and hotel, if we would work the booth for the show.

I agreed. It was some time after agreeing that I found out who I’d be spending the show with.

Gary Gygax would be our “special guest” for the event.

The first GenCon that Troll Lord Games attended was back in 1998. They were a start up publisher trying to carve out their place in the industry. They caught the attention of Gary and met through an introduction of mutual friends. Steve and Gary hit it off, and this was the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that would last the final decade of Gary’s life, before his untimely passing in March of 2008.

If you’re good at math, that’s correct. GenCon 2007 would unknowingly be Gary’s last.

Gary’s relationship with Steve and TLG would be a mutually beneficial one, as it would allow Gary to release some unfinished projects that he still had in the works. For TLG it gave them an instantly recognizable name that could help give visibility to this start up game company. Not that the association between Steve, TLG and Gary wasn’t a genuine one. Far from it. Part of what made it work so well was the authentic nature of the friendship.

Gary with Steve at GenCon 2003

For that show, Gary’s presence to allow fans to come and say hi, and meet a legend. Originally it was planned that Castle Zygag would be released at the show to coincide with him being at the show, but alas delays pushed the release to the following year’s GenCon (Gary sadly wouldn’t see his definitive post TSR product hit the market.) Below is a blurb from RPG.NET on Castle Zygag:

Thirty years prior, Gary Gygax promised readers of Dragon Magazine that his personal campaign dungeons, Castle Greyhawk, would be published in short order. Unfortunately, reality intruded and only a small number of oddball extraplanar “sublevels” were ever released in the forms of Dungeonland, The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and Isle of the Ape. These excursions were definitely memorable, but none of them touched on the fabled Castle dungeons themselves.

Before long, Gygax was fired from TSR Inc. and all hope of ever seeing his first, biggest, and most famous dungeon in print went with him.

Gary @ GenCon 2007

The show was the biggest to date for Troll Lord Games. Gary’s presence in the booth without question increased sales, foot traffic and overall buzz for the company. When Gary was in the booth, we were never without guests and others about.

I watched, day after day, as people came into our booth to meet the person who was responsible for creating something that had brought them so much joy and happiness to their lives. Gary was always gracious and loving to every person who came to see him. It was no secret that Gary had been dealing with some health issues leading up that show, but even with that, he always so warm and inviting to every single person who came to see him.

The Exhibitor hall at GenCon is massive. Like Texas sized massive. During the show, it’s open 10am-6pm, Thursday-Saturday. The final day of the convention, the hall closes at 4pm. So the majority of my time was spent inside the hall. After we would get done every day, we usually would try and find dinner somewhere and of course, drinks. It was no secret that the Trolls liked their drink. In fact, they had carved out quite the reputation in the industry of their love of a good cocktail and a fun atmosphere to enjoy it in.

One night, we found our way to the “Wild Beaver” in downtown Indianapolis. It was something out of Coyote Ugly, small, loud, with a huge bar that ran the length of the west wall of the establishment. At one point, a bartender did indeed get up on the bar and…well, you had to be there.

Myself, Steve and Davis at the Wild Beaver. To this day I still have no idea what was happening in this photo

So those were our days. Exhibitor hall during the day, some dive joint at night. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was such a great time. I look back now on those shows and specifically the 2007 GenCon as some of the most fun I’ve ever had at conventions period.

Saturday evening of the show, Steve invited myself and Jason up to Gary’s suite at the hotel he and his family were staying at for the event. When we got there, Gary along with his family, and other TSR alum were hanging out, enjoying the evening. Talk moved from topic to topic, the old days of Lake Geneva and TSR. Current events, gaming and whatever else flowed naturally that night.

Most of that evening I sat and just observed. I was sitting in the personal hotel suite of Gary Gygax. Hanging out and just conversating with someone who so many would love to have a chance to do the very same. Even then, I knew I was engaging in something that I could look back on for the rest of my life and know how lucky I was in that moment and for that event.

This year will be fifteen years since that show and the time I got to spend with and around Gary. Every year that passes I still think about that show, the time spent with everyone and the mark it left on me. It’s sometimes difficult to put into words, so I’ll end with this:

The one time I was fortunate enough to meet Gary Gygax was at GenCon 2007. He was at our booth for the show, spending endless hours meeting fans, signing books, and making himself available to the countless people who lives he had affected in one way or another.

I spent 4 days in the booth with him, and i feel lucky to have this picture taken with him. He was such a humble, caring man. Taking time with everyone who stood in line those 4 days. At the end of the day, Gary created something that millions of people shared, together. An idea. An idea that all you need is your imagination. And that imagination can truly be the most amazing playground that you’ll ever experience.

Gary passed away 14 years ago, and I still think about the worlds that Gary created, and how they influenced and impacted my younger years (and still do today).

At the end of it all, I’m just a fanboy. Just like millions of you. I was just lucky enough to have been able to shake his hand, and say “thank you.” So Thank you Gary. Thank you for giving us something that continues to grow, evolve, and spark the imaginations of millions of people the world over.

Thanks Gary, for everything! The ultimate Dungeon Master and storyteller. Cheers!

As always, leave a comment with your thoughts. Until next time, LLAP!

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