Roll the Bones: How to Attend a ConBy: talonkane posted at Jun 14, 2010 8:59 pm
Like most sci-fi fans, I attended a number of Star Trek conventions growing up. It was later on in my life that I became more immersed in conventions. When I went to college at the University of Buffalo, I was part of a new group that formed called SARPA, the Strategists and Role Players Association. During my time at SARPA I ran UBCon, their annual RPG convention, as Convention Director three years out of five – one year I even spent as SARPA’s President., I returned as the Convention Director the following year and then as President of SARPA the year after that. After college while dating my wife (girlfriend at the time), we decided to start attending Gencon (http://www.gencon.com), the largest RPG convention in the United States. We had so much fun there we made it our regular yearly vacation. We even took our son (two at the time) there for his first convention ever. Needless to say, conventions have been a big part of my life.
For those who have never been to a con before, there’s a lot to consider. There’s travel arrangements, wardrobe choices, budgeting – and that’s all before you get there. With so much to take into account, it can be overwhelming. But fear not, that’s where your helpful neighborhood convention expert comes in. Here are the basic things you need to keep in mind when looking to attend your first con.
Choose Your Con
This is by far the hardest part of attending a con. There are SO many conventions to choose from, how do you choose? Well, you need to primarily keep your budget in mind. When my wife and I attended Gencon, we were easily spending more than $1,000 on airfare, hotel, registration, events, stuff to buy, etc… If you have the budget to spend, then many conventions will be available from your selection. If your budget is limited, then you may want to choose a con closer to home.
Finding the conventions are easy enough with the use of the Internet. I did a quick Google search for “roleplaying conventions” and came up with numerous sites that provide information I would need if I was looking for one. Gaming Cons (http://www.gamingcons.com) literally provided a nice calendar of all the roleplaying conventions with a link to the official con web site as well.
If this is your very first roleplaying convention, my recommendation to anyone is to go to Gencon. This convention is primarily where all of the roleplaying and live action (LARP) game publishers present their newest products for sale. Every major game publisher is there, along with the game publishers for miniature games, board games, and even PC and console games. If you want the true con experience with thousands of events to choose from, Gencon is the one to attend. I also heard that the Origins Game Fair (http://www.originsgamefair.com) is an excellent convention to attend for similar reasons. But, I still recommend Gencon because many of the game publishers will wait for Gencon to reveal their new products.
There are many options for traveling to cons, but plane is probably the one you’ll use, especially since the best cons are out of state. When searching for airfare, the best advice I can give is not to jump at the first price you see. Be patient and wait. Most airfares will drop as it gets closer to the convention and airlines will add more flights as they see more demand for those flights. Each time I’ve gone to Gencon, I bought my tickets about two months before the con. Now, this may not work all the time, but its worked for me so far.
Where to Stay
The best advice is to book your hotel early! Usually cons work with hotels to block off a large number of rooms. The cons will then offer booking through them instead of directly through the hotel for better rates. The key is booking early, which means you have to know how many rooms you’ll need and how many people will be going to the con with you. Never fear, if you don’t get into a room, the cons usually offer assistance in getting you on a waiting list for a room.
What to Do
You registered for the con, you have your hotel, and transportation. What are you going to do when you get there? Most conventions will have a period for Event Registration. Sure, it’s important to sign up for games that you’re comfortable with, but the advice I always take to heart is register for games you have never played before. If you are a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic, going to a con and only playing D&D would be a waste of time. Instead, try a game you never played before, especially if it’s a new game that is just hitting the market. Every year my wife and I always found something new to play and it was worth it 95% of the time. Expand your horizons and try something new.
Look for special events the convention offers, like tournaments. Be they card games (like Pokemon) or RPG tournaments, there are great prizes to be had. But beware: tournaments are time sinks, and you probably will have time for little else. Most tournament players go specifically to compete, and don’t plan on experiencing any other part of the con. If you’re the competitive type, and you don’t mind focusing on just one aspect of the convention, riches and glory can be yours.
Competition not your thing? There are also other miscellaneous events. Most will offer seminars of some sort that have a variety of topics. At Gencon, seminars range from learning how to write fiction to learning about a new computer character generator to a Q&A session with a game publisher. Other special events could be learning to paint miniatures or making clay figurines or your own LARP “boffer” weapon (“boffer” LARPs will be discussed in the next blog). Or, you end up with events like True Dungeon (http://www.truedungeon.com/true/dungeon.html) where you literally go through a pre-fabricated dungeon to complete a Dungeons and Dragons like adventure.
Where to Eat
You’ll need to eat while you’re at the con and I recommend you go to the official site for the city where the convention is held, where you will probably find a listing of restaurants within the vicinity of the convention center. Read reviews of the local establishments too. We found a gem of a restaurant in Indianapolis called Palominos. It was a fancier restaurant, so we left this for the last day as our “Con Completed” celebration location. If you do the research in advance, you’ll have a great idea how much you’ll spend on food.
Also, here’s a great money-saving tip: See if there are local markets or pharmacies near the hotel. If so, you can stock up on water or sodas and snacks to keep in your room. Though most cons will not allow you to bring food on premises, most of them won’t complain if you pull out a water or soda from your bag during your event.
What to Wear
Comfortable clothes and comfortable walking shoes. Plain and simple. Most cons involve a lot of walking to and from events and your hotel. If you decide to cosplay (i.e. costume), just make sure your costume is something you’ll be comfortable wearing for long periods of time and that you won’t mind having people ask to take your picture. Convention goers love people in costume and love to take pictures of them. If your costume is really good, prepared to be overwhelmed with requests for pictures.
What Else to Bring
For most roleplaying cons, you’ll want to bring a set of dice, a few pencils (I recommend mechanical ones so you won’t need a sharpener if you break the tip), and a notebook (for use in games or to record stuff you’ve seen or want to remember). If you prefer you can buy dice at the con. It’s an inexpensive way to ensure you have a memento of your trip.
What’s My Budget for Stuff?
Your budget is your best friend at a con. I recommend you bring cash specifically for spending on merchandise, you can easily stay to your budget because once cash is gone, you’re done. Debit and credit cards are too tempting to use, especially if you’re bad about keeping track of your money.
Here is some advice about buying at the con. First, if you know there is going to be a new release of a book at the con, buy it the first day it is available. Too many times I have watched games sell out on day 1 because the game publisher never expected to run out so fast. Sometimes the publisher can get more stock in before the con is over (yay for FedEx and UPS!), but sometimes when it is gone, it is gone.
Second, if you see an item that you don’t feel is crucial to buy right then, browse around the Dealer’s Room to see if anyone else has it for cheaper. The Dealer’s Room is where you’ll find all the game publishers and/or merchants hawking their wares. You’d be surprised how two vendors will have the same item and one has it cheaper than the other. Sometimes, you may be able to haggle the more expensive vendor lower than the one who has it cheaper because he wants your business.
Third, look for special sales, especially the last day of the con. Some vendors will decide to offer special deals on the last day so they won’t have to take all their stuff back. For example, one vendor at Gencon, Titan Games, start off their weekend with buy 1 book and get 3 free (I can’t tell you how many roleplaying game books I bought from them). By the middle of the con, they were selling books at $5 each (books that normally sell for $40), and at the end of the con they were selling them for $2 each. So keep your eyes open for those special sales.
And that is basically it. If you keep all of the following items in mind, you should be properly prepared for your convention. There is no right or wrong way to attend a con. You do want to be properly prepared so you’re not stressing about any of these things I mentioned. The most important part of attending a con is having fun! So go looking for a con, get registered, and prepare to have a great time!
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