GenCon 50 – My Experiences

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If you want to see great pictures of events, cosplay, and people playing games, find someone else’s post. I didn’t meet any well-known media/movie/TV celebrities. I didn’t play a lot of new games. I didn’t come home after spending a half-a-year’s salary on new games.

I’m just a guy who enjoys going to GenCon, the premier gaming convention in the United States, the Best Four Days of Gaming, blah blah blah, hanging out with friends, meeting new people, and playing a few games.

But I made a few promises. And I don’t want to go back on them, so I’d better get this done before it’s too late.

My GenCon experience went like this:

I went to the convention center on Wednesday and got there an hour before Will Call opened. I waited in line and was pleasantly surprised when they opened about 30 minutes early. I got through the line easily enough, got my badge an the tickets for the events I had signed up for without a hassle. As always, the folks were nice, but professional.

From there, I bought 5 generic tickets, got the coupon book, then plopped down in a chair near the escalators wondering what to do. I had the day off work and nothing planned. While sitting there, an older couple came by. She sat (in a portable seat she carried with her, rather than the more comfortable over-stuffed chairs available) and we talked while her husband retrieved their car. She told me about an event Thursday evening and invited me to join. Some sort of improv session. I was interested, but when I looked it up in the program book, it was an expensive event and, while I’m sure she would have allowed me in for free, I didn’t want to cheat the system and be unfair to those who paid their way in. I’ll give them a shout out anyway: PlayswithJohnandWendy.

After she left, several young men sat down nearby and were talking in a foreign accent that I couldn’t quite place. I’m usually pretty good with identifying accents; I’d heard this one before but I didn’t know from where. So I asked. They were from South Africa. Cool. The building where I work used to have a concierge that was from South Africa. We chatted for a bit and eventually they went on their way. With nothing else to draw my attention, I went on home for the day.

Of course, after getting home, I discovered on Facebook that one of my friends from Cleveland was having a pre-Con party downtown. Oh well. I’ll catch up with them tomorrow.

On Thursday, I’m up early and head downtown. I don’t bother trying to find a close parking lot. I just went straight to the usual lot I go to near the Marion County Jail, for $10.00 per day. It’s about a 6-7 block walk to the convention center. Thursday was humid, so by the time I got to the Crown Plaza hotel, where my first event was, I was sweating.

Being tight on cash, I signed up for several free panels. Some were on writing, one on blogging, a couple on gaming-related topics, and one podcast recording.

The first one, at 10:00 am (the same time the Exhibition Hall opens, so I missed the crowd,) was about Advanced DMing. I’ve been a game master off and on since my  youth, so I felt it was okay to skip the introduction to DMing and go straight to the advanced panel. I picked up a few tips, but most of the material covered wasn’t anything new or earth-shattering.

I chilled in the lobby for an hour waiting for the 12:00 session, which was the podcast. Specifically, TheAngryGM‘s word-of-the-week podcast. The topic was only mildly interesting to me, but the “performance” was entertaining. Even though Scott Rehm wrote the script that Fiddleback reads (I don’t remember his name), he interrupted several times adding tidbits for the benefit of the live audience. How the topic of dragons relates to the differing psychological theoretical perspectives of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung is somewhat baffling, but the connection was made. What I considered the best was Fiddleback’s facial expressions every time he was interrupted.

GenCon50 - Double Exposure Playtest HallAfter that, I went to the convention hall, grabbed lunch at one of the convention booths (meh) and showed up in the Double Exposure Playtest hall for the 2:00 time slot. The game I tested was advertised as a tactical combat game combining concepts with several games, like D&D, Magic The Gathering, and a couple others. To be truthful, I was very disappointed by the game. While the artwork was nice, there were a lot of technical and mechanical issues with the game, and when I spoke with the game designer afterwards, it didn’t seem he was open minded to suggestions. I want to talk about this more in another blog post, because it relates conceptually to one of the seminars I attended on Friday.

When I left the Playtest hall, I went to the Exhibition Hall and wandered around for a bit. I stopped at the Flying Buffalo booth and met Bear Peters, the author and designer of the T&T adventure Dungeon of the Bear, which I’d run several times over the years. Liz Danforth, Steve Crompton, and Rick Loomis were all there and I said “Hi” to them. Ken St. Andre didn’t make the trip this year. Send him my regards.

GenCon50 Dealer HallFrom there, I found my way to Author’s Avenue and met up with V.J. Waks. I spoke with her for a few minutes and I bought one of her books, Tau 4, which I am currently reading. I talked with a couple other authors and collected their business cards. I gave them my (hand-made) card leading them to this blog. At some point, I’ll list them all with links. Maybe at the end of this post.

Then I texted Tom and Robin to see what they were up to. They were having dinner at the JW Marriott. I joined them, spent a lot of money on a mediocre meal. Robin had one unsold seat for her 7:00 pm game so I joined that with two generic tickets. We had a great time!

After this, I was tired and went home. As I walked to the parking lot, I stepped on an uneven sidewalk and went tumbling, scraping my right knee pretty bad. Strangers helped me up and I was grateful my ankle wasn’t twisted or sprained. In the car I staunched the bleeding with some paper towels and when I got home, I cleaned and medicated the wound and wrapped it under a gauze pad. A week later, I have a huge half-dollar-sized scab, but I’m none the worse for wear.

Friday morning I had another panel scheduled at 10:00 am at Crown Plaza. This one was about growing a successful geeky blog. I took a few notes and collected some resources. Hopefully what I learned I can make use of and… well… You’re reading this, right?

After this, I relaxed in the lobby and met a guy and we started talking. Turns out he was running the next panel I was going to attend discussing ludo-narrative dissonance at 2:00. Lunch and relaxing, and then the panel. Interesting topic. Understanding this concept helps me to better develop games and, more specifically, my D&D campaigns. This is something I want to write about more in another blog.

Done with panels for the day, I went from there to the Rio Grande room. There’s a new expansion of Dominion I’d like to try. However, no tables were available so I joined a table setting up a game of Caylus. I’d played it before, but it’s been a while. I didn’t win.

Dinner with Tom and Robin again, this time joined by our mutual friend, Jordan, who was there with his son, Owen. Promising to meet up again later, we went separate ways. I spent a generic ticket for two hours of Are You a Werewolf. I pulled Seer in the first game, and Villager in the second two. Another group was being rather loud and obnoxious to the point where an official came and told them to please respect the other gamers in the area or else be excused. Thank you.

On my way out, I came across another group setting up an impromptu game. Using my own hand-made cards (on wooden plaques) I moderated. We had a good time, but when they (the group) opted to switch to Ultimate Werewolf, I took off. I’ve played this variant and I’m not a fan. Sorry.

Saturday morning and two more panels: How to Build a World in Two Hours and Randomness in Game Design. The first one the presenter was a no-show, so I attended World Building 101 instead. For me, it was a waste of time. I’m sure others got something out of it. Randomness in Game Design, however, was quite interesting. Here we got into various topics like Flow Theory. I want to study this more on my own and write my own blog about it. In retrospect, this panel explained why I didn’t like that game I played in the Playtest hall on Thursday.

In the Exhibit Hall, I had more time to wander. I played a card game demo at a booth which was similar to the one I keep bringing up, but executed a lot better, in a lot of ways. Ambyria from Paw-Warrior Games. I chose not to buy it, as I don’t know that it beats the threshold of awesome I look for in games (which includes the real test: would my wife or someone else in my family be interested in playing it?)

Over at Author’s Avenue, I bought a couple more books. At dinner time I connected with Tom and Robin once more and Tom and I hung out for a bit, had some laughs, and eventually went our separate ways.

Sunday was a short day for me. No planned events, but I did meet up with Jordan and we played another game in the Playtest Hall. This game was a lot better than the prior experience. I like that it has some similarities to one of my own prototype games, but goes a completely different direction with the core concept. By points, I tied for the win, but lost the tie-breaker. A little more wandering in the Exhibition hall and I decided to call it a day. I was tired, needed a rest and be ready to play hockey late in the evening.

There’s my GenCon 50 report, folks. I don’t have all the shout-out links I want, and I don’t feel like hitting them all right this moment. Don’t worry – I made a promise! It’ll get done soon enough. Thanks for reading and, if you attended GenCon this year, I hope your time was fun and rewarding.

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