Enthusiastic GROGSQUADer Dr Cowie is a frequent convention attendee and self-confessed Chaosium fan-boy who kindly agreed to file this after action report about this year’s GenCon event on the Streets of Indianapolis: Born to Game!
This year I attended GenCon for the sixth time, taking both my sons for the fourth and fifth time respectively. Why would anyone endure the predictably ghastly missed plane connections and jet lag over and over again?
Each year sixty thousand gamers descend on downtown Indianapolis, streets are closed off for parties with live bands, beer and food trucks abound, restaurants have custom menus, retail staff dress up and join in – even the airport has gaming tables set up in the departure lounges. It’s enormous (the Lucas Oil Football Stadium is only the third largest space), but incredibly friendly and relaxed.
Speaking of friends, the first time I attended GenCon I went on my own, and it was frankly a bit overwhelming. But apparently if you have tens of thousands of people in one place gaming and chatting and eating and drinking – turns out lots of them are lovely. And every year you know more and more of the people you bump into and it feels more and more heading back to a small town full of gamers where people know your name.
But of course, you are there to GAME! GenCon is a chance to play with incredible DMs and players (usually incredibly good, though sometimes…) Over the four and a half days the boys and I played Runequest, Champions, Pathfinder 2E, D&D 5E, various boardgames , a quick LARP session and finished with our traditional Call of Cthulhu on Sunday afternoon. Oldest Boy tends to go for at least one all nighter with Sith Yoga to perk him up in time for breakfast – easy enough if you have the stamina of a teenager and you’re below legal drinking age in the US.
Then there is the GenCon Exhibit Hall. You’ve probably seen the videos, but like so much about the convention it’s difficult to get your head round without being there. This year there were over five hundred exhibitors, many of which have large dedicated areas for demos (or queues!) or have several different locations because you just can’t get round the hall in one day. Everyone you’ve ever heard of in gaming is there, usually trying to sell you something but extraordinarily prepared to chat. Name dropping is almost pointless, if anyone attending the convention cares about a “celebrity” they’ve probably already spent ten minutes pestering them about gnomes in WFRP4E.
But everyone has One Special Thing* you don’t get elsewhere. In some ways GenCon is thirty or more different conventions simultaneously with a couple of thousand people at each. Do you love Magic the Gathering? Pre 70’s wargames? LARPs? Pathfinder? Miniatures? Cosplay? Virtually anything you can think of brings hundreds of excited people together – not really interacting with the other conventions but mixing in amiable (if sometimes slightly bemused manner) in the Exhibit Hall and across the city.
After all this; why am I not recommending that everyone grabs a ticket and heads over? Lots of reasons. It’s expensive – about £2,000 each all in for me and the boys (though you can save a lot of money by staying further away from the con). It’s huge and baffling the first time. There is a non zero chance you will spend over twenty four hours getting home, and lose your luggage while you’re about it. Most importantly – you can meet equally lovely people a lot closer to home at UK conventions (though the beer is more expensive at Expo).
But, even after all these warnings, if you’re ever thinking of going, give me a heads up. Over a pint at GROGMEET (if you’re going) I’ll tell you the tales we couldn’t print – and it would be great to have other GrogSquadders at GenCon next year!
*My Special Thing is stalking Chaosium employees. Luckily their huge generosity (or maybe poor security) has given me the chance to playtest a possible Dragon Pass remake with Chris Klug, and to play Gods War with Sandy Petersen. This year I’d like to thank Todd Gardiner for running the organised play, and Scott and Tracey for awesome Runequest and Call of Cthulhu sessions respectively. But ultimately – where but GenCon can Jeff Richard drag you through the Big Rubble and Michael O’Brien take you behind the scenes at the Second Battle of Moonbroth on the same day?
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I’ll look for you next year