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A Gamehole Con Review

Nov 21, 2018

If you were in Madison, WI at the start of November, we hope you were lucky enough to attend Gamehole Con at the Alliant Energy Center. Megan had the chance to enjoy the first couple days of the con and had a blast! 

As a Con-Goer used to the likes of Gencon and NYCC, this con was completely different. Gamehole Con is a tabletop gaming convention with an average of only a few thousand attendees. For example, 2017 brought 3,000 gamers. This year appears to have brought a bump, but was perhaps around 5,000 total.

For such a small convention, there were some absolutely incredible guests. Monte Cook (Numenera), Jeremy Crawford (D&D), Matthew Mercer (Critical Role), Chris Perkins (Wizards of the Coast), and Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles) are only a few of the names found among seminar hosts. Her chronicle through the con begins below.


As per usual, I spent far too much time in the dealer’s hall. But unlike most cons I’m used to, I found some of the most incredible deals on games. That’s the joy of small cons: You actually get to know the publishers and they really want to make everyone’s day. I spent a good deal of time chatting with Atlas Games about Gloom and Once Upon a Time, two card games which I recently fell in love with.

#1 New Game: Betrayal Legacy

I wasn’t fast enough to get my hands on a copy, but this skyrocketed to the top of my birthday wish list. I personally love the Legacy series and having past games affect everything after them. And there were great deals on it even though it’s so new! From this alone, it became obvious just how much money you can save doing your game shopping here.

Game at a Glance: Stuffed Fables

Gamehole Con has an impressive lending library, and my friends and I were able to escape the chill of the night by playing Stuffed Fables by Plaid Hat Games.

I’ve always thought the game sounded adorable, and I was right. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel about the game as I spent what felt like ages setting it up. The rules weren’t sticking in my mind, and the amount of tokens was slightly overwhelming.

But after about 30 minutes, it all clicked.

The storytelling aspect, the adorable minis, the cooperative tone… I fell in love. Once again, a new game for my birthday list. Just make sure you keep all your stuffing and buttons close!


Seminar Highlights: Everything You Wanted to Know About D&D (But were Too Cool to Ask)

As a start to my Gamehole Con seminars, I sat in on Rob Wieland, Satine Phoenix, Tom Lommel, Ruty Rutenberg, and James Lowder discussing what they find most important when you’re sitting down to play a game of D&D.

  • Satine Phoenix made a point that stuck with me and rang true to our mission statement as a podcast: “When you do something, it gives everyone else out there permission to do it that way too.” Whether it’s using feminine pronouns in your rulebook, making LGBTQ characters, or standing up for what you believe in, stepping out from the “norm” gives others the courage to do the same. It can change expectations and alter the landscape of the streaming platform, which in turn affects how games are approached at home.
  • In response to a discussion on living up to your streaming heroes, the entire panel had a lot to say. Tom Lommel pointed out that “every live stream that you watch and enjoy is specifically cast with actors… you have no obligation to fill those shoes.” He wanted to make sure that all players just try to “enjoy the game in your way. You don’t have to be the dungeon bastard.” Chiming in, Rob Weiland added “It’s like picking up a guitar and then being really upset you aren’t Eric Clapton.”

After discussing livestreaming and acting as players, the hosts had some tips for those who would rather control the game as Dungeon Masters.

  • “The most dangerous words you can ever say as a DM are ‘you don’t know’ and ‘nothing happens’ when the players give you anything.” Tom Lommel continued, saying GMs should “find something interesting that happens that’s different. It may not be entirely relevant, but give them a specific detail.” For example, if the players are trying to open a portal and mess with a control knob that wasn’t the intended solution, have the temperature drop 10 degrees. This will keep true to the fact that they haven’t solved your puzzle, but gives them something else that they may make use later while keeping the story flowing smoothly.
  • Rob Weiland believes that all DMs should “give thought to how they can resolve an encounter physically, mentally, and socially. Don’t choose an option they have to use, but you can turn the dial on if it will be easier one way. As long as you’ve given thought to each approach, you’ll still be able to figure it out.” This way, you’ll keep your game suited to all types of players and quickly learn the playstyle that your group prefers.


Seminar Spotlight: Assembling Imagination

This Friday afternoon seminar, hosted by Matt Finch, Peter Brett, Pat Rothfuss, and Matt Forbeck discussed the tools it takes to build a compelling world and story in both fiction and roleplaying scenarios.

Patrick Rothfuss gave us some sweet insights into his life with his caring child by telling us just how much he learned from listening to his child’s desires and choices in their games. After some very unexpected reactions to the NPCs his son encountered, he realized faults in the typical narrative of looting corpses and taking advantage of the hospitality of those who need your help. As Patrick put it: “What are you teaching people? Are you teaching people that this old man who is lost is an item dispenser? That he’s a disposable bump in your story? Or is he a person worthy of compassion?”

A compelling story doesn’t need to be driven by violent conflict. It doesn’t need a villain who wants to kill everyone. It doesn’t need you to witness the deaths of innocents all along the way. Stories like that can be incredible, but that isn’t the only kind of story. And you should open your mind, especially when tailoring a game to children, to other options. Use the stories to teach them valuable lessons and learn from them in return.

The conversation naturally progressed to discussion of creating diverse worlds. Fellow authors praised Peter Brett for having so many women in his stories. He put his opinion very simply: “It’s not enough to have a woman in the command seat of the starship. Half the people turning knobs behind her have to be women too.”
And as a woman in love with the fantasy and science fiction genres, I have to agree with him.   


Spotlight: True Dungeon
I have always loved escape rooms, haunted houses, and any fantasy themed locations. So you can imagine that when I first heard of True Dungeon years ago at Gencon, I was very intrigued. The only problem was my experiences as a woman in gaming. I was scared that I would be treated as an intruder in a place I wasn’t thought to belong. I finally gathered the courage to try True Dungeon at Gamehole con since it is far more approachable. And I was quickly proven wrong for my worries. From the moment I walked in, players and workers alike treated me like a valuable asset to their team and the story. Strangers became temporary friends and everyone worked to make sure that their entire team had the best experience possible. I can’t say if this is the way every True Dungeon experience is, but it gives me so much hope.

Now, True Dungeon itself is gorgeous. The production quality and puzzle/fight variance is out of this world. I couldn’t stop smiling and two hours felt more like twenty minutes. I would play again in a heartbeat. If you’ve been on the fence like I was, you should take the leap. Try it out!

Spotlight: Paint and Take
One beautiful thing about holding a smaller con is the ability to offer experiences that just wouldn’t work in a large con setting. One prime example is the mini painting area. Unlike other cons where you need to pay to paint, Gamehole Con holds a small corner of the convention center where you can take a mini that was donated to the convention, paint it, get tips from pros, let it dry, and take it with you when its ready. The selection might be small, but as long as I was there, there were miniatures available to whoever was interested. I had the pleasure of painting beside Amy Vorpahl, and took my sweet orc boy home to star in my next D&D game.


In conclusion, if you love tabletop games but don’t want to fight the crowds somewhere like Gencon, Gamehole Con is a perfect chance for you to get out there and meet creators you love, play some awesome games, and get your hands on the best new products.

I'll see you next year!