When I was approached to don the pointed chef’s hat and add to the stew, one of the first posts I drafted reflected on running a monthly game. I’ve been running a monthly game for almost half a year now, and it occurred to me that there were many parallels with convention gaming, parallels I couldn’t make if I hadn’t gone to my first gaming convention (GenCon 2007) last year. Also, due to that experience and my own freelancing projects, my monthly game soon became a playtest group as well as a staging ground for my first GMing experience at GenCon 2008. I’ve learned and am still learning a lot of lessons on this journey and I wanted to share them with you all. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Last Spring, one of the publishers I freelance for asked me if I’d be going to GenCon. I’d never been to a con before and I wasn’t planning to go to this one. That said, his question sparked my interest. Where better to meet and greet potential employers, fellow writers and gamers? After talking it over with my wife (when you’re married with children, it’s best never to make a decision alone, especially one that would cost hundreds of dollars and four days halfway across the country), I decided to go.

I wasn’t going in any official capacity so I decided to sign up for games. I was lucky enough to be able to sign up when event registration went live and spent the next 40 minutes trying to get my first round of games (in hindsight, this would be a blessing compared to the several hours I’d spend on this year’s event registration).

I ended up making quite a few rookie mistakes and I thought it would be fun (and educational) to share them. Maybe some of my lessons learned will be helpful for those attending GenCon 2008. So, in no particular order:

Staying offsite vs. onsite

Hotels were cheaper closer to the airport. However, I also rented a car which somewhat mitigated the price difference. I found myself experiencing deja vu from my college commuter days. Unless you plan to get to the convention center early (and I mean “early!”), then expect to park 10 blocks away. While a long walk is good exercise, it can get tedious if you need to run back to the car at various points during the day. Once I’d return to my hotel, I was done for the day. Since I’d kept my nights free, I was often back to my hotel by dinnertime and missed out on the gamer geek nightlife.

Waiting in Line

This was my first time in Indianapolis as well as my first con. As I drove past the convention center looking for a parking spot I noticed an extremely long line outside. It didn’t occur to me that this was a registration line (I thought the con didn’t open until 11) and I actually stood in line for over half an hour before someone told me that I didn’t have to be there. Geez, freshman year all over again!

Scheduling Games

Since I was commuting, I didn’t want to sign up for games too early. Also, my original plans included bringing my wife and daughter along, so I left my evenings open. Unfortunately, the dealer hall was only open from 11-6 (I think), which meant that I rarely had more than an hour to visit it during the day. If you want to spend time browsing the dealer hall, don’t load up on afternoon games.

Get the Lay of the Land

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the hotels are close together. It can be quite a chore trying to get from the Omni to the Embassy Suites in time for the next session and that is not the time to start studying signs. Keep your schedule on hand and map out your events.

Make Back-up Plans

Just because you’re signed up doesn’t mean that you’ll be playing a game. From what I understand, scheduling at GenCon last year was particularly ridiculous and virtually all of the games I played in were shuffling rooms. Even GMs were sometimes unsure about where their games were being held (we waited for 40 minutes at one game for a GM that never showed up due to this). Do yourself a favor, purchase a general event ticket and note games that start a little later than your scheduled one. This gives you an opportunity to see if there’s an opening for another game.

There is always the possibility of a mistake. One game I was particularly interested in, a Doctor Who Call of Cthulhu game, was supposed to be “walk-in only” but ended up on the registration list. A number of people had to be turned away.

RPGA Games are a special breed

For the most part, you don’t need to bring anything to a con game. You simply show up and a character and dice are provided for you. Not so with RPGA games. You’re expected to be an RPGA member and have your own character. I don’t normally play tournament-style games and I only signed up to try out the then-new Star Wars saga edition, but I had a few uncomfortable moments as the GM tried to deal with this unprepared player (I had to join the RPGA at virtual gunpoint in order to play that session).

Also, I don’t know if my experience was unique, but the Star Wars game was set up for three combat encounters. We finished well short of the 5 hours allotted to the game (I think it was 3, all told). This is another reason to have those general tickets burning in your pocket.

That’s all I can recall at the moment, but if anyone else wants to share GenCon tips and war stories it would be most appreciated! Next time, my journey continues as I talk about how I used my GenCon experiences to set up my monthly game.