GenCon is a gaming convention where 60,000 people appear in Indianapolis, Indiana, US to play board games, participate in role-play games, show off cos-play and many other types of fun, each year. This year was the 50th Anniversary. There were 19,000 events and 500 exhibitors.
This was my second time at GenCon. I have been playing board games and RPGs since the 1980’s. You can see most of my collection at www.boardgamegeek.com/user/ericbrooke – Boardgames (221) and RPGs (289).
If this is your first time I have broken tips and hints out at the end of each section and put top eights things to do at GenCon, at the bottom of this section.
Sales for tickets started in January and Housing (all the Hotels become available in February). We bought tickets (April 2017) and discovered there were no hotels and then we searched the web and still no hotels. Thus we cancelled within 2 hours, and of course lost money (cancellation fees). I consider this an actual con as you cannot see what hotels are available before you buy the tickets, easily solved by sharing this information upfront. Have to say I have little trust of the organizers but it is a good event.
A couple of friends bought tickets earlier, and found hotels in January and they noticed in July that Hotel spots started appearing. So we bought new tickets and booked a Hotel near the airport (Wyndam) at $500 for three nights. This also meant we would have to rent a car ($339) to get to the Hotel and drive into the conference each day, parking ranged from $10 to $30 per day depending how much walking you wanted to do.
Ticketing & Housing Tip
My suggestion is to get your ticket in January at Pre-Registration. For Housing be there (on the web) the moment the housing opens up, know your group and book together.
Here is the dates laid out for 2017:
- Sunday, January 29, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Badge Pre-Registration begins.
- Sunday, February 12, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Housing reservations open.
- Sunday, May 28, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Event Registration begins.
- Saturday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm (Eastern) – Pre-Registration ends. All shipping method changes must be completed by this time.
- Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Registration begins. Badge prices increase. All purchases fulfilled through Will Call only. This is the last day to cancel badges for 2017.
- Monday, TBD at 5 pm (Eastern) – Housing cut-off date, the last day to make new hotel reservations.
- Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Onsite Registration begins.
- Thursday – Sunday, August 17 – August 20, 2017, Gen Con 2017 happens live at the Indiana Convention Center.
My preference for events is writing seminars/workshops and RPGs sessions.
The website sucks. It’s hard to navigate 19,000 events some which are good and some which are not. You really have no sense who your GM/DM is going to be and how much experience they have. A lot of events had sold out by July, so we were playing mostly evening sessions.
- Book Events early, so you can plan your experience better and match to your preference e.g. mornings/afternoons/evenings
- Some people recommend getting the “Generic tickets” and just turning up to sessions, a lot of people bail at the last moment, so there is often empty spots.
- The Writing group does have a booklet which is a lot easier to navigate. It is usually available with some goodies at the conference.
- Pay attention to which search options you have selected
This is kinda of amazing, its big and there is a lot of booths, many, many games and a lot of people. Not only is there an opportunity buy many games, but there is a lot of play testing available, to try out games.
Exibit and buying tips
- Break up the Exhibit Hall into several time chunks and search by block, its big and a lot of people. You will literary get emotional exhausted if you try to do it in one go
- Note some games do sell out on the first couple days. For example Spirit Island and Twilight Imperium sold out on Saturday.
- Some studios you will have to line up for i.e. Fantasy Flight Games.
- I generally find games are cheaper bought on-line, there are some deals to be found at GenCon, but they are usually used on the first couple days.
Your First Time at GenCon?
Some advice for first time attendees:
- Do things at GenCon that you can’t do at home
- Don’t over schedule
- Food pack – bring a water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, protein bars
- Remember Dice, Paper & Pencils
- Lunch – Take it early or late – There are a lot of food trucks, but the good ones build up big lines fast.. eat 11.30 or after 14.00
- Choose one or two games a day
- Attendance – Thursday is by far the lightest day of attendance, and is a good day to see the dealer hall. Friday is busier, and Saturday even more so. Not as much happens on Sunday
My Experience at GenCon 2017
Eclipse Phase GMing
So I love Eclipse Phase RPG for many reasons. Thus I offer to GM for them at the Convention. I did last year (my first GenCon) and this year. Posthuman Studios will pay you to do so, though I do not care about the money and instead do it to introduce new people to the game and help out a small Studio.
Pre Convention we played two sessions via Google Hangouts. Marc Huete ran both sessions and they were a lot of fun.
I have to shout out for David Cooper who does a lot of organization to get GMs from all over the US, to fill 37 Sessions, 6 Scenarios, with 3 different rule systems (1st Ed, Fate and 2nd Ed) and 14 GMs. Thanks David.
Why you should run sessions
One great reason for helping a studio run sessions is that it automatically gives you a group of people to give you advice on GenCon, as well as challenging you to be a better story telling and good drinking people to talk about games. Some like PostHuman pay for your time, give you a free pass to the convention and buy you a couple of drinks. Also you also get into an early play test group.
Things always change
The first day I could not go, so I delayed my arrival by a day and arrived Thursday. But my partner could not go to end of day so I took a GrayHound (4 Hours) and she drove down later that evening.
13.00 Pick up Pass an event tickets – super fast
13.05 Get GM Pass
14:00 Legends of the Five Rings RPG – Open Library – 4 Hours
New game to me, interesting and simple mechanics. The scenario was very ritualistic, with etiquette being very important, pulling heavily on Japanese culture.
The fictional setting of Legend of the Five Rings is similar to feudal Japan, though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, as well as magic and mythicalbeasts. There is no given name for the entire world which the setting describes, so “Rokugan” is used alternately to refer to the specific nation within the setting or to refer to the entire world.
18:00 Ars Magica RPG Seminar
I have been playing since first edition 1987, the current versions is fifth. Good news a New version is being worked on, I was worried that they had given up on Ars Magica.
Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in ‘Mythic Europe’ – a historically-grounded version of Europe and the Levant around AD 1200, with the added concept that conceptions of the world prevalent in folklore and institutions of the High Middle Ages are factual reality. The players’ involvement revolves around an organization of magi and their allies and foes both mundane and supernatural. The game was originally developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen, with its first edition published in 1987.
The current edition (the game’s fifth) was written by David Chart, and published in 2004 by Atlas Games, who continue to develop new material for it.
Ars Magica was one of the first examples of a Troupe system. Early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story.
Each player has an opportunity to be Story Guide. (e.g. alternating by-play session, ‘chapter’ of a story, or at the whim of the troupe)
Each player has more than one character; when the primary character lacks opportunity or reason to participate in a session (typically due to laboratory or library activity), a secondary character is played.
To enhance the ‘authenticity’ of the historical setting, the game uses medieval Latin for a number of key terms, particularly in the game’s most prominent feature, a system of Hermetic Magic.
19:00 7th Seas RPG – Heroes of Altamira – 4 Hours
7th Sea is a “swashbuckling and sorcery” themed tabletop role-playing game set in the fictional world of Théah. The mechanics are very simple. We had a fun game.
Breakfast -> Wild Eggs -> Good
Writings Craft -> How to Write an Amazing First Page
The first page can make or break a book. Whether you’re trying to impress an editor or hook a reader, we’ll show you how to wow them! Featuring Toni Weisskopf, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dan Wells
Here are my notes from this session:
- What are your promises to the reader?
- Who is this character?
- What is coming?
- First draft -> Is what you want to say
- Final draft -> How do I want to say it
- Introduce magic or technology elements
- First page advertise your book
- Remember those Promises
- Write the first line after you know your story
“I like to be dropped in it, Grab the reader by the throat, Give me dramatic imagery”
- Allows for discovery
- Total immersion
- Author wants me to keep up
- Emotion and visceral
Eclipse Phase RPG – GM – Dog Star – 4 Hours
Doom metal laser whales on a helioseismic crusade tackle a high-tech dungeon crawl in the heart of a star.
All five were newbies to the game, and fun to lead in a story.
Eclipse Phase RPG – Sympathy for Uncle Silence – 4 Hours – Tim
Jovian trade negotiations with the fiercely independent city-state of Hyoden conceal deadly intrigue as Firewall operatives hunt a dangerous weapon.
This was probably the most effective and efficient random group of people who played together, that I had ever experienced at GenCon. Tim was our GM and did a great job.
Breakfast -> Wynham -> Awful
Writers Craft: No Room for Ego – How to Take, Give, and find Critique for your writing
- Find good critique partners
- Have people who are different to you
- Avoid people who can only tell you how great you are
GM Session Get Together Eclipse Phase
Posthuman Studios (Rob, Jack and Adam) get together with most of the Eclipse Phase GMs who ran sessions for Posthuman Studios. We talked how the sessions went, made comments on scenarios, and talk about life, GenCon and games.
Writers Workshop: Wrinkles in Time
The strategies and rewards of tense, pace, time, and memory in fiction. This writers’ workshop includes specific discussion and exercises on tense (the many variations even of “present”), control of pace (including full-throttle tips), the various functions of fictional time, and the chance/means to mine our own memories for more honest stories. For writers of all genres and levels.
Here are my notes:
- Readers should know when. Every page must have 3 senses. And each page must have time
- Readers recognize breaks and new chapters mean time has gone by, so you need to reestablish time
- Look for simple ways to show change in time ex. First day of school. Next chapter, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
- Always try to avoid comments like “3 months later”. Be more clever and subtle with your time marker ex. “A week ago you told me this”.
- You can also set up time at the end of the scene ” next time I’ll see you you’ll be married”. Author used classic events before and after a wedding to set time for readers without ever saying time.
- Fiction time montage is possible ex Stephen king’s the last stand directors cut
- How does character mark time? Ex. A kid marks time by “Brady bunches”– this also teaches you about the character. Character with heart problem, how many heartbeats? It builds character and articulates time in interesting way.
- Pace: should be fast-paced– most publishers want this. Ex. Author started with 3 months, got it down to 15 days
- ex. “A bomb in this room going off in a month vs. 5 min” time makes everything more exciting. Time fixes everything. To make things hard for your character, you have to take away time. Be mean to your characters, put the pressure on. Don’t give your characters time
- Start your story in the middle, shit is going down, ignore the backstory. The first sentence must grab you. Need to catch attention of agent, editor, reader
- End chapters to cut out bullshit. If you nail it, don’t keep talking. Shut up, end chapter. Every book should start in the middle of action and end with “do something cool”, mic drop. 1 chapter could be 2 pages. Also, get rid of scenes you don’t need
- Exception: Slow down for the emotional stuff. 2 pages on coming to terms with tough shit is okay
- You can make backstory interesting by making it a scene. “I was there…”. Gatsby is great at backstories as scenes
- Who is telling your story and why. Depending on how long ago it was, different perspective on their own story. Time affects characters’ perceptions too
- Learn how to play with tenses. Because we live in all tenses, our characters should too.
Whats up with Eclipse Phase & Posthuman Studios? Seminar
A lot about second edition – Simplified character development, updates to Asyncs, 33/66 rule, update background to reflect the U.S. present day and what science has discovered in the last seven years.
Dinner -> Cerulean Restaurant – Really good
The Bad Trip – Call of Cthulhu RPG – 4 Hours – GM -> Tony Messerges
Life is always grooving at Professor Green’s pad. As he likes to quote Kerouac, “All things are like visions beyond the reach of the human mind.” Freaky man, freaky.
Last time I played Call of Cthulhu was in 1987. This was an amazing session which ran over by about 90 mins. 60’s music playing and hypnotic setup. A lot of great props. A fun random group with one guy who was using GenCon as is Bachelor party.
After the session we went for a few drinks @scottys, with Dan (Eclipse Phase GM), Adam, Jakob and others. We had some great conversations about games they were playing.
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Storytelling
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he takes you deep into the action, breaking it down piece by piece, and giving you tips for creating more realistic and exciting action scenes.
- Your plot needs to be tight -> Your plot is a Jenga tower with the last piece before it falls
- Draw everything, map it all out
- Use photos for each character, google them
- Ask every character their motivation, even the guard who dies right away
- Five stages of grief e.g. PTSD Buffy
- 70% of book readers are female
- Make people uncomfortable
- Dialogue is not just a conversation it fills out dev, motivation
- Words have weight, power
- Avoid adverbs
- Setup plot – Plant. Tend, Reap
- Scene openings – Macro to micro
- Micro opening starts with singular description
- Paragraph size determines pace
- Small paragraph adds weight
- Avoid speech tags
- Italics in their head
- POV rule stay in one persons head, unless you are certain
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Writing
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he explores when and how to use physical conflict and using words to craft action. Action that your readers will not simply read, but experience.
I will add more notes here later
Buying – Call of Cthulhu, Boardgames Planetarium
- Call of Cthulhu Books – Keepers Rulebook, Investigators Handbook, Quick Start Guide, Keepers Screen and Doors to Darkness (Beginning Scenarios)
- Coriolis – scenario
- Eclipse Phase, second edition Quick Start Rules
- 7th Sea Books – GM screen and Nations Volume 1
- Element Boardgame
- Planetarium Board Game (Tiger Stripes came with it for free)
These are games, I heard great things about from multiple people at the convention
- Spirit Island Board Game
- Jakob and Dan told us about this game they have already played a bunch of times and love it
- Bought it and played loved it
- Twilight Imperium Board Game
- Asked staff about the changes, they sound good – Greater politics, simplified technology ladder, better defined plastic pieces and box container.
- Pre-Ordered gam for $110, it was $150 at the Convention
- Expanse Board Game
- Get plastic covers for cards in my most played games.
Games to do more research on:
Games I would love to play at GenCon next year
- Ars Magica RPG
- Coriolis RPG
Thoughts from GenCon 2017
- Lots more Miniature war-games than previous years
- More Science boardgames
Next GenCon go to
- Lucas Stadium
- Board game library
- Second-hand games