GenCon: Last Plane Out of Conventia




Behind the scenes at the museum. We went for dinner at Greek Islands the previous night, a local Indy restaurant which seems to operate off this philosophy:

There is no problem that endless starters, flaming cheese and belly dancing cannot solve.

The place is small, raucous and, hand to God, serves cheese which is actually on fire as a starter. We were there with a group of roleplaying writers, including the venerable Professor McGlothlin, responsible for some of the best Mutants and Masterminds scenarios ever written, the young, massively enthusiastic creative team behind Champions Live Action and the staff of Indie Press Revolution. They were a fascinating, diverse bunch of people and at one point the conversation turned to the Burning Man festival, that happens near several people’s homes.


But not too near.


Burning Man is a festival that takes place once a year. It’s 50,000 strong and takes place every year in the desert outside Black Rock, Nevada. People are allowed to bring whatever they will need for the duration of the festival, including food and…that’s it. It’s designed to be an experiment in community and self reliance as much as art, to the point where people have to pay to leave the city to pick up anything they forgot.  The city is the art and the art is the city and both are notional, ideas held together for as long as it takes for them to be communicated to whoever wants to see them.

As Burning Man, so GenCon. Just with way, way more boardgames.

It’s physically impossible to see and do everything, the program alone is the size of a small telephone directory, so you have two choices. You can either run yourself raw and not sleep for four days or pick your shots and make something meaningful out of the four days. No Game Left Behind, like the convention motto says, but perhaps No Game Left Behind Unless You Want To may be more accurate.

So I picked my targets and I had a lot of fun. In the coming weeks you’ll here about the games I found, ranging from the science fiction horror of Maschine Zeit to the supernatural power play of They Became Flesh and the official Primeval roleplaying game. They’re all fun, all innovative and all on the slate to be written about.

But what struck me more than the games was the effect the convention had on the city and on what came after. For four days Indianapolis was GenCon town, it was the planet Conventia. Local restaurants changed their menus to reflect terms from games, the streets were lined with banners saying WELCOME GAMERS! and the local pharmacist featured regular long lines for everything from Doritos to toothpaste. The Starbucks at the end of the JW Marriott Skywalk was open from 6 in the morning till midnight and it was always, always crowded. Everywhere you went, you saw people holding games, cosplaying or on their way to another panel.

Then, on Sunday it stopped. And the city was packed up, shipped away and broken down until the next convention. The Burning Man burnt. The dice rolled. And Indianapolis breathed out. Less than two hours after the end of the convention we went for dinner with Clint, Jodi, Trinity and Bethany Black, old friends who are vital parts of the Savage Worlds community. The restaurant was running on a quarter of the menu and five drinks. Conventia was closed, and most of the staff had gone home for a very, very well deserved rest.


We stayed a day past the end of the Con and the effect was even more pronounced. The convention center was an empty town sitting in the middle of the city, deserted aside from the cleaning and maintenance staff and breakfast that morning, previously a cacophony of geeks trying to politely move around one another whilst seeking coffee and waffles, was just us.

GenCon was done. The motorbike convention that had been tearing up and down the road outside for four days at all hours were gone. Indianapolis was on downtime and it didn’t care who knew it.

I love that.

I love seeing behind the scenes after something’s happened, being trusted to see social events with their guard down and their belt unhitched a notch. I’ve worked backstage in various capacities most of my life, as a stage hand, a magician and, in a slightly different way, with Pseudopod. I love it. I love the sense of quiet, of accomplishment. The industry of that first photo, combined with the calm of the second. Behind the scenes at the museum, where no game gets left behind. Literally.


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