Gencon 2018

Good day everyone! Melv here, I know… it’s been a spell, but hey I have a treat for you! Please welcome to the page Gabriel Paduganan aka @LibraryRPG whom I was most fortunate to wrangle into writing up a piece on his Gencon experiences, and they sound like some excellent ones! I was more than happy to lend my Press Badge, for the quality of his writing and because of his work within the community through his library club run for kids (which obviously holds a dear place in my heart).  So sit back and enjoy! Oh, if you have a moment maybe check out Gabriel’s “Go Fund Me” page that is just shy of its goal. The proceeds help kids learn about Tabletop RPGs! -Melvs 

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Let me state this up front:  I love games; I’m just not crazy about people.  Most folks are generally tolerable, and I love the gaming community, but I am an introvert through and through.

I’m a father of three children (eight, six, and three years old), and tabletop games have been one of our favorite methods of spending time together.  My older two kids love playing card, dice, and strategy games in all varieties. Their three year-old sister has become my personal dice roller.

I’m also the Dungeon Master for the teen club at our local public library.  For the past year I’ve been guiding younglings through the Lost Mines of Phandelver, and have helped a pair of my players to try DM’ing their own games.  Although I’m not participating in any of my own face-to-face groups at the moment, I’m active in several online RPG communities via Discord and Roll20. Presently, I’m either DM or player in Curse of Strahd, Lost Mines, Laser and Liches, Starfinder (organized play and adventure path), a D&D homebrew campaign, and Midgard.  Seeing that in writing helps me realize why I have very little time to do other things.

Going to GenCon had been a personal goal of mine for several years, but it wasn’t until mid-July that I decided that this would be the year to make it happen.  I’ve been volunteering at various conferences and conventions for over a decade, but rarely go to them as a member of the general public. I purchased a four-day GenCon badge, finalized travel plans and hotel reservations, pre-paid for parking, and selected a handful of events to attend.  It still wasn’t real.

A week prior to GenCon, I received a direct message asking if I’d be interested in writing an article for the highly-regarded Melvin Smif’s Geekery as their representative at the con.  This was literally a dream of mine.  In high school, I was on the newspaper staff and had aspirations of being a journalist before life happened and I decided to become a social worker.  I still enjoy writing quite a bit, but it is usually expressed in the form of campaign notes and character backstories. I’m a little out of practice for formal writing and have always tended toward being a long-winded writer; if you are still reading, you have my thanks and my apologies.

I live in Northwest Alabama; just over the state lines of both Mississippi and Tennessee.  It takes about 6 ½ hours to drive to Indianapolis by way of Interstate 65, passing through Nashville and Louisville and several lesser-villes.  I had planned on taking a long nap on Thursday evening, leaving my house around midnight, and arriving at GenCon early enough on Friday to pick up my badge before the morning rush of attendees.  Unfortunately, travel jitters made my nap ineffectual, and by the time I reached Kentucky I realized that it would be imprudent to drive any further. Somehow I managed to sleep better in the middle row of my van than I had in my bed at home; I managed a four hour nap at a rest stop off of I-65.

Travelling can be an art form, and I like to think that I’m fairly good at it.  I try to spend a little time researching local tips and tricks before heading to a new city.  As part of my pre-GenCon prep, I found that the common complaints surrounding attendance is parking in Downtown Indy.  Luckily, I was able to reserve a parking spot through ParkWhiz.com for $6.00/day, and it was less than a five-minute walk from Lucas Oil Stadium and the convention center.  I pulled into my pre-paid parking spot just after 8 AM, and was walking into GenCon just a few moments later.

Here follows a shameless personal disclosure:  I live with a chronic mental health issue, which results in frequent episodes of depression and/or anxiety.  There were several years of my life in which my worst nightmare was having to go grocery shopping for fear that I’d have to interact with other humans.  Thankfully, I’ve learned some excellent coping strategies and have an excellent primary-care physician. Unfortunately, I ran out of medication the day prior to leaving for GenCon and didn’t have time to visit the pharmacy before leaving town.

As I stepped out of the balmy Midwestern summer heat and into the climate-controlled atmosphere of the Indianapolis Convention Center, I began to panic a little.  Without the aid of my prescribed medication, I was venturing into the presence of tens of thousands of strangers, with no real direction as to where I needed to go or what I was expected to do, other than to submit a readable article at the end of the convention, and to not completely tarnish the good name of Melvin Smif in the process.

Yes, I realize that was a run-on sentence.  Hopefully it conveys the sense of anxiety I felt upon my arrival at GenCon.

Luckily, it didn’t persist very long.  With a healthy measure of controlled breathing and positive self-talk, I ventured into the massive crowd of humanoids, determined that I would not be hindered by my own biochemistry.  I navigated through the seas of geekdom to the press room and retrieved a badge to prove that I was, in fact, a Geekery representative, and was further directed to the customer service desk where I could request a refund for the general admission badge I had purchased one month earlier.  The money that was returned to my bank account will be important later: keep reading.

After picking up the event tickets for seminars and games that I’d pre-registered for, I made my way toward the exhibit hall to check in on a handful of companies that I’ve been following.  For the most part, I steered clear of the major publishers, preferring spend my time and money with smaller-scale and/or family-run companies.

  • Weird Giraffe Games, based out of Huntsville, Alabama (near my home), were promoting Fire in the Library, a press-your-luck game that is currently in production.

  • Junk Spirit Games, who have produced two of my favorite recent games, JunKing and By Order of the Queen, were showing off two of their newer offerings: Battle of the Bards, and Ravens.  They’ll definitely be getting more of my Kickstarter money soon.

  • Bear Food, Inc., makers of the ubiquitous Exploding Kittens, have published several equally fun games.  My kids and I are big fans of Bears vs Babies. If creating fanciful beasts to combat mutant babies sounds like fun to you, I heartily recommend you check it out.

  • Roxley Games was easily the largest company that I’d deemed a must visit.  They picked up Dice Throne from Mind Bottling Games during a highly anticipated Kickstarter campaign, and I commend them greatly for doing so.  Dice Throne was my favorite game last year, and I’m eagerly waiting for the upcoming release of Season Two.

I’d been poring over the exhibit hall map for a week before the con, mapping out my plan of attack so that I could make the most of my time and visit as many booths as possible.  Of course, there were several vendors that caught my eye and relieved me of my dollars. I picked up a paperback copy of the Pathfinder Playtest, as I prefer physical books to digital ones for reference purposes.  The Starfinder Armory was tempting, but the stack of books on my desk is already tall enough without adding another non-essential Starfinder title. There were so many dice and gaming supply vendors that I decided to skip all of them, knowing that bargain hunting would take too much of my time.

My favorite purchase was from the Wyrmwood booth.  By now, most gamers are familiar with their top-quality gaming accessories, including deck boxes, dice trays, and towers.  As an amateur woodworker, I have a lot of appreciation for Wyrmwood’s work, but my admiration goes much further. As I previously mentioned, I’ve been volunteering at conventions for several years.  My organization of choice is Take This, which provides mental health support and education, primarily for gamers and geeks of all kinds. Wyrmwood is also a supporter of Take This, and raises funds for their organization through sales of the Box of Hope, a token made from of one of the same sixteen species of wood that they use for their gaming products.  The type of wood each Hope Shield is made of is random, with a chance to receive a Gabon Ebony shield with a rare inlay. I had determined that since I wasn’t giving my time to Take This during GenCon, I’d purchase a Box of Hope to show my support. In case you’re wondering, the Hope Shield I received was made of Aromatic Cedar (one of my favorite species).  The Wyrmwood sales rep chuckled a little when, upon opening the Box of Hope, I immediately held the shield to my nose to make sure it really smelled like cedar (it did).

After I’d had my fill of the crowded exhibit hall, I left the convention center to check in at my hotel room and to catch a little nap before the evening’s festivities.  As a result of my refunded badge monies, and more than a little luck, I was able to purchase a single ticket for Critical Role Live. I’ve been a big fan of Critical Role since early in their first campaign, and have wanted to see a live performance for quite a while.  The Mighty Nein did not disappoint. In order to prevent spoiling the episode for any who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll refrain from further discussion of the live show, other than to say that it was one of the best events I’ve ever attended.

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It was almost two in the morning before my head hit the pillow, so I decided to forgo my scheduled Saturday morning Starfinder Society game in favor of much needed sleep.  My brain and body were not pleased with me for discontinuing my medication regimen, and I was beginning to feel as if I developing a sinus infection. Convinced that I was not contagious, I ate an early lunch and headed back downtown for a day of organized play.

I had previously registered for three Starfinder Society (SFS) sessions with my Ysoki Operative (the Starfinder version of a ratfolk rogue), but, on account of my tenuous grasp on wellness, decided to cancel the early morning Sunday session.  As fate would have it, I was able to trade in my Sunday event ticket for the Saturday night Starfinder Special. During the afternoon session, I participated in a quick SFS game with an excellent GM, and advanced to 6th level. Of course, that meant that I also spent about an hour with the core rulebook, poring over character options, adding skill increases, and ensuring that my stats were all properly crunched in preparation for the evening session.

Rather than wandering around downtown in search of foodstuffs, I dined on granola bars, beef jerky, and an unhealthy amount of energy drinks.  Somehow I consumed no coffee during GenCon, but did not lack in caffeine intake. The remainder of my downtime between SFS sessions was spent searching for the Midgard RPG room.  For those not familiar with Midgard, it is a campaign setting for D&D 5th edition and Pathfinder, published by Kobold Press. They have designed or reworked a figurative metric ton of races, classes, backgrounds, feats, and spells for the setting.  The lore is rich and the character options are nearly limitless. I’ve been playing Midgard with a Discord collective for a couple of months, and wanted to meet one of the organizers in person to thank him for the many hours of work he has put into dungeon mastering for us.  Unfortunately, I was not able to locate the Kobold Press RPG room, despite several circuitous laps around the convention center. Sorry, Mike. I’ll shake your hand next time.

Knowing that the Sagamore Ballroom was soon to be awash with eager Starfinders, I arrived an hour early to get in line even though I’d pre-registered for a seat.  There were at least a hundred players waiting with generic tickets to join in the session, and I didn’t want to take the chance of being late and having my spot given to a walk-on participant.  I was seated at a table with six other players: a couple from Indiana, a trio of buddies from Illinois, and an individual player who proudly displayed his new Wyrmwood dice tower on the table. Our GM was a Starfinder convert from Pathfinder and had been running organized play Paizo games since their inception.  He was gruff and irritable, but had a fantastically snarky sense of humor.

The Paizo organized play system is well-written and executed.  The SFS special events, in particular, require dozens of tables comprised of 6-7 players to work toward common goals.  Once again, I’ll keep from discussing it too much so that I don’t spoil the module for those who want to play it in the future.  I must state, however, that the Paizo organized plan specials are the highlight of most conventions that I’ve attended. If you like playing RPGs, I highly recommend them.

The Starfinder session ended at nearly 1AM Sunday morning.  After walking back to my car, with sore feet and bloodshot eyes, I drove through Taco Bell on my way back to the hotel.  Apparently the good fortune I’d experienced at GenCon had run its course, as my hotel key card was no longer working, and I had to wait for thirty minutes for the clerk to let me into the hotel and my room.  I ended up sleeping too late again, and got back on the road an hour later than I’d planned. Preferably, I’d have stayed at GenCon for the final day of events, but I had to get back home for a weekly Starfinder campaign.  Priorities, ya know?

All in all, GenCon 2018 was everything I’d hoped it would be.  My modus operandi is to overbook my convention schedule, and then reduce the number of events I attend by necessity, whether due to more interesting opportunities, lack of sleep, or the realization that I’m not capable of being in two places (or more) at any given moment in time.  I recognize that there will never be enough hours in the day to experience more than a small fraction of what the Best Four Days in Gaming has to offer, but I feel that I did the best I could have in light of my physical and mental capabilities. Next time (probably not next year), I’ll try to do a better job of connecting with other gamers and creators.  I’ll eat healthier food (probably not). I’ll play more games, both RPG and otherwise. I’ll remember to buy gifts for my kids. Hopefully, I’ll remember to take my meds. One thing I know for certain, though; I’ll have a most excellent time alongside thousands of folks who share my passion for games.

-Gabriel Paduganan

I would like to once again thank Gabriel for sharing his unique perspective of Gen Con. What really sticks with me is how different the con is for everyone who goes and I truly relish giving voice to these stories on the years I personally cannot attend. Hopefully I can meet up with Gabriel at a future con (maybe Acadecon perhaps? eh? EH!?). One more plug if you’ll allow me, please check out Gabriel’s “Go Fund Me” , I highly doubt he even expected me to plug it but it’s good stuff! Trust me, I run games for library kids too. They need stuff and they are poor! -Melvs

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