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.
At the beginning of last year, I started scanning some of my dad’s photos from South Korea in the early 1970s, when he was serving in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve been meaning for a long time to pick up the project again, and just before Christmas, the spark to do so arrived in the form of a surprise email through the Flickr page where I’m archiving the pictures.
Pat Bachman served with my dad from January to December 1972, and said he found the pictures I’d posted through an online search for the 5th TAC Kojin. The radar site, he explained, was a detachment of 5th Tactical Air Command (The Road Runners), headquartered at Clark AFB in the Philippines. Pat also added a few comments to dad’s pictures on Flickr, so I updated a couple photo captions in a previous post. He said he remembered my dad fondly as a hell of a nice guy, and graciously offered to send along a few of his own pictures for the collection.
This is Pat’s shot of the “short-timers’ board” in the 269 Lounge. Pat offered the following notes: Placement on the board represented placement in line for catching the “Freedom Bird” (represented by the helicopter) and rotating out. The Freedom Birds belonged to the Army and were part of the Jolly Green Giants. The name tags under the helo are the 10 who had recently left site – pic shows 11 because two rotated out on same date. Tags at the very bottom-left were visitors (VIP’s or pilots making first trip to the site). Tags on the donkey cart were the “Mule skinners” – truck drivers who routinely delivered supplies.
Sincere thanks to Pat for getting in touch, providing these photos and some background, and for inspiring me to finish scanning dad’s photos in the days and weeks to come.
(Click on any of the photos to visit the full gallery and larger versions of the images.)
And finally, Lifer – the site mascot:
I’ve scanned another couple pages’ worth of my dad’s pictures from Korea. (Click here for some background on this project and the first batch of photos.) Clicking on any of the images will take you to the full photoset and much larger versions of the pictures.
As noted previously, I’d love any feedback, input or insight into the locations and situations captured in Dad’s pictures, so if you know someone who served in this area around this time – or even if you can translate some of the Korean signs in the photos – feel free to get in touch with me through the comments or by emailing booth(at)fieldsedge.com.
In addition to diving into my own memories of the early-to-mid 1970s, another project I’ve undertaken for this year is collecting my dad’s photos of his year in Korea, when he was serving in the U.S. Air Force, just a little more than four decades back.
There are several pages’ worth of these black-and-white pictures, unlabeled, collected in one of my mom’s earliest photo albums. I also seem to recall a box of color slides from Korea that used to be in our attic. I’ll have to ask about those and maybe look into getting them digitized. I figure I’ll post them a few pages at a time, publishing smaller images here, and linking to the collected Flickr set of larger versions. (Clicking on any of the photos will also take you to that set and the original 600 dpi scans.)
They’re a regular, everyday mix of scenic photos, posed pictures, and context-free slices of whatever life was going on at the moment.
All of these pictures were taken between July 1971 and August 1972, but not during February 1972, since Dad was home on leave then. Possible locations are near the USAF Osan Air Base and a radar site at Kojin, which seems to have been just south of the DMZ on the east coast, near a body of water named “Hwajinpo.” (I have a baseball-style cap of Dad’s embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72″ on it.)
I welcome any feedback, input or insight into the locations and situations captured in Dad’s pictures, so if you know someone who served in this area around this time, feel free to get in touch with me through the comments or by emailing me at booth(at)fieldsedge.com.
(Oh, hey – Here’s a picture I forgot to post from Saturday the 17th:
– those structures? They’re all made of gaming cards. Yeah.)
Eight a.m. Sunday arrived all too quickly, since I’d just gone to bed five hours earlier. No, I did not drag myself down to the treadmill. I got up, showered, had breakfast, and hauled all my stuff – packed into one suitcase and one messenger bag – down to the hotel lobby. They let me check my suitcase with the concierge, since I wasn’t going to be leaving until mid-afternoon, but check-out time was 11 a.m., at which time I would be re-immersed in True Dungeon.
Dave and I met up around 9:30 and went into Hall B early so we could claim our characters and maybe help equip other players as they arrived.
This time through, we chose the combat-oriented storyline – again, there are more details in our GeekDad post on the True Dungeon experience. Different from Friday night’s puzzle-focused run – not just for that, but also because we were with eight people we’d never met – but the two hours flew by again. (Although if I do True Dungeon again, from here on out, I think I’ll stick with the puzzle quests.)
That was my last game of Gen Con 2013.
It was just past noon when we got out – yes, already afternoon on the last day of the convention, where everything starts to feel washed out by a sense of closing time and a bit of sadness, even though it’s hardly mid-day. Dave and I met up with Jonathan, who was heading back to the airport, and the three of us parted ways.
Texting Kato and Wendy, I found out they were close by, so I met up with them, and we made arrangements for gathering in a couple hours for the drive home. I think they were going to head out to the food trucks for some lunch, but I had just eaten another of my trusty peanut butter sandwiches, so I decided to go to the exhibit hall and pick up some T-shirts for Jenn and Kelsey and me. (For Jenn, a design with the TARDIS and the Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey quote. For Kels, John Kovalic’s CthulWho. And for me, one of these:
I spent awhile then just strolling the corridors and the exhibit hall, taking in one more time all the things that I love about these conventions.
Don’t blink, indeed. Where had the previous four days gone? How could it be over already?
Here’s my excerpt of the collective post Jonathan and Dave and I wrote for GeekDad afterward:
My short answer to “How was Gen Con?” can be condensed to four words: Physically exhausting, mentally invigorating.
I’ve been to four Star Wars Celebrations and the inaugural PAX East, so I’m familiar with the grin-inducing atmosphere and energy of large geek conventions, and the thrill of being in a crowd of people who share your excitement.
What I was unprepared for, though, was the different feel of Gen Con. I think I realized it somewhere around Saturday morning, when, despite the late nights, early mornings, and the amount of walking, standing, and hauling around a messenger bag, I was really energized.
I think it came down to this: Generally, the big conventions I’ve attended have offered tons of cool things to see and hear — panels or Q&A sessions featuring producers and model-builders and actors; presentations on toy prototypes or special effects; interviews and sneak peeks and art exhibits. And these things have been amazing and fun and mind-blowing, and I love them.
But while you can find similar offerings at Gen Con, the overall vibe of the place was one not of seeing and hearing, but of doing. People packing the exhibit hall not just to look and shop and get autographs, but to learn new games or play updated versions of old favorites, and share their discoveries with both friends and total strangers. Rows and rows and rows of occupied tables in the open gaming hall. The corridors still lined with dozens of people long after dark, sitting on the floors and just gaming together.
I played 15 games during Gen Con, 12 of which were completely new to me. They included everything from stacking/coordination games to memory-based challenges to deck-builders and role-playing games. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that this near-constant shifting of games and fellow players and strategies and goals played a big part in not just keeping me going, but eager to do more.
Wendy and Kato picked me up outside my hotel around 3 p.m. The drive home was uneventful, and I was glad for the chance to unwind and talk about the weekend with them. (And as we recalled Friday night’s True Dungeon run, Wendy totally solved the final puzzle which had doomed our party.)
So: A long weekend packed with unforgettable, enriching experiences shared with friends old and new?
No bigger win than that.
(In which John, having reached Indianapolis for Gen Con, unsurprisingly goes to Gen Con.)
Finishing up breakfast with Jonathan and Dave just after 8 a.m., it felt like it should have been much later in the day, since I’d been up most of the night. But I was ready to get The Best Four Days in Gaming under way.
Jonathan and I checked our luggage – we couldn’t check into the hotel until Thursday afternoon – and after short walk to the Indiana Convention Center later, we had checked into the press room made our way to the main exhibit hall.
Dave & Jonathan are really enthusiastic gamers, and it was fun seeing the two of them walk into this massive space packed with games… and practically freeze with overload.
Before playing anything, I made sure to pick up my first free swag of the con – this sweet DungeonMorph die:
So, here’s what I remember playing that morning:
Roll For It! – Hey! I won the first GeekDad-played game of Gen Con 2013! (Thanks to a bit of luck – it’s a dice game, after all – and, I’d like to think, some lessons learned from playing too much Tali.)
Walk the Plank – I won this one, too, thus racking up two-thirds of my gaming victories that weekend in the first hour or so.
WeyKick – Jonathan’s Gen Con photo set at GeekDad includes a picture of Dave and me playing this tabletop soccer game.
Ooga Booga – Silly, silly fun.
Jonathan and Dave wanted to check out Robinson Crusoe – Jonathan included his thoughts on the game in his GeekDad gaming round-up) so I went along and watched for awhile, thinking ahead to lunch and a 1 p.m. appointment in Gamma World.
I was starting to take damage from the lack of sleep, so I excused myself from the Crusoe game table and headed out to find the food trucks that Kato & Wendy had mentioned were nearby.
A couple observations on post-2005 changes to the Indiana Convention Center:
- The additional convention space that now occupies what used to be the RCA Dome was most welcome, and made a huge difference in the crowds and traffic compared to Star Wars Celebration III. While there were occasional bottlenecks in spots, for the most part, walking around Gen Con, I spent very little time in those zombie-shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder packs that seemed to fill the main SWC3 corridors.
- The rise of the food truck industry has done wonders. One of my huge gripes about conventions is the lack of access to food other than the unremarkable and overpriced offerings within convention centers themselves. While I remember the Indy convention center having decent – if not quick – dining options within walking distance, there was nothing in 2005 to compare to the couple dozen food trucks that lined the neighboring streets this time around.
Right across the road, I found a truck offering bowls of homemade mac-and-cheese ladled over a scoop of pulled pork BBQ, and then baked for just a few minutes to get that nice golden brown top. That and a Coke did me up just right, and I felt much better heading over to Kato & Wendy’s hotel for our scheduled Gamma World adventure.
I’ve written before about Kato’s DM skills, so when he invited me to play in a GW adventure he was creating specifically for Gen Con, he didn’t have to ask twice. I met up with him and Wendy, and we set up at a table in one of their hotel’s public gathering areas. Three of their other friends joined us, and a four-hour post-apocalyptic quest ensued.
My random character generation? A highly dexterous felinoid demon. Naturally, I named him Cattygrumpus.
It was so meta, and so fun, and Kato’s attention to detail and planning were on full display. The setting was Indianapolis itself, in the ruins of the convention center. After Gen Con, Kato explained it himself via Twitter, and shared some of the cool original art one of his friends – @symatt – contributed.
I collected Kato’s Twitter descriptions and other art in this Storify piece.
And when the whole thing was over, we each got a couple custom Gamma World cards – again, worth reading for the detail.
So, having gotten my third wind, I headed off to check into the hotel and take a shower before attending A Night with Dungeons & Dragons.
I met up with Kato & Wendy outside the Indiana Roof Ballroom, the interior of which was designed to evoke Baldur’s Gate. And while there was a big puzzle/murder mystery activity you could participate in, the three of us spent most of the evening eating, drinking, talking, and enjoying the surroundings and talking to several nifty game creators.
Shortly after 10 p.m., I caught up with Jonathan and Dave in Hall D of the convention center – the main open gaming venue. They introduced me to The Great Heartland Hauling Co., and we played a game before calling it a day. (The game’s inventor, Jason Kotarski, happened to be at the next table over, and posted this picture to Twitter.)
And that was it: Having been on the go since roughly 5:30 a.m. the day before, I slept well back at the hotel.
Until this summer, the last time I visited Indianapolis was eight years ago, when Jim Carchidi and I covered Star Wars Celebration III for the Tribune Co. At the time, the Star Wars conventions were being run by Gen Con’s parent organization, and I remember the press room coordinator telling us, “This was a lot of fun – but you really should come back for Gen Con sometime.”
To the 2005 version of me, this didn’t sound incredibly appealing. Four days of Star Wars geekery was awesome – but a long weekend of, what? Games? I hadn’t touched a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet in decades, and for tabletop gaming, why would I drive all the way to Indianapolis?
I’m happy to say my horizons have expanded a bit since then, fueled by fantastic friends who’ve re-introduced me to role-playing games over the past several years, and gotten me into a range of tabletop and card games.
I was supposed to go to Gen Con in 2011, but that trip fell through, and last year, a big, family summer trip pretty much knocked everything else off the board.
Summer 2013: Achievement Unlocked. It’s been a week since I got back from Gen Con, where I spent a lot of excellent time with GeekDads Jonathan Liu and Dave Banks – neither of whom I’d seen since 2010 – and my friends Kato & Wendy, who were making their third trip to Gen Con.
It was four straight days of sheer amazing fun, and I’ve been looking forward to sitting down and writing about it.
So: Wednesday Aug. 14, I worked from home, so that Jenn could get me to the bus station on time.
Yep – the bus station. Several reasons, the details of which aren’t really important, but it basically boils down to the fact that my one-way bus ticket was far cheaper than either a single tank of gas or a couple days’ parking in Indianapolis. And since Kato & Wendy had offered me a spot in their car on the way home, that was really all I needed. The negatives? Just two: More time on the road than the roughly five hours it would take to drive myself, and reaching the Indianapolis bus station at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
Still, Jonathan was due to reach Indianapolis around 6 a.m., and I knew Dave was going to be hitting downtown early, so I planned on just killing a few hours at Union Station, then making the short walk to the hotel once it was light and Jonathan was on the way.
Did I expect to sleep well on the trip? Of course not. Did I fully expect to kick off my first Gen Con trip with a rousing game of Sleep Deprivation vs. Geek Adrenaline? Of course I did. As Clark Griswold says, It’s All Part of the Experience, Honey.
Three legs on the bus trip, then. First up – Interstate 77 southbound, Canton to Cambridge, on a Barons Bus. Extremely cushy, nice ride, quiet and calm. Just about an hour. Dozed lightly.
Bit of a surprise to find that the transfer “station” to the Greyhound line in Cambridge was, in fact, a Marathon station*. Interesting. Four plastic seats available inside, but I opted to stay on the bench out front, since it was a nice evening.
The Greyhound was about a half-hour late, and by the time it arrived, there were maybe 8-10 of us waiting to board. It was a pretty full ride to Columbus. Made small talk with the Amish guy who sat next to me for a bit, then snoozed until we reached the next stop. (For the record: Not as nice a bus as the Barons coach. Little less cushy, little more creaky.)
It was around 11-ish when we hit Columbus. A longer stopover: Everyone had to clear out, even those of us getting back on board to Indy. (Or points farther west: Two of my fellow travelers were headed to Denver and Las Vegas. Yoicks.) On the bright side, when we re-boarded, the bus was maybe half-full, so I had room to stretch across the seat next to me, and I actually got probably 90 minutes of decent sleep over the next 175 miles. Arrived right on time, 2:30 a.m. local time.
I resisted the urge to walk across the street to the White Castle, found a seat away from the busier parts of the station, and settled in for about four hours of sporadic napping, reading, internet-based timekilling, and watching bits and pieces of The Goonies and From Russia with Love on my Kindle.
Got a message from Jonathan shortly after 6 a.m., and headed off to meet him at the hotel. It was light outside, just before sunup, and the early risers were starting to hit the streets wearing their Gen Con admission badges.
Seeing the badges and this table topper in the hotel lobby were reminders of what I love about going to conventions: They’re signs of the collective enthusiasm that reaches beyond the walls of an auditorium or exhibit hall and permeates everything around for a couple days.
Hadn’t seen Jonathan since my cross-country road trip. He sent Dave a quick message letting him know where we were, and the three of us had a hot breakfast at the hotel before walking down the street to the Indiana Convention Center.
* Post-trip footnote: The Google Street view of this station reveals the station’s makeover from a BP to a marathon, through an interesting quirk of photos taken about year apart. Here’s a super-short video.
Wednesday, August 7, I took the day off for a last-minute end-of-summer trip to Cedar Point with Kelsey and her friend Joan. Above is the new Gatekeeper coaster over the park’s front entrance, shortly after we arrived at 11 a.m.
We’d driven through some hard rain on the way, but it had stopped by the time we arrived. The girls went on MaxAir (not for me, thanks: my tolerance for too much multidirectional motion – particularly hardcore spinning – has, sadly, lessened significantly over the past few years), while I went for the Wicked Twister coaster nearby.
Then we got in the line for Raptor – the queue sign advertised more than an hour’s wait, but we figured we were there, and the day would be full of waiting, so we got in line. About 20 minutes later, the rain returned and mostly shut down the park.
We decided to keep our spirits up and embrace the absurdity of enjoying the park while getting soaked, so we hit the Cedar Downs ride – Joan had never been on it, and being under cover, its operation was unaffected.
Through the no-sign-of-letting-up rain, we walked to the Matterhorn and waited in the open-air queue, getting wetter by the moment before our brief ride, laughing the whole time.
Next up? The Dodgem: Kelsey had never driven a bumper car. And we had a blast.
So now, it was nearing 1 p.m., and – this:
Blue skies. It was sunny and warm the entire rest of the day, and the rain had kept or driven away most of the crowds. We waited less than an hour for the most popular coasters – Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force – and walked on the brand-new Gatekeeper twice at the end of the night.
I love that Cedar Point has kept so much of the look and feel of its rides’ original eras, like the late-’70s Gemini:
I’ve been going to Cedar Point since I was excited just to ride those little cars that sit on a platform and circle endlessly beneath striped domes and colored light bulbs. We lived far enough away, though, that visits were once a year, at most – maybe twice during my high school and college years – so they were always special. I have summer memories there from every era of my life, with different friends and family and even solo, in sun and rain.
Dusk, when the lights start flickering on the midway and the air starts to cool, they all seem to flood back every time.
Somehow I just stumbled across this list of “50 Interstate Oddities.” It’s a few years old, so some of the information is probably out of date, but as a road trip enthusiast and Google Maps addict, I found plenty of notes to send me off searching and mapping for awhile. (For the record, I have first-hand familiarity with several of the interstate oddities on the list, including I-4 in Florida, I-76 here in Ohio, I-17 in Arizona, the I-70/55/64 convergence in St. Louis, and, in fact, the top place-holder, Interstate 70’s bizarre gap in Breezewood, Pa.)
I admit that I was a bit disappointed that it doesn’t include one of my favorite interstate oddities.
I’ve been a regular passenger and driver on I-77 for most of my life: It connects Stark County with Akron and Cleveland to the north, and to the south, it runs through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina before coming to an end in Columbia, S.C. Through growing up in Northeast Ohio, family vacations, and seven years spent living in (and driving to and from) Orlando, I am extremely familiar with the entire length of I-77.
Near Wytheville, Virginia, I-77 overlaps with I-81 for nine miles or so in a highway quirk that I just learned is called a wrong-way concurrency: The I-77 southbound lanes are the northbound lanes of I-81, and vice versa. Ever since I was old enough to start really paying attention to the highway routes, this has amused me.
Something else I realized thanks to the list: There are just three single-digit-designated U.S. interstates, and in the summer of 2010, I traveled on all of them. (I’m not counting the single-digit interstates in Alaska and Hawaii: They bear letters in addition to their digits, and they’re outside the contiguous 48 states.)
That June, during my Ohio-to-California-and-back road trip, I took Interstate 8 across southwest Arizona – stopping briefly on Tatooine – to San Diego, and covered some of the same highway on the trip back home. While I was in California, I drove from San Diego up to Los Angeles for a day, mostly on Interstate 5. (It was surprisingly easy while I was there to fall into the habit of referring to numbered roadways using “the.” As in “Take the 5 all the way to the 8…” I’ve always used the “I” construct (“Take I-77”) for interstates and “Route” for numbered roads that aren’t interstates. “Take I-77 to Route 30,” etc. Anyway…) Two months later, Kelsey and I went to Orlando to visit Jim for Star Wars Celebration V, and while I didn’t actually drive that week, I know there were at least a few moments spent on Interstate 4.
Another road trip note from 2010: That March, I drove to PAX East in Boston, which, added to my San Diego trip, means I did a coast-to-coast freeway trek that year, albeit one with a couple-month break in the middle.