GenCon is Wondrous and Wild

GenCon 2016
GenCon 2016

Story and photographs by Michael Pfaff, Illustration by Steven Wu

GenCon is the Kentucky Derby of tabletop gaming. This chronicle of events has been recollected from my hazy and sometimes void memory of what transpired at GenCon 2016. Proceed with caution. 

Oh, and there’s some cosplay photographs at the end of each section.

Wednesday: Day 1 at GenCon

The heat of early August in Kentucky is humid and stifling. I packed my clothes and gaming supplies the night before, but I’m sweating from the frantic, last minute packing of food and booze to drag along to Indy with me. My booze list includes two six-packs of West Sixth IPA, one bottle of bourbon, one bottle of Vodka, and one bottle of Zing Zang. Bates and Salyer are both asking me, what the hell is Zing Zang? How do you not know Zing Zang? Normally, I’ll craft my own Bloody Marys with individual ingredients, but I’m packing as light as I can. It’s a mix, I tell them. Everything in one bottle. And, it’s the best mix. I’m going to need those Bloody Marys as hair of the dog.

We pick up two fellas that needed a ride on the other side of the tracks in Germantown. Who are they? I don’t know, Bates tells me. I shrug and we pull up on a side street near Shelby Park and pack them, their packs and a bag with a boffer sword stabbing out of it into Bates’ tiny Honda Civic. These guys are LARPers, and Bates makes the joke that the drive to GenCon wouldn’t be appropriate without a boffer sword lying between our seats. There’s no cargo space and we’re all packed in like nerdy sardines for our pilgrimage to the Tabletop Gaming Mecca of the Midwest.

The road to Indy is always a terrible mess. I imagine they’ve been building I-65 between Louisville and Indy perpetually since the first GenCon in 1968 (though, held in Lake Geneva, Wisc. in those days). We launch into our schedules, gaming talk, and our hopes for this GenCon. Somehow it devolves into a discussion about reality and Aristotle (or was it Plato?) and the true forms of everything. A voice from one of our new convention comrades in the back: well, that got deep quickly.

Indy swells in size during GenCon. More than 60,000 nerds pack the downtown area, swarming the convention center and everything in a half-mile radius like ants over the biggest, nerdiest ant-hill ever. Bates and crew, like many of the folks here for GenCon, are cramming six to a hotel room. I’ve thrown in on an AirBnB a bit further from the convention with some kids from Games on Tap Louisville, but it doesn’t kick-in until tomorrow. So, I need to find floor space to crash on for the night.

I flag down a couple teachers I know here early for the Trade Day and convince them to let me crash at their room. It happens to be next door to the hotel Bates is staying at, so we drive to the swanky restaurant where they’re having dinner and get the room key. The hotel is bustling and two of the elevators are down, so I wait for twenty minutes for my turn to ride up to my floor. My first priority is to get one of those hotel cots, so I call down to the desk and I’m led on an Alice-in-Wonderland-like rabbit hole of telephone operators and desk captains. Finally, I get someone with a clue and ask for a cot. We’re out, sir. Oh, wait. We have one more left. Bring it up, I tell the guy. Two bellhops are there a few minutes later. They reiterate how lucky I am, being the last cot and all. I tell them they are not so lucky: I don’t have cash to tip them.

Sleeping space secured, I take a shower and the water pressure is awful. There are probably a thousand grimy nerds taking a shower simultaneously. Fresh clothes. Two beers plus one in a paper cup to-go. It’s time to get my badge. Nerd Louisville was lucky enough to get a single press badge that I claimed immediately; perks of being president, I guess. I walk across the street toward the convention center and already the place is packed. Near will-call, there’s a line wrapping the entire length of the convention halls and back again. I can pick up my press badge at a smaller, side room, but it’s closed until tomorrow at 7am. And, there’s no way I am standing in that god-forsaken line for my event tickets, so I call around. What’s everyone up to? There’s a game going down at the Omni the teachers are playing in, so I start walking that way and alert Bates to my whereabouts.

The Omni seems like an older hotel, nicer than the teachers’ hotel. There are curling wooden banisters, painted domed ceilings with chandeliers dangling from them, marble and finely carpeted floors. I’m looking for the Victoria room on the second floor mezzanine. There are half a dozen rooms already packed with con-goers huddled around tables playing roleplaying and board games. I find the room the game is happening in and sit down to a character named Lady Something. I’m told I have telepathic powers and some other gibberish about bennies and explosions of dice. I’m introduced to the other folks at the table. They’re all friends from a past life or something. We finally get the game rolling, but the gamemaster has about a dozen words to say. I pepper him with a few questions; you know, set the scene, dude. It’s still a struggle. Bates shows up an hour later. He sits in the chair of another player’s wife. She’s on the phone. He’s playing a character that has telekinesis and healing powers. Bates just watched Stranger Things on Netflix, so he thinks telekinesis is the most powerful ability in the game. He might be right. Still, the game plods along. My beer runs out, but luckily, Bates has his Diet Dr. Pepper bottle and shares some with me. I can taste the spiced flavor of the Kraken. I get a text message from Salyer looking to hang. He meets us and watches the game finally come to a welcome end. After the game ends, Salyer tells me he couldn’t tell who the gamemaster was. I say, that’s how you know it’s a bad game.

Bates tells us the best time to get badges and tickets requires us to drink until the wee hours of the morning. So we do. The bars around the convention center range from douchey to douchier. Are those words? Luckily, the influx of nerds helps to temper the crowd a bit. We find a bar called Kilroy’s and spend the next several hours drinking. The half-priced Bell’s Two-Hearted IPAs endear this place to us more, despite the sticky floors and frat ambience. There are nerds here too. I meet two guys from Illinois and ask them what they’re looking forward to at GenCon. We’re in a board game tournament, the more talkative of the two says to me. I wish them luck and settle the tab.

The three of us stagger back toward the convention center. Surprisingly, there are still folks wandering the streets and it’s only Wednesday. Indy is a lively place when GenCon rolls into town. Where there was once a mile-long line, there is now only a handful of night owls picking up their tickets. Bates was right. It takes us about five minutes to acquire our badges and tickets. The hotel is not far. My weary head hits the pillow as the greyish twilight of morning seeps between the window curtains and I dream of medusa and malformed cosplay.

It’s going to be a long weekend.

Thursday: Day 2 at GenCon

It’s the next morning and I’m getting kicked out of the hotel room early. I have a mild hangover and not nearly enough sleep. Plus, I need the pass code to get into the AirBnB. Serendipitously, moments after packing up, I get a message on Facebook telling me just that. It’s walking distance, but I’m loaded down with my bags and a cooler. I pull up my Lyft app, but there are no drivers out. A green cab is sitting in the turnabout, so I hail him and ask if he takes debit cards. He does. My cabbie moved here from Africa. How long have you lived in Indy? Three years. He tells me his family moved here from D.C. before that and likes Indy a whole lot more than D.C. I ask him about GenCon. He chuckles. Lots of people in funny outfits. He’s talking about the cosplayers. I glance at the faire rate and it’s already at $5 and we’re not even around the block from the hotel yet. Damnit, Lyft. We slowly make our way just outside of downtown Indy and into a neighborhood called Lockerbie Square, reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg. Nice. I thank the cab driver and tip him generously to redeem karma since I didn’t tip the bellhops.

The AirBnB is incredible. It’s three stories with three bedrooms, three baths, a spacious living area, and an outdoor patio with a firepit. The Games on Tap kids should be here momentarily, so instead of settling in, I make myself a Bloody Mary and start packing a sandwich to have on me later. When they arrive, I offer them each one and we all sip Bloody Marys and explore the space. The stairs keep going up, one of them tells me. Someone is claiming the cellar. The owner said we can have what we want; just don’t drink the wine in the cellar.

We’re all eager to get to GenCon and I have an event at two o’clock. I fill up my flask with some bourbon, tuck my gaming supplies into my bag, check my camera for battery, and we all start the trek to the convention center. It’s only Thursday, but the crowds of people are already forming as we draw nearer to the convention center.

When we arrive, GenCon is in full bloom with nerds from all over the world come to participate in a symphony of gaming, cosplay, and general nerditude. It’s then a Sean Bean Lord of the Rings meme flashes in my mind: “One does not simply go to GenCon…” No, GenCon is a place of power, a place of magic and wonder, a place that will enchant and enthrall you. It’s a place where nerds are the kings and queens of the social order, free to express themselves as they like. If someone isn’t elaborately costumed, they’re wearing the nerdiest shirt they could muster. I must have seen a hundred people wearing Millenium Falcon shirts over the course of the weekend.

I finally go to the press room to pick up my badge and I spend an hour at a Burning Wheel seminar. Then, find my way to the Goodman Games area,  where all of the Dungeon Crawl Classics games are being run. I’m still getting a feel for the space and layout of all the hotels so I’m a little early. Dieter – of Louisville’s Drunk & Sailor – is there filling out pre-generated characters for the game we’re about to play. There’s a few other tables where adults and kids alike are exploring mythical and wondrous worlds in their shared imagination.

Dieter is a far better gamemaster than the previous super hero game, and we have a blast. My character dies in chaotic moment of battle where our party warrior accidentally swings his buzz-axe in a wide arc, missing a greyish ooze monster and instead hitting my character. Blood. Gore. Exposed ribs. The rest of the party promises to hire a relatively okay sculptor to create a bronzed bust of my wizard. I get a button for dying in a DCC game. I clip it to my bag next to the Nerd Louisville button. Woot!

Sleep deprivation and inebriation forcing a saving throw, I’m exhausted by the time the game ends. I venture back to Lockerbie Square to take an hour long nap. On the way, I stop into Punch Burger and order a morning burger with a fried egg on it, a basket of waffles fries, and a beer. I sit at the bar and the girl cooking my fries I notice is staring at me hard. She asks me if I’m photographing GenCon. I tell her I sure am. Official press pass and everything. She tells me she is a photographer too – well, when she’s not making french fries. Have you been to GenCon before? I ask her. Not yet, but she’d love to go sometime. I tell her it’s the best people gazing ever. I finish up and we wish each other farewell and good luck in our future photography. When I get back to Lockerbie, I claim the nearest bed up the stairs. I crash hard and dream of wizard-mechs.

It’s three hours later and dark when I awaken. The house is abuzz with voices and laughter downstairs. I wash my face and spray my contacts with fluid. Then, descend. The whole of the Games on Tap crew is home and impassioned by their first day at GenCon. They show me all the new games and merchandise they’ve purchased. Two of them are playing this bizarre, magnetic game similar to air hockey but with no air and a little ball instead of a puck. Someone is cooking pasta for everyone, but I’m eager to get back downtown for the night. Save me a bowl. I refill my flask and trek back downtown.

Back at the convention center, I’ve embroiled myself into a series of games of Werewolf. I forgot my generic tickets, so people are buying my wrist band for me. For $2, you get two hours of game time. But, you can get kicked out of a Werewolf game pretty quickly. The first game I’m in, I’m a bit too vocal about who might be the Werewolf and I look suspicious, so I’m lynched by the rest of the villagers almost immediately. Assholes. I get a Coke and find a bench next to the games waiting for a new one to start. I’m sitting next to a guy dressed as Sagat from Street Fighter. He’s from Indy, he tells me, and comes down to GenCon dressed up to play Werewolf  — religiously. I pull out my flask and not-so-sneakily spill a little bourbon into the Coke. He grins at me and I ask him if he wants to share. We spend the rest of the night drinking and playing Werewolf. We collect a few more folks and become infamous within the Werewolf circles.

At this point, my intoxicants are starting to kick in heavily. Sagat goes to piss and my teacher friends walk by and notice me. I’m staring intently and unblinking at collective of Werewolf games all by my lonesome. They ask me what’s up and I tell them I’ve been playing Werewolf all night with Sagat and he’s just gone to the bathroom. They look at me like I’m a madman and I swear it’s true. Just wait a minute and he’ll be back. He never comes back and I wonder to myself if I am indeed going nuts at this nerd convention.

I don’t remember the walk home but the next morning I have pasta stains on my shorts. 

Friday: Day 3 at GenCon

I awaken Friday and thank myself for packing the vodka and Zing Zang. Everyone staying at Lockerbie has already left for GenCon, so I have the place to myself. I walk downstairs in my underwear and proceed to splash some vodka, Zing Zang, spicy peppers, olives, and pickles into a huge beer stein. It tastes refreshing and I’m quickly stymieing my hangover. I have a Dungeons & Dragons event at noon, so I shower and rush over to the convention center. The D&D game is what you would expect from a WotC Adventurer’s League event: pretty bog standard, railroady, and tame — it’s PG13 dungeon crawling. Luckily, our dungeon master was a fairly jovial guy who kept the game on pace.

After the game event, I thought I’d roam the convention corridors solo and soak up the majesty of the sea of nerds packing the building. I’m not particularly erudite when it comes to cosplay, but GenCon seems to be a bastion for cosplayers, both professional and amateur. I stroll down the corridor before the exhibit hall and dozens of cosplayers lined up to show off their sometimes elaborate but always amazing costumes of any imaginable character from any medium; comics, video games, movies, anime, you name it. There were so many good costumes I’m sure I missed dozens that were beyond amazing and something that should be experienced in person.

Salyer was wanting to run a pickup roleplaying game in the evening, so I started walking toward the meeting place and against all odds ran into another friend from Louisville. I invite her to join us and we all head to Salyer’s hotel with the teachers in tow for a full game. Hotel gaming is one of the cornerstones of GenCon. You’ll find people in every nook and cranny playing card games, board games, roleplaying games. If there is tablespace, you can expect gamers to have occupied it with dice and cardboard. We set up in a side room of the hotel with a sliding door. Sharing our beer and bourbon, we rolled up characters for Perils on the Purple Planet. We were all dwarves, cousins and brothers, with occupations like shepherd, wood cutter, and chestmaker. Somehow we were all transported to an alien world with blue and yellow humanoids fighting over a holy place. That’s when we decided to use the garb of a skeletal god to pretend to be arisen. We stood on each others’ shoulders and commanded the alien warriors to bow before us. And, it worked. For a moment, we were gods. The laughter from our little side room must have sounded across all GenCon.

The game petered out after that and Salyer and I decided to meet Bates out on the town. We stopped into the least douchey place we could find, called The Pub, where I ordered drinks and bantered with a married couple at the bar about GenCon and places to hang out. They recommended a few places I would forget in the next few minutes. The nerds were out in full-force on Saturday night, invading and conquering the bars. We were all fairly tired and so I started walking back to Lockerbie.

I was walking north through downtown Indy when I heard a sudden shout from a streetside bar. Mike! It was one of the Games on Tap kids. They were having a late night drink and so I joined them. My flask was out so I was forced to order drinks. Bourbon on the rocks, please. I’m from Kentucky. Someone was buying shots. From that point on, the night became a drunken, blurred debauchery. Things occurred that are probably not suitable for a chronicle of nerdism.

Saturday: Day 4 at GenCon

Saturday is the penultimate and most wondrous of days at GenCon. I’m off to a slow start. My body is aching and my head is pulsing. I’ve been averaging 25,000 steps a day and probably that much in cubic volume of booze. I’ve an event at one o’clock but I forego it for a 45 minute, steamy shower. The only other registered event I have is True Dungeon at eight o’clock. The house is empty again so I’m walking around in a towel and fixing myself another Bloody Mary. It acts like a healing potion and rejuvenates me.

Today, my mission is to explore the exhibit and demo halls and get my copy of Maze of the Blue Medusa signed.

I’m walking toward the convention center when I get a text from Salyer. Let’s meet up and try to expend our generics, he suggests. I’m lamenting the fact that I have so many left and agree. After meeting up, we go looking for food. My hangover is subsiding and hunger pangs are taking over. Just outside of the convention center on Georgia is a slew of food trucks. We find one without the typical 30-person line called Muy Thai and order some awful Thai food. Now we know why there was no line. Fool me once.

GenCon is a place where huge ballrooms and grand halls are filled with hundreds, no, thousands of people at the same time playing your favorite game and games you’ve never heard of. Salyer and I go into one of the huge halls and start to wander. Warzones with elaborate terrain models. Dragons and twin engine planes in mid-flight. Mechs and soldiers waging a battle. X-wings and tie-fighters dogfighting. This hall has rows and rows of tables littered with any imaginable war and skirmish gaming. There’s a huge section of the hall for Settlers of Catan and other board games.

If you listen to our podcast, you often hear me decry conventions as nerd flea markets. Tables of people selling nerdy art, toys, games, comics, junk. The GenCon exhibit hall is different. You still have all the merchandise but it’s also riddled with people playing games, many are demos for the new shiny or prototypes for upcoming games. The whole place throbs with an energy very unlike a flea market. I’m lugging my copy of Maze of the Blue Medusa with me. The artist and co-author of Maze, Zak Sabbath, is supposed to be here today and I want to have it signed. He’s not at the booth yet. So, we continue to wander. We sign up for some games. We play several games of the fantasy take on Star Realms currently on Kickstarter called Hero Realms. It’s amazing.

We check into one of the booths the author is supposed to be at. Still nothing. So, we wait. We sign up for a couple games of the Battle Mech pods. Salyer is MetalWizard and I’m Crom. We wage war against each other in pixelated mechs from 1999. It’s fun. We’ve spent most of our generics by this time. We set up outside of the booth and wait for Zak to arrive, playing Star Realms on the floor. An Ewok walks by. Someone nearly steps on my camera. I’m too sober for this. And, then we see him. A line is already forming. Shit. I pull out my book and rush to get in line. There’s someone handing out “Zak Sabbath Saved D&D” t-shirts. We’re all in line for this punk rock porn star and artist turned roleplaying game designer from L.A. I realize we’re all part of a pretentious cult in this line. Salyer grabs one of the shirts and hands it to me and then takes off while I wait for my turn. When I step up, Zak recognizes me. Hey, I know you. Probably from that game of Apocalypse World I ran for you on Hangouts. Love your work man, keep it up. He signs my book. Someone snaps our photograph. Mission accomplished.

It’s about time to meet the True Dungeon crew. I walk over to the Hyatt where they’re posted up. We play a card game they just bought with monsters and stars on it. They make me play by just observing everyone else. I lose. We head over to True Dungeon. Here’s where I have to have a disclaimer. I invited a guy I’ve met before at GenCon to participate in True Dungeon with us. We were trying to recruit 10 players. And, when he shows up, he’s tweaked out on drugs or something. He’s the loud douchebag that annoys everyone in the group. And, I invited him. Be forewarned: don’t invite people you don’t know well to a two-hour, $60 event. That’s all I’m going to say on that.

True Dungeon is the capstone to my GenCon weekend. We’re given some tokens and enter into this dimly lit hall. There’s a staging area and we have to choose a character class. I’m the Cleric. I skim over my card. I’ve some spells and a couple neat abilities. Then, we’re led into an antechamber prior to the dungeon proper. As the Cleric, I’m required to memorized this series of a dozen beads. Each is associated with a word; love, zeal, blessing, etc. I have no clue what I’m doing. Someone tells me to associate the beads with the words. Have you seen these damn beads? I say. Finally, we enter the dungeon.

Imagine a haunted house. You have a guide. There are rooms. There are darker corridors that lead from room to room. That’s basically True Dungeon. Except, our guide was dressed as a drow of the Underdark. He’s got this white wig of long, stringy hair. And, this fuzzy black jumpsuit. Then, when a monster jumps out at you, instead of just screaming in terror – or pretending to not be afraid – you can actually fight it. Not for real. But, with these pucks you slide across a table. The shape of a man is painted on the table with different target numbers. You need to slide the puck so it lands on one of those target numbers. You hit if it does. The monster takes damage. Maybe dies. Some of us have spells. We can cast them to fire magic or heal. I have to cast a spell! Oh crap! The wizard shouts at me. You got this! The drow is shoving a bead into my face. LOVE! It’s LOVE. Yesssss. Spell goes off. 

Most of the rooms are puzzles. There’s a riddle on a plaque inside the room and a series of objects or runes. The party jumps to figuring out what everything means. They place or touch something in the right order and our drow guardian permits us to continue. Sometimes, if we’re struggling he jeers and laughs and gives us a clue. In the finale, the drow guide goes ahead of us and beckons us forward. We enter a room to find him behind an elevated wall. There’s a huge spider behind him, so it looks like his torso is growing out of the spider. He’s transformed into a drider. And, for his first attack, he targets the loudest member of the party. We all cheer. It’s incredible.

I meet Salyer at a hotel after-party. Saturday night at GenCon is like hotel after-party heaven. The lobbies are jam-packed with people diving into the hottest, newest game they just bought. Salyer’s glowing from an amazing DCC game he just got out of, Punjar 50,000. Grab some food? We go to his hotel and grab a few beers. On the way, Salyer regales me with tales of his event. Four tables of GMs and players are all involved in the same game. Each table is a different faction. His table is Church. Another is Cops. There are more. They can communicate between tables using a transmission. You pick up a cardboard cutout of a television and pretend you’re on T.V. somewhere nearby. One guy pretends to be a doctor recommending the inquisitors take their vitamins as he’s relaying his transmission. There’s a Doom Planet hurtling toward Punjar and the mission is to stop it. The four tables fail. Punjar is destroyed.

A random guy on the street hears us talking and introduces himself. He’s one of the referees for the Cthulhu Masters tournament. Oh, Bates is in that. There’s some naval folks investigating bizarre whale sounds in the Bermuda triangle. The submarine goes missing. The people still on the ship have to figure out what the heck is going on. Then, Cthulhu shows up or something. He promises to email us a copy of the adventure and we tell him he has stiff competition in Punjar. At the hotel, I change into my Zak Sabbath Saved D&D shirt. Salyer changes into his Punjar shirt. Some people are playing a Goonies board game. We banter for a bit and then walk back toward the bars.

We’ve just finished our burgers at The Pub. Salyer borrows a lighter from a cute, obvious non-nerd named Carol. What are you all out doing tonight, Carol? Oh, we’re geek watching. I laugh. We’re some of the geeks. A random guy comes up and asks me about my Zak S shirt. Are you Zak S? No, Zak looks way cooler than me. I can’t tell if he’s a nerd or not. Doesn’t matter. Carol’s proximity to nerds starts to reveal her own nerdiness. She starts talking about Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. At first, I think she’s just a show watcher. But, then she delves into this long-winded theory about how Meera Reed is actually Jon Snow’s twin sister because Howland Reed is such good friends with Ned she was raised in the Neck with the crannogmen. She and her friend both have Harry Potter tattoos. My mind starts to explode. She’s a goddamn nerd. Eventually, we have nothing left to talk about. She’s “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”. I tell her I’m the inverse. She doesn’t get the joke and walks off. Salyer and I finish the night reminiscing about our time here at GenCon. I walk him back to his hotel, grab my bag, and proceed on a long walk home. I’m exhausted. I dream I’m a refugee on Punjar.

Mike with Zak Sabbath, artist and co-author of Maze of the Blue Medusa.

Sunday: Day 5 at GenCon

It’s the last day of GenCon. I’ve got one event. I’m playing the aforementioned Maze of the Medusa run by the publisher of the book. Salyer was supposed to play with me but is trying to hawk his Warhammer army. So, Bates agrees to play in his stead.

No Bloody Marys for me. On the walk in I stop at Wild Eggs. I need a good breakfast. I sit at the semi-circular bar. Everyone is facing each other. I order eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit. No coffee. Just water. I’m dehydrated beyond belief. Four days of drinking will do that to you. I have my D&D Player’s Handbook with me. The woman next to me sees it. Are you here for the convention? What’s that book? Oh, this is Dungeons & Dragons. Suddenly, I’m explaining GenCon to the whole bar. A girl sitting with her boyfriend seems wide-eyed. Oh, I wanted to go, she says. She has friends who are cosplayers. She helps me explain being nerdy. The woman next me and her husband are in town for a wedding. It was downtown. I smile and tell them that’s bad scheduling. Our food comes all at the same time and everyone quiets down and eats. I finish first and tell them I’ve got a game to be at around one o’clock. I’m late. So long!

Bates gets to the JW Marriott where the game is before me. He’s texting me telling me he sees me. Walking. Crossing the sidewalk. Yes, I know what I’m doing, Bates. You don’t have to provide me status updates. Send me directions to the room we’re supposed to be in. We’re on the third floor, way in the back. Ken is running the game. We’ve only talked online. He recognizes my name. Good to meet you in person. I’m playing the Barbarian. Conan the Barbarian. Ken kicks the game off. We’ve stolen a painting and get transported into the mythical maze. We meet a giant worm in a garden that speaks silly. We fight some chameleon women. A severed hand with an eyeball in it and a snake tail strangles the Cleric and kills him. Then the creature begins to face-hug our Ranger. The ranger sucks the eyeball out of the hand and is about to bite into it when a moon-headed man enters the chamber. We can’t tell lies in the light of his head, so when we admit we’re there to steal valuable objects, he teleports us all to random rooms in the maze. I’m in a room where two toy soldier armies are waging an epic battle. They are in awe of me. The game fades to black as I lead them on a rampage through the rest of the maze.

Bates and I thank Ken for running the game. Bates tells me he was not looking forward to that game after such a long weekend of gaming, but he really enjoyed it. We walk to get his car. I say goodbye to Lockerbie and load up my stuff. We pick up the two guys who rode up with us. And, soon we’re on the road to Louisville. On the ride home, we get stuck in traffic. We’re talking about our time at GenCon, what we want to do differently, what we learned that we can apply to Nerd Louisville’s mini-convention coming up in November, and then we have nothing to talk about so we put on a podcast. Hours later Bates drops me off.

GenCon. It’s amazing. And, truly the best four days in gaming. But, it’s good to be home.

Episode 16 – Fandomfest 2016

Fandomfest 2016

Episode 16 – Fandomfest 2016

In this episode, we talk with Ken Daniels and Chris Rowe of Fandomfest 2016. We talk about the history of Fandomfest, mistakes made, and how the convention continues to grow and improve. This year the convention has a huge selection of celebrities, events, panels, and gaming to participate in, including the Stan Lee Experience where you can meet the comic legend himself.

Highlights:

  • Introductions
  • What is Fandomfest?
  • Origins of Fandomfest
  • Fandomfest expansion
  • Louisville as the “possibility city”
  • Martial Arts Combat & Steroids
  • “Matt McCloud is a great guy” but his underbelly…
  • Mistakes at past Fandomfests and straightening those problems out
  • Nerdy Planet – the Fandomfest Store
  • Ken loves Andy’s Definitive Guide to Gaming Stores in Louisville
  • Stan Lee
  • Stan Lee loves Ken’s wife and her calming voice
  • Acquiring Stan Lee
  • Gene Simmons & visiting L.A.
  • Gene Simmons’ nerddom
  • “Life’s a Game”
  • The Stan Lee Experience
  • Least expensive convention
  • Louisville and being local
  • Events at Fandomfest
  • Cosplay competitions
  • Pokemon Go! at Fandomfest
  • Fandomfest charity work
  • Gaming at Fandomfest
  • Analogue Gaming
  • The size of Fandomfest
  • Backstreet Boys & Nsync private show
  • Movie props at Fandomfest
  • Ken’s salary
  • How awesome Nerd Louisville is
  • Passion and labor of love
  • Stranger Things on Netflix
  • Where to buy tickets for Fandomfest?
  • Nerd Louisville Secret Marvel Unveil
  • Fandomfest Ticket Giveaway!

To buy tickets to Fandomfest, visit their website. As noted, Nerd Louisville is also giving away a pair of Saturday passes to the convention to a lucky winner. Find us on Facebook, like our page and share this post!

The Crew:

  • Mike Pfaff
  • Matt McCloud

Intro / Outro music is The White of Noon by STRFKR, graciously provided by Polyvinyl Records.

Episode 11 – Gamer Law Podcast

Episode 11 – Gamer Law Podcast

In this episode, we talk with Christie Ballenger, JoAnne Sweeny, and Lars Smith of the Gamer Law Podcast, a local podcast that discusses the intersection between games and law. With topics like the legality of modding and license agreements, the crew of this podcast are off to a great start. All three work in the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

Highlights:

  • Introductions: JoAnne Sweeny, Christie Ballenger, Lars Smith
  • The bizarreness of Law faculty
  • The Genesis of the Gamer Law Podcast
  • Copyright & Games
  • Preferences of Games; PC v. Consoles
  • The Sorority Girls Dressup Game
  • Topics on the Gamer Law Podcast
  • EULAs – End User License Agreements; What do they really mean?
  • Selling your soul in contracts; what happens when you own a soul?
  • Development Hell; what happens when a game takes so long to come out? Duke Nukem, anyone?
  • Bungie and the changes to Halo as the development changed
  • What games is everyone is playing?
  • The order of the Elder Scrolls
  • How to better make a sandwich?
  • The Parade of Horribles and the complete lack of responsiveness; specifically, to Mike
  • Mass Effect, Dragon Age
  • Baldur’s Gate and the controversy of Transgender NPCs; Sand in vaginas
  • Sexuality & Romance in RPGs; Making out with alien chicks; Ed Greenwood on Forgotten Realms sexuality
  • Edwin the Evil Wizard
  • Legal questions around normative communities and government intervention
  • Social acceptance for gamers
  • Contraband & violation of copyright law
  • Women in coding & programming; Clippy & the feedback from women in that character’s development
  • Gamergate, political correctness, and the Gamer Law Podcast’s next episode
  • Tabletop gaming, Slur Your Role, etc.
  • A return to Sorority Girls Dressup; Undertale
  • Good Ole Games, Steam for Planescape
  • Shadow of Mordor; Tolkien and the Hobbit Movies
  • Coding
  • Smite & Grimdawn
  • Vanderpump Rules
  • Who’s the funniest?

The Gamer Law Podcast can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LibSyn.

The Crew:

  • Mike Pfaff

Intro / Outro music is The White of Noon by STRFKR, graciously provided with permission by Polyvinyl Records.

ConGlomeration: Louisville’s Grassroots Gaming Convention

Spring has sprung, and with it, the usual sights and sounds we are used to in the Ohio valley—Derby hoopla, allergies, and people cruising Bardstown Road just to be seen. But for Louisville gamers, spring means the sound of rolling dice, smells of tasty junk food, and dreams of worlds to be conquered or lost. April marks the start of gaming convention season with the homegrown fan convention: ConGlomeration.  A descendant of the late, great RiverCon, Conglomeration has entertained local gamers with an exciting mix of games, engaging panels, and an entertaining dealer’s room/artist alley for over a decade.

There were tons of games to play at the con, including RPG and board games.  D6 or Die came down from Indiana to revel would be rebels with sessions of civil war in a galaxy far far away: West End Games’ version of Star Wars.  Cthulhu games were the next favorite, including the campy fun of the Star Trek/Cthulhu mashup that I personally ran. All the board games were supplied by local gaming club Louisville Boardgamers who have always assisted ConGlomeration with their gaming needs.  

The panels were well attended this year, starting with the lovely Jenna Busch, who you might have seen on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show. Jenna gave some thrilling personal tales during her panels while also engaging the audience on sensitive topics like Gamergate. Our intern Amber was fascinated by the “Girls in Fandom” panel, which discussed the often overlooked role of women in the culture. I agreed with Amber that women are often more fanatical, especially with attention to detail and authenticity in cosplay. Other panels ranged from fun to educational including “How to pitch your story” on the writers’ track and “Rules to being a great DM” for gamers.

The dealer’s room was full of everything a gamer needed to get their hobby fix—boxes of books, dozens of dice, tabletop miniatures, art, handcrafted jewelry and plenty more. The vendors were knowledgeable and friendly, including our favorite sponsors Heroes Comics and Gaming and Role of the Die. ConGlomeration goers experienced little bit of gamer heaven to whet their appetite for the coming season. The convention has ended, the con suite has closed, but the memories of playing there will live forever.

For a longer discussion about ConGlomeration, listen to our latest podcast!

Episode 10 – ConGlomeration

ConGlomeration

Episode 10 – ConGlomeration

In this episode, we say farewell to our intern, Amber, and reflect on her time working with Nerd Louisville. Then, Matt and Amber discuss their time at the ConGlomeration Science Fiction & Fantasy convention here in Louisville.

Matt will have an article out soon with more details about the convention and his time there.

Highlights:

  • Amber gives us a recap of her internship; her favorite moments and struggles
  • Matt & Amber take over the podcast
  • Thanks to Rogue Cthulhu for sharing floor space
  • Amber participated as a “redshirt” in some RPGs
  • Recap of the HP Lovecraft lecture and the Whisperers in Darkness Cthulhu movie
  • A Cthulhu / Star Trek mashup game and shoutout to “Spock” and “Kirk”
  • Some celebrities at ConGlomeration, including Jenna Busch – girls in fandom, etc.
  • Amber watched the live podcast she can’t remember (pretty sure it’s All Games Considered)
  • Rogue One trailer and women in Star Wars, Superman v. Batman being crappy except for Wonder Woman
  • Cosplay at ConGlomeration and lunch with the Storm Troopers
  • Amber’s foxtail and the dealer’s hall
  • Shoutout to our sponsors at the convention: Role of the Die and Heroes, Comics & Gaming
  • Amber’s favorite moments and nerding out
  • Improvements ConGlomeration could make for next year
  • Panels and artwork; The Masquerade
  • Tight budgets at conventions
  • Sign off

The Crew:

  • Mike Pfaff
  • Amber Robinson
  • Matt McCloud

Intro / Outro music is The White of Noon by STRFKR, graciously provided with permission by Polyvinyl Records.

Lexington Comic & Toy Convention 2016

Lexington Comic & Toy Convention 2016

by Matt McCloud

The Lexington Convention Center was a writhing miasma of random fandom on March 11th-13th at the biggest event of the year, the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention. Three floors of nerd mayhem rocked throughout the weekend as caped cosplayers mingled with gamers, comic fans, celebrities, and more. Stars like Karen Gillan, three former Doctor Who actors, AMC’s Comic Book Men, and many others got up close and personal with their favorite geeks and gawkers in a thrilling weekend of revelry.

There were two, count ‘em, two packed dealers’ rooms on two different floors; aisle upon aisle, reeking of comic books, boxes, backboards, and bags, along with a plethora of plastic playthings. All stacked next to comic greats, Neal Adams and Bob Layton, and across the aisle from cosplay queens, like Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri and AniMia!

The cast of Z Nation at the convention.
Check out other videos from the convention on Lex Con’s channel

In addition to the many visiting celebrities and vendors, local nerds also had their wares out for display. Acriss Crabb, owner of Crabb Creations makes headdresses both feathery and leathery and even made a TARDIS backpack in anticipation for the convention. It’s a striking resemblance to the familiar, blue call box, with a zipper top and plenty of room to store your con swag. Acriss had a bustling day with all the convention madness, but said she was having a great time at her second appearance here.

“I’ve met a lot of nice people and just really enjoy the atmosphere,” Acriss said. “We have some amazing celebrities, including three of the original Doctors. I mean, oh my gosh. I make a TARDIS backpack.”

Acriss wasn’t the only local nerd showcasing her wares. Meredith Thornton, who owns Nerdy Things and Geeky Dreams, had the most visual display. It featured old school comics made into geometric collages, drum heads, and even a plastered acoustic guitar, most of which she finds from thrift stores and then uses in her art.

“I decided I might as well take what I learned in art school and combine it with my passion for weird and nerdy things,” Meredith said. “Part of the reason I came here as a vendor was because the first time I came I had so much fun.”

Meredith should know. She’s been going to conventions since her dad took her to a Star Trek convention while she was still in a stroller. She compared Lexington Comic & Toy Convention with others she’s gone to, like Fandomfest.

“I feel like this is a bigger convention and there is more variety here,” Meredith said. “The guest list here is insanely long. And, you’ve got people from Doctor Who, Star Trek, Z Nation, Power Rangers, and Yaya Han shows up. So, the guest list is really good.”

Nerdy Geeks & Things
Meredith Thornton's display for her Nerdy Geeks & Things booth.

Nerdy nicknacks and celebrities weren’t the only thing attendees could check out. The gaming room at the convention was a semi-darkened ballroom with table after table of casual and not-so-casual gamers hunkered over games of Splendor, Magic: The GatheringSentinels of the Universe, and many more.

Kimberly Aileen, a convention attendee and fan of Magic, Everquest, and Dungeon & Dragons (her cousin, it turned out, is Jeff Grubb of D&D fame), was among the gamers in the hall and played a game of Exploding Kittens (don’t ask). Kimberly said she was happy to see such a busy game room at the convention and taught some other nerds (us) the merits of fireball being the first and last answer on being an elf mage.

Cosplay at Lexington Comic Con
Brittani and Josh Ginoza showing off their winning costumes for the cosplay contest. Photograph provided by Dodge This Photography.

Straight out of a game, two cosplayers in detailed, hand-made Borderlands cosplay were also at the convention. Brittani and Josh Ginoza, spouses, found the hobby together and often travel to conventions together in costume. They both participated in and won the cosplay contest at the convention.

All in all, the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention has thrown down the infinity-jeweled gauntlet in showing they lead the way in huge, nerdy events that happen in Kentucky. The convention gave locals an opportunity to meet the Paragons of Nerdom, interact and game with other nerds, dress up as their favorite characters, and buy some nerdy treasures. If this year’s turnout is any indication, next year should be another amazing event.

Did you miss the Lexington Comic Con but want to go to an upcoming convention? Check out our list of conventions in and around Louisville.

Nerd Louisville covers conventions, festivals and other nerdy events. If you’d like us to attend your event, please contact us! Our mission is to bring together local nerds, empower them to share their passion, and foster community. Please consider donating to our cause using the button below.

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Princesses of Louisville

Princesses of Louisville

by Amber Robinson and Michael Pfaff

Walt Disney World isn’t the only place you can meet Merida or Cinderella or Jasmine. A collection of Louisville performers are bringing the Disney princesses to life in and around Louisville. The Princesses of Louisville are a group of cosplayers who have taken cosplay up a notch by not only dressing as princesses, but performing as them at parties, events, and charity gatherings.

“Most people don’t get to go to Disney, so we bring the experience to them without the Disney cost,” said Monica Boes, co-founder of the Princesses of Louisville.

Monica had the idea to start Princesses of Louisville while being Merida at the Kentucky Renaissance Festival. She was approached by a parent who wanted to know if she did parties and she thought, “Why not?” She started doing a few parties to test the water.

Turns out, there are a lot of Disney princesses and demand for them at parties. Monica began seeing what other princess parties in Louisville were doing. She also started reaching out to other cosplayers, who, up until that point, were operating as individuals. She found numerous cosplayers willing to get involved. Together, they became the Princesses of Louisville.

One of the cosplayers she invited was Elaine Scharroo, who agreed that being a princess is far more than just cosplaying.

“It’s not as simple as getting dressed,” Elaine said. “You have to put your makeup on, make sure your wig is on right, and definitely make sure your outfit is cleaned and sanitized because children are sticky. You also have to know your character and be prepared to answer any question the children throw at you because children ask a lot of questions, like ‘Where’s Olaf?’ Boom. You have to have a response.”

Monica elaborated.

“You never know what children are going to ask, so you have to have to practice,” Monica said. “The moment you show up as Ariel, they’re going to ask, ‘How’d you get legs?’”

Even parents try to trip up the princesses, Monica said. The Princesses had to start doing research, diving into the lore of the Disney princesses, reading books, watching all the movies, and listening to all the soundtracks. The Princesses were suddenly performers.

Assembling all 13 Disney princesses, plus Prince Naveen, the Princesses of Louisville had their first big event at two Barnes and Nobles stores for a book reading and meet & greet with the kids. From there, they went to surprise a girl at her birthday party.

The event was great marketing for the group. Since then, they are constantly doing parties and make a point to go to the Kentucky Renaissance Festival each year. Beyond the typical events and parties, the Princesses of Louisville are very active with local charities. The Princesses make numerous visits to the Kosair Children’s Hospital to visit ailing children, who become cheered by the presence of some of their favorite Disney characters.

Despite the amount of preparation, costume building, and performance work, being a princess is rewarding, they said. For the Princesses, it’s not for the money; it’s for the kids.

“That first moment when the kids see you and their faces lights up and they get all excited because they can’t believe that their favorite Disney princesses are there for their birthday,” Monica said. “That’s what I live for, because that’s something that I never got as a little girl. My parents weren’t wealthy enough to afford a performer, let alone take me anywhere that had a performer like that.”

Monica said that she wanted every kid to have that experience. Both Monica and Elaine have found the Louisville is an incredible place to find people to help them bring that experience to the children around the city.

“Louisville is a pretty diverse city, so I think it’s good in that aspect for all of us to get a lot of different experiences out of it,” Elaine said. “Plus, the fact that we are a pretty diverse group ourselves and we’re a lot of fun, so it’s good to have us join such an eclectic city.”

In addition to parties and charity events, the Princesses of Louisville can also be found visiting local conventions. If you see them, make sure you say “Hello!” and perhaps, they will know where to find Olaf.

If you want to reach out to the Princesses of Louisville for a party, event, or charity work, you can find them on Facebook. Also, we spoke with Jenna Rae, aka Goldberry Cosplay, who is involved with the Princesses of Louisville in Episode 7 of the Nerd Louisville Podcast. She talked with us about cosplay, crafting costumes, the Princesses, and some other local cosplay groups, like Kentucky Heroes & Louisville Costumed Performers.

Featured Groups will be a regular part of Nerd Louisville news and articles. If you’d like your group to be featured, large or small, please contact us! Nerd Louisville brings together local nerds and empowers them to share their passion and foster community. Please consider donating to our cause using the button below.

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Episode 7 – Louisville Arcade Expo & Cosplay

Louisville Arcade Expo 2016

Episode 7 – Louisville Arcade Expo & Cosplay

Note: we’ve recently updated our iTunes feed. If you subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please find us in the iTunes Store and re-subscribe. Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience!

In Episode 7 – Louisville Arcade Expo & Cosplay of the Nerd Louisville podcast, we visit the Louisville Arcade Expo 2016, talk with attendee, David Buschermohle, who regularly attends the convention with his pinball group, Rogue League (soon to be Louisville Pinball League). We plan to have a proper Louisville Pinball episode on the Nerd Louisville podcast soon. If you’re interested in the next league, check out the Louisville Pinball website. They play at Zanzabar on Preston on Friday nights when the league is happening.

We also talk with Jenna Rae (aka Goldberry Cosplay) of Louisville Costumed Performers about cos-play and how her group and others are working with local charities.

Finally, we speak with Cindy Thomas of ConGlomeration and discuss the cos-play track that will be at ConGlomeration, including contests, a ball, and more.

The crew:

  • Mike Pfaff
  • Matt McCloud

We recorded this episode in the hallway of the Ramada Hotel Plaza.

Intro / Outro music is The White of Noon by STRFKR, graciously provided with permission by Polyvinyl Records.

Highlights:

  • David Buschermohle discusses his local Pinball league
  • Arcade Expo’s old school atmosphere, the lights and sounds
  • Circuit play arcade tournaments
  • David’s childhood visiting Bashford Manor Mall and playing at Alladin’s Castle
  • David’s work at Ft. Knox and discovering Attack of Mars pinball at the local mini-mall
  • Rogue League becoming Louisville Pinball League next season
  • Cosplay with local player Goldberry
  • Making your own costumes, where to find base pieces and materials
  • Louisville Ghost Busters, Kentucky Heroes, and cosplaying to raise money for charities like Kosair Children’s Hospital
  • Cosplaying at conventions, deep fandoms and detail in cosplay
  • Staged photoshoots, play acting, and theatrical rivalry
  • Sharing costumes and props, growing the cosplay community
  • 411 on the ConGlomeration cosplay contest and masquerade with Cindy Thomas
  • Sourcing materials, costuming panels like “Money-saving costuming tips”
  • Programming and competition vs. attending the con in costume
  • Nerd Louisville staff panels at ConGlomeration

Episode 3 – Andy’s Favorite Gaming Store In Louisville

Nerd Louisville logo BIG

Note: we’ve recently updated our iTunes feed. If you subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, please find us in the iTunes Store and re-subscribe. Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience!

In Episode 3 – Andy’s Favorite Gaming Store in Louisville, we argue about Wizard World, discuss local gaming groups in and around town, find out Jesse’s favorite game (hint: it involves a candy cane forest), and Andy tells us his favorite game store in Louisville thus far after the fifth installment of The Definitive Guide to Gaming Stores in Louisville!

The crew:

Intro/outro graciously provided by Exacta Cube, Louisville (@gigasturtz).

Highlights:

  • Columbus, OH is shitty
  • Recap of Anime Community, wifus, husbandos
  • Our experience at Wizard World Louisville
  • Matt’s Nerd Louisville briefcase
  • How to be a Professional Nerd panel
  • Jesse’s broken leg as Captain America
  • Bruce Campbell’s lack of a sense of humor
  • Our ticket give away to Nerd Louisville fans
  • the Nerd Flea Market
  • Cosplay at Wizard World, costume contest
  • ConGlomeration’s search for GMs to run games at the convention
  • Gaming at Conventions
  • Gaming Groups around Louisville: Games on Tap, Louisville Board Game Meetup, etc.
  • Candyland
  • Andy’s take on the game stores and his favorite game store of all from his Definitive Guide to Gaming Stores in Louisville