Re-Roll: Taking a Trip Back in Time to Visit the Original Gen Con

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Back in 1967, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gary Gygax started a wargames convention called Gen Con, named after the city where he lived. This year marks the 50th celebration of Gen Con and, while the convention has moved to Indianapolis (with several stops along the way) and has now grown to more than 60,000 attendees, in many ways, things have stayed the same. Friends still get together to play games, share their passions, and just have fun. To celebrate Gen Con 50, the organizers of Gen Con put together a museum that showcases the history and the games of Gen Con.

The first Gen Con was held at Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva, a conference center originally built for gardeners. According to Peter Adkinson, owner of Gen Con, “It cost $50 to rent the hall, we had 50 attendees and each of them paid a dollar to attend.”  

Now, it costs more than a dollar to attend, but the activities available to attendees are seemingly endless. Whether you want to read manga or explore underground Indianapolis or enter a tournament or build foam weapons or watch a Wookie bellydance or even play a wargame (some things never change), Gen Con has most certainly grown.

To punctuate that growth, if you walk past the thousands of tables where gamers are playing the newest games and through the half million feet of exhibitor space down a very, very long hallway, and around a couple of corners, you’ll end up on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts play football on Sundays in the fall. You can’t help but pause, crane your neck up at the heights, imagining Peyton Manning in his prime, throwing long, arching touchdowns, to the cheers of the 60,000 in the seats.

There are a lot of seats.

And it occurs to you that this year’s Gen Con attendees would fill every single seat in this stadium where they’ve held NCAA basketball championships. And the Super Bowl. It’s a big place. And Gen Con is a very big event.

So your eyes slowly make their way toward the 50 yard line to try to decipher what all the motion is about. There, in the middle of this huge barn, surrounded by thousands of gamers playing games, sits this tribute to the first Gen Con. There’s a façade of the Horticultural Hall and pipe and drape that mark the limits of the original hall’s walls and the gardens beyond them. And within, there are treasures from some of the best geek collections you will ever see. “Most of the items come from just four collectors,” says Adkinson. “But about 30 others contributed items, as well.”

It’s honestly breathtaking. There’s the first draft of Dungeons and Dragons rules, the painting that was used for the first Dungeon Master’s Guide, there are programs from the first Gen Cons, and so much more. It is uniquely remarkable and, if you have ever considered yourself a geek, you can’t help feeling overwhelmed at the history just inches away from you.

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