Last night, I dreamt of Gen Con. This happens to me 4-5 times a year, and though the details are usually different, there are some common threads. First, it’s always the second or third day of the con, and I haven’t done even close to everything I wanted to do. Second, something insane happens, and I’m no longer gaming, and usually my life is in danger. Sometimes, I’m a secret agent. Once, I was at a surfing academy, and my classes were conflicting with all the best seminars. In the most recent iteration of this dream, I found a holy lamppost that told me how to get a date in Victorian England and threatened to unmake reality, and I was really bummed that I was going to miss True Dungeon.
I am no psychologist, but what my subconscious wants is usually pretty clear (even if the way it expresses it isn’t). Gen Con is one of my favorite times of the year, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.
Of course, any of you who have been to Gen Con (or any other large convention) already know the horrible truth — unless you’re a Timelord, you can’t do it all. I’m kind of glad I’m not, to be honest. I’d be busy catching up on everything I missed at last year’s con and the Daleks would destroy the universe.
This is, of course, the time of year where you will see every RPG blog in existence giving our very best Gen Con tips. There are lots out there, and lots of the older posts still apply. That’s not what this is about. Most people have heard of the 3-2-1 convention rule (3 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day, 1 shower) and the best way to turn a hotel room into a clown car. We’ll do that later.
This is about making memories.
Rule 1: Whenever Possible, Join A Raging Mob
I have been coming to Gen Con since 1997, but for a long time, I was coming for the sales floor. As the Internet made stuff easier to get, I started to lose sight of why I was making the trip. In 2006, I decided I’d give the old ‘con one last shot. I decided to register for a couple games.
What eventually happened was a couple pickup games followed by what I consider one of the formative moments of my gaming career. Namely, I saw a guy in a kobold pope hat standing on a chair, working a horde of gamers into a frenzy. I was just about to walk by when one invited me to join them. I didn’t have much to do at the time, so I proceeded to get worked into a frenzy as well.
I had, through sheer dumb luck, accidentally found my way to Nascrag, where I competed with a team of random strangers in a really freaking awesome weird adventure piloting a submarine through some dude’s colon and fighting the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I was excited when our group got assigned a DM last, and we wound up with the kobold pope guy. (I didn’t know it at the time and I have no idea if he remembers me, but that same kobold pope turned out to be Tom Lommel, who would later strap on some sweatbands and a bat’leth and become the Dungeon Bastard.)
I had a really great time, and it was simply because I took an opportunity to try something unusual. Gen Con is loaded with both weirdness and opportunity. I can’t say it’s always worked out, and I’ve occasionally found myself stuck in 4 hours of something I hated, but I have far more good stories in this category than bad.
NOTE: if the mob looks like it is comprised of at least 50% vampires or is otherwise going to separate you from your blood, you may want to consider trying something else.
Rule 2: Try To Create Scenarios That Feel Like A Weird Dream
One of the most incredibly fun convention gaming sessions I’ve ever had almost never happened. It was about 9pm. I was there with one of my college roommates. My usual DM and his wife were there, as was their DM from college. The weirdest part was their DM’s dad was there too, and he was a grizzled old epic level DM who spun us a wild tale that had us all spellbound until almost 3 in the morning. I wish I could remember how the adventure went, or how we decided to get together. If I wasn’t able to ask the others if they remembered parts of it, I’d swear I’d just had another Gen Con dream.
What has proven fun in later years, though, can only happen at something like Gen Con. I’ve had a ton of fun getting people together from several places I’ve lived or that I typically only see on the Internets together for a couple hours of gaming. On occasion, it will weird somebody out a little, not wanting to meet people they don’t know, and that’s fine. Once the gaming starts, though, it typically yields lots of fun, and a nice helping of cognitive dissonance while your brain mixes worlds together.
I might also add that True Dungeon is amazingly well suited for this purpose. Nothing like bringing a team of all the allies you’ve ever known on an epic dungeon quest, and I’ll never forget my college roommate critting Death himself right in the face.
Rule 3: Everyone Is Socially Awkward At Gen Con, So That Means Your Awkwardness Is Nullified Via The Transitive Property
I had a lot more fun at conventions once I figured this out, and it applies in a wide spectrum of ways.
If you’re looking for someone to game with, signing up for scheduled events will usually get you a seat with some random gamers. I’ve met some cool people this way (and one or two that freaked me out a little, but I haven’t woken up sans kidneys yet). One can also find people to meet and game with simply by roaming around a gaming hall, or even the occasional hallway. Many times, DM’s will find themselves in need of one more person, and they’ll call out for people to fill the seat (though some cons will have an official place to sign up to be in the pool of people who get called to play).
One could even find a lonely or bored looking person and offer to play some Zombie Dice or a quick game of Magic: The Gathering with them.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this: if you’re at Gen Con, and you can’t find anybody to play with, you either don’t know where to look or you’re not trying hard enough.
Rule 4: Epic Rare Brains Are The Tastiest
Gen Con tends to have an unusual quantity of people whose names appear on books we use every week. With a random exception here or there, most gaming industry professionals are pretty cool and would be happy to talk to you provided:
- they’re not busy
- you’re not being a jerk
You don’t have to write for a blog or work for someone important. Ask your question, give your (brief!) feedback. Better yet, say thanks. That yields epic smiles that give you +1 morale for the rest of the con. You could buy some stuff too. But that would be cheating.
You may be surprised to find out that the gaming industry is populated by an unholy crapton of *GASP* big giant gamers just like you, and many have cool stories to share. You may also find that either the pedestals you’ve put them on get lower, or that your venom-laced fangs retract a bit when faced with a real human. Either way, it’s put some things in perspective and given me lots of great memories over the last few years.
Rule 5: Do Stuff You Normally Wouldn’t Try
Before I get much farther, this doesn’t mean multiclassing in adultery or smoking crystal meth for the weekend. It also doesn’t mean playing hours of something you hate. As cool as playing a giant megatable full of minis combat looks, I know I would be wishing I was doing something else by the end of it.
What this does mean is to sign up for something you’ve wanted to try but could never get your group to go for, or something you’ve been on the fence about getting. I like trying stuff that barely even makes sense in the event listings. That got me playing Microscope, which turned out to be completely awesome.
Look at it this way. You can play the same old thing you’re used to with the exact same people every week of the year. Go a little nuts, at least for a couple hours. If nothing else, you’ll have a story to tell.
This is the time of year we can be completely ourselves.
This is the time of year we can be strange and do strange things in the name of adventure.
This is the time of year when legends are forged.
That’s it. I can’t wait any longer. I’m driving to Indianapolis now and waiting for you guys to show up. I’ll text message someone on our staff with the GPS coordinates of the dumpster I’m staying in until then.