CONvergence is a large regional convention aimed at every sort of nerd: primarily SF and fantasy, but also media, comics, gaming, cosplay, and many other interests. This year, the convention hosted about 6,000 attendees. The whole thing is volunteer-run (the organizers claim it is the biggest fan-run con in the country) and remarkably well organized. Events are plentiful and cater to all interests: concerts, movies, anime, an art show, boffer fights, costuming, crafts, room parties, panels, and of course, gaming.
The convention organizers generously covered transportation, hotel, and meal costs for both me and my husband, Chris Wilkes, who accompanied me mainly to help with running the playtest events. I even had a handler/minion (the ever energetic and cheerful Mark Tempel) who simultaneously attended to almost my every need and hustled me off to the next event. I sat on numerous panels, dealing with everything from what it’s like to work at Wizards to the treatment of minorities in gaming to dealing with those pesky writers as an editor—and of course, what’s up with Dungeons and Dragons. The meeting room was full to overflowing, with lots of interest in what the new edition is trying to do, from people who have only started playing with 4th Edition to old-timers (like me) who started with the little white box.
We worked hard at the con and managed to show off D&D Next to well over a hundred people. A lot of this was due to the insane efforts of my hubby, who felt like he was freeloading and owed the convention more of his time. Between us, we had eighteen playtest sessions scheduled, each with room for six players—but he threw in several more. Many sessions included spectators, who duly signed the release form and watched with interest.
Before the trip, and on the way there, we came up with a little series of encounters to show off different ways to use the D&D Next playtest rules packet. The loose storyline involved a dammed-up river, roving bandits, and kobolds extorting travelers at the bridge. The experience was enhanced by some simple terrain (to show off tabletop play without a grid) and a couple of gridded maps for tactical encounters. We came up with a roleplaying/investigation encounter to start things off, with opportunities for some theater-of-the-mind side treks. The adventure offered several different possible approaches to success.
The gaming area is a floor of swanky boardrooms at the top of the hotel tower. The rooms were lovely, a good size for play with a killer view—although heavy elevator traffic sometimes led to late arrivals. We had a boardroom set aside just for our sessions, which allowed us to easily protect confidentiality. (A shout-out to the Gaming crew, who were more than helpful whenever we found ourselves short of chairs, pens, dice, and whatever else came up, and helped us lock everything away each and retrieve it all again the next day.) Our first session got off to a bit of a rocky start as we struggled to set up the play areas while eager players gathered about the tables, but soon enough we were off and running. After gathering the releases and summarizing important rules info, we dropped the characters into the scenario and let them do as they would.
Judging by the laughter and table talk at each session, our players seemed to be enjoying the game. Again and again people commented on how much they liked the simple, flexible rules system. Players had plenty of questions about character creation and other information that wasn’t in the current playtest packet, and though we couldn’t give them details, we encouraged them to tell Wizards directly what they liked—and didn’t like—in our community forums, and to sign up to be D&D Next playtesters so their feedback will officially be captured in the surveys we send out.
Even with Chris’s Herculean efforts, we couldn’t run everybody who wanted to play through the game, but we sure did handle a lot of people all the same: at least 150, counting spectators and convention staff. It was exhausting, but we had a blast. This is definitely a convention I would return to if I get the chance. I only wish I’d been able to see a bit more of the city—it was 100 out and the convention hotel is near the airport. Maybe next time. Thank you, Minneapolis!