Conventions

Handicap Awareness at Gen Con

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Gen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there; there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I’ve posted in previous years (they’re my most popular posts!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.
However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. She has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

Be Aware of People Around You

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I’ve been there; I lost nearly 50 pounds a few years ago. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds two to three feet to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I pushed her, I watched for this sort of thing. Now she drives herself, and I worry she’s going to get beat up.

Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes it’s because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack or catch a Pokémon. You’re not in a high school hallway; stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller a few years ago because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to get his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. She had no chance to take evasive action because he approached from an angle that was mostly behind her. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for four to six hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses.

Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving five seconds to you?

Don’t tie up handicapped accessible bathroom stalls unless you have a Potty Emergency.

A comedian once proclaimed the virtues of the handicapped rest room stall, saying it was “the Cadillac” [of the stalls]. While it is true these stalls are often very roomy, there is a reason for that. Here’s a hint: the reason is NOT SO YOU CAN USE IT TO CHANGE INTO OR OUT OF YOUR COSTUME. I respect cosplayers. What they do is AMAZING. But if you’re tying up the accessible stall chatting on the phone, changing clothes, having a quiet moment, you may be preventing people who need to use it for its intended purposes from using the facilities they require. From what I hear, because I don’t have first-hand experience with the ladies restrooms, for every ten to twenty standard stalls, there are one or two handicapped stalls and one or two “family” stalls (if you’re lucky). The family stalls are slightly smaller than the handicapped stalls, but larger than a standard stall so that a mom can stand and assist her toddler. Handicapped attendees don’t expect the handicapped stalls to only be used by handicapped people. With some 50,000 – 60,000 attendees anticipated, it is understood that sometimes there will be a line for the facilities. People expect to have to wait their turn. The main point is to use a non-handicapped stall if one is available and to be aware that people in wheelchairs cannot choose one of the smaller stalls.

Look, I get sometimes you need a quiet moment, or have to change clothes, but that stall is that big so that wheelchairs can get into it. My wife told me of an experience last year where she was in a line three wheelchairs deep waiting for the accessible stall while two young ladies were changing clothes and giggling and were pretty much oblivious to the fact that they were not the center of the universe.  Apparently, of the twenty or so other stalls, only two others were occupied at the time, so it’s not like these young ladies had no choice (and couldn’t wait). One woman had to get out of her wheelchair, crawl along the floor, and into a non-handicapped accessible stall because she could not wait any longer. My wife confronted them and politely made them aware they were holding up the line and they cried and accused her of being rude.

When people abuse the handicapped restroom, handicapped con goers risk wetting their pants. That shouldn’t have to be one’s main concern in a public restroom.

It’s a safe bet that most cosplayers are from out of town and have hotels. Perhaps they see the bathroom, the handicapped stall in particular, as a more convenient place to work on their costume than going back to their hotel. Well, tough. That stall is for handicapped people to pee and poop. You don’t get to act put out when one of them calls you on it. Besides, have you SEEN what’s on the floor in a public restroom? I certainly wouldn’t want to get that on my costume.

NX_senior_man_wheelchairDon’t be a Dick

This last thing actually is castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

Let’s work together to make sure the Best Four Days of Gaming are the best days for ALL attendees!

Categories: Conventions | Tags: , | 14 Comments

Gary Con VIII Report!

Gary Con: a four-day celebration of the life and games of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. Held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, I have been attending since Gary Con II.

Day 0 – We arrived on Wednesday, got checked into the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa and immediately saw some old friends. There were a few things I needed to run to the Piggly Wiggly for, so I did that, we had dinner at one of the on-site restaurants, and socialized a bit before bed.

A pretty low-key start, but that’s typical and appropriate.

Day 1 – I started the con out with a DM’s Guild Workshop run by some of the folks who came out to Gary Con from Wizards of the Coast (Mike Mearls, Trevor Kidd, and Chris Perkins among them). It was about building backgrounds for your game, or more specifically gothic horror backgrounds since their current thing is Curse of Strahd. I found it more helpful than I expected and was sad that was the only workshop I could fit into my schedule. I hope they come back next year!

Next was my Paranoia game, “Bugs in the System.” I run 2nd edition Paranoia because it’s my favorite version and I’ve never seen the need to add more different complex systems to it for any reason, particuarly a convention scenario. There were several familiar faces at the table and a few new players. They all failed to kill the team leader multiple times, though. I failed, as well, as he didn’t die once. I must be losing my touch. Still, the game was a success and everyone seemed to have fun. The session ended with them aiding, however inadvertantly, the giant mutant cockroaches in lauching the Starship Warden.

After Paranoia, I managed to hit the Dealer Hall for a bit. It was bigger than in previous years, more spacious, and with more vendors. I managed to avoid spending ANY money. Most excellent.

That evening’s game was run by James Carpio of the new TSR Games. It was a playtest for their new espionage RPG written by The Admistrator himself, Merle Rasmussen (who you may remember from such RPGs as Top Secret). It was a fun game and since I wasn’t rolling a d20, I did fairly well, though I did whip out an Australian accent while undercover in the U.K…. I have no idea WHY I defaulted to that instead of a generic British accent. Or Irish. Or Scottish. No, I had to go to the other side of the planet. Still, we succeeded in our mission and I got to fly a drone into the back of a sniper’s head… causing him to fall off the building and set off a car alarm. Oops.

Day 2 – I started the day with an Adventurer’s League game. The one I signed up for was cancelled since I was the only person who signed up, but fortunately, there was another table with an open slot. Players were still working through the earlier adventures in the series, I was a non-conformist who signed up for the third adventure in the series.

I swore off Organized Play after two years straight of bad experiences at Gen Con. I tried Pathfinder Society for a while, but the GMs were hit-and-miss and generally, I found not playing to be preferable. So, I didn’t have really high hopes.

The adventure, which took place in Barovia (I also swore off Ravenloft after an incident in the early ’90s), was enjoyable, and though my tiefling paladin died, we defeated the villian. Or rather, the other two players did while I provided a convienient distraction for the attacking werewolf.

You see, all weekend, my d20s rolled like warmed over shit. Seriously, I could not succeed on a roll to save my life, whether it was D&D or Dungeon Crawl Classics. I was so digusted after the D&D game, I went out and bought a whole new set of dice. Naturally, that didn’t work. Must have been user error, an 1d10T error, if you will.

I followed the D&D game up with wandering, Dealer Hallering, and general socialization until my afternoon game: Women Only – Tomb of Horrors, played with the original AD&D, as it was meant to be experienced. The group played cautiously, and it took an hour before the first death. Well, the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth deaths. Can you guess? Look in the first comment for the answer (a few people who read this blog will be spoiled by the answer).

Also, kudos to the 9-year-old girl, whose name I cannot remember, who had the best comments of the game. To the Petrie sisters & mother: I finally met someone worse than my mother! And, her HORROR when she realized what she said: “Stop sticking your poles in holes!”

As a 9-year-old, I doubt I would ever have realized the implications of that phrase. There were also jokes made (not by me!) about the Tomb of Whores. Apparently, I don’t enunciate as clearly as Paul Harvey.

The evening was pretty much free. I think I planned to find a pick-up game, but ended up socializing instead.

Day 3 – Day three was Numenera day. I ran two events set in Monte Cook Games’s Cypher System Numenera setting and was grateful to have one player in both games who was familiar with the system. Not that I was completely inexperienced, but it had been a few months since I tested the adventures and when you bounce back and forth between wildly different systems, it can be difficult to keep things straight. Both games went well. “The Wailing Sore” got high marks for being really weird, but I think “Locks of the World” was better paced, even though I missed giving out the key clue to unraveling the mystery. I’m not sure how that happened; I must’ve given my play-test group a bit of information I didn’t have written down in my notes.

Still, the games went well, despite both being the games for which I had no-shows. There were plenty of walk-ons (or as one gamer described himself, squatters) for the first game, so I ran a full table. The second game had two empty seats when we started, but Numenera is a flexible enough system that being short two players didn’t matter.

I’m fairly certain I planned to run a pick-up game in the evening, but instead we had dinner with some friends, then called it a night.

Day 4 – I hit the Dealer Hall once last time before they closed, because someone at Goodman Games came up with these scratch-off Adventures and if you “won” 1000 GP of treasure, they’d give you a $10 gift certificate at their booth and I won! Well, I bought enough cards to earn enough loot (really, it was $5 of cards for $10 off, so I still came out ahead). Whoever designed these crack card is a freakin’ GENIUS. If they have them at Gen Con, BEWARE. Your wallet will cry DOOM. DOOOOOOM. They’re fun though!

I only had one game: a Dungeon Crawl Classics play-test. My dice, once again, decided rolling well was not as fun as being horrible to me. My first three rolls were (in order, 3, 1, and 1. I did roll a 20… at the worst possible time when I wanted a low result. So yay.

Still, the game was fun and during the short break, I ran into the Geekpreacher (who is a good friend). Running into him isn’t all that unusual, but he told me how he got into a bidding war with Tim Kask over my fantasy novels at the Gary Con auction. Mr. Kask was interested in them, but Geekpreacher knew his birthday was coming up, so he out-bid him, then after encountering me in the hallway, had me present them to Mr. Kask during his video panel. It was quite a thrill to be introduced as the author of books one of the Old Guard was interested in and be able to present them to him as a birthday gift. I hope Mr. Kask enjoys my books.

There was one other game on Day 4, but it was an invitation-only off-grid game. Bob Brinkman ran a continuation of his Mountain Monsters-inspired Call of Cthulhu game. For those of you not in the know, Mountain Monsters is a “reality” TV show on Destination America. It’s basically Finding Bigfoot (or insert crytid of your choice here) when a team of West Virginia hillbilly hunters. The show is just as over-dramatic and silly as you’d expect, but is surprisingly good fodder for Call of Cthulhu. We closed out the con with this 8pm – midnight game and it was suitably epic. The sad part is I hear our friends from the UK, Simon Todd, his daughter Bernie, and his business partner Andy will not be able to attend next year. Part 3 won’t be the same without them!

Whether or not it’s related, I saw a spike in sales that day, as well. I put all my books on sale during Gary Con, but I didn’t mention it during my brief appearance in that panel (I did mentioned at other times, especially if the topic came up).

The on-site restaurants were excellent. Of course, it is rated a 4-Diamond Resort by AAA, so quality is to be expected. Not only did I not gain weight, despite feeling like I overindulged (particularly in gelato), I actually lost a pound or two, I think. Tableside service was also excellent. I actually felt like I had options other than fried fat with a side of fried carbs in a fried basket of fried (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I ceased to be able to eat that for a meal many years ago).

Gary Con was bigger than ever, yet seemed less crowded. Mostly because the venue was much, much larger than previous years’. All the GMs and players I gamed with were excellent, and even the Organized Play, which I poo-poo at Gen Con, was good. It was the best organized and most fun OP I’ve ever experienced at a convention. So, kudos to the organizers for that.

There were a few things to complain about, no con is perfect, but I provided feedback I hope the organizers will find helpful.

Categories: Conventions | Tags: | 3 Comments

Looking forward to 2016

You may have notice that this blog kind of went silent after I posted the synopsis for my last Star Wars session. Life got busy with the holidays, sorry about that.

I didn’t stop gaming, of course. I’ve been running play tests of the games I’m going to run at Gary Con. I’m not going to post session synopses of them just in case one of the half-dozen readers of this blog are attendees; I don’t want to spoil the adventures for them. We also played a smashing session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It was a Hanukkah special!

I can give you some spoiler-free previews what I’m running at Gary Con, though (DGS is the Dead Games Society).

DGS Presents: Paranoia – Bugs in the System
March 3 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Once again The Computer calls upon you to stand up to the Commie Mutant Traitors, and dare we say, Shoot the Troubles they cause! Odd computer issues, obviously caused by Commie Mutant Traitors are plaguing Alpha Complex. Your Friend, The Computer, needs YOU to brave the deep recesses of the CPU core, root out the problems, and execute them with EXTREME PREJUDICE! Can The Computer count on you, Friend? Participation is Mandatory!
(Play test done, adventure updated, and ready to go!)

DGS Presents: Tomb of Horrors (Women Only!)
March 4 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
For generations, the crypt of the demi-lich Acerak has been the source of gamers stories the world over. Now, experience it for yourself the way it was meant to be, with AD&D! Can you face down the tricks and traps of the tomb and live to tell the tale? Or will you join the ranks of the legions of adventurers who have fallen victim to the Tomb of Horrors?
This session is for the women of Gary Con, only, please.
(No play test, just need to finish the pre-gens.)

The Wailing Sore
March 5 @ 8:00 am – 12:00 pm
A billion years in the future, a village in the Ninth World prospers, content in their little corner, ignoring the oddities and dangers of the world. Farmers grow their crops and tend to their livestock, children play in the meadows, and families work and live together. One day that all changes as a strange growth erupts around the spring that serves the village. With their water supply now endangered, the villagers turn to the explorers and adventures in their midst. The ones seeking to unlock the mysteries of the Numenera may be their only hope.
(Play test done, adventure updated, and ready to go!)

Locks of the World
March 5 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Workers at a dig site near the city of Qi have disappeared. Citizens have been reporting inexplicable disturbances. Is some bit of malevolent Numenera responsible, or worse? Did the explorers unearth an ancient, forgotten evil? The Council of Spheres turns to you to find answers and determine what awaits at the Locks of the World.
(Writing now, play test on Jan. 15th.)

Of course, since event registration hasn’t opened yet, I don’t know what games I’ll be playing when I’m not running these games, but I’m sure there’ll be a ton of good things. I already know of a few; the main thing I have to decide is which VIP game I’m going to try to get into. My wife will undoubtedly want to play in one of James M. Ward’s games; I try to spread myself around from year to year so I can play with all of the Old Guard eventually. So far, I’ve games with James M. Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha), Merle Rasmussen (Top Secret), Frank Mentzer (AD&D), and Luke Gygax (AD&D). Maybe this year I’ll look for one of Ernie Gygax’s games or maybe check out Peter Adkinson’s new game.

Depending on how my time shakes out, I might run a few of these in the evening at ConQuesT, as well, though my evenings are probably going to be booked with social activities since that’s a working convention for me.

On the home campaign front, once the Star Wars game wrapped up, we started discussing the next campaign. There was a strong preference to playing D&D again, so I will run Fifth edition, though there is talk about a Numenera game after that one.

Categories: Conventions, D&D, Paranoia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Gen Con Tips for Newbies

So, I spent last week telling you how not to be a dick around folks with physical challenges at Gen Con. “But, this is my first year! I don’t even know anything about anything about Gen Con.”

Today’s post is for you!

Gen Con can be overwhelming for the first time attendee. We’ve all been there. Bask in the Nerdvana and enjoy it. You’ll never get to experience Gen Con for the first time again. When you walk into the Dealer Hall (or even just join the crowd that’s gathering for the opening, aka the “Running of the Nerds”) it is at once exhilarating and terrifying. When the crowd finally thins and you get in, tens of thousand of square feet of games and game-related merchandise await you. There really is nothing like it on Earth.

Some folks say that for your first year, don’t cram your schedule full of ticketed activities. There’s wisdom in that, and I certain recommend setting aside a large portion of time for the Dealer Hall. Why? Because you can spend all day in there and not see everything. Now, there are some things you’re probably not interested in, that’s fine. But, surely there are some new games you want to try. The Dealer Hall is perfect for that. Almost every booth selling board games has demos running all day and many booths with RPGs are running demos as well. These demos last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and cost absolutely nothing. In theory, you could probably spend all four days playing games for free in the Dealer Hall.

If you have an interest in seeing the best products get recognized, pop by the ENnie Awards on Friday night. It costs nothing to attend and it’s a veritable who’s who of RPG designers and writers. Granted, most of them won’t have much time to socialize with you at the event; that’s what their Dealer Hall hours are for (that, and selling their new games). The ENnie Awards are in the Grand Hall of Union Station again this year, just a short walk from the Convention Center. If the weather is too nasty, you can even get there without going outdoors (though the route is considerably more convoluted, confusing, and quite a bit further).

Don’t be discouraged a game you REALLY want to play in is sold out. Grab some generic tickets and go anyway. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a seat, but some GMs will take an extra player and there might be no-shows. One thing is certain: if you don’t try to get an extra seat, or one of the no-show seats, you definitely won’t get to play. I highly recommend playing in some games you don’t get to play at home. There are tons of games I never get to try with my home group, for a variety of reasons. Were it not for conventions, I would never get to play these games. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new favorite. I know some people who go to Gen Con and spend all four days playing the same game they play regularly every week in their home games. They enjoy it, OK, but for my money, I like to try something new.

Be culinarily adventurous. The food truck lines are epic, but it’s a good opportunity to try new foods. “But, it’s Gen Con! I’m there to game and not eat.” Make a game of it. Create a Food Truck score card and keep track of what you eat. I dunno, play Food Truck Bingo or something. Or heck, just give your taste buds a treat now and again since 95% of Gen Con attendees are eating worse those four days than they do most of the rest of the year.

Hang out in the crossroads Saturday afternoon and bask in the brillance of the parade of cosplayers (technically, it’s the Costume Contest Parade). The artistic talent on display is AMAZING. There are some truly mind-blowing costumes at Gen Con every year. If hanging out isn’t your thing, go to the Costume Contest and sit and watch, then.

Game on and have fun. See you in a few days!

Categories: Conventions | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Gen Con Tips & Advice from Doctor StrangeRoll

Gen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there, here are some links.

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says…
DoingIndy.com says…
Examiner.com says…
The Illuminerdy (ENnie Awards-nominated blog) says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I posted last year (it was my most popular post ever!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. She has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

Be Aware of People Around You

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I’ve been there; I’ve recently lost over 40 pounds. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds two to three feet to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I pushed her, I watched for this sort of thing. Now she drives herself, and I worry she’s going to get beat up.

Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a high school hallway; stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller a few years ago because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to get his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. She had no chance to take evasive action because he approached from an angle that was mostly behind her. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for four to six hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses.

Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving five seconds to you

Don’t tie up handicapped accessible bathroom stalls unless you have a Potty Emergency.

A comedian once proclaimed the virtues of the handicapped rest room stall, saying it was “the Cadillac” [of the stalls]. While it is true these stalls are often very roomy, there is a reason for that. Here’s a hint: the reason is NOT SO YOU CAN USE IT TO CHANGE  INTO OR OUT OF YOUR COSTUME. I respect cosplayers. What they do is AMAZING. But if you’re tying up the accessible stall chatting on the phone, changing clothes, having a quiet moment, you may be preventing people who need to use it for its intended purposes from using the facilities they require. From what I hear, because I don’t have first hand experience with the ladies restrooms, for every ten to twenty standard stalls, there are one or two handicapped stalls and one or two “family” stalls. The family stalls are slightly smaller than the handicapped stalls, but larger than a standard stall so that a mom can stand and assist her toddler. Handicapped attendees don’t expect the handicapped stalls to only be used by handicapped people. With over 56,000 attendees anticipated, it is understood that sometimes there will be a line for the facilities. People expect to have to wait their turn. The main point is to use a non-handicapped stall if one is available and to be aware that people in wheelchairs cannot choose one of the smaller stalls.

Look, I get sometimes you need a quiet moment, or have to change clothes, but that stall is that big so that wheelchairs can get into it. My wife told me of an experience last year where she was in a line three wheelchairs deep waiting for the accessible stall while two young ladies were changing clothes and giggling and were pretty much oblivious to the fact that they were not the center of the universe.  Apparently, of the twenty or so other stalls, only two others were occupied at the time, so it’s not like these young ladies had no choice (and couldn’t wait). One woman had to get out of her wheelchair, crawl along the floor, and into a non-handicapped accessible stall because she could not wait any longer. My wife confronted them and politely made them aware they were holding up the line and they cried and accused her of being rude.

When people abuse the handicapped restroom, handicapped con goers risk wetting their pants. That shouldn’t have to be one’s main concern in a public restroom.

It’s a safe bet that most cosplayers are from out of town and have hotels. Perhaps they see the bathroom, the handicapped stall in particular, as a more convenient place to work on their costume than going back to their hotel. Well, tough. That stall is for handicapped people to pee and poop. You don’t get to act put out when one of them calls you on it.

Don’t be a Dick

This last thing is actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

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Guest Post! — Gen Con Tips & Advice Series

Jakub Nowosad a.k.a. Arathi: master of Law & master of Political Science, Polish convention organizer since 2004, RPG player since 1996. Redactor and reviewer in Polish RPG websites. He is trying to popularize board games and RPG in his region in Poland. He has also served as an ENnie Awards judge in 2014 and 2015. He has a tumor in his spine resulting in muscular atrophy of the left side of the body. You can reach him online: Google+ at +JakubNowosad, Twitter @Arathic. 

As a disabled person sometimes I have a problem with conventions. In this text I want to tell organizers, participants and other handicapped persons a few words. Most of the things below are an outcome of my career as a convention organiser for almost ten years.

For organizers:

I know we don’t always have a possibility to choose a place with good infrastructure that will be helpful for disabled. But as an ex-organiser I think you can make some convenience. First You can make a special point for buying tickets with priority for disabled. Second You can sensitize volunteers and helpers on the needs of the disabled. It’s always helpful when a physically impaired person can ask someone from the staff for help. Having a spare wheelchair and a medic is helpful too. In Poland most conventions require from underage attendees to show a permission slip from parents. I think parents can write down in a permission slip  helpful information about theirs kid: allergies, chronic illnesses, and disabilities. Adult people can have an ICE card (In Case of Emergency) – i.e. special card in a wallet where is written information about family (address, phone number), blood type and other medical info. Organizers should have a few spare ICE cards for people who want it (You can find them on the Web).

Special symbols (such as badges or an armbands) could be useful with identification of disabled. Organizers can save first row of seats in the seminars just for disabled.

With all this, physically-impaired people could have a better time in the convention.

For convention attendants:

A lot of people have some medical problems. Sometimes hidden. When you are in the crowd remember people are around you may have medical issues. Try not to be the one who is always rush others. When you are entering a room don’t scuffle to enter as fast as you can. Rush is not a good advisor and can be harmful for others.

A good thing to do is to find another chair if you sit in the last one in the room. Sometimes at a convention or conference I feel powerless when I can’t find a place to sit. And a lot of people are sitting around and pretend they don’t see me or other handicapped. So look around, try to help if you can (with luggage, chair, box etc) and don’t just think of yourself – convention should be a fun for everyone.

And finally as a physically-impaired person I have a few words to other people like me – don’t be macho. I know it’s hard to live when you have a serious illness. But pretending that you can lift those boxes or luggage by yourself, will not help you and can be harmful for your health. It’s not shameful to ask someone for help – in Poland we say: Your crown will not fall from your head. 😉

Note from Doctor StrangeRoll: The Indianapolis Convention Center is an ADA facility; they are supposed to adhere to all the laws for ADA accessibility. If you find this is not the case, please let a member of the Convention Center staff know immediately.

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Guest Post! Conventions & Canes — Gen Con Tips & Advice Series

This week I’ll be posting my Gen Con Tips and Advice, but I’m shaking things up from the past two years and I’m leading off with a guest post!

Jacob Wood is the founder of Accessible Games, a small press publisher devoted to making games available to everyone. He’s a writer, designer, layout artist, and accessibility advocate for the gaming industry. You can find him online at http://www.accessiblegames.biz, on Twitter at @AccessibleGames, or on Google+ as +JacobWood.

Conventions and Canes

This year, for my first time ever, I’ll be heading to GenCon. It’s the nation’s leading tabletop gaming convention and attracts 50,000+ people. I’ll be attending as an industry professional, a small press game publisher and member of the Independent Game Developers network. I’m thrilled to be going and excited at the opportunity to meet dozens of people I interact with on a regular basis. People I work with, game with, and otherwise enjoy spending time online with.

 

As excited as I am though, there’s one significant thing that makes me nervous. I’m legally blind, and I’ll be travelling solo. By itself that isn’t scary–I get around just fine in my daily life, from home to work and back again. I travel around my home city with little to no anxiety (most days) and don’t think twice about jumping on a bus or even catching an airplane. What makes me anxious is the large crowds of people who will be, by and large, not paying much attention to anything that isn’t shiny and attention-getting.

 

From my experience, when people (in general) gather in large crowds they tend to become less aware of their surroundings. I get it–it’s easy to get lost in a sea of people and more difficult still when you’re just trying to find your own way through the horde because you’re late for a game or need to locate a restroom. For those of us trying to get around with a physical impairment though, it can be a panic-inducing nightmare (and I don’t even get panic attacks… or nightmares).

 

With that in mind, if you’re heading to GenCon (or any other convention or large gathering, for that matter) I’d like to offer some advice on how you might be conscious of others even while you’re understandably focused on yourself.

 

Stowe the Electronics

It’s hard to believe this has to be said, but it does. If you’re walking, you shouldn’t be texting or checking e-mail. You also shouldn’t be checking your calendar appointments or, for goodness sake, taking pictures of yourself or others.

 

There’s always time to pull over and check these things later. Seriously. If you’re in so much of a hurry that you simply can’t slow down to read your messages, you should at the very least invest in a good Bluetooth headset and some hands-free messaging software (of which there are tons of free options available for any platform you choose). There’s also no reason to be taking selfies or snapping images of cosplayers if you’re not prepared to stand aside and focus the picture.

 

This doesn’t apply just to using electronics and walking though. It means don’t stand still in the middle of a hallway to do any of these things either. The bottom line: if you find yourself reaching for your phone or tablet, pull over to the side of the hall and make sure you’re not in anyone’s way. Everyone, not just people with disabilities, will thank you for it.

 

Be Aware

I wrote about this a couple years ago on my own blog (link: http://www.accessiblegames.biz/gaming-people-disabilities/) but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it.

 

We’ve already discussed how it can be difficult to be aware of your surroundings when you’re in a huge crowd, but you can still control how you behave and react when someone approaches you or is in your immediate vicinity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped to ask a random stranger for information or directions and they completely missed the fact that I was carrying a red-tipped cane (which, in the U.S. at least, is the common sign that someone is blind). Using phrases like “it’s right over there” and pointing at something is sort of lost on someone who can’t see what you’re pointing at.

 

If you do interact with someone who has a noticeable physical impairment, try to be aware of it and what that might mean in terms of the requests they’re making or the questions they’re asking. That doesn’t mean you need to fall all over yourself trying to help, but it does mean tailoring your responses with their needs in mind. If you don’t know what those needs are, you can just ask. It’s not impolite, it’s awesome for you to do that.

 

Navigating Crowds

Just about everyone has difficulty navigating through large crowds, but people with physical impairments have it even more difficult.When you’re walking through a sea of people, you constantly make split-second decisions about how to turn and where to place your next steps in order to avoid collisions and make progress toward your destination. People with disabilities have to do this too, but it can be a little more tricky.

 

People in wheelchairs, on crutches, using canes, or pushing strollers are far less maneuverable than others around them. They don’t always have the luxury of avoiding you, so if you spot a less agile person then try to be aware of their needs and make your own efforts to go around them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into (or nearly missed running into) people because  I was headed their way with my cane in front of me and they simply didn’t bother to notice. Oftentimes it’s I, the blind person, who winds up doing the evasive maneuvers and, frankly, I’m not very good at them.

 

With that being said, just knowing where to go in a new location filled with billions of bodies can be difficult. Occasionally I’ll stop and ask someone for directions. Sometimes those people will offer to show me where I need to go. That’s completely awesome, but as a fair warning you’re very easy to lose in the crowd. Would you be so kind as to let me take your elbow? I promise I bathed today and you won’t catch “gamer funk.”

 

If you find yourself being the lead for someone who has a physical impairment, it’s okay to ask them if you’re walking too fast or if they need some additional assistance (like an outstretched elbow or a held door). If for some reason you’re just not comfortable with that, I think most people would prefer you be upfront about that so they can find someone else to help before getting too frustrated.

 

Conclusion

As GenCon grows, the likelihood of you encountering someone with a disability increases. If you see someone who appears like they may be in need, it’s okay to ask them if they’d like any help. If they don’t need it, they’ll tell you they’re okay. Otherwise, it’s a great relief to know someone else was being aware and being willing to lend a and.

 

I hope everyone has a fun and safe time at GenCon this year. I’m looking forward to it being my first. If you’re going to be there, stop by the IGDN game room and say hello.

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Gary Con VII Report

So, last weekend, I was at Gary Con in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Con is an annual pilgrimage for me. Firstly, it’s the only convention I currently attend during which I can play games. Secondly, it’s a celebration of the life of Gary Gygax. Thirdly, it’s become like a family reunion. My wife and I always enjoy seeing familiar faces, catching up with old friends, and making new. I didn’t have time to write up day-by-day reports, so this will be more of a greatest hits.

The Bad

  • My wife got Con Crud.
  • It was awkward when people asked where we were from and we answered “Indiana.” Thanks Governor Pence.

The Good

  • I cosplayed! First time for me, really. Dressing up for Hallowe’en is one thing. Spending a good portion of the day is challenging, as I discovered.
  • I started the con off with an Atomic Robo Fate Accelerated game, Action Scientists of Tesladyne – Issue 1: The Madness of Dr. Frankenheimer. Much fun was had by all and several people indicated they would seek out the comic. Fortunately for me, the game was full of people familiar with Fate. It was tremendously helpful in gaining a better understanding of game flow (I had GMed it 4X up to that point, but was not at all confident). So, thanks to those players!
  • After Atomic Robo, I changed into my first costume of the con. Star Trek: TOS. Except for the boots, it was about as screen-accurate as one can get. Concessions are made to studio lighting: Kirk’s wraparound casual tunic was the same color as the standard uniform, but the material made the standard uniforms appear gold instead of avacado. Everyone thinks of them as gold now.
  • It was in the Star Trek uniform that I played in my next game: Airfield Follies, a Hollow Earth Expedition game run by James Carpio of Gygax Magazine. It was pulpy and inspired a bit by King Kong. I played a slovenly movie producer that more concerned with making my final film than everyone’s lives. Still, no one killed me and I got some great coverage of the t-rex chomping down on one of us. Fun fact: those TOS pants are tight enough that they rode up and down while I was sitting, so I was constantly fidgeting. The zipper also liked to open whenever I sat. They fit, but the material from which they’re made has NO give. It’s sparkly, though.
  • I planned to switch to a TNG costume for the evening, but I’ve lost so much weight it fit me like a mu-mu, so I had to ditch that plan.
  • Ever hear of the show “Mountain Monsters“? It was the basis for my first-ever Call of Cthulhu game. It’s like Duck Dynasty meets Supernatural. I played Trapper. I was proud of not making ANY M*A*S*H jokes. We did get an NPC stepped on by a building-sized eldritch horror, though. Kinda feel bad about that.
  • Friday was Fallout Friday! It doesn’t show up particularly well in the pictures, but the Pipboy has a working screen and the laser pistol is painted to look like Pew Pew from New Vegas. Fun fact: the tire pauldron was a real truck tire in a former life and isn’t particularly suited to wearing on a shoulder. I need to line it with foam or something. I had a tender spot there for the rest of the weekend.
  • I played AD&D with Luke Gygax. I created a dwarven cleric and named him Gristle McThornbody. He ran us through a new adventure written by him and a bunch of the other Old Guard (Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, James M. Ward, etc.) called The Cave of Wisdom. I died two rooms in, crushed by a mama troll with a large frying pan. Good times! It was actually a good thing for me, because that game ran from 9am – 1pm and I was GMing my Fallout-based Fate game from 1pm – 4:30pm. That left NO time for walking to the next game or food.
  • The afternoon was my Fallout Fate Accelerated game, Fire from the Sky. A few younger players tried to meta-game based on their knowledge of the Fallout franchise, but overall the game went well. I had a bunch of Nuka Cola bottle caps I used for Fate Points. My idea of handing out cards with items to represent a more Fallout-y style of Stunt worked well, though I forgot to print out about 1/3rd of them. Some of them need to be reworded, as well.
  • I changed back into civvies for my Friday evening game: Savage Spaceballs! I played Barf, because I wanted to be my own best friend. Lonestar and Vespa were separated with two horrible little children, but reunited to search for the stolen Family Jewels of Druidia. Yes, jokes were made. My wife played Dot Matrix, nanny to the horrible children and her East Coast accent made it easy for her to slip into Joan Rivers mode.  Dark Helmet was relegated to working at Space FedEx and Colonel Sanders took a Batman-like turn in his self-appointed role of Dark Helmet’s guardian (except chicken-themed). It was rather hilarious… particularly since Barf had developed a leg-humping problem. Mogs gotta establish dominance!
  • Saturday I was foolish and scheduled my Saturday Morning Superheroes game (also Fate Accelerated) for 8AM… after a midnight end for Savage Spaceballs. I’m getting too old for that. Plus, I found out that breakfast wasn’t officially served until 8AM. Oops. Oh well, lesson learned. For this game, I was assigned a table in the “Porch” area; the room in which Gary Gygax’s memorial table sits. It’s the room in which most of the Old Guard run their games from cushy, high-backed padded chairs. Nearby, Merle Rassmussen was running his women-only Top Secret game (FYI: Merle Rassmussen designed the original Top Secret RPG for TSR in the late ’70s). I didn’t feel right sitting in the high-back chair, especially since we already received an “Old Guard” parking permit and reserved space due to my wife’s wheelchair. Anyway, the game went well with Casper the Friendly Ghost, Yogi Bear, Captain Caveman, Grape Ape, Hong Kong Phooey, and the Smurfs teaming up to defeat The Cloaked Figure (real identity… SPOILERS! Neener, neener, neener!) after the murder of Dynomutt. Yeah, it was a little dark. But fun and perfect for a Saturday morning with cries of “CAPTAIN CAAAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAN” and someone singing the Smurf song as they hijacked an RC car.
  • Saturday afternoon, my wife played in James M. Ward’s women-only game. Out of 12 or 13 players, only 4 characters died. I first thought perhaps he wasn’t feeling well (he has a reputation), but it turns out they just played really well. He was testing a new game system he’s developing and it earned high praise from all the players. James M. Ward is the man who got my wife into gaming several years ago, and we always make a point of saying “hi” to him at Gary Con.
  • The rest of my Saturday was open. Registration issues kept me from getting into anything else that day, though I did take my wife’s ticket for Cthulhu Invictus (a Call of Cthulhu game set in the Roman Empire). Both of my CoC games were intended for my wife and I to both play in, but she got in and I did not, so I just used her tickets (not to worry… wait until Sunday night). It was a lot of fun and featured many of the same players from Savage Spaceballs. Both events were run by folks from GameHole Con. A documentary crew was filming Stephen Pokorny (the guy who makes Dwarven Forge) throughout the con and they stopped by our table, so you might see my remarks at some point (I had to sign a release and everything).
  • The group photo of the collected mass of Hawaiian shirts worn in honor of Gary Gygax was taken Saturday night. I don’t have a copy of it, but you can see it on Facebook.
  • Sunday morning, I ran my final game of the con: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – 1980s Edition! (Fate Accelerated). This game featured B.A. Baracus (The A-Team), MacGyver, Doc Brown (Back to the Future), Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China), Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only), and Sarah Conner (The Terminator). I used Karl Keesler’s Savage Worlds adventure for the basis of this game, except I changed some of the characters so they all fit into the 1980s (his PC were all from ’80s films; mine were all from 80s films that took place IN the ’80s). I also added Sho-Nuff from The Last Dragon as one of David Lo Pan’s flunkies. It went really well, with Terminators, three Jason’s (from Friday the 13th), a plethora of Wing Kong, Jack Burton’s truck, and Lo Pan all showing up at the finale. It was a good way to end my run as a GM there this year.
  • The rest of Sunday was socializing and taking it easy. My wife was invited to an encore of the Mountain Monsters Call of Cthulhu game and I encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity. I planned to play again as a different character, but while we were waiting by the fire, Merle Rasmussen stopped by to say “Hi” and we ended up chatting about Top Secret, TSR, and writing for nearly 3 hours! That’s one of the great things about Gary Con, it’s small enough that you never know who you’re going to run into and talk with into the late hours of the evening.

That’s about it. We left Monday afternoon and drove back. As always, it was a great convention. I’m already booked at The Lodge at Geneva Ridge for Gary Con VII and have begun planning my games*!

You can see a slideshow of all my Gary Con pictures at Photobucket, including my wife’s pirate and Victorian outfits. For once, I remembered I brought a camera, though the number of pictures I took averaged less than 10 a day.

*I’m planning on running four games for the Dead Games Society next year. Two of which will be S1: The Tomb of Horrors, one general admission and one for women only (there are a lot of people who have never experienced it in the original AD&D… they deserve that experience if they so desire). I’m also writing an original AD&D adventure titled “The Wailing Sore,” and will return to Paranoia with “Bugs in the System.”

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Gen Con Tips & Advice

Gen Con logoGen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there, here are some links.

Sean K. Reynolds (of Paizo) says…
Gnome Stew (ENnie Awards-winning blog) says…
Erik Mona (of Paizo) says…
DoingIndy.com says…
Examiner.com says…
The Illuminerdy (ENnie Awards-nominated blog) says…

OK, enough about that. As you can see, there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I posted last year (it was my most popular post ever!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.

However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. This year, she has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I could stand to lose 40 pounds myself. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds 2′ – 3′ to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I’m pushing her, I’m watching for this sort of thing. This year she’ll be driving herself and I actually worry she’s going to get beat up.

  • Be Aware of People Around You

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes its because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack. You’re not in a High School hallway, stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller last year because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to to his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

  • Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for 4-6 hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses!

  • Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving 5 seconds to you?

  • Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

This last thing is just actually a castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. If I’ve had a really bad day, I hope the elevator breaks and falls back down to the ground floor with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

  • Don’t be a dick.
Categories: Conventions | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Gary Con VI Report

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

The Cosmic Bacon arrived just in time!

For those of you who don’t know, Gary Con is an annual game convention held every March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to honor the memory of the father of role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax. Their focus is on the one thing Gary loved most: gaming! I’ve been going since 2010 or so.

Wednesday is usually a quiet day at Thursday – Sunday convention. Arrival. Check-in. Settle into room. Get badges. For many, it is the longest continual socialization time of the convention.

This year, many people attended a pre-con party at Frank Mentzer’s home. While I would like to have gone, when I heard smoking would be allowed in the house (albeit confined to one room away from most of the guests), I had to decline. Any amount will play hell with my wife’s asthma, and we’re both sensitive enough to it that the lingering smells on everyone’s clothes (our own included) would be a problem. Contrary to what many smokers think, non-smokers CAN smell it on them for hours and hours and it gets on us, too, when we’re around smoke. When it induces respiratory problems, that’s an issue. Nevertheless, I’m sure everyone there had a great time, and I’m sure many stories will come out of it that will be told for years to come.

After checking in and getting settled, we decided to try to rustle up some gaming action. I brought with me Sentinels of the Multiverse, Project Ninja Panda Taco, and Edition Wars, but was unable to drum up any interest. Rather than assume it was because the games held no interest to anyone but myself, I will instead assume that my Game Master badge intimidated everyone. Instead of gaming, we joined some friends for dinner and conversation, which was just as good as gaming, in my opinion.

Thursday was a fairly low-key day. I started off by wandering around, visiting with Jolly and Barbara Blackburn of Kenzer & Co. (and Knights of the Dinner Table fame) and visiting the Dealer Hall. My first game of the day was supposed to be a HackMaster game at 10AM, but I screwed up during registration and signed up for a 10PM game by mistake! Resigned to my failure, I wandered around some more and purchased some old Spelljammer supplements out of pity for myself (they were still in the shrinkwrap, so I essentially bought NEW items from the ’90s!). My next game was in the afternoon, a Savage Worlds game run by Gygax Magazine called “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1940.” I played Indiana Jones. The other characters in play were Ms. Fury, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. We had a few empty chairs, so no one played Tarzen, The Rocketeer, or The Shadow. There were car chases, Nazis, and zeppelins, as you might expect from a pulp-action game. It was a lot of fun and further cemented my wife’s preference for Savage Worlds over Pathfinder. I, too, have been leaning towards less crunchy systems over the last couple of years, and Savage Worlds and Fate are quickly rising to the top of that list for modern RPGs.

In the evening, I ran my first Paranoia game, “Groovin’ to the Oldies.” I ended up running two sessions of that particularly adventure, and will talk about my games later.

Friday started off with my second Paranoia session. The rest of the day was very low key and I only had one game in the evening, a Top Secret game set during the Cold War called “Operation: Good Night.” We took the role of western spies assigned to extract a Soviet defector from East Berlin. It was interesting to play an RPG set in setting I was somewhat familiar with, having grown up in Germany during the Cold War (though I never visited Berlin). Our group ended up having two moles, but we accomplished our primary objective without any gun play. It was a good game, though a little more gritty & realistic than I was expecting.

Saturday was the big day at Gary Con. It was the busiest from an attendance standpoint, and from a play standpoint for me. My wife ditched both of the games we were scheduled for (one of which was a game I was running!) because she was personally invited by James M. Ward to play in his female-gamer-only game “Monty Haul’s Lesser Tower of Doom.” I, of course, was perfectly OK with this, since when a former TSR luminary and con Guest of Honor invite you to his game, you don’t say no. Publicly, I acted hurt and betrayed that she ditched her husband’s game for another GM’s game. 😀

I started my day with “The FATE (sic) of Skull Island.” It was another pulp-action game set in the 1940 (I’m sensing a theme here), but using Fate Core. I had the books from the Kickstarter, of course, and I played in a Bulldogs! game at Gen Con two years ago, but I rated my comfort level with the Fate system at “Not at all comfortable.” This game changed that. I played a Dashing Barnstormer named Henry “Hank” Jericho, Captain USAAC, Ret., who was a veteran of both wars. From the event’s title, you might surmise that King Kong was involved…and you would be wrong, but his larger cousin EMPEROR Kong was. We had great fun and when the game was over, I had to dash downstairs to run my Star Wars game (WEG, 2nd edition Revised & Expanded), “A Simple Job.” All four of the players who showed up for my game had been players with me in the previous Fate game, so at least no one was waiting for me since I scheduled the games back-to-back. As with the Paranoia games, I’ll talk about my Star Wars game later.

After dinner, we tried to scare up some interest to play Edition Wars, Sentinel of the Multiverse, or Project Ninja Panda Taco, but again, my GM’s badge intimidated everyone. We instead got involved in a couple of games of Bang! The Dice Game and Cards Against Humanity. Never before have I felt guilty for liking a game (and I know there are folks out there who absolutely LOATHE Cards Against Humanity). We noted that the game at least took shots against EVERYONE and not just any particular ethnic group. Still, I understand the loathing some people have for the game, I just don’t particularly agree with it.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

The oasis where we had to recover stolen drones.

Sunday was Gary Con’s slow day, and my day started early with another Top Secret game, this one set in the modern day, run by the game’s creator, Merle Rasmussen. It featured a lot of trading and negotiation, but felt very action packed. It was a ton of fun and all the players received a printed version of the adventure “Operation Rendezvous Oasis” (which will also appear in issue 4 of Gygax Magazine) as well as a new-in-box, shrinkwrapped copy of Merle’s first game, SQWURM from 1979! It was a blast. Originally, I tried to get into Jim Ward’s Sunday game, but due to registration hiccups, there were a lot of games I couldn’t get in, and I didn’t even think to try to get into this one. I figured since it was Merle’s first convention appearance in 30 years, and Top Secret is still pretty popular, that I wouldn’t have a chance. To my shock, there were still seats when I finished registration, so I quickly saved my spot.

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

My novels at the Broadleaf Book Shop

After the game, I ran into Harold Johnson in the Dealer Hall. I’d heard he was running a book shop in Lake Geneva, so I wanted to talk to him about what it would take to get my books in his store. When I showed him my books, he was excited and wanted all the copies I had with me. My novels are now carried in the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva, WI. This pleases me to no end, since Lake Geneva is essentially the birthplace of D&D and without D&D, I probably wouldn’t be writing.

When we returned to the hotel, Gary Con was essentially over, but we managed to play a couple of games of Elder Sign. I now have another game added to my “To Purchase” list, and I bought the electronic version for my Kindle Fire.

Gary Con was a rousing success for me in many ways. My books are carried in a book store now, and I had a lot of fun. It was the best Gary Con yet. There were hiccups, to be sure (we never got to play in the Gary Con Joust as no one was ever officiating when we’d try to play), but overall, it was great. My games…well, I’ll consider them fun failures. All three ran too short. The length was the only failing of the Star Wars game, so I could beef it up with another encounter, and run it again with no other modifications (though I would like better miniatures for the vehicle segments). The Paranoia game, however, is a different story. I got all the jokes in there (I referenced disco, Saints Row IV (Dubstep Gun), Fraggle Rock, Borderlands, The Simpsons, and the Matrix), but the game was so deficiently lethal, it played more like a wacky Gamma World game than a Paranoia game. There were 2-3 deaths at most out of the 6 characters in play, far from the 400%+ death rate I should’ve had. I just didn’t have the right mix of pre-gens and Secret Society missions. I think if I add two more encounters and change up the pre-gens to all be Red clearance (I had a mix this time just to change things up) and re-write all the Secret Society missions to focus more on interparty conflict, I can get it to the right length. The ending though…I like the ending. As a response to criticism I received last year (about always ending with a button press nuclear explosions), I changed it so the button press either reboots the sector or [SPOILERS] ends the Simulation, ala The Matrix. The criticism was about the button press, not the nuclear explosion, so I misinterpreted that, but I really like the idea of Paranoia taking place in a simulation run by our Insect Overlords to keep humans occupied before they toil in the underground sugar caves (there’s your Simpsons reference…from the 90s). Oh well, they can’t all be home runs, and since both groups chose to End the Simulation, I have a perfect excuse to not run Paranoia next year since there are so many other games I want to play and run. I’m considering running all my games in costume next year, and I’ll have to fit the games to the costume so that would mean I need to run Star Trek, Fallout, and a western. I have a year to work on that.

Thanks to Luke Gygax, Dale Leonard, Gene Drebenstedt and the rest of the Gary Con staff for a great convention! I’m looking forward to next year!

Categories: Conventions | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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