Or: How I spent my summer vacation

A funny thing happens when you cross the line between consumer and creator.

When I told a friend I was attending Gen Con—the largest and longest-running gaming convention in North America—he asked whether I was going for work or pleasure.

A fair question. After all, I have a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) on the market, and Gen Con also devotes a section of the vendor hall to fantasy authors. Plus the event offers a variety of seminars and workshops for creatives, some of which I’ve attended in the past.

But this year, my answer was firmly “just for fun,” not only because I went with my family, but also because the cost of entry would have been quite high and expected return on investment, inversely low.

Simply put, I would have been the smallest of fish in a leviathan-filled ocean.

Just for fun

We attend Gen Con for the games first and foremost, and on that front the con never disappoints. Thanks to learn-to-play events, demos, and late nights at the hotel, there are plenty of opportunities to try new/new-to-us board games, card games, and TTRPGs. And while we didn’t get our hands on the coveted Lorcana card battler during its pre-release promotion, we had plenty of fun with these alternatives:

I also picked up a couple TTRPGs: The Darkest Dream by Gooey Cube, which I hope to run myself, and Dungeons of Drakkenheim, which I hope someone will run for me (hint hint, John!). One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was meeting the creators and original livestream players of the Drakkenheim campaigns.

Beyond games, we enjoyed the Great Gooey Gameshow, Dungeons & Bingo, and the Super Nerd Magic Show. In years past, we also participated in the cosplay contest, but since that eats up a big portion of Saturday, we decided to simply dress up—you guessed it—just for fun, posing for photos as requested. (Costumes were courtesy of my amazingly talented wife Stephanie, AKA Incogneato Designs.)

We explored 100% of the phantasmagoria-filled vendor hall, accumulating plenty of loot along the way. A hidden gem at Gen Con has always been meeting and playing with people who share a passion for play, not the least of which are my fantastic family.

Truth be told, we crammed a lot of diversion into four days. Who knew fun could be so exhausting?

Working the con

More than 70,000 civilians attended Gen Con this year. I don’t know how many professionals made the pilgrimage, but the ones I met were certainly working hard. I’d wager that just about every one of them started out as a fan—a consumer—before their love of games compelled them to become creators.

The transition from games as a hobby to a labor of love to a true profession is fraught with perils. Game makers run the gauntlet of playtesting, slay the monsters of manufacturing and marketing, and delve through labyrinthine distribution channels. That’s the price one must pay to contribute to the medium in a meaningful way.

Here be the realm where work and play collide.

I wasn’t being quite truthful earlier when I implied my trip to Gen Con was solely for fun. You can’t spell “networking” without “work,” and I made it a point to seek out Fifth Edition Editor Chris Doyle at Goodman Games booth for some face time. I’ve had the honor of writing and editing for this major publisher of TTRPGs for the past couple years. Sadly, a dehydration headache preempted my appearance at the company’s social event.

I also introduced myself to Gooey Cube founder “Alphinius Goo” and met representatives from the Lacrosse, Wisconsin publisher responsible for the Universal Horizons TTRPG. You can bet your last copper that I’ll be reaching out to these outfits to offer my freelancing services. Several brochures for organizations made up of indie game makers were snagged.

Of course, I also paid special attention to how booths were set up and how events were run since I’ll be dipping my toe into a proverbial pond that is much smaller and more local early next year.

Winter is coming

Cognitively, I understand that an entire season must come and go before my first gaming-con commitment. Yet it feels like Midwinter Gaming Convention in Pewaukee, Wisconsin is right around the corner because I have so much to prepare.

I’ve racked up plenty of XP attending conferences devoted to books, but I’ll be treading new territory come January. Granted, Midwinter Gaming Convention is quite a bit smaller than Gen Con, and the con is especially suited for indie game makers. Yet the prospect still fills me with some anxiety.

Not only will I be upgrading my usual booth setup to cater to the gamer audience, but I’ll actually be running a few sessions of The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd. Yes, I’ve served as gamemaster (GM) before. No, I’ve never GM’d for strangers.

Creating new pullup banners and stickers are just the tip of the iceberg. Plenty more logistics must be plotted out so that I and my players have what we need to enjoy the game’s opening act. The con organizers have been incredibly helpful, so at least I’m making ongoing “nerve checks” with advantage.

There’s no denying I have a lot of work ahead of me. A labor of love is still labor. But even if I won’t be attending Midwinter Gaming Convention “just for fun,” I suspect I’ll have a lot of fun anyway.

That’s one of the pros of cons: when you’re surrounded with people who share your passion, you can’t help but have a good time.