A Critter’s First GenCon

Last year, I sat at home watching Critical Role Live and wishing I could be there. I decided then and there that I’d make it happen. After almost a full year of planning and anticipation, I was overwhelmed by nerves in the weeks leading up. I would be traveling alone to a Con much larger than anything I’d ever attended before.

Within an hour of landing in Indy, all of my fears and anxieties were gone. Some lovely critters had set up a Discord chat so that we’d be able to find people to hang out with and eat with. After picking up tickets at Will Call, I put out my first call for a lunch meetup and Molly answered the call.

We spent the entire afternoon together and found even more Critters to join us for dinner. I had witnessed the amazing positivity and love of this community online, but experiencing it firsthand was something indescribable. I feared I’d be surrounded by strangers but these people weren’t strangers, they were family. In every line, at every meal, there was someone there.

So many conversations started with talk of the show and of games, but became more. I can’t even count how many Critters shared how CR changed their lives and how safe the community made them feel. So many people commented on how remarkable it is that what started as an internet community is positive when so much of the internet can be so brutal. Really though, it’s not surprising at all–the reason for it is simple.

The community reflects the people it spawned from. Every week, these nerdy ass voice actors share with us a piece of their amazing friendship. Their passion and love is obvious and it’s infectious. And it’s not just Critical Role and Critters. It’s true of all of Geek & Sundry and Alpha.

These people are performers and we love watching them, but it’s not just for show. They ARE nerds just like us. They love these things as much as we do. They all did their best to take time with fans and give as much as they could. Because they know what it feels like to be a fan. I think many of them are as overwhelmed by our reactions to them as we are at the opportunity to meet them.

They say “don’t meet your heroes” because you’ll be disappointed. But I wasn’t at all. These people are every bit as wonderful as I believed. I could honestly go on forever, but instead I’ll just try to hit the highlights.

Random Encounters with Amy, Amy, Satine, and Ruty

I managed to meet these lovelies after the Maze Arcana panel. I got photos with all of them and they were all so wonderful and welcoming. The one that really stuck out to me was Amy Vorphal, because I adore her so much. She was wearing the COOLEST outfit: metallic paints and an amazing Princes Leia tshirt. I told her that I’ve been listening to Songs in the Key of D&D on repeat since it came out (I’m listening to it right now, in fact), and she was so touched. The album was a project of love. Later, during the RPGirls panel, she sang the chorus of DM’s Lament and she was so surprised and touched that we were all able to sing along with her. <3

Speaking of the RPGirls Panel…

I went to this panel for Amy & Amy. I’ve recently become aware of Saving Throw through Amy Vorphal and haven’t had time to watch it yet so I didn’t know the other ladies, but I fell in love with them all during the panel. Before the panel, they were just hanging out in the hallway with us. Amy and Amy remembered me from the day before (squee!) and Becca shared her chocolate with me.

The panel itself was one of my favorites in the whole convention. It was a smaller room and it felt more intimate. I managed to sit right up front. So much of what they said reflected my own experiences with gaming. Later, I saw Havana Mahoney at the Alpha party and she remembered seeing me in the panel. She joined us briefly in the craziest D&D game I’ve ever been a part of and apologized profusely when she nearly killed my character. We took a drunk selfie in which I have a sticky note on my forehead with my character info.

All the Critical Role

I was very lucky to attend all of the G&S and Critical Role panels. With so much hype, part of me was afraid that it couldn’t live up to my expectations, but I was blissfully wrong. It was everything I dreamt of and more. The panels were great, and the energy at the live show was off the charts.

When I watch CR and Talks Machina at home, I react, but there’s no one to share it with. At the live show, hundreds (thousands?) of Critters are laughing and screaming along with you. When things were tense, I there was someone next to you to hold onto. When someone did something funny, there was someone next to you laughing along with you.

The Signing

Let me first say that I’ve been to celebrity signings before and have found that they are often very anticlimactic, but this was different. These people were so kind and generous.

First up was Matt, which was overwhelming. I am proud of myself for managing to keep my cool enough to speak. I told him that I’m a writer and that CR gave me the courage to take up the reins as DM. After signing my campaign guide, he took my hand in both of his and looked me in the eye with the most earnest expression, and told me “Never stop writing.” Whether he realizes it or not, that expression of encouragement means more to me than any autograph or photo-op ever could. Just sitting here writing about it, I’m in tears.

Somehow I managed to keep upright and moved down the table to Taliesin, who complimented my hair, particularly saying that he liked the color combo of my hair and lipstick. I’ve never felt cooler in my life because Taliesin is THE COOLEST. I never got a chance at the mic for the Q&A sessions so I asked him my question during the signing, which was if he’d every do a one-shot for us because I’d love to see what comes out of his head. He laughed and didn’t want to say too much but he did say it’ll happen eventually.

Next up was Marisha, who complimented my STRAIGHT OUTTA EMON crop top. I told her I was nervous about it because I’d never worn a crop top before but I took the chance because since Critters are so supportive, it seemed like the best place to try something new. She told me “You’re killin’ it” and now I feel like I can rock a crop top any damn time I please.

Then, I came to Liam. But this point, I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t really speak. I adore Liam. While it’s impossible to pick an absolute favorite among this amazing group, Liam has to be near the top. I had a raven d6 that I forgot to give him because I was just too emotional.

Next was Sam and thank goodness for him. I think he picked up on my emotional state and just very calmly asked me how I was enjoying the con and did the talking for me. He put me at ease and calmed my nerves enough for me to keep moving down the line.

Then I got to Laura & Travis. The person in front of me had moved along so I had the attention of them both at the same time. I remembered to give her the bear d6 I got for her and asked her to give Liam the one I’d brought for him. I told her that Vex had inspired me to take up archery and start working to get in better shape. We talked about how amazing archery is and how buff it’ll make your arms. She told me to keep with it and I will.

Lastly, Brian. I told him that all joking aside, I think he’s awesome and that he cracks me up on TM every week. I shared with him a story from earlier in the week when I’d been with other Critters and I told them I use his mispronounciations all the time now because “Brian W. Foster is in my brain” and that someone told me I need Greater Restoration. He laughed and agreed and gave me a #FreeDenise pin before I left. Later I ran into him at the Alpha party and he gave me a big hug.

After the signing, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I walked to the nearest bench and sat in silence for 10 minutes while I clutched my freshly signed campaign guide. Once I stopped shaking, I went back to my hotel room to calm down before the Alpha party.

The Alpha Party

This was the most surreal experience of my life. I was near the front of the line when the party began so I was able to quickly snag a table that had Jenga set up. With my new con pals, Alec and Juan, I began a simple game. The game got tense but we managed to keep it standing until there were no more legal moves.

We rebuilt the tower, this time using all of the blocks. Alec bowed out, saying the first game was tense enough. A few others joined us and eventually I found myself engaged in the most intense game of Jenga OF MY LIFE. Satine came by and we offered her a pull, and got this reaction:

It got so crazy, we got the attention of the official camera crew. The tower was so tall, I had to climb up and stand on the booth bench to make my pool while a bar full of people crowded around and cheered. I felt like a fucking rock star. Juan made the final pull and the tower came down. I bowed out and joined my other con pals on the patio to play some D&D.

As if the Jenga experience wasn’t crazy enough, this D&D game blew my mind. I played Centier, a Dwarven Barbarian. James Haeck joined as my fellow Barbarian. Later, Amy Vorphal joined as an old Half-Orc woman competing against one of the players in a pie-eating contest that ended with everyone vomiting everywhere.

Then, we had to fight an Adult Blue Dragon as level 3 characters! Eep! Havana Mahoney, Satine Phoenix, and Ivan Van Norman each took a turn as the dragon and. SatineTheDragonQueen got the final blow and the patio erupted into a chant of TPK. I’ve never felt so good about having my character killed.

Final Thoughts

This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. We’ve all dispersed–some are safely home already and the rest of us are traveling home now–but these friendships will go beyond this con.  I’ve already connected with so many new friends on social media and I’m sure there will be more connections to come. Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of meeting. It was an honor.

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