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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

Everything Stops for GenCon: An Event Diary

by Hilary Doda
August 21, 2001
Edited by Drew Meger re-edited July 22, 2001  

This being August, which in the gaming industry means convention season, and this year having been my first GenCon ever, as fan or publisher, your monthly dose of self-righteous feminist ranting has been pre-empted for a completely gratuitous convention report. Follow along with Hilary as she wades through the demonic depths of Gamer Mecca! [D. Meger]

Dramatis Personae:

Bob Dubois, Dream Pod 9's Sales and Marketing Director;

Rob Beck, Hugh Browne, L. Doug Jessee, Wunji Lau, Pat Paulsen and Alex Rhodes, authors, our official GenCon Demo Team, Pod Corps Guys and booth bisons at large;

Phil Boulle, in absentia. One of the unholy trinity who created Tribe 8, he's now basking in the sun in Atlanta with White Wolf while we freeze our butts off eight months of the year. Somehow, I think he got the better end of the deal.

Lucien Soulban, former DP9 writer, now working with Guardians of Order (why am I sensing a theme? Hooray for industry incest!). One of the first characters ever created for the Heavy Gear universe was a Duelist based on him... mostly.

Ken Burnside, President and Grand High Poobah of Ad Astra Games, maker of fine games and geekwear;

Graveyard Greg, madman.

Mike, an old, old friend from MST3K fandom whom I haven't seen since I took off to Montreal. Good to see you again!

And assorted others described upon appearance.

Prologue:

Tuesday, 8:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time. Wasn't there something I was supposed to do tomorrow? Eh... if I can't remember, it can't be all that important.

Tuesday, 11:59 pm. Oh, SH!T! GenCon! Thank goodness I did laundry last week, 'cause I sure don't have the time now. Now, where did I put my suitcase? And my travel toiletries? And for the love of all that's holy, where is my passport?

Wednesday, 6:00 am. I'm awake, I think. Feet on the floor, hit the alarm... there are actually radio stations on the air at this godforsaken hour? Ah, well... I'll be able to catch up on my sleep on the plane. Right?

Wednesday, 9:00 am. Into the office, grab my module for the Tribe 8 demo games I'll be running. Last minute games are always the most interesting, but somehow I actually managed to get the character sheets finalized (with art, even!) on Monday. Double check that I've got all the books I'll need, enough copies of the world background - I think we're good to go.

Last thing to do before we head out the door? I've got to feed the fish! Red the Destroyer may be a fighting fish by birth, but since he's alone in the tank he can't exactly feed himself this weekend. Depending on whether these funny dissolving food-blocks work, I'll either come back to a starved floater, or a truly fat fish. Best of luck, Red!

Wednesday, 1:00 pm. Toronto. Running. Through Pearson Airport. From one end. To the other. Customs sucks. Delayed flights suck. Please, Milwaukee pilot, wait for meeeeeeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, 3:00 pm, Central Standard Time. Blick. It's very warm. Very, very warm. And damp. Double blick. At least the hotel is air-conditioned. I have a feeling that I'll be slipping into random fangirl mode pretty often this weekend. It's the first time I've ever been to a convention this size, and I can feel the rush of excitement already! I'm headed for geek paradise, and it's just beginning to sink in. I'm supposed to find John Kovalic, of Dork Tower, this weekend and pass on some things from Marc Vezina, the DP9 senior editor. I wonder where his booth would be?

Wednesday, 4:00 pm. The Pod Corps Guys (otherwise known as our booth bisons, due to a notable paucity of female flesh at our station) have pretty much all arrived, except for Wunji who, as always, has chosen to put his 'real job' ahead of his hobby. Oh, Wunji, for shame! The booth is up and the television plugged in, for the grand convention debut of the proper demo reel for the Heavy Gear TV show! The show is already airing in Australia and is due out in the states in the fall. Honestly, though? While the show looks very cool, and from the episodes I've seen is going to be a lot of fun, I just really want my HG lunchbox.

Wednesday, 6:00 pm. Anyone seen John Kovalic? Please, has anyone seen John Kovalic here this weekend?

Wednesday, 8:30 pm. We're set up and have been kicked out of the Exhibit hall, done our first prowl around the convention center, and now we're headed to some restaurant called the 'Safehouse.' I've heard that it's got a spy theme, but I don't know much more than that. Should be cool.

Wednesday, 9:15 pm. Woah! This place is... indescribable. Go there. Trust me, just go. Try to make it there before GenCon starts or after it's over, however, because it's only Wednesday night and it's already so full that we have to elbow our way through the crowds. Thankfully, the Pod Corps Guys (hereafter known as PCG) are massive and not afraid to use their superior leverage to clear a path for us short types. Oh, and Bob? That 'Her Majesty's Secret Service' gag you set up? You are so dead, my friend. Just you wait.

Act One:

Thursday, 7:00 am. American cable rocks! I can watch Lois and Clark reruns at seven in the morning! I officially forgive you for your crappy beer.

Thursday, 8:00 am. The breakfast trumps the cool tv. The balance swings back once again. Why does every meal on this menu come with the euphemistically titled 'breakfast meat'? What, exactly, is 'breakfast meat'? This frightens me. Maybe that's what happened to Kovalic.

Thursday, 9:00 am. Found him; he didn't end up in the carrion buffet after all! Ahh - the first swag trade of the convention, and I have my Perky Goth t-shirt. Life is good.

Thursday, 9:55 am. Bob and the PCG are at the booth, and since this is my first GenCon I've been released to grab a post near the door and watch the 'running of the redshirts' as the doors swing open for the first time this weekend. As I sit here, near the Cheapass Games booth, I see what seems to be a tidal wave of people come flooding down the aisle. Lord help me, it's started!

Thursday, 10:30 am. We're right across from the Dragonball Z booth, and it seems, much to our chagrin, that they're setting up a sound system. With our luck, they'll have some voice actors there all weekend. White Wolf is just down the aisle, but Phil Boulle didn't come to the con this year. We miss you, Phil!

From now until 6:00 tonight, though, we're on duty. The PCG are running demos of all the tactical games, and Bob and I are trying to sell as many books as we can so that we don't have to cart them all back to Montreal at the end of the weekend. The con floor has begun to really fill up, and I notice that there are far more folks with kids than I would expect. I heard something about the child care center being shut down, so I suppose that would explain it, but right now all I can feel are warm fuzzies, looking at the next generation of gamer-geeks on the way.

I've heard plenty of warnings about GenCon, of course, from the jokes about the smell to advice on how to avoid hearing about a thousand different campaigns and characters, but honestly, so far, everything is exciting! Bob is currently claiming that I've suffered brain damage, but y'know what? This is all right.

Thursday, noon. So many people! So many booths! I managed to get out on a washroom break, and did a quick circuit of the floor. I also bought about twenty new dice to add to my collection. I wonder if I should splurge on the Crystal Caste tiger-eye beauties, or actually pay the rent this month? I know I'm in trouble when I realize that I'm seriously considering it.

And those Dragonball voice actors? They're here. They're obnoxious. They're currently singing some song about "krillan dots," and I'm seriously contemplating buying a slingshot and taking pot-shots at them with our stash of junk food. Except that would be a waste of good chocolate chips. Which the PCG have apparently just eaten. Never mind.

Thursday, 2:00 pm. Huuuuuuuungry... can't leave booth.... Huuuuuuungry......

Thursday, 2:30 pm. Bless you, Rob, and bless the creators of Subway sandwiches. Can't talk. Eating.

Thursday, 6:00 pm. And the first day on the floor is done! Met a bunch of really nice industry folks, including Columbia Games' own Edwyn Kumar, who made so many contributions to and wrote some great books for Tribe 8! It always amazes me how different people look and seem in person than online - text really does remove all of the nuances of someone's personality and demeanor. I'll be one of the first on the bandwagon when they begin using visual virtual avatars, that's for sure!

Ack! I've got that voice actor's song in my head now. She was singing it all day, only stopping to yell slogans at her fans, and I catch myself humming it at the strangest times. "Krillan dots, come and get yer Krillan dots..."

Very glad that I brought and wore my old running shoes; I don't know how on earth the Decipher booth bunnies do this all day in high heels, 'cause my feet are unbelievably sore from standing on concrete all day. Now, of course, I get to do ye old convention two-step.

"My game is supposed to be here"
"It's not - go there"
"My game is supposed to be here"
"It's not, go there."

And so on, punctuated only by brief tempo changes and gasps of "what do you mean my game's not in the computer? Seven people have already bought tickets! HOW CAN THEY HAVE BOUGHT TICKETS IF IT'S NOT IN THE COMPUTER?"

Thursday, midnight. Game went off, all eight slots filled. How can I be so tired if all I did was stand around and talk all day? Bed calls.

Act Two:

Friday, 7:00 am. Old Jimmy versus new Jimmy? It's hard to decide. The first actor was a better actor, but the new guy looked much more like the comic book design. I must contemplate this further at a later date.

"Krillan dots, come and get yer Krillan dots..."

Friday, 9:30 am. The PCG made a run to Wal-Mart to pick up coolers and cans of pop, so that we don't have to send someone [cough*me*cough] to fight through the crowds to get drinks from the concession stand every half hour today. Unfortunately, 'Wallyworld' coolers are about as stable as, oh, paper, so we have to resort to the duct-tape solution, but they should be OK for the rest of the convention, at least.

Friday, 11:00 am. The Dragonball Z voice actors are back. They're as loud as yesterday. Kill me now. Luckily, things are slower today than they were Thursday, so I can scoot out from behind the booth and get a good look at what's going on around the hall. The WotC castle is huge and it dominates the entire hall; someone page Freud, 'cause there's enough analysis material here to last a lifetime!

The wargames are primarily over to the left side, and our half of the room looks to be more of the RPGs and art dealers, which is neat. There are some fantastic T-Shirts on sale and being worn around the room, and I bemoan the craptacular Canadian-American exchange rate which is preventing me from buying a whole new wardrobe. Today is 'fantasy day,' according to the program, and there are quite a few folks walking the halls in some pretty neat costumes! The percentage of costume-types isn't as high as at some other conventions I've been to, but many of them seem more elaborate. The contact lens booth must be doing some fantastic business, because I've seen at least seven different styles being worn today by at least twice that number of people.

The autograph signing area seems pretty empty, but the main hall is still packed. A lot of the booths are very scaled-down; a couple of posters, and some books out on the tables, but some of them are great! The KenzerCo booth has a massive doodle-wall set up along one side, where you can sketch to your heart's content. The Synister Creative Systems guys have a very 'edgy' booth, with all kinds of plastic fencing and strobe lights set up, but after narrowly avoiding a karate-kick to the head (thanks, Pidge!) I have to admit that I'm keeping my distance. Anoch's here with their older card game (non-collectable, hallelujah!), Mystick, as well as some newer products. I am a total Mystick addict, but I've already got all of the new releases. I shall have to pout, now, until they release more.

Friday, 4:00 pm. More selling, more schmoozing, more meetings with people I only know from online and over the phone. The RPGnet reporter came around today, and I talked his ear off, and there seems to be no end in sight of the lists of folks trying to get 'review copies' of our books for various magazines and sites. Sorry about the rejections, guys, but we will be doing our usual list of review mailings soon.

"Krillan dots, he's gonna get some Krillan dots..."

Friday, 6:30. Whew. Over for another day! Today was slower than Thursday, but not by too much. We're rapidly running out of new product, and that's always a good sign! WizKids has made their major announcement about the Battletech line, and one of the PCG claims to have seen shirts out already praising the qualities of "Old School Battletech." I'll say one thing for WizKids, though - they may not be popular with older gamers, but damn if they don't make a good intro product for the kids!

Dinner... dinner goooood. Went down to the Water Street Brewery with Ken from Ad Astra games; the restaurant is nice, and a bit off the beaten path, so it's not crammed to the brink - which meant we got a table really quickly. The food was excellent, and they have a Pilsner (beer) which was the equal or better of any I've found in Quebec. Ken, by the way, is the brain behind an incredible physics-wiener shirt ("Give a person a relativistic rock..."). Buy it. The price is right, and you can have hours of fun working out the calculations!

Friday, 8:45 pm. Back to the air-conditioning! Life is good. What now? Party? Clubbing? Networking? Hell no! I'm here at a gaming convention, right? Time to geek out, round up the Pod Corps, and break out Operation Jungle Drums - the first ever module for Heavy Gear 1st edition! Miranda Petite and Julius all the way, baby! (Though I've got to admit, it's pretty trippy playing a game which includes Lussian Soulban as a PC while the real Lucien is in the hotel at the same time!)

Friday, 9:15 pm. Say a Special Forces officer offers to GM a half-tactical scenario for you. Say he then invites his other military or ex-military buddies to play. Say you're one of the few at the table not knowledgeable (or all that interested) in standard US military protocol for ambushes and such. Do not. Under any circumstances. Ever. Ask them to explain anything. Even the weird acronyms. Trust me.

"Who's up for some Krillan dots today?"

Friday, 10:00 pm. Wunji arrives! Good to see you, guy!

Friday/Saturday, 2:00 am. Well, that one ambush was intriguing; I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to play the rest of the scenario?

Act Three:

Saturday, 7:00 am. Lois and Clark seems less appealing than another hour of sleep right now. The comic-book style of dialogue can be a lot of fun, but I think the daily dose is weakening my ability to form! Coherent! Sentences! Help me, Superman!

Saturday, 10:00 am. This is apparently the major shopping day, as everyone who had to work Thursday and Friday floods into the convention center. Billy Dee Williams is here signing autographs, and for the first ten minutes everyone in the room is running straight past the booths, heading for the autograph signing area. Even Aphrodite didn't get this kind of reaction!

"Krillan dots, who's gonna get some Krillan dots?"

Ack. They're back again!

Saturday, 1:00 pm. "No, sir. Yesterday, when I came to check, they told me my game was going to be run in the Crystal Room in the Hyatt, but nothing seems to be set up in there. Is there somewhere I should check in?"

"Tribe 8, sponsored by Dream Pod 9. You sold four tickets, or so you told me yesterday, so it must be in the computer."

"Yes, it most certainly is in the program. See this entry? The number's right here - 80103. Ahh... you didn't see that. No problem; the tickets say the Hyatt, right on them. Right. Crystal Room."

"Crystal Ballroom? That would be at the Hilton, then? So, if I can ask a stupid question, why do the tickets say 'Hyatt' on them? Umm, yes, I have actually seen the tickets, so I can assure you that the game does exi... haven't we covered this already? No, I'm not getting upset, just a bit confused. Sorry."

"It moved? No - I can assure you that it has not always been at the Hilton, because yesterday you told me it was in the Hyatt! 'Kay -- just to clarify - my Tribe 8 game is running at 2:00, in the Crystal Ballroom, in the Hilton?"

"No, Tribe 8. Sponsored by Dream Pod 9. Event number 80103. YES, it exists!!"

"Okay, you know what? NOW I'm upset."

Saturday, 5:45 pm. Well, at least most of the players managed to find me... to the one person who never showed, my apologies if it was because you couldn't find us. Back to the booth, help with clean-up, restock tables, etc.etc. Amazing how something so nifty and new two days ago can become routine so quickly!

"Krillan dots, come and get yer Krillan dots..."

[bites tongue].

[forces self to remain silent].

"Krillan dots..."

[gives up struggle].

That's it, lady, I've got your Krillan dots right here! FOR THE LOVE OF GAWD, WOULD YOU SHUT THE HELL UP??

[whew]. For some reason, I feel much better.

Saturday, 7:00 pm. The elevator's pretty crowded, but that's standard. You'd think the hotels would get smart and put in more than one bank of them, especially with all the cash the hotels rake in during the convention season. The lady directly in front of me (binder poking into my ribs) looks kind of familiar; I know I've heard her voice before, but where?

Bloody hell! I'm squished onto an elevator with Marina Sirtis! Good thing it wasn't Gates McFadden, or I'd definitely have embarrassed myself. I bet she's sick of geeks; I bet she's tired of fans. I bet she doesn't want to hear yet another testimonial about how much someone loved the one science fiction show she worked on a decade ago that permanently typecast her as a bimbo and prevented her from doing any real work from then on. I should keep my mouth shut, and treat her like any other person I'd see at a trade show.

Yep. That's what I'll do. Just nod, reply to her question, and get out of the elevator.

"Oh my god! You're Marina Sirtis! I thought I recognized you, and you're really here! That's so cool! My whole family used to watch Star Trek every week, 'cause my parents were big fans of the original series and got us into science fiction at a young age. My brother and I had all the action figures, and I loved the episode where Troi lost all her powers and started to go crazy, and wow, I just love your work so much!"

Oops.

Ah well; at least I'm short, relatively clean and female. I'm not physically threatening, nor a crazed stalker - really! -- so maybe it won't come across as being that bad.

Eek!! I've been called 'cute' and hugged by Couns - er - Marina Sirtis! Eeeeeeek!

I am fangirl. Hear me roar.

Saturday, 7:40 pm. Industry meeting, in the Hilton, that's over... here! Hah! I made it, and almost on time! Wait a sec... there's a sign on the door. Meeting moved to the Hyatt.

Right.

Back we go.

Saturday, 11:00 pm. The industry forum meeting went really well, and it was great to finally put faces to names. Getting manufacturers, distributors and retailers all in one room to hash out issues is really interesting, and incredibly entertaining! The LARPers, on the other hand, need to learn to read signs. While we may be a bit rowdy, I can't think of any way to read the words 'industry forum' in a way that sounds like 'Malkavian clan.' Cool costumes, though!

Off to find the PCG again; cell phones make this coordination thing a lot easier! Pat picked up Steve Jackson's and John Kovalic's latest, a card game called Munchkin. Buy it.

The guys are set up in one of the empty ballrooms - hey, why does it say 'Toreador' on the door?

You know, Pat, there might not be so much rivalry between wargamers and LARPers if you didn't put so much energy into annoying them. Yeah - it's probably a bad idea to pretend to be the Toreador primogen when you're not even in the game.

Ok, maybe that was pretty funny. Heh.

Act Four:

Sunday, 7:00 am. Go away, Lois.

Sunday, 8:00 am. I brought the chain mail vest just in case, but I haven't worn it yet. If I have to lug it all the way back to Montreal without ever having worn it, I'm going to feel like such a dork. So. Chain mail it is, then! It's a simple piece, collarbone to waist, wide straps on the shoulders to spread out the weight, and it's only about 5-7 pounds. Hah! It is possible to have sexy chainmail without showing more skin than a Brazilian bikini pageant!

Sunday, 10:30 am. Hot damn! Mike! I haven't seen you since you lived in Toronto! Wow! I love this job; old friends showing up out of nowhere, folks you haven't seen in years that you run into simply by being in the right place at the right time. I love this convention! Not to mention the fact that the Dragonball voice actors simply haven't shown up today. I hear [he he he] that they have some problems with their sound system... gee. Fancy that.

Sunday, 11:00 am. More writers! Paul Lippencott from Jovian Chronicles, Michael Lee from Tribe 8, Eamon from the RPGnet forums... so many folks that I can't even begin to list them all. We may have been cleaned out of almost all of our product yesterday, but today is definitely the right day for schmoozing!

Sunday, 1:00 pm. And, of course, as we head into the afternoon, it's time to make lists for the swag swap -- we're out of here at 4:00 to ensure that we can make our flight back to Montreal, which means whatever we can grab now is what we get. Wunji, Pat and Bob have their lists, and it's off to the races!

Sunday, 2:00 pm. Coooooooool. I got stuff. [huge grin]. I really like this convention thing. Budget? What budget? Gifts for the Better Half, a gift for my brother and more interesting, cool and just-plain-weird dice for me! I'm going to have to get a new dice bag at some point, or find some other way to organize my collection...

Buy Graveyard Greg's Buttonmen. Support the small publishers!

Epilogue:

Sunday, 4:00 pm. The booth is down, the remaining books have been packed away, the exhibit hall is emptying out, and it's time to make the mad dash for the airport to catch our flight home. I had an incredible time, and I definitely intend to return next year. Here's hoping I get a chance to meet many more friends and acquaintances next time around, and, of course, I look forward to actually getting a chance to play in something, if there's time!

Thanks to everyone who helped to make this weekend one of the best convention experiences ever - Bob Dubois; Pat, Doug, Wunji, Hugh, Rob and Alex, our Pod Corps Guys, booth bisons and marines at large; Brian (Bryan?) and Steve, our unofficial Corps add-ons; Rob Placer and Vern who run a mean seminar; and most especially, the writers and fans who make all of this possible. Without you, we'd just be a bunch of folks sitting behind our booths and staring at each other for four days! Take care, and I'll see y'all next year!

"Krillan dots, come and get yer Krillan dots..."

Hilary Doda grew up in Toronto, but managed to escape to Montreal following the HentaiCon Tentacle Disaster of '97. Slaving away in the RPG sweatshop known to insiders as Dream Pod 9, she divides her time between managing the Tribe 8 game line and scribbling desperate cries for freedom on smuggled-in sheets of paper towel. She can be reached at hdoda@dp9.com TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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The The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths by Hilary Doda

Other columns at RPGnet

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