Gen Con 2020

Way back in January, my brother and I talked about going to Gen Con this year. Unfortunately, the dates didn’t work out because I was going to be on a trip to Michigan and Virginia during that time to visit family.

Then 2020 disrupted everything with a pandemic. We cancelled our family trip to stay closer to home. Gen Con cancelled their in-person convention and moved online. While the circumstances are unfortunate, things worked out for me to attend Gen Con for a third time.

I decided to take a couple of days of vacation from work, so that I could focus on Gen Con activities rather than trying to multi-task or limiting when I was able to participate. When the event catalog was posted, I went through it looking for things that caught my eye. I ended up not getting tickets to any games and instead focusing on seminars.


I ended up with nine seminars in my schedule. For the most part, they were well done. I did end up leaving one of them early though because it wasn’t what I had expected from the title and description. Here are my favorite three from the convention with links to their on-demand videos so that you can check them out.

Encounters 101: A Comprehensive Theory of RPGs

Ben Riggs from the Plot Points podcast talked about adventure design and how encounters are the building blocks of a fun play experience. He discussed a few of his favorite published adventures and what made them great. Then he broke that down into guidelines to follow when writing adventures to help make them fun for the whole table. There were some technical difficulties at the end of the stream that cut short the Q&A, but despite that it was a solid seminar that gave me new things to think about when planning games.

Designing Better Character Sheets

Amber from Geekspective gave this talk about improving character sheet design. She walked through some guidelines for improving character sheets. My favorite part was towards the end when she showed off some examples of character sheets from various roleplaying games and then improved versions created by herself or other designers.

Agile Worldbuilding

Janet Forbes and Dimitris Havlidis from World Anvil gave this talk on worldbuilding. They presented Agile Worldbuilding as an alternative to traditional top-down and bottom-up world design. The basic idea was to focus on minimal bits of information to start the setting with a mix of high-level concepts and local details and then expand it based on feedback from play sessions. The high-level details provide a framework to lend coherency and depth to the world while avoiding needing to develop everything for the setting before starting a campaign.


While I didn’t do any online gaming through Gen Con events, I made a point to play some games at home over the weekend. My wife and I played games of Star Realms and Ascension. We also played some Tsuro with our daughter. In the evenings, I tried out the new Combat Patrol missions for Warhammer 40,000’s 9th edition by playing against myself.


One of my favorite things to do at conventions is to wander the vendor hall looking through different booths to find new games and products. I almost always end up coming home with new games to try. With an online convention, that traditional vendor hall experience wasn’t possible.

Instead, Gen Con posted a virtual vendor hall experience called the Looking Glass. It was a cloud of icons where vendors could post some pictures and links. I spent some time clicking around on it, but it was no substitute for being able to walk around booths.

My convention shopping instead happened online as I picked up a few new gaming pdfs to read through. I also bought a couple of bits of Gen Con 2020 merch (a pint glass and a t-shirt) earlier this month so that I would have them during the weekend.

Technical Readout: Golden Century

BattleTech is a nostalgic favorite of mine, and books of new giant stompy robots are just fun to browse through. This one covers the Golden Century of the Clans as they lived in exile from the Inner Sphere and developed new technologies.

Encounter Theory

This book by Ben Riggs covers the same material as his seminar. Since I enjoyed his talk, I picked up a pdf of the book to read.

Uncaged Anthology

I had heard good things about this anthology of adventures, so I watched the Reclaiming Monsters: The Uncaged Anthology Phenomenon panel on Saturday. It convinced me to go ahead and buy the set of pdfs. While I’m not sure I’ll run many of the adventures, I think I’ll enjoy reading through them all.

By Scott Boehmer

A game enthusiast and software engineer.

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