Gencon Survival Tips

Photo credit: Gencon LLC

I’ve been going to Gencon regularly since 2001 or so, with a few skipped years here and there. That makes a veteran, though I’m still a piker compared to some friends who’ve gone to more than 30 Gencons in a row.

This year Gencon hits the big Five-Oh, and judging from badge sales, it’s going to be the biggest ever. If you’re going, get your Maslow on and make sure you’re taking care of your hierarchy of needs.


We West Coasters fly to Gencon, but the vast majority of attendees drive there. In addition to being a terrific game designer, Kevin Kulp (PirateCat on EN World) has a fascinating day job: He’s a sleep and alertness expert who advises companies on shift scheduling and other sleep-related safety matters. Years ago, he started this thread to help sleep-deprived drivers get to the show without crashing, and I consult it every year before I go.

The overt focus is getting to Gencon safely, but it also answers the question you’ll be asking yourself by midday Thursday: “How little sleep can I get away with?” The whole post is worth a read, but the short answers are:

  • Five hours a night is a lot better than four.
  • Nap in 90-minute blocks if you can, and avoid one-hour naps.
  • “The least amount of sleep with close-to-normal functioning? Two 2-hour naps per day, spaced 12 hours apart. You’ll be tired, but it can keep you going efficiently for quite some time; it’s what we recommend to emergency workers.”

Seriously, though, read the thread. Pay attention in particular to the “drunk vs. tired” comparisons. I’ll bet Kevin’s thread has literally saved lives.


If you don’t have good, comfortable shoes for Gencon, buy new ones now (mid-July as we publish this). That way they’ll be broken in before you get to Indy. Gencon might seem like a “sit there and game all day” event, but there’s a ton of walking and standing involved. You don’t want every step to feel like Grimtooth’s Chamber of Caltrops.

Food and Drink

Indy’s food is great—assuming you’re a carnivore. It’s not exactly cheap, but honestly everyone’s restaurant tab would be higher if the show were in Chicago—or even Seattle for that matter. I treat myself every year to a big ol’ steak and a shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steak House…and with their cocktail sauce, it’s often September before my nose-hairs grow back. Strong stuff!

For lunches, take advantage of weird gamer scheduling and hit the food trucks outside the convention center in late morning or early afternoon. Game through the lunch rush and hit ‘em when the lines are short.

While you’re gaming, have protein/energy bars stashed away in your backpack. Your brain will thank you. And drink water, even if you aren’t thirsty. Even if you’re having beers later. Even if you just had beers. YOU NEED WATER TO GAME. (And technically also to live.)


Speaking of drinking water…If you’re roleplaying, you need to talk to play. Over the course of four days at Gencon, you’ll probably talk more than you do in a week or two of normal life. Your vocal cords will notice! Baby them. That means avoiding smoke, resisting the urge to yell, and saving that gravelly orc barbarian voice for Sunday’s game.

If you’re worried about losing your voice, there are some preventive things you can do:

  • Drink water. Seriously, just do it. There are bubbler fountains all over the place in the hall.
  • Avoid acidic and spicy food. Fewer mimosas, and ease up on the salsa.
  • Don’t yell, obviously, but also try not to whisper. It’s low volume, but whispering is hard on the vocal cords.
  • Gargle salt water. Really.
  • Stay away from chocolate and booze…or so vocal coaches say, though we’re edging toward “cure is worse than the disease” territory.

Other Random Tips

The Dealer Hall: Don’t try to walk all the aisles in one fell swoop. I did the math last year, and even the optimal serpentine paths clocked in at 2.5 to 3 miles…and that’s just the main exhibit hall, not the ancillary retail space over by Lucas Oil Stadium. If you’re bound and determined to see everything, try to knock out a dozen aisles a day and you’ll be fine.

Open Gaming: I always see something amazing when I wander through the open gaming tables—either a board game I’ve never heard of, a particularly animated group of RPGers, or some weird custom-made miniatures game that spends the other 51 weeks of the year in someone’s basement.

Generic Tickets: These are your best friends. Especially on Saturday and Sunday, people aren’t always showing up for events. I almost always get a spot at the table if I show up a few minutes before an event, generic ticket in hand. Someone’s gonna no-show, and you’ll be in.

The Most Important Tip

Embrace the unknown! My schedule is often a shambles by Friday—and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve played amazing prototype games, had sublime RPG experiences in systems I’d never tried, and talked game design until the wee hours of the morning at Gencon, all because my schedule isn’t set in stone.

So demo something, even if it’s not your favorite sort of game or not in a genre you love. Take time away from the gaming table to see the costume parade, or watch people get married. Every single year, the best thing at Gencon is the thing that you didn’t know existed before you walked past it—and it’s the thing you’ll be talking about until next August rolls around.

Kickstarters We Like: Revolutionaries

Revolutionaries promotional art

American gamers—like all Americans, really—have been soaking in the folklore and history of the Revolutionary War all their lives. The struggle for independence is so suffused in our culture that it often takes profound study to separate the folklore from the history. It was an exciting time in the North American colonies, full of spies and secret missions—and the world’s mightiest military force against a literally rag-tag bunch of partisans who were often more elusive than effective.

The setting features small groups from all walks of life, bound together by a common goal. The dramatic stakes are high. The historical setting details are abundant. Yet for some reason, the Revolutionary War gets short shrift in gaming, with a few memorable wargames but not much else.

Enter the kickstarter for Revolutionaries—American War of Independence RPG. The crowdfunding campaign launched July 4 (of course), and $30 plus shipping gets you the boxed version of the game. Thirty bucks!

I’m honestly not sure how they’re making that price point work, because the game looks sharp, and the pedigree of the designers is top notch. It’s a big team, but I’ll highlight two names of interest to grognards like me: managing director Mark Rein•Hagen (he still uses the dot, right?), designer of seminal stuff like Ars Magica and Vampire: The Masquerade, and creative director C.A. Suleiman, who’s contributed to a ton of D&D and World of Darkness books (full disclosure: I think we may have contributed to some of the same 3E D&D books back in the day).

The game wisely focuses on the “secret history” of the Revolutionary War, using the real-life Culper ring as the inspiration for the default protagonists. (RPGs tend to work better with strong defaults for who the PCs are and what they’re doing.) If you wanted, I imagine you should nudge the game into the horrific (it’s New England, after all, home of Lovecraft and King) or magical (maybe into Seventh Son territory).

The other reason I’m enchanted with Revolutionaries is that the PCs are going to be fighting against an unjust authority. That’s something I think a lot of RPGs have lost along the way. In most games and in most genres, the PCs are agents of the lawful authorities—maybe technically independent, maybe not. The patron, boss, or other authority figure tells the PCs about a threat to the home society, and the PCs go out and quash it.

I for one am tired of that. I want more stories about sticking it to The Man. Early RPGs were replete with those sorts of adventure setups, but now they’re the exception, not the rule.

Side note: I realize this sounds like a Trump thing, but it’s been nibbling away at me for a good five years now. Not that I don’t have feelings about politics! But this ain’t about that. It’s more that I worry gamers are getting too heavy a diet of “agents of lawful authority,” and on balance it’s more fun and more dramatic to be the righteous underdogs, blowing stuff up in the name of freedom.

That’s why I’m all in on Revolutionaries (and why my own writing tends to have the PCs as rebels). You’ve got until August 1 to join the Kickstarter campaign, though it wouldn’t shock me if you saw a retail release for this game at some point, too.