I’m planning my first trip to GenCon since 2000, and a lot of things have changed in 15 years. GenCon has grown much larger, more expensive, and even changed cities. I’ve changed as well. I have different priorities now, and maybe I’ve matured a little too. Maybe.
My first trip to GenCon was a spur of the moment decision. I’d just graduated college, and I’d just quit my first post-college job. I didn’t have much going on, and when some of my friends said that they were going to GenCon, I decided to use some of the money I’d received as a graduation present to go to GenCon. Those were much different times, and I was obviously an irresponsible twenty-something. I was playing RPGs, but I was much more interested in TCGs, especially Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) and Decipher’sStar Wars CCG.
All of my friends played L5R, and of course, that meant I played as well. I was never as invested into the game as my friends. I’d already spent way too much money on Star Wars CCG, and after I became disillusioned with that game, other TCGs had lost their luster. My closest friends, however, wanted to go to GenCon to compete in the L5R World Championship tournament. The mechanics of L5R were different enough from Magic or Star Wars that I was interested too, but I refused to invest heavily into another TCG. Nevertheless, I was able to build a “competitive” deck thanks to help from my much more competition-oriented friends. Those quotation marks are important as you'll find out soon enough.
At that time, GenCon was located in Milwaukee, WI, and I remember dreading that long drive from Alabama. My friends and I really didn’t have any plans for the convention other than playing in the L5R World Championship. This was GenCon 2000, however, and it was a pretty big year for RPGs. Wizards of the Coast had just released Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and they had recently purchased the rights to L5R TCG and RPG from Alderac Entertainment. WotC would use that license to create their a new version of Oriental Adventures based on L5R’s Rokugan setting.
At that time I wasn’t playing D&D, and I really didn’t consider playing RPGs to be my “primary hobby” even though I bought a ton of books. I was mostly playing L5R's tabletop RPG and of course, Vampire: The Masquerade. I was spending far more money on comic books and TCGs. I just wasn’t interested in playing RPGs at GenCon or doing much that involved roleplaying. In hindsight, it’s a shame, especially, because I really couldn’t have done much else at GenCon because I was playing in the L5R tournament.
The L5R World Championship at GenCon 2000 was a two day affair. L5R was probably at the height of its popularity in 2000, and the number of people who entered that tournament was astounding. I’d never seen a tournament so large, and it was probably only rivaled in size by Magic the Gathering’s Pro Tour Qualifiers. With that many people competing, the tournament took the entire day just to determine who would make the cut for Sunday. Most TCG tournaments are not single or double elimination; instead they use the Swiss Format. A single round usually takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to complete and with that many competitors playing in the tournament, the tournament lasted nearly 8 hours, if not more, due to the nature of the tournament format.
I would like to say that I did exceptionally well in the tournament or at least made a good showing, but that’d be a lie. My first round match is most likely the fastest tournament loss in the L5R's history. In Magic the Gathering and some other TCGs, winning on the first time or even the second turn isn’t uncommon. In L5R, winning on the second turn is nearly impossible due to the mechanics of the game. For those of you who are familiar with L5R, you’ll be astonished to hear that I lost on my opponent's second turn. A series of province destroying events and very fortunate draw helped my opponent destroy me before I got to take my second turn. I’d add more details, but I don’t want to bore my audience with the rules, card descriptions, and interactions that led to my greatest defeat. Even fifteen years later, that loss still hurts! If you're interested in the details let me know and I'll write a full version of that loss.
My only souvenir from that GenCon was an L5R t-shirt that Wizards of the Coast gave out at one of their events. The t-shirt is something of a collector’s item as it has both the revised L5R logo with the coins (after the Olympics claimed trademark on any design that incorporated 5 interlocking rings) and the WotC logo. For a free t-shirt it’s held up well, and I’ll probably be wearing it at GenCon. WotC would later sell the rights to L5R back to AEG a few years later.
It’s 2015, and I’m going to GenCon again. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am to be able to go. So much has changed for me! I’ve grown up, as strange as that is to admit. I’ve given up collecting comics and playing TCGs, and my bank account is most thankful for that! This trip to GenCon is far better planned, and I’ve got so many things to do while I’m there.
My priorities have changed so much! RPGs are more than a hobby for me. I’ve been working on this blog for several years now. Although my updates have been sporadic, I enjoy writing about my gaming experiences and reviewing Classic World of Darkness books. I’ve also started working as a freelancer for Onyx Path Publishing. GenCon is more than just a vacation and a chance to game. Now, it’s an opportunity to further my goals as a writer and network with other freelancers and game developers. More importantly, GenCon is where I can play new games, meet podcasters, bloggers, and other freelancers. My girlfriend and I are huge fans of the Underdiscussion Podcast, and we’ve been looking forward to meeting them at GenCon for a while. My girlfriend even has one of their t-shirts that she won in a contest that she wants them to sign.
I’m not going to GenCon to just play in one tournament; instead, I’m going to explore the variety of offerings available. But I haven’t left L5R behind either. The only RPG game that I’ve signed up for so far is an L5R RPG game. I’ve never had a chance to play the 4th Edition version, and GenCon is the perfect opportunity to try out a new system. I’ll also be looking for pickup games and pretty much any kind of demos for new games. My girlfriend is coming with me, and she is just as excited as I am. We’ve been talking about this trip for nearly two years now. It’s a perfect year for us to visit GenCon too, Tony DiTerlizzi is the Artist Guest of Honor this year and we are both huge fans of his artwork, especially his work on the Planescape campaign setting. I've been a fan of DiTerlizzi's work since I played the Blood Wars TCG way back in 1994 before I'd ever played one session of an RPG.
Not everything has gone perfectly. Event registration, which was this past Sunday, was a nightmare. When my girlfriend submitted my wish list on Sunday, the system didn’t process it correctly, and we had to sit down later that night to work through our events again. Every time we tried to build a wish list and submit our events, the system lost our order. It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but the frustration and anxiety caused by the website’s problems made the event registration process a lot more painful than it should have been. I wasn’t too thrilled that I had to pay to attend some events, especially after paying $80.00 per badge.
Once my girlfriend and I registered for our events, the excitement returned. Maybe it was easier back in the day when I could just go to a convention with no more thought than whose floor I was sleeping on. I’ve changed too much and have too many responsibilities to be able to go to a convention at a moment’s notice. Yet, the planning and buildup to the convention has added to my excitement. I’ve picked out the events that I want to try. I’m going to meet with both my colleagues and many of the people in the RPG industry that I’ve admired. I’ve changed and my expectations for GenCon have changed as well, and other than the event registration system, I think both GenCon and I have changed for the better.