Woke up early enough to make myself go do another treadmill run. Only had enough in the tank for two miles, so I at least pushed myself and came in at under eight minutes per mile – barely.
Our first day at Gen Con, Dave had said something to the effect of, “We gotta play some D&D this weekend.”
We’d planned to line up with Kato at 9 a.m. to try and get a 10 a.m. session of Confrontation at Candlekeep, but just after eight, during another hearty hotel breakfast (seriously: I really enjoyed the morning menu), I got a text from Dave: “Just got over here. Line is out the door, erm, gate already.”
I got there a few minutes later, and Kato was there by about 8:45. I think we did wind up sitting down at our table to play a little more than an hour later.
I chose the pre-generated dwarf fighter as my character, since it’s a role I had no experience playing.
We had a great DM – Erica King – guiding our adventure, and I really enjoyed myself. (I don’t have enough comparative multi-edition experience to offer a good opinion on the D&D Next play. I know I had fun.) The only downside was that our party, through some odd quirk of the playtest logistics, didn’t actually get to do battle with the final monster. Erica did a great job of thinking on her feet and throwing new enemies at us so we weren’t just sitting there waiting. Still, again – FUN.
And hey: Sweet new free set of dice from Wizards of the Coast!
These are all my free dice from Gen Con – the blue and white set is from Wizards, the purple one was a Crystal Caste giveaway, and the green one was from ordering off the Pathfinder menu at Scotty’s Brewhouse, which is where Kato and Wendy and I went for lunch. (Love the effort that went into creating the art and copy for this menu. The descriptions are fun and amazing. And if you’re interested, we split an order of Goblin Ears, and I had a Squealy Nord.)
After lunch, I met up with Dave at the convention center again, then tried to catch Jim Hines for his 3 p.m. book signing. Then I double-checked the schedule and saw that it had been an 11 a.m. signing, and I’d gotten my days confused. Dang.
So Dave & I stopped by the Steve Jackson Games booth, where both Steve Jackson himself and John Kovalic happened to be sitting and signing. And I’d brought along my much-loved copy of Munchkin Bites for just such an occasion:
The third signature there is Andrew Hackard. Kelsey and I met Andrew at Penguicon – where he taught us how to play Munchkin – in 2009, and I’d been looking forward to catching up with him at Gen Con. The SJ Games booth was really busy, of course, but we got to chat for a couple minutes. Then he looked at his watch and said, “Hey: You should throw your name in the drawing for dinner at the Munchkin Tavern tonight – I’m hosting.” I filled out an entry card, and then Dave and I went to meet up with Jonathan.
The three of us played Paizo’s demo of its Pathfinder Card Game. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but in retrospect, I’d like to see how a full game plays out, since it’s an interesting combination of role-playing rules and deck-building strategy.
Not long after, the three of us headed off in different directions, and then I got a text from an unknown number: I’d landed one of the Munchkin Tavern dinner seats!
Via text, Kato suggested that we could fill the time until I headed to dinner with a game of Lords of Waterdeep, so Dave and I met him in one of his hotel common areas. I’d never played the game, but I liked it from the start. Easy to learn and a fun theme. Also, I won. (Though with an asterisk – we cut the game short by a couple rounds at 6:50 so I could head over to dinner.)
Dinner at the Munchkin Tavern was a blast. Six of us Munchkin / SJGames fans and Andrew, just geeking out for hours, and enjoying some seriously excellent food and drink. At one point, with his actual Red Pen of Doom, Andrew began creating custom (and Munchkin-legal!) “Go Up A Level” cards. As he’s doing this, he looks at me and says, “Is it ‘E-L-S-E-Y?” Realizing he was personalizing a card for my daughter, I said, “Yep. And you’re awesome.”
His response was to grin and say, “You haven’t seen the card yet.”
It reads, “Beat Dad – Again. Go Up A Level. KELSEY ONLY.”
“Hackaaaaaaaaaaaaard!” (No, seriously: Awesome.)
It was past 10 p.m. when we all left, and the time had flown.
Even though Dave and I were doing another True Dungeon run at 10 a.m., it was the last night of Gen Con, so I wanted to keep riding the adrenaline. “Still up?” I texted Kato.
About 20 minutes later, I got a response: He was heading down to the lobby to meet a couple friends for another Lords of Waterdeep game, and invited me over.
We set up at a table in the bar with Kato’s buddies, who were ordering a late dinner. After they ate, we ordered some drinks and got the game going.
After a bit, a guy came over and said something along the lines of “Hey, I don’t mean to interrupt your game, but…are you having fun?”
It was almost 2 a.m. by the time we wrapped things up, and even though I knew it was going to be hard getting up at eight o’clock, I kept thinking, “Yep. This is how you do the last night of a con.”
So I’m heading back to the room, walking east on Maryland Avenue, and there are still a fair amount of people out and about. And I’m thinking about how I’m going to have to pack all my stuff in the morning before heading over to True Dungeon, because checkout time is 11 a.m., and that means getting up even earlier than I’d planned, because at this hour, I can’t pack when I get back to the room without waking up Jonathan, and –
– and there’s Jonathan, standing on the next street corner talking with someone, because he has also spent the last night of Gen Con gaming into the early hours of Sunday. We see each other and crack up with the absurdity of being up this late playing games and having so much fun.
Back at the hotel, I pack up everything I can, and fall asleep around 3 a.m.
The fact is, I’m now indebted to Wil Wheaton.
His appearances east of the Rockies seem few and far between, so when he was announced as Guest of Honor at Penguicon 7.0, I jumped in and registered for my first overnight convention stay in four years.
Honestly, if he hadn’t been scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I’ve never been a hardcore gamer, and I’m barely a dabbler in the open source side of computing, and I’ve only relatively recently begun rediscovering science fiction writing.
And yet, had I not gone, I would have totally missed out on the past three abso-frigging-lutelydamntastic days and never even known it. Yes, Penguicon rocked so hard that even though Mr. Wheaton was unable to make it, the weekend was a massively Epic Win for me and my daughter. We’ll be going back.
So, if you don’t like gushing, stand the heck back, because I LOVED Penguicon. So much that a couple times, I wanted to cry with joy, I was having so freaking good a time. So much that if you worked or volunteered or organized or handed out food or took out garbage or had even the tiniest role in making this convention happen, you are hereby A Fantastic Person and I Heart You. Seriously, Penguicon People – bookmark this page, and if you find a blog or a forum post complaining about Not Enough This or Too Much That or This Sucked or That Blew, I want you to come back here and remember that you made at least one 38-year-old Dad and one 12-year-old Daughter Awfully Freaking Happy with your efforts this year. This was our first Penguicon, and not one person met us with rudeness or sneered at our N00bism – we were made to feel welcome from our first panel Friday afternoon – a meet-up with fellow Harry Potter fans – to our last trip through the lobby Sunday after lunch and a gaming session. (More on that later.)
It’s no easy thing, sometimes, for a dad and an almost-teenage daughter to find much common ground, but these were 48 hours of pure excellence in that department, sometimes in surprising moments. Here are a few:
When we went to the Consuite (Honestly: a con with a constant supply of free food & beverage? Who does that? Penguicon.) to see and taste our first batch of Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream – Yay for con volunteers Molly and Trevor and Phil! – another guy watching the process struck up a conversation, and that’s how we found ourselves chatting with FreeDOS creator Jim Hall, a superbly nice guy. (We met up with him again Saturday when they whipped up a batch of chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate LN2 ice cream for his birthday. I think my eyeballs might still be vibrating from the sugar.)
Thanks to the patient and encouraging people at Aegis Consulting, I can say that I’ve seen my daughter hurl throwing knives and punch through a board with her bare hands. And it was her idea. Sure, she got a little nervous before each session, but she went through with it both times. This was even cooler than throwing knives and breaking stuff myself. (Which I did, of course.)
Friday night we had the first of a few encounters with the polite and gracious John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal when their “Schmoozing 101″ panel was moved to 10 p.m. in place of a scheduled Wheaton reading. Probably because of the schedule change, there were only about a half-dozen people there, I think – some of whom came in late – and the result was a really fun and entertaining hour on how not to be all “OhMyGawdYou’reINSERTNEATOFAMOUSPERSONHERE,” and how not to come off like a stalkery stalker stalking. (Information which I hope I put to good use over the next two days, since we crossed paths several times with many of the Penguicon guests.) Mr. Scalzi was good enough to chat for a few minutes afterward, and I introduced him to Kelsey, who had brought Zoe’s Tale to finish reading over the weekend. He was very courteous, and when Kelsey and I headed back to our room, she turned to me with this amazing smile and said, “That. Was. SO. COOL.”
In fact, that was one of the neatest things about the weekend: Being a midsize con – I think I’ve seen past attendance put at 800-1000 guests – and having everything there at the hotel where everyone was staying, the odds of bumping into well-known and extremely neat people were way better than average. The scope of the convention also made for a very comfortable feel and pace. Yes, the sheer immensity of something like a Star Wars Celebration is fun, but it’s also exhausting and demanding. Even though that can be fantastic in its own way, this time around, with my daughter along, I absolutely didn’t miss those wall-to-wall crowds and frantic pace. We never wanted for things to do and see, but we also had free time to swim, to sit around and chill, to play with/debug the Chaos Machine and to wander past panel rooms just to see who was in there and what was going on.
Saturday was full of more panels, and I was happy to see Kelsey interested in them. After those first couple on Friday, she realized there was a good shot of being entertained by the guests, even if she really wasn’t into the topic itself, and she was having a ball. (We also hit another of her “must see” events: the “Trust Me, It’s Just Chemistry” demonstration by Professor X. We snagged the last few feet of floor space for the rapid-fire show of “mix-these-and-watch-this” experiments, and there was much foaming and gelling and melting and fake snot making.)
We got some free Ubuntu stickers, which she stuck at the corners of her eyes. My kid rocks.
Saturday night’s live performance of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was incredibly fun, and frankly, as I told the guy who played the title role afterward, may have “ruined” the real video for my daughter, who had never seen it. She absolutely loved it, and I’m not sure seeing it on the TV screen (masterful as the film is), will ever be as funny to her as it was seeing it for the first time in the hands of passionate fans.
So Sunday morning, we started off by popping in to the book signing session, and here’s where another “wow-I-love-this-con” rush kicks in: I realize I’ve become a potential fan of several of these writers based on just hearing them speak or talking with them briefly, so I picked up Brian Briggs’ “The Bbook of Geek” and Daniel J. Hogan‘s Lulu-published “The Magic of Eyri.” I’d also planned to buy a copy of Jim C. Hines‘ “The Stepsister Scheme” – he had Kelsey in stitches during a panel on humor in science fiction, incidentally, and later we talked about the book for a few minutes in the lobby – but there was a quirk in scheduling, and I didn’t get to the dealer room in time, and he didn’t have any copies on hand, so it’s on my “to get” list. My daughter and I both also fell hard for Chris Hallbeck’s “Biff” cartoons, so I bought Vol. 3, “Fresh Toast” from the author’s table.
So now it’s late morning, and we hit the home stretch, and we’ve got one more box to check off Kelsey’s list: Open Soda – a crash course in making our own pop (because that’s what we call it here). She’s been looking forward to this one a LOT. About 15 minutes before I’m supposed to meet her for the presentation – she’d gone back to the room for something – I’m in the Consuite, and I see Andrew Hackard, Wil Wheaton’s editor, who’s been on a couple panels we’ve attended. I go over to say hi, and we talk for a few minutes about editing books with friends, and he becomes the 765th person to whom I say something along the lines of, “This is our first time here and we are totally blown away and loving it!” and then my phone buzzes, and I have to excuse myself because, I explain, it’s my daughter calling about Open Soda, and I need to head over. “That’s where I’m headed,” he responds, “Let’s go!”
Over the next hour, as we learn the details and process of making a fine fizzy peppermint beverage, I mention that the one thing Kelsey and I didn’t get to do was learn to play Munchkin, since we’d missed the only Beginners course of the weekend.
Then, since, you know, he’s the Munchkin Czar, Mr. Hackard says if we have time, he’ll teach us.
And that’s how we spent our last hours at Penguicon 7.0: Learning and then playing a full game of Munchkin with this incredibly generous person we’ve just met, and I’m watching him give Kelsey advice and I’m reveling in the smile on her face as she’s learning the twists and turns and sneaky fun moves – and, it should be noted, she’s totally kicking our butts under Mr. Hackard’s tutelage. “We have to get this game,” she tells me, lowering her head and looking over the top of her glasses.” In fact, not long after a particularly venomous and level-boosting turn – at which point our gaming host says with a smile, “That’s it. You get no more help from me!” – Kelsey wins. It is gorgeous and she is thrilled and I am bowled over once again at just how amazing a weekend we have had thanks to so many people who were unknown strangers just 48 hours before.
At about 2:15 p.m. Sunday, as we pulled back onto I-275, headed south, I turned to my daughter. “I just realized,” I said, “what we forgot to do.”
“What was the last thing you ate?”
Realization crosses her face. Another smile. “Breakfast.”
“It’s not a con,” I say, holding up a palm, “until you forget to eat.”