The Pros of Cons


Rather than a discussion of people making a living at running scams, this article focuses on the beneficial point of conventions. Science Fiction, Gaming, and Comic conventions are discussed.

Why I have chosen to write this article:

In some of my recent articles, the differences between convention gaming and, for lack of a better term, dinner-table gaming has been of some significance. Some feedback has included questions about these differences, and I realized that there might be people out there who are unfamiliar with convention gaming.

When I was 14, living in a rural mid-western town, I heard about Gen-Con. This concept was totally new and entirely enthralling. It was convention where a gamer could stand out among his peers, win prizes and meet the gods, specifically Gary Gygax and Steve Jackson. Four years later, I made it to WindsorCon and was hooked.

Prior to this experience, I knew about conventions such as Shriners (I didn't know what Shriner's were, but knew they had conventions) and industrial conventions (also called trade shows). The Game conventions were great, but again in my naiveté, I never considered that there could be still other kinds of conventions. The college I attended had a very active Science Fiction Group (Name Drop: PFRC) and annually hosted a 1 day science-fiction convention. It took 2 of these before I realized it was an entirely different animal from a gaming convention.

After college I moved to a more urban area and had more disposable income for travel, I went to more cons and discovered more types. Looking back on my con education, I thought I might share some of my discovery with you.

Kinds of Cons:

With respect to gamers and gaming there are several types of convention. It is my intent to discuss their differences and benefits of each type, so that you, the better-informed reader might make wiser choices and look less like your house just landed in Oz.

Science Fiction Cons (Sci-Fi) are gatherings of science-fiction fans (duh). Hard and soft-science and fantasy of all media are represented as well as anime, horror, conspiracy, and a few other genres. There are subsets of this, which are more thematic such as Star Trek Conventions. The essence of science-fiction conventions is a party.

Gaming Conventions focus on games. Science fiction is much less stressed and historical games and more abstract gaming enters the fray. There are also subsets of gaming conventions such as AmberGaming or LARP events. The soul of a gaming convention is competition and cooperation.

Comic Book/Pop Culture Conventions are more like trade shows. It is comprised primarily of Hucksters (more on this later), panels, and Guests of Honor. The focus is on trade.

What Happens at Cons:

Hucksters: Usually a room (possibly a large room, sometimes a corner) is set aside for buying and selling of goods through retail stores and/or manufacturers. There are occasional private sellers, but this is not common. Normally the vendors have paid for table space and are there to give the attendees what they want. The prices are usually reduced and may include new and pending releases, as well as some out of print and/or used items. The big advantage is you may be able to find something you want but can't find or at a reduced price, or in a cool bundle. Many game dealers also provide demos of merchandise they want to move. Non-Guests-of-Honor artists and authors may be here and will generally be willing to autograph items. The Hucksters area is the largest portion of Comic/Culture Cons, and the high point of the convention for many Game Convention attendees.

Auction: Related to the Hucksters is the auction. With the popularity of Ebay, this event is waning, but far from dead. This is the commonly acceptable place for attendees to sell their goods, though many Hucksters will put item up in the auction, especially if the proceeds (or portion) go to charity. The exact format of the auction varies, but the specifics can be easily obtained at the registration area.

Guest(s)-of-Honor (GOH): If a con has one or more, it is usually a person of some interest to the attendees. Sci-Fi Cons try to get authors, actors, directors, artists, and the like. Game conventions target more game authors and company owners. Culture cons are more wide open as to the nature of the GoH. Motor City Comic Con for example has had pro wrestlers and Playboy playmates in addition to the illustrators and actors. At culture cons, their presence is more of a book signing. Attendees can meet the GoH and get memorabilia signed, possibly for a fee, and a few seconds to drool in their icons direction. The may also participate in panel discussions (coming up next). At Sci-Fi Cons the panel discussions are main point of the GoH. Gaming cons generally look towards special games/tournaments.

Panels: These are generally discussions between 1 or more of the GoH and possibly the adoring fans on whatever topics the panelists are willing to talk about. The range of topics is infinite. Personally I have attended panels covering Klingon Dining (with samples), How to break into the Game Design Industry, Company's Plans, FTL Engine Design, and Sci-Fi ethics and philosophy.

Con-Suite: This is a function primarily existing at Sci-Fi Cons, though there are some gaming cons that have this also. This is a site for con supplied munchies and drink (which may or may not include alcohol). Because the area can get crowded, it is a better plan to run in, grab a bowl of fritos and a can of liquid and get out to someplace more comfortable. I like to adjourn to poolside.

Parties: Again a Sci-Fi Con staple, clubs and other groups can host parties by letting the con organizers know. Usually the con will provide some amount of food and drink to the party and the party room is expected to leave their door open and be gracious hosts to stoppers-by. This is sort of like a frat rush in that it is a chance for recruiting.

Social Events: Primarily occurring at sci-fi cons, there may be some traditional (more or less) social events. I've been to several cons where a dance was held. Some cons have a semi-formal-ish (costume is acceptable usually) dinner. I also had the pleasure to witness a Klingon courting contest (the men read poetry, the women scream and throw things. Men were judged on selection and presentation, women were judged on velocity, ferocity, and volume of fire).

Arts, Crafts, Costumes and Contests: Cons of all varieties may have opportunities to view or create projects in a variety of themes. Many SF Cons have costume contests.

Unrelated activities: Some conventions have a "widow's track". These are activities specifically for spouses of fans/gamers and may include day trips to area attractions. Some also have kids activities which again may or may not be gaming related.

Gaming: This is the bulk of activity at gaming cons and usually exists at SF cons. There are 3 types of events. Scheduled games are just that. They have a start and expected end time, a limited (usually) number of players, and a pre-planned format. Unscheduled events are more of the pick-up type. "Hey, you guys want to play a game? We need 2 more players." There are also often demos where a manufacturer or a representative will demonstrate a game. Scheduled events usually have an event fee; pick-up and demos normally do not. Gaming at a con might include RPG, Board, Card, Mini, Party, or any other type of game.

Tips, Tricks, Swag and savings:

What follows are idea that might be useful to con-goers.

Travel by Herd: Say you and 5 – 10 of your closest friends are all going. Carpool and get 1 room. Because you will probably only want to sleep for 3-5 hours each night (or day) plan to hot bunk the weekend. Bonus tip: Get dibs on the closet if you plan to sleep longer. Its dark and private(ish) and free from clumsy steps. Extra bonus tip: Don't take the bathtub. While it's free from the stepping on aspect, people will be in and out all night and no one should do without bathing.

Volunteer: Most cons will give a discount to room cost and/or admission, or give cool goods (T-shirts) to people that give some amount of time. Cons need people to check badges (badgers), get things (gophers), work registration, food service, medical support, and a plethora of other tasks, as well as game masters. Bonus: badgers can ogle the eye-candy costumes with impunity ("I was looking for her badge"). UnBonus: The people wearing the ogle-worthy costumes, want to be ogled, but you might not want to ogle all of them.

Con-Suite: Usually the con has a certain amount of healthier snacks, Bagels, fruits and/or veggies, orange juice, etc., that are usually brought into the con-suite early in the day. These move fast. While you might think who cares, as long as they have all the funions I can carry, at some point nutrition will have appeal.

Pre-register; if you know you will be attending, pre-register. It's generally cheaper, insures a room (sci-fi), and allows a better chance to get the games your want (game cons). There may even be perks such as T-shirts. The drawback is that it's usually non-refundable, but may be transferable, so if you can't go, you may take a hit.

Elevators: At some hotels, the elevators cannot take the 24-hour, high-load, workout attendees put them through. Plan on using the stairs. If the elevator is working, and you are going up to the 23rd floor from the third, get on during the down ride. Tons of people get on at 1 and there will be no room when it stops again at 3.

Rooms: If you are hosting a party (sci-fi) try to get a pool-side (cabana) room. Your traffic will increase. If you aren't hosting a party, get a room as far from the center of the con as you can. It will be quieter when you try to sleep.

321 rule: This really should be a law, but the lack of enforcement makes the point moot. Each day you should get a minimum of 3 meals, 2 hours of sleep, and 1 shower. More is good.


I have attended dozens of cons. I prefer game cons, but like all sci-fi also. I am certain I have missed many things and do want other people to share, especially any events that I missed. I also want to hear your tips and tricks.

Having only attended single-day cons (here in the the Wild East), I don't have much to add (and I haven't seen any actual parties, either).

As I've mentioned before, I'm thinking about attending GenCon (but it's probably too late to find a place to sleep now) and I found this article extremely good.
Anyone else going?

Yerk, my post disappeared or I hallucinated posting it.

Great topic. I want to see a live Klingon courting contest, but not too close.

Any essentials to pack along? Swag-bag and a Swiss Army Knife maybe? I've not been to this particular kind of gathering but other expo that featured sound equipment made me wish I brought earplugs along in a short period of time.

Great question, but the answer is predictable. Whatever you normally take to a nights gaming, with some buts.
Take a full set of polyhedra dice plus a handful each of d6 and d10.
Mechanical pencils wont leave you wanting a sharpener.
Paper: I prefer a steno pad. but like to have a pack of 3x3 or 3x5 post-its also.
(optional) Eats: Drinks should be in resealable containers (spill-proofing). No matter how careful you are, there will be a clutz next to you. Chips or candy if thats your thing. There may be food there, but it also may be stadium pricing.
CCG players: 1 or 2 decks. Not 40 lbs of cards. No one cares how many you own. Same for Minis gamers.
GMs: Books that you NEED, not that you might maybe need. pregenerated characters, maps, minis if you use them, the adventure, extra dice.
Other optionals: calculator, tape measure, colored pens, pocket size game.
Load what you need into abackpack/bookbag and off you go. A larger bag is better. If you buy something, in it goes. (except for large board games). If you can, put everything into your pockets and leave the purchases for the end of the day, and leave the bag in the car.