Lessons Learned from GenCon 2017

Now that we're back from GenCon, we thought it would make sense to look back at our previous blog. See how we followed our own advice and how we strayed. 


Taking care of yourself was the biggest advice, and advice that I clung to. I had numerous instances where I had to march from one end of the con to the other. At least once a day I ended up back in my room during the day. I used this time to grab an extra shower and just lay down and relax for twenty minutes. It meant time away from the con and my friends, but likely helped my mood and health.

Eating turned out to not be as big of a problem. I had snacks, but only had to rely on them once. More often than not I was with family or friends who wanted supper and we organized meal times away from the convention. Planning together meant we never went hungry. With this, I was able to follow 3-2-1 rule easily. It ended up being more like the 5/6-3-2 rule.

Even though this was the biggest GenCon ever, I never had any issues with the size of crowds. Lines seemed to move fast and I was never overwhelmed by the size of the crowds. And with other issues, everyone was really eager to help. Friends and family obviously, but even some strangers helped with bags or asked if you were OK. That doesn't mean everyone there is like that, but GenCon goers have generally been for me a positive, helpful group.

Laura B

1. It is possible to GM a game from 8pm to Midnight and then start another at 8am the next day.

You just won't like it. And may feel dead for the rest of day two.


2. Don't bring any perishable food.

Even if you get lucky enough to have a hotel within two blocks of the convention. GenCon is part of Midwestern fandom (and a trade show).  There is no consuite like in Southern fandom. In addition, GenCon is in a purpose-built convention center — this means the infrastructure to support going out to eat at the convention is robust. Which means the food is actually pretty tasty. So the social expectations, at least among the RPPR fan crowd, is that folks go out to lunch or dinner together.

So all that perishable fruit Adam, Rachel, and I brought to snack on didn't get eaten and went bad. Bleh, food waste.


3. Pantry items, like granola bars, do work well.

Granola bars, string cheese, apples, and water bottles were worth carrying. Especially the water bottle. Even given how heavy full water bottle are. Don't worry, as you drink the water you'll be replacing the weight with loot/swag.


4. GenCon is not a costuming convention.

That's not to say that no one is in costume, but the vast majority are not. Keep in mind that my baseline of what a ‘costuming convention’ looks like it's Dragon*Con, where you see a multitude of costumes walking the hallways anywhere and plan how to move through crowds based on costumes you need to duck around. So, for me, GenCon is not a convention it's worth bringing my costume for, not when I rather do other things than go back to my hotel room and change out of a costume.

Which is a bit of a shame since it's a lot easier to throw the costume in the car for the drive to GenCon than check a bag for the plane ride to Dragon*Con.


5. Expectation drop as a GM — try to avoid it.

First, to define my terms. Expectation drop is that sinking feeling you get when you were excited to do a thing because you expected it to be X, but instead it's Y.

If at all possible, I recommend avoiding this at conventions, as a GM or a player. You'll (most likely) be playing with folks you don't know, and so won't be able to anticipate their play style. Without knowing their play style, that gritty, dark investigation you signed up for could easily be a screwball comedy. Without knowing the players’ levels of genre awareness, that tense horror game can easily become a SWAT team monster hunt. I'm not saying you should ignore game descriptions — absolutely go for games that sound interesting — just don't expect any particular tone or style. I find when all I expect is to experience a system and I'll get what I get from the players, I have a better time.

It does help being the GM and getting to at least try to set the tone.

Convention Advice

It is mere days away from GenCon, and some of us from Technical Difficulties will be attending. This'll be my third convention, second time at GenCon. It's helpful before attending a convention or any sort of event with this many people to go in with a plan. By giving thought to what you do, it'll help you and everyone else at the con have a good and safe time.

The most important thing to remember at a con is that you need to take care of yourself. This might seem like a no brainer, but it's when you're in the heat of the moment it might be hard to realize what you need. It's easy to spend time with your friends and then suddenly it's nine hours later and you haven't eaten. Making sure you take time out to eat and drinking plenty of water are vital to a good experience. At Origins there weren't many food options I could find. I had brought a water bottle and packed some granola bars, so that had helped me get through the day.

There are other aspects of self care to take into consideration. Making sure you have good hygiene and clean clothes seems obvious. That is, until you have to run through all your clothing because it rained or was very hot. Taking extra clothing and ensuring time to bathe and relax at the beginning and end of the day can keep you going.

Veteran con goers (and newer folks with expert friends) are probably aware of the 3-2-1 rule, which are a decent set of minimums to adhere to at a convention. 3 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 bath or shower per day minimum. The 3 hours rule works better at 3-day conventions, compared to GenCon’s 5-day marathon, so we recommend 5 or 6 hours of sleep minimum. Trust us, that interesting thing at 3am on day one is not worth being too tired to enjoy those three interesting things on day four.

Your health is also of the utmost importance. You're going to be walking a lot and in potentially very hot weather. Even if you're sitting outside, the summer heat can catch up real quick and give sun burns or heat stroke. Being cognizant of your surroundings and taking breaks will keep your energy up.

There's also a psychological side. If you're not used to being around a lot of people, being surrounded by thousands of people can be overwhelming. Taking time to go to a quiet place or back to the hotel may be needed. And remember that you can always say no. It may be as innocuous as saying no to one more game, or something more serious, but you can always tell someone no. Conventions are about having fun, and no one should impede on your well being.

Connected to this, with huge crowds there are going to be bad people. If it's feasible, avoid them. If you have to interact, keep it brief and walk away. If they cross a line, walk away or deflect. If they break con rules or threaten your personal safety, get away and let con staff or security know. You are not responsible for making a scene: they have already done so by engaging in bad behavior.

In the midst of the moment it's easy to forget things, or to be uncomfortable and not want to rock the boat. But your health and wellbeing are of the utmost importance. I've learned a lot of these lessons outside of gaming, in cons or at sporting events. I've had to find rest walking over a mile to get to FedEx Field in Maryland because of bad infrastructure. I've had to worry about if I had to get a family member to the hospital because of sunstroke at a really hot OSU game. I've skipped meals while waiting to get into games and gone hungry because of overpriced food. Learning lessons from these experiences helped make my GenCon trip last year a lot easier. Keep them in mind, have fun, and be safe.

Hopefully we'll get to meet at GenCon if you're there!