As some of you may know, I’ve been attending GenCon regularly for the last 12 years – but this was my first year as an ‘attendee’ rather than an exhibitor. It was a little strange (but incredibly relaxing) to not spend weeks and months planning all the little minor details of the Kenzer and Company booth, packing, and travel arrangements. It was even stranger walking around the exhibit hall as free as – well, as free as what passes for air, when you pack a few thousand gamers in the same building.
I only attended on Saturday, which was fun, but did mean I woke up at 3:30 (CST) for the 4-hour drive from north Chicagoland on down to Indianapolis. With the time zone change, that put me there a little before 9 am (EST from now on), where I met my friend Bret (who’d already picked up a Saturday entry badge for me) and had a leisurely breakfast at Steak n Shake.
Shortly after 10 am, we walked across the street to the convention center and entered the exhibit hall, having avoiding the milling throng that always lines up at the doors for the mad dash to whatever exhibitor has limited copies of the latest hot product. Now, I don’t normally spend a lot of money buying products at any convention, and rarely spend more than $10 or $20. (Of course, in the past I also had fewer opportunities to leave the booth.) This time, I hadn’t even made it more than halfway down the first of (22+) rows before I’d outlayed $30! Considering the outcome, though, I got off cheap.
The WHO North America booth was selling a lot of the Doctor Who books at only $5, so I picked up three Torchwood hardcovers (The Undertaker’s Gift, the House that Jack Built, and Consequences) – though sadly they didn’t have the other three I’m missing. I also grabbed the Torchwood Encyclopedia, despite its being out of date, and the revised edition of Russell T. Davies’ The Writer’s Tale. But wait, I hear those of you math-inclined persons saying, that’s only $25! Well, I happily threw down the last $5 to get this last book signed by Nicholas Briggs, the voice of the Daleks and many more Whovian monsters. He was a very nice guy, and told me about a few Sherlock Holmes audio dramas he’s done that I wasn’t aware of. I also met a very sweet TARDIS.
Eventually we ended up back at the Kenzer and Company booth, where I said my hellos and hung out for a few minutes, then continued on our rounds.
My next significant stop was in the Artist’s Alley, where I said hello to a few illustrators I knew, and spent another $10 at Sarah Wilkinson‘s booth (who I didn’t know) to get Eat the Bunny (Before the Bunny Eats You). Hey, Liz and I are expecting a new arrival in February, and what kid’s not going to be charmed by a book about zombie chocolate bunnies, after all…?
By 1:30 pm, we’d wrapped up our first pass of the exhibit hall. Those of you who’ve seen the dozens of older conventions’ costume photos on my Facebook page may be surprised that I only took a handful of other pics – mostly of products that caught my eye and I wanted to remember for later.
In the past, I could just stand in the booth all day and the costumes would eventually walk by – and could step into the booth in order to avoid blocking the aisles. Being an attendee and only having Saturday to enjoy the show, I was content with having the images in my head instead of fighting the crowd just to get an interesting photo.
Next came lunch at the Ram (burger, coleslaw, and beer), which was acceptable, but didn’t seem as tasty as in recent years. Still, it was worth it to see Bret’s face when I asked our cute, blond, and busty waitress to bring my hefeweizen back naked – that is, without a slice of lemon. (Normally I assume it won’t come with one, but the menu implied otherwise.)
We split up for a bit after that, since I’d been generously invited to sit in on a Gamerstable podcast recording. It’s definitely one of my favorite RPG-related podcasts, and I was quite pleased to have been asked. The scheduled topic was dystopias, with some side talk on my current Corporia RPG project (currently waiting on a new update from the potential publisher). As the hour flew by, though, we didn’t get far beyond Corporia, so it seems that will be the episode title instead. The guys (Dan, Eric, Shawn, and Jason) were a lot of fun, and I think the recording went much better than my Jennisodes podcast appearance simply because I had more people to interact with, and so there were more questions and less time to ramble on my own. (Of course, I’ll blog about it here when it’s released.) I’d love to run an actual playtest with those guys, even with the 6-hour drive it would take me to get to them, but the logistics of that would be tough.
After the recording, I got back to the exhibit hall to meet up with Bret around 5 pm, with less than an hour to go before the hall was to close. We hit a couple of specific booths and hung out at the Kenzer and Company booth for a few minutes, then made our way over to Buca di Beppo to catch five of Bret’s friends and settle in for a long wait until dinner. Despite the overwhelming amount of pasta, I managed to stick to salad, in order to balance out my nearly veggie-free breakfast and lunch. Our last stop was at Loughmiller’s, which has become my friend and former co-worker Jolly Blackburn’s (dude, you have your own wiki page…) new spot to relax and meet up with the ‘crowd’. After a final celebratory drink, it was about 10 pm, and time to go – but there was still one more small adventure to come.
I’d planned to grab a cheap hotel room an hour or so outside Indy and then drive home on Sunday morning, so Bret thought he’d join me rather than drive his 140 miles back that night. Rather than have him follow me so far out of his way, I tried to find something much closer. Unfortunately, thanks to GenCon clashing with the Moto Grand Prix, there were no rooms to be had anywhere around. After the third hotel we stopped at, Bret decided to just make his way home, and I did the same. Being wide awake after our hotel misadventure, I even managed to make the drive that night and stumbled into bed around 2 am (back to CST again).
If I manage to make it next year, I’ll plan on taking some vacation time to make it a two (maybe even three) day trip so I can spend one day in the exhibit hall and another day playing games. I also missed seeing several people I knew were there somewhere, so my apologies to them. Next year, though… watch out!