My Gen Con Pilgrimage

Gen Con is big. Really, really big. Bigger than any other convention I’ve been to. And although I walked around the convention center and at least four hotels over my three-day stay, Gen Con is so tremendously huge that I know I missed many sections of the convention. More than 45,000 people were there. It is big. BIG. Get it? VERY LARGE.

Just look at how many people came to the costume parade…


For this reason, the con felt impersonal at times. A simple trip into the buzzing vendor’s room nearly blew my introvert spoons. Fortunately, I had two home bases — the Games on Demand area, packed full of indie tabletoppers ready to run games for you…on demand! And the Metatopia play  test area, run by Double Exposure, who also runs my local NJ gaming cons.

The one place I could reliably go to for quiet and solitude? The women’s bathroom. So nice to be able to do that.

The People

Praise the great old ones for sending memorable people to Gen Con, because they helped me navigate the huge space. For example, this giant balloon dragon helped me remember where I was in relation to the vendor’s hall. And for a little while, after I first arrived, I navigated by remembering where the pan-Spiderman cosplay league was posing for photos, and where the Renaissance a capella group performed.

There were many wacky outfits — cosplay and otherwise — but really, black is the go-to outfit of choice for gamers. Black t-shirt, perhaps with some joke on it, black pants, and let’s say, visible tattoos. Kilts are also big for dudes — utili-kilts on regular people, but plaid ones for the storm troopers.

Steampunk! Rennaisance! Ghostbusters! This convention had it all.

Also fun: the city of Indianapolis has clearly embraced the con. The food trucks outside the convention center featured gaming-named dishes, for example, “Grilled Cheese: the Nomming.” The bars outside the convention featured wait staff in superhero costumes. Even the homeless panhandlers got in on the action. I definitely saw a sign about an evil paladin dropping someone’s wealth level to zero.


After arriving at the con by my lonesome, I wandered into the cyclopean vendor’s hall and this assaulted my eyes:

It made me feel like running for a mumu. I wondered whether this is what this convention and culture expected me to be — available for the male gaze, posed like a porn star, garbed in a farcically impractical adventuring outfit. I hoped that this was not the lens that would be applied to me. I don’t think the image would have made such an impression, except it was the first thing I saw at Gen Con, which in turn, was my first big convention.

As a woman at a gaming convention, I expected to be in the minority, so I don’t know why this sort of fan service slapped me across the face. All I can say is that I ran away from this game-playing area and toward the Dungeons & Dragons booth, in hopes, perhaps, that the giant spider lady would protect me with her evilness.

Save me from the male gaze, spider lady!

The Games

I tried out several indie roleplaying games at the  Games on Demand area.

Mouse Guard — in which you play mice adventurers protecting mice villages from the horror of snapping turtles, snakes, and other beasties. Great game design — the permissive mechanics make sense, support game play, and allow for a lot of creativity. But I have esoteric tastes in roleplaying games (it’s a personal failing) and found the game slightly too crunchy for me. I’d totally play it again, though, if I had an enthusiastic group.

Dungeon World — I played in two late-night rights, facilitated by the lovely and talented GMs Jason Morningstar and Jim Crocker. The game has mechanics simple enough for even me to grok, but complex enough to make things interesting. D&D-style adventuring at its most approachable.

The Tribunal — a larp about totalitarian oppression. Mechanics-light, roleplay-heavy. Tense. Serious. Awesome. I want to run it at a local con.

Fiasco — one of the best games of Fiasco I’ve played, thanks to excellent co-players, including game designer Jason Morningstar. The four of us collectively ruined a wedding. We played a sociopathic spendthrift bride, her unstable cousin with tragic gaydar, a bisexual bounty-hunter groom with a cash-flow problem and his hapless agent/ex-lover, who was desperate to get his cut of the new TV deal.

I also playtested a new jeepform game by Emily Care Boss. It was awesome and intense and everyone should be awaiting its release with baited breath.

The Panels

I gave a couple talks that garnered small audiences, full of people who asked really good questions. I went solo on the first two, about how rules-heavy boffer larp reinforces traditional American values (based on my essay in States of Play and some blog content), and about Nordic methods for roleplaying romance.

I teamed up with designers Jason Morningstar and Emily Care Boss on the third talk, an introduction to Nordic larp, with a big assist from some wonderful Finnish people who attended. Morningstar recorded the hour-long discussion, and you can download an .mp3 here. The sound quality degrades at certain points as trains rampage over our panel room.

And be sure to check out the rest of Jason’s awesome talks, available for download at his +Google page!

Nordic Larp in the US?

The coolest thing I learned at Gen Con is that there’s a group of larpers in Wisconsin trying to make a Nordic-style medieval campaign game. They showed up at my panels and even swung by the Leaving Mundania signing down at the Indie Press Revolution booth in the vendor’s hall.

The full awesomeness and detail of their costumes cannot be seen with my cell phone camera.


These folks are from Last Hope Larp in Wisconsin. They are interested in getting in touch with some Nordic larpers from the boffer scene to find out how those games work. One of our core discussions, at the panel, revolved around immersion and monsters. Apparently, the game is trying to move away from battles with NPCs as an end in themselves, and has created an NPC race less for combat and more as a source of mystery, to the consternation of some players.

Their rules set is very short for US larp — only about 45 pages.

The Souvenirs

I picked up a few awesome things, a copy of Marc Majcher’s Twenty-Four Game Poemsan awesome booklet of super-short games (less than 1 hour) for two to five people that can be played with minimal prep using stuff I carry in my purse anyway. Get there.

I also nabbed the second volume of Stone Skin Press‘ new The New Hero anthology, a collection of stories. And of course, an advance copy of the new Dominion set for my Dominion-obsessed husband.

But the hands-down winner for best souvenir (for cheapness, uniqueness, and portability) is definitely the moustache monocle, a handy way of transforming myself into my douchebag hipster alter-ego, Joshua:


Some Other, Slightly-Less-Good Photos for Your Pleasure

Batman Villain Cosplay

A pop-up gameshow I saw a  couple times that looked like fun. Here, the contestant has 90 seconds to sort the audience by height. And he does it!

Folks spent a long time building elaborate structures out of cards. Then later, as I understand it, you could bid to throw coins destroying the towers. Profits went to charity. This photo is only partway through the construction.

The outside of the lonely convention center after it was all over.

7 thoughts on “My Gen Con Pilgrimage

  1. Great article! Wish I could have went! Happy to see you got to meet up with Last Hope. Being in Wisconsin, we attend many of each-others games.

  2. I totally rode in a plane with you! On the way out to Indy! And that lady made us gate-check our bags! My friend and I love your octopus tattoo!

    • Ah! I wish we’d met on the plane! Because, you know, then we could have shared a cab and played some RPGs together.

      And what was up with the gate checking?

      Glad you like the octopus — it’s one of the chapter headers from LEAVING MUNDANIA. I have a thing for octopods.

  3. It was a pleasure meeting you and the talk you gave and panel you were on were fantastic. I’m glad there exists a recording of the Nordic one as my head was swimming with ideas afterward and, not taking notes, I’m not sure I could remember everything we talked about. And I didn’t even realize Jason designed Fiasco, which friends of mine have been raving about for quite some time (alas, I haven’t had the chance to play it yet, myself). As it was my first GenCon as well, it was quite a spectacular weekend.

    I hope to meet you again sometime and continue the discussion; if you ever make it up to a con in the Boston area, let me know. I’m glad my questions/comments weren’t too bad 🙂