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GenCon virgin

Written by Expy - Published on May 9, 2008

Looks like I’ll go to GenCon – now what?

Last week I was planning my travels for the next few months and I will be on the east coast in August, which increases my chances of going to GenCon from maybe to likely.

My first GenCon

Since it’s my first GenCon experience I was wondering what I should prepare for – from a fun standpoint only, I’m on top of it for the business stuff.

  • Should I plan for random free time so I can hang out?
  • Should I bring an IV bag with coffee in it?
  • How much does the average guy spend in compulsive purchases at GenCon?  It has to be a lot right?
  • Should I plan my own game with a few Dungeon Mastering readers?

If you’re an experienced GenCon adventurer let us know how you maximize your fun in the short amount of time available.  Thanks.

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Written by Expy

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22 Responses to “GenCon virgin”
  1. Ed Healy says:

    You can just hang out with me, brother. I’m glad you’ll be there. Adult beverages?

  2. Russell says:

    Hey I’m going for the first time too! A good friend of mine will be back from Iraq in a few weeks and he got me and my wife tickets so we’re going too.

    We have got to meet up and game at least once together.

    Hope we can.

  3. Bobby says:

    Alittle bit of yes to all.
    Plan on your game times, but plan on having some free time to do pick up games and/or hitting the vendor hall.

    Running a game for your readers is a cool idea, why not poll to see who would be able or willing to game?

    Money. Budget.
    You have to have an idea of what you’re willing to spend otherwise you’ll do like I did on my first(and thus far only trip)and dip into your credit/debit cards.
    Think about what you want to buy, food and then double that. That way you’ll have some mad money for those extra fun things that you’ve never heard of and have than impulse buy to get.
    Good luck and if nothing else, have fun.

  4. Aj says:

    Dont plan too much, its my best advice.
    First year there I wouldn’t even sign up for any events, if possible do try and get into True Dungeoun and if you havin’t already sign up on the Gencon Forums, the best people and advice you will find there. I’ve been on there 2 years now and if I ever have any question’s theres a lot of really awesome people to help on there.


  5. DNAphil says:

    Let me answer your questions in order…

    Q: Should I plan for random free time so I can hang out?
    A: Doing events are great, but you are going to want to be able to walk the convention floor, go to the auction room, see the art show, etc. I like to pick a few sessions and games. Game sessions are 4hours each, so I try not to take more than 1 a day.

    Q: Should I bring an IV bag with coffee in it?
    A: No need. Just charge up a Starbucks card with cash, there is a Starbucks in the hotel lobby of the Hilton (I think).

    Q: How much does the average guy spend in compulsive purchases at GenCon? It has to be a lot right?
    A: Your first time? Yes. Bring cash. While some vendors take credit, you should bring cash so that you stick to a budget. Bring as much money as you feel comfortable spending, and go wild. After a few years, you can get a working budget down, but for that first trip, go as crazy as you can afford.

    Q: Should I plan my own game with a few Dungeon Mastering readers?
    A: Totally. There are plenty of areas where you can grab a table and get your own games going.

  6. aresnasti says:

    My wife and i will also be attending all 4 days and would love to get together.

    We are both virgins to this experience so it should be fun.

    See you there

  7. mcritic says:

    Hi Yax,

    I’ve just started reading your great blog here, so I’m a newbie of sorts as well. I’ve been to GenCon twice–the best year was my first year. I didn’t plan at all, and I sat down for a few hours each day trying to figure out what I’d be going to, but I really enjoyed a lot of the seminars there. The second year was busy as I tried to make a lot of the games and such.

    First and foremost, check out the GenCon site and get an idea of what’s going on. Check out the Complete Event Catalog of events that is updated regularly on the GenCon forums page here:


    The vendor area is open from 9/10 to 5 PM each day. On Sunday, it closes early. I recommend you allow a whole day to cruise that area, check out game demos from vendors, participate in the freebie giveaways there, and go through *all* of the Wizards of the Coast demos to get a chance to roll the giant d20 for a freebie.

    There are games upon games going on all the time, some even into the wee hours of the morning. Most of these will cost $2 to participate in, requiring you to buy a generic ticket at one of the booths. For other games, you may need to register online for them before the spots fill up. True Dungeon, a highly lauded event, has been filled up every time I try to get a ticket. This year, all of the spots filled up within the span of a day. What you learn your first year is that you register immediately when it opens in April for hotel rooms, True Dungeon, and RPGs to get what you want.

    If you want to check out some anime or independent film premieres, you can find those on the ground floor of the Westin (usually)–almost all day and especially into the evening.

    The seminars are great if you’re interested in getting in the game industry or just simply a writer. I recommend you check a few out to get a feel for them as well. There is one that you must attend and that is Tracy Hickman’s Xtreme Dungeon Mastery. It’s right up your alley for the site here, and you better be there when I am. :P It’s a hilarious take on how to DM and I loved it. I hear Hickman’s Killer Breakfast, where you create one of about a hundred characters and kill him off as quickly as possible is a comedy treat (no breakfast involved, of course).

    If you like orchestras and video games and their music, I highly recommend you check out the Video Games Live concert, which costs about $40-60 for a ticket close to the stage. I see that it has returned this year.

    For food, you will want to reserve a budget for eating at the fine restaurants downtown in the evening. I’d recommend bringing your own snacks for breakfast and lunch so you can spend as much time enjoying the conference, but there are nearby fast food restaurants in hotels and the mall. Roughly gauge $10 per fast food restaurant and about $25 per sit-down for dinner. If you like alcohol, add about $10 per visit for those sit-down restaurants. The Ram is touted as the place to go to–it tends to have D&D decorations and even a special menu (which are menu items renamed in D&D style). The first year I went there, it was great. The second year, however, the service was extremely poor and the restaurant wasn’t decked out in D&D anymore. The waiter said that they always replace the glasses with plastic cups because of the poor customers they get from GenCon, and they said that they no longer had their tower of beer. A much better place to check out is Rock Bottom.

    There is a lot to do. There is not an avenue of fun that cannot be had. I hope this helps, and I hope you run a game there–please let us know when and where!

    Have fun!

  8. Pé0 says:

    A great suggestion would be to bring a friend and pay for all his needs…

  9. John Doran says:

    Well, I would say that there is a ton of things that you can do in the exhibitor’s hall, and last year I only bought one event ticket, so you don’t have to spend too much to have a great time. In the hall, there are always a bunch of things you can do, try out new games…. buy games, and you’d probably be able to get deals there better than anywhere else (That’s where I’m going to purchase my set of 4E books). Also, if you feel like getting some neat little things, I’d really suggest getting to seeing Wizards (for the die roll as stated previously) and Chessex. Now, they have some neat stuff such as unpainted and unpolished dice and reusable grids for use in either a hex or square board which you can get a “damaged” one for super cheap. On the note of running your own game, I’d love to see it, if not play in it. There are plenty of areas where you could do something like that, but you could always see about making it an event. So, there’s my two cents. I hope that helps!

    Above all, enjoy yourself; there’s nothing quite like it!

  10. Yax says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions. Keep em coming.

  11. Many good suggestions in the comments above, ESPECIALLY the one about wearing good shoes. Your feet and back will appreciate that.

    Another good hint: Get a backpack or bring one, lest your back get thrown out by lugging too much weight on one side or another. Also it makes a good place to stash a water bottle (or three) rather than rely on convention-priced-cola or somesuch. Drink much water. Don’t give me that look–just do it. ;)

    Other supplies discovered as useful after 14 GCs:

    Hand sanitizer, if only to stave off the “convention crud” of meeting lots of people, shaking hands, and/or picking up any and every bug floating about the convention.

    I always bring twice as many shirts as days I plan to be there and also look at picking up at least one t-shirt at the show. Nothing’s better than changing out of the sweaty shirt (which got that way as you run from the floor to a seminar and back in 5 minutes…four times in 1 day…) to refresh you before a night out for dinner. And your dinner mates will appreciate it too.

    As others say, don’t plan anything your first Gen Con, as you’ll be hard pressed to just take in the exhibit hall and seminar rooms during the times they’re open. Take it slow, savor the first-timer’s experience, and take mental snapshots. Gen Con will never be the same the second time around, so make it a point to memorize the things you see and hear et al.

    Bring a digital camera and an extra data card. I regret not taking as many pictures back in 1990 when I first started attending GC; I’d love more shots of the old TSR castle, various pictures of folks no longer with us, and just old props or silly things that stick out in memory like our boss in the Klingon Jail-n-Bail, etc. Since this will be the first GC in 3 that my wife’s not accompanying me, I’m taking the camera so she won’t feel like she’s missed seeing many old friends.

    Take the time to sit down and try out games you’ve never played before. The staffs at GC are usually quite good at new game demos and there’s the chance you’ll find a perennial favorite. (My wife and I discovered Carcassonne in 2006 this way, as well as Thurn & Taxis.) Unless you go to Germany’s gamefair, you’ll never find as many games on display or free-for-trial than here. Avail yourself of the opportunity.

    Pace your purchases–don’t buy everything on first impulse (unless you KNOW you’re going to regret ever after if you don’t have X-item). If you wait until Sunday, you might find reduced prices on items that publishers don’t want to haul home, but if an item’s hot and everyone wants it, be sure to snag one early.

    One last thing re: con etiquette with people like Ed Greenwood or other game designers et al: If you see someone whom you’d dearly love to talk to (or get an autograph or whatever), make sure you ask that person if (s)he has the time to stop and chat with you.

    One of the things that makes it tough at Gen Con for those who have worked there is many professionals are often on a tight schedule, while most attendees are not (or at least not expected by scores of attendees clutching their scheduled appearances in the GC booklet).

    We (me speaking for the collective mass of game designers and editors with whom I’ve worked for 18+ years) love our fans. We truly appreciate your enthusiasm and patronage. That said, if we’re five minutes late already for a seminar and have to cross the entire con floor and get to one of the hotel seminar rooms, expect to either jog alongside while chatting or please catch us later. If we look in a hurry, we probably are, but we’d be happy to tell you when you can catch us at a better time/place and we’ll gladly give you our full attention then. (Trust me on this–I’ve seen folks follow authors into a restroom and continue talking to them through stall doors…and that’s not an enjoyable encounter for anyone concerned. Memorable, yes, but rarely positive. Catch us later, and we’ll all remember the encounter happily. ;) )

    Now that I’ve scared you with con stories like that, I really hope I get to meet you in person at Gen Con (I’ve got at least two signings in Author’s Alley on Friday and Sunday.). I’ve been enjoying your blog/site a lot these past few months.

    Steven Schend
    old TSR wage slave and Forgotten Realms author/designer

    PS: Many of the hotels have breakfast buffets. Fill up there and bring along energy bars or other snacks to get you through the lunch hours. Food’s expensive during the con, so whatever you can bring and keep in a cooler in your room or in your bag while on foot is money saved for a nice meal out in the evening (or a pint of whatever your pleasure may be).

  12. E.S. Clingenpeel says:

    Great comments so far. I too am hoping to make it to GenCon this year for the first time. Unfortunately, this will also be my first convention as well, so its a little daunting. Fortunately, we’ll be able to keep our costs down, as my wife has a friend that lives in a suburb of Indy, and has invited us down many times, but this will be the first time we’ve taken her up on it. :)

  13. Dave T. Game says:

    Don’t worry Yax, I’ll show you the ropes…


  14. OMG! Yax and I can lose our GenCon virginity together! SWEET! :)

  15. Theeo123 says:

    I was Gencon veteran, but this was before WOTC was on the scene for the most part, and then shortly after they got in charge they moved it to two separate location and such, i ended up being just out of decent range for both to make it financially feasible to go anymore, so I’m not sure how much of this remains true.

    one of my favorite activities used to be collecting souls. I’d go around with an autograph book, track down my favorite artists/writers/developers for various games, an ask them if they’d be willing to sell their soul. a surprising number were very agreeable. at the ’96 GenCon I owned the souls of entire white-wolf staff at the time.

    The ground floor used to be essentially one big show-room for various publishers and companies, booths galore, with TSR right in the middle, having a huge booth that looked like a small castle. and on the last day of the Con a Large assortment of Nerf swords would be provided, and the other publishers would attempt to storm and take the TSR castle.

    I especially loved visiting the booths of various artists, you got to see some of their work that isn’t specifically designed for a given product line, and you could find really interesting stuff.

    All in all it used to be kind of like a big 4 day party with gamers in charge, what more can you ask for?

  16. Yax says:

    Indeed I can’t ask for more. It’s going to be so much fun

    I’m scared.

    The more I think about it, the more I’ll try to prepare a short game and game with whoever reads this blog and is going. Saty tuned for more.

  17. mcritic says:

    These comments are turning out to be very helpful!

    For me, my first year I saw some great game demos–one of Ticket to Ride that immediately sold me on that game because of its fantastic gameplay and balance. Last year, however, the game demos I tried (with exception of the Wings of War table, D&D basic game, and Zombie Fluxx) were poor. The gamesmasters were disinterested, tired, and very busy. This could have been because I waited until Saturday and/or Sunday to do this. Still, I recommend demoing as much as you can–it was one of the great facets of going my first time around. As I’m writing this, I’m getting all excited again to going. There really is nothing like it.

    Now, a quick word about picking up products that debut at the con. Last year, the highlight of the con was getting the debut of the 4th edition of the Talisman board game. It was being sold at the manufacturer’s/vendor’s booth in the vendor hall, and it was limited to 50 copies per day. The line for it was very, very long, and if you weren’t there when the doors opened, you probably didn’t get one. If anyone is going to get something that’s debuting at the con, keep in mind that you will need to be outside the vendor hall doors (there are three sets of them) before it opens. You’ll want to do like any solid adventuring party would do, and that is map out the path to the booth before hand. I don’t recommend running to the booth (a few folks did–and it was madness last year; albeit humorous and fun). And remember that some folks only think that one set of doors open (the main ones). Ahem! ;)

    Also, last year had the first ever video games area in the vendor hall. Blizzard was there showcasing Starcraft II. The new pirate MMORPG was there along with the upcoming Conan MMORPG. If you like video games, you should definitely check that area out as well.

    Another quick word on surviving the hike to Mordor…uh…to the sessions, vendor halls, and such: Use the game demos as resting points. I have back and feet problems, so this is how I work it. It works quite well, too. I second the suggestion for a backpack. That’s the single best thing I got for my first year.

    Be sure to check out the independent authors, too, along with the artists. I gave them all of my support my first year.

    Above all, have fun! I’d say that all of these suggestions in the comments should give you a +5 modifier to your GenCon initiative roll. :P I hope to see you there!

  18. aresnasti says:

    thanks for all the freat advice….definately going to keep reading this thread until you all stop advising and hopefully we will have a time to get together and game.

  19. KoelmanShow says:

    The Previous comments have been brilliant. Last year was my first year. after 30+ years I finally got the priorities straight. ;)

    Since the exhibit hall is a big ‘must see’, if you find an event you like, try to find a time slot in the early AM, or after 5 to gain Exhibit hall time.

    Great walking shoes is huge. My repaired achilles of 5 months wouldn’t have made it without them. flip-flops ain’t cuttin it.

    a backpack/msgr bag is nice. Some people wield ones that are so huge they cause traffic jams and serious bludgeoning damage, so I’d lean towards a medium size. You always can run back to the room and unload the goods, and change the t-shirt, (another great previous point) as last year there were a couple of days that were over 90 degrees (or maybe i just sweat a lot).

    I would try to definitely hit the showroom the first day; mainly because lots of freebies will be gone by day 2-4, and you can avoid the weekend ‘1 day pass’ people.

    The digital camera with extra memory is great. last year i needed more memory, and shan’t fail this year.

    The breakfast buffets are great and scooping up some chips/crackers/booze at Walgreens and a liquor store a few blocks away, can save a good load of $. The previously mentioned costs for fast food and sit down joints are right on. (nicely allocated mcritic)

    Last year I signed up for a free tour by the Gaming Wenches around 8am the first day, and it helped me get a lay of the place really well, so I could gimp from event to event with more success.

    If you are into board games, they have a big hall with tons of games where you can play anything there for a generic ticket or two, so board game events aren’t the only option.

    The rest:
    I didn’t need too much caffeine, just lots of water, and a reasonable chunk of sleep each night.

    Last year I spent around $300 or so on goods in the Exhibitor hall. Things popped up, had to have em. I bet it’ll happen to you too. ;) Of course everyone varies.

    You should definitely run a little game, or perhaps put out feelers for a gathering of site members to hang, chat, eat, game, drink…

  20. Desanea says:

    Great blog! I’m learning from all this tips as well

    I’m also a gamer, and this year event will be my first Gencon experience. Thing is, im going alone, all way back from Venezuela!!! (oh, we also have gamers here, a few, but good ones who also loves gaming.)

    We organized a couple of role playing games tournaments here with the sponsorship of a few hobby stores (actually 3 or 4, the only ones in the city) but nothing that can compare to Gencon, so for us here it’s the Holy Grail of gaming geekness, the promise land, and this year I saved all the money I could to go to that unique experience. Sadly, none of my gaming buddies could´t make it (no VISA to enter the country and some of them no money) so I must face the Gencon trials alone. I also signed for a couple of gaming sessions in there (my English is, well, so so,
    so I hope you guys could have patience with me).

    I couldn’t afford a downtown hotel (the only available at a “cheap” price was the Westin, and just me renting the room, well, it was expensive) so I have to book a room outside town in the Travelodge South Indianápolis 4950 S East Street US 31 South and East Street. Have anyone stayed there? I guess is about 10 minutes away from the Convention center (by car), im right?

    Everyone experience so far has been quite helpful, but I got a couple of questions I hope anyone could help with:

    1) Taxis are easy to get?
    Im ready to pay 20 bucks for each ride from the hotel to the convention center and so on for the way back. But lets say I hang around the hotels participating in a few gaming sessions made by fans, until lets say, 1 am. Can I go the nearest hotel reception (Marriot, Westin, Omni, etc.) and then get a taxi from there easily?
    If not, and if you guys really really recommend it, I could, gulp, make the ultimate sacrifice and stay in the Westin so I can be at walking distance to the convention center. Boy, I will be in debt to the credit card company for a few hundreds years ☺

    2) In your experience, are people friendly enough to let unknown people join their games? I’m talking about gaming sessions in the hotels and other areas.

    Thanks in advance for any help in this matter, and happy gaming!!
    hope to see you guys there!


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