This year marked my eighth consecutive GenCon. When I realized that, I was surprised, since 2006, my first GenCon, doesn’t seem that long ago. The math doesn’t lie, though. In just two more years, I’ll hit a full decade of attendance, so there’s no way I can consider myself a rookie any longer. Of course, about the only real change between attending in 2006 and attending in 2013 is that my wandering isn’t quite so clueless anymore and I’ve collected a ton of wonderful con friends. (They’re like Pokemon… gotta catch ‘em all.)
One thing that has remained consistent for all the conventions I attend is the ever present camera in my hands. This is true for most of the events in my life, but conventions present a feast for the eyes and a plethora of picture opportunities, GenCon even more so than any of the other cons. Any type of recap I’m going to give of the con should be accompanied by the images sitting on my camera’s overloaded memory card.
So, welcome to my visual recap of GenCon.
On Wednesday, I had the fortune to run into the Dungeon Bastard. I knew his ‘World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl’ had been successfully Kickstarted, but I hadn’t been aware that he was also going to be at the con as a correspondent of sorts. His Dungeon Bastard persona is funny and obnoxious, but ultimately welcoming to anyone who wanted to stop and talk with him. He had seen I was hanging back to wait for a chance to say hi, when another group unwittingly cut in front of me. Without even hesitating, he made sure to take a moment to speak with my friend Jason and I after the interrupting group was done.
Speaking of Jason (the fellow wearing the Jayne hat), he is the mastermind behind the fantastic Facebook community ‘Being a Geek‘. The community is a home to geek related posts of all stripes and has over 200k followers. Best of all, he fully credits all artwork shared on the site, something you unfortunately see too little of in similar groups and communities.
Now, being that this was GenCon, the “Best Four Days of Gaming”, I damn well better have played some games. With the convention being as big as it is, it is actually surprisingly difficult to get all of the events you may want, especially for RPGs where thousands of attendees may be vying for one of six to eight spots. One of my only complaints about the convention this year was how frustrating event registration was. When it went live back in May, I submitted my wishlist as soon as it opened. My request was 3000th in line and by the time it was processed, most of the games I really wanted were already full. I’m not sure what GenCon can do to make this less painful, but I do hope they re-examine how they handle event reg.
Despite that SNAFU, I ended up playing four different RPGs. The first was a Dragon Age game run by a GM from Infinite Imaginations Inc., a group of GMs that run a ton of games every GenCon. The game was fun and fulfilled my goal of getting to experience the Dragon Age RPG system firsthand, but the story felt a little too generic fantasy for me. Yes, Dragon Age is a fantasy video game, but it has some unique flavor built into the world, and I had been hoping to get to experience some of that. When the party included a dwarf that can cast magic in a setting where it is explicitly stated that dwarves are incapable of casting magic, it was a bit disappointing.
Another game I played that was fun, but didn’t quite live up to my expectations, was a super hero game using tweaked Hollow Earth rules. The GM was up front about the game being a work in progress, so we knew there could be some kinks in the game at the start. My main issue wasn’t with the mechanics, though. For me, there wasn’t as much roleplaying in it as I would have liked. Most of the game centered on the combat scenes and there weren’t too many opportunities to act in-character with other players or NPCs. Ultimately, though, everyone at the table seemed to be having a blast and we got to fight dinosaurs.
Heck, I talked to a T-Rex to convince him not to eat my teammates.
The other two games I played were Shadowrun and Primeval.
Primeval is a Cubical 7 game based on the British TV show about time anomalies and (very often) dinosaurs. It uses the same system as their Doctor Who game, so I’m already a big fan. I’d played this game at the previous two GenCons and it turned out the same GM had come back for a third year. I knew I would be getting something I enjoyed out of that game and I was right. We had a great group at the table and it was a fun scenario.
Not to mention… more dinosaurs. I was sensing a theme.
Catalyst Game Labs debuted the Shadowrun 5th edition this year, so fellow princess Lisa dragged me to a Missions game for us to test out the new system. So far, I really like the changes they’ve made. I’ve always loved Shadowrun as a setting, but the system tends to be a bit crunchier (stat heavy) than I am comfortable with. The crunch is still there, but they’ve modified some things to make it a little less intimidating to new players while still keeping that same flavor that has kept people playing the game for twenty-five years. Lisa was able to pick up the book and a collection of Mission scenarios, so I might try and talk her into writing a review…
While I didn’t get to play any of their games, I did get to hang out with the Windmill Games crew. From all reports, they had a fantastic convention with good turnout for all of their games, including the chaos that is the ADGNEPSEF555 LARPening. Margaret posted a review of that yesterday, so check it out if you haven’t already.
GenCon may not quite reach the attendance heights of the big ComicCons, but it’s still a pretty damn big convention. Based on the number of people I was seeing, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had cracked 50k attendees. The numbers are in, though, and the official press release says they had 49,058 unique attendees. Not quite 50k, but pretty damn close.
In addition to the nearly 50k nerds walking around downtown Indianapolis, there was probably an almost equal number of bikers. Just like last year, GenCon was held at the same time as the MotoGP motorcycle event at the Indianapolis Speedway. While the racing obviously takes place out at the track, there are all sorts of events downtown to celebrate the race. The street my hotel was on was closed down specifically for the bikers. It made going to bed in the evening a fairly noisy affair, but overall, there were no major issues with the bikers to be found.
Did you know that it is apparently a thing for bikers to rev their engines in time with music? I got to witness this on Saturday night. At 2am. To the Black Eyed Peas. Honestly, it took a few moments to determine if it was actually happening or if it was a bad dream.
One reason I love carting around a camera is the opportunity to capture awesome costumes. While I don’t partake in the cosplay, I can appreciate all the work that went into creating the costumes and the love and enthusiasm they all bring to their characters.
It’s always fun to find a unique twist on a familiar thing. In addition to seeing the steampunk Ghostbusters, I also saw gypsy-steampunk Disney Princesses, and a crossplay (gender swapping a character) of Clark Kent and Captain Malcolm Reynolds.
Speaking of Captain Mal, there was a TON of Firefly cosplay. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get to spend as much time costume watching (and photographing) as I wanted, but I still saw at least four or five separate groups of Firefly costumes. There was even one nearly complete group I saw that had a Shepherd Book with them (their Inara and Simon were off doing something else). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to get their picture, but it was still awesome seeing such a rare character being cosplayed.
One aspect of cosplay I love is when the person wearing the costume actually does their best to get fully into the character they’re playing. It can be great seeing a well done costume, but when that person can also show off a little of the character’s personality, it brings things to life in a brilliant way.
One of the best I saw was the pictured Captain Jack. The moment I caught his attention to get a picture, he instantly pulled out the posture and the ‘charm your pants off’ smile that Captain Jack Harkness does so well.
During the busiest part of the day, you can also find a ton of musicians playing throughout the convention center’s hallways. It’s fun to see costumed filkers playing to spontaneously gathered crowds, especially if the music is good. There’s also a small stage outside the dealer’s hall for slightly more scheduled performances, but there’s always SOMETHING happening somewhere.
Money has been exceptionally tight in recent years, so I usually avoid the dealer’s hall. While I enjoy the energy and excitement, along with all the shiny things to buy, it seems like torture to window shop if I can’t really afford to buy. One booth I always swing by, though, is the Chessex booth. The colorful cornucopia of dice is always worth a look. I may not NEED more dice, but I always WANT more dice.
In addition to playing games and people (costume) watching, I also love the chance to talk to ‘Industry Insiders’ about what’s going on in the business of gaming. I use quotes around ‘Industry Insiders’ because when it comes down to it, everyone I have ever met that contributes to making games is a gamer that just happened to find a way to contribute to the hobby for the rest of us.
One seminar I attended was given by several of the gnomes from over at Gnome Stew. They had a really good year, winning Ennies for Best Website and Best Blog, both of which are well deserved. The seminar was a chance for four of their authors to share ideas and inspiration for GMs. I highly recommend checking out their blog or getting a chance to chat with them if the opportunity ever comes up.
Alana and I also ran into Andy Hopp, the demented artist behind Dementalism and Low Life. Not to mention, he is also the head instigator behind Con on the Cob, the next con on my agenda for this year. It’s always fun to get a chance to talk to him, and he’s offered to do an interview with us at some point, so expect to hear a little more from him in the future.
The very last thing I did at the convention on Sunday was attend a talk by Wil Wheaton and Boyan Radakovich on ‘Inside Tabletop’. Some of what they covered has already been talked about by Wil on his ‘Not the Flog’ segments, but there was plenty of additional information on what it’s been like to get the show up and running and the phenomenal success they’ve had with it. Since Sunday often leads to smaller crowds, it was a great opportunity to ask questions and get various answers. Unfortunately, we were sworn to secrecy, so I can’t reveal some of the potential awesome coming down the pipeline for TableTop. Suffice it to say, I’m really excited about the show’s future.
All in all, it was a fantastic con. I know this recap was a bit random, but that’s often how the convention experience feels. Take your moments of awesome as they come and enjoy what you get to do with the sea of fellow gamers for four solid days of awesome…
… and then sleep for the next three days to recover.