We get asked for GenCon tips every year, so we’ve collected all of our GenCon advice (along with links to other sites) in one place for easy reference — including several articles for GMs. Many of the gnomes are GenCon veterans, and we love sharing tips about the con.
GenCon is a blast, but it’s also huge: Around 30,000 people attend each year, and the con spans not only the convention center but multiple hotels and other buildings downtown. Whether you’ve gone once or 20 times, there will always be new tips, tricks, and ideas you haven’t heard before.
Want to find out how to have
a hot, steamy the most fun at GenCon? Read on!
Coordinate with your friends: If you’re going with a group, make a prioritized list of the stuff you want to get into most, including fallbacks in case your first (or second, or third) choices aren’t available. Each account can only buy two tickets per event, so if you need more than two you’ll have a bit of extra coordination to do beforehand — and two or more people registering, of course! (Martin Ralya)
Set aside time to register: With the current RUBI registration system, once you have a badge you can drop events into your cart before you can actually buy them, which is a great time saver. Plan to be in front of your computer right when registration opens, and if the system hangs (which has gotten better over the years), don’t give up — just keep trying. (Martin Ralya)
Having event tickets is NOT the key to a great GenCon: If you haven’t gotten registered for games, don’t fret. Walk around the areas where gaming goes on as there are usually open games or people looking to throw down for an impromptu game. You’ll probably find a lot of nifty games you hadn’t thought of trying. This holds true for bigger events as well. If you don’t mind not being with your group, True Dungeon sessions usually always have one opening or a few no-shows that they try to fill. (John Arcadian)
Generics are nice: A “generic” is an event ticket that isn’t associated with an event. You can show up at an event you’d like to play and ask the GM if they have any open slots, or if they’re willing to accommodate an extra player; depending on the event and the GM, this can often work out nicely. (Martin Ralya)
Gnome Stew Articles
- GenCon Registration Tips by DNAphil
- Official GenCon registration page: It’s an obvious one, but if you want a badge, events, or housing, this is the place to start!
- High Programmer’s GenCon Event Database: This database mirrors GenCon’s event listings, and is often faster and easier to access than the official system (although you can’t use it to register, of course).
Stay loose and don’t get overwhelmed: You can’t do everything at GenCon in one year (or even in 10 years!), so don’t try — leave some surprises for next year. It can be overwhelming, but only if you let it: Just relax, have fun, don’t worry too much about your plans, as they’ll likely change, and try to roll with it. When you’re done, take notes about what you liked/didn’t like and what worked/didn’t work, and keep them somewhere you can refer to them in future years. (Martin Ralya)
Set aside time for the exhibit hall (dealers’ room): The dealer hall is only open from 11-6. If you want to spend time there, then you probably don’t want to load up on back-to-back morning and afternoon events. (Walt Ciechanowski)
Food: Steak ‘N Shake is always packed at lunch, so expect to wait on line for a burger. What is not as well known is that they also make a good and inexpensive breakfast, and not nearly as busy. Also, PF Chang’s (if you like it, I do) has take out. So call it in and then take it somewhere else. We do that typically at night, for our open gaming. Get a table, call in an order to Chang’s, and then eat while playing. (DNAphil)
Eating for me is catch-as-catch can. Circle Center mall has a decent food court and India Garden has a great lunch buffet but is several blocks away. There are plenty of restaurants in the area. I’m not sure about weekends, but there are food street vendors outside the Convention Center on weekdays. If you’re just looking to grab a hot dog or drink then you’re probably better off there than inside the Convention Center. (Walt Ciechanowski)
Head a couple blocks from the convention center for breakfast. Get over by the war memorial, and you’ll find the same inexpensive breakfast options minus the giant lines. Avoid Einstein’s Bagels in the morning unless you love lines. (Martin Ralya)
The food court at the convention center is a last resort. If you can make it to the mall, you’ll have a better selection and value. Don’t limit yourself to the immediate area: You may spend less time walking a block than you would waiting for a table or standing in line in a nearby or popular restaurant. Also, some attendees (especially those with cars) will buy food at the local drugstore (CVS) or grocery store and eat in their rooms or bring food to the convention. (Kurt “Telas” Schneider)
Parking: The lot connected to the convention center is the most expensive and fills up quickly, but it is very convenient in terms of getting to you car during the day. If the lot connected to the convention center does not work, then the Circle Center Mall parking is the next spot, as it is also connected to the convention center, though just a bit farther to get to. (DNAphil)
When I drove, I usually parked in the lot in front of Conseco Fieldhouse. I preferred the Circle Center parking garage, but you have to get up pretty early in the morning for a space. (Walt Ciechanowski)
Caffeine: If you have the caffeine monkey on your back, you are in luck. There are a number of places to get coffee. I favor the Starbucks in either the Marriott or the Westin. Here is a money saving tip: There is like a $3.00 difference between Iced Latte and an Iced Coffee. (DNAphil)
Things to do: For $5 you can get an auction tag, and bid on items in the auction. The auctions are pretty hit and miss, but I have seen some incredible things come up for bid. I got a first edition Whispering Vault book for $5.00. Plus it’s also fascinating to watch what items people will bid on. After some time in the auction room, look at the auction shop, where there are marked down items, without the bidding. I have never left the auction shop without something in hand. (DNAphil)
Gnome Stew Articles
- From Con to Con: I Was a GenCon Virgin by Walt Ciechanowski
- From Con to Con: 2009 Edition by Walt Ciechanowski
- From Con to Con: 2010 Edition by Walt Ciechanowski
- From Con to Con: The Journey Ends by Walt Ciechanowski
- Gencon’s VIG Program – The Way You Should Do Gencon by John Arcadian
- Tips On Herding Cats (or How I Organize My Annual GenCon Trip) by DNAphil
- Official GenCon Indy site: The New to GenCon? page offers up advice, and the GenCon Community forums are a great place to ask questions and read about the con.
- High Programmer’s GenCon Survival Guide: Alan de Smet’s goldmine of tips and tricks for having a great GenCon experience.
- GenCon Travel Tips: Lots of good travel and packing advice from Tabletop Gaming News.
- GenCon Restaurant & Pub Guide: Mad Brew Labs has compiled a great list of places to eat nearby.
- Sean’s GenCon Tips, Rules, and Things to Bring: Industry author Sean K. Reynolds offers up a host of simple, useful tips.
Running Convention Events
This topic doesn’t lend itself to short-form advice, so check out the resources below for detailed articles on running an awesome GenCon event.
Gnome Stew Articles
- Confessions of a Gen Con GM: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned by Patrick Benson
- From Con to Con: Playtesting by Walt Ciechanowski
- From Con to Con: Playtest Notes by Walt Ciechanowski
- 6 Rules for GMing Great RPG Events at Conventions by Patrick Benson
- Convention GMing on the Mind: Linear or Loose? by Dr. Nik
- Convention GMing with Pre-Gen Characters: Why and How by Dr. Nik
- GenCon 2007’s Lessons for Convention GMs by the Stew’s Martin Ralya
- How to GM a Good Convention Game (from a Player’s POV) by the Stew’s Martin Ralya
- I Was a Virgin Convention GM by the Stew’s Troy Taylor
Got a tip or a link of your own that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!