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.
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.
I did not intend to take a three-and-a-half-month spring-and-summer break from Cornfield Meet, but it’s been an inspiring and energizing “vacation.”
And it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all: I did a couple book reviews at GeekDad, and an 11,000-word travelogue on a cross-country adventure my daughter and I undertook – some of which will wind up here eventually – and I write regularly in the course of my job.
Still, the list of “Stuff I Want to Write” (an actual handwritten document here on my desk, I swear) has reached an alarming length, so it’s time to just sit down and start hammering away at these things, even if they’re mostly just for fun.
I started to write up my memories of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which premiered on CBS Sept. 17, 1983, and then realized I’d really like to contribute this particular bit of recollection to GeekDad.
And I’m glad I did, because it’s been really cool seeing the responses on GeekDad, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and realizing that hey, I struck a nice nostalgic nerve with this one.
We even made the official Daily D&D!
I didn’t want to overload the GeekDad post with pictures, so here are a couple images from the cartoon’s closing credits that I mentioned. Still gorgeous and a little sad, somehow – but in that good sort of way. (And I think I figured out why I love them so much. It’s an amusement park at dusk. Weak spot.)
(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.
The first batch of pre-orders and sales that summer and fall of 2008 were mostly to family, friends, and the supportive Star Wars fans of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club and the vintage forums at Rebelscum.com. They really jump-started this whole thing with their responses to my 2007 online series of Star Wars recollections.
In early 2009, right around the time my last full-time newsroom job was eliminated and I found myself out of work, Rob Wainfur posted one of the earliest completely-neutral-party reviews of Collect All 21! on his Retro Finds site, which was a more-than-welcome bit of nice news, and especially neat because Rob’s from Wales.
Around the same time, Adam, my Collect All 21! editor, launched Deus Ex Comica, and suddenly I was like, “Hey: I want a cool, professional cover and a foreword, too!” And that’s where Kirk Demarais and David Morgan-Mar came in, generously contributing their talents to the revised version of Collect All 21!, providing me with some amazing front cover art and a kick-ass introduction.
Working with a great digital publishing team, I expanded the book for a Kindle edition in July 2011, adding some new personal material as well as interviews and my magazine-length feature on Lorne Peterson.
Some of the other neat stuff that’s happened along the way:
- In spring 2009, I got an incredibly kind and supportive email from George Krstic, another Northeast Ohio first-generation Star Wars fan who grew up to write neat stuff like MTV’s Downtown, Megas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Motorcity. We’ve hung out a few times since, and recorded a few Star Wars nostalgia podcasts, and it’s always a blast. (George also introduced me to Josh Ling, who’s also a first-generation Rust Belt kid that came of age addicted to Kenner toys, and, I think it’s also fair to say, deals with the same old-school v. new-era Star Wars internal conflicts that twist so many of us in geek knots.)
- Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver both said really nice things about Collect All 21! on the GeekMom and GeekDad blogs, respectively.
- At PAX East in 2010, thanks to the GeekDad crew, I met Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who bought a copy of the book on the spot while we were all hanging out, and later provided me with a superlative blurb.
- CNN interviewed me for a 30th anniversary story about The Empire Strikes Back.
- Sharing Star Wars memories became kind of a thing: My friend Jonathan Liu sent me an advance copy of Tony Pacitti‘s My Best Friend is a Wookiee (2010), and I wound up meeting Tony at Star Wars Celebration V to exchange books and stories. A couple years later, in 2012, Gib van Ert released A Long Time Ago: Growing Up With And Out Of Star Wars, which I read and enjoyed on the way to Star Wars Celebration VI. And, of course, earlier this year, Fanboys director Kyle Newman (who also encouraged me regarding Collect All 21! in 2010) put together The Return of Return of the Jedi.
- Geek A Week artist Len Peralta and I recorded a Star Wars and 1980s conversation/podcast.
- I got invited as a guest to a couple JediCon WV events, which were tons of fun, and got my name on a spectacular poster by Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons.
- Hugo Award-winning author and good guy Jim C. Hines read Collect All 21! and blogged about it.
- Then there was that time in 2012 when the fantastic Renita Jablonski called me and said, “So, we were thinking of doing a piece on the 35th anniversary of Star Wars, and I said ‘I know a guy,'” and we talked on the phone, and then BOOM! I’m driving to work a day or two later, and right there in the middle of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is me. (And five years before that, when Renita was at WKSU, she produced a piece I wrote about not remembering the first time I saw Star Wars, which, again, is pretty much where all this started.)
- Topless Robot put Collect All 21! on its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, which includes the line, “Celebrate the love, yub yub.” Yes!
- Somehow my book caught the attention of filmmaker Brian Stillman, who visited our house a couple summers back and interviewed me for Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys, which should be coming out later this summer.
Crunching some numbers from Lulu and Amazon to figure out about how many copies of Collect All 21! are out there – counting print and electronic versions – I come up with a number somewhere close to 2,500. (I’m always looking to make that number bigger, of course, but hey – that’s not a bad run for a completely independent, word-of-mouth effort.)
I will never be able to say thanks enough for all the encouragement and support from my friends and family and everyone who’s ever bought, borrowed, read, or shared Collect All 21! among fellow Star Wars fans and 1980s-era nostalgia loons (which I can say since I’m one of them).
The Force Will Be With You. Always.
Fringe fans: Take a look at some of the amazing work in this book. And hey, while you’re there, why not enter the giveaway and maybe get a free copy for yourself?
Big surprise: I really like talking with people – especially first-generation fans – about their Star Wars memories, and about growing up loving the saga and then sharing it with a new generation of kids.
So in planning my GeekDad coverage of Star Wars Celebration VI back in August, I thought it would be fun to set up a series of short interviews with some notable geeks and Star Wars personalities, asking them about their favorite memories and toys and things like that.
Eight great people took some time during the four-day convention to hang out and answer the same five questions, and I had a blast conducting the interviews. (MAJOR thanks again to everyone who participated!) The series ran in August and September at GeekDad, and I thought it would be fun to round up all the links here, too.
- Gronk creator and Lucasfilm-licensed artist Katie Cook was the first person I asked what were later named the “Five Force-Full Questions.” Her interview is here, and it includes her “deep dark Star Wars secret.”
- I was psyched to meet everyone I interviewed, but I’ll confess that when Fanboys and Ready Player One writer Ernie Cline accepted the invitation, I had a bit of a nerdsquee moment. I’ve identified very strongly with his writing, since he grew up not far from my home in Ohio, and at around the same time. We actually spent about a half hour talking about tons of other geek stuff before we even got to his Five Force-Full Question answers, and then, generous and patient guy that he is, Ernie was kind enough to repeat his answers over the phone a couple days later due to a digital recording error on my part.
- Marc Thompson is a voice actor and a narrator of several Star Wars audio books, and he was actually attending Celebration with his kids, so he gets bonus geeky dad points for that. His interview is here.
- Kristen Rutherford is a fellow contributor to the GeekDad/GeekMom universe, head writer and creative producer of The Nerdist on BBC America, and host of Geek & Sundry‘s #parent hangouts. Also, she was kind enough to laugh off my goofspazzing response to a text about a bowling shirt – a message which was not, in fact, meant for me. So she’s cool that way. Plus she remembers exactly which card she’s missing from her Empire Strikes Back red-border set.
- Kristen invited me to one of the Nerdist crew’s Star Wars Transmission tapings and introduced me to several other neat geek types, including Chris Hardwick, who, it turns out, also has an affinity for the second wave of Kenner’s original Star Wars figures (the grouping which brought the action figure total to that magic number of 21). Read which one was his favorite here.
Finally, I did a trio of interviews with three actors from Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- Matt Lanter, who plays Anakin Skywalker,
- And Dee Bradley Baker, another fellow first-generation fan and geeky dad who – seriously – was so into Star Wars as a kid that he landed a gig dressing up as a jawa at his local movie theater.
Man, was that a fun trip.