GaryCon VIII Retrospective

GaryCon VIII was held over the past weekend in Lake Geneva, WI, and it marks my fourth year in attendance. And I’ve got to say, this was the best GaryCon yet, with a new venue that sprawled out with plenty of space, friendly and accommodating staff, and a lineup of games I was incredibly excited to run and play.

GaryCon is a special con for me. It was at GaryCon VI that I ran WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen in 2014 for the first time publicly, using the then playtest rules for “D&D Next.” I had a great table of players and a fantastic time, taking what I learned for playing it with total strangers at a con and returning to the document to clean it up. At GaryCon VII I was anticipating launching the Kickstarter campaign later in the year and wanted to kick the tires on both the D&D 5th Edition version and the Swords & Wizardry versions, so I ran the full trilogy twice, once for each system. It was a total blast! Kobolds were mowed down in waves by the players, but I still managed to get two TPKs out of the six sessions. Without sound tactics kobolds are dangerous foes!

This year, since I have been converting Tower of Skulls to the various game systems with anticipation of releasing it very very soon, I decided I would run that for as many players as I could. The tower is a fun dungeon crawl, with combats and puzzles galore, spread out across four levels (the top two levels are reserved for special encounters). I set up my events in 2-hour blocks, two for each day, with each day focusing on a different level of the tower. Thursday was level 1, Friday was level 2, and Saturday was level 3 (I’ve learned in my years of running games at cons to *never* run a game on Sunday for out of state conventions!).

I am notoriously bad about taking pictures, but luckily I had a player who took a lot of them (Thanks Paul!). I’ll post them up here soon, as I also created an actual “Tower of Skulls” for display. I meant it as an eye-catcher and it did a great job.

The trick with Tower of Skulls is resource management. The encounters are not meant to be deadly on their own, but as you climb higher escaping the tower becomes difficult along with resting and recovering spells. Running it in short 2 hour blocks was a great move and it worked fantastically, but I decided to be lenient and let each group start fully refreshed and ready to tackle the tower. Ideally this would have only been the case with Level 1 – the players running through Levels 2 and 3 would find that they are low on spells, hit points, hit dice, and items.

Overall, though, I think all the players had fun puzzling through the puzzles and fighting the monsters, which I tried to make interesting and engaging individually rather than just combat for combat’s sake. The maps I had printed out for miniature use, which also helped – every room has something going on which is difficult to convey without visual aids. I encourage GMs to do the same as it is not resource intensive – you could even print out each room as a separate piece, which I think I will do going forward.

I played in a handful of games, including a Call of Cthulhu game where I lost 10 (!) sanity points walking up to a cursed Scottish lighthouse and a D&D 5th Edition game run by Mike Mearls, and had a blast at it all. I met some really cool people and made some cool connections as well, so we’ll see what comes out of that (hush hush). I picked up the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardry too, along with an OSR WhiteBox variant for swords & plants called Warriors of the Red Planet. We’ll see how that plays later!

GaryCon VIII was a fantastic time, and I’m already looking ahead to what I can do to grab peoples’ attentions at Gamehole Con in November and GaryCon IX next year. I’ve got some ideas …

1 thought on “GaryCon VIII Retrospective

  1. Jamie Hale (Elsa)

    My brother in-law and I had a blast playing Tower of Skulls levels 1 and 3, and your AD&D Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. Your DMing style is inspiring and was one of the highlights for me. I’ll be trying very hard to channel your Baba Yaga’s gate skulls in our local game.

    Thanks again. Can’t wait to buy a copy of Tower of Skulls when it’s ready.

    Jamie/Elsa the sexy cleric/Grom the half-orc barbarian with the pink feather boa



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