Shoemaker: Just to get started, tell me your name and how many Gen Con's you've been to
Weis: I'm Margaret Weis and this will be my, oh dear, whatever 2017-1984 is.
Shoemaker: OK, so 1984 was your first Gen Con.
Weis: 1984 was my first Gen Con.
Shoemaker: Why were you at the 1984 one, why did you go?
Weis: I was working for TSR, Tracy and I had just finished the Dragonlance novels and we wanted to promote it so we did a readers' theater at Gen Con that year featuring Dragons of Autumn Twilight, which was the first time it had ever been introduced. We sent my daughter, who I think was 10, or maybe younger, we put a sandwich board on her advertising our readers' theater, which was at night, and we sent her around with free tickets and we told her to give free tickets to people. We had a lot of people that came to the readers' theater and we had more people that said "this little blond girl came up and said 'would you please go to my mommy's play?' we couldn't say no!" That was what we did and we read Dragonlance and a lot of people that were there the first night came back the second night to hear it again. It was really good.
Shoemaker: Had the books been published?
Weis: No, we didn't have any books. I think they had some of the game modules. So some people had actually played the game which was one reason why they were interested in the novels, is because they had enjoyed the game modules.
Shoemaker: I know Dragonlance changed things for TSR, it was their first big novel release and they had the games going, do you think it had any effects on Gen Con? You had been going since 84 then, did you come back to do more Dragonlance events?
Weis: Yes, we came back the next year with Dragons of Spring Dawning, and in fact I've been every year since. And we did another readers' theater, we did readers' theaters then for many years after that at Gen Con. We autographed the books, and promoted the books and the game.
Shoemaker: Did any of the events at Gen Con feed back into the novels?
Weis: We never got to play. I mean, that's the problem with Gen Con for me, it's a working convention. I really don't get to play. And we didn't back then either. We only ever playtested Dragonlance once, I think, or twice, and a couple things came out of the playtesting and that was Raistlin talking in kind of a whispering voice, which I noticed whenever the guy who was playing him did that, everyone in the party just really hushed to hear what Raistlin was saying, and I thought that whether Raistlin needed to do that or not, it would be something he would realize would catch attention. And then Bupu, Tracy introduced the character of Bupu at a playtest session and the line where she goes and she asks Raistlin if he will marry her, you know "I want to take you home to mum" that came from the playtest session. That was it!
Shoemaker: I know you just said you don't play too much, but these days you're running your own business and everything at Gen Con, so what kind of events are you doing now?
Weis: I really don't do events. I mean, I'm doing some panels this year because it's the 50th anniversary, so I'm going to be on some panels, but generally I just stay in the booth and talk to people about the books and the games. Now I'm retired from the game industry, so this year it will just be novels.
Shoemaker: I know one thing at Gen Con lately, is I was just wondering if there have been any women you have worked with at the convention and how your experience with them has been?
Weis: Oh my gosh, well I've worked with women, you know, since the beginning days of TSR. And in fact I did a talk two years ago for the women's RPG group, Contessa, I did a talk at Contessa about women in the early days at TSR, and I did some research. I found out some really amazing stuff. Laura Hickman, according to my research, is the first woman who has an author credit on a D&D module. That she wrote with her husband Tracy. And there were women involved in the company, Penny Williams and Jean Wells, you know, going back years. Women worked at Gen Con, in charge of Gen Con, Mary Kirchoff, head of Dragon Magazine, Jean Black was the head of the book department. Yeah, Jean was the one that hired me to work at TSR, hired me as a book editor. So yeah, I've worked with lots of women over the years.
Shoemaker: Sticking with that theme, how has your experience as a woman changed at Gen Con?
Weis: There are more women! A lot more women. I remember my first Gen Con at Parkside, I remember seeing a young woman, she was walking down the hall at the college with a DMG in her arm and, like, men, following her. There were very few women attending the convention then. And I think most of us that were there were working for TSR. But there were a few. So yeah, what we're seeing now is more women, a lot more families, and I really like to see that. We see fathers playing games with their daughters, mothers playing games with their sons which is how I introduced my kids, they went to Gen Con the very first year, had a ball. And I think the advent of family day, on Sunday, has been really, really good for Gen Con. I can really see a difference, getting a lot more people on Sunday than we used to. And its families getting in for one price and its great.
Shoemaker: How has your participation at Gen Con changed since you left TSR?
Weis: Well it really hasn't as we used to get a booth, back in the old days, and after we left TSR we still got a booth, and Tracy and I would just get a booth and we'd do our readers' theater events and Tracy would always run his Killer Breakfast, that's where that started, at Gen Con. It started for a few people, I mean he has, he is now working for the void.com which is an amazing thing if you haven't seen it, look it up, its virtual reality, its really cool. So he hasn't been able to run Killer Breakfast, he didn't last year and I don't think he is coming this year, but, yeah it started with a few people and went into a thousand.
Shoemaker: So what is it like now promoting and running your own company at Gen Con versus just working for a place like TSR?
Weis: Well, it's a lot more fun! The first year, when Tracy and I went, we did the readers' theater but that was at night, and during the day I worked for the company and I helped with the auction. And basically I was a runner, you know, I would run things up and hand them to Frank and Tom, so, that wasn't a lot of fun. And it was hot because it was at Parkside, the exhibit hall there was no air conditioning and it was in August, and, oh my gosh, it was miserable. Gen Con itself was fun.
Shoemaker: Do you have a favorite Gen Con that you've been to? I know they kind of blur together over time, but is there one that sticks out in your mind?
Weis: Yeah, lets see, the year we stormed the castle, that was a lot of fun. TSR, this was when Lorrain Williams was in charge of the company, and she decided she was going to make a huge show at Gen Con and remind everybody, and she told us this, that she was going to remind everybody that TSR was the company that created the industry, everybody there owed everything to TSR, so their exhibit was this huge castle. I mean it was walls, and you know a gate, and everything else. This was after I had left the company, and so all of the exhibitors got together and we decided then on Sunday morning, before the convention opened up, we were going to storm the castle. We kind of thought we were going to get in trouble, but we handed out nerf weapons, everybody was armed with nerf weapons, people went out in Milwaukee and cleaned the stores out of nerf guns. I mean it was so cool. And of course everyone was talking about it so the TSR people found out about it, and then pretty soon the rest of the convention found out about it and everybody knew we were going to do this and Lorrain, you know bless her heart, she went along with it. Half an hour before the doors opened, all the exhibitors gathered and the TSR people stood in the castle and we were armed with nerf guns and the gamers were lining, at Milwaukee they had that bar up there, overlooking the convention center, that was packed with people looking down on the exhibit hall to watch this and so we did, we stormed the castle and nerf balls were going everywhere, it was absolutely more fun. We had a ball.
Shoemaker: Was that on Sunday, before...
Weis: No it was on Sunday, before it closed in case there was any damage.
Shoemaker: Do you have a favorite event that you have done or participated in?
Weis: I loved Killer Breakfast. I used to go to Killer Breakfast before I opened the booth because I always had to be there at the booth opening, so Killer Breakfast I think generally started at 8, so I could go from like 8 to 9 and then I had to go to the booth. But I really had a lot of fun at Killer Breakfast. It was probably my favorite.
Shoemaker: What was it about Killer Breakfast?
Weis: Just because Tracy is hilarious. Tracy used to DM for us back in the old days when I worked for TSR, he was so funny. He and Roger Moore, were you know, two absolutely great DMs. Roger Moore was the editor of Dragon Magazine. When Tracy runs Killer Breakfast he gets 6 people up at the front and gives them character sheets that, like, 1 is Buffy and she's got like 1 hit point, and, you know then throws them against like Lord Soth and Takhisis and you all die horribly. The only way you live is if you either bribe Tracy, bribe the DM, or you're funny. And if you're funny he'll let you live a little longer. The audience now they bring signs, they know cheers, and Tracy used to incorporate videos, it became this huge deal.
Shoemaker: Is there anything you miss about Gen Con that isn't done at the more recent shows?
Weis: I miss the bar that used to overlook the exhibit hall. That was neat. That was where I could go because you had to be 21 to enter and I could go and kind of escape. I miss that, otherwise I love Indianapolis. I think Indy is a great city, and they've been so nice, so accommodating, I just always have a good time at Gen Con.
Shoemaker: You've been going now for more than 30 years, are there any major transitions that you've noticed?
Weis: Well of course WotC isn't even there anymore. I mean, thats the big one. A lot of the, like White Wolf, they used to have a huge presence there, and a lot of the companies that used to be big there aren't anymore. But then we see new companies coming in, which is fun, always fun.
Shoemaker: Are they on the same scale do you think?
Weis: Oh yeah, because the new companies, especially the board game companies, like Fantasy Flight, you know they're huge, Paizo, big, big presence. I think that and more family oriented, I think thats neat.
Shoemaker: Last question I have, is do you have any thoughts on how you would like Gen Con to progress?
Weis: I hope they stay in Indy, I don't want them to move. I know that its hard to find hotel space and things for people, I just really don't want to see it go to Vegas or Los Angeles or anyplace like that. I think it would just change the whole demeanor. I'd really just like to see it stay where it is, and keeping kind of family friendly, which is what it is.
Shoemaker: So those are the questions I have, before I let you go, I'd just ask if there is anything you think I should know or you want people to hear about Gen Con?
Weis: You know, if you've never been to Gen Con, its a lot of fun. If you can only go one day, check out family day on Sunday because an entire family gets in for one admission price. They have events for the kids and it's really a great way to introduce your kids to gaming, which I think is so important.