Over the past week, during clear pre-dawn skies, I got a bit obsessed with the trio of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars rising in the east, and have been trying to find a way to take a picture. Not easy, since I’m working with my phone – which has a pretty nice camera, actually, but isn’t geared for long, timed exposures.
This morning, I managed the best shot of the week – not super-impressive, by any means, but I’m happy with it for now:
Venus is the brightest, up there at the top, and Jupiter’s the second-brightest. You have to look just a bit above Jupiter, and ever-so slightly to the right – say, one minute past midnight on a clock face – to see Mars, but it’s there.
So: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Earth (which totally counts because you can see the trees and clouds) – four planets. Why the asterisk in the post title? You’ll have to trust me and Google Sky on this one, but lost in the light saturation needed to capture the planets was a pretty old, rising crescent moon, just above the treetops left of center. And as it happens, Mercury is right alongside that moon:
(Image from EarthSky.org – which has a really nice guide to this month’s morning sky.)
Which means that from a certain point of view, I woke early up this morning was rewarded with the chance to take a picture of more than half our solar system. Which is pretty cool.
Gen Con 2015 is now almost seven weeks in my rear-view mirror. Besides all the new-to-me games played over the four days in Indianapolis, there were several other personal firsts on this, my third trip to the convention: First time driving down Wednesday afternoon rather than Thursday morning; first time attending the Diana Jones Award presentation; first time meeting fellow GeekDads James Floyd Kelly and Gerry Tolbert (and several other very cool non-GeekDad folks); and first time running an RPG! (That’s going to get its own post.)
Fantastic – as always – gaming and geeking out with Jonathan Liu and Dave Banks; and also with Brian Stillman, who got in touch with me several years ago for Plastic Galaxy and was making his first trip to Gen Con.
Seventeen games played (sixteen uniques) and twelve first-times during my 90-some hours in Indianapolis. I also came home with a game to review: Munchkin Gloom.
Here’s a bit from my contribution to the “Our Most Favorite Things About Gen Con, 2015 Edition” post at GeekDad:
Three Gen Cons in, it has become very clear where my core time-balancing struggle lies: I absolutely love the free hours (often late) spent at the table with fellow GeekDads and friends, playing new game after new game after new game. That said, with each passing summer trip to Indianapolis, I’ve spent more time sitting down with dice and pencils and character sheets for role-playing adventures.
I did three organized RPGs this year:
After last year’s first visit to the Ninth World in Monte Cook Games’ Numenera, I returned this year for another ticketed small-group adventure, “The Hideous Game.” GM Ryan Chaddock led our party through an increasingly creepy mystery and a fun climactic face-off (for real: someone’s face came off. Numenera’s weird.), and the four-hour session zipped by. It also added to my knowledge and appreciation of the Cypher System developed for the game, which came in handy less than 48 hours later, on day three of Gen Con, when, for the first time, I sat in the GM chair and ran an adventure.
I also tried out Monte Cook’s second Cypher System game, The Strange, which is set in the modern world, with the core premise that the collected myths, legends, and fiction of humanity have spawned small pocket dimensions called “recursions.” This means adventures can take place in pretty much any setting imaginable, and bizarre stuff is way more likely than not. The adventure we played was called “Mastodon,” and there were velociraptors and cyborgs and something called a Wonder Gun, I think. Our GM, Dan Guderian, had a nice flair for cinematic storytelling that was put to good use in our final showdown. There’s definitely a Numenera flavor to The Strange, not just in the game system, but in the use of one-shot odd items called cyphers, and the chaotic undercurrent that means what’s behind that next door is probably never what you’re thinking.
After playing one-hour Dungeons & Dragons sessions my first two Gen Cons, we went for one of the three-hour D&D Epic adventures this time. After a bit of a rushed, confusing party muster just prior to game time, our party of seven settled in for “Mulmaster Undone.” As part of this year’s D&D Adventurers League events, this meant that as we took our place amidst dozens of other tables and parties, we were a small part of a large, single story event, and our table’s success (or failure) contributed to the overall story arc for the entire group. We had a fun mix of players and characters, levels one through three, and despite losing a quarter of my hit points in literally the first two minutes of the game – which is what happens when you’re a first-level deep gnome rogue facing a panicked stampede and YOU ROLL A ONE – I survived to the end of the night and had a ton of fun bringing down some nasty Elemental Evil cultists. Full credit to our dungeon master Ashley Oswald for keeping things moving and ensuring everyone at the table got to contribute significantly to the play. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
Add those three sessions to the three-hour adventure I GMed, and all told, I spent about 15 hours of my Gen Con playing or prepping for RPGs. I’m not sure how much more I could squeeze in without feeling like I was missing out on other things I love to do.
Here’s my game run-down. Asterisks denote games I played for the first time:
Camel Up* (Another of my Gen Con favorites.)
Dungeons & Dragons
Numenera (twice – one as a player, one as a GM)
Roll For It
Codenames* (Also a personal favorite.)
Riftwalker* (prototype – mentioned in Jonathan’s post here.)
There was also walking the exhibit hall, marveling at cosplay, enjoying good food and a few beers, catching up with great people I don’t get to see often enough, and all the stuff that makes this particular convention so physically exhausting and mentally energizing.
Picked this up at the Hartville Flea Market a few weeks ago, and bought it pretty much on the cover image alone:
FANTASTIC. Definitely-not-Luke-Skywalker-in-Bespin-outfit and certainly-not-Princess-Leia and possibly-not-C-3PO beneath absolutely-not-a-Colonial-Viper-Cylon-Raider-dogfight.
Screams “shameless unlicensed late 1970s ripoff,” no?
But there’s the kicker: This is from nineteen eighty-four, and its contents mirror a British edition published just a year earlier. So this book is, in fact, five years past the close of the original Battlestar Galactica series, and a year removed from the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy.
What’s inside? Let’s ask the back cover blurb:
Seventeen stories from the exciting world of science fiction, including Star Wars and Doctor Who and tales by Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.
Excellent! Without further delay, then, here are the contents:
- Escape From the Death Star – from Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by George Lucas
- Trial by Combat, by Jay Williams
- The Lights of the City by Garry Kilworth
- Through the Moons of Mowl – from Dragonfall 5 and the Super Horse, by Brian Earnshaw
- The Star, by H.G. Wells
- Johnson, by Guy Weiner (I did not make this up. – JB)
- The Smallest Dragonboy, by Anne McCaffrey
- The First Half-hour – from Round the Moon, by Jules Verne
- A Walk in the Woods, by David Campton
- Summertime on Icarus, by Arthur C. Clarke
- Baptism of Fire – from Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert A. Heinlein
- Collecting Team, by Robert Silverberg
- Marooned on Splatterbang – from Escape from Splatterbang, by Nicholas Fisk
- Terrafied, by Arthur Tofte
- Planet-fall on Isis – from The Keeper of the Isis Light, by Monica Hughes
- Half Life, by Rachel Cosgrove Payes
- Return to Peladon – from Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon, by Terrance Dicks
Interesting mix, and I look forward to reading them.
(Digression: The text of Escape from the Death Star seems to be reprinted faithfully from chapter 10 and part of chapter 11 of the Star Wars novelization, although it does open with an original two-sentence setup: Luke Skywalker, the old Jedi warrior Ben Kenobi, Han Solo and their companions are deep in the heart of the enemy battle station, the Death Star. Danger threatens on all sides as they struggle to free the young and beautiful Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil dark warlord, Darth Vader…)
Here’s what else the back cover promises, though:
This spectacular collection is illustrated throughout with specially commissioned drawings.
And, oh, the treasures here. All the drawings are black-and-white and in the margins either alongside or beneath the text, and feel like they belong in a much earlier science fiction era.
Now, to be fair, I’m really only focused on the illustrations accompanying the Star Wars excerpt, because again, this was a full seven years after the movie’s debut, and we all knew full well what things looked like in that galaxy far, far away. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that at this point, some characters and ships were already considered iconic.
Here’s this edition’s illustration of R2-D2 and C-3PO:
…and here are Han and Chewbacca:
More? OK. Our heroes heading for the Millennium Falcon:
…and blasting their way past the TIE fighters:
And maybe my favorite: Darth Vader vs. Ben Kenobi.
Several of these are highly reminiscent of pre-production Star Wars art, which is also interesting.
As a bonus, here’s an illustration from the Doctor Who excerpt, including the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith.
The artwork and the typeface and the page layouts all combine to remind me an awful lot of the kid-focused science fiction books I loved when I was in elementary school.
It’s been a long time since I stumbled on anything this unexpected and fun at the flea market – and for less than a handful of change.
Started the day learning Takenoko. I’d been hearing good things about this one for awhile, and it was pretty easy to pick up, and a lot of fun.
Followed up with two brief Mars Attacks: The Dice Game contests –
and head-to-head Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. (Classic trilogy, of course.)
Then Munchkin Loot Letter.
And then our game crowd grew, so we played a tremendously fun game of Cockroach Poker (another first for me) –
– and an 8-person game of Tsuro that ended in a two-dragon tie. (I was the last dragon to actually lose.)
Even more folks showed up, so we split the party into three tables. I introduced a couple friends to Roll For It (which we played twice) –
I wrapped up my day with back-to-back games of Betrayal at House on the Hill, which I’d never played before, and really enjoyed. The explorers triumphed over the betrayer both times, although my character died along the way in the second game.
So I learned three new games, played several that I don’t get to tackle very often, and spent a full day reveling with friends in dice, luck, strategy, and fun. It was almost like a mini-Gen Con – including the “Hey-it’s-almost-nine-o’clock-and-I-never-ate-dinner” thing. Not complaining in the least.
1) Household Tech Tip: If your vacuum cleaner motor continues to provide suction power, but the roller brush stops moving, before removing the entire bottom plate looking for something jammed in there; then borrowing your mother-in-law’s vacuum; then driving yours all the way to the repair shop – you should perform this simple step: Look for a button marked “BRUSHROLL ON/OFF.” If you own the same vacuum cleaner we do, you’ll find it cleverly hidden right on top of the vacuum, next to the main power switch. In the event you have already reached the local repair shop, you and the helpful repair person may share an enjoyable laugh at your own expense, which is still miles ahead of a vacuum cleaner repair bill. (In my defense: I’ve never used this particular button. Why the heck would I?)
2) That voice in your head you hear when you’ve returned from a trip to the store that says “You know, you really should take an extra two seconds and set down the gallon of milk to unlock the front door rather than try to juggle everything and risk dropping that milk and making a ridiculous mess of the door and sidewalk.” Yeah, you should listen to that voice.
3) Holy shit, The Legend of Korra is even better than I expected – and I expected a LOT, given the enthusiasm for this show. Binge-watched the first season on Amazon over the past few days. It’s gorgeous and well-written and amazing.
Here are the 16 books I read in 2014. Still not near the quantity I was reading five or six years ago, but more than last year (11 total, 5 re-reads), and only one re-read in the bunch.
- Heechee Rendezvous – Frederick Pohl (Wrapping up the original Heechee trilogy.)
- The Human Division – John Scalzi (Still love the Old Man’s War universe.)
- Among Others – Jo Walton
- The Alphabet Not Unlike the World – Katrina Vandenberg (Poetry. Really, really good poetry. Like “Inspires John Green while he’s writing The Fault in Our Stars” good poetry.
- Mystery Comics Digest No. 6 – The Twilight Zone (August 1972 – picked this up on Free Comic Book Day.)
- The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon – John Harris (GeekDad review.)
- Avengers: Assembled – Brian Michael Bendis
- The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi – Julius Csotonyi and Steve White (GeekDad review.)
- Alpha Centauri – Or Die! – Leigh Brackett (I picked this up a couple years ago at a bookstore in the small Ohio town where Brackett and her husband Edmond Hamilton lived. I wrote about it for StarWars.com.)
- Star Wars: A New Dawn – John Jackson Miller (I stopped reading most Star Wars novels long ago, but this one caught me, and it was quick and fun.)
- The Art of John Alvin – Andrea Alvin (GeekDad review.)
- The Future of the Mind – Michio Kaku (Fascinating stuff.)
- The Importance of Being Ernest – Ernest Cline (Author of Ready Player One. Interior illustrations by fellow Northeast Ohioan and cool guy Len Peralta.)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury (re-read)
- Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It – Mad Norwegian Press (GeekDad review.)
- Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (No, I can’t believe I’d never read it either. What an incredibly fun book.)
I also spent a lot of enjoyable time in the pages of the following four role-playing game books last year, and I expect it to continue in 2015:
- Numenera (core rulebook) – Monte Cook
- Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (5th ed.)
- Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (5th ed.)
- Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (5th ed.)
I got home from Gen Con fifty-some days ago (Yes, it was – as expected – another completely fantastic trip.), and I’m pretty sure I’m finally caught up on all my game-related writing.
I played 16 games at Gen Con this year, 11 of them for the first time, plus I came home with one more game to review.
So, here’s our series of GeekDad Gen Con collaborative posts, to which I contributed:
From that “Best of” post:
Pretty sure I’m not alone in this, but since being re-introduced to D&D a few years ago, I get such a kick out of picking up new dice. They’ve become not just part of my game-playing, but little souvenirs and memory triggers, too, since I have generally only added dice to my (relatively small) collection when I’m visiting a convention, or playing in a local game store.
And when it comes to dice, if you can’t find the ones you’re looking for at Gen Con, then those dice just don’t exist in this ‘verse.
With my recent fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set purchase, I needed a new dice bag, and Gen Con was the perfect place to find one. I also bought a set of oversized dice, a CritSuccess d20 spinner ring as a surprise for my wife, and added a couple free d6s courtesy of Crystal Caste (which provides an official Gen Con die every year) and Stonehaven Miniatures.
Gen Con’s non-stop nature remains one of the reasons I love it so much. I love this picture that Jonathan Liu took when we were playing Machi Koro. If memory serves, it was well past midnight, and we were far from the only people hanging out and playing games in that hotel lobby.
While the exhibitor’s floor at Gen Con closes every evening, several of the massive open gaming halls stay open so you can meet up for late-night Lords of Waterdeep or Lewis and Clark. And after-hours gaming at the hotels or the convention center can mean a chance to cross paths with the game designers themselves, since most of them tend to be busy during the day. We had one of the Wizards of the Coast creators stop by our table as we were playing his game at last year’s Gen Con, and this year, we wound up playing some nifty as-yet-unreleased games, simply because we were in the hall late, and Jonathan happened to see a few game designers he knew.
And here’s what I played at Gen Con:
Dungeons & Dragons
(I did a GeekDad write-up on all three, “The Shiny, The Weird, and the Neoclassic.”)
Roll For It
Golem Arcana (demo)
D&D Attack Wing (demo)
Steve Jackson Games also sent me home with a copy of Munchkin Adventure Time, which I just wrote up for GeekDad.
Dang, do I love Gen Con. Let’s do it again sometime.
From a recent exercise in storytelling. Assignment: In roughly 100 words, describe a time when your life changed.
At the last minute, I threw out my first, more serious draft, switched topics entirely, and wrote on the fly –
When we got home, I couldn’t get to my crayons fast enough.
I couldn’t find the black one, so I skipped Darth Vader and drew my stormtroopers in blue-green.
That’s how I remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I was six.
Since then, I have seen better movies. I have read better stories.
But this was more than spaceships and lasers and robots:
Star Wars is what got me interested in science and writing and history and mythology; in authors, characters, symbols, and archetypes; in storytelling and classically-inspired music and film-making.
This was a Big Bang. This was my world blowing up.
Also: spaceships and lasers and robots.
I liked the way it turned out, and it got a good reception. I saved it because I enjoyed looking deeper than nostalgia and remembering the first time someone else’s art really inspired me.
Spent about five hours gaming on Saturday, in celebration of International TableTop Day.
Started off with a three-person game of Love Letter –
– which we followed with Tsuro.
After that, another friend showed up, and the four of us took on Forbidden Island –
Alas, victory eluded us.
On to Pandemic – another first for me.
Another cooperative game – really enjoyed this. (And we were so freaking close to winning this one!)
Another gamer arrived, and we played a five-person game of Tsuro, and then something none of us had tried before: We Didn’t Playtest This at All.
I think we played three complete games in about 12 minutes. So bizarre and odd and chaotic and fun.
A few non-work-related photos from my trip last week to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville.
I love amusement park skylines. This is part of Kentucky Kingdom, re-opening in May.
Next: Nerdworld and truckland collide:
Western Star Trucks’ Optimus Prime, from the next Transformers movie.