I'm back from my first GenCon.
After almost a year of saving and planning and anticipation, I can now count myself among the lucky few who have wandered the halls, rolled dice, attended panels, and braved the exhibit floor. I am a GenConner.
And it was awesome.
I initially thought about doing a "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" regarding GenCon, but I can honestly only think of a short nitpicky list of "bad" let alone "ugly". I feel fine and seem to have avoided most Con Crud, and encountered little gamer musk. While I did smell my fair share of odours, these were mild to what I've encountered on, say, public transit or at other cons. Even the low point of my trip (losing my iPod) turned out to be a false alarm (it had slid out of sight when I closed a drawer and has been recovered).
As such, this has become more of a highlight reel of fun memories.
Let's get the nitpicking out of the way quickly and rapid fire.
The only *real* problems were unrelated to the actual con. My flights were terrible, with a connection being shorted at the last minute. The second flight started boarding two minutes before the doors on my first flight opened and was well across the terminal (the time was shorted after we had bought the tickets). We ran over a mile in eight or so minutes. Thank you so much United (and for the record, charging for bags is B.S. Everyone just gets bigger carryon then things get slowed as the overhead compartments get filled and things get slower).
United also "lost" the luggage of myself and my travelling companion. It showed up at 2am, but there was a moment of panic. My other hotel roommate found that the TSA had searched his bags and apparently done it in the rain (or inside a shower) as much of his stuff was wet. A gaming book, several card games, and his leather hat and iPad case were all damaged from the water.
The PFS special was meh with a less prepared GM. Specials are very rapid-fire timed affairs to emulate some of the feel of a classic tournament module, so having him unfamiliar with chase rules, with no ready maps, and frequently stopping to read for 5-minutes before each scene hurt.
I'm always torn on organized play, as it is so very static. Overly reliant on d20s to determine success with very little player skill. It's often a worst-case-scenario of relying on skills over the narrative. LFR is a little better as it encourages DMs to make the scenario their own and tweak to fit the players. PFS can be much more restrictive in that sense.
The Keynote address was a bit of a gong show. The music felt like someone's get-psyched mix tape from the late '70s and the smoke machine was pure cheese. The change in venue for the keynote address was unfortunate and poorly advertised, with the location not listed on the GenCon app or simmilar places.
The very first thing my friend/ roomie did was head to AEG for some L5R books, and got overcharged by $200. Thankfully, this was quickly refunded a few days later.
D&D next playtest was 33% testing character generation and 66% actually playing. There was no easy place to offer feedback or respond and, since we were not asked for e-mails, we might not be signed-up for the survey.
The WotC booth was a joke, as always. It felt much more like Cryptic's Neverwinter Nights MMO booth than the booth for both Magic and D&D. I did not see Menzoberanzan anywhere at the convention and new 4e books seemed to be in short supply. WotC really needs to get over of its phobia of taking money and actually offer some product at its booth. The number of stores in attendance is a small fraction of the exhibit hall, and most made their presence known in ways other than selling the latest book.
Putting Faces to Names
Getting back to the positive, I think my favourite part of the con was meeting fellow gamming bloggers and internet personalities. While I'm a small fish in that pond, it was still nice meeting them and shaking hands.
Over the course of the con I briefly met Chatty DM, Parrim, Tracy Barnett as well as Chris Perkins and James Wyatt (both great guys and kudos to Mr. Wyatt for being so approachable when some stranger starts talking to him in an airport line!) I passed by both Ed Greenwood and Dungeon Bastard but they looked too busy (and I was too politely Canadian) to interrupt them.
A long while back, on my honeymoon in Paris, I wandered into a gaming store. We had a hotel that must have been in the "nerd district" because there were no less than three comic stores and one gaming store within a five-block radius. I needed reading, saw the Pathfinder playtest, and grabbed it on a whim.
With that book now in tow, I hit the Paizo booth and had it signed by as many people as I could find with names in the credits. James Jacobs and Eric Mona both commented on what good condition the book was in (impressive as it had travelled between continents).
Even Cooler Book
When running a game, I once sat my iPad on top of a gaming book and noticed they were close to the same size. I realized how easy it would be to make a hollow book iPad case out of a gaming book.
And if you're going to do that, why settle for anything less than the best gaming book?
I showed it off to everyone, including Chris Perkins, James Jacobs, James Wyatt, the staff at the Geek Chic booth, and almost everyone I gamed with. Many photos of it were snapped. I was told more than once I had "won" GenCon.
Mr. Perkins had the best description, saying it was "a mix of coolness and blasphemy." A statement I cannot disagree with: cutting into the book was hard.
Seeing New Games
I have a couple GenCon regrets. The first is missing True Dungeon but the second is just not finding enough time to wander the game halls and pick-up game rooms and find new games. I didn't get to play many non-scheduled events (D&D Next and Pathfinder mostly).
I did manage to try
Chaos & Alchemy which was simple and fun. A solid indy game that will hopefully soon be a little less indy.
My roomie got a couple cheap copies of Nightfall and it looks fun, with beautiful art.
And we ended the con with Artemis, the bridge simulation game. It's like LARPing with computers. Adding a little RP to a LAN party. Soooo much fun.
Buying TOO Much
I spent way too much money drifting a little over budget in the first day. I picked-up some missing Ravenloft modules I had been looking for as well as some Dragon and Dungeon articles on the same. I found a cheap copy of the Tome of Magic to replace one I foolishly sold in my 20s. I also grabbed a copy of the 1e Fiend Folio & Monster Manual 2 that I promise not to cut up.
At one of the cheap game booths I found all the Midnight books I was missing as well. I am fond of that world.
I grabbed some Game science dice, some metal minis, and capped off my spending with the massive purchase of three sets of Terraclips.
But that wasn't all...
No Really, Buying TOO Much
Has everyone heard of GeekChic? Great furniture. Not just all wood gaming tables but also excellent drawers and solid construction and tonnes of added features like the recessed play surfaces with covering leaves and built in cup holders.
They had a sale during the Con: put a deposit on a table before the end of GenCon and get 10% off the base price of the table. And when the base price is $4k that's a nice discount. Free shipping at least.
I've been considering a really nice gaming table for some time. Gaming has really become my primary hobby and source of disposable income. A nice, solid table would be good. But I wasn't planning on getting one for over a year, waiting until I had recovered from GenCon and had a nice space fat stack of cash.
My wife loves me and kicks so much ass. She needed very little convincing. Because 10%.
We put the deposit down. My wallet hates me. But I'm getting a Geek Chic table.
The Forgotten Highlight
Oops, almost forgot this one (and by "almost" I mean "completely did and edited it in after the fact".
Over the course of the Con, there was a balloon sculpter making a giant balloon dragon. Massive. Like eight feet tall and breathing fire. And, on the last day of the con, when it was completed. They invited some cosplayers to slay the dragon. They did a good job, but more help was needed, as can be seen below.
Excellent hotel experience. The JW Marriott was excellent and the staff was friendly and superb. The con was great and everyone treated me well.
There's a few complaints but most are nitpicking and overall the experience has been phenomenal. I would do it again in a heartbeat and would do it again next year if I was not going to be in debt for the foreseeable future.
While there's much I would like to do and see, the people really made the convention for me. Whether they were running a game, signing a book, or just generally chatting. It's good to remember that gaming is first and foremost a social activity and GenCon is a place to meet people and socialize, sometimes around a gaming table and sometimes over a pint.
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