GenCon for the First Timer.
May 12, 2015 9:17 AM   Subscribe

So we're heading to GenCon for the first time this year. I am looking for tips, tricks or just plain survival strategies, to get the most from the event.

My husband & I are going to GenCon for the first time this year. We are going for the whole 4 days. We've both always wanted to go and are very excited. However the lists of events just came out and I've realized just how freaking huge the event is. So I need all the survival tips & tricks you can give me to drag my overweight, feet hurting, middle aged ass around to see all the things. What should I carry with me? What is available easily to buy or supplied, so not worth lugging around?

I am mainly interested in RPGs (D&D 5e & 4e), Pathfinder, 13th age & painting minis. I would like to try out some Tabletop games like Malifaux or a new system or 2. My general idea is I would rather see a little of everything and learn about new things or try out some fun new adventure ideas in systems I know. What do you consider must see at GenCon & why?

We live a few hours away in Northern Indiana, but have a hotel room booked on one of the shuttle routes. We'd rather see less & have fun than kill ourselves trying to do and see everything. How would you schedule things? What sort of time should we allow between events to get around?

I know this is a very open question, but we are basically just looking for GenCon tips & tricks to get the most out of our trip as we are both super excited to do something we have wanted to do for years. Any help appreciated.
posted by wwax to Travel & Transportation around Indianapolis, IN (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If there is one thing I learned last year (my first time going): if there's something you want to do and you can pre-register then you should register for it now. My group planned on waiting until we got there so we didn't feel like we were on a strict schedule, but it turned out everything most things were already full (especially Saturday). There was still a lot to do, but I missed out on quite a few things.
posted by Krop Tor at 10:00 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've only been to GenCon a few times since it moved to Indianapolis, and I think it's bigger now than ever, so maybe things have changed. When I was there, my friends and I spent much of our time playing impromptu board game demos or very small press RPG demos at crowded tables in the exhibitors' hall. I dunno if exhibitors can still do that, but it was a great way to spend much of Thursday or Friday--it was hard even to walk around in there on Saturday. We also checked out board games from the library, which I seem to recall cost generic tickets (not sure), and it was pretty easy to get other random people to join in. In the evenings, we either played games we'd arranged with internet acquaintances or played games we had bought that day. In short, we went to very few events on the schedule, and it was a blast. You might try setting up a MeFi meet-up to enjoy at least part of it in a similar way, though I can well imagine wanting to sign up for events in advance to be sure you're set there too.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:36 AM on May 12, 2015

Good convention tips here, in particular the 5-2-1 Rule: Five hours of sleep every night, two meals every day, one shower every day. I use a 7-3-1 variant where I schedule seven hours and three meals, with the knowledge that I am probably going to get less sleep than that and skip a meal in favor of a bag of Munchos and a Dr. Pepper because OOH SHINY.

As Krop says, register for stuff now. Allow yourself some down time between cool things you want to do.

Give yourself permission during the day to rest. Just sitting in a hall and watching people can be rest, but might not be. Give your partner permission to tell you to rest (and vice versa). Decide ahead of time whether you really want to stick together all day, or if you're cool with them peeling off. But don't force yourself to adhere to your rules, or to your schedule. If there's something you registered for but just don't want to do, don't force it. You won't enjoy it nearly as much as you tell yourself you will.
posted by Etrigan at 11:10 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you want to do True Dungeon at all, sign up for early sessions (on Thursday or early on Friday)! The workers and volunteers there do an AMAZING job, but you can definitely see the stir-craziness setting in if you go later in the con. Also, the vendors hall is at its least busy on Thursday and at its most jam-packed on Saturday, so if you're planning out time to just browse booths, definitely do that Thursday as well. Last year we signed up for a chainmail workshop on Saturday, and it was a really nice break from the crowds and noise. There are a lot of mini-painting workshops which might fulfill the same thing for you as you mentioned that's an interest. I love gaming, but it was definitely nice to take a break and just do a totally non-competitive, quiet activity for a couple hours.

This year I'm planning to use Saturday as the most "scheduled activities" day since it seems to be the least fun day to just wander as the crowds are the biggest of all four days. Lastly, if you're able to get there Wednesday night you can pick up your passes/tickets then, and skip the awful Thursday morning lines. I'd highly recommend that if at all possible.

This summer will be my third year going, so I'm still kind of a beginner myself, but if I think of any other tips we've found useful the past two years I'll post them here too! I have had an AWESOME time both years I've gone, and the first year was fairly unplanned (we only decided to go about two weeks in advance) and was still really, really fun despite the chaos.
posted by augustimagination at 11:11 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

First of all, it's awesome! Don't stress about 'doing it right' - even wandering the Vendor's Hall for 4 days straight is a ton of fun and 'not wrong'. I know people who schedule every minute of their experience, and others who wander around without a single generic ticket the whole weekend.

I suggest looking through the events listing nowish, and writing down the details of "MUST DO" sessions, and any repeats they may have. Then, you get to play the "10,000 other people are registering for stuff and I want one of 15 spots" game the day the registration opens up. It's not as miserable as it sounds, but if you have your heart set on a very specific thing, get ready to register right away.

Because of this, you'll find a lot of veterans REALLY cagey about the 'must do' sessions, as they don't want to lose 'their' spot. It's really a damper on the otherwise awesome attitudes you experience, and super annoying. (For the record, MY must-do is the brewery tour on the first day. Gets us really into the vacation mood, and Indy has great beer.)

I personally like scheduling one "real" thing a day - a workshop, an RPG session, or tour for example, and then wandering the Vendor hall or volunteering the rest of the weekend. (Try Warmachine! It's awesome and there's a bunch of demo tables run by us volunteer people. :D)

As for food, try to go off-hours or wait a few hours for a table. But, go to Scotty's at like 3:30pm and you pretty much don't have to wait at all. There's also the amazing pile of food trucks we TOTALLY missed first year, so...don't. There's also a cool cafe hidden behind the food trucks.
posted by aggyface at 1:33 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

At conventions I always have a large sit-down breakfast in the hotel I'm staying in because I'm never quite sure when or what lunch will be, especially if it's got popular things like food trucks that can mean a very long time standing in line before food gets to me. (I also have migraines triggered by hunger, which factors into that habit!)
posted by telophase at 2:44 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've never done GenCon, but other general advice I didn't see mentioned yet:

1) Hydrate! Drink (water), more than you want or think you need. This goes double if you hit the boozahol.

2) Wash your hands whenever you get a chance. Carry and (over)use alcohol-gel hand sani. Don't touch your face or food unless you just cleaned your hands. Con crud is real and no fun.

3) Useful daily carry: Note paper. Pen. Tissues. Granola bar. Refillable water bottle. Hand sani. USB thumb drive (cheap enough to give away or lose and not feel bad). Snapshot camera. Business cards with your (non-work) contact info. Cash money. Credit card. ID.

4) You don't need to carry a phone. If you do, turn the ringer off! (If you're in a situation where you'll be able to hear it at all, then you're likely in a situation where it's rude to be noisy.)

5) If everybody and everything sucks and you're having the opposite of fun, you're likely short on food, sleep or both. Stop, fix those things, and come back in an hour or two. (The con suite is there for people to use. Don't feel awkward about using it.)

6) Think twice about scheduling two things back-to-back at a big con. There is non-trivial transit time involved. Schedule slack is a valuable asset.

7) Go to at least a few panels with people you've never heard of and/or events outside your usual areas of interest. It's awesome surprisingly often, and not a big investment if it turns out to be lame.

Also, 8) ponify everything!
posted by sourcequench at 3:48 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ooh, you are using the shuttle. I had a really bad experience with it last year, though I never found myself nearly stranded like some. Is anyone in your group running a game? If so, is it at a peak time? I would make sure that you have a plan in place if you can't get downtown in the morning... like everyone else at the satellite hotel is going to attempt. Make sure you have a phone, a charger, and cash for cab fare.

Check out seminars, "SPA" events, anything that falls outside the usual RPG mold. I have found that the events I liked best have been the weird, overlooked things like Italian longsword fighting. You should not have any trouble getting into a D&D or Pathfinder game, so you are in luck there! Also if you're not able to get into something you want, keep going back to it. Often tickets will be released as people finalize their schedules. Events are also added after the initial rush to register, so keep checking. Oh, and if you want to do the board game library, plan when and buy a pass. Passes get priority over generics, unless they changed it to generic only this year.

Avoid the dealer hall on Saturday. It's going to be super, super busy. Instead, people watch as Saturday is when the cosplay events happen and most people bring out the impressive costumes. Also? Many people will rave about the food trucks. Some are good, but they are also going to be busy. Just go a few blocks back to the restaurants and get a nice, air conditioned, easy lunch. Avoid the convention center food. Smuggle a protein bar or two if you need a snack.

Also, Gen Con has a forum. It usually has a first timer thread each year; l could not say for certain if there's a 2015 thread as I have not been back after Gen Con got involved in the whole religious freedom situation, and there were only so many "But what if a Nazi went into a Jewish bakery..." arguments that I could skim over without wanting to punch things.

I can also give food recs other than Scotty's and The Ram if you are interested. They are perfectly cromulent restaurants that get waaaay into Gen Con, but some people act like they are the only things in the city, which... no.
posted by daikaisho at 4:58 PM on May 12, 2015

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