For those of you unaware, Soonercon 26 happened last weekend in Midwest City, OK. I had the pleasure of attending the local con, and above all else what pleasantly surprised me (other than running into Todd Haberkorn at the end of Victoria Price’s panel) was how strong the Dungeons & Dragons (henceforth DnD) presence was there. As many of you know, we here at The Lifecast quite enjoy our tabletop roleplaying games and DnD, in particular, is how many of us got started. (You may recall we’ve even uploaded some of our DnD sessions, and our very own Greg has put detailed descriptions of some of his homebrews on the site!)
Before I tell you about the DnD presence at Soonercon, however, it’s first important to understand what Soonercon is: It’s Oklahoma’s longest running all-things-geeky convention. Whether you’re into anime, games (video or tabletop), comics, sci-fi, fantasy, Star Wars, Star Trek, steampunk, or even Renaissance faire culture, Soonercon has a little something for everyone. Speaking of little, it’s also important to realize that Soonercon is a more intimate convention than you may expect–an exact number of attendees this year is not yet known, but the con had an anticipated attendance of 2,000–so if you prefer smaller, more tight-knit conventions where you won’t have to worry about overwhelming lines or claustrophobic environments where you’re more likely to talk to people and make more friends and connections, Soonercon is ideal!
That being said, perhaps it really shouldn’t be as much of a surprise that the DnD presence at Soonercon was so strong. DnD is, after all, a team-based game for friends–so what better place to play it than one where you’re surrounded by like-hobbied individuals?
A chat with one of the co-chairs of the gaming department, Wren Willis, revealed that the DnD presence at Soonercon was especially emphasizing community through DnD Adventure–essentially DnD, but with about 5 separate tables (each with their own DM) going on different, but all related, quests. What one group does will affect another, and they might share the same stories or story elements or even directly get involved with each other. Basically, it’s a domino effect in DnD groups. For example: Group 1 slays a dragon, group 2 now needs an item from its carcass but group 3 already took it and wants to sell it, but group 4 is the only one with money so now group 2 needs to find either money or a different way to get the item.
Evidently, DnD Adventure was very popular at Soonercon! One glance into the tabletop room revealed several full tables of players rolling dice, telling stories, and, well, adventuring! A chat with Kyle from the DnD Adventure League revealed that there was somewhere between 50-60 people playing DnD at any given time, plus another 70 going on adventures. The Adventure League exists all across the country, usually with the same groups managing or overseeing them in the same region (for example, the group at Soonercon also told me that they manage the Adventure League at several other cons in Oklahoma and a few in Dallas).
The DnD presence wasn’t just limited to the gaming room though–a panel was held on Saturday, The Great DnD Rebirth, in which a group of veteran players (including some who have play-tested for Wizards) talked about what it was like getting into DnD 10-20 years ago versus now, what’s changed, and the general goings-on of DnD. A particularly prevalent theme was the lack of diversity one would see in DnD 20 years ago when the game was much less known. One player in particular mentioned that, growing up in the Bible Belt (as most, if not all, of the people in the room had) as far as his family was concerned, Looney Toons, metal, and DnD were the unholy trinity. Another player, a gay man, mentioned how DnD was among one of the first things his mom thought might have made him gay. A female player was also present, and she focused on the lack of a female presence in the early days of DnD.
If there’s one thing this panel made abundantly clear, it’s that getting into DnD 10-20 years ago was seen, socially, as more like getting into a cult than getting into a game. They mentioned the first times they’d ever seen DnD portrayed in the media–E.T. was the most common answer, as well as the late 90’s and early 2000’s when geek culture started to garner a certain level of coolness in pop culture. How before that time, DnD was something that a lot of people just didn’t understand and legitimately thought it might’ve been satanic activity. Perhaps why that’s why DnD now has such a generally accepting community, allowing anyone to be anything regardless of religion, gender, sexual preference, age, etc.
For those attendees who weren’t as into DnD but still wanted to play tabletop rpgs, there were a number of Pathfinder Society set-ups around as well. For those who just wanted to play tabletop, there was a small number of other, miscellaneous tabletop games (like trading card games and casual board games) throughout the room as well, in addition to a Nerf Gun war happening outside.
A sense of community in DnD, both in and out of the tabletop room, was perhaps the most common thread I noticed in Soonercon’s DnD presence. Whether it was the panel that told us how we arrived at that sense of community before it was around, or the tabletop room itself which was very welcoming to players of all skill-levels, there was definitely a strong sense of community and players just wanting to have fun present throughout Soonercon. Perhaps due to the con’s size, the DnD presence at Soonercon felt much bigger than most of its other presences (the next biggest probably being Star Wars, which boasted an incredible set-up made by Jedi OKC) around the convention–something I, as a DnD player, found very welcoming.
Even if tabletop games weren’t your thing, official representatives from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were all present at the convention. If you wanted to try Arms or Horizon Zero Dawn, there was essentially no line all day on Saturday, so you could’ve easily tried a demo of either game. I was told that originally Gamestop was supposed to be present with a few game demos, but they couldn’t attend therefore allowing Nintendo and Sony to come in their place. This might’ve been why their tables were so small, but who’s to argue when you can easily get to play a demo of Arms, right?
If you’re a fan of DnD or trying to get into DnD, Soonercon would’ve been a pretty ideal place to start. A quick look around would instantly tell anyone just how many players were there, and how easy it could be to start jumping into the game now. One of the benefits of smaller conventions is a greater sense of community, and easier means of getting to try everything the con has to offer: Soonercon was such a con with DnD. You want to try Adventure League? Plenty of time and space. You’d rather play a normal game of DnD? There were still groups present playing it. Even if DnD wasn’t your cup of tea and you’d rather play Pathfinder, you could still find it around. (No Shadowrun though, sadly. At least, not that I noticed). If you’re a tabletop fan or aspiring tabletop fan who finds yourself in the Oklahoma area next Summer, I’d definitely say Soonercon is worth a visit. Despite all the mixed focuses of the con, the DnD presence was, by far, one of–if not the–strongest at the con.