Gen Con: The epic tabletop gaming convention invades the midwest

Illustration for article titled Gen Con: The epic tabletop gaming convention invades the midwest

Gen Con Indy is just two days away, and soon downtown Indianapolis will be swarming with over 28,000 gamers. Here's why tabletop gamers, LARPers and scifi fans plan all year for this massive event.

Just in case it's been a while since you grabbed your dice bag, Gen Con is the springboard for the RPG industry to debut hot new games for the year and increasingly it's become a magnet for sci-fi and anime fandom and aspiring fantasy/horror/sci-fi authors. Gen Con gets its share of celebrity faces, but what I like best is that it's still a fan-driven con with the main event (the gaming) provided by the gamers themselves. If you're off to Indy this week you may already have a schedule bursting with pickings from 6,000 events (sleep will happen next week). But if not, here's just a sample of what's on offer:

So many games, so little you to go around
Madrox the Multiple man, if he were a gamer, would ace this convention. Hundreds of role playing games, board games and card games overflow the convention center and surrounding hotels daily as early as 8am and into the wee hours. Roll some funny-shaped dice with friends or try gaming with complete strangers that you'll know better than even co-workers after an intense 4 hour session of Dungeons & Dragons of every edition, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Decent, Talisman, Mutants and Masterminds, homebrew games and hundreds more.


True Dungeon
Remember all those 80's movies where a bunch of kids dress like their D&D characters and build a homemade creature-filled dungeon? True Dungeon is better than an after-school special: This group creates a life-size, 10,000-square-foot dungeon with an ambitious mix of hand-made monsters, props, puzzles, traps and uniquely skilled player characters in an immersive setting that feels like a cross between a haunted house and your imagination. It's one of the most expensive events at Gen Con - and yet it's often difficult to score last-minute tickets.

Zombie Space Pirates vs. LARPing
Gen Con always has live action role playing (LARPing) events for weekend vampires or foam-weapon-wielding adventurers, but if gritty survival horror is your preferred nightmare, Gen Con has your back. A space pirate's life is not all singing space shanties and galactic booty according to the Terrorworks "Pirates of the Tycho Expanse" sci-fi horror game. In it, combatants wield AirSoft plastic pellet weapons (supplied by the game) for 45 minutes of heart pounding action, task-based problem solving, and swarms of nasty aliens lurking in a huge custom made set. And then there's "Rising," which is straight out of a zombie apocalypse movie, complete with a cheeky instructional video to gather your friends around and get ready to kick some gangrenous ass. And if zombies and space marines are not your flavor of LARPing, trust that there are vampires, werewolves, knights, scoundrels, spies, superheroes and Lovercraftian mental patient roles that request your costume and guile.

Get Literal: Authors' Avenue & Writer's Symposium
It's no secret that scores of scifi, fantasy and horror fans have aspirations to create stories in their beloved literary genres. Gen Con is presenting a pen-dropping 80-plus events geared toward helping fantasy writers sharpen their literary toolset, learn the trade and mingle with peers. It may be difficult choosing between "21 Days to a Novel" and "20 Ways to Kill Your Novel", but clearly there's something for every level author looking to nurture or slay their darlings.

So epic you need to bring a battle map: the Gen Con Vendor's Hall
The soul of this convention is the epic dealer's hall, with over 300 booths hawking games, dice, books, steampunk fashions, toys, t-shirts, corsets, videos, boffer weapons, jewelry, kilts, comics, and art nestled next to sprawling kiosks of industry big guns like Wizards of the Coast (publishers of Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons). Beneath the vibrant flea market vibe of the dealer's hall, there is an exciting opportunity to "speed date" a variety of games via sampling demonstrations in your riotous surroundings.

A few games debuting at Gen Con that I'm looking forward to: Castle Ravenloft Dungeons & Dragons Board Game, Cthulhu: More Adventures in Arkham County, Dark Sun 4th Edition, DC Adventures, Deadlands: Reloaded, Dresden Files, Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition, Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide, Savage Worlds Starter Kit and Smallville. Leverage was rumored to debut at Gencon but alas we'll have to wait!

Illustration for article titled Gen Con: The epic tabletop gaming convention invades the midwest

Indie Games Explosion
Dungeons and Dragons too mainstream for you? There's a whole universe of plucky designers who craft cutting edge games that are independently published and often push the boundaries of traditional role playing games. Seek out in the vendor hall booths participating in the Indie Games Explosion line-up and chat one on one with the designers.


I have the pleasure of knowing many of the designers, and I'm psyched to see their efforts come to life at the convention. Among the many indie games available I'm personally excited for: sci-fi (Apocalypse World, Freemarket, Happy Birthday Robot, Misspent Youth, Remember Tomorrow, Time and Temp), fantasy (Burning Wheel: Adventure Burner, How We Came To Live Here, Swords Without Master), action adventure (Blowback), horror (Annalise, Dread House), mystery (A Taste For Murder) and party games with text-based adventure flavor (Parsley Games: Action Castle, Space Station, Spooky Manor).

Illustration for article titled Gen Con: The epic tabletop gaming convention invades the midwest

Hentai Dubbing Café
You read correctly. Strictly for adults only, "audience participation is strongly encouraged" for an evening of live dubbing of sexually explicit anime selections in a cosplay-themed cafe setting. There's also a well-stocked non-pornographic anime viewing track for the rest of the family.

RPG Art Show
Countless role playing games (and card games too) owe a huge amount of their initial appeal to great art work by scarily talented artists. Many of the artists who provide the images that fuel our imaginary romps will be selling prints of their work at one of the largest sci-fi and fantasy art shows in the U.S. And if you ask very nicely they may even sketch you a little something special.


Life beyond the gaming table
For those who may actually want to separate themselves from the gaming table temporarily there are several evening acts taking place, including a nerdcore show to get your mosh pit on or live orchestral video game music. With Comic Con a fond memory and DragonCon a few weeks away, satisfy your need for amazing cosplay wearables and get in line early for Gen Con's insanely popular costume contest as seating goes fast.

ENnies award show
Game designers spend all year wondering if their babies will make it to this awards event. Entry into the awards promises a chance to meet and greet the movers and shakers of the RPG industry or your favorite game designer, and see what's selected as the best of the best by their industry peers.


Yes, you can drop in
Gen Con requires advanced planning and with hotels and many games filled months ago it may seem intimidating for casual drop-in gamers, but many attendees choose to wing it with spontaneous games, attending seminars and soaking in the dealer's hall. The indie game folks have organized a games on demand that's blissfully free of pre-registration (stay posted on Just show up and be willing to try an independently produced game that's off the beaten path.

Over 6,000 events at Gen Con (with more being added) will keep anyone in gaming stitches through the weekend, though it's also tempting to stay up too late at The Ram pub in downtown Indianapolis with a flagon of specially brewed ale in honor of the convention. Maybe not the best hangover cure.


I'll be posting from Gen Con this week, so keep a lookout for more of my posts highlighting game designers, the games and the players who make it all happen.

Special thanks to Rone Barton and Ed Healy of Atomic Array, John Stavropoulos of NerdNYC, Ryan Macklin, and Lou Agresta.


Contact Terry Hope Romero at

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Ed Grabianowski

I'll be there too!