GenCon 2013 Part 3

Before I write anything more about my trip to GenCon 2013, I thought I’d best take a moment to describe the physical environment. The convention center lies at the very heart of downtown Indianapolis and is surrounded by a great number of hotels, many of which are connected to the convention center via skywalks. As far as I can tell, the entire center is given over to GenCon, which is pretty incredible because you could probably store a fleet of 747s inside.

Nearby hotels roll out the red carpet, issuing keys emblazoned with game-related pictures and renaming menu items to game appropriate choices like “Broiled Halfling” (well, not THAT choice, but you get the idea). The city closes down a side street beside the center and food trucks are brought in to provide an alternative to the fast food served in the convention’s concession areas. Within the hall itself, great banners display images from various games. Even tables are decorated, some of them doubling as game boards.

A GenCon food court table, complete with part of my lunch.

Board games and role-playing games are both undergoing a resurgence, and convention goers can sit down to try out vast numbers of them, both in separate rooms and in the grand exhibition hall itself. Speaking of which – that hall has to be seen to be believed. I don’t actually remember what the official title of the place is, for I took to calling it the Hall of Treasures some years back. It’s an apt description.

I tried to convey the grandeur of the place and the wonders to be found there, but I don’t think that Lou and Scott and Saladin – all first time con goers – believed me until they saw it for themselves. Imagine the coolest merchant hall you’ve ever seen at a convention, then multiply the amount of interesting stuff there by a factor of at least fifty. Still don’t believe me? How’s this. Any time I was wandering the hall and had to get to a panel, I had to allow myself at least ten minutes to cross from the far side of the hall to the exit closest to the Writer’s Symposium. RPGs, board games, geeky t-shirts, steam punk gear, anime, dice, books, fantastic art work, furniture designed for gamers… I could go on and on. If any of this sounds of interest, you should really just get to the con.

A light traffic moment in the Hall of Treasure.

After the opening day, things are a bit of a blur for me. Oh, I remember many key moments, some of which are likely to remain with me forever, but there are enough similarities to my activities each day that I think a detailed breakdown would bore you. Much of each day was spent either sitting on panels at the Writer’s Symposium – an excellent, excellent program for writers that I’ll detail elsewhere – or at the Paizo booth in the Hall of Treasure. Occasionally there were breaks where I’d join authors and friends, or have an opportunity to wander the hall myself!

If you happen to think that success never happens to the nice guys, I can hold up in rebuttal the astonishing successes of some of my writer friends… or the folks at Paizo. Everyone at Paizo, from the owners to the publishers to the editors to whomever stands on the lower rungs (and it’s hard to tell who those are, because ALL OF THEM are working the floor, managers and editors included) seem to love what they’re doing. While watching them at work you sense a real esprit de corps. The folks at Paizo know that they are creating something greater than the sum of its parts, and that they’re part of something special. It’s sort of like watching the early Beatles, I suppose, because there’s zest and vibrancy and innovation and you wish you could be a part of it. Paizo just keeps raising the bar, as evidenced not just by their continued accumulation of Ennies but by the ongoing excellence of their game books.

Customers queuing up to buy the new Paizo card game.

And they’re good people. There’s not a one I’ve met that I don’t like. The two I know best are publisher Erik Mona (with whom I never truly crossed paths this year, alas, so I will not describe him in depth here) and Fiction Editor James Sutter. James is a bright, talented guy who loves his job and approaches his line with great care and enthusiasm. My wife described him as “genuinely sweet” and though this may put my manliness into question, I must concur.

There was a long gap between my first and second Paizo Pathfinder novel, but I mean to be more involved going forward, and James seemed to be pretty pleased with the new characters and ideas I pitched him when we sat down for a meeting Friday.

While at the Paizo booth I got to better know Chris Jackson, whose first Pathfinder novel Pirate’s Honor was recently released, and Richard Lee Byers, long time Forgotten Realms writer, whose own Pathfinder novel, Called to Darkness, came out only a little while ago. When he’s not crafting pirate tales for Pathfinder, Chris is writing naval adventures of his own. He’s a wonderful fellow with a cheery disposition and a vast knowledge of the ocean, owing to the fact he spends most of his life living on a boat. I spent a little less time with Richard, but found him soft spoken, kind, and possessed of a quiet humor. I look forward to getting to know him better.

Cool steampunk gear!

The Pathfinder author I know best by far is Dave Gross, who pretty much took me under his wing for my first several GenCons. He ensured I knew people both at Paizo and in the RPG industry at large. He’s quite popular, as evidenced by the queue of Pathfinder Tales fans who were lining up to get his newest novel signed. He has four of them now! Dave has a quietly sharp sense of humor that can sneak up on you. One joke – which I cannot repeat – left me with a fit of recurring giggles for about fifteen minutes. He’s a gentleman, though, and generous with his time and wisdom. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of Kung Fu movies and film in general.

What else can I say about the folks at Paizo? It seemed like they went out of their way to accommodate me and be helpful for all their authors and customers. Chris Self in particular spent a great deal of time sorting out some confusion over the room I’d booked.

While outside the great hall I occasionally met up with other friends. It was a delight to talk with my old friend Patrick Kanouse, with whom I used to work some twenty years ago when I lived in Indianapolis. Thursday my friend Saladin Ahmed arrived, and I joined him and writer Andrew Zimmerman Jones in one of the crowded eateries. Andrew’s a bright, bright guy and I wish I saw him more often. And Saladin, he’s my comrade-in-arms. When his face lit up as he caught sight of me it warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart.

If any of you readers out there are wondering what Saladin’s like in person, well, he’s humble and caring and has a self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s always a joy to relax at his side, and one of my favorite moments of the con came later one evening when we walked into a gathering separately. Maurice Broaddus asked Saladin and me if the two of us had met. “Oh yeah,” Saladin replied, “we’re sword brothers.”

I’ll talk about the Writer’s Symposium and the panels at greater length at Black Gate, which frankly gets a lot more hits than my own site. I want to make sure I draw as much attention to the symposium as possible, because I believe it’s a fine, fine program. Here I’ll just say that one of the interesting behind-the-scenes effects to being on a panel is that you get a sense of some of your colleagues. And at GenCon, at least, that was always a pleasant experience.

For instance, even though I’ve known of Jim Hines for years and we’ve exchanged an occasional hello, I finally got a sense of who he was in person by sitting beside him on a panel (he’s a good guy, in case you were curious). Maurice Broaddus and I struck up a conversation over our identical phones, a prelude to a great talk we were to have later that evening.

Occasionally I got to spend additional time with new writer friends between panels, as I did with Erin Evans, writer and WoTC editor, who’d just finished writing one of the new Forgotten Realms Sundering novels.

Monday I’ll take one more look at GenCon 2013 and a few more favorite moments, including a great game session. What’s GenCon without a game or two?