Friday, August 7, 2015

Tales from The Red Road--GenCon 48

61,243 people paid to go to GenCon 48, 2015. Sixty-one Thousand!?! Are you sh****ng me? I remember 600 being a milestone…
GenCon is so big that it seems to have outgrown the convention center.

Next to CincyCon, GenCon is the easiest con for me to get to each year; a little over two hours drive time with good traffic and no construction. I got to the Westin with no problems; in fact, this was the first year I managed to drive straight to it with no circling the block. Checked in, dumped my junk in the room and set out to see what I could see.

I followed out three gamers; two in jeans and T’s. The third fellow was so heavily inked, both arms and legs, that I thought he had patterned tights on. Then I saw the hideous Pink Flamingo-style bright pink-framed sunglasses. What completed the ensemble was the lace and silk, full-sized tutu he was wearing. Yup! I’m at GenCon.

GenCon is a working con for me, centered around my stints on the auction stage. What follows is a series of recollections, some gleaned from multiple sources, some from my treks through the sadistically laid out dealer area. They come in no particular chronological order, they are sort of bobbing about in the back of my head like so many apples in the washtub waiting for the Halloween party to begin.

Saw some great costumes again this year, including a few surprises. There were several ladies rocking the “Kaleesi” look of the long white flowing gown. Sadly, none were looking for that moment when she emerged unscathed from the fire with her babies. There were a couple of ladies wearing outfits that would probably get them arrested in Indy if they were dancing in a club; to be fair, they both pulled it off quite well. There was a guy on Sat. in some sort of power-armor outfit that was awesome to behold but had to have been just hotter than hell to wear. I am guessing he had some sort of cooling system; I saw him out in the sun posing for pics and not even sweating. Then there was the little goblin baby. He was a cute infant carried by his costumed Mom, wearing a hat that was supposed to make him look like Yoda. His tiny little head did not fill the hat so the ears drooped to the side and down in a most appealing fashion; I got a picture of him. Sat. was a delight and the Grand Parade (or whatever they call it) was great. There were lots of kids in costume this year, some in strollers.

Until you have had a Sucking Chest Wound, you won’t know donut nirvana. For the last couple of years GenCon and Indy have arranged for the city’s food trucks to be available, an arrangement I heartily applaud. Not to be outdone by the brick-and-mortar eateries that replace mundane menu names with themed named, they too have joined into the fun.
After walking the length of both lines of trucks on Fri and not seeing anything I wished to risk my digestion on (the trucks rotate every 5 or 6 hours so the menu varies by shift), I elected to try the most unprepossessing looking of all the trucks. It was old-aluminum silver and simply said “Coffee and Donuts”, parked at the very end. While waiting in the modest line, I saw what I knew, deep in my gut, that I had to have, a Sucking Chest Wound. It was the best $3 donut I ever ate; a cooked-to-a-turn Berliner filled with pureed raspberries and glazed with lime icing. It was a near-religious experience, and the sugar-buzz was notable.

Whoever laid out the Dealer Area should be publicly flogged or be subject to a lobotomy or possibly both. This year’s Dealer Hall was the worst laid out I could imagine. Which brings me to dealers’ booths, their size and their placement. This might be the next “mine’s bigger than yours” battlefield in the game industry. There were so many frustrations I hardly know where to begin.
Who is supposed to be impressed by the size of these mega-booths? Most of them seem to be a great waste of space. There is a “come into my parlor” vibe to some of these huge booths, but they waste floor space.

Dealer halls used to be laid out like a cornfield-nice neat rows with oversized or odd-shaped areas at the back or on the sides. Not any more, sad to say. If you throw enough money at the con, you can have a booth that effectively blocks two or three aisles perpendicularly. This forces gamers to either squeeze their way through a booth they have no interest in, or, worse still, find a detour around it and try to pick up where you left off so as not to miss any vendors. There were about three dozen vendors this year that have a legitimate gripe about being in these “lost aisles”. I was studiously trying to miss nothing on Friday (I do the Hall in two days, half each day) and still missed two small aisle fragments.

I do not have any magic solutions; there are, however, people that specialize in this kind of stuff and should be working for the Convention Ctr. The aisles now are so narrow that you take your life in hand dodging the deadly “Gauntlet of Backpacks”. Geez! What is it with gamers and their damned packs? Nothing beats having an already-large guy with a huge pack turn into you with no warning. It sort of like fighting with pugil sticks, except you don’t get one.

This was my tenth GenCon since I got back into gaming (2006). The con has grown more than 60% in that time, but it feels less and less like a game convention and more like a big commercial get-together to buy the new great stuff. Events and venues are spread all over downtown Indy; too many satellite sites. (When I finish thinking this through, big con vs. small con will be another installment.)
It is always great to see old friends. I got to spend some time with Duke Siefried whom I hadn’t seen face to face in some years. My good friend Diesel (the artist Dave LaForce) was there and had a new piece of art which I promptly snatched up-a Celtic-themed card box. I got taken to dinner twice at The Palomino, which I highly recommend. “The Pal” is seldom crowded (they don’t buy into the GenCon promo gig) and the food is excellent. Thanks again, Dave and The Acaeum.

The Auction, the biggest game auction in North America, went pretty well. Frank and I did an extra stint when we did Thursday night, but the buyers were eager. This year did not see any really choice or special items up for bids. There were three “White box” D&D’s but none very choice. A mint copy of the original Titan was probably the choicest item. From what I heard, the Charity Auction did pretty well this year as well.

There is talk of taking over the stadium in 2017 for the 50th GenCon. If it truly gets that big, I am going to have to give serious thought about continuing after that.


  1. Thank you for the details. I've only ever been to one (2000) so it's nice to hear on the details.

  2. Last GenCon I attended was 2003. At that time it was getting too big for my taste. I can only image how much it has grown and what it has turned into.