Gen Con Survival Guide
Sean's Gen Con Tips, Rules, and Things to Bring--Indianapolis Version
Gaming Convention Survival Guide | Sly Flourish
These are some great write-ups on making the most of Gen Con and conventions in general. I can't agree 100% with everything, but those items I think aren't 100% are close enough so as not to matter.
What I have noticed is that the city changes gradually from year-to-year, as does Gen Con. That means tips for the year are always handy, so I'll put a few down here as well as some things I thought up to make my own experience better.
There are a few things I'm definitely packing for the con. I've already bought the first, and it's a 24 pack of 5 Hour Energy, Extra Strength. I could guzzle energy drinks and/or coffee all through the con, but I've found that 5 Hour Energy actually lives up to its promises for me. It perks me up in about 20 minutes and keeps me going for 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. It's mostly vitamins, so it has never given me the caffeine jitters, and isn't harsh on my stomach. I have to face that fact that I'm not as young as I used to be, and pulling an all-nighter or even getting less sleep than normal no longer comes at no cost. Something is needed to help me, and this is my choice. I consider it a major bonus that these bottles are very small and so they're easy to pack and I can keep one or two in my backpack with no issues. It's just about perfect as a supplement to keep my mind and body going. I really don't want to lose massive time because I need vast amounts of sleep or I nod off while trying to enjoy gaming.
Speaking of sleep, let me highlight one of the best rules I've heard yet. I think I heard it first from @SarahDarkmagic, but have seen it repeated many places. Mostly, it's known as the 5:2:1 rule: Every 24 hours, make sure you get 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower....MINIMUM. Following this will keep you alive through the convention, maximize your time for gaming, and allow for the comfort of those who you are gaming with. Please, please take a shower and use deodorant folks. Also, no matter what you think, cologne/perfume cannot make up for lack of showering. In the levels you would need to get close to this goal, the fragrance itself becomes so overpowering as to have opposite the desired effect. I actually recommend toning it down on the fragrances. There are a lot of people out there allergic or sensitive to these, and you will force them to leave a game if you make their throat close and lungs shut down. Below is a little PSA. Thanks to @rosemaryjones for sharing this on Twitter.
Savage Gypsy - Shower for Me
I'm also bringing several "airplane" sized bottles of hand sanitizer. Con crud has to be the most frustrating thing. You spend your money, get to the event, play a few games and spend the rest of the time quarantined and suffering in your room. It's not always avoidable, but you can minimize your risk. Hand sanitizer helps a great deal with this. Get in the habit of using it on a regular basis, and use it right after you've shaken a few hands (discretely is best here, just to be polite). There's a lot of airborne stuff that can't be avoided, but a major source of infection is from hand to mucus membrane transfer. Don't believe this? Ask anyone who's gotten Norovirus on a cruise ship...someone like me. Keep your hands clean, wash often, use hand sanitizer, and touch your nose, eyes, and mouth as little as possible. Honestly, this could save your con experience. The small hand sanitizer bottles are designed to carry in a bag or purse, and take very little room. I'm getting a few so I can replace those I've used or lost, and I can be generous with handing it around to others who would like to use it.
Bring something to eat and drink. Here's a free Indy Convention Center tip: the vending machines vend 20 Oz. Daisani water bottles with green or blue caps for $3. $3 is expensive, so I recommend buying one at the start of the con and refilling it often or buying one before the con. If you have one of these bottles the convention center staff is going to be hard pressed to make you get rid of it as you can claim you bought it at the convention center. I actually advocate buying one from the vending machines and reusing it. You've fairly give the center some money at that point, and are sticking to the rules as far as I can see. Doing this will also allow me to carry the bottle in the drink holder on the side of my backpack. This leaves more room inside and removes the risk of spills and leaks in my pack. I'll also be adding Emergen-C Immune Defense formula to my water from time to time for flavor. It doesn't taste great, but my personal experience has been that if I do get sick, my cold goes a heck of a lot faster, and is way less debilitating. There's no medical evidence for this, just anecdotal evidence like mine. For snacks, I'm buying a bunch of Met RX Colossal bars. These are fairly good tasting, fairly filling, and about 300-450 calories each. It's enough nutrition to keep me going until I can get a real meal should I need to delay or skip a meal. Here's another tip: eat something for breakfast. Breakfast is the one meal you are sure to burn off during the day, and starting by giving your body something to create energy from will make your whole day better.
There's always a lot of talk about what to bring in terms of RPG books. I'm bringing my laptop. I readily acknowledge that this is a risk, so I've made sure all my data is backed up at home and on a cloud backup service, and all personal files are locked in an encrypted area of the hard drive that I can seal remotely should my laptop be stolen. My materials will mostly be PDF copies of rules I might need, and I'm going to try to afford Hero Lab for my Pathfinder Society characters to avoid as much paper as possible. I've got adventure information for 4E in Masterplan just in case I want to run a pick-up game. This limits the number of physical books I'll need to bring, risk, and lug at Gen Con. It is also much kinder on my shoulder and back as it's much lighter. Cons are the perfect excuse to embrace electronic media in gaming.
This does bring me to a final cautionary word. Indianapolis is a fairly safe city, and Gen Con has a good track record for safety. This doesn't in any way mean crime can't happen to you. It happens to a few people every year. Just be smart and you'll probably be OK. A criminal will always go for the low hanging fruit...don't be one. Always know where your stuff is, and keep an eye or hand on it whenever possible. Store your bag at your feet rather than behind your seat. Keep your wallet where it's hard to get at on your person, and always keep an emergency stash of money and/or an extra credit card hidden somewhere on your body. Be savvy when it comes to distractions. If someone asks for help finding something, please help them if you can, but be extra careful during these times as that's a classic way for pickpockets working in teams to distract you and steal your loot. Walk in groups in the city, especially at night. Be wary of strangers in bars, especially (I hate to divide the sexes this way, but this is true) the ladies. Keep your eye on your drink. None of these precautions need to be obtrusive, and none of them need to in any way limit or prevent your fun. They are simple things you can do to stay safer in a fairly safe city.
Another thing you can do to stay safe is watch the area of the city you are in. Indianapolis is very odd in that it can go from luxury mansions to crime ridden streets back to low crime areas in just the space of a few blocks. There's no one "side" of town that's bad...just areas. To the north of the convention center it's fairly safe all the way to the I-65 raised highway. North of that, it get's iffy. To the south, things get iffy as soon as you cross the tracks that are on the south side of the convention center, except for the area around Lucas Oil Stadium and probably the new hotels next to it. That area is changing for the better, but be cautious. To the west, everything is safe until you cross the river, then it goes downhill fast. The zoo area is safe, but I would recommend against walking any further than that. Finally, to the east is downtown, which is fairly safe. Things do take a sudden turn for the worse when you go past the I-70 raised highway though, so stay west of that to be safe. In short, there's a very large safe zone around the convention center except to the south, and the south is probably the least dangerous of the not-entirely-safe areas.
I hope this information is helpful for all the Gen Con 2011 con goers. Feel free to drop additional questions in the comments, or ask me on twitter. I'm not a huge fan of Indianapolis as a place to live, but it's a really great city for a con like this. I hope any information I can provide will help people really enjoy their time here.