Convention Report: GenCon 2014

21 August, 2014

As with all the big conventions I go to, I’ve kept a log of what happens there (at least from my perspective anyway). These are normally typed up while in a half-asleep state back in the hotel room then posted to Facebook after a long day of gaming, while everything is fresh in my mind. Now, with access to photos and a few stats, I’ve compiled everything for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

[Day 0 – Wednesday]

It’s that time of the year again, folks! The annual pilgrimage to GenCon begins.

This year is a little different to previous years. Last year, I spent a week out in Phoenix with some good friends of mine before flying over to Indianapolis for the convention. This year, I’ve been out in North Carolina for a little over a week before the event, staying with my fiance, Tiffany – some of you may have seen the posts on social media involving me getting down on one knee at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (the Lost Colony of Roanoke).

We traveled from one side of the state to the other, and back again, before heading on a bus laid on by the Pathfinder Society that took us from Durham to Indianapolis, with a lay over in between. Road trip! I ran a game of Pulp Cthulhu for our fellow travelers last night (Tuesday night) before we headed off early this morning to reach Indianapolis.

My usual habit of sleeping throughout travelling was not broken. I missed one state entirely on the road trip, and sleep for a good 90% of the journey. Arriving somewhat tired at the hotel (the same hotel we stayed in a couple of years ago), we were confronted by a slightly smaller than usual hotel room. This was a shock, considering I thought I had booked a suite (and for nearly $2,000 for 5 nights, I was really hoping it would be!). This presented a little problem as I was going to be running a game there that evening (an off the books game I’d offered to run for some friends last year who hadn’t been able to get much by way of gaming that year).

Setting our stuff down (of which there was a lot – I do not travel light!), me and Tiffany headed out to Will Call to get our badges and tickets. Going a little before 1pm seemed to be the sweet spot. We were there for a matter of minutes before having gone through the whole line and then out the other side. Very well organized, efficiently run, and I wish it had been like that in previous years. When we went by later, it was back to its usual queue that extended almost the entire length of the convention center (about three blocks long). Thankfully, no standing in line for us then!

After taking a break to grab a drink at the Ram (a place that I have never been able to get in before, due to when I’ve gone by it was well after midnight, and thus it was closed), and discovering they didn’t have much by way of cocktails, I took Tiffany out to dinner for her birthday (yep, what a day to have at the start of the convention!) to the world-famous St. Elmo’s Steak House. St. Elmo’s has a reputation, and deservedly so. The steak is amazingly well prepared, of a high quality, immense size and pretty much faultless.

I went for the 18oz “Prime” as advised by Paul Fricker from his experiences last year. A good choice.

The amazing steak. I'm sure you could build houses with cuts this big!

The amazing steak. I’m sure you could build houses with cuts this big!

He also recommended their shrimp cocktail… Now, I’m a fan of spicy food (I’ve signed waivers to purchase hot sauce so far on this trip that I really liked), but the horseradish sauce they covered the shrimp in at St. Elmo’s was the most gloriously painful hot sauce I’ve had on a meal to date. It felt like my eyes and nose were bleeding, as well as my sinus’s being on fire when I breathed. I defeated it though – all of it! I’m beginning to wonder if I upset Paul in some fashion along the line and he pointed me in the direction of the cocktail out of revenge. In any matter, Tiffany loved seeing my battle through the pain of the experience (sadist!) so it was all worth it in the end… I guess!

The (in)famous shrimp cocktail - a.k.a. NAPALM IN A BOWL!!!

The (in)famous shrimp cocktail – a.k.a. NAPALM IN A BOWL!!!

From there, we bumped into a couple of friends that I only get to see at the conventions like this. It’s one of the things that I love so much about GenCon, that I get to meet up with such great people I see very rarely. The games are nice, but it’s the people that really make the event for me these days. Rumour has it that they are looking at about 60,000 attendees this year, with last year being about 49,000. They’re going to rapidly need a new convention center!

Heading back to the room, we got ready to run the first real game of the convention – “Fear in a Handful of Dust”. I’ve run this adventure before at conventions at home, involving a group of investigators heading to northern Texas during the dust-bowl to uncover the truth behind the murder of a local fence with connections to organized crime. The game brought together friends from the UK, from the LARP circuit I used to be involved with in the States, and new friends from an event I’m going to on Friday. It’s always nice to see worlds that, up until that point, had not connected before – a nice, special moment for me. The game went down pretty well, especially as it was the first time I had run it in a few years – and it went down pretty differently from how I’d previously seen it end up. Nice to see the investigators get out of town and send in the authorities, but finding this might not be a definite end to the problem… Somewhere I can hear Scott muttering about the players calling the police

So, that’s it for the first day – easing gently into things. Tomorrow is a lot busier, and Friday even more so. Looking forward to it, although kinda dreading that time is going to fly by all too quickly, as it normally does. Watch this space for more updates!

[Day 1 – Thursday]

As with events of this nature, sleep is rarity (it eats into my gaming/drinking/socializing time!), so we were up early this morning, the first official day of the convention. The Staybridge Suites while incredibly expensive (which a LOT of guests were complaining about, similar to ourselves, after finding the rooms were unexpectedly small – no complaining worked by the way as every room was sold out, so it’s this or nothing) they do offer a free breakfast. We managed to grab the tail end, so kept us going until later in the day, and then headed over to the convention center to join in the sea of gamer humanity as it moved towards the trade hall.

Last year, I arrived a couple of hours early… This year, we were only an hour early… We were pretty much as far back as we could be. Oh boy, it was packed. Eventually, they are not going to have enough room to host this convention if every year has a greater attendance than the year before (as has been the trend for the last three years I’ve been in attendance). After the traditional opening speeches, the roll of the huge foam dice, the doors opened and the mass of gamers stormed the trade hall at 10am. Meanwhile, the Will Call line was almost heading out of the western exit of the building, about three blocks long… Again, very glad we went when we did!

The two hours until noon today are probably going to end up being the only time I get to shop around the trade hall in my trip. Tomorrow, I’m running games almost all day while it’s open, although I might have an hour on Saturday. Consequently, we had a plan of attack laid out between me and Tiffany of places to visit. My little Cthulhu statue that Tiffany has been carrying around (and getting numerous admiring comments about) was accompanied by a cosplay cultists outfit.

The infamous cultist spreading the word of Cthulhu across the Trade Hall!

The infamous cultist spreading the word of Cthulhu across the Trade Hall!

Tiffany spent a lot of time going around the hall and getting various gaming icons pictured with the statue while I hunted down a few books, did my bit as the international gaming mule and bringing back bits for people at home, etc. and catching up with various people I’d worked with/for along the way.

We dropped by Onyx Path stand to catch up with Rich Thomas and Eddy Webb, as well as chat with a couple of freelancers. Then, over to the Chaosium booth to meet up with Mike Mason, Nic Nacario and Charlie Krank. The preview copy of “Horror on the Orient Express” there was a MASSIVE and weighty box to behold.

Beholding the HORROR! (From Chaosium's Blog)

Beholding the HORROR! (From Chaosium’s Blog)

Thoroughly enjoyed playing the campaign, and looking forward to seeing that up on my shelf soon. It’s easily three times the size of the original. Likewise, the preview print-outs of the 7th Edition core books were beautiful. Again, very much looking forward to those! We topped this off with a visit to the Pelgrane Press stand where both “The Seventh Circle” and “Mythos Expeditions” that I’d worked on had hit print. Very happy indeed!

Available from August

Available from August

Available to Pre-Order from August

Available to Pre-Order from August

Then, off to run “The Dreaming Ward” which I have run at numerous conventions back home, but not so far in the States. The majority of tabletop games are once again taking place in the JW Marriot. GenCon allocates certain hotels to host certain games, and this is where I normally end up running my games. I went by default to the row of rooms I’m normally allocated… only to then find I’m actually on the floor above, where I’d been once before… DOH! After a quick hunt of the stairs, we got there, and with an open space available (one drop-out due to illness) Tiffany got to join us for the game that takes the investigators into a 1920s psychiatric wing of a university hospital. I got to give her a gruesome death as spider eggs inside her hatched, killing her outright as she was stuck helpless to a giant thread of spider web hanging between worlds. I enjoyed going into detail on how they crawled out of her and left her corpse hanging there for a moment before beginning to consume her. Ahhh… love 😉

From there, a quick run back to the hotel after stopping at the Munchkin Tavern for dinner on the way back. Some of the restaurants and bars here, like the Ram, put on a gaming theme for the convention. This place went all Munchkin in theme and the menus are even redeemable at the Steve Jackson Games stand to in-game effects if you play Munchkin there over the weekend. Nice little touch – and great food!

The menu and place-mat (complete with benefit for when you play your next game of Munchkin)

The menu and place-mat (complete with benefit for when you play your next game of Munchkin)

A quick change of clothes and a taxi over to the Omni hotel and we’re up for the first game of the convention where I get to play. “Old Gods and Young Money” was a Cthulhu LARP run by the ever-wonderful crew at Elder Entertainment. Me and Tiffany were cast as a newly wed couple (… and this was before the engagement was announced!) trying to get membership in a country club. It ended up with me being murdered/sacrificed, and the cultists (the majority of other players) messing everything up so bad that everyone died. Gloriously messy and chaotic, but a lot of fun as always! I can’t recommend their games highly enough. Very much looking forward to the next one we’re playing in on Saturday.

The Happy Couple - about the only game where we weren't trying to kill each other!

The Happy Couple – about the only game where we weren’t trying to kill each other!

After a post-game social with the Elder Entertainment crew, we then met up with Todd Furler, an amazing GM I had the honour to meet last year. It’s moments like these, catching up with people I get to see so infrequently, and that are some of the best people I know and always treasure meeting up with, that make the convention such a special trip for me. I just wish I didn’t have to sleep so I could cram a few more hours in. Tiffany then took me to enjoy another American experience I had yet to try – White Castle. Fast food that was really tasty! There might be more of this in the future

And that brings us back to the hotel, back to my computer and writing up the events of today. One day down, three to go. So far, everything’s going great – long may it continue

[Day 2 – Friday]

Wow! That pretty much sums up today in one word – Wow!

Another early start, and much effort needed to get out of bed after the late-night journey to White Castle, and we headed off to the convention centre. Tiffany had a great time helping out over at the Pelgrane Press stand while I was running “The Angel of the Abyss” for World War Cthulhu (and I hear cupcakes were being passed around a lot during her time there!).

The Angel of the Abyss, appearing in Europe Ablaze for World War Cthulhu is now a free download from the Cubicle 7 website!

The Angel of the Abyss, appearing in Europe Ablaze for World War Cthulhu, is now a free download from the Cubicle 7 website!

For this year, I’ve been allocated the same table in the same room for three of the four advertised games I’m running. There are four tables in the room, which can be a bit loud at times, but not this morning. We had two no-shows for my game, leaving us with four players (my preferred number anyway), but the other three tables in the room didn’t even have their GM’s turn up to run their games. I managed to get a rare double treat for me with this one. Firstly, I ended the game on time (I normally overrun a bit… okay, sometimes a lot!). Secondly, I got a TPK! Two outright deaths and the remaining two suffering a fate worse than death – that made me a very happy Keeper.

Settling up “The Angel of the Abyss” on time definitely helped, as I jumped immediately into “In the Republic of the Savior” for Trail of Cthulhu. We had another no-show, but two players ready to jump in and grab a seat (with a returning player from scenarios I’ve run in previous years creating a character from scratch to join in too) making a seven-player game. One of the biggest I’ve run for a while. It was a bit of a challenge jumping around to give everything their spotlight time, but I think it worked out pretty well – and the group managed to almost completely survive (except Tiffany, who was devoured by a horde of monsters, and then had a church dropped on her… that makes twice I’ve managed to kill her this convention… hehehe!), where in previous occasions running the game, it’s never gone that well for the party. It was pretty well received, even despite the grim setting.

From there, again helped by finishing on time, it was immediately out of the front door and jumping into a Bike Cab to get a unique view of downtown Indianapolis on the way to Scotties for dinner with the crew from The Nerd’s Domain. The Bike Cab was a bike-drawn carriage that took us by the convention center and passed the rows of gamers out on the streets. Very fun experience, and highly recommend to those looking to get around the downtown area. The meet-up was full of great food, great company, and was a wonderfully friendly way to spend the evening before gearing up for tonight’s big event.

Matthew Quiett of Nerd’s Domain invited myself, Scott Dorward and Paul Fricker to a running of Paul’s “Gatsby and the Great Race” scenario, which was released as a monograph through Chaosium a few years back. I’ve always wanted to give it a try, but it needed a lot of players… We had that tonight! More than 30 players in the tabletop scenario that featured some elements I’ve never before seen in tabletop games (no spoilers, but it was really innovative and entertaining stuff) that really added a lot of excitement and wonderful sense of engagement. Truly amazing session! I take my hat off to the team for putting on such a great show, being such wonderful hosts and being all-round amazing! Very much looking forward to getting in on the action again next year I’d very much recommend having a look at their site and listening to their podcasts. Have a wander over to to learn more!

Soooo many players! A scene of the many universes comprising Gatsby and the Great Race

Soooo many players! A scene of the many universes comprising Gatsby and the Great Race

And, with Tiffany bouncing around happily, having been moving around the game (quite literally) for most of the evening and singing its praises all the way back to hotel, we bring a very long, but immensely rewarding day two to a close.

Even passing through the convention centre on the way back to the hotel, there were dozens of groups taking over the major corridor on the way out to the western exit that had just pulled up chairs and were playing games. Whereas they will be playing late into the night, this poor GM needs his sleep ahead of running once again at 10am tomorrow morning.

Sleep is calling, at least for a bit anyway. Half way through, and still so much to enjoy.

[Day 3 – Saturday]

Getting up early still hurts. As much as I keep thinking that sleep eats into gaming time (which it does!), unfortunately I need a fair amount to function. After sleeping in longer than I should, it was a pretty frantic rush to get everything together before running over to the JW Marriot to run “842”, the Call of Cthulhu adventure set in a library where things of a distinctly Yellow nature start occurring. It went down very well with the group – again, four out of the six showed up, proving that mornings are not a brilliant time to run games. I might elect for afternoon slots next year, I think.

A nice touch was having Tiffany, in full cosplay mode, wander over to the table towards the climax of the scenario, dressed up as the King in Yellow (robes with yellow tabard, marked with the yellow sign, and a palid mask that people found very creepy). She’d spent the morning (having played this scenario already) moving around the dealer’s room, scaring people where possible before becoming the Chaosium Booth Babe. I hear that Ripples from Carcosa, new for the show, was being promoted by her, unsurprisingly

See what happens when we leave Tiffany unsupervised!? (From Chaosium's Blog)

See what happens when we leave Tiffany unsupervised!? (From Chaosium’s Blog)

Having driven half of the group permanently insane from seeing Hastur, that concluded the final game that I was running for the convention. I headed off to the Onyx Path booth from there, as freelancers had been invited to do some book signings. As it was very slow, instead I managed to catch up with some friends I had worked on various projects with but never got the chance to meet in person, and then headed over to the Chaosium and Pelgrane booths, where I did manage to sign a copy of “The Seventh Circle” – always nice to do! While traveling the dealer’s hall, I also managed to chat to Mark Morrison, as GenCon is the only time we get to meet in person. Someone needs to invent a teleporter so I can keep in touch with all the wonderful people that I get to see so rarely.

From there, a quick run back to the hotel room, and changing for the second Elder Entertainment LARP for both of us this GenCon – “Casting Call for the Apocalypse”. A web of political intrigue set against the backdrop of a Hollywood party holding auditions for a film production. My friendly little character was out to gather support necessary for a film version of the King in Yellow to be made. I was very pleased with how it ended up. I had so many people interested by the idea and had shaken so many cages that I had two groups sent out to kill me at the same time – memories of live-action Vampire come to mind! One of said groups was organized by… yeah, no surprises here… dearest Tiffany. As the score stands at 2-1 in my favour for killing each other for this GenCon, I’m still looking as it as me having won this time 😉

Following my PCs death, I got to return as the King in Yellow himself – complete with the costume I’d put together for the event. It was as hot as hell under that thing… Oh boy, not an experience I want ot repeat any time soon. I don’t know how Tiffany managed to do that for four hours and not die.

After catching up with some more rarely seen (in person at least) friends, Tiffany needed a bite to eat, and we ultimately ended up losing the rest of the group, so social meetings for the evening were put on hold. However, with both of us being incredibly tired, this maybe wasn’t such a bad thing. We’ll get to meet up with everyone tomorrow, so it’s all good on that front. With no more games to play, and no more games to run, it’s now time to sit back, relax, and maybe enjoy a lay in tomorrow morning

Just one day left, and then the return trip home is just around the corner.

[Day 4 – Sunday]

Well, that’s a wrap! After sleeping in for a bit longer than usual, we met up with Matt and Shirley from Nerd’s Domain to collect one of the top items on our shopping list for the convention – the infamous Bigger, Blacker Box for Cards Against Humanity (as well as a few other related goodies). I suppose that makes us “terrible people”, but at least I have a mug to prove it now Thanks guys!

From there, we headed across downtown to the Omni to help the Elder Entertainment crew pack up their gear after three days of running superb LARPs. A few years back, I used to run LARPs regularly and remember how long it could take to pack everything away, so I’m happy to help out there, and it’s always nice to spend time with the group. In the process, we got to catch up with the incredibly talented Steve Robbins. I still remember the speed drawings he did from one of the LARPs last year!

After getting everything packed up and ready, we headed back to the dealer’s hall and did one last swing around, looking for the last couple of bits that people had requested for me to bring back from the convention. In all, only a couple of bits were missed off the list (either by not being at the show, or being unable to find them). Then, a leisurely circuit of the hall while saying farewell to various friends on the booths and we headed back to the room to begin packing. Even though we’ve only been here a few days, it still took a good few hours to pack everything back in the cases. The Tetris-esque packing of all the material we picked up at the convention thankfully worked out, as it all fits in the hand luggage bag I’ll be taking back on the plane. I’m certainly going to get my muscles loading all that up on the coach tomorrow!

As seems to happen whenever I lay down for more than ten seconds at a convention like this, I ended up falling asleep for a bit. When I finally woke up, we headed over to Fogo De Chão for a post event dinner with the guys from Chaosium. I always love moments like these, meeting up with good friends, sharing memories, discussing work, reviewing the highlights of our convention trips, etc. And, it’s some absolutely wonderful steak there! I’d say that along with St Elmo’s, the Fogo in Indianapolis are the best two restaurants I know, anywhere. The long walk back to the hotel afterwards certainly helped. I’m surprised I didn’t need to be rolled back!

Now, after everything is packed, we are ready to go in the morning. Our coach will be here at 8am, then we get back to Raleigh later tomorrow night. On the way up, we did the trip in two parts, but the return trip is going to be in one go. No doubt, I’ll end up sleeping most of the way. Hopefully they don’t try to kill me if I snore too loudly. From there, it’s back to the UK on Tuesday evening, arriving Wednesday morning. The last two weeks have gone far too quickly, but they’ve been a blast. The convention, as always, was wonderful. I’m already in the process of making plans for next year. It looks like it’s going to be a LOT of fun

The next convention on the horizon is ConCrete Cow in Milton Keynes next month, and then IndieCon in November. Until then, this is me, signing off.

[Post Event]

Well, now that I’m back at home, the official post-event press release confirmed that attendance had indeed gone up. 56,614 this year, up from 49,530 last year. No wonder it felt packed! Well, GenCon is tied in with Indianapolis until 2020, so they are not going anywhere for the moment, but if it keeps on going the way it is (which has been to increase year-on-year in the four years I’ve been going), they are going to rapidly run out of physical room, let alone hotel rooms. Next year, the fight for a room in the downtown area is going to be tough… DOH! Better get drafting the battle plans already.

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4 comments on “Convention Report: GenCon 2014

  1. When will The Seventh Circle be avaliable to us regular schmuck? And will it be both PDF and print?

  2. Matthew Sanderson Sep 5, 2014

    Howdy! According to the latest Page XX up on the Pelgrane Press site ( it should be out “next month” – with as it was written at the end of August I’m guessing means September. The flyers at GenCon said October, so I’d say somewhere between the two 😉 As for PDFs, if you order from the Pelgrane website, you get a PDF with all their products (as far as I’m aware – I haven’t come across any buys where I haven’t had a PDF).

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