written for Virtual Gen Con
Virtual Gen Con was
the online component of Gen Con for a few years.
Gen Con 101 Series written during Gen Con
Wednesday Thursday Friday
Wednesday Part I: Registration
Welcome to Gen Con 2001! I'm Lori Ann Curley,
correspondent for Virtual Gen Con, to teach you Gen Con 101:
Conventioneering for Newbies. If this is your rookie year at GC,
I'm here to teach you the ins and outs of GC and what to do while
Step One: Registration. If you have not
pre-registered for GC, you will need to visit On-Site
Registration. Christina Peerce, On-Site Registration Manager,
gives this advice:
"Keep your eyes open for signs; they're
everywhere." On the first level of the Midwest Express Center is
an information booth that can send you in the right direction. The first item you need is a badge. "Remember," Peerce says,
"There's a difference between a visitor's badge and a player's
badge." A visitor's badge allows admittance to most GC
events: the Exhibit Hall, the Games Auction, the Art Show,
etc. More than a decade ago when I first came to Gen Con, these
were called "spectator's badges." With a visitor's badge, you can
look, but you can't play. You must buy a player's badge to
actually play the myriad of games offered at GC. How do you
select games? Peerce advises, "Pick up your on-site book." She's talking about the Program Book available for free at the
registration booths, and Peerce describes it as "the bible for the
convention." The PB is your guide to the abundant offerings of
GC: the Art Show, which displays original art and booths where
you can meet some of the artists; the Games Auction, think of it
as E-Bay without the computer; and, of course, the games
themselves. Do you play trading card games (TCG)? Or do you
prefer Live Action Roleplaying (LARP)? Maybe you're here with
kids and want to check out the family and board games? Or do you
like the basic roleplaying that involves sitting around a table and
rolling the dice. It's all here at Gen Con.
Remember the words of Peerce, "You need to buy your
badge before your event tickets." The staff will no sell event
tickets to anyone who does not have a player's badge.
When you arrive at Event Registration, check out the
list of sold out events. If the event you're looking for isn't
there, heck even if it is (because gamers do change their minds), write
your name and the events you want on the slips of paper provided. Once
you're at the booth proper, the staff can look up any event's
current availability and sell tickets to the open events you
want. If what you want isn't available, buy some generic tickets
and show up at the event anyway. Not everyone who is registered
shows up for all events. You may get lucky.
Whatever you decide, remember that we're all here to
play games and have fun. See you later.
Next episode: Wednesday
Entertainment: the Safe House
Part II: Entertainment
Gen Con proper doesn't begin until Thursday, so what
do you do when you arrive on Wednesday? Well, after you've
registered (see my last article), Milwaukee has tons for you to do.
Remember, you're in Wisconsin now. A major
part of our entertainment is drinking. and yes I'm a native
Wisconsinite. I know what I'm talking about. I recommend
The Safe House.
Located across the Milwaukee River, The Safe House
is hidden behind the facade of International Exports Limited. You
need a password to enter when you're looking for a Safe House. <grin>. The bar has a circa 1960s spy motif. Think
James Bond and you've got the idea. SH has a lot of fun nooks and
cranny to discover: the puzzle wall, the picture of Burt Reynolds
with a stratigically placed leaf, the secret exit, etc. Good
times are definitely abundant at the SH.
Wednesday evening is the best time to go because SH
is not too crowded as it is on the weekend. On this particular
Wednesday, I caught up with John Monnett, of Madison, Wisconsin, and he
said, "On Wednesday at The Safe House, there's not too many people, you
can find a place to sit, and there's not too much smoke."
An excellent yet quite deceptive drink is the "Spy's
Demise." The fruity nature of this drink doesn't let on to its
potency, and the first one hits you midway through your second. As I am about to partake of my second Demise, I'll logoff until
Next Segment: The Exhibit Hall
Return to top
Thursday Part I: The Exhibit Hall
Walking into the Exhibit Hall on Thursday may seem
daunting: So many people milling about , wandering up and down
the aisles. The newbie could feel confused, maybe
frightened. Don't worry; the Exhibit Hall is worse on
Saturday when all the weekend warriors arrive.
Your best tactic is to start in a corner, then walk
the aisles in a vertical up/down pattern. As one experienced
gamer put it, "The way that we seem to be going is the way that's
easiest." -Jason Ladue, Boulder, Colorado. Of course you'll
bump into people. Some may apologize to you, but remember it's
equivalent to bumping someone on the bus.
Right away you will notice people's duds: gamers dress in costumes or t-shirts. Costumes include
fantasy: wizard hats, cloaks, bodices; Star Trek,
especially Klingons; Star Wars, I saw more than one jedi
knight; and Goths, people dressed all in black with black makeup
and silver jewelry. Oh, wait; that's how they dress all the
time. T-shirts include those from Gen Con present or past,
advertising favorite games, or wonderful sayings such as "I didn't say
it was your fault. I said I'm blaming you." or "You say ‘psycho'
like it's a bad thing."
The meat of the Exhibit Hall is the booths: anything
gaming related, no matter how tenuous the link, can be found
in the Exhibit Hall: games; gaming supplies such as dice,
computer programs, storage; videos, especially Anime; artwork either
from games or just fantasy; sculptures and
miniatures; costumes and costumes supplies, including fun contact
lenses and very real swords. At the Silver, Sword, & Stone
booth, they refer to their customers as M'lord or M'lady. Nice.
The Cloud Kingdom Games booth is especially
fun: they sell riddles. Every hour they post a new
riddle. If you guess it, they give you a RiddleMaster ribbon to
attach to your badge (one per person, not riddle). Matt Mayfield,
of Cloud Kingdom, explains the hourly riddle, "It's fun. Sure it
helps sell books, but riddles are fun. If Bilbo had one of these
books, the story would have been very different. These [the
RiddleMaster ribbons] are cool."
Other booths attract customers with either a
beautiful woman in a skimpy costume or bowls of free candy. Other
freebees include an introductory version to a game called Forbidden
Kingdoms, and slick four-color brochures advertising prints from such
sci-fi classics as Babylon 5, Farscape, and the Star Wars and Star Trek
series and movies. Free demonstrations of new games are available
everywhere, and some booths give prizes.
The Gen Con Exhibit Hall is a springboard for new
games and new ideas. Cheapass Games, best known for their
innovative games that don't include the extra "stuff" that you already
have (i.e. dice, pawns, play money), is now introducing a demo computer
game. Joyce Godecke, of Cheapass's marketing division, said,
"We're eventually going to bring out a deadwood game. A company
approached us, and now we're testing [Plasmaworm] to see how it goes."
Whatever you buy, keep your eye out for
signatures. Artists and game developers are more than happy to
sign your purchase if you ask. John Kovalic, an artist from
Madison, Wisconsin, who just started his own publishing company Dork
Storm Press, is always happy to sign copies of the games he has
illustrated (Chez Geek, Apples to Apples, Munchkin) and his comic books
(Dork Tower). If you go all the way to the back of the Exhibit
Hall and take a right behind the Board Games and Miniatures Section,
guests of honor such as Richard Biggs, Babylon 5; James Marsters,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and Marina Sirtis, Star Trek: The
Next Generation, will be signing at the Autograph Stage. Watch
for the lines!
In the center of the Exhibit Hall, you will see
(because you certainly can't miss it) the Great Wizards of the Coast
Castle. This tradition was started by TSR (the founders of Gen
Con) several years ago. Inside you will find games, demos,
novels, TCGs, etc. In the early years of the Castle, other
companies became envious of its largess, so they stormed the castle
with Nerf weapons (but don't get any ideas <grin>).
Please remember that the Exhibit Hall is the main
place to shop at Gen Con and follow the basic rules: no
shoplifting. As a sign at the Aldebaran Imports booth read,
"Shoplifters will be pimp-slapped, groped and handed to authorities."
Next: The Art Show
Part II: The Art Show
On the first floor of the Midwest Express Center is
a beautiful Art Show. After checking your bag at the door, your
eyes will be treated to a feast of color and some of the most wondrous
fantasy art anywhere. The artists selling their wares
include pictures of high fantasy, wizards, dragons, mechanical
monsters from cyber games, and the whimsical comics that poke fun at us
gamers. We don't mind because they're so damn funny. Some
artists have been commissioned to create for trading card games, so
they combine the original artwork with a copy of the card in a nice
matting and frame. You can purchase almost everything at the Art
Not only can you find pictures, you will also find
3-D art. Chain mail jewelry and earrings can be found. The
Fate Laughing Booth sells padded wings to wear, and don't be afraid of
a miniature dragon perched on someone's shoulder. These little
creatures were purchased at the Sundreams and Myths Booth. For
the more risque, Rahne Storm Studios sells hand-painted demon panties.
As music wafts through the sound system, the
conventioneer can peruse the gallery, a maze of gorgeous artwork that
include science fiction, fantasy, and gaming humor. The Art Show
is a must for a tranquil walk through gaming dreams.
Next: The Block Party
Part III: Block Party
Free music, free food, free beer, free t-shirts,
free hats, free lighters. Has to be the Gen Con Block Party.
Four years ago, when Wizards of the Coast announced
they were buying TSR, the first Gen Con Block Party took place. The
Violent Femmes played to a crowd outside the Bradley Center (now
the US Cellular Center). I was there, and I remember the roaring
music as fans of gaming and rock danced the night.
Tonight we danced to the rock of Spirit Creek as we
ate free nachos and drank free booze. The freebees included
bright orange and black t-shirts. Halloween came early, and WotC
Next: Games Auction
Return to top
Friday Part I: Games Auction
For those wishing to add to their games collection,
without having to pay the Exhibit Hall Prices, the Games Auction in
Bruce Hall of the US Cellular Center may be the perfect solution. You
have two options: Games Auction or the Auction Store. To purchase the
used product offered by your fellow gamers at the
Auction Store, all you need is your convention badge (Do ya think I've
hammered home enough the importance of your badge?). To bid at
the Auction, you require a card, and two versions are offered. For
those who want to buy a lot of items, they can buy a tab card with
a $50 deposit. If you want instant gratification, to have your
purchases immediately after you bid, an instant card for $1. Either
way, the auction works like you've seen on TV, but the cards
have numbers on them so no sneezes will count as bids
<grin>. When your bid is accepted, you pay at the register
and take home your new stuff to add to your collection.
For storage solutions, see.... <grin>
Next: Guests of Honor
Part II: Guests of Honor
Gen Con is notorious for bringing guests that gamers
really want to meet. Past Guests of Honor included George Takei
(pronouned ta-kay like okay; I know because I asked him), Mark
Hamill, and Claudia Christian. This year's Guests of Honor
include James Marsters, Marina Sirtis, and Richard Biggs. Not only do
we have media guests, Gen Con also hosts industry and author
guests. One man who fits both those categories is Monte Cook, who
authored two novels: The Glass Prison and Of Aged Angels, as well
as the current Dungeon Master's Guide and several D&D
products. He is also teaching a series of Writing Seminars during
the con. I had the pleasure of interviewing this pleasant
man. Okay, I cornered him when I bumped into him in the Exhibit
did you find out that you're a Guest of Honor at Gen Con?
they handed me this badge.
VGC: So you
didn't know before you arrived?
MC: No. It's probably due to the Writing Workshops.
VGC: Do you
think it's a honor?
do. I think it's great.
long have you been in the gaming industry?
Wow. Many Guests of Honor sign autographs at
the Autograph Stage located in the back of the Exhibit. If you
go, please plan ahead. A few booths in the Exhibit Hall sell
pictures of the guests, and you do need to bring something for the GoHs
to sign. Although announcements are made when a new GoH will be
signing, I recommend that you go early to get in line.
"We have to cap the line because they're [the
Guests] here for a limited time." said Rob Nicholls, a convention
volunteer from Illinois, as he turned away people wanting to see Hudson
Leick and Alexandra Tydings. The two ladies from Xena and
Hercules were only signing for an hour, and people stood in line longer
than that to see them. As I wait in lines, I chat with those
around me and get to know my fellow gamers from around the
country. Finally, be nice to these special guests, and remember
that they're people just like you and me.
Next: Night Games
Part III: All Night Gaming
"But, Lori, when are you going to play games?" you
ask, "Isn't that what Gen Con's all about?"
Of course. People play games all weekend long
at Gen Con, 24 hours a day. Board games and miniature games are
played on the third floor of the Midwest Express Center. Go to
the right of the Exhibit Hall as you're facing the doors going
in. You'll see huge versions of Settlers of Catan, made with
terrain used for miniature games, played next to a table full of Fuzzy
Heroes. Anything you're interested in, just buy a ticket, or
bring some generic tickets.
If you can't find a scheduled event you like, go to
the Gen Con Games Library, back toward the escalator and next to the
mini-donut stand <yum!>. Bob Allen is the chief librarian
who is on call 24 hours a day. Mike McDole, who was working when
I approached the booth, told me the rules, "To check out a game, people
leave a [driver's] license. When they return the game intact, we
give them the license back" Because areas of the Midwest Express
Center are open 24 hours a day, the booth is staffed and games are
available to play from now until 1:00 pm Sunday.
Gamers such as myself and the group with whom I'm
sharing a hotel room have brought some of their favorite games from
home or purchased new games in the Exhibit Hall. In our room we
have Munchkin, Button Men, D&D (of course), and many more. Somewhere right now, someone's playing a game.
Next: Science Fiction Saturday
Return to top
Saturday Part I: Science Fiction Saturday
Science Fiction Saturday includes more than just the
Guests of Honor (Marina Sirtis, James Marsters, Richard Biggs, etc.),
events are held throughout the convention. Pick up your SFS
Passport at the booth outside the Exhibit Hall. Joei Kimpel, who
volunteers with her husband Kyym, gives these instructions, "Go to SFS
themed events," as she gives me a list, "and get a punch. Bring
the passport back to the SF Booth, and you get a prize. The more
punches, the better the prize." Prizes are generously donated by
the dealers and are game and sci-fi related.
The events include Kij Johnson's SF Writing
Workshop, the Annual Grand Admiral's Tournament of Babylon 5, the Star
Wars Connections seminar, and the Klingon Jail & Bail (see separate
article) that collects money for charity.
Another philanthropist with a SFS theme is Pamela
Shanteau, the Artist Guest of Honor. Every year Shanteau paints a
gorgeous portrait of a fellow guest of honor, has the subject sign the
portrait, and then the painting is auctioned off with the proceeds
going to the Gen Con Charity. This year's portrait is Marina
Sirtis. Past portraits have been of James Doohan, George Takei,
Majel Barret Roddenberry and Carel Struckyn, and Jon DeLancie.
The Guests of Honor themselves participate in
philanthropy by hosting a Charity Dinner. Fans buy tickets ($1
each, 6 for $5), and each is a chance to join Sirtis or Marsters for
dinner tonight. The drawing occurs at 3:30 at the Autograph
Stage, and you must be present to win. A bit of trivia: two
fans each purchased $1000 worth of tickets. Good luck.
Of course, fans participate by wearing
costumes. Today, I saw Guinan, Seven-of-Nine, and several
Klingons from Star Trek; jedi knights and stormtroopers from Star
Wars; people from Predator; and other sci fi films. If you
want to come in costume, have fun with it!
Next: More Gaming
Part II: Nighttime LARPs
Live Action Roleplaying takes place on the Wisconsin
Avenue side of the first floor of the Midwest Express Center. One
World By Night, an international organization, runs a Vampire LARP
around the clock, or until players become too tired, usually between
two or three in the morning. Jennifer Lewkowicz, from Wheeling,
Illinois, enjoys the game. "I'm involved in trying to stop the
sabbat from getting a firm hold on the city of Rockford. We're
using a crazy artifact to make the werewolves come into the city and
kill them all."
"Or it'll do nothing." adds her fellow player Robert
Ashby, of Iowa City, Iowa. He feels the LARP is fun "because
there's a lot of stuff for people to do. [There are] NPCs for new
people to play to try the game without being overwhelmed."
Another Vampire LARP is played in the two-story
lobby of the Hyatt Hotel. The Interlopers is the name of this
year's game run by Nocturne Productions, a non-profit hobby company
that runs events at about three cons a year. Andy Agin, of
Indianapolis, Indiana, told me that the game runs "Thursday and Friday
until 2:00 am, and Saturday night until we finish, but the players are
free to leave at anytime."
Although the traditional black costumes and makeup
are predominant at the One World By Night LARP, the Nocturne game
featured very few costumed people. Agin said, "Costumes are up to
As Lewkowicz said, costumes are good, "if they help
you get into character, but they're harder in the heat."
Next: Places to Rest
Return to top
Sunday Part I: Places to Rest
By Sunday, you're exhausted. You've played
all-night LARPs, walked the Art Show once, walked the Exhibit Hall at
least twice a day, and you were out drinking at the Safe House last
night. You don't want to walk all the way back to your hotel, so
where can you rest?
Benches are located on the Wisconsin Avenue side of
the first floor of the Midwest Express Center. Granted, they are
cement, but they are long and wide. The second floor walkway
toward the Hyatt Hotel has lots of carpeted floor space for you to set
down your backpack and weary body. Of course you can sit at the
various demo tables in the Exhibit Hall, but you'll probably have to
play a demonstration game for the luxury of sitting down. The
Anime room located in the Hilton has lots of chairs and will be nice
and dark, but the audio is very loud.
My personal favorite place to rest is to go to the
corner of the Midwest Express Center where Wisconsin Avenue intersects
with Sixth Street. This corner also contains the series of photos
and and sound dedicated to Polka Music. Take the elevator to the
third floor (you can't get here from the third floor area where the
Exhibit Hall entrance exists), where there is a lookout over the
intersection. This area is very isolated and usually very quiet
(unless someone hits the button to play the Polka Music), and an
excellent place to rest.
Next: Discounts in the Exhibit Hall
Part II: Discounts in the Exhibit Hall
If you've been frugal enough to save your money (or
if you're like me and volunteered 16 hours and earned your badge fee
back), then you can hit the Exhibit Hall one last time for some nifty
discounts. Remember: retailers would rather take home money
Take the case of George at GWB Imports of Fine
Pewter: All those gorgeous pewter figurines of unicorns, skulls,
pigs, and coffins have to be heavy to take home. When I asked
George how much of a discount he offers, he said, "It depends on the
piece. The more you buy the sharper the pencil."
The Geo Hex Booth, which sells incredible looking
terrain and figures for miniature gaming, posted a sign, "Last Day
Special: 25% Off." They use a shipping service to send home
whatever doesn't sell.
Fantasy Gifts was eager to not have to ship their
fine glass and pewter items. The retailers told me they'll take
"Whatever we can get. We don't like to go home with stuff."
Not every booth offers a final day discount. Mike at
Ultra Pro/Rembrandt said he's "kept my prices the same the
whole show." He can pack all the tradeable cards he sells into
the back of his van.
Susan Van Camp, an artist whose paintings include
fantastic visions of cats with wings, also is not offering a
discount. When I asked her why not, she said, "I don't have
to. I'm at least a full box less [than when I came], maybe
two." All retailers should be so lucky.
Next: Pre-Registering for Next
Part III: Pre-Registering for Next Year
What's the best cure for the Post-Gen Con
Blues? Plan for next year! On or after January 1, 2002, log
on to www.gencongamefair.com, and pre-register for Gen Con 2002. The
last Gen Con scheduled for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will take place
August 8-11, 2002. See you there or in cyberspace!
Next: Gen Con 2002 <grin>
Return to top
D&D Ball: What's Your Story?
What is your favorite D&D story? I don't mean
the novels, modules, or whatever. I'm talking about those personal
anecdotes that are funny to more than just the experiencing group. I
asked this question of those attending the D&D Ball Saturday night,
a gaming industry function celebrating the release of the game's third
edition. I received some wild responses, some dating back to the first
edition of this RPG.
James People III of Nebraska once played a halfling
armed with a sling. The halfling was at the back of a party, and at the
head of the party was a paladin fighting a demon. The halfling tried
his sling against the demon, but kept hitting the paladin. Irritated
and injured, the paladin paused in his fight with the demon by sticking
his holy avenger in the ground, went back to the halfling, hoisted the
little guy into a tree branch, took the sling, went back to the demon,
and resumed the fight.
While running a game out of Dungeon Magazine,
Theodore Black, an artist, described a massacre in graphic detail. One
hungry gamer eating pizza couldn't help but connect the entrails and
blood to the cheese and tomato sauce. The gamer "bugged out" and never
finished the pizza.
Matt Forbeck, a freelancer currently working with
Artbox Entertainment and attending his nineteenth Gen Con this year,
learned to play Basic D&D in the summer of 1981. However, he and
his group tried playing an AD&D module, which was much tougher on
heroes. Throughout the summer campaign, the group went through about a
party a day, killing 23 parties in the process.
Press member Gary Peel played D&D in tournaments
this year, and his team wore T-shirts boasting their prowess: "Slit
your own throats and save us the trouble." John Jordan, of Barchetta
Distributors, remembers one of his gaming buddies as being a shy, quiet
Eagle Scout. The scout played a paladin in a battle with a "big bad
guy" and rolled extremely well, cleaving his foe in two. The DM asked,
"What do you want to say?" The scout said to the big baddie's minions,
"The door, gentlemen, is that way!" All enemies within a twenty-foot
Rados the Ranger was a character developed by
Stephen Richards of Illinois when alliteration was in style. Rados was
determined to catch and eat every species of humanoid in the Monster
Manual. He even created Rados's Cookbook of Humanoids . John and Yvonne
Newman of Ohio reminisced about John's gnome priest who killed a
dragon. The gnome had a bag full of diamonds and explosive powder that
he set with a firetrap. When the wyrm demanded to see what was in the
bag, the bag exploded in the dragon's face. 'Nuff said.
A paladin that lost his paladin-hood six times? Yes.
Jeffrey Baker of Alabama says his paladin:
Told a thief to "change to good or die"
2. Killed someone while that
person was unconscious
3. Refused to attack an evil
4. Angered Odin
5. Doesn't remember what happened
the fifth time
6. Got mad and attacked his
Other industry representatives attending the ball
had their own memories of the game --sometimes. Ross Jepson of Atlas
Games played D&D in the seventies, but he doesn't remember much
from that period because his group "used to drink a lot while playing
Real-life spouses who are also DMs can create
problems. Jacqueline Unger of Minnesota had a character who owned a
magical flaming whip, which her DM/hubby Joseph took away. She still
does not know why.
The best summation comes from Michael Conrad of
Florida. "The story of D&D is fascinating itself."
Overheard at the Ball:
by Sue Cook
While Lori chatted with members of the crowd at the
party, staff members handed out official commemorative D&D shot
glasses (lines on the back marked the measurement of "lawful,"
"neutral," and "chaotic" levels of your favorite beverage). Meantime, I
took the opportunity to speak briefly with the bouncer: the now-famous
fighter Regdar (pictured above with artist Todd Lockwood).
Wizards of the
Coast: "So, what is your job here at Gen Con?"
Regdar: "I govern
the events here, maintaining the peace through strength of arms."
Wizards: "Oh. Has
anyone gotten out of line?"
Regdar: "No, not a
sword has been raised. [Pause] I am a little disappointed."
Wizards: "Why? Not
enough experience points for you in this gig?"
Wizards: "Or maybe
you're not the bloodthirsty type after all?"
bloodthirsty -- just thirsty. Spot me a glass of ale?"
Virtual Gen Con is currently owned by
Gen Con, LLC. Please contact
Peter Adkison for reprint
Return to top