Gencon Day Three: Hug your Volunteers!

Day Three was a blur as well, but for an awful instead of awesome reason.  Food poisoning, when you are safe in the comforts of your home, is bad.  The experience is not made better by living out of hotel in a strange city.  So I’m not going to dwell too much on what my Day Three was like.  Despite it all I managed to run two of my three scheduled slots, and thankfully an overflow GM was available to cover my table so I could grab a much needed nap in the afternoon.

Instead, I want to talk about volunteers.  If you have spent any amount of time going to cons you know that volunteers are a convention’s lifeblood.  If everything that had to be done at a convention had to be done by a paid employee, there would only be one big convention for everything every year, to save money.  Do the math yourself at the next con, the equation is pretty simple: #volunteers times total hours of convention times Minimum Wage for your area.  And even that only gives you an estimate, because a lot of volunteer work begins and/or continues before/after the con.

So volunteers make a convention run.  Good volunteers?  Good volunteers can make the act of convention going so effingly effortless for your attendees that they will actually wait in long lines with a smile.  They’ll actually make the times between events enjoyable, even memorable.

I’ve come in contact with two main sets of volunteers this weekend: the Gencon volunteers and the Paizo volunteer team.  And I can say this about both sets, those are some good volunteers.  How so?  Here are just a few things that stood out for me:

– As I was leaving the ICC at the end of a long day (it was after midnight), there were still some folks in the ticket line to secure tickets for the next day’s events.  The registration volunteers, to a one, were all smiling, joking and generally seemed to be enjoying the company of the attendees.  I can tell you from experience, that attitude makes having to be in line comfortable, if not enjoyable.

– Every time I spoke with a Paizo volunteer (and as a GM I speak with them a lot), I was greeted by name and with a smile.  When you are at a convention numbering in tens of thousands of attendees, the luxury of being greeted as a discrete individual is immense.  Did they likely sneak a peak at my con badge before saying hello?  Sure, but who cares?  That they thought it was worth taking that effort is fantastic.

– 6:30am, and a team of Gencon volunteers are pulling a hand-truck laden with boxes of program guides around the ICC, filling the Guide Stations so people can find the program books if they need them.  This was on Day Three of the con, when it could be reasonably expected most people had programs already.  For perspective: the program guides are essentially small books about 140 pages in length and a box of them likely weighs 50lbs.  The smiling, joking team was pulling a hand-truck with maybe 20-30 boxes around a convention centre you could run a marathon in.  And here I was, begrudging having to leave my room to go somewhere and sit down for four hours.

– A Gencon volunteer stopped what she was doing and helped calm a crying child for a mom that was obviously at her wit’s end.  Did she have to? Nope.  But she did.

And so on.  Both sets of volunteers did little human things to make the experience better this weekend.  As a result, hey presto!  The experience has been better this weekend!  Who would have thunk it?

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Volunteer Coordinator Pro-tip:  Besides a great way to make your volunteers feel appreciated, running social events for your volunteers prior to your con is an opportunity to observe how your volunteers deal with people.  In turn, you can put the more socially comfortable volunteers in positions dealing with your attendees.  Everyone wins from that: your volunteers are contributing in a way comfortable and easy to them, and your attendees reap the benefit of that.

*     *     *

That’s all for now, kiddos!  The sun is rising on Day Four, so I must away.  It is the lark…

Gencon Day Two, Continued

The highlight of Day Two was, of course, the Pathfinder Society Gencon Special.  My introduction to Pathfinder Society came through playing in the Gencon Special back in 2010, so I was excited to be a part of the GM team this time around.

I won’t talk a lot about the story of the Special, because a) I’m not supposed to and b) I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you when it gets released for general play.  And if you don’t play Pathfinder, well, you just won’t care.  But it was a big, sweeping adventure full of dark tension and fear.  Yeah, that about sums it up.

So what puts the “special” in the Gencon Special?  When you play Pathfinder Society at your local store or game day, it plays out as most table-top sessions do: you play your adventure at your table, and it doesn’t affect the play at tables next to you.  At the Special, however, all tables taking part in the session are playing the same scenario at the same time, and results at your table can (depending on the scenario written) have an impact on what happens at other tables.  And of course other tables can change how things run at yours.

That itself would be cool enough, even with just five or six tables playing.  This year’s Special was run simultaneously at over 100 tables, in two rooms.  All tables played through the same story events, and all contributed to the eventual success (or failure) of the mission.  Add to that Paizo bringing in people in costume to LARP the scenario NPC’s, and an actual life-size prop of the main plot item and the Special becomes a high energy role-playing romp!

I’ll be honest, the night was sort of a blur for me.  Up to this point in my Paizo Con-Volunteer career they have scheduled me to run low level scenarios (in PFS terms, Tier 1-5).  Which made sense; it is my first year volunteering at the “big two” (Paizocon and Gencon) as a Venture-Captain, they might want to test me out where I would do the least harm to players/characters.  I guess for the Special they wanted to test other things, because I was tasked with Tier 10-11, the second highest tier in PFS.  I had, of course, read the information for all the tiers when they sent me the scenario, because I’m like that.  But I hadn’t focused on the higher tiers because it never occurred to me I’d run them.

Surprise!

A combination of luck, preparation and having easy access to all the sourcebooks I needed on my handy “HAL Friday” (my laptop), meant I was able to surmount a little thing like a full four tier jump in difficulty like a champ.  I mean, I assume.  Like I said, it was a blur.  My table seemed to have a great time, we got along famously and they were super excited to be presented with the actual plot prop at the end.  Discussing it with other GMs doing the same tier, it didn’t seem like I missed anything I was supposed to do and I did about as well as they did.  This might mean Paizo will trust me with some higher tiers in the future.  Which I’d love, but maybe we could do a few Tier 3-7 scenarios, just to ease me in?  Please?

*     *     *

Con GMing Pro-Tip:  Go digital and save your back and brain.  The math for the back is pretty easy: HAL Friday weighs maybe 3-4lbs, compared to the (conservative estimate) 60lbs+ of all my Pathfinder resources.  As for the brain…well, with the right PDF reader (I highly recommend Foxit Reader, though your mileage may vary) You can pre-tab the bookmarks in your reference books.  In PDF terms, this means avoiding the “page flipping” needed to find what you need during a game.  I just open the file, click on the tab I need and roll for initiative.  It may take some adjustment, especially if you are a dedicated bibliophile like me.  But when I’m GMing at a con, and especially an event that is timed, nothing makes my players happier than not having to wait for me to find something in a book.

*     *     *

We wrapped the 2012 Gencon Special at 1:15am, and tired, happy Pathfinders spilled into the night.  After that I hobbled back to my room and tried to grab a few hours sleep for Day Three!  Which didn’t work out so well, but that is a story for next time.

Gencon Day Two: Houston, We Have a Problem!

If you haven’t already, you can read my Day Zero and Day One posts by following the links.

Dawn broke over Gencon Day Two.  And my head.  I am used to early mornings, but I usually back up that early rising with some good ol’ fashioned sleep.  I have little to complain about with my sleeping arrangements because they are free.  Except for the whole “lack of real sleep” aspect, they are perfect.  Suffice to say next year will see me springing for a cot in my room, or bringing along a really good air mattress.  Sharing a double bed with someone is a sucker’s game unless you get to/want to snuggle.

But let’s not dwell on my sleeping arrangements, let’s get on with the con.  As noted prior I was up early for my first 8am session of the con.  I am a morning person, more by habit than inclination, and so even with a lack of sleep these sessions are never a hardship for me.  Wish I could say the same for my players.  Luckily we were running through a scenario I knew very well, so I was able to lead the poor sleepy dears through it safely.  Mostly safely.  Okay, perhaps more deaths than usual okay 3 character deaths.

*     *     *

Gencon Protip:  Want your character to live longer?  Refrain from telling your table GM you chose that session as “something to sleep through.”  If you aren’t ready to play, don’t show up.  Better yet, don’t schedule an early morning game for your self right after your 4am Yu-Gi-O tourney.  Because chances are your GM is just as tired as you are, but he/she made sure to be there, switched on and ready to roll dice.  It’s called respect; get someone to help you look it up and help you with the big words.

*     *     *

With my bruised feelings suitably assuaged by the blood sacrifice of my players, I now faced an entire afternoon free of any commitments until I had to Muster for the Pathfinder Gencon Special in the evening.  I want you all to know that I actually got as far as pulling out my Gencon program guide and looking at what events were available.  I need you to know that the desire was there.  But the body was weak and I went back to my now empty hotel room and slept the most mother-beautiful four hours of sleep any one has slept any when/where.  Which is good, because the Gencon Special was about to dump me in the deep end…to be continued…

Gencon Day One: Lift off!

Day One of Gencon began with me leaping from bed at the crack of 9am!  Which for me is sleeping in; I normally get up between 5:30-6:30 every morning.  But add up the cumulative effects of a 31 hour car ride, an embuggered knee and a pretty busy Day Zero and my brain made the wise decision to ignore room mate distractions and stay in bed.  Since I am going to have to be up at my usual hour for the rest of the weekend, I seconded my brains decision and we ratified it to the enthusiastic sleeping of my body.

First stop on Day One, the Dealer’s Hall!  How to describe the Gencon Dealer’s Hall…  Imagine a gaming store roughly the size of two football fields (I say roughly, because I don’t know if you follow American or Canadian Football.  And if you’re a soccer fan…actually the analogy still works).  Imagine that this ginormous store has split its stock up by company, and each company has sent its own representatives to man these sections.  They make sure anything you want is on-hand, run demos, show you the cool new stuff and so one.  Imagine that this behemoth among gaming stores also featured a full-size gallery of amazing fantasy art.  Imagine an entire section given over to creators of geek product, whether they be webcomics, jewellery, soap, T-shirts, what-have-you.  And this goliath of stores has also put aside a section for fun nerd activities like LARP and videogame demos.  And if that weren’t enough, periodically they bring in nerd celebrities to sign things for you and say hello.

That would be a pretty damn amazing game store, wouldn’t it?  The sort of place you’d wish to have your gamer ashes buried when you die?  That store exists for four days a year my friends, and it is the Gencon Dealer’s Room.  Other dealer rooms dream of growing up to be one tenth as cool.

I’ll talk about demos and such later on, because 1) Wow. ; 2) I only had three hours and I’m not done yet! (re: aforementioned Ginormous); and 3) they deserve a post all their own.  Let me leave it with an understated, “I had fun.” And move on.

My only real shopping for the weekend was done at the Paizo booth, with my sweet, sweet store credit.  As often happens, however, if one does not pay in money one pays in time; the store was busy with a capitol “Buh! How long is the line!?”  I stepped up to what I thought were three marginally long lines at the counter, confident that I might make it out of the booth in under 20 minutes.  Jason Bulmahn, Game Designer and Line Warden extraordinaire graciously corrected my mistake and directed me to the end of the “feeder line” which stretched out and around almost three sides of the 25’-on-a-side booth.  Twenty minutes later I could see the counter again, and ten after that I was back at the front of the feeder line.  And then, 15 minutes later, I had my purchases and my escape into the rest of the hall.

*      *      *

Gencon Protip:  If you can avoid it, try not to buy anything in the Dealer Room first thing on the Thursday.  Sometimes it can’t be avoided (exclusives, limited copies of new product and so on), but seriously, wait even a few hours if you can.  It could mean the difference between an hour wait in line versus a ten minute wait in line.  And time is not your friend at Gencon!

*     *     *

That afternoon was the start of my weekend’s GMing servitude in the Pathfinder Organized Play salt-mines.  I arrived a half-hour before my start time because frankly I’m a hero.  Arriving early turned out to be a good choice, because there seemed to be a bit of organizational confusion as to how they wanted to muster us.  But because we are all awesome people things were worked out and my table got underway.

I won’t bore you with a play–by-play, but the table ran well and just about everybody had fun.  I say just about everybody, because one of the guys at my table brought his ten-year-old son along with him to the game and made him play.  Now the boy seemed really smart and I have no doubts that he could rock Pathfinder, if he was at all interested in it.  He was not.  Probably didn’t help that he was given the cleric pre-gen to play (not a good beginner character), but it became clear that no amount of GM-fu on my part was going to bring this kid into the light during the session.  Luckily, before I could kill myself trying the father’s other friend showed up and took over for the son, who was freed to play the DS he always dreamed of.  Things were smoother after that and the table rocked its way to the end of one of my favourite Society scenarios, #3-18 The God’s Market Gamble.

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Gencon Protip:  Hey, parents bringing your kids to Gencon.  I’m super-excited you are exposing your child(ren) to your nerdery.  I can’t think of a better place to do it, because as you know Gencon is pretty damn nerdy.  But there is a right way and a wrong way.  Wrong way: tagging your kid along behind you to events you love that he/she is too young to understand/enjoy, and getting cranky because your child won’t just sit quiet and let you play.  Not to alarm you, but that child is not just an elaborate doll, it is a miniature human.  The right way?  Take in any of the hundred or so age-appropriate events for kids at Gencon, you moron!  If you can’t do that because it will cramp your M:TG draft chances, don’t bring your kid with you.  Because all you are sharing is grief with the rest of us.

*     *     *

We finished with enough time to allow me a meal between sessions.  Time being what it was, I bought a slice of pizza in the convention centre.  $4 got me a huge slice of mediocre pizza (“Passable and Plenty of it!”) and I waited for the next slot which was another table of the exact same scenario.  Whether it was the warm-up table or the dearth of disaffected pre-teens, my evening slot went really well.  The players were buying what I was selling and there were triumph and tears in equal measure.  Not only that, we finished a bit early, which meant I could head back to my room before midnight.

I know, I know, a hardcore gamer like me, scurrying back to his hotel room like a frightened little mouse.  Look, I have no doubt I could find a game to join at that hour; I passed enough of them on my way out of the ICC.  But the fact is, dorks, I wasn’t there on my time, I was there on Paizo’s.  They trust me to run good tables, and I can’t do that if I am slobbering tired from playing Dawn Patrol until, well, dawn.  If I was there just for me, you bet I’d be gaming.  But I’m not, and it’s called maturity (oh how I hate it so).

Okay, Day One is a wrap!  Games played, merch bought and swag…swagged.  Stay tuned for Day Two, coming to a blog post near you!  Assuming you come here, or subscribe.

Year of the Con: Gencon

Let’s assume I’ve made the standard excuses for a long blog absence, and you have decided to forgive me or not.  Stuff that happened during that absence will end up on the blog eventually but it is not part of today’s subject.  Because today’s subject is…

Gencon!

I made it back this year, against some pretty staggering odds.  Hard to complain too much about that, especially when some of those odds were self-inflicted.  Suffice to say I was pretty much not going to make it this year, until, due to the saint-like generosity of a friend, I was.  I can certainly do without the whiplash inducing status changes, but since I am writing this from a coffee shop in Indianapolis I can hardly argue with the result.  So I will say another hearty thank-you to my benefactor, and get on to the meat of this post.

I won’t go too much into the drive down, except that it was better and worse than the drive down last time.  Like last time there were five of us in the vehicle, and despite its spaciousness five seems to be the number that causes “cabin fever” despite wishes to the contrary.  That was enhanced by the fact we were driving straight through, 31 hours in one shot (with appropriate breaks to switch drivers and for intake/outflow).  It was somewhat offset, however, by the most mother-beautiful air conditioning ever.  I can last pretty much indefinitely in an air-conditioned vehicle; without it I become…tetchy.  The only other thing I’ll say about the drive is kudos to Don, who manoeuvred us through some pretty dense Chicago inter-state traffic at midnight, despite the best efforts of teamsters trying to cut our trip short.  Well done, sir!

Today is technically Day Zero, since Gencon proper doesn’t begin until 9am Thursday.  But Wednesday is the day that Indianapolis is invaded by gamers, like zombies descending on an ICU.  And what is so cool among all the other cool things, is how much Indianapolis embraces Gencon and its participants.  For blocks around the Indianapolis Convention Centre (ICC) the city has posted banners welcoming us.  Shops and stores display a variety of posters and signage welcoming us and reminding us of Gencon specials.  Nobody seems terribly dismayed by the high geek concentration in the crowds downtown, and that is a sort of excellent.

Currently I am waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt, where Paizo is putting me up for the weekend.  Check-in time isn’t for a few hours yet, and I don’t want to be one of Those Guests by trying to wheedle my way into my room early.  The lobby has a coffee shop and free wi-fi, so I have everything I need for the moment.  While the weather is not at the same scorching levels it achieved the last time I was here, it is hot enough to make me glad the Hyatt is attached to the ICC by pedway.  Because I will be one of Those Guests and not go outside all weekend unless I have to.

*     *     *

Pro Traveller Tip: If you want to freak out your American barrista, forget you aren’t in Canada and try to pay for your coffee with a Twonie.  It’s like I tried to pay with diseased Monopoly-money™.  Once she figured out I was Canadian, and I actually had good-ol’ American cash, everything was good.  Update: The barrista has found a collection of Canadian music and is now playing it. Apology? Revenge? Changes song to song.

*     *     *

Today is a pretty light day for me, certainly compared to my Pathfinder GM schedule over the rest of Gencon.  Meet my roomies for the next four days, then the Venture-Captain dinner tonight.  After the dinner I may or may not check out some gaming goodness at a local game store.  More likely I’ll go back to my room and put the finishing touches on a few of the scenarios I haven’t run prior to this Gencon (they didn’t exist until this Gencon, making me one of the first GMs to run people through them, which is exciting to me).  And then up early to hit the Dealer Room for 9am, because there are folks to visit and games to demo.

I will update daily, as my schedule allows.  Some updates may be more detailed than others, also schedule dependant.  Honestly, one of them might just be a “Squeeee!”.  But they’ll come.

I get the rare privilege of spending five days in the company of My People. So for now I’m just happy to be here, and working to enjoy the moment while the moments come!

Enjoying the Con Game

I am GMing this weekend at Underground Con, a one day gaming convention in Calgary.  I am running two slots of Pathfinder Society Organized play, and taking part as a GM in the Iron GM Local competition.  Underground Con is a great grass-roots gaming con, and if you are in Calgary or environs, I recommend you check out their site and maybe stop by for some gaming.  At this time they are about 75% sold out, and pre-reg deadline is this Wednesday, June 6.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of conventions in general; I think they can be one of the best experiences for gamers.  In honour of UGC, I thought I’d share three suggestions on how to get the maximum fun from your con gaming experience.

Try Something New – When you’re at home you usually game with your friends.  You have the games you like to play and while you might try something new occasionally, generally we all tend to stick to what we enjoy.

But a con is the perfect place to try out a game you’ve never played before.  First off, you can do it with no cost to yourself (other than the cost of the convention, of course), since either the con or the game runner have supplied the game.  Many gaming conventions run special beginner-only events and/or demos.  And if they don’t, the games are usually set up to accommodate a variety of skill levels, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting thrashed and can just enjoy learning the game.  Role-playing games at cons usually (should always, in my opinion) have pre-gen characters available so you can just sit down, jump into the story and start slinging dice.  With all that, there really is no excuse not to give something new a try.  Who knows, you might just find your home group’s new favourite game.

Let Everyone Have Their Moment – I think we have all met That Gamer, the one who needs to be the center of attention in every moment.  And you can’t blame them.  There is nothing sweeter than the moment the story rests in your hands, and it all comes down to your roll of the die.  And in your home game it’s likely okay if the focus is on your character for an entire session.  After all there will be more sessions, and a good GM will make sure that all the players get some spotlight time.

But con RPGs are a different beast.  They are usually one-offs and only last about 4-5 hours.  If you keep the spotlight on you that entire time, how much fun do you think the other players are having?  And they paid to be there, same as you.  Don’t they deserve to have just as much fun?  So yes, take your time in the spotlight.  But once you’ve had your time, let someone else have theirs.  And if you want to go a step further, keep your eyes open for the player(s) at the table who might be wallflowering.  Help that player get their awesome shiny moment.  Trust me, there is a lot of fun to be had by making sure other people have fun.

Be Good to the Volunteers – I am generally a calm and friendly sort of guy.  It takes a lot of provocation to get me angry, because anger rarely achieves anything in itself.  But one of the few times I ever got angry was at Gencon 2010, when the guy in line in front of me to pick up event tickets did his best Irate Douche Canoe impression on the volunteer helping him, because his tickets had been misplaced (turns out they were one envelope out of order in the file box).  Not only did I and several other gamers tell him his impression was not appreciated, but we made sure to apologize for him and thank the volunteer for his time.

Look, it takes a lot of work to put on a convention.  And generally all of that work is done by volunteers.  To make sure that you have an enjoyable day (or two, or three, or four), these folks have been working on their own time for months beforehand, organizing, planning and worrying over the event at which you’ve just arrived.  And yes, despite all this planning and organizing, sometimes things still go wrong.  Mistakes happen, because we are human.  Your tickets might be misplaced.  The schedule might shift, because one of the GMs (also a volunteer) has had a personal emergency come up.  Your game might be overbooked.  These things can suck, but they aren’t personal; no one with the con is purposely trying to mess with your fun.

So have patience, and try to meet these little setbacks with a smile.  And at every opportunity, acknowledge the volunteers.  Thank the person who gives you your pass and/or tickets.  Thank your game master.  If you see the volunteer collecting full garbage bags, thank them.  They aren’t getting paid in money, so make your sincere thanks your currency.

What are your tips for enjoying conventions?  What experiences have you had at gaming cons?  Share them in the comments below.

Update: The Year of the Con

Those of you in my inner circle (anyone who reads the blog even once) will know that I declared 2012 The Year of the Con.  I am still on track to attend more cons this year than I have in years past.  But as with many great plans, the exact details have changed since implementation; life has decided to step in and deliver a few curves.  Am I still going to a metric @&%$-load of cons this year?  Yes.  But I’ve had to focus and sort out my priorities, and that has led to some changes.  Let’s take a look…

Emerald City Comicon – Unfortunately, I’ve had to drop this con from my list.  Looking at finances, I could have made attending this con work, but at the risk of missing out on one of the two other US cons I have this year.  As much as I wanted to hit a big con with my buddies, the other two cons now have a higher priority (I’ll tell you why when we get to them).  Since I’m not willing to risk missing out on the other two, this one had to go.  But it is definitely pencilled-in for next year, because there are definitely things I want to see at this con.

Calgary Expo – Given their big announcement recently (all the ST:TNG principle cast? Yes please!), it breaks my heart to have to drop this one.  But my new job at Wizard’s Comics means that I have to stay behind and watch the store while the owner and my boss are flying the Wizard’s flag at the con.  Such are the trials and tribulations of geekdom.  There are two silver linings to this cloud: 1) there is an outside possibility I can make it down for at least the Sunday, which would be cool; and 2) there are people attending that will allow me to give them money to get autographs from some of the guests.  So the Calgary Expo won’t be a total write-off, but my participation is definitely diminished.

Paizocon – Okay, here’s the first piece of positive news!  I am all registered, and locked in to run some games at the event.  I have transportation worked out, thanks to the Venture-Captain from Winnipeg; I’ll join him and a few friends in their road-trip to the con.  The only thing I haven’t done is book my hotel room, but I can now divert the funds I was saving for ECCC (*sniff*) to do this sooner rather than later.  So Paizocon is a definite go, and I am looking forward to hanging out with the company for which I volunteer.  Plus, an entire weekend of Pathfinder? Yes please!

Gencon – This con is a definite go as well.  As a Venture-Captain I get advanced dibs on volunteering to run Pathfinder events at Gencon, and I have volunteered for enough slots that Paizo is taking care of my weekend pass AND putting me up in a hotel room (with 3 other GMs).  So all I have to do is get there.  Which is where the Nerdbus comes into play.  Kris over at Warp One Comics is organizing a road trip from Edmonton to Gencon for any nerds that want to make the trip.  You can get the full package (weekend pass, hotel and transport) for a staggeringly reasonable $650.  Since I have two out of three covered already, I am opting for just transport which gets me a price reduction on that.  And looking at the latest update, it looks like it’ll be Nerd RVs as opposed to a Nerdbus.  Which makes a heck of a lot of sense, both for comfort and scale-ability of the trip.  So if you were thinking of going to Gencon, I think Nerdbus might be your best bet.

At this point you might be thinking, “Okay, but so far that is just two cons.  How does two cons equate to the Year of the Con, slappy?”  First off, that “slappy” was hurtful and unnecessary.  Second, I am adding some more cons to the list.  I’ll post later with details, but I have added the following conventions to my Year of the Con: Pop Culture Fair (March 4);  Edmonton Collectible Toy & Comic Show (April 1);  Prairie Con 33 (June 1-3); Underground Con (June 9); Animethon (August 10-12); and of course Pure Speculation is on the list as well.  So fret not, fair reader, I am packing the year with conventions big and small.

What conventions are you hitting this year?  Talk them up in the comments below…

Con Game Update

I posted a little while back about 2012 being my Year of the Con; attending cons is my priority for 2012.  Well I recently hit my first snag in my Year of the Con, and I won’t be attending Futurecon as originally planned.  It makes me very sad, because Liana K. and her gang have put together a really rocking event in support of a great cause.  But things just weren’t lining up, and then a few things popped up that made the timing impossible.  Fret not, I’m still attending a Futurecon, but it has moved from the con that kicks off my Year of the Con to the event that will cap my con-filled year.  So Futurecon, look for my coming on the morning of the fifth day…in 2012.

So that bumps Emerald City Comicon to the front of the list, and I’m pretty excited about it!  Not only will I get my first taste of Seattle, but I’ll be travelling with friends, which for me makes the trip that much better.  Trust me, if you get a chance to share you nerdery with friends at a con, I highly recommend it, it is so choice!

Even with Futurecon still there at the end, my con schedule looks a little light.  I may have to consider adding Prairiecon in there, just to beef it up a bit.  We’ll see…

*     *     *

It’s that holiday time of year, and you may be wondering what sort of dorky things I’m up to over the holidays.  No?  Well, tough crap, I’m going to tell you anyway.

I’m actually working on some holiday themed writing, one short-fiction and one RPG.  The short fiction piece is for a call for submissions from Carina Press, looking for novella-length holiday-themed SF stories.  I’m having a lot of fun with my tale of being forced to celebrate the Solstice on a planet with an eccentric orbit; I hope the selection committee has as much fun with it.  And the RPG piece is for RPG Geek’s Holiday Adventure Contest, where I am charged to write a winter holiday-themed role-playing adventure.  I don’t want to tip my hand too much for this one, because I may inflict it on unsuspecting players at a future date.  But the naughty should definitely beware!

Other than that, my holiday season is going to be pretty sedate.  I’m cooking a turkey for a Solstice party, and I’ll get down to see my folks and family for a few days.  I’m also putting up a tree for the first time in years, and of course there will be some geekiness in its decoration.  And yes, there will be pictures.  And we’ll cap off the year and start the next with the traditional New Year’s Day brunch here at the house.  Because really, what better way to start the year than with good friends, good food and assorted games and nerdery?  None better, the answer is none better.

So what about you folks?  Any holiday plans, geeky or otherwise?  Drop me a little present in the comments section and let me know what you’re up to.

Random Acts of Publicity: LitFest

For the final instalment in Random Acts of Publicity Week, instead of talking about a single book by someone I know, I’m going to talk about a single book festival by someone I know.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you LitFest, produced by my pal David Cheoros.

As described on the website:

“Litfest is a festival, not a conference. We don’t just sit around and read books (although we do that too). At LitFest, nonfiction content comes to life. Avid readers with nonfiction content and creators through a series of events chic gatherings and gourmet experiences.

LitFest is an exclusive event. LitFest is the only nonfiction festival in Canada. It brings together some of the best-selling, award-winning and emerging authors of books, magazine and film content. It also supports Edmonton as a local incubator for nonfiction literary talent.”

Begun in 2002 as the successor to the Alberta Book Fair, LitFest provides 10-days of non-fiction literary programming.  The festival presents a wide range of readings and events focused on some of the most interesting non-fiction writing to be had today.  Examples: Irshad Manji discussing the content of her books The Trouble with Islam Today and Allah, Liberty and Love; Will Ferguson reading from Canadian Pie; A Taste of Scots, featuring a reading from How the Scots Invented Canada by author Ken McGoogan, followed by a reception toasting Scotland (yes, including whiskey).  And this is just a fraction of the events running over the ten days; the schedule has to be seen to be believed.

One of the things I love about this festival is that it is not set in a single location in the city.  Events for LitFest run at locations in St. Albert and Spruce Grove, as well as various locations around Edmonton: the Stanley Milner library, Garneau Theatre, Haven Social Club and The ARTery, just to name a few.  This was a great choice by LitFest, because it gives the festival a very inclusive community feel, as well as opening up what would otherwise be and Edmonton festival to our surrounding communities.

You can buy a Festival Pass, or pick up tickets for individual readings and events.  You can even grab a Gold Pass that will get you into the festival and the special events, like the Charles Taylor Prize Gala, A Brunch of Writers and Genu-Wine.  Tickets and passes can be picked up in advance through Tix on the Square.

If you love reading non-fiction, and want to expose yourself to some of the best in NF literature, LitFest is the place you need to be.  Check out the LitFest website for details like event times and locations, and make sure to take in an event or two or ten, during the October 12-23 run.  You will likely see me there.

Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Below.

Animethon Wrap-up!

If you swung by the site Sunday looking for an Animethon Day 2 post, my apologies.  Due to a combination of illness and staying up Saturday night gaming until 2am, I not only didn’t get back to Animethon on Sunday, but I pretty much spent the day sleeping/dozing on the couch.  So today, which was going to be the Day 3 post, is instead a combination Day 2 and con wrap-up.

So, Saturday at Animethon!  I got to the con a little before 8:30am.  A clever reading of the Animethon Program Book told me the Tim Horton’s in the Cafeteria would be open, and I bee-lined there as soon as I passed through the doors.  As I am enviro-friendly and a coffee-hog, I brought my ginormous TH travel mug with me and cackled with glee as the TH hostess filled it.  Coffee and breakfast biscuit sandwich in hand, I made my way to the first viewing of the day.

Which was Evangelian 2.22.  Underwhelmed by part one I wanted to give it one more chance.  And overall I was glad I did.  The characters seem to have more direction, especially the main character piloting Eva-1.  Still plenty of whining, mind you, but at least the events of part two justified his whining.  I am still “meh” as far as Evangelian itself goes, and I don’t know that I will follow it up on my own time, but it was an enjoyably relaxing start to the day.

Starting the day relaxed was a good choice as it turns out, because my next stop was the Dealer’s Room.  Situated in a level of the parkade at the West end of the con, the Animethon dealer’s area is consistently loud, crowded and dimly lit.  I’m not certain why it continues to be placed there, when there are better areas to locate it (in the new university buildings for instance).  Poor location or not, anime-niacs flock to the dealer’s tables looking for deals on manga, anime and other fan products.  Not a huge fan of crowds, and knowing that I wasn’t in the market for anything (unemployment saves me from overspending yet again!) I planned to make a cursory round of the hall just to see if anything stood out.

While making my rounds I ran into my good pal Melissa, head creator/proprietor of Attic Raiders.  A fixture at many conventions, Melissa is the go-to person for steampunk accessories and creations.  She is always a joy to talk with; funny, kind and a huge nerd her own self.  I spent almost an hour catching up with her and generally shooting the breeze.  Then she was needed back at her table, so I moved on.

Not much more to say about the Dealer’s Room.  Some general advice, which will stand you in good stead in any con’s dealer area: buy the thing you really MUST HAVE right away, because chances are good other people MUST also HAVE it.  Anything else?  Wait until Sunday if you can.  Many dealers will give deals then because they would rather sell at a lower price than haul the material back. And if they don’t give a deal, then you haven’t missed out on anything and you can buy it like you planned.  Also, if you can afford it try to leave yourself a 10-20% money buffer for the assorted “Cool Things You Just Discovered You Can’t Live Without”.  You will always find them, so why not plan for them?

Leaving the hustle and bustle of the hot, dank Dealer’s Room (did I mention a parkade is a really bad place for this?) I made my way back to the Cafeteria for some lunch before my next viewing.  And promptly ran into my buddy Andy, playing Go.  I have to say that running into friends that I don’t normally get to hang out with is well up there on the list of reasons I love attending cons.  Andy is a member of my Thursday night Pathfinder game but we don’t see each other much outside that. So I chatted with him for a bit while he finished his game and then he joined me for lunch.  Turns out he was there as his daughter’s driver/dogsbody for the day, as she and her friends took in some Animethon goodness.  It was a good time, and we got to chat for a while about things besides Pathfinder and anime…even though the conversation did come back to those eventually.

Parting ways with Andy and refilling my coffee, I made my way to my next viewing.  A Channel turned out to be a delightful coming-of-age story, following four friends in their day-to-day schoolgirl lives.  It reminded me a great deal of another anime, Azumanga Daioh, though not as surreal or absurd in style.  But it was funny and cute, and while it isn’t a priority for me I will likely pick-up the series at some point.  One thing I will note: if you watch enough anime you will notice some characters popping up that have…strange fetishes.  In the case of A Channel, this character was one of the male teachers that had a – wait for it – forehead fetish.  I was sure I was missing some obscure joke or point in the episode where it first appeared.  But no, he got all weak in the knees over bare foreheads.  Yeah.  I have no idea either.

I grabbed yet another coffee because I was feeling run down (little did I know the illness lurking), and headed over to my last event of the day.  Not a viewing this time, oh no.  Something I had looked forward to since I saw it on the schedule Friday: a talk on Life & Travel in Japan!  I have long had it in my head to travel to Japan, so this seemed the perfect chance to get some insight from someone who had not only travelled and worked there extensively, but could also talk about Japan post-earthquake (she had just returned from 3-months there).

Catriona Michaluk gave a great presentation on the various ways to travel in Japan (vacation, working holidays, couch surfing; yes, couch surfing), what to look out for with regards to accommodations, food, banking, travel inside the country and customs to be aware of.  She spoke enthusiastically about living and working there, the friendliness of the people, and you could really tell how much she loved the country.  Here are three little tidbits of information from the presentation:

  • Getting accommodations in Tokyo during Golden Week (in May) and around New Years is virtually impossible.  If you haven’t pre-booked your best bet will be a manga cafe. $10 will get you a pallet behind a curtain…and not much else.
  • Japan is a cash economy.  Almost no business takes foreign credit cards and few even take debit (especially foreign debit).  Her advice: got to a Japan Post Office ATM and take out the money you need each day to avoid any issues.
  • My favorite: Japan has drinking buffets!  For a flat fee ($7-$9) you can drink as much as you would like in a 2-3 hour period.  Pro tip: make sure to go with a party of your Japanese hosts, since these buffets are leery of serving foreigners.  I guess we drink too much which takes away their profit margin.

Catriona definitely fanned the embers of my Japan wanderlust, and I am seriously looking at ways I can make the trip happen in 2012.

And that was the end of my day.  I had gaming to attend in the evening so I left after that panel.  Of course at the time, my intention was to return for Sunday and get my Day 3 on!  The aforementioned illness/tiredness put paid to that plan, unfortunately, and so it was not meant to be.

But I definitely got the money’s worth out of my weekend pass.  Animethon is well attended and popular among the Japanese Culture fans here in Edmonton.  And if you are relatively new to the fandom like me,  there is no better place to jump in and learn.  With few exceptions everyone there is happy to answer questions you may have, and there is always something to watch, listen to or try out.  Would I recommend it?  Definitely.  Am I going back next year? You bet!

Some specific Animethon advice:

  • the only ATMs I found easily were the two in the Cafeteria on the main floor.  Hit them as soon as you arrive, because: a) Registration and Dealer’s Room are cash only, and b) long lines develop later in the day, leading to c) sometimes the ATMs run out of money on Sunday.
  • Hydrate, especially if you going into the Dealer’s Room.  The combination of thousands of attendees and decent AC mean that Animethon is warm and dry.  Drink water often, trust me.
  • If you are looking for viewings to take in, pick at least one title that you would normally leave on the shelf if you were buying an anime series.  This is a perfect chance to try new things, and worst case scenario? It sucks, you leave and hit another viewing.  Really, try something new.

That’s my Animethon wrap-up.  If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below.  And hey, if you were there and have some things I missed, comment on that as well.  Until tomorrow, gentles!