How to Go to Gaelcon

I've been going to Gaelcon most years since I was a wee lad of 13. This year's convention is coming up at the end of the week, over the Irish bank holiday weekend, and I am looking forward massively to it. But I've now been to... let's say it's about 16, 17 Gaelcons, and I know what to expect.

There are undoubtedly some people who have never been to a convention before, or been to an sf or steampunk convention, but not a gaming one. Or, indeed, been to an American-style gaming convention, and not an Irish one. So here's a quick set of recommendations of what to do.

Dress comfortably

Gaelcon is in a hotel. It's a nice enough hotel, you can get outside when you need to, there's a supermarket right there, and it's not horribly crowded. But still, it's going to get overly warm in some rooms, or you're going to be beside a door which has been wedged open because it's overly warm one room in, and in any case, you're going to be spending three to four hours sitting in one place, possibly repeatedly. Wear comfortable clothes, layers, comfortable shoes, and make sure you've a few pockets.

Don't Bring All Your Games

I made this mistake over and over again for years; I'd bring a backpack with at least all the core books for the games I was playing or running, plus some supplements, plus something I wanted to try out, plus something I wanted to show someone or evangelise a bit about, plus my dice, plus my campaign notebook, plus a book to read on the bus... and ended up hauling around roughly my own body weight for the whole con. And even though I was a hell of a lot skinnier then, it was still a lot of stuff. Unless you can drop off stuff in a room in the hotel, or at a friendly trade stand, or park your car nearby, or the like, be very selective in what you bring.

Don't Forget To Eat

It is remarkably easy, if you're dashing from one event to the next via a trade stand, to forget to eat anything. Don't do it. If you're prone to such things, buy yourself some sandwiches or a roll early on in the day, and stick them in your bag. Forgetting to drink is a lot less likely at an Irish convention, but do try to keep reasonably hydrated. You don't want to fall over, and nobody else much wants to spend time picking you up - although, to be fair, they will.

Know How You're Getting Home

Work out how you're getting home (or to wherever you're staying) in the evening, if you're not staying at the convention hotel (and for many first-timers, that's way past the available budget). There is little worse, when you're tired and possibly a bit sloshed, than standing on the side of the road at 3am on a cold October night trying to flag down a taxi, because you didn't realise the last useful train was at nine in the evening.

Try Something New

Try to get in at least one game you've never played before. If you've played every RPG ever, try a card game. If you've never LARPed, give it a shot. If you've only ever played card games, sign up for a tabletop RPG. There are plenty of things to try - scheduled and otherwise - and people are very happy to show you how to play, and get you into a game. Indeed, I'll be running a dungeon crawl for 4th Ed D&D on the Sunday afternoon, theoretically for people already playing in my ongoing campaign, but in reality on a drop-in basis for anyone who wants. Come looking for me, I'm a fat bloke with a beard... actually, maybe you'd best ask around for Drew, if you don't know what I look like.

Some of my best experiences at conventions have been in playing games I didn't expect to like, and was just filling a few hours with.

People Are Nice

Pretty nearly everyone at Gaelcon is there to meet people and play games. You really can't go wrong if you just step up to someone playing a board or card game and say "That game you're playing looks like fun, can I join?". They may say "We're halfway through, hang around and we'll get you into the next one", but that's really the worst response you'll get. If they wanted to play privately, they'd stay home.

Obviously, it's harder to include someone in an RPG that's already under way, and you don't want to break into games where the mood and concentration are important, so stick to games where there's stuff on the table.

You Don't Have To Buy Stuff

There will be trade stands. The trade stands will be made of awesome. I speak here as someone who has run one, although I'm not doing so this year. They will have piles and piles of cool stuff. You do not have to buy things. Prioritise food, transport and playing games over acquiring stuff, and you'll enjoy the convention more. Do, though, if you can at all, bring some spare cash. Just in case.

Go To The Charity Auction

The Charity Auction is possibly the most entertaining bit of Gaelcon. A vast amount of money will be raised for charity, there will be cool things to bid on (and possibly even win the bidding on), and it's a lot of fun. Even if you can't afford any of the bids, there will be other opportunities to donate, and you can marvel at the lunatic two tables over spending thousands of euros on a hat.

Enjoy It, Come Back Next Year

Gaelcon, like many annual events, gets better every time you come back. So come back next year, and it will improve, you'll see people you know, and get to try games you didn't have time for last year.

Posted by Drew Shiel at October 20, 2010 10:08 AM

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