Trip Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Because of my job and my connections as a writer in the industry, I attend a fair number of gaming conventions. Mostly I attend GenCon in Indianapolis, because I have people like Onyx Path Publishing willing to pay my way if I work for them, so it’s a less disastrously expensive proposition for me that way — even if my time is not entirely my own. Recently I’ve also been to Grand Masquerade in New Orleans, again courtesy of Onyx Path in exchange for working their vendor table. When I was offered the chance to go to Midwinter for the entire weekend of January 12-15, I took it.

Midwinter Gaming Convention started out as an exclusively LARP (Live-Action Role Playing) event, but has grown in more recent years to include board games, some miniatures, and tabletop role-playing games. Despite some very vocal complaints from an acquaintance of mine, I think they’ve done a pretty good job of transitioning to a general-interest convention. The convention offers non-stop gaming all weekend until midnight, and this year got rolling already on Thursday afternoon. Midwinter has undergone a fair bit of growth, and expanding to a fourth day no doubt offers them more scheduling flexibility and more room for more games.

The venue is the Hilton City Center in Milwaukee. Despite a half-assed attitude regarding the hours of their quieter Monarch bar/lounge on the second floor, I find this hotel amusing – in a good way. It’s a classic hotel, originally built (I think) in the 1920s or 1930s, and features plenty of inexplicable architectural features, many of which are no doubt due to various remodeling and upgrade projects over the years. Basically, the place has oodles of classic elegance and charm, and the staff has been nothing but helpful and courteous. They also have a puppy. The puppy, Millie, is the official mascot of the hotel and hangs out at the concierge desk, and, like puppies are, is adorable. Millie also has her own Instagram account, at which photos of Millie posing with guests are routinely posted.

Midwinter also marks a first for me. I had never before participated in a LARP event, but as George Hall I was instrumental in leading the Pentex Corporate Retreat LARP event on Friday afternoon. For those not familiar, Pentex is a fictional corporation comprised of numerous subsidiaries. Pentex’s secret goal is to corrupt the earth to make it more hospitable for powerful evil entities. Pentex is one of the main villain organizations in the Werewolf RPG from Onyx path.

My buddy Matt McElroy played the long game with me in overcoming my reluctance to LARP; I hope he feels his patience paid off. My character’s job was to interview a random assortment of retreat participants, secretly searching for suitable subjects to con into merging with evil spirits, called Banes. Having this secret agenda was surprisingly helpful: it took some of the pressure off, and allowed me to walk around with a small, devious smile on my face — which I often do anyway, but this time I had a reason. Overall, the event went off quite well. Participants had a great time and there was a lot of buzz around the convention about that LARP, with quite a few people loudly wishing they’d signed up for it. I was thoroughly impressed with the level of character development most of the LARPers pulled off with only a paragraph or two of description about their characters to work with. In fact, several individuals were so good — so convincing — in their performances that I wish I’d had the forethought to personally congratulate them. Maybe next year.

What visit to Milwaukee would be complete without a trip to the Safe House? The only spy-themed restaurant that I know of, the Safe House has been entertaining gamers for decades, and GenCon attendees still share their experiences at that restarant with reverence and awe. When Gen COn was still in Milwaukee, the Safe House was packed wall-to-wall with gamers the entire length of the convention. They miss us, and we miss them. I’m fortunate that, in living reasonably close to Milwaukee, I can still visit from time to time. Recently purchased by the Marcus Corporation, I fully expect to see the Safe House expand its franchise to other cities in the not-to-distant future.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the good time I had gaming with Onyx Path’s affiliated demo team, The Wrecking Crew on Friday and Saturday nights. The Crew was running games almost non-stop the entire weekend, and I was able to sit in on two sessions of the Werewolf RPG. I had a lot of fun, and those folks run a terrific game. My thanks in particular go to Dave, Dawn, Scott, and Damon for letting me sit in. Dave also interviewed me briefly for the Wrecking Crew’s podcast: I’ll post a link as soon as that interview goes live. If you get a chance to game with the Wrecking Crew, take it!

I’m looking forward to future visits to Midwinter. The staff do a fantastic job and are responsive to their attendees’ needs. I don’t know what the future holds, but any time I can get back to Midwinter you’ll see me there.

One thought on “Trip Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

  1. Wow! Never even heard of this Con so I’m glad for the info on it. Hubby and I might just have to check it out next year, since it’s so close (GenCon has become a bit of a hike for us since moving to Indy). Sounds like a good time was had by all! Congrats on your first LARP – it’s exhilarating once you find your groove.

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