Miscellaneous Musings: Gencon Part I – The Trip to Indy
“When I go looking for my tribe, there won’t be much that I will find.” – recently, I stumbled over this little line in one of my favorite bands’ new album and it immediately resonated with me. There is a very reasonable theory in cultural science that has disseminated into popular consensus, where the internet has allowed us to define ourselves as part of social entities that are finer in their distinctions, more peculiar in the respective interests. For most of my life, I have felt like a person who has no such “tribe” – but let me bring you up to speed in that regard and bear with me for a second.
Some of you may know this already, but I grew up in a small village, half an hour away from the next place that Americans would probably call a *VERY* small town. It was all rather idyllic, really…with one crucial issue: When I turned 7, my allergies emerged and I was bed-ridden for 2 years.
Yes, allergies can do that. Yes, it took this long to find out what kept kicking my butt. During this period and in the aftermath, I had almost no muscles left, no constitution or endurance to speak of and was pretty much confined to the inside, reading voraciously as my primary means to alleviate the boredom. When I finally got medicine that helped, it had severe side-effects. Those of you out there with similar issues will know about the mood-changing effects of a couple of the more potent pills to combat allergies – let’s just say that they are not pleasant.
Suffice to say, when I sought means to connect with the few people of my age, that did not go too well. The meds had bloated me to be as broad as tall and I was pretty obese. Kids being kids, the grumpy, fat kid who coughed after the stairs with the constantly runny nose wasn’t exactly popular. Where is this sob-story going? Well, sometime in my puberty my allergies improved to a manageable level and I gave up on trying to fit in and ever since, I have constructed myself as the “other” – as the guy not belonging. I was pretty successful and as soon as I could drive a (very small, very slow) motorized bike, I spend as much time as possible away from home; it was here that three factors kept me sane: Metal and goth music and the people I met in those sub-cultures and roleplaying.
Roleplaying has granted me, no hyperbole, the most faithful and awesome friends imaginable and I am truly grateful for that – but that does not change that I never managed to achieve a 100% identification with groups I interacted with for a prolonged period of time. Whether it was metalheads, goths, fans of industrial, etc. – these experiences in my forming years may have resulted in a skepticism regarding groups in general.
I never kowtowed to conventions imposed by such a group, so when I like a certain hiphop or pop-song, some piece of art, a certain aesthetic, I refuse to exclude this component of my personality on the grounds of it not conforming with established group dynamics or conventions. To put it more bluntly: Too weird for most, too metal for the goths, too goth for the metalheads…the notion of tangential belonging with reservations is pretty much a red thread through my whole life, extending, perhaps due to my mongrel heritage, to national identity. While I very much am a roleplayer, heart and soul (if you do believe in the soul), at the same time, due to me living in Germany, isolated, typing away in front of my screen, my expectation was a repetition of this pattern; after all, why should it be different for that group?
Fast forward to a couple of years back, when, while I was in Oslo, I was in a very bad place regarding my relationship then. Roleplaying helped me connect with people and maintain my friendships, and it was then that I slowly drifted into the whole third party circle. At this point, I had been fanboy-ing hard on Nick Logue’s now defunct Sinister Adventures homepage and already tasted true greatness with Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design projects, which, back then, before the Kobold Press rebrand, were a significant reason I stuck with 3.X…and later, with Pathfinder. It is no hyperbole, when I’m saying that I came to Pathfinder and Paizo over Sinister Adventures, Rite Publishing and Open Design. From there, the whole process snowballed and the rest is history.
Skip ahead to 2016. I am not even close to the place I thought I’d be at this point in my life, but at the same time, I am a truly blessed individual. I am a rather prolific reviewer and somewhat respected in the industry. There are a ton of authors and publishers I’d consider friends and I am pretty blessed to say that I harbor no ill will to anyone. Beyond the usual troll once in a while, I enjoy what I am doing. I try to be constructive as well as productive and I try to maintain a rigorous work-ethic; it is my ardent hope that I may have helped some authors and publishers improve their game and make sales. I cherish and love the interaction with my readers and friends, but I never had the opportunity to actually visit the US or any major con…or meet anyone of the authors, artists and folks I so loved talking to online.
Then, suddenly, BJ Hensley had coordinated this huge bundle…and they all contributed. From the mighty Frog God to Kobold Press and Legendary Games, Rogue Genius Games, Rite Publishing…and so many more. I smiled inwardly and was truly touched; honestly, I probably would have cried if I was capable of it – the content in that bundle was not just some files…it contained basically only true gems. I considered it a touching gesture, since it was far beyond my means to afford the flight, hotel, etc….and then, one day later…it had ACTUALLY WORKED.
I sat in stunned and humbled silence in front of my screen and tried taking 20s to disbelieve this illusion for at least an hour. Seriously. To my shock and surprise, I did not wake up; it was “not all just a dream”; no strange entity was putting electrodes in my brain. This was not the matrix. And it did happen. So, in a kind of daze, I got my ESTA-approval, booked the flight – and then, Steven died. I was mortified, sad, shocked…to this day, I don’t think I have processed his absence properly and one of my greatest regrets will be that I have never had the chance to meet him in person and thank him for everything he has done for me.
As soon as I was at least halfway operational again, I scratched together some bucks for the train to Frankfurt and got aboard the plane. At this point, I was honestly anxious. Why? Well, for one I was sitting there and thinking about all the folks I had never met. Communication is imperfect, after all – and communication over the internet is even less precise; you don’t get to see faces, gestures…anything like that. And everyone has probably had this experience where they met a person for the first time and…there was no spark, no connection, but rather something like an instant antipathy. (Yes, speaking from personal experience via copious dating experiences…)
So, what if none of the folks would like me or vice versa? Would some publisher or author try and punch me in the face? Or at least yell at me for being a total prick? Would I actually get to meet some of my patreons? I honestly had no idea and was anxious to say the least. When a disheveled yours truly got out of the plane in Indy, I was pretty tired, but also internally extremely excited and giddy. I did what any good introvert does (yep, I can pull off looking like an extrovert pretty well) and flipped open my book and continued to read Kerouac’s “Visions of Cody”, an appropriately American book for my first trip to the states.
Well, first Savannah Broadway, who is btw. an exceedingly charming lady, arrived at the Starbucks and I finally got to meet BJ Hensley and Daniel Marshall, I suddenly realized that there was a very real chance this trip would actually be pleasant – the perfect considerate hosts and masterminds behind the trip, they took us out to eat and gave me books: The Frog God Bill Webb himself had sent books my way…and I am sure to review them! Skimming through the books, pretty overwhelmed by this kindness, I tried to reciprocate the gesture to my hosts within my feeble means via some German sweets that I could actually get through customs…but honestly, at this point, I was a tired, giddy bundle of nerves. Thanks to BJ, Savannah and Daniel, I quickly became very comfortable with the whole situation, though, and actually had a blast while eating proper American ribs.
When we got to the Westin, where an actual place to sleep was waiting for me, I also finally had the chance to meet Jonathan G. Nelson and his friend Dashiell – Jonathan, mastermind behind AAW Games, has graciously agreed to let me share his room and meeting and talking to him was indeed just as I had envisioned it – he is a talented, kind, warm-hearted and a truly great individual and I am proud to call him friend.
Still, when I went to bed, exhausted and in the knowledge that tomorrow, the exhibition hall would be open, the stands built. I also knew that I’d be meeting A LOT of the people that have enriched my life and those of hundreds of roleplaying fans out there. Legends to me; people I look up to; people I admire and like. My mind was racing and it is only due to the exhaustion finally getting the better of me that my body managed to shut is finally down, as my MP3 player was playing Tim Hitchcock’s Gencon hymn “I’m going to Indy” in an infinite loop.
The con hadn’t even started yet, but so far, everything had exceeded my expectations. After getting the stands ready, we’d go to Steve’s Irish wake…so I most definitely would need to the sleep and focus…but more on that next time.
Thank you for bearing with me so far – next week, I’ll dive into the stream of impressions that constituted my Gencon experience.