Tim Kask

Shoemaker: Please tell me your name and how many Gen Cons you've been to. 

Kask: My name is Tim Kask, My first Gen Con was 74 and I went to every Gen Con until 84.  Then I didn't go to any Gen Cons until 2006.  So, you can do the math.  A bunch of them from different time periods. 

Shoemaker: So speaking of that, I know they kind of blur together over the years, but do you have a favorite Gen Con that you've attended? 

Kask: The first one I went to.  And if you want to know something about a memory, its tied up with the memory.  When I went to the first Gen Con I went to, which was 1974, I went at the urging of Gary Gygax who I'd called up on the phone one night to talk about gaming and become friends with and he talked me into coming up.  Up to this point in time I had known one guy that wargamed when I was in what would today be middle school.  And I wargamed with him for 3 years.  Went in the service, found 1 guy that played games, played with him for a year and a half.  Got out, came back from Nam.  Got out, went to College, junior college, and found 3 guys that played SPI games.  So now my gaming contacts had just doubled by meeting 3 more gamers.  You'll see where I'm going in just a second.  Went to college and found a club of 12.  My gaming world just doubled again!  More than doubled again.  Going to Gen Con, 1974, walking into that hall and seeing, 400, I have no idea, it was more gamers than I knew existed in the Earth all in one place.  A feeling washed over me that I am home.  This is where I belong.  Because I had been playing boardgames since 6th grade.  Avalon Hill board games, since the 6th grade, been playing everything else with my family since I was old enough to roll dice and count the spots.  That is the memory that I will never shed, that feeling that washed over me that there is a brotherhood of us.  Us who are sometimes large and poorly hygenied, not trained and others who are prone to go on and on topics for minutes on end, but we were all gamers.  And that's when I found the brotherhood of gamers.  That's my greatest memory of the first Gen Con I went to.

Shoemaker: Did that feeling and bond grow over time and with more conventions? 

Kask: Oh well yeah.  In 75 I was part of the con, though I had not come to work.  I had been involved in a lot of the planning and everything.  That was where we sealed the deal when I shook hands with Gary and came to work, that was August, and my first day was officially October 1st.  And so that con is very significant, 75, that was I don't know, 9, 10, I never paid attention.  I'm not one of those minutists.  But that was my greatest memory and that was my greatest con.  Even though I am sure it was the smallest one I ever attended.  But it was just finding that I was part of a brotherhood.   

Shoemaker: That was William's Bay that year? 

Kask:  No, no, we were in Horticultural Hall, 74, 75, 76 was Hort Hall. We were also at the gym down the alley, and the Legion and we had other satellite locations that were all within walking distance of Hort Hall.  I think the farthest might have been 3 blocks.  Short blocks in Lake Geneva.  No, we were there for a long time, and then we outgrew it and went to Parkside.   

Shoemaker: Over the time you've been there, you might even have multiple answers to this question since you've had so many breaks, but have there been a favorite event or events over the years? 

Kask: Not that I've attended but that I've run.  For a period of time I was Avalon Hill's frontman for Circus Maximus.  I went around and ran it at several different conventions.  And infected several of them that are still playing it to this day.  That was, running those events and watching the people run each other over and whip each other, try to kill each others horses was always great entertainment for me.  The blood thirsty comes out.  I infected Gary Con with it, I brought it up one year and I had miniatures and everything, it became a big deal with a giant horse's head trophy and a giant horse's butt boobie prize.  It became a big deal.  I have a certain fondness for that, but I found a different game that I am going to start bringing around to the cons that I drive to.  Because I have this enormous map board.  It's something entirely different. 

Shoemaker: It's something new that you haven't brought to cons before? 

Kask: I have it here at this one and I'm going to do a pickup game or two if I get the opportunity.  I hope so. It's all about racing stock cars on the dirt.  Its called Dirt Track Saturday Night and its just amazing fun, easy to play game.  And like the chariots it has another level of grit where you can run a campaign, camburg your tires, spend your expense money out, I mean it's got this level of grit that's, wow, its really pretty cool.  But its also "ah let's go slide around in this oval in the mud," and I did some dirt track racing after I came back from Nam.  For one summer I was involved in that, it captures a lot of the feel, the game has been so simplified that for somebody that does it or watches it they go "oh wow that was brilliantly done."  I will see if people that don't watch it, pick it up quickly.  That also will depend on how well I teach it.  I made lots of playing aids, I'm big on playing aids.  I make playing aids for games that I buy and I go "they needed this" and I make a playing aid and use it for myself.  You know there's a Ticket to Ride game that's stupidly thought out with all of these little people chits, when actually a sheet of paper you can just cross off when you pick them up would be so much easier and you wouldn't be stacking the dang things up all over the board every time somebody coughs or sneezes and they all fall off.  They're all round, cardboard punched so their domed, and they don't stack worth a dang.  You'd have to get a tack hammer, put all three of em on top of each other and beat them flat.  That's too much work, I made a playing aid.  Plus its easier to count at the end of the game make sure you got it right.  I've been doing that all my life, making playing aids for games that I can't remember, I think that if I can't remember it maybe other people can't either.  So then I make a playing aid.  Alright, I don't know how we got on playing aids.

Shoemaker: When you started D&D was just really taking off, and I know 75 was your first con...

Kask: No, no, it was my second con.  I was there at 74 and that was where I was exposed to D&D.  I played 2 games.  One of them didn't last but 20 minutes, and we were all dead and cut up into little cubes inside of a big block of lucite, like we were paperweights.  I never did figure out how that happened.  And then I played again later in a game that was probably run by Rob Kuntz, I can't say that for certain but I'm pretty sure it probably was.  Knowing who ran games that year.  And it was a whole lot of fun that convinced me to buy the brown box set and I could either get Greyhawk or I could get a set of dice.  Well I needed the dice so I got a brown box set and the dice, took them back to my game club in carbondale, Illinois and they were unwitting but willing guinea pigs for the next year as a playtest group for Gary and me and TSR.  That's how D&D spread back then was the true viral.  Everybody game to Gen Con, they bought the boxes, they all went back to their groups or colleges and they all taught their group, their friends how to play D&D.  Some of them decided they wanted to be a DM, so they bought a set.  And that's how we built the brand.  We built the brand on the games we ran and the tournaments we ran at the conventions.  That's how we built the brand, we made them want to go out and buy the box, buy the, whatever we had in the product line at the time.  But that was the driving ethic.  Gen Con made us lots of money.  And we needed that to grow.  And we worked on the float.  The infamous float, now too many younger people won't know what the float was, but checks always took a certain amount of time to clear, and the farther away they were the more time you could count on.  We floated on the float.  The float was anywhere from 4 to 6 days.  We had this money, and it didn't really exist but it did exist, and so we worked on the float on the money that wasn't there.  We financed Gen Con on the tournament fees and the entry fees that people sent us.  That's how we financed Gen Con.  On the float.  On the money they gave us, we could work those 4, 5, 6 days in there and cover something else, everybody did it back then, you know everybody did it that way you worked on the float, that's the way the banking system worked.  You knew your check wasn't going to clear for 3 days, you were ok.  So we worked on the float and the float floated Gen Con.  75, 76, 77 and then I think about that time somebody got the idea that maybe they should make it its own entity.  But I was no longer involved in the running of it at that point.  

Shoemaker: Was there a, during that whole transition period, was there a palpable feeling between people that were there to play D&D versus the wargaming crowd?

Kask: Oh hell yes.  That feeling was so palpable, lovely word, that it spawned what became the movement that became Origins because D&D so took over the conventions in the space of 2 years.  It went from a fringe, if at all, to the dominant event.  More people signed up for it than everything else.  Not everything else together, but anything else, and there were a couple of cons where it was everything else.  The board game companies got really alarmed, and realized that those fantasy guys "aw they're a flash in the pan" well we weren't, and so that eventually led to Origins which was kind of a backlash, would be the boardgame convention.  No miniatures noted, boardgame convention.  So they already cut the minis people loose already.  We never did.  That spawned Origins, that spawned GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association or whatever, wouldn't let us in.  At first.  Finally, we had enough muscles that you better let us in or we'll just bust you up, and they decided they'd rather let us in.  Be one voice among many.  But yeah, the complete watershed fantasy thing between 75 when I went back and there were just a few odd raggedy games running in 74 when I was exposed to it and 75 there were several scheduled games of up to 12 players each.  Cus all us DMs back then always ran huge groups because there were so few DMs.  From the TSR point of view the more people we could infect with the virus the more books that would go home to different places around the world, well at least around the country at that point.  It went in two years from a gaming convention that was mainly board games and a bunch of minis to D&D conventions that also had board games and minis.  There was so much of a demand for the games.  When TSR was involved in running the games, we'd have 12 people DMing groups of 10 each all day long.  That was the demand that we had.  We would run, every con that we went to from once D&D blossomed would have at least 300 spots in it.  Whether that was 30 groups of 10, or whatever, there would be 300 spots in it.  There had to be.  And those spots were going for a buck or 2 a pop.  Big money maker.  All those people buying spots at Gen Con and sending us the money, that was the huge float that we worked on.  We had all this money and nothing to do with it, except spend it and finance the convention.  And make sure it came off.  It was a very different animal back then.  Now they're all LLCs and they run all differently.  Back then it was very seat of the pants, cigar box full of bills, pay the bills and a cigar box full of receipts and we'll figure it out when its over thing.

<Shoemaker: Are there any conventions today that feel like Gen Con used to?>

Its this one.  I don't mean to pimp the con, but it truly is.  The camaraderie, the brotherhood, the shared experience feeling. 

Shoemaker: So it's really the sense of people and how that is is most similar to the early days?

Kask: Yeah, it's that we're all in this together we're all doing the same thing and having fun.  Accept each other's quirks and foibles, because we're here for one thing.  We're here for gaming.  Now Gary Con is also here to remember Gary, but its very much that's what we're here for, we're here to play games.  That's why I bring weird games play because I know I'll find people that will try them.  That spirit of "oh sure I'll give it a shot" what the heck, that's what led me to D&D.  Who knew.  I like that about this place.  Its gotten big and that feeling has been diluted and diminished, but its still there.  Size kind of, size kills it.  Get to big.  The current Gen Con is so enormous, I don't know what it is, is it a gaming convention is it a trade show.  Is it an auction, because that auction runs non-stop for 3 days.  What is Gen Con?  Being buffeted about on the dealer hall in packed mobs of people that are just so excited to be there they forget their manners sometimes.  I don't know, its so big.  I think cons can get too big.  I think Gen Con might be approaching that.  Because right now, this year they've had a debacle with the housing, because there is so little of it.  Well, how can it continue to grow when there already is a housing shortage.  Quite frankly I believe a lot of the housing in Indianapolis is overpriced.  I know, charge what the market will bear and as long as there are people that want to come to Gen Con they'll get whatever ridiculous rate they're charging for the room.  But I don't know, I thought that 2 years ago we ought to change the direction of Gary Con and keep it a boutique con.  Only have about 1500 slots available.

Shoemaker: Yeah, so just cap the attendance.

Kask: Yeah, so you cap the attendance and you raise the prices.  You know, that’s how it works.  No, my advice is worth exactly what they paid for it.  

Shoemaker: So next one, so I know you designed some of the early Gen Con logos... 

Kask: Oh yeah, when I was at Carbondale in 74, 75, finishing college, we had an event fair at the college and I realized that the game club, which had been in existence for some number of years, they had no logo they weren't really sure what they called themselves so I said "OK we're now the Southern Illinois University's Strategic Games Society, I went out and bought some press type and I made a logo for them.  They're still using that logo today.  Well they're all a bunch of sloppy gamers who's going to take the time to change, you know.  It was just a few years ago that they found out I was the one that designed it.  So, anyway, we got going with Gen Con and up to that point in time they had no identifiable icon.  We could say today.  No iconic image that said Gen Con.  Well, hell, that little 4 point compass thing, that was press type, everything else was press type in the old <unintelligible>, and I just made some logos to be art.  I wanted the compass rose for the front of the book.  Also the symbolism that this will direct you, nobody picked that up.  Nobody picked that up.  But here, here's your compass to find fun at the con.  It just, ok, whoever took it next year just used it again and they were too lazy to change it, and so it got used, and used again and used again and that's a lot of the way things went in those early years. 

Shoemaker: That makes total sense.  I know you also did a lot with TSR periodicals earlier on, I was just wondering what if anything you did with them at Gen Con? 

Kask: Apparently you are not aware of the position I held at TSR?  I was vice president of periodicals, that was my department.

Shoemaker: Yes, sorry I'm being coy. 

Kask: Well, that was my division.  What did we do?  Well we started with strategic review, and I did Dragon and Little Wars magazine.  What did we do specifically for Gen Con?  Might of sponsored a couple of games.  Given away some subscriptions or something.  Prizes.  Nothing, I might of made something for them, press type or whatever.  I really don't recall, if I saw them I'd know if I made them or not.  But not necessarily because anyone can make press type.  You know, so what I made originally for the Gen Con was just art to fill the front of the book.  Periodicals didn't do anything specifically for Gen Con other than give prizes.  Which is no more than what games did.  Games division did the same thing.  They gave games.  There really wasn't a lot of, Gen Con was a shared burden.  It was more like this is what I'm doing and this is what you're doing and we've got it all covered now and everything's great.  And it was a little more ad hoc each year.  As people shifted, personnel shifted, responsibilities shifted.  I really had nothing to do with Gen Con specifically after 1976.  That was the one I hand entered 3000 different entries, pre-computer.  Literally I had every bulletin board that the company owned nailed up in my office.  Thank god for latham plaster walls.  And I had every event and every slot that event held, because back then our numbers were such that you could send in a first, second or third choice.  So I went around with every one of them and I filled 3000 slots by hand.  How many attended that year I don't know, we all used to lie through our teeth how big the attendance was, Gen Con, Origins, Metro Detroit Gamers had a great con, I don't exactly remember what the nickname was, but it was a very large convention, for the day, very large.  And they lied about their numbers, we were all bragging. 

Shoemaker: I've got one more question for you, and that is just what is your favorite memory from the convention? 

Kask: In 2006, I came back as a guest auctioneer.  Celebrity auctioneer, for the auction at Gen Con.  Frank Mentzer had talked me into it.  He, wordy rascal that he is, he kind of overdid introducing who his co-auctioneer was going to be.  Overproduced it.  And when he finally pointed at me and said my name, 1000 strangers stood up and gave me a standing ovation.  It was like, I looked at him and said what's this for, not being dead? Because I had been completely out of the industry.  I left the industry when I did, and went on with my life and raised my children, I became a soccer coach and a soccer referee, a soccer announcer for the high school and I sold flooring and I measured things for a living, and drew them.  I did a lot of interesting things, non-gaming related.  Still had a handful of friends in the Cincinnati area who gamed, and we gamed together, occasionally.  They all started getting married and having kids.  I'm older so I was already a step ahead of them.  And we all got back together about 4 years ago, and just all of us around the table again. Four of us from back then, 1 was slightly newer, and 1 brand new to the group that just fell in like he'd been there all his life.  That feeling of the bands all together again.  My favorite memory from Gen Con is still going to be walking in in 1974 and seeing that I wasn't alone.  There is nothing that will top that.  Wow.  There's a bunch of us.  Identifying with a clan is so important to the human species.  We've got to belong to something.  No matter how grouchy or curmudgeonly we say we are.  In our minds we are 1 of something.  And being gamers and being looked funny at "oh yeah those are one of those guys that play with the little paper things" you know, whatever, Mike and I didn't give a damn 6th,7th and 8th grade at St. Mary's, we didn't care because we lived about 2 blocks from each other and we just went to 1 or the others house and we played D-Day all day.  You know, we didn't care what people thought.  We were eggheads and got good grades anyway.  You know, so, it didn't matter.  But you know, you were looked at as one of the egg heads and people would say that about anything they didn't understand.  You understand something, I don't understand you must be an egghead.  But knowing egg heads or not I belonged to this group and walking into that dingy nasty Horticultural Hall and saying "I'm home."  I'll never top that.  I don't expect to.  I wouldn't mind if something came along that did, but I've had many great things happen in my life since.  Birth of my children, birth of my grand children.  I now have 2 great-grandchildren and may have a third one waiting for me when I get home.  Those are incomparable feats.  But I'll never have another gaming memory like walking into the Hort Hall.  I mean, it physically washed over me.  I can't describe it, I just this feeling washed over me.  Us.  And then of course I've been vigorously increasing us ever since.  Come on, join my gang!  We're cool.  

Shoemaker:  Those are all the questions I have, this is your oral history on Gen Con, I don't know if there is anything else you'd like to comment on or just talk about?

Kask: The old Gen Cons shared a trait with the early Gary Cons, that trust, that camaraderie thing.  You could put your, well this is pre-backpack, you could put your pile of junk down, backpacks weren't that popular then, you could put your pile of junk down in a corner and know that it would be there tomorrow.  Untouched.  We didn't mess with each other's stuff.  It was a given.  You don't mess with each other's stuff.  First couple of Gary Cons they had this huge lending library.  "Yeah, bored, come on in find a game!"  They all came back, first couple of years I'm told that when they counted up there were more.  People donated to the lending library.  So that's the Lake Geneva feel.  Whether it was Gen Con than or Gary Con now.  This with lots of outside people and other people.  We don't have the insularity.  The insularity I like.  But you've got to go with what works.  


Tim Kask