Physical vs. Online conventions and how I might deal in the future with conventions when it comes to badge access. The joy of playing in two Swords & Wizardry games. Digital vs. Physical dice rolling in virtual games.
I love GaryCon. It is a real pleasure to meet different game designers and artists, purchase a load of products, game constantly for several days, meet new people, and try out new game systems. I typically attend three cons each year – Con of the North (in my native Minnesota just a few minutes from where I live) in February, GaryCon in March, and GameHole in October/November.
It was at GameHole last autumn where I experienced my first full virtual convention (due to the pandemic). I actually very much enjoyed the experience, but obviously gaming virtually is different than gaming in person and there are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches. The bad part of virtual games includes not being able to hang out and chat with players/GMs before and after the game and not having a physical vendor area where you can page through books and talk with the designers. The socializing at a physical gaming convention is a genuinely wonderful thing that virtual gaming can’t match.
On the other hand, a benefit of virtual gaming is that if you can’t travel to a convention or can’t afford the trip, then nothing can be easier than gaming from your own home with people from around the country and the world. It is so convenient and saves so much money.
One positive thing that has happened as a result of pandemic life is the acceleration of certain trends in gaming, such as gaming online, which has in turn pushed forth innovations in the technology which makes this possible. When things return to ‘normal’ I suspect that gaming conventions from now on will include a selection of virtual gaming options for those that can’t attend in person.
In the future I do look forward to a return to physically attending Con of the North, GaryCon, and GameHole (and consider virtual options for conventions in other parts of the country). But, with all the time and money I have saved by doing GameHole and GaryCon virtually over the last six months, I may consider whether the immense cost in time and money is worth it if I am not able to get into the games I want. For example, I have an Ethereal Badge for GaryCon and that meant that others with better badges (e.g. Astral and Elemental) were able to choose their games first. The majority of the games I got into at this GaryCon were not my first choices. I have continually had bad luck trying to get the better badges (they’ve always been sold out before I could get them). I am getting more and more energized and excited about gaming conventions with every passing year and so this inability to get better badges and thus get into the games I want is becoming an ever increasing frustration. In the past you’d just have to suck it up and accept it simply as “the way things work”, but the pandemic has made me aware of how important my time and money is and I am seeking an alternative.
Attending a physical game convention is quite an undertaking when it comes to drive time (I have to take an extra day off of work just to travel to the convention), and money when it comes to car wear-and-tear, petrol, hotel, eating out, etc. Those expenses add up if you’re doing them several times each year. So if I have 6-8 games I want to be in, and I only get 1 or 2 of them and the rest are options b, c, or d, then my enthusiasm drops and my desire to engage in all that extra expense in time and money drops as well. Getting stuck with a lesser badge in the future will probably play a role as to whether I will spend the hundreds of extra dollars and take extra time off of work to physically attend the convention, or instead save my vacation days and hundreds of dollars and just stay home and do it virtually. I would love to hang out with old friends and meet new ones, and that is worth a lot in friendship and socializing, but knowing that most of my games are “leftovers” takes some of the enjoyment away and I now realize that I don’t have to accept that – there is now an alternative. Gaming at home virtually without that investment of time and money makes the letdown much easier to take.
Gaming, Day 1
For Day 1 I was signed up to two Swords & Wizardry games. Both GM’s were great and I was excited to get more S&W gaming done. Hall of Bones was my first S&W game of the day. It actually wasn’t my first choice as most of the games I wanted to get into for GaryCon XIII were already taken when I was eligible to get my tickets (as I noted above). However, I had played Hall of Bones virtually last autumn at GameHole with the same GM, so I knew this was going to be a fun game. I was also using a different character and was with an entirely different group of players. I enjoyed the challenge of having a new character with new players and trying not to metagame. This game session did go slower than the first time I went through it and I noticed that to ensure we could all experience the final encounter the GM removed a couple of dungeon chambers. The other players, if they had never done this adventure before, wouldn’t know this, but I did. But as a GM you sometimes have to speed things up and remove certain things to get players to where they need to be. I understand and appreciate that. In the end, I enjoyed this adventure as much the second time as I did the first time. I look forward to gaming with this GM in person some day.
My second S&W game was Orcus on 34th Level. This was once again not my first choice of game to play, but I genuinely enjoyed myself, and the GM was exceptional. It was an Xmas-themed game that was a little tongue-in-cheek. It was a mixture of being both silly and dark. The GM was damn good, perhaps one of the best GMs that I’ve had. Consider: how often has a GM begun to describe a room and as they do so you are formulating clarificatory questions regarding the room features as follow up? This GM somehow managed to describe the rooms and provide the necessary details relevant for a character as to how it impacts their sight, movement, hearing, etc., all in one go. I was really impressed by their skill. I run two campaigns of my own six times a month and when I can find a GM which can help me elevate the quality of my game, I take note! Of course, one of the other benefits of gaming with a wide variety of people is seeing creativity from other players, since that can also help me as a player and GM to broaden my creative gaming toolkit. This is also a GM I will look forward to joining at a physical table in a future convention.
Digital vs. Physical Dice Rolling
One final thing that stands out when it comes to my enjoyment of a virtual game is whether the dice rolling is physical or digital. I hate digital dice rolling. For me one of the most enjoyable experiences of partaking in a table-top role-playing games is holding and feeling the weight and texture of dice in my hands, rolling them on the table, dice tray, or in a dice tower, hearing the sounds they make, and seeing the result. That means a lot to me and really puts me into the moment (I also have a nice dice collection and I want to use them!). Pushing some stupid button on my keyboard and seeing a number appear on my monitor does absolutely nothing for me, indeed, it pulls me away from the moment. I guess we all have things that get on our nerves and under our skin, and digital dice rolling is one that really bothers me. My response to digital dice rolling is probably silly or irrational, and this will make my life more difficult in an ever expanding virtual gaming environment. On the other hand, I don’t think I am alone in my love for holding physical dice, since one of the most popular crowdfunding projects you see are RPG dice Kickstarters, they almost always well exceed their funding goal.