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No castle required
Savannah welcomes its first fantasy game convention

Attention all clerics, sorcerers and other defenders of the realm: Your presence is required in the ancient citadel. Please make haste.

The rest of you can come, too: Whether you’re a 73rd level magic user or you wouldn’t know a deathtouch from a double strike, all are invited out to play at GnomeCon, taking place April 20–22 at the Savannah Conference Hotel in Pooler.

Savannah’s first sci–fi and fantasy gaming convention, GnomeCon embraces all manner of tabletop board players, Dungeons & Dragons aficionados, Trekkies, Magic the Gathering card collectors and any other gamer looking for community. Some will keep their cards close to their chests; others may turn out in full chainmail.

“I wanted this to be as diverse as possible. I didn’t want to leave anybody out,” says Heidi Schweier, who founded the convention along with her comic book–collecting husband, Phillip.

“It’s going to run the gamut,” assures Phillip.

A radiation therapist by day, Heidi started gaming in the early 90s by rolling the 12–sided dice of RPGs (that’s role playing games for the muggles.) Since moving to Savannah, she found the action in the back section of MorningStar Games on Montgomery Crossroad, where Savannah’s gaming community comes to play on Tuesday afternoons.

There she found friendly competition and easygoing comradery amongst the group, made up of everyone from middle school teachers to Gulfstream engineers. At a certain point folks wanted more than one day a week, so she began hosting game days at home.

“When we got to thirty people, I knew we had a network to support a convention,” said Heidi during a recent round of the strategic building game Metropolys at last Tuesday’s MorningStar session, adding that GnomeCon is expecting 200–250 attendees coming from all over the Southeast and as far away as Canada.

“The thing I love about gaming is that it attracts such a diverse set of people,” she says, playing with the small gold gnome charm around her neck. “I’ve sat down and played with doctors, Secret Service agents, all walks of life.”

Phillip admits there’s a certain “geek factor” to gaming, but also calls it “a great equalizer.”

“It’s not uncommon to have teenagers sitting down with 45 year–old computer programmers,” says the graphic designer. “There are no age, ethnic or economic barriers here.”

Though it might be, *ahem*, dwarfed by big city counterparts like DragonCon, GnomeCon boasts tremendous variety in its schedule: Along with multiple sessions of old favorites like Magic the Gathering and Star Fleet Battles, tables will feature demos of newer games like Nameless Dungeons and the hillbilly alien adventure It Came From Beyond the Still.

Touted as a fun way to stimulate analytical thinking and hone math skills, tabletop gaming is a different world than the digital one inhabited by video droids tapping away on consoles in a dark room littered with empty pizza boxes. For one thing, one’s physical presence is required, so social interaction must ensue. The games are also more complex and creative than mainstream icons like Monopoly and Yahtzee. Known as Eurogames because of the continent where the design evolved, these board games depend on more than the roll of the dice.

“American games center around luck to move you around the board,” explains Heidi. “Eurogames are all about the strategy.”

Eurogames’ popularity is growing faster than Baltrice armed with a Proliferate ability: Certain “gateway games,” like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, previously only available at specialty stores like MorningStar, are now appearing on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and other mainstream retail outlets. Both will make appearance on the GnomeCon playing tables.

Appearing as guests of honor at the conference are comic artist Ken Meyer, Jr. and award–winning game designer Richard Launius, the creator of cult fantasy favorite Arkham Horror. Launius will deliver the talk “Designing Games for Fun and Profit” and be available to sign copies of his game, based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and first published in 1987.

Meyer is a Savannah local who has designed original cards for several Magic the Gathering decks as well as hundreds for the White Wolf horror series. He’s attended plenty of fantasy conventions over the years, and says he enjoys gaming fans’ dedication.

“Some are really into the cards—I met one guy who wallpapered his room with them,” he says.

Meyer is well–known amongst Magic players for his “altered” cards, one–of–a–kind paintings done on top of conventional cards. These can feature anything the player desires, from Mother Theresa to Harry Potter to Homer Simpson. He’ll be signing cards at GnomeCon and speaking about what inspires his art.

The conference also includes workshops on making dice jewelry with Indera and designing your own game with Robert Adams, a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (costumes expected, please) and comedy from Conquistadork Phil Keeling.

Science fiction lovers can pick up paperbacks for a steal at the book sale to benefit Live Oak Public Libraries. Security will be provided by Rogue Phoenix, the local Star Trek club.

And what about the gnomes, who get their own paint–your–own party and a contest for Best Dressed Gnome?

“It kind of started as a private joke,” says Phillip. “Then we figured garden gnomes were the perfect mythical creature, not too threatening.”

The games begin Friday at 9 a.m. Full character regalia is welcomed, but there are no projectile weapons allowed and blades must be sheathed at all times. GnomeCon is a family–friendly event, promise the Schweiers, except for the late–night activities when young gnomes should be in bed anyway.

“People say, ‘Oh, those gamers,’ but it’s like a football game where some people have their whole bodies painted and are screaming their heads off,” says Heidi. “You’re always going to have the fanatics.”