04 September 2017

Dragoncon 2017!

I've lived in Atlanta for the past couple of years and I always meant to go to Dragoncon but I always manage to talk myself out of it. Not this year, though!

I went with my good friend Alex, and we saw a lot of cool stuff. A couple of her friends were there (including one of the designers of a game called Legion,) and it was neat. My highlights:

1) Keith Baker held a panel, and it was kind of cool. I'm a respectful admirer of Eberron, and it was interesting hearing him speak about the things he'd made, why he made them, and the ideas that were behind them. He intentionally made Eberron kind of different [1], but what was really interesting was hearing him talk about Gloom. One day, so he was saying, he saw a deck of transparent playing cards and he thought to himself "I didn't know you could print on transparent plastic!" So he took a bunch of those overhead projector sheets and set about making a game with them. He basically went around asking a bunch of companies if they could make this into a game, and so they kind of did. That sort of process is enormously inspiring to somebody like me- it's not that he had some grand idea, it was just sort of a process of building successive prototypes of game and then trying to figure out afterwards if it could be made. [2]

2) The panel "Board games! Board games! Board games!" We were actually late to this one (we met some friends and so we had to traverse the streets while the parade was setting up [3]. As a result, I have no idea who the speaker was- we arrived after he introduced himself, plus we left before he was finished (I had to go see Keith Baker, which meant walking a couple of blocks through the super crowded streets), plus the Dragoncon app doesn't actually list anybody as a speaker? But anyways, this was a guy who spoke at length about, basically, how to make board games. He spoke about the process at Fantasy Flight, about how many games there are out there, how many are coming out, and what it takes to be a success. Mostly in business terms- he seemed to assume that everybody there knew how to design a decent game, and honestly, if you don't then nobody will publish your game. He did talk about the elevator pitch idea, and how the board game community is learning different skills- like how deckbuilders have sort of progressed since Dominion came out [4]. I thought that was interesting. Sometimes I fantasize about designing board games instead of just writing roleplaying rules in my head all day and so now that fantasy is a little stronger.

3) Creativity 101 on Sunday was interesting, if vague. The best thing, honestly, was being in a room full of writers, if that makes sense. I had forgotten what that was like! I spend most of my waking hours either by myself or alongside tradespeople, and while I get along quite well with electricians and plumbers and framers, they're a different type of person. This panel actually kind of sucked, but in fairness, it was labelled as a "101" style class. They'd ask questions about their process, and literally every time somebody said something that worked for them, somebody else would say they did the exact opposite. One guy stops in the middle of sentences so he's got something to finish up tomorrow morning and once he's writing, he gets right back where he was. Another lady doesn't stop until she's finished the chapter or paragraph and when she leaves her writing area, she's done. One person starts with the characters and builds a world to challenge them, another thinks of a situation that's interesting and works backwards to figure out who the people involved in it are. And so on, and so on. But it was fun, anyways. This is the panel where Alex and I decided it was time to get serious about writing, and so we both decided to do national novel writing month this year for real, and that we were going to meet up and talk about writing more often because even though we're both busy as shit with our real lives, if you don't make time for the things that are important to you then you'll never do it. And I know that as for me, personally, writing is part of who I am.

4) The best panel by far was the panel "Historical Influences in High Fantasy," which features Micheal Livingston, Van Allen Plexico, and Constance G. J. Wagner. The highlight for me was Micheal Livingston who I don't actually think I've ever mentioned on this blog but who is a person I highly admire and respect and he always had some extremely interesting things to say about whatever the topic was. Not to diminish the other panelists, of course- Constance is clearly a knowledgeable scholar in her own right, and Van (?) seemed like a pretty cool dude. I think Constance is a philosophical idealist, but I think that's common for Tolkien scholars and especially students of folklore and mythology- she seemed to think that the Game of Thrones TV show somehow spawned a movement towards grimdark, death, intrigue as a step away from Tolkien, whereas I'd argue that the fans of that show existed before the show came out, and that there's a pessimistic and cynical thread in storytelling in general that's very in vogue right now and has been popular for a while. [5]

Anyways, it was a very good panel and now I know a little more about what I need to do.

5) I missed out on seeing Alton Brown live (the line wrapped around the hotel for probably a mile, but I should have expected that) and so instead I went to hang out with Alex to talk to a write for the show Warehouse 13, which I'd never heard of but seemed pretty cool. She explained it to me over dinner, although we also both had some fairly strong drinks so my memory is a little fuzzy. But it's basically "what if a magical warehouse full of artifacts?" and I'm into that.

6) I love seeing artists and I bought some beautiful prints at the show from people that I thought were very cool. I'll probably write more about this later (I know I will,) but long story short, I have a bunch of beautiful art for my walls and I desperately need to get some frames. And one art book, by the very interesting Naomi Vandoren, who I am very jealous of. I tried not to seem to jealous in person when I was looking at her beautiful art and listening to how she painted all of this stuff while cruising across central Europe and Ireland and all of these other places but it was also inspiring. It made me feel like could, and should, be a better person. And that's what art is about! The things she paints and the landscapes she creates are so inviting. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who said that art is a conversation across time, and it's honestly wonderful. I did my best not to take up too much of her time at the convention but there is something genuinely inspiring about talking to certain people. I didn't mean for this to turn into a short essay about why I love art, but there you go. Best part of Dragoncon was seeing the artists. [6]

7) The guy who makes the Legion game is actually very nice and even though a military science fiction wargame based on the d20 system is literally the last thing I'd ever design, I do have a soft spot for that kind of system. I don't know if I'd go as far as trying to find out a way to get a place at his table, but it's certainly something I'll try and keep flexible on. In the meantime, if you do like that sort of thing, please check out Legion and see if you care for it, because it seems reasonably well made and I can assure you on a personal level that its creators are decent people.

[1] I don't really like things that are different for the sake of being different, but the thing about Keith Baker is that even if I don't necessarily agree with the things he says / thinks, he's a fairly intelligent man and an accomplished creative and I strongly respect his creative vision.

[2] It was like looking at how the sausage was made- he basically said that he had no idea if what he was trying to do was possible but he wanted to do it anyways, and also that he sort of made up the game based off what works when you're stacking transparent cards, which I thought was great.

[3] The streets were absolutely packed and it turns out the people of Atlanta walk a lot like they drive- distracted as shit and not paying attention to hardly anybody but themselves. There were multiple occasions where somebody would be walking through a narrow path about as wide as their shoulders and then just sort of stop where they were standing, which boggled my mind. At one point, there was about enough space for a single person to pass but people were trying to go in both directions, so I rubbed bellies / asses with quite a few of my fellow con-goers as we all crammed our bodies sideways and tried to make the best of it.

[4] He didn't like Dominion, which is almost heresy in my eyes. Not that he's wrong- some sets of kingdom cards are kind of boring (especially the base set, with duds like the Chancellor, a card which is both weak and boring... although to the designer's credit, he did end up removing quite a few of the most boring cards in the second edition.)

[5] Breaking Bad, for example, is a show about a sociopath and it was huge before Game of Thrones came out, and not to mention that GRRM's books have been out at least a decade before the TV show came out and they have been fairly popular throughout their entire run... Leaving aside the fact that Warhammer Fantasy has been a mainstay of the "grimdark" style of fantasy since the late 90s (where it began transitioning from goofy parody fantasy to over the top violent fantasy).

[6] I have mixed feelings about it sometimes because some artists have built up this big cage and it's just like, their face poking through so they can talk to people through this cage. One artist who I was very impressed by, Sam Guay (and who I bought art from, and will buy art from again), had almost a wall that she stood behind and I remember she looked at me with the strangest look in her eyes. I have learned over my lifetime that I am extremely good at reading people but a convention is not the place for me to try and spark a conversation with an artist at a convention booth when she probably just wants me to buy her art and go. But still. I hope she is ok.

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