A Brief History of DunDraCon
By Steve Perrin
It was summer of 1975, or thereabouts, when Clint Bigglestone told me that he and Adrienne Martine were going to put on a convention at the Claremont Hotel for D&D players. What's more, Adrienne said that SF writer Fritz Leiber was a D&D player and had a dungeon he would run at the convention.
There was no Internet, but there was Alarums and Excursions - the role-playing APA compiled by Lee Gold which was exclusively D&D at the time and is still going strong, with an expanded interest agenda, to this day. Some of us contributed to A&E (which also came before the Cable TV channel) and spread the word. We also sent announcements to the new magazine from TSR, the Dragon - or perhaps its predecessor newsletter, The Strategic Review.
It turned out that Adrienne had misinterpreted Fritz's interest. There was no dungeon; he had not played the game, though he did like the idea of it. TSR learned of this and caused a small uproar - taking the worst possible slant on the story. There was a lot of youthful folly all around. The Dragon finally stated, truthfully, that Fritz Leiber would be present at the convention and we would be running a sponsored dungeon based on his stories.
To create the dungeon, an above-ground maze-like mansion called the Ophidian Palace, Clint recruited Jerry Jacks and me to help him create a Lankhmar dungeon, full of Grey Mouser and Fafhrd references, Lankhmar-themed magical items, and Lankhmarian monsters. Jerry did the surrounding town, Clint and I did encounters and set piece rooms in Ophidian. It came out pretty good. I still use the maps and encounters occasionally for one-off games.
At the convention, we took over two of the Claremont's meeting rooms and hosted about 150 players from the Bay Area and Southern California. Not too strangely, most were A&E contributors and readers and their friends. We held several panels with such local notables as Dave Hargrave (creator of Arduin), and the redoubtable Lee Gold herself. There were many runs through the Ophidian Palace DMed by Clint, Jerry, and myself, and other games were played on other tables set aside for the use. We met a lot of people who are still friends to this day.
It was fun, it was successful, and we didn't go broke. We decided to do it again. We decided that guests and non-gaming emphasis just distracted from the central purpose, so we have avoided such things ever since. We added a dealer's area at DunDraCon 2 and individual rooms for games at DunDraCon 3. Presidents's day weekend seemed to work fine, so we settled into it and haven't left. Except once. The mathematicians in the group may have realized that if we started in 1976, our 40th anniversary should have been in 2015.
In 1980 we had assembled a good team, many of whom are still on the convention committee to this day, and incorporated. Unfortunately, the hotel we had set up for DunDraCon in February of 1981 suddenly changed ownership and policy three months before and informed us that they were not hosting conventions any more. There was no way we could find a venue on our date in the time available. We had to cancel DunDraCon. On the scheduled first day of the convention the committee met outside the front doors of the hotel to catch anyone who hadn't gotten the word and tell them the convention was cancelled. It was pouring rain, but fortunately there was a long covered promenade to the front door. Equally fortunately, the word had apparently gotten out. The only people who showed up were the committee. We played a lot of Ace of Aces...
We did have a convention in 1981, however. We had already tried a one day mini-convention called DunDraDay that more or less worked. And Pacificon, the perennial Labor Day convention, was not going to have a convention in '81 because they were hosting the national Origins convention over Fourth of July. Foolhardy folk that we were, we decided to host a convention we called DunDraClone on the Labor Day weekend.
DunDraClone worked, but after putting on DunDraCon #6 in the following February, we decided putting on a convention in 6 months was too much of a challenge. We were not going to do two conventions in a year again. Since DunDraClone was not on President's Day, we don't count it towards our anniversary.
Since then, DunDraCon has thrived. Our crowds got bigger, rain or sun, and for over 25 years we have found a venue in the San Ramon Marriott that seems to please both committee and attendee. Our only sorrow has been the inevitable loss of some of our early committee stalwarts over the years.
In Memoriam: Clint Bigglestone, Jerry Jacks, Terry Jackson, Steve Henderson, Mike Nebeker