With a little over a month to go until the convention, it’s clear. Midwinter is coming. I’ve spent some time over the past few months talking about Midwinter Gaming Convention’s origins and growth with the convention’s founder, Anne Holmes. As I look forward to attending for the first time, I decided to find out what makes the con worthwhile for some of the regular attendees.
“Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,…”
I’ve learned that gamers still tightly associate the con with the World of Darkness. “It was for a long time solely a Vampire event,” one gamer related to me. “Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,’ since it was kind of THE showcase for costuming and crazy national political plots.”
The commitment to One World by Night, the international organization of World of Darkness LARPs, drew storyteller Curt Goble to his first Midwinter in 2015. “I came in to play OWbN werewolf and vampire. I had great fun at the werewolf game, so much that I ended up skipping playing vampire to continue to play werewolf afterhours and at the OWbN Mage game that was running in the evening.”
Curt, a frequent storyteller at the nation’s largest gaming convention, GenCon, also appreciates the intimacy and structure of the smaller con. “At Gen Con, most events are single session games, and classically they haven’t been national-level plot – though there is the occasional fallout from a game that happens there.”
Midwinter allows for multi-day gaming sessions. “… there is more time to get into the swing, and the plots we deal with there are usually fairly large in scope and have effects on OWbN as a whole for years to come.”
However, this strong connection between Midwinter and One World by Night put off some people.
Chef Val remembers going to the con about six years ago. “I wasn’t particularly fond of the venue/hotel and I wasn’t that into the variety of games the con provided,” she told me. “I started back up 2 years ago and it had changed significantly. It has a much bigger variety of games and vendors, which always keeps me interested with stuff to discover and do.”
“It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us,…”
The venue also made an impression. “It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us, lovely spacious venue and guest rooms, and the location provides for nice dining/drinking in-house or you can venture out into the city on foot and explore all that beautiful downtown Milwaukee has to offer. It’s really a whole new con now and my personal favorite!”
The con’s diversification appeals to other, more long time attendees. Mike Surma started to attend back when it only targeted World of Darkness, specifically Vampire, players. “Over the years, it’s morphed from a targeted LARP gathering to a full blown convention. What keeps me intrigued is the continual addition of tabletop RPG games – where my heart lies – in which the creators show up and run sessions for players.”
“I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman, Eddy Webb, and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick.”
The closeness and intimacy of Midwinter speaks to Mike’s passion for tabletop RPG’s. “… these games are typically new releases and Midwinter is one of the few venues you might get to see them before they’re released. I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman (of Geek & Sundry), Eddy Webb (author of the Pugmire RPG), and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick (Author of 7th Sea, a swashbuckling RPG). It’s a fairly unique experience, and one that I look forward to each year in a less crowded (than GenCon, for instance), more personal venue where I don’t have to pay extra to play.”
As a storyteller and franchise owner of the LARP Dystopia Rising, Mike takes advantage of the format to spread love for his ongoing game. “First, it’s a medium sized venue that attracts a variety of people. With its initial posture supporting LARP, it still draws a strong crowd, many of whom like new options. Second, the events are free for the most part, and by offering a free short module, indoors, without a full weekend long commitment, people can get a ‘try before you buy’ concept of what the game (Dystopia Rising) is about.”
“Running a game, for me, is a good opportunity for exposure to something that people would potentially be hesitant about, or have never heard about before. We love what we do, and we hope others will join us and find that they love it too.”
The expansion has left some long term attendees doubting if they will go this year, however.
“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me.”
“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me,” a gamer said to me. “So many people have so much fun at the event now, but not much of its offerings justify the expense for me. The vendors are cool, but I have little need for their paraphernalia. I don’t dislike board games, but I don’t like them enough to need a whole event for them. And while there are options for LARP, most of them are lost among the sheer quantity.”
“The last few years I’ve gone almost exclusively for the Werewolf: the Apocalypse LARP, but the games that used to be the foundation of Midwinter have been largely sidelined to small, crowded rooms among dozens of other small, crowded room filled with other LARPs. It doesn’t really feel like an ‘event’ anymore, so much as a regular Werewolf game played where it’s OK to be in-character in public and then drink a lot and hang out with friends.”
For myself, even after all these conversations. I find myself looking forward to attending Midwinter and finding out if it’s a good fit for me.
Midwinter Gaming Convention 2017 will be held January 12-15, 2017 at the historic Hilton Milwaukee City Center and will include more events than ever before.
Photos by C.Wenzel Photography