What I Learned from Frank
Recently I was was invited to join my friend Frank Mentzer to check out a convention in mid / northern Wisconsin called ‘Evercon’ where he had been asked to be a special guest. When it comes to things like this, you don’t need to kick me twice to say yes.
We had a three hour ride up, and another three hour ride back. It turns out Frank (Being a natural DM) and myself are talkers and we had plenty to discuss, while our wives were at Frank’s house for many hours doing the same apparently. I was relieved to find out, that after so many years, an accomplished wizard also has to mentally prepare for ‘convention mode’. We all want to put our best foot forward in meeting new people, but what about when there are dozens, hundreds, thousands to meet? It can be very taxing, and while a person is genuinely pleased to meet new friends, it takes a little shuffling of the brain.
All of the conversation on the ride, talk about how to approach conventions, and what we do moved into practice when we got to Evercon.
Evercon has a lot of young people attending. Many highschool or younger, with a number of beaming parents and a few older gamers mixed in. The gamer parents are easy to spot, they physically GLOW, I mean RADIATE watching their kids rolling dice.
The highlight of the convention for Frank (His words), and myself were two young folks who attended. A young lady of about 10 or so with her gamer mom, and a teen age fella who had never played D&D, only video games.
The young lady played a dwarf cooperatively with her mom. A wise move, since the ten year attention span was allowed to wander away from the table a couple times without disrupting play, since mom could fill in.
Frank gave the young lady some pertinent information about the adventure in private, a key to a puzzle. She was the only player at the table with this information. We then watched the birth of a young gamer come into her own. This completely removed to tendency to talk to the young player as a child. There was ZERO condescension when the older players interacted with her. I learned how special this is to kids, and how difficult it can be to have adults tune in on an even level to them. She became very involved with the game, and she was immediately incorporated as a valuable team member by the group.
I illustrated her character among the text of her character sheet and she refused to let go of the thing after Frank signed it.
The other young fellow was hoovering around the table, at a respectful distance, but hoovering. Frank had turned a few other folks away since the game was full. Something about this young man caught Frank’s attention and he offered him a seat and a character sheet. He had never played D&D before, had only ever played video games.
Frank quickly ran down what was going on, the basics of his 0Edition game, and handed him a fighter. likely the most straight-forward character archetype for the situation. after a few minutes in, he had a unique weapon created, participate din group play, and before our eyes we watched another tabletop gamer being born.
After the game was over and everyone cleared out he asked Frank,”What do I need to do so I can play this some more?”
He showed up the following day with an AD&D book in hand, well on his way. What’s more is that he can say his very first Dungeons & Dragons game was played with Frank Mentzer!
I write, illustrate and produce my own adventure modules, Frank is an expert game designer and writer himself. If you don’t think so, 14,000,000 + copies of D&D redbox speak otherwise. The convention time wasn’t about pitching products, it was gamers meeting gamers. It was elevating the hobby. I began to realize that many eager indie publishers may be making a mistake by attempting to turn every conversation into a plug for their product.
Attending the convention as the guest of a special guest, instead of a vendor or attendee, certainly shone a new light on conventions for me. Frank Mentzer has attended hundreds of conventions and gatherings around the world, he is practiced at the art, has many products on the market for sale. When folks meet him, it’s one gamer meeting another.
We represent and create tabletop games. SOCIAL games, based on social interactions. We (producers of products) need to be careful to remember that and not enter into a TV commercial as soon as someone says hello.
When I watched Frank help give birth to some brand new gamers, I remembered why I make and illustrate RPG products. Because gaming is fun, it’s cool, and it’s a great thing to share.
Thanks Frank for inviting me along and sharing your space and a little of your lime-light. The trip certainly has renewed my vigor and approach to conventions.
Fail Squad Games