This Is Tyranny?

The health care “debate” has been a sad spectacle. The insurance company executives must be laughing their asses off at the sight of so many people who can’t afford health insurance standing up for the rights of their companies to make staggering profits from human misery while denying sick people coverage. What truly boggles my mind is how universal health care is now being portrayed as tyranny by the right wingers, with the obligatory pictures of Obama as Hitler to punctuate the point.

So this is tyranny, huh? Funny, I don’t recall Hitler’s infamy arising from his desire to give health care to Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and communists. Leaving aside the fact that no one is suggesting that the public option be compulsory (that’s why “option” is right there in the phrase), I find it interesting it interesting that all of a sudden the right wingers are afraid of tyranny in America. So let me get this straight, tea baggers:

You didn’t protest when the Bush administration lied us into a war in Iraq with tales of phantom weapons of mass destruction.

You didn’t protest when people rounded up in the wake of 9/11 were imprisoned for years without any charges being filed against them or when Guantanamo Bay was turned into a legal limbo that made a mockery of the idea of American justice.

You didn’t protest when the Bush administration began an illegal program of torture.

You didn’t protest when the CIA began to rendition prisoners to black hole prisons in other countries where they could be tortured even more brutally.

You didn’t protest when the government began an illegal program to wiretap the phones of all Americans and the telecom companies played right along.

You didn’t protest when stop-loss was used to involuntarily extend the service of American soldiers so they could serve additional tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now, now you get up frothing at town hall meetings and wave your placards. Now you protest and posture that the tree of liberty must be watered with blood. And why? Because somehow making sure that every American can have affordable health care is tyranny. Where were you, tea baggers,when Bush and Cheney were asserting that the executive branch could do anything and because they did it, it could not be illegal? Oh, that’s right, you were out there chanting, “USA! USA!” and telling those of us who did protest that we were commies undermining the president in a time of war.

So don’t talk to me about tyranny. You know nothing about it.

GenCon Report

I finally got back from GenCon last night at 9 pm. It was a successful and fun show and as is usually the case it helped recharge my creative batteries. It’s really nice to spend the week with other passionate game enthusiasts and see the cool stuff going on in all aspects of the hobby. The focus of my con was, of course, the Green Ronin booth and I spent most of each day there pimping our wares and talking to people about Dragon Age. We did a DA promo flier for the show and there was a lot of interest in the game, which made me happy. I don’t have the time or energy for a day by day breakdown but here are the things that stand out in my mind.

Ice and Fire: This is the first GenCon since the release of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and it was great to see the depth of interest in the game. We sold out of core books and the new adventure Peril at King’s Landing by noon Sunday. Jim Kiley ran demos at our booth three of the four days and all slots filled up easily. And it won two ENnie Awards. The game has got legs and once we get the Campaign Guide out it’ll really be cooking.

Girl Scouts Gone Wild: GenCon did a program with the Girl Scouts this year. I donated five copies of Faery’s Tale Deluxe for GMs and an adventure. The demos went over so well that many of the girls and their families came to our booth and bought us out of the game. I love the idea of Girl Scouts learning to roleplay at GenCon. Thanks to Faith Felice for organizing this very cool program.

Punking the Punk: After our post-ENnies dinner, I ended up at this horrible dance club with Nicole and Paul Tevis. There was a party for the Brave New World movie there and Nicole wanted to drop by and congratulate Matt Forbeck. You could hear the music a block away and inside you had to yell to talk to anyone. We found Matt and the last holdouts of the party in a small room off to the side. After a couple of minutes, Nicole went out to the main room and the others followed. This left Tevis and I alone in the room. It didn’t take long for other patrons at the club to discover it. As Paul and I tried to have a discussion about wargames, the room filled up with dancing drunks taking pictures of each other. Imagine trying to talk about PanzerBlitz and For the People over thumping house music as club kids gyrated all around. Then they started taking pictures of us and still our friends were nowhere to be found. Finally, I yelled, “Are we being punked?” We were not but we didn’t stay too long either.

Sympathy for Monte: Fantasy Flight announced Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Third Edition at the show. I, of course, designed Second Edition so this was of some interest to me. To be clear all I know about it is what was said at GenCon. I heard rumors it was in development but no one from FFG ever contacted me about it. It’s taking an interesting approach, but my gut reaction is that they should have called it something else. There have been many, many games using the Warhammer IP. If they had called it Warhammer Uberquest or something, I doubt anyone would have cared. Calling it WFRP 3E invites comparisons to the previous editions, however, and seems bound to create the same sorts of tensions that are tearing up the D&D; fanbase right now.

Grub Quest: Indianapolis loves its chain restaurants, which is bad news for people who want to eat good food. I made an effort to find some decent places to eat this year, though lunches still ended up being Chick Fil A more often than not. Finds included Café Patachou, which was a good spot for breakfast; TaTa Cuban Café; and Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles, a great soul food restaurant whose only downside is its distance from the convention center. We did our end of con GR meal at Barcelona Tapas, which was also quite good. Weirdly enough, the only disappointment in the meal was the sangria, which tasted like it was missing an ingredient or two. Their tres leches cake, which I dubbed by 20th GenCon cake, was awesome though.

A Night with Dr. Evil: Rob Schwalb ran a D&D; game Thursday night in which I played my minotaur barbarian. Eight players plus a bottle of brandy made it a raucous affair. We all had a good time, though I think Rob regretted running for level 21 characters. He says I’m on the hook for next year, so maybe I’ll run Dragon Age. Hal and Adam AKA “Tennessee Hal” need to sit apart though.

Stuff and Things: It wouldn’t be GenCon without bringing home some swag, though this may be the first time I didn’t bring home even one miniature. I bought Kate a Dr. Who graphic novel and myself Chronica Feudalis, which was a pretty easy sell to me considering my history with Ars Magica. I finally got Trail of Cthulhu, as well as Shadows Over Filmland and Mutant City Blues from Pelgrane. I did a trade with Richard Iorio of Rogue Games for Colonial Gothic, Thousand Suns, and their various supplements. I got the boardgame Ubongo from Z-Man Games, which looks right up Nicole’s alley. Andrew Hackard of SJG also dropped by copies of their boardgame Revolution and the card game The Stars Are Right. I played the latter with Evan Monday night and it was fun. Lastly, I picked up the second edition of Reaper’s Warlord miniatures game. I set up a trade for Starblazer Adventures and then forgot to go to the Cubicle 7 booth to make it happen. D’oh!

A Small Thank You: It’s always hard to know how much stock to bring to the show. You don’t want to run out of a title early but neither do you want to pay to ship a lot of stuff back. On Sunday a couple of the big consolidators came buy, asking if we wanted to sell our overstock to them. I could have taken the princely sum of 5 cents on the dollar but instead Steve Kenson and I carried four boxes of books to the GenCon office. These books were given away to the many volunteers who staff the convention. I figured they deserved our thanks for making the show run so smoothly.

Twenty Years of GenCon

It was 1989 and I was looking for distractions. I had just finished my second year at NYU and I was in a bit of a haze. The first great love affair of my life had ended badly and I was messed up about it. I decided I need to do something different and it had to be fun. It so happened that my roommate in Hayden Hall was from Milwaukee and earlier in the year a couple of his friends stayed in our tiny dorm room for a week. Before they left, they told me I could crash with them if I ever came to Milwaukee. I’m sure they thought they’d never see me because what were the odds of a New Yorker vacationing in Wisconsin? I thought to myself, “Milwaukee, isn’t that where GenCon is?”

GenCon, for you non-gamers out there, is the biggest game convention in America. Gary Gygax (of Dungeons & Dragons fame) started it in Lake Geneva, WI in 1968 with 100 attendees. It grew year to year and changed locations many times. In 1985 the show moved to Milwaukee and remained there until 2003. All throughout my teenage years I had seen endless ads for GenCon in various D&D; publications. Dragon Magazine used to do an insert that listed all the events. Even though I couldn’t go, I’d read over all the events and marvel at all the cool stuff that seemed to go on there. I always wanted to go but it was beyond my means.

If I had a place to stay though, that would reduce the cost of going enormously. So I called the guys in Milwaukee, confirmed that I could indeed stay with them, and booked a flight for August. The convention was held at the Milwaukee Exposition & Convention Center & Arena. That’s right; I was making a pilgrimage to MECCA.

So I went out there for a week. I crashed on a couch, took the bus down to MECCA each day, and ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. I didn’t know anyone at the convention. The guys I was staying with were, in fact, gamers big into Call of Cthulhu but they never went to GenCon despite it being in their home town. So I just explored the con on my own and it was by far the biggest one I had ever been to. I played a ton of RPGs and minis games over four days. I experienced the awesome auction (this was pre-Ebay remember). I went to seminars. I drooled over things I couldn’t afford in the dealers’ hall. Every company I had ever heard of and many that I hadn’t were there. This was before you could order whatever you wanted online, so just being able to find some of these games was a treat, never mind meeting folks from the companies that produced them. The whole experience was awesome and when I got back to NYC I told all my friends about it.

Then a funny thing happened. After hearing my tales of GenCon, they wanted to go in 1990. So the next year I found myself back again. It soon became a tradition with my gaming friends in New York. We eventually started renting a van and turning it into a massively fun road trip. After awhile going to GenCon each year was no longer a question. It was just something I assumed I’d be doing one way or another. Now all of a sudden it’s 2009 and I’m about to go to my 20th GenCon in a row. I can count on one hand the number of things I’ve done every year for twenty years.

Looking back on it I can see that my impulsive decision to go to GenCon in 1989 had a major effect on my life. I had wanted to try my hand at game design for years, but it was my trips to GenCon that made it happen. It was there I met people from various companies and hustled for freelance work. There I started my career as a publisher. There I met my future wife face to face for the first time. There Green Ronin won the Best Publisher ENnie Award three years in a row.

Tuesday night I’m heading out again. These days the show is in Indianapolis and it attracts more than 25,000 people each year. In many ways it’ll be a GenCon like any other. I’ll be at the Green Ronin booth with my friends and colleagues selling our wares. There will be business meetings, late night drinking sessions, and as much gaming as I can squeeze in. I’ll attend the ENnie Awards Friday night and if I’m lucky take home one or two. I’ll see many old friends and not have nearly enough time to spend with them. I’ll have spent all year thinking about GenCon and then the show will go by in a flash.

It may seem the same, but this one is going to be different. I’ll be celebrating 20 years of great memories, fun times, and enduring friendships. There won’t be a party and there won’t be cake, but it’ll be special nonetheless. Thanks for everything, GenCon.

We Have a Winner

With GenCon coming up and the deadline past, it was time to pick a winner in the Make My Character contest. Thanks to everyone who participated. The winner is Bryan Smart, who Minotaur barbarian with the vicious executioners axe +5 pushed the right buttons. When will I rage? Later this week, thanks. Congrats to Bryan. I’ll contact you privately about your prize.

Bay Area Weekend

This past weekend I was down in the Bay Area for Endgame’s 8th Anniversary party. I decided to make the most of my three days by flying down really early on Friday and coming back late Sunday night. This proved a good plan and I was able to pack a lot into the trip.

I was in San Francisco by 10 am Friday. Took the BART downtown and met up with Aaron Loeb, an old and dear friend that some of you may remember as the author of Book of the Righteous. We had lunch at a tapas place called Bocadillos near his office and then I headed off. I hit the City Lights bookstore and spent some time browsing. I could easily have spent $300 there but since I had much walking ahead of me, I settled on only one book (The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic).

After that I walked up the Embarcadero to Pier 45 to tour the Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito. The O’Brien is a WWII liberty ship that was part of the D-Day invasion. It’s one of a handful of surviving liberty ships and the only one still in its WWII configuration. It’s docked right across from Alcatraz, so I got a great view of that and a chance to climb all over the O’Brien. It was particularly cool to go all the way down into the engine room, which made me feel like an extra in the Poseidon Adventure. The Pampanito is a submarine that prowled the Pacific during the war. Just a couple of months ago in NYC I toured the USS Growler, a nuclear sub from the late 50s and there were many similarities between the two.

Later I walked back down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, which has turned into a real foodie destination. I had some terrific oysters at Hogg Island, a “salumi cone” at Boccalone, and then a bit of gelato from Ciao Bella. That night I took the BART out to Endgame in Oakland and met up with Chris Hanrahan. We then grabbed Chris Ruggiero and drove to San Rafael for dinner at Original Buffalo Wings. The wings were good but it was actually the chips that were great. Hand cut and cooked to order.

I had been up since 5 am and walked over 20,000 steps throughout the day. Still didn’t sleep too well though, and was up at 7 on Saturday. Chris H. and I went over early, as he had prep work to do before the party. I wandered the empty store looking at games and minis and snapping a few pictures. At 10 the doors opened and happy gamers began to arrive. There were games and raffles throughout the day. Green Ronin and many other companies donated prizes. I was pleased that the German edition of WFRP I provided actually seemed to go to a guy who could speak German. I played in a Flames of War game that largely consisted of my Russians being gunned down by a wave of big Nazi tanks. I had a chance to chat to TS Luikart for a bit and finally meet his daughter, who was terribly cute. Then I went off to lunch with Bruce Harlick and Brian Isikoff.

I always try to research interesting restaurants before a trip so I was ready with a Peruvian place that seemed walkable from Endgame. It was but no one had heard of it. We gave it a shot anyway and I’m glad we did. The food was delicious, particularly the mixed ceviche that Bruce and I had for an entree. We then returned to the store for the rest of party. Chris R. taught us how to play Dominion, which I had heard a lot about. It is indeed a very clever design and we enjoyed two games before Endgame closed its doors.

As you can imagine, Bruce and I were not very hungry after our big lunch, so we went to a small plates Mexican restaurant called Tamarindo for dinner. The queso fundido was divine, and they had outstanding guacamole. So much better than your typical family Mexican joint. Bruce dropped me off at Hanrahan’s place and Chris showed up about 10 minutes later from a going away dinner for Endgame founder Aaron Lawn (who is moving to Boston, my hometown). We talked about watching a movie and I even looked through two big cases of DVDs, but in the end we spent two and a half hours talking instead. Turns out we both want to strangle the same d-bag. Who knew?

Bruce was back Sunday morning and the three of us headed up to Napa Valley. Our first stop was Brix, another choice from my research. They do a Sunday brunch and it was fantastic (better than Salty’s for you Seattle-ites). It was an all you can eat affair but there were no steam trays. Food was cooked in small batches and put out on plates that were rotated out regularly. Everything was fresh and delicious. I ended up making myself five courses: breakfast, cheese and charcuterie, lunch, seafood, and dessert. We sat on the back patio with a gorgeous view of vineyards and nearby hills. Big thumbs up for Brix.

The plan was then to do some wine tasting. After a navigation fail and a double I-Phone fail, we took a 45 minute detour up Route 29. I told Bruce I was beginning to think the Dutch Henry winery was like the Flying Dutchmen and we’d never find it. We did finally get there though, and it turned out to be a nice little place. Friendly staff, many pours, and good product. Then we drove over to BV and that place was the polar opposite. It was big, corporate, and impersonal. Not really my scene.

At this point we had a bit of a scare when Chris got a flat tire, but he got it changed pretty quickly and it was sturdy enough to get us back to his place. Bruce then kindly drove me to SFO and I was there in plenty of time for my flight back. Good friends, good food, good games–an excellent weekend all around. If not for the big bag of shit I had to eat right before the trip, it would have been a perfect getaway.