Football fans have the Super Bowl, music fans have the Grammy Awards and fans of role playing games, competitive collectable card games, and other subcultural pastimes have conventions. The biggest convention of the gaming variety is Gen Con Indy, held annually in Indianapolis. Arguably one of the biggest in the region is BASHCon.
BASHCon XXVI has called Toledo home since its inception 26 years ago. From Friday evening until Sunday night, the convention took over several rooms in the Student Union Building. During this time, cadres of characters clad in costumes and sporting event lanyards filled the halls and eateries of the Union.
The event's name is derived from the student group UT BASH which does the planning and staffing of the annual event . The name is an acronym for "Benevolent Adventurers' Strategic Headquarters."
UT BASH hosts games throughout the year including chess and euchre as well as cult favorites like Magic: The Gathering. The club's logo sports the phrase "Alia iacta est," Latin for "the die has been cast," famously uttered by Julius Caesar before he lead his army across the Rubicon River.
Inside the rooms, attendees participated in organized gaming events, watched anime features and played arcade games. Vendors plied wares ranging from anime based board games to hand crafted swords.
"BASHCon isn't as big as Gen Con, but it is nowhere near as expensive for the vendors," explained Sword Vendor John Bowen. "I've been coming here for twenty years; this year, I had a 10 percent increase in sales."
Bowen operates BowenDragon1, a nationally recognized website that deals gaming books and pocket games, in addition to swords. He's a 37-year veteran of the business and drove 260 miles from his Baldwin, Mich. home to appear at the convention.
Many vendors like Bowen make the convention rounds annually. Bowen visits about 50 conventions a year, and plans to continue returning to BASHCon for the foreseeable future.
This year's convention saw an increase in patrons - up nearly 25 percent from last year's attendance of around 900. Unlike larger conventions like Gen Con, BASHCon is organized and staffed by volunteers, many of whom are students.
"It is really a lot of fun; you're running around different tables, playing a bunch of different games - this event always brings a lot of people," said Qusai Al Shidi, assistant coordinator for BASHCon XXVI and a junior majoring in physics.
Al Shidi also serves as president of UT BASH.
He mentioned two special tournaments added to BASHCon this year that have been popular with convention attendees: Eaten Alive and Pathfinder.
Pathfinder is a normal "table top" Role Playing Game. Eaten Alive, in contrast, is a live-action zombie-themed battle employing the use of Nerf weapons by participants.
Gamers of a feather flock together
On Sunday evening, as the fanfare was winding down, many dedicated players remained in the top floor of the Union.
Phillip Teare, a freshman majoring in engineering, and six other friends came to the convention with the sole intention of playing X Crawl, a dice-based board game Teare describes as a "specific setting of [famed RPG] Dungeons and Dragons."
Teare and friends took turns rolling dice and scrawling data onto score card sheets laid in front of them. One of the friends at his table, Michael Jones, is a Toledo native currently attending the University of Cincinnati. He returned for the convention just to play X Crawl with his friends.
"You don't need [a convention] to play X Crawl; all you need is a dining room table," Jones said. "I don't go to any other conventions. I came back to Toledo to play with my friends and while I was here I bought a book and some dice."
Another one of the players was Teare's sister Nicole. Now in her sixth year of her pharmacy degree, she has attended every BASHCon since she came to UT. She has also volunteered at the event in the past.
Talking with attendees and vendors, one quickly learns that BASHCon is one weekend for the larger gaming community, which has shown itself to be a tight-knit one. It is common to hear an attendee say that they've volunteered at past events, assisted in coordination, or are a part of UT BASH or another campus-based gaming community.
Nathan Young, a local business owner who runs Gameology on West Central Avenue, hosted Magic: The Gathering tournaments in the Ingam Room throughout the weekend. For the past 15 years, Young has volunteered at BASHCon, Gen Con and other gaming conventions in the Midwest.
Young explained he brings snacks for his volunteers and that BASHCon volunteers are treated to a party at the culmination of the weekend.
"I've been to a number of events, and I plan to go to more," Young said.
He mentioned conventions in Akron, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Ind. where he'd like to participate as a vendor.
Young also takes credit for creating Eaten Alive, which he claims friend Steve Stallkamp invented, but was uncertain if he wanted to suggest the idea to event coordinator Trent Novak. Lucky for everyone, Stallkamp's idea has been a huge hit.
Taking role playing to a whole new level
Eaten Alive isn't the only event where players have to do more than sit in a chair and roll a die. Dagorhir, a full-contact scuffle between contestants wielding foam coated weapons, carried on in various spots throughout the convention.
Though different scenarios are dictated as the purpose for the battles, the goal is ubiquitous: eliminate all members of the other team. This is done through a series of carefully executed body shots by an opponent's foam ax, sword, spear or projectile.
"Sometimes we let players ‘resurrect' - they can return to the game after they've been ‘killed.' It makes it more balanced and more fun," said UT alum Crystal "Dakin" Bennett.12
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