“FOR SCIENCE!” – Awesome scientists.

I.

There’s something about cramming sixty thousand broken people into a few blocks of downtown that’s pure unadulterated awesome. The inevitable illness that follows is less so. I will now attempt to dig through the haze of con plague long enough to talk about Dragoncon.

Normally I attend conventions (read: Otakon) with my partner, but at Dragoncon, I’m alone. That gives me a bit more flexibility in what I do because we don’t have to agree on an event. Usually I float around the science/tech/space/skeptics rooms in the Hilton – described by the locals as the Reality Wing – with excursions out of it for video games, writing workshops, fantasy literature, and a few other things. For variety’s sake I mostly avoided the Reality Wing this year. I still went to the writing workshops, particularly Timothy Zahn’s. I don’t usually chase authors, but the opportunity was hard to miss. His Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy has been a fixture on my shelf for twenty years.

I’m always disappointed by the anime track, but that’s hardly surprising since I’m used to going to anime-centered cons. The writer’s workshops were good, as usual, though I do wonder if I’m the only one silly enough to pay for them when I have no intention of making a living that way. I stopped at TOR’s panel to ask if they were doing a reprint or collector’s edition of the Wheel of Time now that the series is finished (nothing in the works but they seemed interested that someone wanted it). There was a track on military history with strategy simulations and the like that I wanted to check out, but never quite got to.

I peeked in on the tabletop gaming room but didn’t do any gaming because there’s nothing I know how to play. Not everything down there was tabletop. They had a whole suite of mech cockpit simulators, courtesy of MechCorps.com, and while I wasn’t willing to wait the one-hour line just to try them out, I did notice that the company does corporate teambuilding events. I wonder if I could get my boss’s boss to pay for something like that….

One event that did not happen this year was the transhumanism/cryonics panel, which turned out to be a scheduling snafu. The usual hosts met on the fifth floor of the Hilton instead, leaving a sign by the science track noting when and where. I don’t identify as a transhumanist, but I hang around online with people who do, so I showed up in the hopes that I would run into someone I knew. I didn’t, but it was still interesting. The low turnout (because of the odd and unscheduled location, I think) turned it into less of a panel and more of a group discussion among ten or so people.

There was a panel on Torment: Tides of Numenera, a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment. It isn’t that widely known, but it’s probably my favorite PC RPG of all time. I attended less for information than to enjoy a group of people geeking out over in-jokes that almost nobody will get, even among geeks. My appreciation can probably be summed up by the following exchange:

Player: “I heard that there won’t be a floating skull in the new Torment. Can I have my kickstarter money back?”

Host, audible all-caps: “DON’T TRUST THE SKULL.”

There’s a solar telescope exhibit on the balcony of the Hilton that I’ve been meaning to go to for several years. This year I finally did. They had a pair of telescopes that look at the sun and filter out anything that will murder your eyes. If you’ve ever looked through a telescope, you know that you see a circular opening containing whatever you’re looking at – stars, the lunar surface, whatever. I looked through the solar scope and saw…clouds through the opening. Because it was cloudy out. Well, I thought, that’s disappointing. I should at least see the sun behind the clouds.

It took a minute or so before I figured out that my thoughts were broken. The perfect circle I saw wasn’t the telescopic opening; it was the sun itself. Everything that was not the sun was completely blotted out. I was mistaking “Sol through clouds” as “just clouds.” Apparently I am an idiot.

I kept a set of solar glasses (I’m sure that’s not the term they used) that will let you look right at the sun without hurting yourself. Those are nifty too. I saw a ball of fire through them, and nothing else. It still made my eyes water with 99% of the light filtered out.

Later I tried to get into the Burlesque. I failed, as usual. I refuse to spend the equivalent of an entire event block waiting in lines, and for some reason everybody always lines up in advance for that one. I can’t imagine why.

There is a String Jam Monday afternoon where anyone who plays a string instrument can show up and join the show. I should learn something just so I can try it next year. Maybe cello.

The last thing I went to was the film festival audience-choice showing. I was expecting it to be unpleasant; art film doesn’t usually do it for me, and lots of movies make me uncomfortable, largely because I feel vicarious embarrassment. Thankfully, audience choice translates to “all the comedy pieces.” My favorite was In The Beginning by Arther Metcalf, but it doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere yet. The Portal was also amusing, but difficult to watch because of aforementioned embarrassment. Star Drunk is on youtube, and was notable for being written, directed, and acted entirely by drunk people. I approve.

II.

I went to an introductory LARP panel on Friday, which is way the hell outside my usual fare. I showed up on a whim, thinking vaguely that LARPing would force me to talk to people. It did sort of work, in that I ended up talking with a woman from the row in front of me about it for a while. That was the first of four conversations with random congoers over the course of the weekend. That is, I think, four more than I managed at Momocon. I consider that a victory.

LARPing terrifies the hell out of me. It’s short for Live Action Role Playing, and it is essentially improv theater plus game mechanics. I am, of course, always up for game mechanics. Acting? Not so much. In fact I spent most of Friday night in the newbie room reading up on the game while System 1 screamed at me that if you don’t stop reading you don’t have to interact with the scary people. Not terribly productive, since the entire point of being there was to interact with said scary people. But I did step into the room to get my feet wet. And I did come back the next evening to continue the game.

I picked one of several pre-generated character sheets when I signed up. Me being me, I went with a mage and asked many relevant questions about magical skills. But since it’s a social game, characters have social traits along with whatever else; and because it’s live action, you’re expected to roleplay them. I didn’t think too hard about the social traits when picking a character. When I dug into it later, I noticed that my mage, one William Rocheford (it was a modern setting), had social traits of “Intense,” “Magnetic,” and “Seductive.”

Intense I can do if I have to. The other two? I have about as much chance of faking a magnetic personality as I do of convincingly pretending to be a nine year old girl. As for “seductive”, that would produce about the same mental reflex as trying to intentionally remove my own fingers with a blowtorch. Manifesting myself is hard enough. I gave up on manifesting other people and just went with “me, minus verbal filter.” i.e. sardonic and misanthropic.

And…actually it went okay. I don’t know that I would say it was fun, but I kept at it through the weekend. The nature of the game, where people congregate in groups that aren’t necessarily aware of each others’ actions, makes for some amusement. At one point one of the DMs came in with another player, fighting laughter, and said “okay, see this guy? He just came flying in from that other room and crash landed against the far wall.” There was no explanation; we had to interrogate him ourselves after he recovered. It turned out he’d called the Queen of the Fey a rusty bitch-face and, well, got schooled. Then he did it again a few minutes later. I think he had “bad judgment” as a flaw on his character sheet. It probably wasn’t prefixed with the word amazingly, but it should have been.

Also amusing: Another player, in character, fearfully asked me on first meeting not to squish him. Then he broke out of character and said “wait a minute, is your character as tall as you are? Do you have ‘giant’ on your character sheet? Because if you don’t, you totally should.” For some reason that cracked me up. We ended up going with “I have not thought of this because I had no idea it was going to matter, so let’s just assume my character looks like me,” and “okay, I won’t squish you…right now,” because his character was annoying as fuck and I didn’t want to rule out later squishing.

I was kind of disappointed to have to leave the LARP early on Sunday, for something unrelated that I refused to miss.

III.

That thing I refused to miss was The Panel. It shall remain nameless in a halfhearted attempt to keep its hosts from getting in more trouble than they usually are. It is the centerpiece of my Dragoncon each year.

The Panel is late at night, and involves electricity, magnets, cattle prods, setting things on fire, midnight pizza, lots of alcohol, and a generous helping of SCIENCE. The Panel is populated entirely by technical geeks. Drunk and exhausted technical geeks who no longer have to give a fuck about not geeking out in front of normals. The Panel is awesome. And informative! Did you know you can protect yourself from an electric cattle prod by putting a condom over the end? You do now. They tried it last year.

Management has cracked down a bit on the hosts Not Giving Out Alcohol, so now people have to bring their own. That was a bit of a problem last year because nobody knew that until they showed up. This time people knew, so it went a bit better and there were people sharing bottles. Next year I’m seriously thinking of buying a suitcase of the stuff at Costco just to assist the festivities. I don’t even drink.

There is also a woman who comes by around midnight each year just to get shocked with the cattle prod. I don’t know why. I’m not sure anyone knows why. I did try the prod myself. I blame peer pressure. And masochism.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

IV.

General Dragoncon information: Acquiring food is not as hard as it seems. At the food court, everybody piles into the places with names they recognize. Trying to go to Subway or Chick-Fil-A or Dairy Queen is a lost cause. Anything not widely recognizable is a much better bet. Unfamiliar food will not actually poison you. I go to a place called Malibu Wings that has reasonably good food and never has a line. Plus they have vegetables, which I am always chronically short on over convention weekend. It’s surprising how much of a difference a few green beans can make to one’s general feeling of well-being.

The three primary hotels – the Hyatt, the Mariott, and the Hilton – are all connected by skybridges, in that order. Great, one would think; you don’t have to go outside. Except often you do, because the bridges are so crammed there are lines to get across them. Going into the street is nearly as bad.

If you’re like me and 90% of what you go to is either in the Hilton or the Hyatt, there is a better way. Across the street from the Hilton is a parking garage with a skybridge that goes to the foot court, and from there to the Hyatt. It is always quick and clear. True, you have to go outside to get there…but the reason to avoid going outside is the heat, and the heat on the hotel skybridges is, frankly, just as bad.

Going from one place to another through the main floors of the Mariott is a bad plan. The place is jam packed, wall to wall, all the time. This is what it looked like at one o’clock in the morning, Saturday night:

I think we all sleep on our feet like horses.

On the other hand, the Hyatt lower floors are wonderful. If you need to get out of the heat and noise, the bottom level is silent and the AC actually keeps up.

V.

I think my favorite cosplay of the weekend was the Cavalcade of Deadpool, which was much, much longer than the small piece I could get a snap of:

Cavalcade of Deadpools

Everything you need to know about anything in the world is contained in that picture.