Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Construction in the hotels

Eight days...

I stopped by the Westin today to add my roommate to my room reservation so that he can get a key even if he arrives when I'm not there. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the lobby was mostly blocked off.  The business center too. They decided to start renovations this week. Not sure why, except that maybe they need to start now to make sure it's done before the Superbowl.  In any case, pick another hotel if you want to do some lobby gaming.

For those coming into town very early, expect some traffic and crowd at the airport.  The Brickyard 400 is this weekend, so there will be a lot of NASCAR fans in town. Downtown probably won't be too crowded, but be prepared for some possible minor delays.

Looks like they mean to finish the carpeting in the convention center. The new carpet line moved again last night, and there's only a day or two more of work left to complete the whole center.

Eight more days...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Beer is here

Nine days folks.

Today Thr3e Wise Men brewery held the tapping party for Long Fang Abbey Ale, the Gen Con beer that will be served at Scotty's Brewhouse (Thr3e Wise Men and Scotty's are sister pubs). It was right after work for me, and on the way home so I had the opportunity to swing by and try it. The beer is an abbey style ale, which I have to admit is not a style I'm familiar with. For this reason, I can't tell you if it's typical of the style, but I can tell you it was tasty. The beer definitely has a bitter bite to it, but it's not an IPA. More like a slightly stronger bitter or ESB. It's got a very rich flavor, and goes down very pleasantly.  Technically, for those who are better zymurgists than I, it's ABV is 7%, and it measures in at 34 IBUs. To me, it seemed more bitter than I would expect from 34 IBUs, but its a pleasant bitter not a biting bitter. I will be drinking more of this next week.

Monitor at the Indiana Convention Center

Look what else happened today. The last event prior to Gen Con dropped off the calendar at the convention center. Technically it should still be there since it's on July 30th, but we're now the next event on the list.

They've been gradually going around and replacing all the carpeting in the old side of the convention center to match the new addition. They have one small spot left, and since they're moving forward again there's a decent chance that come Gen Con there will be completely new carpeting. If they don't make it, the area that the registration desks will be is that last area with the old carpeting. I wouldn't say the new stuff is attractive, but it is better than the old I suppose.

Today was also the day that reservations for Gen Con were released to the hotels. If you feel the need to confirm your reservation with the hotel, now is the time. If you need to make changes, you now need to contact your hotel, rather than the housing bureau.

Nine more days folks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 days....

And so it begins...

These banners went up today along the length of Maryland St. out in front of the convention center. Each has a different picture on the side. For me, this officially marks the warm up to Gen Con. Last year, when I was still a gamer in deep sleep (if you will), it was these banners that got me interested enough to check out the con.

Over the next few days, I'll try to post something short each day with the latest info I have on details about what's going on. I expect to see more prep as the week goes on. If you have any last minute con questions, ask in the comments and I'll try to get an answer an post it the following day if at all possible.

Currently, it looks like the weather is going to be reasonable. We're on a near record hot streak right now, but we're slowly coming out of it thankfully. It is currently looking like high 80's and mostly sunny for the con.

Tomorrow is the tapping of Scotty's Gen Con beer, Long Fang Abbey Ale up at the Thr3e Wise Men brewery in Broadripple. It's from 5-6 pm, so hopefully I'll be able to swing by on the way home and grab a small sample.

10 days....

Friday, July 22, 2011

Accomplishment: I Haz It

Today, an article of mine was posted on Critical-Hits. It's about all the great things Scotty's Brewhouse is doing for Gen Con.  Please go read it at :

Yeah..I got an article of mine posted on the ENnie nominated Critical-Hits (Two more days to vote as I write this..go vote for them here. Best Blog category). What an honor. I frankly can't really believe it. I was originally going to post it here, but I thought that they might be interested in it since they're talking a lot about Gen Con now, and it seemed like a better fit there since they get way more visits than my blog. I really wanted Scotty's to get maximum exposure because the place is doing so much for us gamers this year.

As this became a reality today, I looked back on my first post and how this blog came to be. I "visited" Gen Con for a few hours last year and wanted more. I thought I might be able to provide people coming to Gen Con with a little more information so they would have a better trip. There's also a healthy dose of personal stuff about my adventure in returning to gaming. To recap: 1 year from nothing to publishing article in one of the most respected gaming blogs out there (maybe someday I'll even post an article actually about gaming somewhere :) ).

Thank you all for reading my musings. I am going to call this experience a complete success, and when Gen Con starts (for me) in 11 days I'm going to pursue fun with all the energy I have. For those who think you'll never achieve your goals, you won't. You won't unless you put yourself out there, take a risk, and TRY. Do that, and who knows where you'll end up?

This isn't a final post, though it does have that sort of tone. It's just a milestone. Not sure where I'll go from here, but I will continue on.

This has been a good year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gen Con Survival: Assorted Suggestions

I was originally going to write yet another Gen Con survival guide, but there really are enough of those out there. Let me link to some fine ones right from the start:

Gen Con Survival Guide
Sean's Gen Con Tips, Rules, and Things to Bring--Indianapolis Version
Gaming Convention Survival Guide | Sly Flourish

These are some great write-ups on making the most of Gen Con and conventions in general. I can't agree 100% with everything, but those items I think aren't 100% are close enough so as not to matter.

What I have noticed is that the city changes gradually from year-to-year, as does Gen Con. That means tips for the year are always handy, so I'll put a few down here as well as some things I thought up to make my own experience better.

There are a few things I'm definitely packing for the con. I've already bought the first, and it's a 24 pack of 5 Hour Energy, Extra Strength. I could guzzle energy drinks and/or coffee all through the con, but I've found that 5 Hour Energy actually lives up to its promises for me. It perks me up in about 20 minutes and keeps me going for 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. It's mostly vitamins, so it has never given me the caffeine jitters, and isn't harsh on my stomach. I have to face that fact that I'm not as young as I used to be, and pulling an all-nighter or even getting less sleep than normal no longer comes at no cost.  Something is needed to help me, and this is my choice. I consider it a major bonus that these bottles are very small and so they're easy to pack and I can keep one or two in my backpack with no issues. It's just about perfect as a supplement to keep my mind and body going. I really don't want to lose massive time because I need vast amounts of sleep or I nod off while trying to enjoy gaming.

Speaking of sleep, let me highlight one of the best rules I've heard yet. I think I heard it first from @SarahDarkmagic, but have seen it repeated many places. Mostly, it's known as the 5:2:1 rule: Every 24 hours, make sure you get 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower....MINIMUM. Following this will keep you alive through the convention, maximize your time for gaming, and allow for the comfort of those who you are gaming with. Please, please take a shower and use deodorant folks. Also, no matter what you think, cologne/perfume cannot make up for lack of showering. In the levels you would need to get close to this goal, the fragrance itself becomes so overpowering as to have opposite the desired effect. I actually recommend toning it down on the fragrances. There are a lot of people out there allergic or sensitive to these, and you will force them to leave a game if you make their throat close and lungs shut down. Below is a little PSA. Thanks to @rosemaryjones for sharing this on Twitter.

Savage Gypsy - Shower for Me

I'm also bringing several "airplane" sized bottles of hand sanitizer. Con crud has to be the most frustrating thing. You spend your money, get to the event, play a few games and spend the rest of the time quarantined and suffering in your room. It's not always avoidable, but you can minimize your risk. Hand sanitizer helps a great deal with this. Get in the habit of using it on a regular basis, and use it right after you've shaken a few hands (discretely is best here, just to be polite). There's a lot of airborne stuff that can't be avoided, but a major source of infection is from hand to mucus membrane transfer. Don't believe this? Ask anyone who's gotten Norovirus on a cruise ship...someone like me. Keep your hands clean, wash often, use hand sanitizer, and touch your nose, eyes, and mouth as little as possible. Honestly, this could save your con experience. The small hand sanitizer bottles are designed to carry in a bag or purse, and take very little room.  I'm getting a few so I can replace those I've used or lost, and I can be generous with handing it around to others who would like to use it.

Bring something to eat and drink. Here's a free Indy Convention Center tip: the vending machines vend 20 Oz. Daisani water bottles with green or blue caps for $3.  $3 is expensive, so I recommend buying one at the start of the con and refilling it often or buying one before the con. If you have one of these bottles the convention center staff is going to be hard pressed to make you get rid of it as you can claim you bought it at the convention center. I actually advocate buying one from the vending machines and reusing it. You've fairly give the center some money at that point, and are sticking to the rules as far as I can see. Doing this will also allow me to carry the bottle in the drink holder on the side of my backpack. This leaves more room inside and removes the risk of spills and leaks in my pack. I'll also be adding Emergen-C Immune Defense formula to my water from time to time for flavor.  It doesn't taste great, but my personal experience has been that if I do get sick, my cold goes a heck of a lot faster, and is way less debilitating. There's no medical evidence for this, just anecdotal evidence like mine. For snacks, I'm buying a bunch of Met RX Colossal bars. These are fairly good tasting, fairly filling, and about 300-450 calories each.  It's enough nutrition to keep me going until I can get a real meal should I need to delay or skip a meal. Here's another tip: eat something for breakfast. Breakfast is the one meal you are sure to burn off during the day, and starting by giving your body something to create energy from will make your whole day better.

There's always a lot of talk about what to bring in terms of RPG books. I'm bringing my laptop. I readily acknowledge that this is a risk, so I've made sure all my data is backed up at home and on a cloud backup service, and all personal files are locked in an encrypted area of the hard drive that I can seal remotely should my laptop be stolen. My materials will mostly be PDF copies of rules I might need, and I'm going to try to afford Hero Lab for my Pathfinder Society characters to avoid as much paper as possible. I've got adventure information for 4E in Masterplan just in case I want to run a pick-up game.  This limits the number of physical books I'll need to bring, risk, and lug at Gen Con. It is also much kinder on my shoulder and back as it's much lighter. Cons are the perfect excuse to embrace electronic media in gaming.

This does bring me to a final cautionary word. Indianapolis is a fairly safe city, and Gen Con has a good track record for safety. This doesn't in any way mean crime can't happen to you. It happens to a few people every year. Just be smart and you'll probably be OK. A criminal will always go for the low hanging fruit...don't be one. Always know where your stuff is, and keep an eye or hand on it whenever possible. Store your bag at your feet rather than behind your seat. Keep your wallet where it's hard to get at on your person, and always keep an emergency stash of money and/or an extra credit card hidden somewhere on your body. Be savvy when it comes to distractions. If someone asks for help finding something, please help them if you can, but be extra careful during these times as that's a classic way for pickpockets working in teams to distract you and steal your loot. Walk in groups in the city, especially at night. Be wary of strangers in bars, especially (I hate to divide the sexes this way, but this is true) the ladies. Keep your eye on your drink. None of these precautions need to be obtrusive, and none of them need to in any way limit or prevent your fun. They are simple things you can do to stay safer in a fairly safe city.

Another thing you can do to stay safe is watch the area of the city you are in. Indianapolis is very odd in that it can go from luxury mansions to crime ridden streets back to low crime areas in just the space of a few blocks.  There's no one "side" of town that's bad...just areas. To the north of the convention center it's fairly safe all the way to the I-65 raised highway.  North of that, it get's iffy. To the south, things get iffy as soon as you cross the tracks that are on the south side of the convention center, except for the area around Lucas Oil Stadium and probably the new hotels next to it. That area is changing for the better, but be cautious. To the west, everything is safe until you cross the river, then it goes downhill fast. The zoo area is safe, but I would recommend against walking any further than that. Finally, to the east is downtown, which is fairly safe. Things do take a sudden turn for the worse when you go past the I-70 raised highway though, so stay west of that to be safe. In short, there's a very large safe zone around the convention center except to the south, and the south is probably the least dangerous of the not-entirely-safe areas.

I hope this information is helpful for all the Gen Con 2011 con goers. Feel free to drop additional questions in the comments, or ask me on twitter. I'm not a huge fan of Indianapolis as a place to live, but it's a really great city for a con like this. I hope any information I can provide will help people really enjoy their time here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Off The Beaten Path

One of the pieces of advice about cons that I see a lot of is "find a restaurant that's a little farther from the convention, or not as popular." It's true that the restaurants nearest the convention center get crowded pretty fast during Gen Con, even though there are a whole lot of them. The good bars get that way at night too. With that in mind, I took a little hike and visited a place I don't get to go that often: Mass Avenue.

Massachusetts Avenue (locals just call it Mass Ave) is one of the four diagonal streets heading out of downtown. It's a 15 to 20 minute walk northeast of the convention center, but very easy to find. It's an arts and eclectic shopping area, and from what I've seen of it lately the economy has taken it's toll. There are a few places of note though, including Bazbeaux's Pizza, The Rathskellar (just off Mass Ave), and MacNiven's.

I'll mention the Rathskellar in passing, since I haven't been there in a few years.  It boasts an extensive German/Austrian themed menu and a biergarten out back. There will be live music every night of Gen Con. The beer menu was really broad last time I was there, but this is at least a 20 minute walk from the convention center.

MacNiven's Scottish American Restaurant & Bar    |    339 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46204
MacNiven's is a fantastic little Scottish pub serving a variety of menu items including some serious Scottish fare. Yes...they have haggis. I repeat this for all you kilt wearers out there...MacNiven's has haggis. They also have scotch eggs. Heck, they even have a vegetarian haggis, though I'm sure that would make true Scots cringe.

I stopped by recently, and had the most Scottish of the combinations, "Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties." While I can't vouch that the haggis was cooked correctly in a sheep stomach, it certainly was organ meat, and very tasty at that. Neeps, for those unfamiliar with them, are a seasoned, mashed yellow turnip and tatties...well, you know what tatties are. These were mashed as well. The whole meal was very good, and the service was excellent. The staff is very friendly and really made my lunch a very pleasant experience. Since there was an empty seat there, they put me by one of the windows. You can see in the picture that these are open in the summer, and very comfortable with a slight breeze on a warm summer's day.

If you're looking for a liquid libations, they have a fantastic beer menu and a fairly extensive single malt scotch menu. You could absolutely spend several nights drinking here without having the same beverage twice.

Let's face it folks, for a short walk and a few extra dollars MacNiven's is the kind of establishment that screams "Gen Con crowd". Authentic food and drink from the British Isles and a variety of other items for those with no interested in escaping to the moors. For that extra labor, you also get a place the probably will not be overcrowded. If you have the time and inclination, I highly recommend the journey.

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