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Some of these are things I've learned, some of these are my perspective of some suggestions by other people.
You may notice a subtle bias in this version of the article. ;)
In no particular order....
* Register for games you don't normally play. 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 hall. 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 halls 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 to the previous point, 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. :)
* Try some pick-up games. If the event you wanted is sold
out, there are games going on all over the places in the halls and
at tables. Sit down with friends, or ask strangers if you can
watch their game. Whether it's a card game, board game, dice game,
or RPG, give it a look, give it a try.
* 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. In fact, bringing extra pairs of socks--your feet will thank you for it, and if your bags are too full of loot at the end of the show, you can always leave behind some extra socks. Same goes for underwear, bring extras.
* Wear comfortable shoes. If you can, buy some cheap, well-padded walking/running shows the weekend before the show, and wear them at work and at home for at least a day to break them in gently and get your feet used to them. Though you'll probably be spending a lot of time sitting at a gaming table at the show, you're going to do a lot of walking, too, and if you're not used to that, you'll need some springy shoes, especially as most convention halls are just carpet over concrete. I do not recommend flip-flops, as they generally don't have good padding and after four days your feet and knees will be aching. Bring another pair of comfortable shoes (ones you're already used to wearing) so you'll have something to wear at night for dinner, partying, whatever.
* 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.
* 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. (Though, to be honest, I don't know if Wizards of the Coast does the Ravenloft play any more.)
* Personalize your backpack. They all tend to look alike after a while, so it's good to tie some identifiable stuff to i, like putting a Disneyland luggage tag on it. You want to be able to pick yours out of a pile with minimal effort.
* Carry your backpack, don't roll it. 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. This also applies to wearing giant backpacks that extend backward for two feet; if you're standing in the aisle in front of a book, and a person on the opposite side of the aisle is doing the same, you plus your backpacks really narrow the space available for passersby.
* Exercise now. Though it's a bit too late for me to
suggest this for Gen Con 2014, in general it's good advice. 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. So, if you can go back in time, start a few months ago and
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), brush your teeth every day, and wear clean clothes and deoderant every day. 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! Oh, and here is SomethingPositive.com's Guide To Con Hygiene (a GIF file), quite funny ... and instructive, for some of you at least. And it wouldn't hurt to carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer (not the antibacterial kind, that just adds to the problem, just use the alcohol+glycerin type, like Purell).
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 5 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 (Indianapolis is on Eastern Time, UTC â€“4:00, and as of 2006 most of the state [including Indianapolis] uses Daylight Savings Time). 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) and get sick from being exposed to so many new germs (see rule #3). Frequent convention attendees try to follow the 1/3/5 Rule: each day, make sure you get 1 shower, 3 good meals, and 5 hours of sleep.
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 hall, 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 hall 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. Double 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, nuts, (and/or beef jerky, if you're not a vegetarian). Stuff that's good for you and gives you real energy. Fruit and grains for carbs and long-term energy, nuts for protein and to keep you feeling full. This will help keep you from spending tons of money on expensive con junk food.
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, games you want to look up later, 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. And don't forget
its charger! And if you're taking a picture of a person in a
costume, get their permission first—otherwise you're just being
creepy (and in most cases, they're happy to have their picture
taken, but it's courteous to ask, especially as it lets them
strike a cool pose).
Batteries. This assumes you have something that uses batteries, like a camera. 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 design rules 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!
Cell Phone. ... Or you can just put a new contact's number into your cell phone. A phone also makes it easier to meet up with wandering friends. If you don't already have a cell phone, it's probably worth it to get one of those prepaid phones just for the show. But please have good phone etiquette. And bring your phone charger. :)
Make a meetup schedule. Thousands of people will be using phones and smart phones during the show. Expect weak connections, dropped calls, and delayed texts. It's better to agree in person on a specific schedule (like "meet me at the front of the art show at 2pm on Thursday") than try to find out if a friend might be available to meet you in the next hour. (People recommend this sort of thing for amusement parks like Disneyland, and it's really smart.)
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 some vitamins, just to make sure my body gets the basic stuff it needs while stressed with travel, jet lag, and 20,000 strangers's germs.
Heating Pads.: I'm talking the little one-use stick-on things you can get at Target, a drug store, or just about any store that has a good-sized "health" aisle (where you'd find rubbing alcohol, bandages, etc.). When working a show, I'm on my feet for eight hours a day, and a little localized heat goes a long way to prevent back pain.
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 books if you're trying a different game, yah?
Gum or Mints: You probably won't have time to run back to the hotel after lunch to brush your teeth, so gum or mints is handy for keeping your breath fresh. After all, you wouldn't want to run into Mr. or Ms. Right at the show and have coffee breath or pizza breath, would you?
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, plus extras), clean clothes for each day. See the Prepare For The Weather Section under the tips part. :)