Category Archives: Gaming

Posts related to games Rob plays.

Rob’s Update: Love Alters Not

Week of 19 November – 2 December

Greetings all. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Mine was wonderful in many ways. My sweetie and I cooked together and ate great food.

We also bought Zombie Munchkin and Mansions of Madness, which of course we played both. Munchkin is always fun, of course, so no surprise there.

Mansions of Madness, though, is a fantastic combination of technology and board gaming. The game is built around the app, which randomizes all sorts of things and exposes clues here and there as the players find them. It scales up and down to reflect the number of players in the game. Really neat design.

Also, it’s a collaborative game and perfect for a family to play together. In other words, it’s a game where all the players are on the same side trying to solve the mystery. I should say, it’s usually a collaborative game. It’s based around H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories, so characters can not only be killed by the monsters, they can also be driven mad. And when they’re driven mad, the players might end up having different victory conditions.

Yes, I won the game, all by myself, by knifing my proto-incipient step-daughter. Go Me! And my insanity 😀

The only thing that would have made Thanksgiving better was if I hadn’t gotten a nasty cough and cold. When I wasn’t cooking or playing a game, I was mostly a slug. I didn’t do much, though I pushed through a little writing.

I did have a chance to record a couple of episodes of Write Pack Radio. You can find us at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/write-pack-radio/id870221780?mt=2 and http://www.blogtalkradio.com/writepackradio. On Sunday the 10th, we’ll discuss the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction. On the 17th, we’ll talk about making characters.

Quote of the Week

Today I am in Kansas City, where I am officiating the wedding of some friends this afternoon. I based the ceremony around one of Shakespeare’s most quoted sonnets, so it seems right to quote from that sonnet today. Congratulations, Nicholas and Margaret.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

– Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

News and Works in Progress

  • Brief Is My Flame. Making progress. Treachery, deceit, war, and an ancient horror are on the docket for today.

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

One of the other Write Pack members is Brad R. Cook. He writes a lot of steampunk, and I enjoy hearing his takes during our discussions. You can find his work at: https://www.amazon.com/Brad-R.-Cook/e/B01EQZ7GEM/.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.
Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Website: www.robhowell.org
Blog: www.robhowell.org/blog
Shijuren Wiki: http://www.shijuren.org/World+of+Shijuren+Home
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/robhowell.org/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rhodri2112

Currently Available Works

A Lake Most Deep (Edward, Book 1)
The Eyes of a Doll (Edward, Book 2)
Where Now the Rider (Edward, Book 3)
I Am a Wondrous Thing (The Kreisens, Book 1)
Brief Is My Flame (The Kreisens, Book 2) Forthcoming 2017
None Call Me Mother (The Kreisens, Book 3) Forthcoming 2018

Weekly Update Archive

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

DragonCon AAR

Greetings all

I have survived my first DragonCon. It’s probably not my last one, but I have to have a good reason to go back.

Much of DragonCon is fantastic. Lots of incredible costumes. Lots of cool stuff to buy. Lots of interesting panels. Lots of celebrities. Lots of parties. All of this is great.

Thanks to the generosity of Van Allen Plexico and Brett Brooks, my books were on display in the Artists Alley section. None sold, but a bunch of bookmarks were given out. It can’t hurt, and since I didn’t actually pay anything it’s a net win.

I got to see several friends up for Dragon Awards. Some won, some lost, but it’s still cool to realize the quality of writers I’m earning a place among. I had a great time hanging out with Barflies. I should have actually spent more time with them and other writers and publishers.

The Hyatt House, where I stayed, had a fantastic staff, and my roommates, who I’d never met prior to Thursday, were all pleasant to deal with, even though five of us squeezed into a suite.

I gamed a lot, playing in four Pathfinder Society scenarios including two specials, which are a blast. I also played in an ad-hoc game on Thursday which was hilarious. I was the second to die. This will come as no shock but it was because my character couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I also played in some random games in the large gaming area. Cards Against Humanity is always fun, especially with the alcohol flowing, and DragonCon is one huge party.

But the execution of the event seemed oddly amateurish. As if this wasn’t the 30th time they ran this, but the first or second.

For example, I spent most of my time gaming once I figured out I wouldn’t be needed in a booth. I decided to play Pathfinder Society, and so I looked for PFS registration area. This was on the 2nd floor of America’s Mart Building 1, in the far corner, about as far from the entrance as could be.

That’s not necessarily a problem, but the directions on the boards and the app weren’t terribly clear, and the actual Pathfinder Society games were on the 1st floor of that building. There was room enough for the registration area to be in that same room, but for some reason they chose to put those tables up a floor on the other side of a big building.

Since the biggest complaint I have relates to traffic control, it will come as no surprise I look at this particular weirdness as emblematic of the con. All of those who wanted to just play Pathfinder Society could have been arranged in one particular area, but by setting things up as they did, it added congestion at the one set of escalators available.

Unfortunately, this was not the worst traffic control mistake they made. DragonCon runs along a ridge in downtown Atlanta. The hill is substantial, but there are walkways between buildings and other things that ameliorate such problems. Still, it’s not easy to get around, and climbing up and down that ridge can suck.

The vendors were all placed in the America’s Mart, Building 2, which  was a fine choice in many ways. It certainly had room enough. However, it was located at the far end of the con at the bottom of the ridge. Again, with walkways and such it’s not a big deal. Also, the main entrance was on the upper side of the building, which was closest to the other convention buildings.

But there was apparently a problem with this arrangement and in the middle of the con they suddenly shunted all access to the vendors to the downhill, farther side of the building. This meant you had to go up three extra sets of escalators. Oh, and those walkways? They closed them off.

Let me repeat. In the middle of the con they closed off all entrances to the building that held the vendors but the farthest, least convenient entrance possible.

All of the maps that said where to go to see the vendors became instantly wrong. Few of the people doing traffic control knew the exact directions. To get to the vendors, one had to hunt at the far end of the con to find the one way in.

This is again where the amateurish appearance comes to the forefront. It is not like they haven’t used these buildings before. It is, after all, the 30th time they’ve had this event in Atlanta. I get that it has grown and they’ve had to adjust, but it seems incredible to me that they couldn’t anticipate the traffic flow.

By comparison, GenCon, which is similar in size, manages all of this nicely. It’s busy and there are people everywhere, but you know where to go and they are much more efficient with their traffic flow.

I get it. I get that 80,000 people are hard to deal with. However, closing off all but one of the six or so available entrances to a huge building does not seem like a good answer to me. They also did this to America’s Mart Building 1, which held all of the gaming.

Clearly they could afford people to check badges at every door, because all of the closed entrances had people stationed there turning attendees away. No, for some reason, they were convinced that restricting access to one door on each of these two buildings would provide the most efficient traffic flow.

Given that I spent most of the con in these two buildings, I’m particularly frustrated by this. I will say, other parts of the con might have had better traffic flow, though it didn’t seem like it from what little I saw. I saw a lot of miscommunication amongst people working the con. Some confusion is to be expected, but not as much as I saw, especially related to traffic flow.

Again, I should emphasize that there was much to enjoy. Best cosplay con I’ve seen, no doubt. I really enjoyed the gaming that played.

But they do not seem to have a good handle on the logistics of 80,000 people. It’s a tough thing, alright, but other places have managed.

Perhaps the answer is to move DragonCon to Indianapolis, which could handle it just like it handles GenCon. Maybe there are solutions in Atlanta. I don’t know enough to even guess at solutions. What I do know is that their ConCom needs to figure that out.

Will I go back? Maybe. I’m inquiring on different room options and prices for next year to weigh the choice. I’m likely to go if I’m ever fortunate enough to be a finalist for a Dragon Award. I do have friends there I enjoy, including some new gaming friends.

There’s definitely fun to be had at DragonCon, but it’s an open question whether it’s worth the expense and hassle. We shall see.

LibertyCon AAR

I started this on July 4th, a perfect time to celebrate LibertyCon XXX. And celebrate we must. LibertyCon is the best-run science fiction and fantasy convention out there and I had a great time.

I arrived at the Chattanooga Choo Choo fairly early on Thursday, having broken the trip up in multiple sections thanks to friends who have offered me crash space. I knew I was going to push myself pretty hard during the weekend, so I did my best to ensure I was as fresh as possible after the drive.

The big event of the weekend for me was on Saturday, where I had a joint release party for Where Now the Rider and For a Fistful of Credits, the new Four Horsemen Universe Anthology. Thursday evening I did some pre-planning and moving of stuff around to figure out the best arrangement of beverages and food.

After I got pretty much all I could do done,  I went to ConSuite, which was not technically open but was still the gathering place. There I hung out with a few people and listened to Sarah Hoyt do a reading from a book that shall remain nameless. They say that traumatic events can cause selective amnesia. It was awful. All I can say is that it wasn’t written by anyone at the con. Oh, I can say one other thing. We laughed a lot.

Most of Friday was spent organizing stuff. I decided on the layout in the room and arranged things as best I could. I also went to the Opening Ceremonies and got reacquainted with old friends. I didn’t have panels on Friday, so mostly I lounged around during the afternoon.

My main thing on Friday was my stint on Author’s Alley from 8pm to 11pm. Basically, I moved all my books and set up in front of the rooms where panels were being held. I sold a few, while meeting a number of potential readers. It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done, and in the long run it’s worth it.

After that I was tired but had enough energy to enjoy some room parties and hang out with some friends. I especially enjoyed hanging out by the pool with Aaron Mays, Jonny Minion, and a couple of others.

As I was getting a beer from my cooler, I ran into Sarah, Dan, and Robert Hoyt. It turns out that Roberts around the world like IPAs, so I got him one and we stood around chatting. It was my first time actually having a chance to chat with Sarah. Her at LibertyCon is like me at Pennsic, only with a much smaller site and a correspondingly higher chance to find another conversation.

Saturday was a really long day. At 11am I was part of a panel discussing various ways to get your plot unstuck and overcoming writer’s block. There are a ton of possible ways to do this, but it all boils down to finding what works for you. Whether it’s changing the environment, taking a shower, driving around, or something else, it’s the kind of thing that varies for everyone.

At 2pm was a panel I was very much excited to join: The Middle Ages as Inspiration for Epic and High Fantasy. Thanks to my grad school work, I anticipated I’d have lots to say, and I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and hope to do it again. I could have gone on for a while.

I then had several hours before my reading with Dave Schroeder at 6pm. There were a couple of very interesting panels to attend, but I chose wisely and took a bit of a nap, arranged my books and display for the party, and got as much prep done as possible.

I did not have time to create a 20-minute long reading from Where Now the Rider, so my reading at 6pm on Saturday was one from I Am a Wondrous Thing that I have done before. It’s a scene where Irina is convinced to give up the title of Velikomat and the immediate aftermath of her stepping down. It’s an emotional one for me, and I always cry when I read it. It’s a powerful section, and I get a pretty good response from those that listen. Dave read a bit from his new fantasy series, the Congruent Apprentice, which sounds interesting but which I’ve not yet read, and a small bit from his Xenotech Rising series, which I have read some of and really like.

The Four Horsemen Universe is a series of stories about humans discovering that interstellar mercenaries are their best export good. It’s a large sandbox created by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey and many fantastic mil-sf authors are joining in. I am looking forward to reading these stories, just as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels in the universe. Oh, and I just might be working on a short story for the next anthology.

However, this party was to celebrate the release of their first anthology, as well as my newest book. The writers of the anthology brought all the food and I brought nearly all the beverages. As usual, I am coming home with about the same amount as I took out, but at least we didn’t run out of alcohol. Many thanks to Kacey Ezell, one of the contributors to the anthology, who also contributed her cooler to help organize the drinks.

Which is a good thing because we were packed. It was a great party and I sold a goodly number of books, as well as added to my mailing list. Basically, we went four solid hours with guests.

Around 12:30, the crowd dissipated, and with the help of Aaron and a few others we transported the leftovers over to the ConSuite and shut the party down. I was toast. So toast that it took a while for me to relax enough to get to sleep.

I was still tired Sunday, but I had expected that. I started the day at the Kaffeeklatsch. I had a great conversation with the Science Guest of Honor, Dr. Elisa Quintana and Dr. Tom Barclay, who is also a scientist. They study exoplanets and we discussed the most efficient ways we can get humans in space. Well, I asked questions and they taught me stuff, which was wonderful from my perspective.

Immediately after that was my turn at the signature table, where I joined Gray Rinehart and Charity Ayres. The signature table can be packed if a David Weber, David Drake, or John Ringo is sitting there, but for us was fairly quiet. I think we all sold a book or two, with signatures, but mostly the three of us had a great conversation.

One of the joys of LibertyCon is comparing notes with other professionals, because there is such a high percentage of professionals to fans. LibertyCon caps its attendance at 750, and over 150 attendees are professional writers, artists, scientists, or something else relevant. Also, I would bet that a large number of the remainder are people like me at my first LibertyCon, those who want to become professionals. It’s a great chance for us all to learn, and over the years I’ve learned a ton.

Anyway, my last panel of the weekend was Cooking Out of this World. This panel went off the rails. At least we were funny, but we were all a little tired and we strayed from the topic early and often. Todd McCaffrey did ask one interesting question that we talked about a bit but not enough, and that’s what are the environmental factors that will affect the way things taste in space? Obviously, things taste differently on airplanes, which is something airlines are already dealing with, but will be an issue for interplanetary and interstellar travel.

The last session of LibertyCon is the Bitch at Brandy session. Brandy Spraker is the chairman of the con, and she does a fantastic job. The closing ceremonies each year are a chance for people to suggest things that could be improved. Once everyone has had their chance to make comments, good and bad, about the con, she officially closes the con. They take these suggestions seriously, too, and I have seen some implemented in the four years I’ve gone.

Much of the rest of Sunday involved me finishing cleaning up after the party and doing most of my packing. I have learned that I want to stay  overnight on Sunday and leave Monday morning, but I basically pack everything but Monday’s clothes and shower stuff.

I got that done in time to join about 35 of us at a Brazilian steakhouse. I had the fortune of sitting next to a few people I knew, but had never really talked with, including Miriam Ringo, the wife of one of the best mil-sf writers around, John Ringo. What a fun and generous person she is. She had a bracelet on that I admired and thought Giulia would also like. Miriam immediately removed it and handed to me as a gift. By this point were about 3 minutes into our conversation. I was stunned by her generosity then, and still find it amazing and admirable now. Then we had a long and wonderful conversation.

Actually, everyone at dinner had a great time. It has been decided that this will be a LibertyCon Sunday evening tradition.

Following dinner was something that is already a LibertyCon tradition, the Dead Dog party. Basically, those who stay on Sunday evening eat drink as much of the leftovers as possible and play games or hang out.

Again, I had some incredible good fortune. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, the inventor of Munchkin and a bunch of other great games, was playtesting some games and I got to join in. Steve is a wonderful and fun guy, and the rest of us had a blast tossing out ideas and picking them apart.

Getting to toss out suggestions on games, even bad ones, to a legend like Steve Jackson is definitely a highlight for me.

Around 12:30, we called it a night, and therefore the end of the con. I went to bed and left for a fairly smooth drive back. The only real excitement was seeing a collision about a half-mile ahead of me in the oncoming lane. The truck driver did a great job and controlled his 18-wheeler in the median so our lane never had to worry.

As I’ve mentioned, LibertyCon is a different beast from other cons. I will be going back there every year, though there’s some question as to when and where the next one will be.

For the four years I’ve attended, it has been at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, but the hotel has sold off about 80% of its rooms to make apartments / condos. Basically, while the convention space is fine, there are only rooms for about 20% of the con goers. This means many are off in the Marriott, which is not far but still puts a crimp in the con experience. Part of the fun of cons is going to room parties which are elsewhere in the hotel. Have fun, drink a few beverages, and then trundle to your room. No travel logistics to speak of. Even free shuttle buses are not a great solution, though of course those were provided.

In short, the Choo Choo simply cannot work anymore. Unfortunately, convention sites are notoriously difficult to find at times, and Brandy and her folks are casting about for a solution. I heard a rumor that a new convention hotel is getting built in Chattanooga, but will not be fully ready by summer 2018. I’m not sure if that’s true, but while they aren’t at all sure of time and place next year, or even if they might take a year off, they all seemed confident that things would be fine by 2019.

Whatever they come up with, I’ll be back.

CoastCon AAR

Greetings all

I attended CoastCon in Biloxi, MS this weekend as part of my longer Gulf Wars trip. I’m now spending the week in Biloxi, looking out over the Gulf coast. Today the Gulf is restless with a 23mph wind out of the southeast. It’s 72, but it feels much chillier as the wind picks up water from the Gulf and carries in onshore.

Quite nice in a brisk way, actually, but it’s going to be a rainy week. My sunny days here I spent inside at the con. Ah well.

The con was quite enjoyable, if not terribly productive. It was fairly small, and I only had two panels. Hence, I had a lot of free time.

Fortunately, a couple of days ago, I read an article on Passive Voice about the difference in bookstores as opposed to comic book stores. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are dying while comic stores are often thriving. The reason, according to the writer, is the sense of community that comic stores create. Whether it’s a gaming event, or simply just to hang out and talk to other fans, people go to comic stores to just be there with friends far more than bookstores.

This struck a chord with me, in part because I totally agree with her assessment. I have not done enough to be a part of the science fiction and fantasy gaming community. This is especially silly on my part given the influence of D&D on my writing. I’m not saying only gamers will enjoy my stuff, only that gamers are likely to be some of my strongest readers, if they know I exist.

So, I’m resolved to fix that. Yes, mom, I did just find an excuse to game more often. Especially when I go to a convention and there are people I can hang out with for hours and talk about my books periodically. If I’m not on a panel, gaming is a place for me to meet people.

I know it’s obvious that gaming is a place to meet people. Oddly, it’s because gaming is something I always want to do that has held me back. I go to conventions to work, after all. So, it’s been a bit of an oversight on my part.

But this weekend convinced me I need to be more active in the gaming community, whether in KC or at a con. I spent virtually all of the weekend playing Pathfinder Society games. Pathfinder Society is just that, a society of people playing essentially D&D at cons. In other words, many times it’s the same people at a table, meaning I have a chance to make more meaningful connections. It helps that Pathfinder is one of my favorite games to play and I rarely get the opportunity.

In any case, I had a good time, but more importantly, made some connections and even sold some books immediately.

And I have some potential ideas to do some crossover things in the future.

When I wasn’t gaming, I did have two panels. Now, I must say that the way CoastCon set up their panels seemed odd to me. They consisted of one speaker, not three or four. In other words, it was me talking for an hour. More teaching a class than a collection of ideas.

Fortunately, I’ve taught a class or two here and there.

The first panel was about Blending Noir in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’ve talked about this before and will again, but this time I had to structure it a little more precisely. I only had three attendees, which actually turned out pretty good as I pulled them close and I led them in a discussion. I think it went well.

The second panel involved adding history to fiction. I really enjoyed this one and all of the seven attendees said it worked well. What I decided to do was recount the Martin Koszta Affair of 1853 and, as I did so, look for things that could inspire plot points or worldbuilding. I’d like to do this one again, even though it does require me to be the lone panelist, or at least just me and maybe a moderator to prime the audience’s pump for questions or comments here or there.

Overall, the con itself was very small and the venue was too large. It was at the Gulf Coast Convention Center and CoastCon was only one of four events happening there this weekend. There was the Everything Embroidery convention. I’ll wait a moment for all the embroiders out there to catch their breath. Yes, there was a time when a huge embroidery convention happened in the same building as a SF/F/gaming convention happened. Yes, you could have done both, or dropped the significant other off at CoastCon.

In any case, on Saturday there was also a Monster Truck thing in the Arena, and in the end of the convention center was the Seabee Ball.

Yes, parking on Saturday sucked, why do you ask?

Not only was the parking on Saturday inconvenient, I suspect that hurt attendance at the con. I can absolutely envision some people who wanted to get a Saturday-only pass to the con coming to the parking lot, finding there’s a parking fee (which was waived for people with weekend passes to CoastCon), and deciding not to attend after all.

I don’t know that I’ll ever come back to CoastCon. I only came this year because it was the week before Gulf Wars, meaning I could drive here, stay here, and then go an hour north to the event. I used Airbnb for the first time and found a condo across from the beach for $433 for 9 days, which is even better when you factor in it has a real kitchen and a washer/dryer. It’s small, but no smaller than a hotel room and I’ve saved some money by eating in.

The schedule might work again next year, so it’s not out of the question, but it’s also true that the weekend after Gulf Wars is MidSouthCon in Memphis. I might be able to find a place in Memphis for the week or possibly crash space.

I will say I’ve enjoyed the condo here. Part of it is the idea of staying in the same place for 9 straight days. If I’m calculating correctly, this is only the second such stretch in 2017.

We’ll see how productive I am this week. Early returns are very productive, given what I’ve done since the end of the con yesterday. I think I’ve got a good shot at finishing Where Now the Rider this week. If I do, then this week has been worth the price.

I think it’s time for me to take a nap so I can write again this evening. Have a great day.