How To Do Gencon For Less Than $100

Everyone is blogging about Gencon this week, talking about their experiences and what they did, so I thought I would take a different tack, and write about a realization I had when I got home from the convention.  I still had quite a bit of money left in my wallet.  In fact, I realized that I had spent less than $100 at the con!  Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.

I’m going to leave travel costs out of this discussion because they are the least flexible and most variable factor in the cost equation. I live about 9 hours from Indy, so I had a viable option to either drive or fly, but for those coming from the West Coast, Canada, or further East than me, flying was more or less the only option. Ignoring travel costs puts everyone on the same playing field cost-wise; once you’re at the convention, we all have the same opportunities to spend money (or not). I also trust that most people already know how to reduce travel costs – look for flight deals, fly on odd days, carpool, etc. I realize that travel can be one of the bigger costs to attending Gencon, but it’s hard to make an argument for driving with four of your closest friends to someone who lives in southern Texas.  Once you’re at the con though, here are everyone’s costs: badge + hotel + food + events + stuff = con cost.

Step 1: Get a free badge and hotel room

This is the big one for me. I believe the 4 day badges are about $60 (though I can’t say for sure; I didn’t pay for mine) and a hotel room will run you about $160 if you split it with three other people. If you want a room to yourself, you’re looking at closer to $640. I’m assuming $160 per night for four nights, though again, I didn’t pay for my hotel room, so that’s my best recollection from my research before the con. How do you get a free badge and room? Volunteer. I volunteered to run Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) events through Baldman Games, though I’m sure there are other volunteer opportunities that garner free badges and rooms. In order to net a free room, I had to DM 7 slots, which equates to 2 1/3 days of the con. That leaves roughly a day and a half to do whatever you want, plus any “midnight madness” that you happen to participate in. For those of you debating whether it’s worth it to give up so much of your free time, allow me to present some of the other perks of volunteering:

  • I did not wait in the line that went around the block to pick up my badge – I simply went to WotC HQ, and picked it up – took less than 2 minutes.
  • I did not have to call around to find a hotel that still had rooms available, even though I decided to go to the con in June.
  • On top of the free badge and hotel room, WotC provides DM swag – I got the new Neverwinter setting book, three packs of dungeon tiles, a large ogre mini, 2 promo “booster” cards for the Legend of Drizzt board game, and 25 packs of fortune cards as a thank you for judging.

I should also note that judging, for me, was not drudgery.  I did it for the free room, but I also did it because I enjoy being a DM, and I enjoy showing players a great time at the con.  Judging for a free room and badge is not a viable option for you if you think DMing is a chore.  Neither you nor your players will have a good time, and no one wants that.
Total Savings:
$220 – $1,000 (or more) (not counting DM swag)

Step 2: Bring Your Own Food

Eating out costs a lot of money, even when you only do it once in a while. When you’re doing it four days in a row for every meal, the costs can add up quickly. I myself enjoy three squares a day, plus snacks at 10 and 3. So here’s what I brought for food:

  • Instant oatmeal (I heated up water in the room’s coffee maker)
  • Sandwich fixins (there was a fridge in the room)
  • Chips
  • Granola bars
  • Adult beverage supplies (rum/coke)
  • Water bottle

I did not totally forgo eating out during the con (though I could have). I simply gave myself the ability to avoid it if I so desired. Since my room was less than a 5 minute walk from the con, sometimes eating a sandwich was not only wallet friendly, but time friendly as well. For those of you who fly, I suppose bringing food seems more daunting, though the only thing on my list there that may or may not survive baggage handling is probably a loaf of bread.  There are other options.  Be creative.
Total savings: $95 (assuming $115 to eat out vs. bringing $20 worth of food)

Step 3: Play for Free

I suppose that should say “Play mostly for free.”  I’m not against paying for events, it’s just that there’s so much pick-up play and “learn to play” going on at the convention, I don’t see a reason to pay for a lot of events.  Pick one or two things that you really want to do, and buy tickets to them.  Then, leave some breathing room in your schedule and hit the dealer’s room to learn a new game, or find a pickup game of something you’ve never played.  You may just meet some cool new people.  Monitor Twitter the week before, as people are constantly planning pick up play for the con.  As an addendum to that, I would add “when choosing events to pay for, figure out your dollars per hour.”  For example, every afternoon I would walk by the True Dungeon on my way back to my room.  “How much does this cost?” I asked one of the groupies with her box of treasure tokens. “$38,” she replied.  “EACH time??” I said incredulously.  “Yes.”  Now, I get that this is something that’s really cool to try once, but I understand that there are some people who come to the con to go through it multiple times.  That, to me, is just craziness.  For $14 less, you could play LFR for 15 hours straight.  And I’m sure that there are other events that have a similar price point.  Again, I’m not discouraging people from doing the more expensive events, just encouraging awareness towards the idea of “dollars per hour of enjoyment.”
Savings: Varies

Step 4: Buy Stuff on Sunday

This is a tip I heard from several sources a few days before the con.  Towards the end of the convention, the vendors in the dealer’s hall are more inclined to cut prices in order to unload inventory before the con ends.  You’re more likely to get something at a discount on Sunday morning than you are on Thursday afternoon.  I would even go so far as to suggest requesting a discount on items you want to buy towards the end of the con.  It’s called “haggling,” and while your D&D character may be really good at it, it’s something Americans have lost a knack for.  If haggling is not something you’re comfortable doing, hit up some yard sales the weeks before the con to practice.  You’ll be dealing in small amounts of money for things you probably don’t really want with people who are expecting haggling.  This is a great way to practice.
Savings: Varies

So let’s look at how to do Gencon for about $100:
Badge: $0
Hotel: $0
Food: $35 (assumes eating out once plus morning coffee not from Fourbucks)
Events: $28 (assumes 3 rounds of D&D, which is one full day of gaming)
Stuff: $37 (don’t forget you’ll also get judge swag for judging)

Really, the exact numbers are adjustable – spend more on events and less on stuff if you don’t really see anything at the con you’re interested in.  If you like to eat out, practice your self control and save money on stuff by just browsing in the dealer’s hall.  And of course, you could always spend more if your budget allows.

Going to conventions can be expensive.  There are a lot of costs involved, and they add up quickly.  However, I think the key word is “can” add up quickly.  With a little forethought and planning, attending Gencon doesn’t have to be something that takes all year to save up for.  It’s up to you!

How about you?  Would you be willing to make sacrifices to go to Gencon on the cheap? What other cost saving measures did I miss?

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9 Responses to How To Do Gencon For Less Than $100

  1. John duBois says:

    Wait, there were two Legend of Drizzt promos? I recall Viera, and I thought I had seen one (that I didn’t get) for Conquest of Nerath, but I don’t remember a second Drizzt promo…

    • Benoit says:

      Ok, maybe the other one was for Conquest of Nerath. I don’t own either of those games, so I just assumed they were both for Legend of Drizzt, since that’s the new game they had at the con. I’ll have to look at them more closely when I get home today.

  2. gameagain says:

    How to get a free badge with even less time invested: Accumulate 70+ player-hours as a GM/DM. Ran three 4-hour games for teams of 6 players maximum. Three 4-hour games = only 12 personal hours invested, However, the time invested is multiplied by the MAXIMUM number of players your game is scheduled for. In my case, that was 6 players for each game. Six players per game times four hours for each game times three games (6 x 4 x 3) = 72 player-hours, and enough for a free Gencon badge.

    Even better, you are credited for the full 6 players even if you have no shows. I had one game where only two players showed up. Still counted as 6 players. And I got to run the games **I** wanted to run.

    • Benoit says:

      Thanks for the info! I only know of free badges through WotC, so it’s good to hear alternate ways to earn a free badge. For what it’s worth, LFR WAS what I wanted to run, so I never felt that I was doing something “just” for a badge. Also, the free badge is earned after 4 slots (I think) which works out to about 20 hours of judging (7 slots is the free room level). Like in your case, you get the credit regardless of who shows up; though if no one shows up for your event, WotC HQ still puts you to work doing other stuff. Not that I had that problem; all my tables were 5-6 players.

      I’m wondering what the rewards are for volunteering at Gencon HQ, if anyone has that info?

  3. Ben says:

    Also, consider saving a little bit each week from now until the next Con. You would be amazed how $5, $10 or $20 here and there really adds up over the span of a year. It’s also an easy motivator (go out to lunch or pack a sandwich and eat at your desk) when u know that saving goes towards the best 4 days of gaming. Awesome article, Benoit.

    • Benoit says:

      Yup, this is called “snowflaking” and just like lots of little snowflakes can add up to a lot of snow, you’d be surprised at how saving a bit here and there can make quite a stack of cash to spend in the dealer’s room!

  4. Shawn Merwin says:

    Great article. I have been taking advantage of the perks for running RPGA/OP events for Baldman Games/WotC for years, and it is amazing how much money I have saved on badges and hotels. And since I love running games, the 7 slots of DMing is just as fun as the rest of the convention.

    • Benoit says:

      It was great to meet you at Gencon, however briefly! I agree that you need to like being a DM to make the WotC badge worth it. I would definitely encourage those who do not like to DM to find other ways to volunteer.

  5. Torakhan says:

    Another option for saving money: Check out the schedule, find a day you like the most, and go for one day. Gaming and other events happen 24-hours a day (starting on Wednesday, going through late on Sunday.) Saturday is the BUSIEST day of the con. Aside from the swelling of the attendance by about 30% (a guess, not a true number) you’ll be fighting for parking, not to mention a 4-hour line (though, each year the badge lines seem to get faster.) [On a side note, Will-Call badges are hit-or-miss on whether or not the line is longer/shorter. Some days/times it’s super short, and others the line/wait is even longer because Will-Call does not have the same number of booths to facilitate the attendees… so if Will-Call has 4 booths, and On-Site Registration has 10 booths, the On-Site Registration line will move faster. Then again, if you hit the Will-Call line at the right time, there may only be 20 people in line while On-Site Registration has 300.) A lot of events happen on that day (Saturday), but there are plenty of others that happen on Thursday, Friday (usually a block-party on Fridays, if they’re doing them again), and even some on Sunday. While Sunday badges are less expensive and you can get some decent deals from the right vendors, the exhibit hall closes earlier, and a lot of things are “wrapping up” on Sunday, and some of the better stuff is already sold out.

    Something not mentioned here is parking.
    • Parking lots fill up FAST. I highly suggest trying to find parking between 6pm and 5am to avoid trying to compete with downtown workers and the likes for parking. If you’re arriving on Wednesday, get there before the crowds do… arriving at 6-8am on Wednesday almost always guaranteed that I had places to choose from (even if my carpooling friends hated me for it.)
    • There are parking garages, and there are exposed lots available. Google some sites and you’ll find locations for parking ranging from 1000-car multi-level garages to 20-car lots between buildings. Some lots have “Event Parking” rates that can jack your costs up from $5/normal night to $20/event night.
    • FORTUNATELY, this year’s Gen Con does not coinside with a Colts game, so there won’t be two giant events sucking up the parking (Unless Marc Gunn is expecting 10,000+ each of his nights at the Lucas Oil Stadium, but I somehow doubt it.)
    • If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s unlikely that you’ll get much good out of the extra $ for taking your car out as often as you want… for years I paid the extra $5/night, and I NEVER drove during the con.
    • There’s not much free parking around, or near Indianapolis, so unless you have someone willing to drive you in and out for free each day, or at the very least drive you to your nearby hotel and pick you up when you leave, consider parking to cost anywhere from $10/day to $30/day (depending on where you park.) I have had some really fortunate luck at a few places (last year the parking lot attendant left the gate up and left the building, so when I went to leave, I had no choice but to just drive out and my parking was therefore free for the nights I stayed, and other times I found garages that had “Maximum” fees… so I only paid $20 for the whole weekend because their pricing structure was not intended for multiple-night parking. Find these gems and enjoy them!)

    You can also volunteer through Gen Con itself.
    As with all volunteering, positions and availability vary. Contact early if you’re interested, or you can still inquire at Volunteer HQ when you get there.

    Volunteering through Gen Con has its own perks:
    If you volunteer for 16 hours, you get:
    • One Volunteer T-shirt
    • Access to the Volunteer HQ Lounge
    • A full refund of your 4-Day badge purchase
    • Two (2) Generic Event Tickets

    If you volunteer for 32 hours (8 hours a day)
    One Volunteer T-shirt
    Access to the Volunteer HQ Lounge
    A full refund of your 4-Day badge purchase
    Hotel reimbursement*
    Four (4) Generic Event Tickets
    *(based on 4-person occupancy, see Volunteer Policies for details)

    Now, mind you, there’s opportunities to work from Tuesday until Sunday, so even a 32 hours for the week could be as little as 5 hours a day, and it’s completely covered.
    IF you sign up for your 4-day badge and THEN get accepted to volunteer, you will receive a check a month or so later for the cost of your 4-day badge.

    Want even more (free parking? gas reimbursement? swag?) Consider the Mentorship Program. Once inbedded in the Mentorship Program, volunteers can move quickly up the ladder (over a couple of years) from Apprentice to Deputy to Captain, based on job performance and as space becomes available. IF you volunteer for a few years, you can also climb through the ranks, becoming a Captain (AKA “Senior Volunteer”), where there are even more benefits/perks/etc. (those are the folks wearing the EVENT STAFF shirts.)

    This will be my 17th consecutive Gen Con, and my… 10th, or so, as volunteer for the con (I’m a Captain again this year.) Over the years I’ve been both frugal and outlandish with my spending.

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