elcome back, kids! It was a long, surprisingly hot summer in Seattle— mostly pleasant, but not without a few challenging encounters. My constitution was low and my hit points took a beating, but after an extended rest, I’m back and ready to roll. (See what I did there?)
Because I took off for a couple months. You did notice, right?
This time of year always fills me with sentimental longing for days gone by, and excited anticipation for what’s to come. Must be a throwback to my “back to school” days, when I dreaded the conclusion of my All My Children-watching, nap-taking, pint-of-Heavenly-Hash-every-day-for-lunch lifestyle, all the while looking forward to showing the world the new fall wardrobe I pieced together with my car washing enterprise proceeds.
This year in particular I’m feeling especially sentimental as September marks five years since Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress was published. Five years! Can you believe it? My friends have babies younger than that book! And next month will be five years of writing this column. (I’m sure the editors already have my cake on order.)
This also means that my parents are allowed back into that Barnes & Noble where they caused such a ruckus on release day.
The dog days of summer are becoming mere flecks in the rearview window, and I don’t need a calendar or a new wardrobe to tell me that. The true winding down of the season is signaled by the conclusion of convention season, which also happens to be a summer highlight. Sure, it’s a lot of work leading up to the big events—namely Gen Con—but it’s always worth it. Even if the Midwest humidity gives me the same coif as the drummer from Cinderella (circa 1987), or I spin into a frenzy 30,000 feet in the air when I realize that I forgot to pack my lavender-scented eye mask, it all becomes a minor blip on the radar when I spy a fellow passenger reading a Salvatore novel, or rolling a Warhammer-branded carrying case down the airplane aisle, or sporting a t-shirt with a dragon, axe, pithy game-inspired slogan, or all of the above. Gen Con gives us 40,000+ reasons to love our jobs.
Or the displays of Halloween candy in the drug stores. Chill out, Walgreens! Reese’s cups aren’t going anywhere.
My senior yearbook picture and his picture are nearly identical.
It’s no easy feat trying to explain Gen Con to someone who isn’t a gamer. The best I can do is to say that it’s like a high school reunion where everyone was popular and is genuinely happy to see one another. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. There’s camaraderie in the air. Friendships blossoming in food court lines, romance ignited over a cosplay compliment, adventuring parties reunited over the D&D table. This year they may have inadvertently attended Gen Con at the same time, but it very well might be that for years to come they’ll make a point of attending together. This is the stuff family vacations are made of. Honeymoons, even! Heck—there was even a wedding at Gen Con this year.
So I guess it’s not like a high school reunion at all, really.
Bart was so jealous.
So, what did I do on my Gen Con summer vacation? Thank you for asking!
The Rise of the Underdark. And the Rate of Family Therapy Sessions.
My bestie, Lolth, was in our booth. So imagine my delight when two sisters dressed in elaborate drow costumes came by and spied their Demon Queen. They spent a lot of time bowing before her and posing with attendees, which almost everyone loved. I’m a big fan of Lolth, but amazingly, she’s not universally appealing.
Babies, it turns out, hate her.
There was a mom, dad, and adorable baby boy in our booth who wanted a picture with Lolth. Only this wasn’t a family photo. The parents handed their son over to the drow sisters, who proceeded to hoist the child into the air as an offering to Lolth. Maybe it was the costumes, maybe it was the crowd of cheering onlookers, maybe it was the really pissed off giant spider-lady. Whatever it was, it made that poor kid act like someone who just realized she forgot her lavender-scented eye mask. There was kicking, screaming, and shrieking—and when he cried out for his Mommy, I almost went running for him. I can only imagine what sort of trauma he’ll suffer the first time he’s old enough to recognize a spider lurking in the corner of his bedroom, but at least his parents (and dozens of other Gen Con attendees) got a really funny picture.
In times of crisis, I have a real maternal streak. At college, I saved a bunny from being eaten by a snake at a frat party. I literally snatched that rabbit from the teeth of a boa and ran all the way home with it stuffed inside the arm of my jacket.
Is That Really Elminster?
Is it me, or were there were more people in costumes this year? (And seriously, Dr. Octopus, I can’t even sew a button onto my pants. How can you fabricate tentacles out of coffee filters and Diet Sprite cans?)
One of the funniest conversations I overheard at the show was a woman asking her husband if the tall, white-bearded gentleman in the D&D booth was supposed to be Elminster.
“Well, kind of,” her husband said. “I mean, that is Ed Greenwood.”
“He dresses up like Elminster?” she asked. “That’s so cute!”
He paused for a moment before answering. “No, I think he’s just being Ed.”
Ed being Ed is also one of my most favorite parts of Gen Con. I mean, here’s this guy who created the Forgotten Realms—a world where millions of adventures have taken place—when he was six years old! You’d think that a guy might develop a bit of an ego over something like that, but not Ed. He’s as gracious with the first fan in line to get an autograph as he is with the last one he sees on his way out of town.
I invented the Orange Triangles when I was six. They were an alien rock band whose #1 hit was called Mustard in the Garden.
And yes, he does sort of look like a kindly wizard.
Wait. You Guys Know Each Other?
This may come as a shock to you, but I actually know people who work at Paizo Publishing. I’m even kind of friends with some of them. (I know! Crazy!) When a Paizo-employed friend came by to get his picture taken with Lolth, we had a nice little chat about our cats, Mexican food trucks, and his wife’s Etsy shop. He was adorned in his Paizo shirt, I was rocking a shrunken Wizards polo, and this really seemed to freak out a few people. (Is that the theme from West Side Story I hear?)
At the start of every convention season, I ask for three new polo shirts and promise the Events team that I will not put my shirts in the dryer. I have killed at least thirteen innocent polo shirts this way. I am a monster.
“Wait,” an attendee said, spinning us around to face him. “You guys are talking to each other?”
“We’re friends,” I said, not getting why this was weird.
The attendee fumbled around in his fanny pack for his camera. “This I need a picture of.”
“Umm . . . that’s weird,” my Paizo friend muttered.
“Could you, like, fake-slap each other?” the attendee asked.
“Now, that’s weird,” I replied. We politely declined his request and resumed our conversation.
Not to disappoint anyone, but there’s no Jets vs. Sharks mentality going on here. The success of our RPG counterparts speaks to the health of the overall industry, and that’s a good thing for everyone.
Gen Con Keynote
If you weren’t there in person, perhaps you’ve had a chance to view the Gen Con keynote online. We worked hard on that event, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it came out. I mean, it involved a smoke machine and Dio. How could it not be a good event?
To some, the thought of being even in the wings of a stage in front of nearly a thousand people (not counting those was watching online) is enough to send them into a fear-induced tailspin. To others (like, oh, say . . . me), it brings back their dreams of being the ingénue on All My Children, and it requires every bit of willpower they can muster to keep from rushing onto the stage.
The keynote required a few rehearsals so the key players could get the feel of the stage (and of working together) before the big event, only some couldn’t be present, due to prior commitments. In these cases, a stand-in was required. Someone to go on stage and test the microphones levels, get the lighting placement just right, or cue up the visuals. Well, I just happened to be present and ready to help out. (What? I’m a team player!)
Pardon my digression, but this is important to note. When I was in second grade, I was cast as a bluebird in a school play. Not terribly exciting, because pretty much all of Miss Denson’s class were playing bluebirds, but I was the only bluebird with a speaking line, so that was pretty cool. I was also one of only two girls in the class with long, dark hair, which made me a likely candidate for the coveted role of “the witch.” Had my mother not totally sabotaged my one shot at stardom by scheduling a dentist appointment on the day of the auditions, I’m sure I would have gotten the part. Instead it went to Heather Handford. I was crushed! Whenever she spoke one of her thousands of lines, I glared at her from my position under the oak tree, fists clenched under the protection of my poster board wings. That’s my role! I thought. I’m the witch!
“Don’t let the witch put us in a cage, Maryann! The world needs bluebirds to make it happy!”
Then, because the universe loves me, Heather came down with a very rare case of the measles four days before opening night, and I was asked to take the part (which I already had totally memorized). Just as I was about make a commanding entrance and convince the entire second grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School that I was a better witch than Heather, that red-faced, itchy monster and her mother burst through the doors of the auditorium. Apparently the “measles” were just a newly diagnosed “allergy to red foods.”
Now, back to present day, where I was once again asked to stand in for a starring role.
First, I was tasked with playing the part of Kevin Kulp, the Master of Ceremonies. Just as I heard the words, “ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Kulp,” I heard another voice. Wow, I thought. I know I was a theater major and all, but I’m really good at imitating Kevin! And then the microphone was ripped from my hands and handed to the real Kevin Kulp.
Actually, it was kindly requested, and gently removed. But it was ripped from my dreams.
Next, I was asked to fill in for Ed Greenwood, who was going to be late due to a panel.
I’ve so got this, I thought. Ed’s panels always go late because he lingers and chats with everyone after—he can’t help it. The lights were on, the visuals were cued, there were even little puffs of fog coming out of the smoke machine. I was in the zone. I was a young Dixie Cooney—farm girl from Pigeon Hollow and soon-to-be eighth ex-wife of Pine Valley mogul, Adam Chandler. Errr . . . I mean, I was Ed Greenwood—prolific, genius, and kindly wizard. But who should my wizardly eyes see walking down the aisle towards the stage? Oh, you know it. Ed.
See the section about Elminster above. The man is a sweetheart!
You might think that would be enough humiliation for one attention hog, but it wasn’t over. I was sent into the audience where I, along with four other people, would play the roles of the Sundering authors, so the lighting guy would know where to shine the spotlight when they were introduced. Not only were we to stand up, turn around, and wave to our adoring public, but our mighty mugs would be broadcast on the giant TVs flanking the stage.
Damn! Wrong day to eschew the tinted moisturizer!
I was playing the part of Troy Denning, and would be introduced last. First Laura stood up, playing Richard Lee Byers. Next Nathan, aka Erin Evans, got up and half-heartedly waved to the make-believe crowd. Then we had Marcy pretending to be Paul Kemp—while texting! Take your job seriously, people!
Yep. The real Troy.
The good news is that the keynote went off without a hitch, which I’m sure was due to in no small measure to the talented people who graciously donated their time to be stood-up stand-ins.
We Have Been Through Hell
During the keynote, I was standing backstage watching a whole lot of talented people in headsets doing a whole lot of work. About thirty minutes into the event, I heard the backdoor open, and saw two guys peek their heads in.
I was also eating a Panera Bread chocolate chip cookie that was so delicious it’s worth giving its own footnote.
Who the heck are these interlopers? I thought. No way am I going to letting them disrupt this flawlessly executed evening just because they think this is where the A Christmas Carol auditions are being held!
I rushed up to them in hopes of coaxing them back into the dark, dank corridor they came from. When I got close enough, I saw they had a note scratched on cardboard in what looked like an orange crayon. It read:
And pointing them to the 2nd floor, where the auditions really were being held.
Please help us.
We have been through hell.
We’ve been trying to get here all night.
“Here?” I whispered. “To the keynote?”
When they nodded, driblets of rain fell from their hair.
I should mention that it was pouring that night. Isn’t that just perfect? Adventurers seeking shelter from a storm.
At that moment, I felt like what the innumerable NPCs I’ve encountered must have felt like when they welcomed our characters to an inn, or a poured us drinks at a tavern, or provided us a safe haven for an extended rest.
“Come with me,” I said, leading them on the least distracting path I could find to the ballroom proper so they could get a good view.
After the keynote, the guys found me to explain their odd, unplanned entrance. The event’s venue had been changed, so there was a bit of confusion about that. And when they got to the original venue, they were told to go to the Marriott. Now, if you know downtown Indianapolis, you know there are two Marriotts and they’re just a block or so away from one another. The staff at the first Marriott told them to go to the J.W. Marriott. Folks at the J.W. told them to go to the Omni. At the Omni they found out that the hotel is apparently connected to the Indiana Roof Ballroom (the real venue) through a winding warren of habitrails and windowless hallways. These guys had no idea how they ended up at the backstage door, but they took a chance that some softie inside would take pity on them.
Something that I’m sure causes confusion at every convention held in the city.
This, perhaps, was my favorite Gen Con moment of all. In the midst of all the convention hubbub, these guys reminded me of the true spirit of D&D. They had a quest, ran into obstacles and challenges along the way, but eventually succeeded in their mission by rolling a natural 20 on a Diplomacy check. And for whatever reason, they had an orange crayon in their pack.