RPGBOT made the journey to Gamehole Con IX on October 20th – 22nd 2022, in Madison Wisconsin for our first time. We set off on the adventure with high expectations after Alex Kammer joined us on the podcast. Alex and his friends started Gamehole Con with the mission of fixing all the things that bothered them about gaming conventions, and Gamehole Con did not disappoint.
Why is it Called “Gamehole”?
The original “Gamehole” was a basement where games were played. A hole for games, if you will. The Gamehole is now a well-decorated room above the Free House Pub in Madison, Wisconsin, and houses Alex Kammer’s extensive collection of TSR-era D&D relics, including many one-of-a-kind artifacts like Ed Greenwood’s original hand-drawn map of the Forgotten Realms.
Alex is currently posting a product from the collection every day in chronological order on Twitter. As of this writing, Alex’s most-recent post is an adventure module from 1984, so he still has a lot of rich history to share.
The Con Was Really Good
When you enter the front doors of Gamehole Con, Will Call for badge pickup is directly in front of you. No searching blindly around a convention center or hotel which you’ve never seen trying to find what constitutes the “front” of a building with entrances on all sides. I’ve yet to attend an overwhelming number of conventions, but getting my badge has been a pain at 100% of them. That surprising smoothness of badge pickup set the tone for the entire convention.
I love panels at conventions because it’s a great place to get insider information from creators or learn stuff from people smarter and better-informed than me, so we caught a few and learned some things. All of the panels we attended were great, and I had to miss a few that I really wanted to attend. I caught panels on crowdfunding, gaming and the law, and narrative design, and I learned a ton. I wanted to catch the panels on mental health in gaming and on LGBTQIA+ representation in gaming, but I couldn’t fit it all in.
It would be nice if the panels were recorded, but most cons don’t do that, and I’m not sure if they would be watched enough to justify the effort. I don’t know how to run a convention, so I’ll leave that decision to people more informed on the subject.
The exhibit hall was spacious, and the people there were great. We caught up with our friends from previous conventions and we met some other great folks. There were dice, games, art, books, and other wonderful products on display. There are too many wonderful dealers to list, so definitely check the site.
Among other notable things, Gamehole had a stunning 75 tables for Adventurer’s League. There were even tables for first-time players, which is always great to see because people often bring their friends and families to these things, and these tables present a very approachable entry point to roleplaying games.
Of course, it wasn’t all D&D. There were tables for Pathfinder Society and Shadowrun Missions. There were more Free League tables than Gen Con, tables for various games from Monte Cook Games, and a bunch of smaller games run by members of the community.
Profits from the convention are donated to Extra Life and to the Wisconsin Children’s Hospital. Alex Kammer takes charity very seriously, and giving back to causes that matter means that your attendance supports wonderful charitable causes.
We Played Some Games
We split up our group a few times to grab seats at some RPG tables. We dragged our feet on registering for games, so we were often grabbing single spaces at the specific games we wanted to play. There were always plenty of games to join, of course, but we had a handful of specific games which we had to play.
Randall played Vaesen from Free League Games. He described it as fun and roleplay-heavy. The game was extremely light on combat because the combat they had was very deadly. He shared glowing praise for the group he joined, and for Vaesen in general.
I played a game of D&D 5e at a table run by non-other than Luke Gygax, who was running the recently-kickstarted Eye of Chentoufi adventure from Luke’s Gaxx Worx game design studio. The adventure was fun, the table was great, and the final boss fight of the session was an absolute blast.
Randall played a game with the Pathfinder Society and tried his first bard. He and his group worked through the 5-hour session much faster than expected, which always feels good. I think he had a wonderful time since we kept trying to fit more PFS games into our schedule.
I snuck into a game of Fate of the Norns last minute. We got a brief walkthrough of the game’s rune system at Gen Con, but I didn’t really get a sense of how the game worked. Gamehole Con was less wall-to-wall elbows, so it was much easier to stop at the booth and say “Hey, what’s this?” Richard from Pendelhaven, the creators of the game, took some time to really dig into the mechanics with us, and Andrew from the team ran a table. We had a raucous good time, and once we got a hang of the mechanics the game played very smoothly. There’s a lot to like about Fate of the Norns and we’re looking forward to digging into it some more.
We had big ambitions to play another True Dungeon, but we never managed to fit it in. We played once previously at PAX West, and if you haven’t played, it’s a good time. Some of our friends told us that the adventure being run was a lot of fun, and they managed to succeed for the first time. We failed our only previous attempt at True Dungeon, so we all celebrated their victory. Next time I’ll remember to bring our tokens and we’ll go into the game prepared, but I might try out the Virtual True Dungeon to tie me over until I can make it to another convention.
Board Games, Too!
We don’t talk about board games much on RPGBOT, but we sure do play them. There were at least three game shops with booths at the Gamehole Con, a free game library, and several booths demo’ing tempting new board games.
We got demo’s of a few games, and I stumbled my way into a game of Outland Entertainment’s Althingi with a few really cool folks. We brought home copies of several new games that we’re very excited about. We’ve already played a dozen rounds of Atlas Games’ Dice Miner. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t grab a copy of Paverson Games’ Distilled before the con wrapped. There were some other great games that we missed out on, but you can only do so much in day.
Crowds But Not Crowded
If you’re not one for dense crowds, conventions can be daunting. Gamehole Con was definitely well-attended, but I never felt claustrophobic and I never once got stuck in foot traffic. There were always people around and there were always plenty of events going on, but it never felt so crowded that I wanted for personal space.
And even when I decided “hey, it’s time for a break” there were always places at hand to sit and catch my breath. Tables that were vacant between games, open space in the game library was always available, and the free Paint and Take was a great place to sit and uh…shoot, I’m only now remembering I left a miniature half-finished. (Mine is the one with the black circular base, center rear.)
Outside of the convention hall, a trio of food trucks were gathered. I didn’t get a chance to explore all three, but I had some stunningly good tacos. There was a fast-moving line outside each of them most of the time, so clearly people were happy with the food trucks. There was a concession stand inside the convention center with a couple things like hot dogs and salads, but the food trucks were clearly the preferred option.
We saw some really cool people at the con, too. Ed Greenwood, designers like Matt Forbeck (Marvel Multiversal RPG, Shotguns and Sorcery, etc.), Tomas Härenstam (ALIEN RPG), Elisa Teague (Essence 20, G.I. Joe RPG, Transformers RPG, etc.), Alexander Stangroom (Kobold Press), Amanda Hamon (Wizards of the Coast), and a bunch of others. We ran into Keith Ammann in the exhibit hall and I gushed about how much I’m enjoying his new book, How to Defend Your Lair (we’ll have a podcast episode about it soon!).
Streamed Games for Those at Home
Above the bustle of the 1st-floor gaming space, nestled between the Monte Cooke Games Lounge and the panel rooms, the folks from Demiplane were running streaming content all hours of the day on Gamehole Con’s Twitch channel. Most of these were live games, but there were a few discussion panels mixed in. Games played include 5e, 1st edition D&D, ALIEN, Shadowrun 6e, Paranoia, and Vampire: The Masquerade. Panels covered shifts in profession GMing and one session of live module design.
I haven’t caught up on these, but the luxury of having these broadcast and recorded means that they’re still there when I feel sad the convention is over.
Happy Birthday to Monte Cooke Games!
Monte Cooke Games (MCG) celebrated their 10th anniversary with cake, snacks, ice cream, and gifts. Monte Cooke is partially responsible for my own journey into tabletop games thanks to his work on 3rd edition D&D. In the ten years since leaving Wizards of the Coast, Monte and his team have created a wonderful and beloved company which produces games that people love.
We spent some time at the party, and several enthusiastic fans walked us through the basic concepts of the Cypher System. The team picked up a copy, and Randall is putting together a one-shot for us using the system.
The most exciting announcement for creators from MCG at Gamehole Con: MCG announced the Cypher System Open License and Cypher System Reference Document. These are analogous to the OGL and SRDs for D&D 3.x and 5 that enable the creation of compatible 3rd-party content.
Literally the only thing about the con that I found frustrating was that the mobile site for Gamehole Con is slightly annoying. The scroll behavior makes it difficult to get around on the site, which is frustrating when you’re trying to book games or check times for panels.
That’s it. Literally everything else was smooth, convenient, and painless.
Go to Gamehole Con. Have it on your schedule to be in Madison Wisconsin next year on October 19-22. RPGBOT will be there!
Tickets are inexpensive compared to other well-known conventions, the con is well run, there’s tons of stuff to do, the people are abundantly kind and pleasant, and there’s fun to be had at every turn. Gamehole was one of our favorite con-going experiences this year, and we will absolutely be back again next year.
Hey! And when you’re there, stop and talk to us!