Well, our enforced lockdown is done and COVID is becoming a bad memory (thank heavens!). However, we’re still having a more truncated convention season this year. But I suspect by 2022, we’ll be back in full swing convention-wise. So, with that, I thought it best to write an article for those who are new to this whole convention thing.
Large or small, conventions are a part of the hobby I think everyone should try at least once. It can be both overwhelming and amazing to a convention newbie. Everyone feels that way at first. I remember my first convention – it was Cold Wars 1987 at the Timonium Fairgrounds with one of my best friends and his dad. It hooked me for life, and I try to get into two or three conventions a year when things are less hectic and pandemic-y.
But conventions are like a vacation, and much of the advice I can give you will be familiar to every traveler out there. Some of the advice is unique to the hobby, and I give it having learned it myself or because someone else did and passed it on to me.
So, here we go:
- Have a plan: I can’t really stress this enough. Having a plan on what to see and do is essential. Get a copy of the convention program as soon as you can and read it to see what events you want to get into. And for the love of all that is holy? If the convention offers a chance to pre-register? Take it. You’ll thank me later when you’re not standing in the long line to pay for your badge, then the next line to actually get it. Realize that most cons have thousands of attendees, and most games will have 4-6 slots open. So, if you get in early, you reserve your slot for said game.
- Be Prepared: This means you should pack smart. I always bring some essentials I know I am going to need. One is a water bottle. Hydrate often when on the convention floor. You’re going to do a lot of walking. I got in 12,000 steps in one day at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia. So, comfortable shoes are a must. Also, I’d pack some hand moisturizer, meds (if you’re on them), and some dice (because it makes your GM’s life easier if he knows he doesn’t have to give you dice to roll for his game. He’s got enough to worry about). Also, bring what I call a “loot bag.” Usually, for me, it’s an empty backpack or the like. I use it for my purchases, and it’s just bloody convenient. Whatever else, plan on being gone for 10-12 hours a day. Conventions are the marathons of gaming. This means you should also bring a cell phone charger. Don’t charge your phone at some free charging station. Those things are a cybersecurity nightmare.
- Be Smart: Unfortunately, Cons also attract scumbags. With thousands of people in one place, it’s going to attract criminals. Gamers are kinda taken in by all the “ooh shiny,” and well, people get robbed, or worse. So, don’t flash money around, especially at larger cons like GenCon or Origins. Tell your friends where you’re going and where to meet up if you get separated. Don’t go off alone with people you’ve never met. Stay in public places, especially if they “want to go back to the hotel room and game some more” after the convention closes for the night. Cons aren’t the South Bronx in the 1970s, but be wary. If you get a bad vibe, listen to it. Also, keep a sharp eye on your belongings. When I was at Historicon one year, they arrested someone for attempting to steal items off of various flea market tables.
- Be Frugal (to a point): Have a budget and stick to it. It’s really easy to spend a ton of money at a con. Shop around. If you’re in the flea market, haggle. If you’re in the dealer’s area, comparison shop between stalls. If it’s something exclusive to one company, like a brand-new release, then make sure you can afford it. Lord knows we all know the gamer who literally spent his gas money to get home on something he “just had to have.” Don’t be that guy. But at the same time, shopping is half the fun.
- Pace Yourself: This goes back to point #1. There’s no sin in taking a “me moment” in the food court or an abandoned table and just taking a breather. Maybe you want to read that new book you just picked up. Or maybe you’re like me, and you just need a small sanity check. No sin in that, and don’t let anyone use the FOMO excuse on you.
- Be Polite: Don’t argue with the GM, even if he makes a mistake in the rules. His game, his rules. Don’t slow the game down with idle chit-chat. Also, for the love of God, don’t be the gamer who neglects personal hygiene during the convention. Shower, brush your teeth, wear clean clothes. I’m not saying you have to dress like someone out of GQ – heck it’s jeans and a T-shirt for me – but try not to offend everyone else there either.
- Have Fun: That’s the whole point of this. Take a moment to take it all in. Meet new people. Find old friends. I love the fact that when I go to an HMGS con, I can’t cross a distance of at least 100 feet without someone calling out my name, and I look forward to that being the case again next year. You won’t be there at your first con, but trust me, one day, you’ll be that guy and giving this advice to someone else.
In short, this is something to enjoy and have fun. Be the guy people want to be around, not the guy people want to cross the floor to get away from. If this is your first con, enjoy. It’s a special feeling that first convention. Take it in and remember the first rule: You’re here to have fun!
And with that, Good Gaming, Everyone.
At Epoch XP, we specialize in creating compelling narratives and provide research to give your game the kind of details that engage your players and create a resonant world they want to spend time in. If you are interested in learning more about our gaming research services, you can browse Epoch XP’s service on our parent site, SJR Research.
(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)