A Hero’s Journey; Gen Con 2016

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Not in the tumult of the crowded convention hall, not in the shouts and cheers of the gamers, but in ourselves can we find real triumph and defeat.

Something happened to me this weekend, something unexpected. And it happened to me surrounded by Batman, Spiderman, Storm Troopers, and Jedi Knights. Not too mention sixty-one thousand table top gamers. Resistance was futile to feeling the overwhelming power and positivity while attending my first Gen Con.

Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America. Its creator Gary Gygax just so happens to be one of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons. A world of imagination, where you see lands of dragons, elves, zombies and futuristic space marines.

Gary Gygax is quoted in saying “There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in, whether it’s a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agent or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things.”

As I passed through the Vendor Hall, that’s exactly how I felt. A feeling I couldn’t shake throughout the weekend. A sense of living vicariously through the smiling independent and creative thinkers that gathered together on an August day in Indianapolis to do one simple thing, play games.

Gen Con is the Super Bowl of table top gaming. Imagine the kids from Stranger Things as adults, multiply that by ten thousand. Add in all the evolutions of the table top gaming world, not to mention the brilliant award-winning authors, artists, and creators of these games. And then you can start to get a sense of the madness that this event brings.

Demo’s of board games, computer games, and card games littered the vendor hall. You had t-shirt booths with the unbearable sayings like “babe gamer” that sold like crazy all weekend. You had artists selling amazing prints of Icelandic loin cloth wearing hero’s slaying dragons on mountains. Showing off their sculpted abs that would make Odin himself jealous.

Up one aisle, down another, disappointment wasn’t possible. Always with a look of slack-jawed amazement, I realized I hadn’t stopped smiling since I arrived. After rounding a corner that held a fifteen-foot angry bear seeking to eat young and nerd alike, I was spellbound and starstruck. I had a rush of nostalgia and nervousness that I don’t think I have felt before in my life. Sitting behind a table filled with books was a writer who had shaped my incredibly nerdy youth, Margaret Weis.

At age thirteen you could find me on the bus, during lunch and while in class doing one thing, reading Dragonlance fantasy novels. Dragonlance is a shared universe of books, board games, and miniature figures. Laura and Tracy Hickman the creators of Dragonlance regularly held D&D games and during these adventures was when Dragonlance with the help of Margaret Weis was created.

There Margaret Weis sat, calmly sitting behind the novels that expanded my universe and imagination. She sat there like an ordinary woman, not a mysterious sorceress who can shock and enthrall the mind of a young man struggling to find an identity in rural Indiana. Between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, I was consumed by the Dragonlance universe, The Chronicles Trilogy being my favorite of the series.

In The Chronicles Trilogy, you are living and breathing the adventures of the Majere twins. Caramon the massive, powerful, good-hearted, but childlike warrior. And his twin Raistlin, the sickly, complicated, mysterious, morally iffy yet powerful magician.

Margaret Weis wrote in Dragons of a Lost Star “Words can never fully say what we want them to say, for they fumble, stammer, and break the best porcelain. The best one can hope for is to find along the way someone to share the path, content to walk in silence, for the heart communes best when it does not try to speak.”

Staring at the booth in front of me, surrounded by people, I had suddenly found my path forward. I wanted to talk to the woman who influenced who I am today. A like mind to share this path with, a reason I can write this story you are reading today. As I shuffled up to the table, I was too nervous to talk, and out of her mouth like a spell cast down from above Margaret Weis simply made eye contact and said: “Hey, how are you doing?”

Nervously replying “I’m doing well,” and asked if I could buy a book and have her sign it. She nodded, and I reached down and grabbed Autumn Twilight the first book in the Chronicles Series.

As she was signing, I began to tell her how I started reading her books when I was thirteen and how she helped shape my young life. This token of affection and admiration is something I’m sure she had heard over and over that day, after all, we were at a convention of 60,000 plus people. She nodded again and said thank you and hoped I had a great weekend at Gen Con.

As I left the booth, she started telling the story of another fan, a school teacher, who had two kids in his class named Caramon and Raistlin. It registered then that I had something special in my hands. I had more than a book signed by an author. I had a treasure pulled from imagination and the determination to never stop creating. Something that I will hold not just physically, but forever in my mind.

Walking around the convention clutching my signed copy of Autumn Twilight, I became acutely aware of the dangerous hope that had formed in myself. I had gone on a hero’s journey, I went to an event of 61,000 people and felt inclusive and happy. I had conquered fear and approached a hero, and left with a small treasure. And the best part of it all is, it’s only 360 days until I can go on the great adventure that is Gen Con again.