GenCon 2021 - D20 Collective

Gencon 2021

For the Love of Gaming

It’s hard to express in words the difficulty I had in preparing to leave for Gencon Indy 2021. I have been a fan of tabletop gaming since I was a child, wanting nothing more than to sit on my mama’s bed and play board games with her until I got too tired to keep playing. I didn’t exactly have a stable home life, and to be honest, I still don’t, but I always remembered the people I care about being willing to sit down and play a board game with me. Board games eventually became simpler, but still fun, card games like Uno and Monopoly Deal. As I branched out from only interacting with my family and moved on to attempt to make friends in school, I got into trading card games and of course video games, but board games are still something I adore. 

From a social standpoint, the friends I still talk to today are the ones that still are willing to join me at the table for a game late at night when we’re all free from the droll nature of this world and the position (or lack thereof) we are in. Namely, one of my closest friends Brandon the Bard, who way back in elementary school started inviting me to join him and his dad on their weekly trips to a local comic store for board game night. I will give him the rights to my revitalized passion for tabletop gaming. From there I took an interest in a little game called Dungeons & Dragons. I knew the said game wasn’t exactly a board game, but still played over a table like one, as all the players are individually responsible for crafting their own contribution to the game through their characters and a bit of creative storytelling. 

I have not been out of my home state of Arizona since 2018, and never without a person very I am very personally close to accompanying me. There had been a lot of turmoil in both my professional and personal life in the months leading up to GenCon. I knew this experience was either going to be one to remember and grow exponentially from or a growing nightmare peering at me from just outside my mortal vision. But I am pleased to say that attending GenCon 2021 was a very incredible experience, stealing away my expectations and winning my heart as probably the best convention experience I’ve ever had. 

A Metal Tube Containing a Single Demon: FEAR

Now that the majority (54.7% of Americans is still technically a majority) of Americans are protected against the nasty little COVID virus that has single handedly usurped all other issues of the common man over the past (almost) two years, we all struggle to reconnect and repair our lives. Unsurprisingly, the people of GenCon are no different. I could not see them, but I could hear them all around me after my thoughts cleared at the Dallas airport Wednesday afternoon. I was sitting alone, lost in my own misery over missing the flight that I was supposed to take with my coworkers and forgetting to pick up the nice business cards I had gotten printed. Every now and then, I would pick up the fragment of a thought:

“Keep your mask on, you don’t want to get kicked out.”

“I wonder if ___ will be there this year.” 

“I hope we’re still going to be able to play ___.” 

People with shirts of their favorite game, small iconography of the humble d20, heroes, and meeple. Tension was still high, but I was somewhat surprised by how many attendees I could spot simply by looking around at the hustle and bustle of the Dallas airport. Exactly how many people were going to be there? I pondered over my laptop as it struggled to do the simplest of tasks. I knew this was a “big ticket” convention. I hear about it all the time. But having never attended a convention quite like this one (anime conventions usually being the only ones I hear about), I was still very concerned with how much could go wrong. Things were already not going as originally planned when I had suggested that we attend this year, so I was completely in the dark in very uncharted territory. 

On arrival, things did not get much better at first. We were lacking a substantial number of boxes that we had shipped out for this event, having only the stuff we brought with us on the plane, the Tower of Fate, Dice bags, one box containing Misty Step and Fiendish Fragments, and one of the two boxes of dice we had designated as giveaway items… the smaller of the two. To make matters worse, I was late and thus had to pay nearly $60 dollars for a ride to the hotel and we still had no confirmation from FedEx as to when (if at all), the rest of our packages would arrive at the convention center. But at the very least, we had made it there physically unharmed and with enough time to check-in, so that was the upside of the situation I suppose. 

Self-Actualization of the Hanged Man

GenCon: Day 1

Thursday was rough, but eased my most pressing concern: Would people take us seriously? Everything was in shambles to me. This was not at all how I wanted it to be. I felt as if I was watching a train wreck in slow motion. The past week had been like a prolonged panic attack whenever I stopped thinking about what needed to be prepared for the D20 Collective both because regardless of whether or not D20 Collective as a whole was ready for something like this, I was most certainly not. 

What many fail to realize about people that are diagnosed with Depression is that Depression is not something that is an exact state of mind, it is a pattern of behavior. I realized something was wrong when I was trying to DM my first campaign with three of my closest friends at the time and had to quit in the middle of the first session because everything I did to prepare just seemed so wrong to me. I thought everyone was mad and would hate me once the session was over. That they would say bad things about me to each other, despite being people that I platonically loved unconditionally. This realization happened when I was a senior in high school and I have been taking antidepressants since, so it’s something I have just dealt with all my adult life. Well, all 3 years of it considering the fact that I’m only 21. I prioritize the appearance of being a person who knows what they’re doing and is confident in their decisions. I can often oversleep alarms going off. I always make more work for myself despite the copious number of household chores that I neglect on a regular basis. I isolate myself or sleep when I’m upset because I spiral into an overly emotional frenzy when I allow myself to think too much about things I know will make it worse. The simple act of walking outside with my dog can be a struggle some days because I fear judgment from the world around me, yet I adore film criticism because of just how much you can tell about the care and attention to detail that can be put into a film as long as someone cares about the story they are trying to tell. 

And that is nothing but a piece of my backstory in my own little game of life. I once dreamed of being a graphic novelist and character concept artist, so characterization is very important to me. I came to the realization a few months ago that there is a trend you can notice within players of Dungeons & Dragons. All characters a person makes are based on how they interpret the game and its rules. The most common starting character for a player will always be a self-insert of some sort, a stand-in for how they want to be portrayed within a group. Following characters that they make, as a new character or just an NPC within a backstory, can give you clues as to how they view themselves and others. That is not to say that you should go off and psychologically evaluate the choices of people’s characters. DO NOT THINK THIS IS UNIVERSAL AND GIVES YOU A RIGHT TO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT PEOPLE. This is a trend I noticed primarily in myself. For example; My first character was a stereotypical Half-Orc Monk, proceeding characters are: a quiet and chaotic Kenku Wu Jen Mistic, a forever lonely and wandering Eladrin Horizon Walker Ranger (one of my favorites if you couldn’t already tell), a guilt-ridden ex-assassin Tiefling Immortal Mystic named Hero, and my most recent character is a Tiefling Armorer Artificer named Pioneer looking for answers for the tragedy in his life. I won’t give you all the details, but Pioneer was the first character I made with a strong intention of keeping around during my time working for D20 Collective. All the other characters were made when I was still in high school. Truth be told, I see a lot of the pain of my younger self that I was able to overcome by clinging to the characters I made. And I have a strong suspicion that I am not the only one who can see parts of themselves in the characters we make. 

I was mentally paralyzed with fear of judgment at GenCon, but as soon as the people started stopping by our booth and getting just as excited as I used to be at seeing an interesting dice set, my fear began to just melt away. 

Strangers Are Friends You Haven’t Met

GenCon: Day 2

Getting up and going down to the hall was much easier on Friday. The people I interacted with the day prior were so, well, real. I felt I understood them. No matter who I was talking to, I could see parts of their character. It was exciting to meet people and chat about whatever was on their minds. While most were just happy enough to get a free set of dice to add to their collection, the ones that I remember the most are the ones that would muse over the dice they say. 

“That one will go perfectly with the character you’re playing.”

“I need to get these for my wife, she’s going to absolutely adore them.”

“Can I roll these? I want to see what they feel like to roll before I decide.”

“I don’t know why my eyes keep getting drawn to these, but I just gotta have them.”

“Let me just make a quick call and see if they want them before I just impulse buy.”

I was reminded time and time again why I was there, to begin with. I love dice. I love surprising my friends with dice. I love playing tabletop games. I love design. I love art and self-expression. I love storytelling. I love color theory. I love character design. I love elaborate costumes that you can just wear to look like you are off on an adventure. I saw quite a few plague doctors walking around the convention. I had to run around on my lunch break and find myself a mask and cowl to wear myself because walking around a convention dressed as a plague doctor had been something I had always dreamed of doing. Did I have the budget? No, but for the first time, I was in a world filled with complete strangers. I felt like I could understand without any effort. 

All but one of our boxes arrived by the end of the day on Friday. Ironically, it was the other half of the dice we had bright to give away for free. But I was finally at ease for a moment in time. 

GenCon: Day 3

By Saturday, the final box had arrived and people were really liking our booth. We had so many people just come by to roll in our dice tower and check out our dice. We even sold a couple of items. We were all excited to see how many people came by to see us. Even Magister Matt, being a huge fan of Firefly, was interested in buying a full set copy of the Firefly board game that he apparently has been unaware of despite being a huge Firefly fan and it being around since the Xbox One. People came back to our booth multiple times with ever-expanding groups of people they would meet so they could also get a set of dice. 

GenCon: Final Day

By the time Sunday arrived, we had limited stock left of a lot of our items, and had way more board game boxes to figure out how to get back to the Valley of the Sun than was probably anticipated. At least for me. I had to ship a box home simply because I was not expecting the combined size of my purchase of Soloman Kane to be larger than the base game box of Gloomhaven, nor was I expecting the Magister to return with it fully knowing that it would be a huge hassle for me to get back to Arizona. The Firefly board game was unfortunately never bought though. I got interviewed by an awesome staff member and was shocked to hear that they are not thanked for their hard work too often. We decided to hook all the staff up with a free set of dice. I hope all the people interested in the offer were able to get a set by the end of the day. 


Much like a campaign in a tabletop RPG, the experience was like none other. When chatting with that staff member, I mentioned a song that makes me think of my love for Dungeons & Dragons. The song is called Inexplicable by British electro-swing band the Correspondents. The music video is also very fascinating, it’s description claiming “Everything you see on screen has been achieved in-camera, using analogue techniques. Despite appearing black and white, the entire video is filmed in colour and does not use any CGI or digital compositing effects.”

So if I had to describe my experience at GenCon 2021 in one word, that word would be INEXPLICABLE.

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