Gathering in Schenectady to raid dungeons and slay dragons

council of five nations players at gaming board

From a previous Council of Five Nations con.

By Mick Martin

My teenage Friday nights were not your teenage Friday nights.

Before CGI made the fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Stan Lee as accessible as an episode of Seinfeld, I joined a few shy friends on the bus to Schenectady for our weekly trip to the Studio of Bridge and Games on Eastern Parkway.

Like other teenagers, we drank, but in pubs named after dragons and griffons. It was only on paper and in our minds, and we were dwarves and magic-users and half-orcs. Like other teenagers, we flirted and dated, but it was usually with elves, and our success or failure was based solely on our charisma modifier. Since the object of our characters' affections was usually an avatar for a 35-year-old guy even less attractive than we were, we were happy for the manifestation of those successes to go unseen and unrealized. Like other teenagers, we experimented with dangerous substances, but it wasn't by choice. It was usually because something huge chomped on us with its envenomed fangs, and if we failed our saving throw vs. poison, we suffered some kind of penalty to our hit points or our ability scores.

Trips to rehabilitation facilities never came into the picture.

Dave Cheng is a member of the Schenectady Wargamers Association -- the group that made those Friday nights possible. "Movies and TV are passive," Cheng says. "You sit there, and someone else tells you a story ... Some people want to take the next step, and actually want to participate in creating the story themselves."

This weekend Cheng and the SWA will host hundreds of gamers taking that "next step" in storytelling when the Council of Five Nations -- one of the country's oldest gaming conventions -- returns to Proctors this weekend for its 36th year.

Thinking back, it surprises me I didn't attend more Councils in my younger days. I only went twice, but both trips gave me some distinct memories.

During my first Council, I participated in a wonderfully ridiculous session of Dungeons & Dragons in which the Dungeon Master (or Game Master: the term to describe the man or woman - but yeah, usually it's a guy - running the event) transformed the more traditional dwarves and elves and mystical humans into more recognizable, licensed characters. I played Tarzan and my colleagues included James Bond, the Shadow, and the Wicked Witch of the West.

... my most enduring memory is of a pair of brothers from Burlington with rubber chickens hanging from their necks. They called themselves the Chicken Brothers and I know they're from Burlington because they regularly announced that they were from Burlington, that Burlington started with B, and then they would list a number of other words that started with B ...

At another Council, my most enduring memory is of a pair of brothers from Burlington with rubber chickens hanging from their necks. They called themselves the Chicken Brothers and I know they're from Burlington because they regularly announced that they were from Burlington, that Burlington started with B, and then they would list a number of other words that started with B; most of which I'm sure AOA would prefer I didn't mention.

This weekend, for the 36th year, the Council of Five Nations will be back in Schenectady and will include role playing games, board games, collectible card games, miniature war games, and one of the con's signature events: the world's largest face-to-face tournament for the strategy game Star Fleet Battles.

council of five nations players 3D board

While I haven't been attending all those 36 years, someone was, because in spite of a struggling economy Council of Five Nations has been growing. Attendance for Council has increased 10 to 15 percent every year for the past seven years. Dave Cheng says the con is renting more space from Proctors than before, increasing its square footage by 50 percent.

When I asked Cheng about why the numbers have been growing, I expected to hear about Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations, Marvel movies, the internet, and how pastimes that once bred pariahs are now considered cool or even chic. But he says he doesn't think that's a large factor.

"Some people theorize gaming is countercyclical," Cheng says. "When times are tight, people are looking for economical entertainment. Gaming does better in tough economic times."

The prices at Council are pretty reasonable, particularly compared to other cons. Registration for the entire weekend of Council is $37 at the door and individual events cost anywhere from nothing to $5 (most are $2). That's three movies and a soda. (Or, like, half a soda.) You can also pay for individual days. There are student discounts and kids 9 and younger get in for free.

The gaming world was still relatively young when I was taking buses after school to slay dragons. Guys my age (give or take a few) have spawned little gamers, and we're now dragging them along with us to raid dungeons and save the world.

Speaking of which, Cheng says the youngsters are the biggest change to the gaming demographic. The gaming world was still relatively young when I was taking buses after school to slay dragons. Guys my age (give or take a few) have spawned little gamers, and we're now dragging them along with us to raid dungeons and save the world. The con has responded with a rating system to make sure little kids don't stumble into something that will either inspire nightmares or just teach them risque vocabulary, as well as more events targeted at the younger gamers.

The Council of Five Nations begins this Friday at Proctors in Schenectady. Events begin as early as 9 am and run through Sunday.

PS: The con is named for the annual Upstate New York meeting of Iroquois nations.

Mick Martin made his saving throw vs. poison.

photos courtesy of the Council of Five Nations


Great Article Mick. I've always wanted to do the council gaming con... just sucks that it falls really close to my anniversary.

That's a horribly confusing name for a gamer event -- it sounds absolutely nothing like it has anything to do with gaming. In fact, it sounds like it's a Native American convention, which seems deceptive, not to mention poor marketing of what the event actually IS. (One also wonders if any Natives would be upset by the use of this entirely irrelevant name.)

Bout time you started writing articles on here Mickey Doodles. Been waiting! Needs more hulk though.

Between this in Schenectady, Flights of Fantasy in Latham, and Zombie Planet in Albany, there's a decent community of gamers in the region. Would love to see a bit more organization between them - it'd be nice to find 7 other people who are up for a full game of Twilight Imperium.

Also, any idea what game they're playing in the cover photo?

Council of Five Nations is one of my favorite cons I try to make it every year.It's a long ride from New Hampshire but it's worth it. I'm running two games this year here are my descriptions.


Hanghai Raiders * Home Crafted
G-Minis-1 * $2
Game Master: Mike Paine * 9 Players * Kids * Child

Don't Dare Miss the Next Thrilling installment Hanghai Raiders it's not for the faint of heart, there will be fists flying as the ruthless Dragon Lady on Wheels hires the Mysterious Dr. Satan and his Hanghai Raiders to help her gain wealth and power.Our heroes must thwart their insidious plan that threatens the world!! Help put a stop to their evil scheme in this nail-biter or join the nefarious villains and wage battle against the heroic forces and take a white-knuckle ride to the brink of doom!!!> Beginners are encouraged kids are welcome and adults that can play with kids are welcome too. Beginners encouraged.

Thrilling Naval Engagement! * Fistfull of Lead
H-Minis-1 * $2
Game Master: Mike Paine * 8 Players * E10

Later dispatches received in London show that the naval engagement on the Yangtze River is worthy to be numbered among the most daring acts of heroism of the British Navy.. The facts are that two merchants ships, which had been illegally commandeered by the Chinese general, Yangsen, were moored inshore with 300 Chinese soldiers and their British prisoners aboard. The Cockchafer was lying near, but practically out of action,sent in little gun- boats covered at point blank range by Chinese artillery and machine-guns.> Their total officers and crew did not number more than 120. Never- theless our men boarded the captured ships, and hand-to-hand fighting with the 300 Chinese occurred before the British prisoners could be released.The Daily Telegraph's diplomatic correspondent says: The little gun- boats ran the gauntlet of the numerous Chinese field batteries as well as machine-guns. The small party of sailors succeeded from their low decks in boarding merchant- men bristling with rifles and guns, and liberating the four officers, was in it- self a miracle. Beginners encouraged.

My friends Roland and Nick will be running a Hanghai style game on Saturday Night.

Survive in Hanghai * Mike Paine's Home Crafted system
F-Minis-4 * $2
Game Master: Roland Paperman and Nick Corah * 8 Players * Kids * Child

The Zombie Plague has hit Hanghai hard. An international relief effort is underway with many governments and other organizations sending forces to rescue the survivors. Really, that is all they are there to do. The relief effort is definitely not just a cover story for some underhanded, nefarious capers. Trust us. Beginners encouraged.

First to the person who commented about the Convention's name Yes the name was indeed named after the originating native American gathering of Five native nations (not just Iroquois as the author notes) who gathered at the shores of the Mohawk between what we know now as Scotia and Schenectady. The Schenectady Wargamer's Association has been gaming for over the 45 years. The CoFN con has actually been being run for 40 years, however there were some years in the life of the SWA when the con, for various reasons, was not held. That being said, when the con began it was not the role playing, star fleet battling, card gaming mecca it has become. Instead it began solely as a table top war games reenactment group. The Schenectady Wargamers would, with painstakingly painted miniatures, reenact events like the French-Indian War, Civil War battles, WWII battles. And unlike the author implies, he who I think says is 35, was not part of the fledgling gaming industry. Dungeons and Dragons has been around since late 60's early 70's which is before he was born, let alone old enough to be riding a bus to go hang at the Studio. E. Gary Gygax, among many other founders (including my own mother, who was a long time member of the SWA and studio, often mastering (or in her case Mistressing), role playing games at the Studio from the late 70's, early 80's until 1994) began the role playing games on a dare, and it became a following. At that point (1994), I had been a member myself for 19 years. I am thrilled that the con is still going strong, and holds a fabulous history behind it. Lastly, back to the person complaining about the name, four of the original 10 SWA members were natives of four of the five council nations, so No, they did not have an issue using the name, and in over 40 years no one has ever confused CoFN with the pre-colonial / colonial era indigenous events!


The game being played in the first photo is the World of Warcraft boardgame.


Sandi's thorough response accurately describes my recollection of the circumstances as well. The club has been using the name to honor local Native Americans, who were among the clubs founders, since it's inception. The Council of Five Nations gaming convention name does not confuse anyone in the gaming community. The convention is the third oldest continuous gaming convention in the world after Gen Con and Origins. Some older fantasy/sci-fi conventions, like Dragon*Con have added gaming to their schedule, but Council has been gaming longer.

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