School of Games
AcadeCon gaming convention at the Dayton Convention Center
Photo: AcadeCon goers, surrounded by vendors and speakers, play Dungeons and Dragons
This article originally appeared in Dayton City Paper
By Josher Lumpkin
People who enjoy playing tabletop games know that one of the staples of the community is the gaming convention. At gaming conventions (lovingly abbreviated as “cons” by those in the know), enthusiasts from all over gather in one place for a few days of non-stop gaming. These magical events feel like home for gamers who have been in the hobby for a while. They also serve as a great starting point for people who have always wanted to play games but don’t have a stable group to play with or aren’t yet sure how to get started.
Gaming cons feature games you can sign up for ahead of time, where you meet at a specified table at a given time to play with others who’ve also signed up. There is also open gaming, where you bring your own game or grab one from an on-site game library and play. Most of the time, there are vendors selling games and gaming accessories or “geeky” crafts and artwork. Lecturers give talks about games—often tackling industry topics such as design, but also talking about issues specific to the gaming community.
We in the Miami Valley are fortunate to have our own annual gaming convention right in here in Dayton at Dayton Convention Center downtown. AcadeCon (pronounced “Uh-KADD-uh-con,” as in “academy”) is our own hometown tabletop gaming con where gamers, media creators, and industry insiders get together to roll dice and go all out. Though AcadeCon is a fun event for all types of tabletop gamers, it has an emphasis on role-playing games, or RPGs.
“The idea is that we’re bringing people together that have a shared passion or interest,” says Michael Ross, one of the organizers of AcadeCon and creator of The RPG Academy, the podcast for which AcadeCon is named. “There’s conventions for Game of Thrones, comic books for Firefly, for movies. And, this is just a convention to bring people that play games together so that they can learn about new games, play some favorites, and maybe meet new people.”
RPGs are like storytelling games, where most of the action takes place through conversation and imagination. Michael Ross explains it’s not much different from how you used to play pretend with your friends in the backyard as a kid, except with a ruleset to keep things fair.
“As a kid, it would usually come down to an argument where I say, ‘I shoot you with a laser,’ but then you say that you have a laser shield. Then I say, ‘My laser gets through your laser shield,’ and we have a fight,” Ross says. “So, roleplaying games have taken that idea of this cooperative storytelling and co-define it with some rules that will help arbitrate—when someone shoots someone with a laser, does it actually get through the shield or not?”
RPGs usually have one player who takes on the responsibility of Game Master or GM. The GM runs the adventure and controls the whole story. He or she allows the players to explore a world, revealing bits of information at a time. The GM puts out monsters or enemies for the players to fight. He or she knows the locations of secret doors, treasure, or necessary items to complete the adventure.
But Michael Ross wants you to know that, although there will be plenty of role-playing going on at AcadeCon, RPGs aren’t the only types of games hitting the table.
“There’s all kind of games like Settlers of Catan, and other board games and card games. It isn’t just role playing games,” he says.
Last year at AcadeCon, there was a unique library of over 20 play-to-win board games, and this year, Ross says there will likely be at least 30. These are games that were donated by Double Exposure’s Envoy program that offers support; every time you check out a game from a special library, you receive a raffle ticket for a chance at winning that game. At the end of the convention, there are drawings to give away each game.
“Every time you play this game, your name goes into a hat and there’s a chance you could win it,” Ross says. “The more you play that game (and I assume it’d be a game you enjoy since you keep playing it), there’s a better chance that you will win that game.”
AcadeCon is different from similar events in that it began as a podcast. Founded with an aim at “giving advice to help new players take up the role of GM to help grow our hobby,” The RPG Academy has gradually become one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes for information about role-playing games. The RPG Academy has many different types of episodes, from playthroughs of RPGs, to advice about role-playing or GM-ing, to coverage of gaming events.
“Really, you can’t talk about AcadeCon without talking about podcasting because that’s where it came from,” Ross says. “Through our podcast, we’ve met a lot of other podcasters and we became, in some instances, real actual good friends. A whole bunch of them decided to come and play games with us this weekend.”
Most of this year’s AcadeCon special guests come from the world of RPG podcasting.
“If you’re someone who’s interested in podcasts, you’ve probably heard of at least some of these,” Ross says. “Probably one of the biggest names that you might hear in RPG podcasts is Godsfall, one of the very popular playthrough series. Aram Vartian, who’s the main person behind that show will be coming. James D’Amato from the One Shot podcast, another wildly popular RPG podcast, will also be coming. DMs Block is another really big RPG podcast. Pretty much the entire DMs Block crew, like, nine people from that show, are going to be coming and running games and events.”
Many of the podcaster special guests also have experience in other facets of gaming, such as game design and social campaigns.
Darcy L. Ross, who works with ConTessa, a group “dedicated to increasing diverse representation in tabletop gaming by running events led entirely by marginalized people,” will be at AcadeCon. She also co-hosts the podcast Cypher Speak and has design experience.
Kenneth Hite is another AcadeCon guest with game design credits. “He’s probably one of our most well-known guests in the RPG design world, but he’s also a podcaster,” Ross says. “Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is a multi-award winning podcast.”
Ross sums it up: “Really, you pretty much can’t throw a rock and not hit somebody who’s either running a podcast or been on one.”
A.P. Klosky, a local game designer who created the RPG Cold Steel Wardens, where players take on the roles of iron-age superheroes, will also be a guest at AcadeCon. Klosky tells us, “Gaming conventions provide a chance for gamers to get away from their basements and dining room tables to meet new people, try out new games, and experience whole new worlds.” He adds,”We’re really living in gamer-Mecca, here in Dayton.”
As in year’s past, 2017’s AcadeCon will have an area for vendors to sell their wares. One of those vendors is Kathy Vancil, a local third-generation stuffed animal maker who, with her husband, sells handmade plushes and jewelry under the name Squid Pro Quo.
“We really had a great time there not only connecting with gamers and the excellent AcadeCon staff, but we were very impressed by the awesome craftsmanship of the other creators,” Vancil tells Dayton City Paper. “AcadeCon is a haven for geek culture, while also welcoming anyone who is interested in joining the wonderfully immersive world of tabletop role-playing games.”
Michael Ross says there will also be panels and discussions for attendees who want to get their learn on. “We’ll give introductory talks and stuff on how to run games as GM. We’ll have some local authors talk about how to Kickstart your game as your part-time job while you have a real job.”
For those who are looking for a break from the games, but aren’t interested in the panel talks, Ross says, “There’s a couple of entertainment events like a show on games in movies and what showed their plotlines well and what didn’t. There’s also a podcast called Geek Wars that’s a trivia styled game and they’re going to do a live version. So if you want to show up and participate, you can.”
However, for all the events other events that will be happening at AcadeCon, Ross says the main focus is the gaming itself. “A lot of people, when you talk about RPGs, the first thing that comes to mind is Dungeons and Dragons. The second is probably Pathfinder. And we’re going to have those two games there, obviously. But this is a convention with a lot of lesser-known games,” Ross explains. “Those games deserve as much love as the other two. No matter what your interest is, whether you like games that don’t have a GM at all and everybody is a player, like Fiasco, or you want the most crunch-heavy, rule-specific game like Pathfinder, it runs the spectrum. You can hang out with your friends all weekend and it’s just an amazing experience.”
Some of the board gaming events that will be taking place at AcadeCon include sessions of Mysterium, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Mare Nostrum: Empires.
The fun will start this Friday at noon and will run continuously until Sunday at 6pm. Though there are no scheduled gaming events after 11pm on any night, the main gaming hall of the convention center will be open 24 hours a day during AcadeCon. Gamers are free to come for open gaming at any time of the day or night.
Ross also encourages potential AcadeCon-goers to purchase a badge ahead of time at Eventbrite.com. “It’s five bucks cheaper than the price at the door,” he says.
Ross says that what he wants most is for people who are interested in tabletop gaming to feel welcome, and that it all comes down to The RPG Academy’s motto, “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”
“When I first started podcasting,” Ross says, “there were a number of podcasts that had a lot of what I call gatekeeping. They would say that this edition is better than that one…if you play that edition, you’re not playing right. I don’t agree with any of that. I think if you’re having fun around your table, it doesn't matter what game you play and if you’re following the rules or not, as long as everybody is having fun. That’s where AcadeCon came from. We’re trying to demystify the RPG process.”
“Everyone is welcome here,” Ross says. “No matter if you’ve been playing for a hundred years or you’ve never played once, that doesn’t matter. You’re welcome at AcadeCon. We want people to have fun playing games, and that’s what this is all about.”
AcadeCon will take place Friday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. at Dayton Convention Center, 22 East Fifth Street, in Dayton. Weekend badges may be purchased at Eventbrite.com before Nov. 9 for $45. Badges are $50 at the door the day of the event. For more information on AcadeCon, please visit TheAcadeCon.com. For more information on The RPG Academy, please visit TheRPGAcademy.com.