Sep 3, 2015

GenCon 2015: The Review

My GenCon experience this year was in some was very different from previous years, in other ways much the same, and overall a wonderful time. As I think I tweeted during the con, "if you're not smiling at GenCon, you're doing something wrong", and I firmly believe that.

Wed (Day 0) - Day 0 was a bit different this year than in years past. Instead of driving out to the con, I actually flew out. Due to a airline issue a few months ago, I had a voucher for the cost of one flight, good for only one year. This was about the only time I would be able to use it, so it was an easy choice. While flying to GenCon means you get there relatively quick from the East Coast, it also meant that I wasn't driving out with my long time con-buddy.

To make up for the lack of pre-con adventure in the car ride out, I finally started reading Playing at the World by Jon Peterson about the early days of wargames that preceded D&D as well as the history of D&D as well. I've only gotten a little way into the book, as it's an exhaustive tome. The size, and level of detail may discourage some readers, but for others, we can reveal in the earliest days of a hobby that has grown beyond most people's wildest dreams.

After we both got to the hotel (the downtown Marriott), we went to get our badges. The line was epicly long, like in years past, but moved really quick. In short time we had badges and tickets in hand and were on our way for some dinner. We passed by a few places that were more crowded than I expected (Day 0 is becoming more and more the unofficial 5th day of the con), and so we ended up at the Hard Rock. I had to go there anyway for my yearly purchase of the GenCon exclusive pin for my mother in law who collects those things. I actually liked the design enough this year to get one for myself.

Thur (Day 1) - I no longer need to be at the Dealers Hall doors the moment they open, so I actually scheduled myself for a D&D 5e game early in the morning. Since I'm usually DMing, I don't get to play as much as I would like, and GenCon is one time I try to sit on the other side of the screen as much as possible. I recall it being a fun table and good DM, despite the issues I have with Hall D (where all the Adventure League D&D events are run).

After the game, I started walking the Dealers Hall before my next events, a pair of writing seminars. I often attend almost as many (if not more) seminars than I do gaming events, and this year was no different.

Later in the afternoon, I played a demo of Imperial Assault, the Star Wars minis game. I was wholly unfamiliar with the game (if not the setting), and really enjoyed playing it. I didn't pick it up at the con, as it's rather pricey and my get a copy of Amazon with its significant discount. As you may recall from past posts, every Gen Con I play at least one new game. Imperial Assault was this year's new game.

Lastly, I ended the night doing another Read and Critique, where I show up and read some of my own creative writing and get feedback from a panel of 4 published authors. If you have any interest in fiction writing of any kind, this kind of trial by fire is a great way to learn were you might need some work. I've done it before, so this time was less stressful, but just as helpful.

Fri (Day 2) - Friday included some more seminars, some writing, but also one discussing issues related to women at the gaming table. As a male gamer, I've never had to deal with some of the issues I've read about, and as someone who regularly has women players in his games (though not as many as I would like), I want to make sure I'm conscious of issues they related to making sure everyone has a great time during the game - because, when it comes down to it, that's what we're all there for anyway.

Later in the afternoon, after some more time in the Dealers Hall, my con-buddy and me played Shackles of Blood, one of the new Adventure League Season 3 D&D 5e adventures. Luckily we had a great DM for this module, and even though I found parts of the module a bit too railroad-y (even for a con module, where I expect it), I still had plenty of fun.

Sat (Day 3) - Saturday included some more seminars, from Scott Rice-Snow, Chairperson of the Department of Geological Sciences and Professor of Geological Sciences at Ball State University. Last year I attended his Cave 2.0 seminar, and this year I went to both his Rivers 2.0 and Mountains 2.0 (and if he had hosted a third one, I would have been there for that as well) and picked up a lot of details I'm sure to include in my next outdoor adventures.

Also, Professor Rice-Snow announced the release of his first game-related book Look Where You're Going: Prime Landscape Sites for Storytellers now available on It's a system neutral book looking at some real-world environments that would make good backdrops for stories or adventures. I haven't picked it up yet, but will be doing so after I finish Playing at the World.

Later in the day, I was lucky enough to get my 5e PHB signed by Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford, as well as pick up some neat little swag, including this nifty DM patch. Now I just need a shirt to to sew it on.

After that I played a bit more 5e with the Harried in Hillsfar mini Rage of Demons adventure (lasting about 90 minutes compared to a typical 4hr adventure). Unfortunately I didn't like it as much as Shackles for a number of reasons.

Finally, I finished up the day by watching the fall of the Cardhalla display, a nice little charity event head every year at the con since 1999.

Sun (Day 4) - The last of the con is usually a short day for me, and this year was no different. I actually had no events this year and instead just walked around the Dealers Hall looking for a few bargains and some small games to bring home the next time I go to a board game night.

After a few purchases and a final lunch with my con-buddy, I was set to leave Indy for another year.

Final Thoughts

In addition to all the events I took part in, there were also plenty of great lunches and dinners, hitting up most of the local hot spots I'm familiar with, including The RAM, Stake and Shake, Fridays, and Champions. We skipped Scotty's Brewhouse as the wait was typically too long - if you ask me to wait 2 hours, your food better be incredible.

I also made a goal of trying to avoid the on-site con food, as it's usually very greasy, cold, falling apart, and generally not that healthy for you. That said, my very first lunch was pizza from the convention as I forget my lunch snacks and didn't have time to go out for food. While the pizza certainly wasn't the best I had, I did enjoy striking up conversations with the other con goers, some of who were here for the first time, others who were seasoned veterans.

As you can see, I played a lot of D&D 5e at the con, but I choose to skip the Epic events. I played in last year's Epic, and as I mentioned then, I didn't really enjoy it, so I skipped it this year. Based on some of the reports I've read about this year's event, I'm glad I did.

As someone who's DM'd in Hall D, it's not very forgiving. It's very wide open with lots of metal and stone so the sound just bounces around the room. You end up really need to shout to be heard. I miss the old days when D&D was in its own room, the Sagamore ballroom, which was quieter thanks to the carpets, low ceilings, and smaller space. Sadly, that room has been taken over by Paizo, for their Pathfinder games. To me it was stark visualization of everything Paizo seems to be doing right at GenCon (I won't elaborate as that topic alone could be its own post).

Last though, I had another great time at GenCon. I hope I get to go again next year. Thinking about my "GenCon Bucket List" maybe the only thing left would be for me to run a one-shot of one of the obscure RPGs I have, like Legacy: War of Ages or Noir.

Maybe next year, maybe next year...