I'd love to hear about some of your favorite events from past GenCons. What made the event so good? Great GMs? Great Host Groups? It's always good to try new events, especially those that come highly recommended.
I always enjoy the Cthulhu games from the You Too Can Cthulhu / MU Skulls. They really go above and beyond. I also have really enjoyed the megagames run by the Megagames Coalition and any of the larps put on by Iocane Productions.
I always make it a point to stop by Cardhalla on Saturday night and watch all the card buildings get destroyed by flying coins.
The sense of the community in the crowd is a unique GenCon experience.
Gen Con 16 or 17, last one at the University of Parkside. "The Best Damn Monster Battle Ever"(B.D.M.B.E.). Huge gaming area on the floor with dozens of figures...including a B.A. F. dragon living in the lake at the center of the play area. I saw it breath fire on one character...the GM dumped a box of about 300 6-sided dice and told the player to count up the damage. Loved every minute of it!
Gamers: Live is always awesome! It's a terrific show every year (both of them). NASCRAG is another ongoing favorite of mine.
A one-time winner for me and my husband last year was an Army of Darkness/Evil Dead RPG session. I hadn't even known that there was an Army of Darkness system! It was easy to pick up the rules, and the guy running it had a terrific storyline. He had clearly just written the adventure and we were his playtesting group, and we made suggestions during the game, which he put into the storyline then and there, adapting on his feet. For fans of Evil Dead, it was a fantastic adventure, and when he said that he was mulling over running the adventure again next year, we encouraged him to do so.
It's hard to narrow it down. I agree with yog-sothoth. Last year I played Call of Cthulhu for the first time. "Cthulhu Clowns" run by MU Skulls. Terrific GM, group and game (and most of us stayed sane and living). Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics is terrific. Old school feel and no one is too serious. Same goes for Tower of Gaxx (or Gygax as it used to be called). 1st edition AD&D. No better way to end an evening than grabbing a character and playing with no caution until you're dead. Other past highlights are Valiant by Catalyst (always had a good gaming group), Tunnels and Troll with Ken St. Andre as GM, and a Toon version of Expedition to Barrier Peaks (it was non-stop improv). So many good memories and games.
I'll second NASCRAG, great Pathfinder role playing fun with a twist. Formula WAAAGH!!! last year was hilarious, a mashup of Formula D racing and Warhammer 40K Space Orks.
Many many years ago, a group called the Escape Ventures Playtesters Association (EVPA) used to host an event on Sunday morning call the Obligatory Gatewar Open. Fueled by too little sleep and too much caffeine it was a blast. One year the scenario was, you have returned home for your fathers funeral (and your inheritance) only to discover you had a number of unknown siblings. Actually they were not siblings so much as clones. Only the real child would survive combat against the clones so it was last one standing. Half a dozen GMs running around, about 20 players all yelling and screaming, it was a blast!
Whose Line Is It Anyway? happens on Thursday and Friday nights. Funny, awesome and the best $2 you can spend at GenCon! Plus it happens late at night so we're not interfering with your regular events.
I have that on my list every year, but I always cut it because it's so late and even at Gen Con I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour.
That said, I couldn't actually find any 8am events worth doing last year, so if that happens again this year, maybe I'll go for it.
I've only ever been to one GenCon (last year - 2018), and overall, I had a blast! I went with my fiancee, who is absolutely new to gaming; it was her very first con ever! Because I had already played AD&D / Pathfinder / Vampire: The Masquerade / Magic: The Gathering / Star Wars Destiny in years past (at home and/or at other cons), I wanted to try some new stuff.
First: a major gripe/complaint/warning to newcomers: Many events will be listed as: "No prior experience necessary; you will be taught how to play." This is all-too-often a big, fat LIE for several reasons:
I can't imagine paying more than Free for the Kylo Ren Faire. Was it supposed to be an improv session with volunteer Kylos? Sounds like a nightmare. Now if it was Damsels of Dorkington thing I could see it. Very fun improv group that grab "volunteers" from the audience to incorporate into their bits. Speaking of...
I really enjoyed the Damsels of Dorkington improv sessions. Great bawdy fun. Not as big a fan of their straight comedy sketches though, which I accidentally attended one year (thought all they did was improv). Not bad just not as hilarious as their improv.
Favorite RPG session was with DM Shane, the best DM I have ever had the pleasure to play with at GenCon. He ran a Greyhawk session and managed to combine the best aspects of roleplaying and adventure design into a coherent, fun experience. His depiction of a disgusting hag is forever burned into my brain (shudder). He is what I aspire to be when I run games.
I still cannot get past one of my favorite Gen-Con (ticketed) events being this absurd one-off live-action game called "Little Pet Shop of Horrors" that really should not have been incredibly fun but somehow was. If I recall correctly, the people running it were really on top of everything and had lots of good ideas, and seemingly virtually everyone who signed up for this absurd thing was 100% ready to throw themselves into the absurdity of playing sentient pet-store pets in a vaguely Toy-Story-inspired scenario.
(but of course the best event at Gen-Con is always the Auction ;) ;) ;))
Hickmans Killer Breakfast!!!!
I'm gonna be a contrarian for a minute; hear me out: If this is your first GenCon, DON'T schedule yourself for ANY events!
1) I wasted the better part of 3 hours Thus. morning just by bribing a hotel valet parking attendant, waiting in the Will Call line for 1.5 - 2 hours, and then running back across the street to re-valet my car. (I had purchased a Gate 10 Parking "event" ticket, but I thought I couldn't park at Gate 10 until I first obtained my event ticket, and I couldn't obtain my event ticket until i waited in Will Call, and I couldn't wait in Will Call until I parked -- see the dilemma?) Thankfully, I did NOT schedule any events for Thurs. morning. A guy waiting in line in front of me, however, was supposed to compete in a World Qualifier for Yu-Gi-Oh!; he had to forfeit his match because the judges wouldn't let him participate unless he had a physical paper ticket -- which he couldn't obtain until he got to the Will Call desk. See the problem? (You could, of course, just get your badges and event tickets MAILED to you in advance, or wait in the Will Call line on Weds. evening instead.)
2) Although the wizards behind GenCon have a pretty decent computerized system for queueing you up to purchase Event tickets, including a way to make a "favorites"/"wish" list, and a way to ensure you won't accidentally "double up" if you and an authorized friend are both attempting to buy tickets to the exact same event at the same time (i.e., you aren't forced to unwillingly compete against each other); it seems the tickets to the uber-popular and limited-release Events go QUICKLY. Meaning: they completely sell out in in the first 5/10/20 minutes on the first day that they go on sale. So, plan accordingly; fill up your "wish list"; and be sure to prioritize/number your events in the desired order ahead of time, but don't get your hopes up too much.
3) The exhibition/vendor hall is HUGE. You could easily spend an entire day in there, wandering from table-to-table. Some of the vendors have waiting lines (Example: the fresh-off-Kickstarter "Kingdom Death" booth last year.) Each line will take up 10-20 minutes of your time. Many of the vendors also offer free demos throughout the day; no event tickets necessary! Some are 15/20 minute demos; some let you play the full game all the way through.
4) GenCon is CROWDED. We're talking morbidly-obese people, folks in motorized scooters, folks with walking sticks/canes, folks with kids, folks in bulky costumes, folks with large SWAG bags/backpacks, etc. Each of these people is gonna periodically stop and take a selfie. Each of these people is going to see a large group of people crowded around a booth or sweet cosplayer, and they'll temporarily add themselves to the ever-growing crowd. It takes time to navigate around all of these crowds.
5) GenCon itself is MASSIVE. It's spread out over several city blocks, including the Convention Center, Lucas Oil stadium, several hotels, and the streets and underground / overhead ("Habitrail") tunnels in-between. It takes time to get from A to B; even more time due to #3 above. You don't want the stress of trying to run from Event A (in one corner of the convention area) to Event B (in the opposite corner) in just 15 minutes; it ain't gonna happen! Plus, it's rude to force everyone else to sit around waiting for you to show up before the event can begin. Or, the GM will just start without you and give away your spot/slot to a Generic Ticket-holder.
6) You can get into plenty of events with "Generic" tickets. Even if your desired event is "sold out," you can still just show up on time with a "Generic" ticket in hand, and wait a few minutes to see if someone fails to appear.
7) There are plenty of other free things to do that don't actually require tickets. Examples: Cardhalla (observing the towers beforehand, but not knocking them down with coins); the Costume "parade" (which happens just prior to and/or immediately after the official Costume Contest); the Sun King beer tapping; people-watching; etc.
8) You're going to want plenty of "down time" to sit, rest, use the bathroom, eat and drink. Seating can be scarce.
My point is: for all of these above-mentioned reasons, it's quite possible that you could have a perfectly good time just wandering around with a badge only, and NO event tickets (or maybe just a handful of "generic" tickets, just in case)! I'm not saying that's what you *should* do; I'm just saying don't worry about it too much, and give yourself some wiggle room!
I take the contrarian view to your contrarian view (Ha! See what I did there :) )
I have my tickets sent to me to avoid ANY amount of waiting in will call line and I schedule myself for an event from 8:00 AM Thursday until 3:00 PM Sunday with each day ending around 1:00 AM and the next beginning around 8:00 AM with about an hour allotted in-between each event. Heck, I even play in one or two overnight games...
I even try and fill up Wednesday with planned events and open gaming as much as possible.
I still have plenty of time to hit the dealers room as some of my events will end slightly early. I bring snacks and buy lunch at the food trucks, a nearby restaurant, or the food court depending on how much time I have.
I always have time on Sunday before the dealer room closes to grab a few last minute bargains (they hate to go home with that stuff) as I rarely have anything that I must have and that requires me to get there at 10:00 AM on Thursday when the doors first open.
freebiegrabber does make some great points about it being crowded and massive. I try and schedule my games in locales that are proximate to each other to prevent the run from one end to the other of the convention center. If not, plan accordingly!
So, like him, I am not saying what you should do, just what I do and I have a blast...then I sleep all Sunday!
The Best Event I ever did was one called Guardian Six:
It was a...LARP?
They were only at Gencon for one year but it was amazing (even if they didn't have the full game running).
You selected one of Six special government agencies. As an example, I was part of "The Alexandrians". Our agency were people that actually rescued all the text from the library before it had burned down. So we had exclusive access to all that knowledge. That was our special "thing". It didn't play into the game at the time, it was only flavor text for the first year (they had planned to continue the game past the first year but alas, they couldn't afford to).
So anyways, essentially they had operatives that you met up with in person throughout the con. They would give you missions or clues that lead you to missions. These missions were varied and were spread out all throughout the con AND Indianapolis.
They are also the people that had revived the "speakeasy" below the Stink's Grand Ballroom. Gencon had kept it going for a few years past Guardian Six, but that too has gone away.
I could go on and on about it, it lasted all 4 days and there were dozens and dozens of missions. Heck, one mission was to go to the Circle Monument, find an operative that we had to figure out by clues we earned about what he looked like. He was just strolling around the Circle literally blending in with the rest of the crowd. We had to give him a certain passphrase that we discovered from the previous mission. If we had the right person and gave the proper passphrase, he gave us a (I think it was a ticket) to go to the top of the monument where there was another operative that gave us our next mission leg.
The Safehouse was opened up originally by a company (memory suggests it was Crafty Games) for a party somewhere 10-12 years ago. It was named after the Safehouse in Minneapolis.
It is still running as a bar every night of the Con (starting about 5PM if memory serves). It has been the site of a number of games, and the speed-dating for a couple years.