Tuesday, 14 August 2012

OSRcon Reflections,Pt. II

The Panel: Saturday afternoon, OSRcon VIPs James Maliszewski, Ed Greenwood, Ken St. Andre, and Lawrence Whitaker spoke to the assembled.  For about 90 minutes each had an opportunity to talk about their path to gaming, their personal notions of the hobby and their current interests.  Perhaps more interestingly, this 90 minutes also showcased a variety of idiosyncrasies.  This ranged from quirky to downright bizarre.  Remember though, this IS an RPG convention.  Overall, St. Andre and Greenwood seemed to wrestle for the spotlight – big personalities sitting beside each other.  For their part, James – the only one really part a key figure in the OSR – seemed content to observe and chose his comments with care.  Lawrence talked mostly about his current Runequest project and seemed to enjoy cryptic answers about his days with Mongoose.     

After ‘story-telling’ about the old-days, quite a bit of attention was given to industry publishing in which the prolific Greenwood confirmed that a piece could be ‘good’ or it could be ‘now’.  He also noted writing was indeed work and that completion trumped art.  Cormac McCarthy he is not nor does he pretend to be.  That said, his pragmatic (gotta get paid!) approach proved refreshingly (brutally?) honest.  In was particularly struck by his subtle inference that his writing for Penthouse was, in important ways, little different than for Dragon. Ken's most honest moments came when he triumphed the hands-down superiority, longevity and overall playability of his long-in-print T&T.  Oh, and he was also very honest in recounting his enduring dislike for Gygax and friendship (of sorts) with Arneson.

On the whole, the audience did not ask ‘hard questions’ and seemed content with just letting the guests talk and throwing out the occasional soft question.  Of course, the panel was intended to be informal and informative and not an academic conference or parliamentary question period throwdown. Perhaps the most interesting question posed was: “What is your favourite game and why?”  Universally, the response came that the game didn’t matter but rather the players.  While all noted their preferences (Runequest, D&D, T&T), it was refreshing that play always trumped rules.  I thought this particularly relevant given that overwhelmingly, OSRcon featured D&D (in various shapes) rather than a buffet of genres and rules.  

Impressions: The venue – the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto- was a solid choice.  In general, a room is a room.  The bad: loud room, lack of parking and traffic in downtown Toronto was a nightmare.  The good: excellent atmosphere and the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy (http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMLIB137&R=LIB137).  While the collection had nothing to do with the convention, I had an opportunity for a personal stack tour.  An amazing collection and resource, the tour was worth a visit to the library itelf.

Organization: Chris, OSRcon organizer, did a great job of securing a location, booking guests and running a con.  I spoke with him at great length about the convention experience and he was quite open and honest about the ‘ups and downs’.  A thankless job, I’m delighted that Chris CHOOSES to organize the con and hope he continues to do so.  I encourage those with differing perspectives on how to run OSRcon to offer Chris their skills for next year. 

I hope that Chris did not lose money on OSRcon.  For a variety of reasons, it’s my sense that the hoped for attendance levels were not reached.  While clearly this impacts the ‘bottom-line’ of the con, the tables were full and kind of attendee ensured quality over quantity.  In a related area, I was a bit surprised that no vendors (even amateur ones) brought wares to the con.  I have seen ‘flea markets’, exchanges and desktop publishers at some smaller cons, but OSRcon held none.  As the focus was OSR – itself at best a small press venture – this seemed odd. 

Gaming needs events like OSRcon.  Beyond nostalgia, conventions bring people together.  No computer screen, online table-top, pdf or blog will ever fill this most important human space.  While I hope to see a broader scope of genres (beyond fantasy), that is up to attendees not organizers.  Perhaps an event such as OSRcon can be the perfect stage to showcase the diversity of the past- and hopefully connect that to the present. 


  1. I was also surprised none of the cities gaming shops (Hairy T, 401 Games, Duelling Ground...) bothered to show up. I wonder if Chris reached out to them? Hairy T actually carries a few OSR products: Adventurer Conquerer King, Sword and Wizardry, etc. They also have a big collection of used modules. It seems like you'd probably have people looking to buy books from the games they might have just played in.

  2. I'm assuming that Chris focussed on hyping the Con through Grognardia & the OSRCon website. I'm not sure that would have reached vendors.

    I would have really like to see locally produced material such as House Rules and modules. Grassroots ideas and products are often the most vital and interesting.

    Is there much OSR (or other RPGs for that matter) in the GTA?

  3. Several OSR bloggers are based in Toronto, or seem to be close by: James from Grognardia, Brenden from Untimately, the fellow behind Akratic Wizardry. Laurence Whitaker is near by as well. I get the sense a there are a lot of OSR people in the city, but that they are really not as connected they could (or should!) be. One thing I really enjoyed about OSRCon was seeing how many other people were interested in old school games, and were also living near by. I wish I had made more of an effort to exchange email addresses. (We played in the Dwimmermount game together.)

  4. Perhaps there should be an appeal to create a listing of interested OSRers?