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Some of these are things I've learned, some of these are my perspective of some suggestions by other people such as my buddy Erik Mona.
In no particular order....
* Register for games you don't normally play. As my sister pointed out to me, you can play D&D (or your favorite game) at home with your friends any time you want (unless you're one of the poor souls with no gaming group, in which case register to play your favorite game!), so try something new with people you don't know. If you find it interesting when playing with strangers, you'll probably still like it when playing with friends. The point is: try something different!
* Plan to spend time in the exhibitor's area. You'll see some cool booths, spot some new games, and probably run into some "famous" (in terms of the game industry) people. Also, the celebrity autograph sessions take place in the exhibitor's areas as well.
* Buy must-have items early. If there's a new release at the show and you want to get it, go get it on Thursday or Friday. Quite often, the really hot items sell out quickly, leaving the lolligaggers empty-handed. Conversely....
* Shop late on Sunday. The dealers want to sell as much stuff as possible at the show so they don't have to ship it back home again, and they're often willing to make deals on things. But only do this for things that aren't must-haves for you, since really popular items probably will have sold out on Sunday.
* Make trades. People in the gaming industry trade stuff all the time, and are always interested in new "swag." If you picked up a copy of (for example) the Hot New Game Book at the show last year and now they're all sold out, you probably could trade it to someone else at the show on Sunday for something you'd like better. Same goes if you have an extra Player's Handbook signed by Monte, Jonathan, and Skip ... in the gaming world, that's worth more than the cover price. You can even do it with sold-out stuff from this years' show. A big chunk of my miniatures collection comes from trading signed D&D and Star Wars books to dealers on Sunday afternoon. (Thanks, guys!)
* Learn some new games. Let people in the booths demo them for you. If anything, it gives you more time to hang around the booth babes, and you might actually enjoy the game you're learning, too. :)
* Prepare for the weather. Midwestern lakeside cities in the summer tend to be hot, humid, and sometimes rainy. Bring a clean shirt, socks, and underwear for every day you'll be at the show, and you'll probably want 3 pairs of lower-body clothes, one of which should be a pair of pants if it suddenly gets cold or you're going to game in an area that has overzealous AC. Some people think they can get by with only two sets of clothes, but believe me--you'll appreciate being able to put on a fresh set every day.
* Watch out for early-morning events. More often than not, you're going to end up tired from gaming or simply being out late, so there's no sense registering (and paying) for an 8 a.m. event every day when you're going to miss half of them.
* Go to the art show. There's cool art there, and cool artists. They sell art there, and you just might find that cover illustration from your favorite adventure.
* Check out the costume contest. This is normally on Saturday, and some people do some really cool things. Plus, quite a few are really attractive women.
* Go to the Ravenloft play. Whether or not you like Ravenloft, the play hasn't been really about Ravenloft for years. It's really funny--just expect a lot of improv and people walking around on stage with scripts in hand.
* Find Gary Gygax. He should be around somewhere, signing and D&D or AD&D book you ask him to, and often runs people through the original unpublished Castle Greyhawk adventure. If you can find Dave Arneson, see him, too (Arneson hasn't been quite as visible at Gen Con in the past but that may have changed recently).
* Visit the Safe House early. If you're going to go, go Wednesday or Thursday ... it's really crowded otherwise. (As Gen Con is no longer in Milwaukee, this point isn't relevant any more.)
* Vegetarians beware. Wisconsin is a state made of beer, cheese, and bratwurst. Unless you're at an ethnic restaurant, your meatless choices usually are salad, french fries, fried mozzarella, and bread. (As Gen Con is no longer in Milwaukee, this point isn't relevant any more, and Indy has a much better selection of restaurants.)
* Personalize your backpack. They all tend to look alike after a while, so it's good to tie some identifyable stuff to it. For example, my laptop handle has a Disneyland luggage tag on it. You want to be able to pick yours out of a pile with minimal effort.
* Carry your backpack. Those rolling ones take up a lot of space in the aisles which tends to jam up traffic in the halls. Don't carry so much stuff and you can get by with a light backpack.
* Exercise now. At the show you're going to be walking around
a lot. You'll really wear yourself out by Friday evening if you're
not used to this. Start now: walk one hour a week. Just go for a walk.
Walk out for half an hour and come back again. Your feet will become conditioned
to the walking and you may lose some weight, too, which only makes the
1. Have Fun. If you're not having a good time, go do something else. If you're in a game and the GM sucks, either try to make the game better, plan ahead for your next event, or ditch the bastard--your time is more valuable than that.
2. Be clean. A lot of gamers have hygiene problems. Yes, that might mean you. 20,000 large people who don't bathe often makes a stinky Gen Con. You may think i'm joking, but there have been players kicked out of Magic: The Gathering tournaments because they were so smelly their opponent couldn't stand to be near them (it was ruled a disruption to the game, I think). Shower every day of the show (whether you think you need it or not), and wear clean clothes and deoderant every day. I plan on bringing a spray bottle of something that smells nice to use on the ones who don't follow this rule. While we're on the subject of being clean, wash your freakin' hands after you use the restroom, and avoid touching people (including shaking hands). There are so many people who don't wash their hands after using the restroom, which means that there are urine, feces, and genitalia cooties on their hands. Or, as my friend Shawn put it after he got sick after one Gen Con, "I know I got this cold from shaking the hand of some gamer who just spent half an hour digging a half-digested nacho out of his ass." Gross, ain't it? Wash your hands, and don't touch me, I'm a germophobe. Oh, and here is SomethingAwful.com's Guide To Con Hygiene (a GIF file), quite funny ... and instructive, for some of you at least.
3. Limit talking about your character to 30 seconds. Game industry people are constantly hit with people that insist on talking about their 17th level half-orc paladin for who knows how long. It's rude (after all, everybody thinks their own character is cool, but most couldn't care less about other peoples' characters). Avoid talking about your characters to someone if at all possible. If you have to talk about a character, limit it to 30 seconds. If you do this, the person you're talking to is much less likely to run away.
4. Sleep at least 6 hours a day. Personally, I need eight, but I'm an insomniac and rarely get it. Prepare for jet lag if you're not in the same time zone as the convention. Not getting enough sleep makes you cranky and less able to have fun (see rule #1). Also, if you short yourself on sleep and have to rush to an event, you're likely to skip your morning shower (see rule #2).
5. Be backpack courteous. Those big giant backpacks take up a lot of space. The kind with wheels are even worse--don't bring them, or at least don't roll it (save that for the airport). If you're wearing a backpack, be aware of where it is--it's far too easy to swing around and whack someone next to you. That's not nice.
6. Be walkway courteous. Especially when you're in the exhibitor's area, there's the temptation to stop in the middle of the aisle when you see something interesting or when you need to dig something out of your backpack. That jams up everyone behind you. Instead, move to the side of the aisle before you stop. That keeps the aisles clear for traffic--a lot of people need to be somewhere in the exhibitor's area at a certain time, and traffic gluts are a real pain.
7. Drink a lot of water. It's really easy to get dehydrated in a hot place. Plus, you'll be mixing with a lot of people from all over the country, and you'll need water to make sure your immune system can handle the haze of cross-country germs. Plus, water's good for you. Drink at least a glass of real water (not soda, juice, etc.) at every slot. Sure, you'll have to pee a lot, but that beats getting sick as soon as you get home.
Snacks. Granola bars, dried fruit, fresh fruit. Stuff that's good for you and gives you real energy.
Camera. Even if it's just a disposable one, you should have a camera at Gen Con for pictures of cool stuff, like neat booths, booth babes, celebrities, and so on. If it's digital, even cooler (easier to post stuff on a web site afterwards!), just don't leave it lying around.
Batteries. This assumes you have something that uses batteries, like a camera. My digital camera eats up batteries, so I'm bringing extra (yes, you can buy some from the hotel's store or a nearby convenience store, but they sell out fast, so it's best to bring your own.
Business cards. It sounds like a weird thing to bring to a convention if you want to play games, but you often meet cool people at the show, and business cards are an easy way to pass someone your info if you want to talk to them later. Also, if you're interested in getting started in the gaming industry (as a freelance designer, artist, whatever), having a business card handy (even for your regular job) makes it easy for a potential employer to contact you later. In fact, write on the back of the card a quick description of yourself and what you'd like to do. For example, if it were me, I'd write on the back of the card, "Tall bald guy, wants to write d20 stuff for you, send him an email to get a sample of his work." Makes it easier for your potential employer to remember you after the show!
Traveler's checks or a credit/debit cards. Most dealers at the show take them. And if stolen, they can be replaced (unlike cash).
Medicine.: Aspirin, ibuprofin, acetominahphen, whatever floats your boat. Your feet might hurt, your back might hurt, whatever, and it would be good to have that sort of thing on hand instead of having to buy a whole bottle at the hotel shop for $10. Youch! I also like to bring Airborne, a natural remedy (it's a bunch of vitamins, basically) that boosts your immune system in anticipation of encountering a whole bunch of people, like being on a plane or at a con. I've taken Airborne every time I've flown somewhere in the past 3 years and so far I haven't gotten sick from any of those trips.
Gaming stuff: Small pad of paper, dice, pens, pencils. Don't bring too much, you'll kill your back dragging it around. Especially if you're trying new games - you're not going to need all of your D&D books if you're trying a different game, yah?
Clothing. Shoes (two pairs--wear them on alternate days and you'll
feel better, plus you'll have the option to switch into a different pair
if you go out at night after a long day), socks (one pair for each day),
clean clothes for each day. See the Prepare For The Weather Section under
the tips part. :)