Steven S. Long is a writer, game designer, and all 'round great guy. According to the secret files of the KGB, he once singlehandedly defeated the Kremlin's plot to attack America with laser-powered Godzillas.

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To The Land Of Gencondria

Whew! I’m back, though nowhere close to recovered or getting caught up. ;)

tl;dr — GenCon 2014 was an absolute blast, the best GenCon I’ve had in quite a few years. Already looking forward to next year.

(Opening caveat: I got to do so many cool things I’m virtually certain to forget to mention someone who deserves it in my description below. Mea culpa in advance; I didn’t mean it!)

GenCon’s one of the highlights of my annual work routine, and has been for over twenty years. It’s a time to hang out with old friends and colleagues, meet new ones, interact with some really cool fans, and just generally get my creative batteries recharged. It seems to get a little harder on me physically every year as age continues its inexorable march, but there are ways to counteract that (at least a little), and even if there weren’t it’d be worth it.

For the past several years I’ve driven up to GenCon from NC. Since I don’t live in a hub city, it’s not all that much difference time-wise, and besides I don’t enjoy flying much. We (by which I mean my partners in DOJ/IPR and I) have also discovered over the years that having a car on-site is sometimes a huge help when emergencies arise.

Previously it’s been an easy drive in good weather. Not so this year, unfortunately. It rained on me seven out of the ten hours up. Furthermore, I had to make the trip with roaring indigestion (or maybe an ulcer; not sure yet) on just four hours of sleep. I had intended to get to Indianapolis early to visit a couple of fountain pen stores to search for cool new pens for my fountain pen collection. But after the tension of the drive I was so tired and miserable I just went straight to the hotel. (As trips go, though, mine wasn’t as bad as my business partner Jason’s. Due to his flight out of St. Louis being delayed, he had to sleep in the marshalling yard in the truck with our stuff due to the convention center management company’s annoying policies and the lack of parking space for 18’ trucks in downtown Indy.)

Wednesday was our set-up day, and as usual it was 10+ hours of unmitigated hell. It’s often-intense manual labor in a room where they don’t bother to turn on the air conditioning, so it’s about as much fun as being hit in the foot with a claw hammer. But it’s necessary if we’re going to sell Hero and IPR books — and in fact this year it was a little easier than normal, since we streamlined the number of products we brought. As usual we got through it and headed off to the metaphorical pot of gold at the end of the wretched rainbow: the Diana Jones Award party, our first chance to socialize with friends. Plus, the DJAs are in a building that’s air-conditioned. God bless Willis Carrier.

The four days of the show itself went by in a sort of whirlwind. For the first time I didn’t work in the booth much — just a couple hours in the late afternoon helping to ring up customers’ purchases on Square. Instead most of my time was spent participating in the Writer’s Symposium, a series of over 160 hours’ worth of panels, seminars, and workshops on writing. Ably organized and managed by Marc Tassin, this year it also included a track of special seminars tailored specifically for established, professional writers.

My first panel of the Symposium was about turning fiction into RPGs — and helping me discuss this topic were Fred Hicks of Evil Hat, Jim Butcher, and Larry Correia, not exactly the worst crowd to associate with. I’ve been doing RPG writing and design for over 20 years, and this was quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had on a panel. It began when I walked in almost-late due to the crowds occupying the floor below as they waited to get into the dealers’ room. The woman in charge, whom I had not yet met, didn’t know me, so as I walked toward the podium she gave me the best set-up line I’ve ever had: “Sir, sir! You can’t just walk in here. You have to pay to attend this seminar.”

“You do if you’re on the panel?” Howls of laughter from the audience (not at her, mind you, but with her, really; she hadn’t done anything wrong and found it all funny too). That was just the start of the humor, but among the joking I think the four of us offered up some solid, and hopefully helpful, observations about creating licensed RPGs from fiction.

The real highlight of the Symposium for me, though, was an event I created: a “Worldbuilding Workshop” consisting of seven one-hour sessions (two each day, with a concluding one on Sunday) covering all the major aspects of world design. During the course of the panels the audience, through a question-and-answer method guided by yours truly, designed an entire Fantasy world. And they did a damn good job of it (no doubt due to the quality of their Workshop leader ;) ). I was highly impressed with what they created. I’m only sad we didn’t have even more time; it just killed me to have to keep saying, “We can’t talk about that anymore; we’re running out of time.” (I think a few audience members also got tired of hearing “We can’t talk about that now, that’s a subject for the [Title] panel on [Later Day].” But I warned each audience about that so I don’t feel too guilty on that score.)

(Fanboy side note: one of the panelists who participated in the Inhabitants panel was Bill Willingham, and I couldn’t resist telling him how much I’ve enjoyed his work since a friend gave me a copy of Elementals #1. As if that weren’t enough coolness, palynologist Jen J. Dixon was also on that panel, and as a result the world ended up having a lot more sentient plant species than your average setting. ;) On the other hand, I sadly did not get to meet a number of authors I would have liked to, such as Dave Wolverton and Saladin Ahmed — but there’s always next year.)

Early next year I’m going to launch a Kickstarter to publish the world the audience created — working name “Gencondria” — as a system neutral setting under a Creative Commons license so anyone who wants to can use it for fiction, gaming, or whatever. Furthermore, if the project can hit a sufficient stretch goal, I’ll add in a book I’ve wanted to write for years: a guide to worldbuilding itself. Basically I’ll take my outlines for the Workshop and turn them into a book. I’m not aware of any other book about the subject that takes what I (humbly!) consider to be my thorough, methodical, helpful approach to the subject. I think that approach could be of benefit to a lot of writers and gamers and would like to share it. (But of course, there’s no right or wrong way to design a fictional world; go about it in whatever way works best for you. At least one of the panelists assigned to one of my Workshops definitely didn’t seem to care for my methods. ;) )

(Above:  an early version of the map of the three continents the Workshop focused on.)

Naturally, I’ll keep y’all updated on the Kickstarter when it launches. ;)

I hope to get even more involved in the Writer’s Symposium next year. I may even do the Worldbuilding Workshop again, though perhaps I’ll change the format to keep things fresh. (If nothing else, adding more time to each session would alter the outcome, I think.) I have a few other ideas to pitch at Marc as well. ;)

Other than that, the real highlight of the show was talking with friends and colleagues, though as usual I didn’t get to see some folks I wanted to, and didn’t have nearly as much time as I’d’ve liked to chat with others. I got to meet Rich Howard in person (instead of just on Facebook), had a wonderful dinner at Buca di Beppo with Darren Tishue and his gaming group, mocked Larry Correia for not choosing my story in the Baen Fantasy Award contest, talked about aspects of game design and publishing with CA Suleiman, Matt McElroy, and Jaym Gates, had some fascinating discussions about Fantasy fiction and anthologies with John Helfers, caught up with old friend Aaron Rosenberg, and just generally enjoyed the heck out of myself.

Unlike some previous years, I didn’t do a whole lot of buying. For one thing, I barely had time to explore the dealers’ room! I’m sure there are things I missed. For another, many of the items I might have wanted sold out — the crowds were enormous and it seemed like everyone had money to spend. That’s OK, there wasn’t anything I had to have right away. I picked up some of the latest IPR stuff, several books at the McFarland booth, and presents for some friends. Wayne Walls, a long-time HERO System fan aware of my interest in the history of RPGs, brought me a copy of Outdoor Survival, the old Avalon Hill “Bookcase Game” that was influential on D&D (in fact, D&D basically just incorporated it by reference, as we say in the legal biz).

(Above:  crowds waiting to get into the dealers' room, 9:59 AM on Saturday.)

For once I didn’t drum up a whole lot of work at the show, but that’s OK — I already have several projects I want to focus on for the next 16 months and don’t need any serious distractions. I did, however, get asked to contribute a story to a sort of “dream anthology” for me, and a couple other anthologies I’m going to be published in were announced (at least informally). I’ll post more once the editor/company get first crack at revealing the news. ;)

To make the whole show even better, the Indie Press Revolution booth posted record earnings thanks to the efforts of Jason, Tina, and the rest of the crew. I haven’t seen the final figures as of writing this, but I think we were up 20% or more over last year’s take. Thursday was the single best sales day in IPR’s history. Then Friday was IPR’s second-best day ever. Saturday’s earnings eclipsed Thursday’s (I think), and Sunday was our highest-earning Sunday ever. Sadly, none of this money was used to buy me a jetpack.

Of course, Sunday signals the end of the show, so we have to break down the booth and pack everything up to ship it back to the warehouse where we’ll hide it next to the Ark of the Covenant until we need it again. This year that meant another five hours of unmitigated hell, but we put our backs into it and got it all done and the truck loaded before they kicked us out. Unfortunately that left me so exhausted that even after six hours of sleep it affected my drive home. The first 90 minutes I nearly ran off the road three times, and I was so sleepy the adrenaline rush of the near-accidents didn’t even wake me up. So I bowed to the inevitable, got a hotel room, and slept for two more hours. Buoyed by plenty of caffeine (which I don’t normally consume) and my prescription anti-sleepiness meds, I headed onward.

But things just got worse as I entered West Virginia and the sky opened up. The rain slowed me down and tensed me up something fierce. At one point I thought I might be having a heart attack, but it turned out my left arm muscles had just become really sore from the way I gripped the steering wheel. Next year I am definitely splitting this trip in two. I’m gettin’ too old for this sorta nonsense. ;)

Regardless of all that hassle, though, GenCon 2014 was a wonderful time. I’m already looking forward to 2015!

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Reader Comments (3)

Please add me to the Kickstarter mailing list. I wasn't able to attend GenCon this year, so I printed the Symposium schedule for self study (specifically the worldbuilding series).

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael LaFleur

Will do! I'll certainly shout out about the Kickstarter everywhere I can when it happens, but I'm glad to let people know directly if they'd like me to.

August 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterSteven S. Long

I appreciate your idea here. Definitely it has a good content. Thank you for imparting more of your own thoughts. Good job!

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