A funny thing happened to this con while I was away at college - it got a lot more diverse. When the collectible-card-game craze peaked circa 1995, the role-playing industry took the most damage, and most RPG convention organizers either evolved or died. DunDraCon's organizers made a great bet by drawing in the Live Action Role Playing crowd, LARP for short, which has enjoyed a growth spurt of interest in the past few years made up mostly of the kind of people you wouldn't imagine you'd see at a gaming convention. Some are on the mature end of the goth-teen trend, but most are in their twenties and look like they work south of Market somewhere. Now, considering my documented position on the relationship between real geeks and young tech workers, and considering that when I bring up the notion of "geek culture" to anyone over 30 they tend to ask if I'm talking about goths, you can understand that the LARPer Effect sets off all kinds of alarms for me. The other RPGers at the con seem to have just one reaction, generally speaking: verbatim from my notes of overheard lines, "LARPers. Yeech." Coming into the con, I didn't really understand this reaction, or at least I didn't think I did.

In addition to organized games and open gaming, the con features seminars and round-table discussions. The first seminar I attended featured Greg Stafford, creator of the game world Glorantha. Glorantha was used as the setting for RuneQuest, a popular RPG of the 80's that was co-published by the aforementioned small Bay Area publisher. The Gloranthan world is incredibly detailed; in RuneQuest's heyday it spawned literally dozens of products, with new settings, character types and rules strewn out across lots of expensive books and sets. A player could play anything from a stereotypical hack-and-slash Conan type to a tiger-man or a talking duck. But RuneQuest got bought by old wargame company Avalon Hill, which for some damned reason got bought by Hasbro, so it's not very bloody likely that RuneQuest will ever get printed again. Stafford, however, has formed a new company to bring the world of Glorantha back into print. RuneQuest was well loved; that and the general crappiness of current conditions in the industry have drawn a lot of attention to this new effort. At last year's con, Stafford was apparently offering individual shares of stock in this new, privately held publishing company, but apparently that's not legally practical. So now he's established a foundation to raise capital to pay artists and writers. His plans seem very concrete, considering how far the venture apparently has yet to go. The one exact quote I have written down reads, "If we sell three, four thousand of everything we do in the first year, we're in. We're in fat city."

stafford session

It's an interesting idea to make a direct financial appeal to gamers for donations, when business realities seem ready to kill the medium outright. Interesting, but perhaps stupid. I couldn't help but think that the Gloranthans are making the same mistake that most gamers-turned-publishers make over and over: fall in love with the glossy, expensive production values that buy them credibility and make them "real" in their own heads, and blithely print themselves into the poorhouse. I didn't hear anything that directly contradicted that, anyway. Although, I suppose it might be financial suicide in a gamer-geek market to do without those fantasy illustrations. (They aren't that expensive anyway.) Sales of three to four thousand is quite a lot in today's depressed gaming market (similar figures prevail in alternative comics and new science fiction these days).

My question about the possibility of selling the new Glorantha publications in online-only versions was met with what struck me as a confused reply: "We want to make sure that it wouldn't hurt sales of the paper books." My bias there is, obviously, that the print market needn't be a sacred cow; lots of gamers are online, and online sales avoid the overhead of printing and distribution. However, Stafford claims to be after new gamers, who perhaps can't be found in the geek-heavy online world. The problem then is that there may not be many new role-playing game players coming, not to anyone. If it's a choice between accepting and adapting to a diminished reality, or trying (in vain?) to change the tides, what do you do?


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text and drawings © copyright 1999 Mike Sugarbaker