Dark Sun at GenCon 1997
By Draloric of Tyr
EDITORS NOTE: This is a bit of history from the original website that I’ve dug up. I thought you might enjoy the details. Unfortunatley many of these adventures are lost to time.
Well folks, we’re back after our lengthy excursion to Milwaukee Wisconsin, having waved our flags and colours in the name of Dark Sun. Here’s the report for Dark Sun’s showing at GEN CON 1997.
This report has been rendered in MS Word for Windows 95 (*.doc), but a simpler text (*.txt) version is also available. Note that only the MS Word document comes with pictures imbedded within the text. My apologies to those who won't get the pictures with the text version.
For those of you who don’t know, Ed and I were asked by Harold Johnson (creative director at TSR for Dragonlance Fifth Age, Dark Sun, the re-release of the World of Greyhawk, etc.,) to help run two Dark Sun game tournaments as well as talk at seminars entitled Dark Sun: Recent Discoveries, Rediscover TSR’s Lost Worlds, and TSR Worlds: Stake Your Claim! during GEN CON 1997.
Special thanks need to go out to Brian Carpenter, Corey Hickman, Harold Johnson, Kevin Melka, Vince Plouffe and Kristal King for their timely contributions to the Dark Sun cause. To Brian for coming up with a terrific map of the City-State of Raam for use in the tournament on such short notice. To Corey for the invaluable use of his photocopier. To Harold for allowing us the rare opportunity to be involved with TSR at GEN CON. To Kevin Melka for being there when Ed and I were panicking. To Vince for stepping in to DM a session of Death Duels on Athas for us with but 12 hours in which to prepare. (We told him about the job at 8:00 p.m. Thursday and sent him to work at 8:00 a.m. Friday!) And finally, to Kristal for keeping me awake and patiently putting up with me during crunch-time before the convention. And finally, to all those people who continue to post on the Dark Sun Message Boards at TSR Online, for their continual, relentless support for Ed and I.
Signs and Portents
How did this crazy story begin? For me it all began with an Instant Message on the evening of March 14th, 1997 from Armenelos wondering if I was going to GEN CON this summer…
At this point I had been online for a mere 9 days and was still green to the idea of an online community. I had determined a month earlier that Dark Sun had been closed by TSR and was not at all happy at the thought. After all, I had not long before read in Dragon Annual #1 that Secrets of the Dead Lands and Dregoth Ascending were both coming out soon and this sudden revelation crushed my many hopes as Im sure it did many of yours.
Not long after I got online, I hooked up with Ed and he sent me the e-mail that a few of you may remember entitled Greyhawk is nearly back and now we have a real chance at saving Dark Sun… The prospect of saving Dark Sun from the crypts that entombed the likes of Spelljammer and Al-Qadim was simply to great to resist. I took the e-mail to my play group that evening, as we were to meet in Toronto to see the Return of the Jedi Special Edition. In line that evening it was decided that we would indeed travel to Milwaukee and do our part.
From that night forward until the afternoon of July 26th is a blur. Ed and I were in frequent contact, making heavy use of Instant Messaging and e-mail, even phoning each other long-distance several times. We also contacted Harold Johnson at TSR, and spoke online with recently-fired Kevin Melka to keep up with current events and to bounce ideas off of. Ed and I discussed all manner of ideas regarding what do for the convention, even though at this point it wasnt clear what exactly Harold wanted us to do. You can understand that what with the buy-out and all things were largely up in the air at TSR for sometime, thus our involvement was also in such a state. One thing we were told was that we could do something with Dregoth Ascending and Secrets of the Dead Lands for the convention. We decided that handing out limited copies of the adventure and the sourcebook would be good.
The Madness of Pre-GEN CON
On July 26, Ed and I finally received Dregoth Ascending and Secrets of the Dead Lands from Harold Johnson. Secrets of the Dead Lands came in a format that with a little work converted to MS Word almost flawlessly, but Dregoth Ascending was another matter entirely…
Dregoth Ascending was originally written on MS Word for Macintosh… I have a PC… You can see where Im going with this, Im sure. The conversion from MS Word for Macintosh to MS Word for Windows 95 is rough at best. When I got my first look at the adventure it was in pretty bad shapespacing all over the place, screwy tabs and groups, lines of conversion code intermingling with the adventure text etc. Suffice it to say Dregoth was not a pretty sight. (Not that the Dread Lord ever is, what with his gaping eye sockets and hanging flesh.)
With only a week before I was scheduled to leave for Milwaukee, I began the daunting task of editing and formatting the text of the adventure into something we could give away as a prize. This act translated into a full week of working on formatting the adventure. The earliest I went to bed (even knowing full well that I had to go to work in the morning) was 1:30 a.m.once. It was not uncommon for me just to work the entire night through, and stop only when it was time to go to work.
On Saturday August 2nd, My girlfriend and I made one last push to complete Dregoth Ascending and spent the night printing out three complete copies of the adventure module. We printed each of the copies on a special bond of paper that looked aged or antique, and with a font similar to the one used in the newer Dark Sun books and modules, and they looked great.
After printing up only one copy of Secrets of the Dead Lands we packed them up in boxes and put them with the rest of our luggage. With minutes our ride had arrived and we left for Milwaukee at about 6:02 a.m.
Armenelos and Draloric Meet
On the evening Wednesday, August 6th, Ed and I meet face to face for the first time at his room in the Grand Milwaukee Hotel. Myself and my play-group were present, and we all went out for dinner in the hotel restaurant. We talked a lot of about Dark Sun, what to expect at the convention, what to do for the Death Duels etc. Having laid out a rough game plan, we bid each other good night and left for our lodging. GEN CONs doors opened bright and early at 8:00 a.m.
The Convention Begins...
We saw Ed in the morning at the convention center and after the doors to the Exhibit Hall opened we two made a B-line straight for the impressive display known as the TSR castle. It was here that we hoped to track down Harold Johnson and talk with him about what were to do for him.
Just were the Baator is Harold Johnson? That question was running through our minds and we scoured the TSR castle in search of the creative director. We asked some TSR employees we saw if they could point him out to us, give us a description, or just tell us where he was, but no one seemed to know. Finally we did catch up with him and it was then we laid-out some concrete plans for both the seminars and tournament.
Enter: Kevin Melka
While Harold, Ed and I were talking about what to expect at the seminars and what TSR had brought for prizes for the Death Duels on Athas tournament, Harold was interrupted by a man with a backpack slung over his shoulder. Harold and the stranger shook hands and then he introduced Kevin Melka to Ed and I.
Kevin shook hands with Ed first and then sarcastically hesitated to shake my hand. The joke did not go unappreciated, but with the Timeline of Athas fiasco behind us, we had a good laugh.
Kevin did not stay long with us long; he was at GEN CON to help a friend of his with his booth for Gameverse. Ed and I arranged to meet him later during the convention and we took our leave from Harold to look through the TSR castle.
Dark Sun: Recent Discoveries
The world of Athas faces grim times. But though new legends have been lost to the multiplanes, the saga is far from ended. Join us to see how you can save a world!
This seminar was held in one of three quite luxurious-looking meeting rooms on the ground floor of the Hyatt hotel known as “Lakeshore - B”. With the seminar scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m., Ed and I finished our smallish lunch (butterflies, you know) and made our way over from the Atrium Bar/Restaurant to the seminar room at about 1:40 p.m.
Ed and I showed up early for this seminar bringing with us a box (a very heavy box that I complained no-end about carrying) that fifty held copies of a newsletter that he and I collaborated on, and my DS stuff. In addition, we brought fifty copies of the Timeline of Athas (the revised edition) to be handed out as well, in case there were seminar attendees who werent online and had no access to this resource from the TSR website.
Harold arrived shortly after 2:00 p.m. and the seminar commenced with Harold, Ed and I taking questions ranging from such topics as: “Why was Dark Sun canceled?” to “How can I deal with “munchkin” characters in my Dark Sun campaign?” Ed and I did our best to answer as many questions as possible, and Harold spoke officially for TSR when we could not. All in all, the seminar ran smoothly without any major hitches. An interesting revelation was first made at this seminar: Wizards of the Coasts recent online survey had yielded this tidbit of information: Favorite Campaign Setting: Forgotten Realms #1, “Home-Brewed” Campaigns #2, World of Greyhawk #3, and Dark Sun #4!! That means that excluding Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun is more popular than every other AD&D campaign setting currently supported by TSR!!! (Woohoo!!!) This has raised more than a few eyebrows at TSR/WotC you can be sure.
The seminar ended at about 2:45 p.m. and I believe the number count for the seminar was 21 individuals, excluding Harold, Ed, and myself.
Also, briefly after the seminar Ed and I were introduced to Harpomatic (or Harp, for short) who was in attendance at the seminar unbeknownst to us. Some of you may recognize the screen name, as hes been a presence on the TSR Online Dark Sun Message Boards for some time now.
Death Duels on Athas
Round One began immediately after the Dark Sun seminar. We had 21 of our maximum number of 24 show up and we were happy with the turn-out after all that meant that more than 80 percent of the available tickets had been sold, obviously showing off Dark Sun popularity. Ed and I decided that we would run the first chapter of Dregoth Ascending as the tournament and would repeat the procedure for the next day as well. That would give those who attended a mouth-watering taste of Dregoth Ascending. The players all rated themselves for the prizes. As prized for best role-playing we gave out a copy of Dregoth Ascending or Secrets of the Dead Lands. This was extremely well received as you can imagine. Ed and I reveled in watching peoples eyes bug-out and jaws slacken at such a prize! Death Duels on Athas - Round Two
The second day’s tournament (Friday August 8th) yielded a great surprise, when an overwhelming 37 people arrived hoping to enter the tournament! Luckily, with the aid of some of Harold’s RPGA contacts and a member of my play-group acting as extra judges, we were able to admit all into the contest. As during the previous tournament, we ran the first chapter of Dregoth Ascending and continued to hand out limited copies of Dregoth Ascending and Secrets of the Dead Lands. In addition some other prizes included copies of such rare tomes like Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, The Will and the Way, and Dragon Kings.
Rediscover TSR's Lost Worlds!
Are your adventures getting dull? Do you long for the days gone by? Discover how you can still adventure in TSR’s original worlds: Al-Qadim, Oriental Adventures, Greyhawk, Dark Sun!
Harold Johnson and I alone hosted this seminar discussing all aspects of TSR’s lost worlds. We missed Ed’s contribution, but Ed was busy helping the likes of Colin McComb and Monte Cook with Planescape seminars and demos.
Harold and I handled the seminar admirably. Although it was not meant to be Dark Sun-specific, we did manage to inject a lot of Dark Sun subject matter in to it. One idea that deserves mention here was the idea of a new TSR periodical that specifically catered to the Lost Worlds. Harold said he would suggest the idea to Dave Gross of Dragon Magazine. Harold quite liked the idea. If you do too, it doesn’t hurt to him know: (TSRDragon@aol.com)
TSR Worlds: Stake Your Claim!
Do you miss your old fantasy campaigns? Help determine the destiny of you favourite lost realm. Become part of the task force to keep these worlds alive.
This seminar was the one that reminded me of the work of the SDS group and others like Storm and Chay0s with their websites, for it was at this seminar that discussion of how the keep up interest in TSRs lost worlds was addressed. Though predominantly “Greyhawkesque”, this seminar did bring up some good discussion for Dark Sun. Once again, only Harold and I hosted this seminar.
Harold and I spoke of the online communities and how they will only grow as time goes on. This is the perfect breeding ground for interest in Dark Sun and other closed lines. In fact, online support for Greyhawk is an important part of why that line is being re-launched. If Greyhawk can do it, Dark Sun can do it.
Will Dark Sun comeback?
With the results of the online survey revealed, and the survey handed out at GEN CON, hopefully Wizards of the Coast will see that a profit can be made by bringing back Dark Sun and an open game line. However, one point was made known to me by Harold at the convention and it is this: Once any campaign setting becomes closed it becomes a minimum of 18 months before it can be resurrected. This is simply a mechanic of the workings at TSR. Should Dark Sun ever return it will be at least late 1998 or 1999. Its up to usthe Dark Sun fan baseto keep interest in Athas alive in the interim. Dark Suns future looks bright fellow Athasians. If we all keep up the intensity it will make its reappearance you can be sure.
In any case, GEN CON was quite an experience. I really enjoyed the chance to talk face to face with Ed as well as many TSR game designers/artists past and present. On the whole the convention was great!
Draloric of Tyr