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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

So this is how GenCon 2014 was.

I don't go to a lot of conventions. I find them conceptually interesting, but kind of intimidating if I don't have friends there. Fortunately, for this giant thing attended by 56,614 people, I knew a whopping 7, including my husband.


Two of those people run a game review website, so this is the most fun kind of work for them. They were also the only two people I knew at the other con I attended this year, PlayOnCon. That was a far smaller, less intimidating gathering where I spent a few hours playing my first Pathfinder Society game and completely failing to find Cherie Priest anywhere.


The rest are my regular D&D gaming group. We're spread across 3 states (but only 2 time zones!) and play via Google Hangout with MapTools to run encounters where we actually have to care about relative positioning (read: combat). Our whole reason for going to GenCon was to play in a one off game DM'ed by one of the Zeitgeist campaign writers. This is a campaign we've been playing for the last 3 years on a semi-regular basis, but only the second time we've actually gotten to play in the same room together. It's a super interesting, well plotted set of adventures that make me think anyone who complains that 4E is "too combat oriented" or "doesn't support interesting characters" is just doing it wrong. 


So, of course, we all wore costumes, complete with first time leather working projects, pointy ears, costume weapons, and matching badges. And nobody warned the guest DM. It was a lot of fun and considerably more lighthearted than the actual adventure (seriously, my character recently got his sword arm cut off - that is not lighthearted fun. don't worry, though, it got better.)


Yes, that's my cell phone.


Minis, obviously the most important thing in this image.


Additional notes for those photos - I painted the ears to be a better match for my skin tone. They arrived in something better described as bloodless corpse tone. I commissioned the cell phone holder from a really excellent local cosplayer. The concept is stolen nearly directly from a Walter John Williams novel. The two painted minis were painted by a local artist who specializes in model painting. The crystal figures, used as psychic projections by the spirit medium in our squad, are my inheritance from my grandmother. The bottle of Knob Creek was empty before our play session was done.


And, technically, this is only Wednesday night, so we aren't even at GenCon. Or at our hotel - I think downtown Indianapolis is pretty much over oddly dressed people wandering about in August.


Thursday we had scheduled ourselves for a couple of crafting classes, and one of my friends entered the qualifier for the Net Runner tournament.


Our first class was a mini sculpting session that we weren't at all sure what was based on it's description. But it said beginners welcome, so why not? I've done some mini sculpting before for an entirely different D&D group. Our play setup involved maps that were scaled to 1/2" blogs instead of the standard 1" blocks, so I made a hideous looking set of minis sized to that (standard bases are closer to 1". This class turned out to be a basic techniques class for a 2 part epoxy called green stuff. It was excellent and lead by a very enthusiastic instructor who did a good job of keeping up with everyone's progress. We made a parchment scroll with a wax seat, a feather, and a tiny chain. My chain was terrible, in part because by that point, my work surface was so wet that I couldn't get the green stuff to stick to it. We don't use a lot of minis in our current game (since we're usually online), but I left with was feels like a good working knowledge for making basic additions and modifications to existing minis and a shiny set of metal tools.


We also wandered around the dealer room a bit, after the initial rush of the first morning opening. I picked up a copy of Mirror Empire because I knew Kameron Hurley had brought some early copies for one of the sellers. I also picked up a print from Lexxy Douglas that I've looked at several times online, but wasn't quite sure of the color until I saw it in person. It's going to look great in my library as soon as I get around to framing it. We also looked as some absurdly expensive titanium dice that have been heat treated with an acetylene torch to change the color. At over $300 for the heat anodized set, these are far too expensive to actually consider buying, but look how pretty.


Our next class is Coptic Stitch bookbinding. I really feel like I should know more about book binding, and now I kind of do. The instructor realized she had drilled the holes in the end plates incorrectly, but it wasn't something she could fix on site, so all our bindings look a little odd, but I sort of got the technique. This class really needed to not be in the same room as a class that must have been called "gossip loudly while you pretend to teach crochet because it's not like anyone is trying to hear any instructions for anything else in the room, and if someone in your class has a question, show a video from youtube so you can keep talking loudly to your friend." It was also quite clear that a curved needle would have made the whole process a lot smoother. I have since purchased a curved needle and plan to practice restitching my binding from the class a few times before trying a new one. It has the same appeal for me as stained glass, where design and color choices are all finalized upfront, and the rest is construction, but seems considerably more portable as a hobby.


The net runner tournament was still going, so we went to support our friend - ha ha, just kidding, we went out to a wine bar for dinner with his wife. They had cards you could use to charge individual tasting pours for bottles in a bunch of robots, and a menu of small plates. So, basically, make your own wine tasting - yet another craft! 


After that, we actually did go to the tournament to see when he would be done. Turns out not for hours. It was almost 12 hours for that day's qualifying round and he didn't quite make the cut for finals. 


Me in my yummy sushi pajamas.


Oh, right, this was the day I was dressed like Buffy in her yummy sushi pajamas. Again, downtown Indy is so over batting an eye at this stuff. This is also what I was wearing when I got my book signed after the Non Medieval Fantasy Panel. Alas, I would have preferred a different moderation style for that panel.


After that, all our activities fall under the heading of GinCon, which seems self explanatory and happens anywhere we happen to be that serves alcohol. Technically dinner might have been GinCon even though there wasn't gin. Technically, I don't even drink gin, but how could we call it anything else.


Friday I was back in my swordmage costume for most of the day because I did not put the damned thing together to only wear for a few hours of gaming. That made navigating the vendor spaces a bit more interesting, and I got a lot of complements on the cell phone holder.  Also, note for the next version, use a countersunk bit for the lens hole. My friend didn't cut that opening, I did before he painted so that's all on me. 


Selfie using the dagger.


Definitely countersink or drill a larger hole or try to own this "filter".


The item on our agenda for the evening was True Dungeon Adventure with all 8 of us plus 2 random strangers. They run two different story lines which you can select either puzzle or combat variants of. We had registered for both as puzzle, which had been the really good version last year. Also, thank you so much to the poor friend who persevered against the overtaxed servers when tickets went on sale and got us all into the same sessions. Only two people in our group had been to GenCon before, and they had played through one in a previous year. Basically, it's a live action dungeon crawl. You get a character card, each player is a different class with different skills and hit point totals. Magic users have to memorize things for spells - for druids it's the names of various shapes of leaves. For wizards its runes. Bards have to actually sing to grant bonuses, though they can sing whatever they want. In puzzle rooms, there are sometimes boxes that rogues can open using lockpicks in a game much like operation. Combat is a flick game where the monsters are drawn on the table with numbers - the number your token lands closest to is used as your attack value, and numbers around each weapon token indicate damage. The puzzles can be anything. The setup is 7 rooms, each with a 12 minute time limit. 


Our first adventure was finding an airship and getting it ready for flight. The first room was a fairly straight forward puzzle on a light table. It took us a while because you couldn't actually see what was on a piece if it wasn't on the table, but that was it. The hint from the rogue box was basically useless. The next room was a bit frustrating as it was a fight where none of us managed to actually hit the creature, aside from the wizard's magic missile (which, hint: NEVER MISSES). Then we got to the first of what would prove to be the downfall of enjoying puzzles type of puzzle. Basically, you have to solve a puzzle and then, you have to solve it again several more times with different initial conditions - that's not a puzzle, that's grind - with a time limit. So you get to feel clever for 2 seconds and then feel fucked as you try to push through each iteration. In this room, it was a pretty cool set of pillars and flexible tubing that everyone had to work together to get a "fuel pellet" with the right mixture of elements into the engine. When we got it to work, we felt like such badasses - and then the timer ran out before we could "solve" it again for the next pellet. There was another puzzle with a glowing ball that would follow a marker glowing the same color. We all had to stand around a table passing the markers (pyramids, cylinders, cubes, 6 to 8 inches high), and placing them on markings on the table to get the ball to move. That one was fun to figure out, and once you got the ball into the circle it was supposed to go to, you were done, so it was actually rewarding to figure out. Then it was two more repetitive tasks that weren't even puzzles so much as random walks to a solution. The last room, our group was divided in half with some people flying the ship and the rest of us on deck fighting a pair of dragons trying to destroy it. It was a lot of fun for us fighters as we'd flick our tokens and hear about how whatever awesome things our companions were doing were aiding our defenses. It didn't hurt that it ended with me sliding a token right on top of the 20 (the only hit I actually made in any combat on that play through). In debriefing with our friends, they said the flying part was not nearly as fun as they had to memorize a set of inlets and outlets and spent the whole battle being asked to identify different ones with no idea what was happening in the fight. So, all in all, it was an interesting experience, but not one any of us would seek out in the future - just not our type of fun. 


Of course, we had tickets for the other adventure. So after dinner we were back with another 2 random people. One of them plays this every year and has tons of tokens and really kitted out our whole group. Good thing too, as I double any of us would have made it out alive without that. This was a viper pit themed thing, which should have tipped us off. One of the things you get for the adventure is a "torch" which is actually just a cheap LED light that clips onto your lanyard. The one I got this time was only technically a light, and I couldn't actually use it to illuminate anything. I don't have great night vision to start with, so this basically was death to my usefulness to the group and nearly every room was so dark you couldn't see without a torch. Room one was yet another iterate or take damage puzzle. We took damage. Room 2 was kind of a cool puzzle, but the hint in the rogue box was actually so confusing that I wish we hadn't actually gotten that "hint". Then we had a long narrow hall with a bunch of markings on the floor. The "puzzle" was connecting a rope across matching symbols (described by the in-room DM as glowing, but not actually glowing so I couldn't see them at all) at least 6 times. We did ok, I guess. The next room was combat, and as soon as we walked in, there was a projection of the outline of a Medusa. So, obviously, I instantly looked down. Not everyone did, and several people were petrified a moment later when she stepped into the room. I kind of dug this room. It was a rough fight as any time you actually hit her, she got to roll to see if she petrified you. And that was just the table game. There was a woman dressed like Medusa winding her way through the group, tapping people on the shoulders and trying to trick them into looking at her. She also stood at the end of the table when we were sliding, so you basically flicked your token and stepped off to the side with no idea where it had landed because following it with your eyes might get you petrified. Not everyone enjoyed that room as much as I did. Next up was what should have been my moment to shine. A well lit room with a shallow sand pit on a table, and a knife sticking out of the sand. Again, I disagree on their definition of "puzzle" as this didn't have much solve to it. There was a set of six symbols and from the inscription on the wall (which I could actually read for a change) obviously you had to draw them in the sand and use the knife to cut your hand to fill in the symbol with blood. And it cost hit points every time you cut - so I have a use! Sack of hit points! Of course, you didn't really have to cut yourself, it was a costume knife. The whole thing relied on a projector technology that detected the shape drawn in the sand and your hands location to fill it with blood. Basically, this should have been the coolest part of the whole adventure, and if we'd done it 6 hours earlier, it would have been. Unfortunately, they run these all day without breaks, and the setup had been on for long enough that it was lagging in detecting motion and having trouble detecting depth. So instead of just drawing the symbol, we had to dig basically almost to the table surface to get the shape to register, and you had to hold your hand in exactly the right spot and move at exactly the right speed or it didn't register. And the DM in that room was a total douche canoe. We had a malfunctioning puzzle on the airship, and that DM totally rolled with it and made up some line about our Bard realizing that certain lights never came on (because they were broken) so we didn't get tripped up on an impossible task. This guy cut us no slack at all and just told us we were drawing it wrong before handing out more damage and shoving us into the next room. He had serious attitude. So, the worst technology glitch combined with the biggest asshole turned what should have been a great room into a horrible experience. The last room was another puzzle that I couldn't see well enough to help with, but we all survived. After the adventure, they collect the weirdest set of cheap bits for re-use. Seriously, 2 paper clips, the string from the lanyard, and the torch. I told them they might just want to throw my torch away as it didn't actually work and I couldn't see anything unless someone else shone their light on it for me. Their response was that people keep taking the lights and I can't keep it - which is in no way a response to the thing I actually said. Anyway, that adventure did an excellent job of highlighting how tenuous an experience this is, how the constant stream of groups doesn't allow for enough slack to deal with technology problems, and how one asshole DM can suck all the fun out of a room. 


So, after the first one, I could have recommended this experience with some reservations and caveats. After the second - fuck true dungeon. We went off for another evening of GinCon.


Saturday was supposed to be Felicity Smoak cosplay day, but I got up really late and realizes I'd either have time for hair and makeup or lunch before my scheduled Pathfinder Society event. I picked food. And put on my Dresden Codak t-shirt, so I guess I was dressed as a cyborg.


Pathfinder Society was once again a lot of fun. Possibly more so since this time I was playing a character I had built instead of one of the pregenerated starter characters. I was the only woman at my table, but hardly the only woman in the room. And nobody explained what a d20 was (don't laugh, it's happened before). It was a fun adventure that I don't want to throw spoilers out for (True Dungeon changes every year, so now that the con is over there's nothing to spoil), but wow did I not build that character for combat.


Pathfinder Society table top


I ended the session with only 2 HP left, but that's still standing, woo! Then I caught up with friends at a bar called the Libertine. If you happen to be in Indianapolis, go to the Libertine. Trust me on this one. They have a bacon flight. And a good cocktail menu. And laughed at our GinCon toasts. 


Sunday's checkout wasn't until 3PM, so after brunch at a tapas place a few blocks away, we made a few final passes through the dealer room. I picked up a set of bloodstone dice that I like so much I may need to order them in another size and a few other trinkets. I also got one goldstone d4 just to see how I felt about the material. It's very pretty, but is a glass with particles suspended in it and I'm not sure it's very durable. It, in fact, was already chipped when I got home, so I'm really glad I didn't get a whole set of them. In other news, I have a new Christmas ornament that looks a lot like a d4 made of goldstone. I also might now have one that looks like K-9. And possibly some new minis that don't even go with my current games. Also, some copper dice.


So, that was GenCon. We did some crafts, some gaming, a panel, shopping, and a lot of hanging out with friends. I  doubt we'll go back as it was really a lot of people, but I'm glad I got to go once.


And now my hair is back to short and brownish. 


my current hair.


Was anyone else there? Or at Worldcon, which was the same weekend?