After attending Gamehole Con 2022, attending 2023 was never a question. We were going. Last year’s experience was stellar, and we were looking forward to it all year long. This year’s convention did not disappoint.
The Kickoff Party
This year we got into town in time to attend the Kickoff Party. This year’s primary sponsor was Beadle and Grimm’s, who were advertising their upcoming video game, The Ring of Chaos. The party was really nice with free pizza and drinks, and the whole Beadle and Grimm’s team was in attendance and mingling with guests.
Actually finding information about the Kickoff Party was weirdly difficult. Looking now, the website doesn’t list location, time, or sponsors for the party, which was mildly frustrating. But that may have been the most frustrating part of the entire convention, and it was quickly solved by asking for help on the Gamehole Con Discord. If that’s the only thing about the con that bothered us, I think it’s safe to say that things went pretty great.
We managed to grab a picture with Matthew Lillard and had a chat about his whiskey and the upcoming game. He sounds really excited about everything that he has going on, and his enthusiasm was infectious.
Record Attendance, but Room to Grow
Gamehole Con set their attendance record this year at around 6,000 attendees. This is small by the standards of large conventions, but it was definitely better-attended than last year. At times we needed to park on the other side of the Alliant Energy Center’s parking lots, which meant very slightly more walking to reach the doors, but still really wasn’t a problem. Even on Saturday, the busiest day of the convention, we were parked and in the doors almost immediately.
Current Gamehole Con has not gone beyond the physical confines of the main Alliant Energy Center building, and it has had adequate space for everything that the con provides. But the Alliant Energy Center is a big facility, and there is certainly room to expand as the convention continues to grow. In particular, there’s a sports stadium which I suspect will one day turn into a gaming space much like Gen Con does with the Lucas Oil Stadium.
An Impossibly Large Number of Games
Because Gamehole Con is primarily an RPG convention, a massive amount of space is dedicated to RPGs of all kinds big and small. As usual, the organized play area had games running constantly for DnD, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun, and the space was just as big as last year.
The Monte Cook Games lounge was in the same spot as last year, and was filled with games of both Cypher System and of No Thank You, Evil. There’s also a small bar and sitting area up there, making it a great place to sit and rest between events.
To our surprise, a friend of ours from last year was running a game of MCDM’s upcoming RPG. We weren’t able to join or sneak past to peak, which I’m still incredibly sad about. Hopefully I can talk MCDM into coming on the podcast to talk about it.
We Managed to Play Something!
Randall and I ran into one of the folks organizing streamed games at the kickoff party, and got slotted into a FFG Star Wars game mostly by accident. I’ve been forcing Randall to read the Edge of the Empire rulebook recently, so I was thrilled! We played through a short heist in which we got into a whole bunch of shenanigans.
Our GM goes by NeoFett3 online and has a regular streamed game on twitch. He ran a great game, and I’m hoping that we can line up another time to play in the future. This was our first time on a streamed game, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better experience.
Randall managed to get us into a Cypher game on Friday morning. We’ve read a bunch of Cypher stuff but haven’t managed to play it, so we were both very excited. We played a one-shot called “Bitter Seeds” in which we played humans surviving in a post-apocalyptic earth. We went on a mission for our small community, encountered some weird plant bear monsters, started a gas fire, and had perhaps the first ice cream headache since the world ended.
Our GM was Anthony, who is one of the folks who runs Cypher Unlimited, the Cypher System fan community. He really knows the system, and he made the whole experience a ton of fun. He talked a bit about our experience with Bitter Seeds on their Gamehole Con recap video.
I always love playing con games, and Gamehole Con is definitely the place to play them. Unfortunately, we attend cons as media, so there’s never as much time to play as I’d like.
The (Exhibit) Hall of Wonders
Exhibit Halls are where we spend most of our time at conventions. And, while Gamehole Con’s exhibit hall is smaller than many other conventions, it’s still filled with great companies with a lot of exciting products.
We spent a bunch of time recording short clips with creators at the convention to talk about their latest work. We’ve been posting those to Tik Tok, so take a look if you’re curious about the cool stuff you might have missed.
Creators Creating Creative Creations
We didn’t manage to talk to everyone in attendance, but the folks we did talk to have some great stuff in the works.
Alex Kammer, arguably the face of Gamehole Con, is actively running a Kickstarter for his adventure The End of Everything, co-written with Alan Patrick and published by our friends at Frog God Games. As of this writing, they’re funded and chewing through stretch goals.
The team from Demiplane was there in person showing off the character creation tools for Avatar: Legends. I wasn’t able to get a specific list, but Demiplane apparently has a queue of RPGs to onboard which will take them over 2 years. The platform really is thriving, and after following it since its inception, I’m excited to see it.
The Legends of Avantris team was there promoting their Kickstarter for The Crooked Moon. As of this writing, they’ve hit $2.5 million in funding. The product looks cool, and we’re hoping to get more details from them soon. They also have some adorable monster plushies that I might buy “for my children.”
Sleeping Giant Gaming, who we first encountered at Gary Con earlier this year, is running a Kickstarter for Hamel’s House of Oddities, a 5e campaign and setting. The art is a gorgeous black-and-white aesthetic that I absolutely love, and their physical product is stunning. It includes physical battle maps, a rollable magnetized surface, and magnetized pog-style tokens so the entire thing stays steady and in place on your gaming table. Also included are art cards intended for use during play to show players exactly what you’re killing them with. I’ve had two sitting on my desk since Gary Con and there were a ton more on display at the con.
Oh Hey, it’s Them!
One of my favorite things about Gamehole Con is that this is the convention which many big RPG folks attend to relax, play in games, and hang out with other long-time RPG professionals who they’ve known and worked with for years. Folks dating back to the 70’s were in attendance, and they’re not squirreled in some dark corner running VIP games as they frequently are at larger conventions.
Gamehole Con’s list of special guests includes major figures in the industry both new and old including fantastic creators like Ed Greenwood (Forgotten Realms), Kelsey Dionne (Shadowdark), and Luke Gygax (Gaxxworks). Monte Cook was in attendance, making his first convention appearance since COVID-19 set in.
A lot of these folks both run and play in games at Gamehole Con, as well as participating in panels, all of which means that you can run into them while they’re enjoying the convention. In my experience, almost everyone is happy to hang out and talk about the hobby and their work, and the folks who aren’t are probably on their way to their next scheduled event. As much as some of these folks can feel like mythical figures, they’re still gamers and creators at heart, and they’re excited to share what they love.
Other creators also attended, including the Dungeon Dudes and Keith Ammann (The Monsters Know What They’re Doing). We’re big fans of Keith’s work at RPGBOT, and I’m sad I didn’t get to say hello in person, but we apparently missed each other by about 5 minutes on the last day. Even at Gamehole Con it can be really hard to see everyone you want to see.
The Charity Auction
Among his many hobbies and projects, Alex Kammer is a collector of TSR-era RPG products, and is part of a thriving community of collectors. Every year Gamehole Con hosts a charity auction where some really interesting collectibles are available both in-person and online. For collectors, this is one of the best places to find rare artifacts.
I’m not in tune with the RPG collector community, but among the items available were several items in their original packaging, including great things like early Dark Sun and Planescape products. There were maps, books, boxed sets, and even a set of the earliest D&D polyhedral dice still in their original blister packaging.
This year the auction was renamed as the Scott Brand Memorial Charity Auction. Kammer described Scott as a close personal friend, an enthusiastic collector, and an upstanding member of the community. He passed over the summer, but Gamehole Con will preserve his memory with an event that he clearly cared about a great deal.
Marc Miller, the original creator of the Traveler RPG was in attendance, and told the story of how Game Designers’ Workshop would individually number their original print runs. Marc has hung onto his copies since their printing, and during the charity auction presented Alex Kammer with the very first printed copy of Traveler.
This year’s charity was Fetch Wisconsin, a local dog rescue. While we haven’t seen an exact number for what was raised, Alex Kammer estimated that it would exceed $20,000. That’s going to help a lot of wonderful dogs find loving homes.
Meeting You in Person
A few of our readers managed to find us in person, which is always an absolute pleasure. I’m fairly certain that we missed a few folks who said that they were going, but the folks we did meet were absolutely wonderful.
We’re already planning for next year, and I sincerely hope that I’ll see you there.
Next year’s con is October 17-20, 2024 in Madison, Wisconsin. Tickets are inexpensive, games are plentiful, and the people are wonderful. I can’t wait!