Convention advice

Convention time is coming up for me, including the main one in my year: GenCon Indy. I'm also planning on going to ICON this year, now that I'm back in that territory. And living only eight blocks away, though I'll still stay at the hotel on principle.

While talking to a friend last year at GenCon, I was reminded of some of the "mistakes" I made at the first GenCon. I saw the same mistakes being made by the other married couples in our gaming group and I decided to put them down so hopefully the random Google search will bring it up and save someone a long drive home in angry silence.

... not that it happened to me.

Fluffy got me a week later.

I actually listened to this a year or so after that.

So, imagine back a few years for me. My first "big" gaming convention and the first time I went to GenCon. It was long before I met all those lovely authors on my friends list and decided I could have a chance of being a writer. Fluffy decided to come with me, despite not really being a gamer for a long time. I suspect it was because of the week at a nice hotel. And maybe some LARP's. We had plans to enjoy dinner together, but otherwise I pretty much had games and writing workshops from 08:00 to 19:00.

Yes, the exquisite joy of gaming for eleven hours solid. It would be just like Saturdays but all week. To explain, I was running twelve hour Exalted sessions every Saturday at the time. We dropped to every other Saturday a few months, then only ten hour sessions, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, Fluffy ended up getting bored. And unhappy. I abandoned her in the process of seeking out the gaming nirvana. I also managed to burn out somewhere at the 35 hour mark of solid gaming.

The next year, I preregistered to get more games I wanted and gave it a bit more space. An hour here, a half hour there. So, only nine hours of solid gaming every day. And, once again, Fluffy came with. She registered for more, but still ended up getting bored and frustrated because I gamed all the time.

Same thing happened when I ran Exalted, including the midnight game. Same thing when I camped out in the writer sessions.

You probably get the pattern.

Last year, I think I finally figured it out. We started picking games to play together. Not every one, but one or two games that we both enjoyed. And I gave it a lot more space between the games, not only to prevent burnout but also to give her a chance to request for attention if she is feeling frustrated. I stuck with 4-6 hours worth of planned time, a handful of pick-me-up tickets, and planned out which ones I'd be willing to triage if something came up. Fluffy played more games last year--actually she played more than me for once--but we were also a lot happier.

I originally used the excuse, "it is only a week, I'll pay attention to you next week" but that really was selfish of me. Things go wrong, games get canceled, life gets in the way. When you have a spouse (or even just friends), keeping connected during the frenzy of a convention is important. Eating dinner together, finding some quiet time, or even insulting the people mocking furries. It makes it much more enjoyable than when everyone scatters to the five winds and you only find out afterwords that someone spent half the convention sitting on a bench, no clue what to do and feeling utterly lonely.

Given that, this is the advice I'm using for myself.

  • Plan to have at least one meal together every day. Do not miss it because there just happened to be a new game starting.
  • If you preregister, first pick out things you can do together. Fluffy isn't really into RPG'ing and I don't like LARP's that much. But, we do enjoy silly board games. Doesn't have to be the entire convention, but at least a few. Ideally, try to space them out evenly throughout the convention and not everything on Sunday. We also include wandering through the dealer's area and mocking the people who don't shower as part of our time together.
  • Make sure you take a break. And, from my first year mistake, sleep is not a sufficient break.
  • Pick out the rest of your games. But, when you finish, figure out which ones you really want and which ones you could skip in an emergency. If 80% of your list is "must not miss", then follow a simple rule. For every game you have to go to, pick one you can skip. In my opinion, put more of the "can skip" games in the back half but still scatter them around.
  • Let your spouse or friends know which ones you'd be willing to skip. Tell them you'll whine and whimper, but if they really, really need you, you'll skip it. With only a few dramatics and maybe only two serious attempts to escape via smoke bombs. Hide the rope, just in case. Hint that bribes would make the whining go away. I'm sure you have a bribe system already, don't you? Mine occasionally involves LEGO blocks.

If they do ask for you to skip a game, then just do it. Call it brownie points or whatever, but sometimes someone can have a seriously bad convention. And, in the heat of the excitement, sometimes it gets hard to listen to what they are saying. And when you are about to go into the play-testing of Exalted Autocthon or some other once-in-a-lifetime thing, the last thing you want to hear is "skip it, please? I need you." Setting up rules ahead of time makes it easier to ask for help (or attention) and also to keep you from going overboard.

My other advice is to any person going to a convention like GenCon: pack a cooler. Food is expensive and sometimes, it is better to just have a couple PB&J sandwiches and some chips instead of shelling out $20 for lunch.