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Cover Your Basics: 7 Tips for Attending Comic Conventions

Whether this is your first rodeo or you are a convention veteran, you can do a number of things that will help you get through the madness and have a great time. Below are seven tips that we found were life savers for covering the necessities. Follow these and you’ll be on your way to staying happy and healthy all weekend long.

Book your hotel early

Book your convention hotel early or you may end up sleeping on the floor.

Though you may not sleep much, you will need to crash eventually (or at least have a place to stow all that swag you’ve gathered). Overall, the larger the con you’re attending, the earlier you will want to get that hotel room or Airbnb booked.  If you want to stay in a host hotel or closer to the venue, count on a higher price tag. Host hotels can easily run over $1,000 for a four night stay and typically sell out within hours of becoming available.

Think about what will make your stay comfortable, considering things like handicap accessibility, budget, party size, and how much space you’ll need to put on your life-size Wookiee suit. Some groups share hotel rooms at the convention’s host hotels, packing out floor space to lower costs. If you’re ok with a commute, you’ll be able to find more options (and maybe a sink all to yourself) with a short taxi or subway ride. We went through Airbnb and found a great house only ten minutes from the train station. Bonus points if family will let you crash with them AND feed you.

Bring some cash, and keep it secure

Have cash on hand before you leave for a convention.

A number of vendors won’t take cards, and the ATM’s on site will quickly run dry. Head to your local ATM before you leave for con to avoid the no-cash hassle.  I found $200 to be a good amount for the weekend to cover no-card expenses. As a bonus, you can more easily tell what you have left to spend if you’re on a budget.

On another note, keep your cash where you can get to it but no one else can (read: not in the front pocket of your easy-to-open backpack where it will get snatched).  While most of the people you meet at a convention are amazing, any large gathering will attract its share of pickpockets.

 

Pack some snacks & plenty of water

Cosplay and conventions require staying charged with food and water.

Food around the convention is the second most overpriced thing you’ll find. So whether your holding up a wall to take a breather from the crowd or getting the munchies waiting in line, you will go a long way to ensuring you don’t get all hangry with a bag of snacks in tow. I got hangry. Many Bothans died.

My go-to’s throughout the weekend were meal replacement bars and dry foods like trail mix (protein packed to stay full longer).

Water is the most overpriced thing you’ll find at a con. Take your own water bottle with a good seal and refill at your leisure. I lived by this hydro flask, which kept my water cold most of the day, but any water bottle is fine.  Test the seal first. If it’s not secure, it will make an unholy mess of everything you’re carrying.

That coke machine you see across the way is probably empty.  If it’s not, do you really want to pay $2.50 for what you could be hauling around for free?

 Beware Con Crud and other ailments

Stay healthy at a comic convention with hand sanitizer and some OTC medicine.Pack that hand sanitizer and take your Flintstones. Lots of bodies means lots of germs, and Post-Con Depression is bad enough without a head cold.

We also brought along some tissues and OTC medication in our bags to ward off headaches, allergy attacks and coughs.  Or, if you’re cosplaying steampunk or historical fashion, a handkerchief or two is a nice touch.

I tossed all the above in a ziplock bag in the bottom of my backpack.  The headache medicine came in handy when my wig started getting heavy. I doubled up when my costume contact lenses started wearing my eyes out.

 

Wear proper footwear

The right pair of shoes will keep away blisters and a day filled with pain while walking around at a con.I will rock a corset all damn day, but for the love of all that is holy, I cannot abide foot pain.

Do your feet a huge favor and wear comfortable athletic shoes/sneakers as much as possible.  I’d avoid sandals, unless you like getting your feet stepped on.

If you are in cosplay, keep in mind that those stiletto heels will hurt after a while, and maybe stow away your favorite pair of Converses for later. Unless you’re Catwoman. Always be Catwoman.

Go potty before you head to the convention for the day

Take care of your bathroom needs before you leave for the day and whenever you find some downtime to avoid emergencies in crowded bathrooms at con.You aren’t four anymore, but mama was right and the point still stands. The last thing you want is to be in line for a panel, or in an intricate costume, and suddenly need to go.

It’s also good to have a general idea where the bathrooms are near the events you want to attend and go before the need strikes or you’re in a hurry.

Prepare to wait in line

What it feels like waiting in line anywhere at a con.Whether you’re waiting for a bathroom, lunch, or that really popular panel with the big name celebrity you just have to see, be prepared for lots of waiting in line.

If you can manage it, a book, a 3DS, or a phone with Netflix and YouTube can go a long way to help the hour pass by.

Or, you know, strike up a conversation with that guy standing next to you in line. Chances are, he’s just as psyched about this panel as you are.

You’ll want to keep those devices running while you wait by investing in a couple of power banks. Otherwise, they tend to go dead faster than you think they will, usually right when you need to take notes at a panel, find your party, stay entertained, get a shot of that amazing cosplayer, or call an Uber. I got a couple for free from the husband’s last work conference, but they go for pretty cheap and are fairly easy to obtain.

The Abbey

The Hildegarde Backstory

The Heroines of Hildegarde began as an all-female Dungeons & Dragons group led by our website founders. The campaign hinges on the bond between the characters, who grew up together as orphans in Hildegarde Abbey. While the story has evolved since the beginning, below is the initial plotline where the story began…

The Heroines of Hildegarde

The Moon Sea Region
The Moon Sea Region

Hildegarde Abbey is located along the north coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars near the edge of The Vast. It is situated on temperate farmland well away from any major cities or towns. The small villages of Bishop’s Nest and Rosehelm are within a day’s ride of the Abbey. The Abbey is a convent (nunnery) run by the Abbess, an older, formidable halfling that keeps the orphans in check. The convent is a cloistered self-supporting community and everything essential for life – water, a mill, gardens and a workshop is found within the monastery walls. The nuns rarely go beyond the Abbey’s structure.

The Abbey
The Abbey

The convent consists of buildings grouped around an inner court or cloister. The buildings include a chapel, refectory (dining hall), kitchen, buttery, dormitory, library, school, infirmary, guesthouse, barn, bakery, laundry, workshop, and storeroom. Beyond the buildings lay vegetable gardens, orchards, grain fields, a mill and a stream that provides fresh water. A high wall and ditch surround the convent for protection.

The nuns primarily worship Selûne, Goddess of the Moon and pay homage to the deities Helm and Mystra. They are a part of the Order of Silverstars, which consists of priestesses dedicated to protecting the vulnerable. High-ranking priestesses are often gifted with a Moonblade, which has special properties that harm those who are evil.

The Symbol of Selune
The Symbol of Selune

It is widely known along the Sea of Fallen Stars that the nuns of Hildegarde Abbey are devoted to protecting the weak and vulnerable. As such, many female orphans are dropped off at the cloister to be raised by the church. These orphans come from all races and walks of life – their parents may have been killed in battle, they may have had too many children already or did not desire a female child and it is rumored that some nobility has even sent their children in secret for protection.

Life at the cloister is a simple one, filled with prayer, manual labor, spiritual reading and training. Days begin with the ringing of bells, some time between midnight and two a.m., signaling the first prayers of the day. After a short nap, prayers were again held at sunrise, and then at three-hour intervals throughout the day. Communal prayers averaged about three hours per day, while private prayer and contemplation could take another two hours. Meals were served once a day in winter, twice in summer, with meat forbidden except in case of illness. At least three hours per day were spent in manual labor, with remaining hours not spent in prayer devoted to study, knowledge, education and training.

Priestesses in the Order of Silverstars are trained to protect the vulnerable. Many of the nuns are trained in various fighting styles, healing and forms of magic in addition to prayer and wit. The nuns train their charges in their ways with the intent that the orphans will become priestesses themselves one day. Most of the orphans choose to become nuns when they reach adulthood, though some have ventured out on their own.

Five orphans in particular formed a special bond in childhood – a human female, a half-elf, a moon elf, a half-orc and a gnome. This motley crew grew as close as blood sisters. They spent their days working, praying, training and slaying imaginary dragons as the “Heroines of Hildegarde.” As the adventure opens, two of the heroines have gone missing in the night. They have left only a note saying that they have struck out on their own –  determined to see the world and join the infamous Order of the Gauntlet in the city of Phlan, to the North, along the Moonsea. After discussion with the Abbess the remaining three heroines decide to leave the walls of the Abbey, for the first time since their arrival, and head to Phlan to find their “sisters” and bring them home.

Project Octopath Traveler

Let’s Play: Project Octopath Traveler for Nintendo Switch

Project Octopath Traveler Title Screen
Project Octopath Traveler title screen

For fans of the classic turn-based RPG’s of the 80’s and 90’s, Square Enix is about to take you back to the glory days of gaming with a Nintendo Switch exclusive titled “Project Octopath Traveler,” which will not be the final title. The game is currently in a beta test format available exclusively in the Nintendo e-shop for free. (Square Enix will be gathering information from players via questionnaire emailed to you from Nintendo) So you should jump on this opportunity to not only play a beta test but to also contribute to the final product.

Now, on to the game itself. Fans of Final Fantasy 2 and 3 on the SNES will immediately feel at home and comfortable with the gameplay style. (Yes purists, they are known officially as Final Fantasy IV and VI now, but to some, it’s still 2 and 3.) Basically, the battles consist of: you take a turn, then the enemies take a turn, and so on and so forth until someone is dead, preferably the enemy.

Primrose kicking some bird's ass!
Primrose kicking some bird’s ass!

But where this game differs from others is the combat system uses a combo system or boost system as the game calls it, which allows you to hit your foes with up to a 4 hit combo when you have powered up your boost meter. The Boost meter goes up to 5, but 4 hits are the max number of hits you can make. The other difference is the enemies are guarding themselves and each have a specific number of attacks to break their guard, as well as a specific weapon or spell that will help you to break their guard, and then you can take full damage once their guard is broken, but they do guard again, so be wary of that. It can be a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it really goes rather smoothly.

An example of the enemies defense Break.
An example of the enemies defense Break.

Otherwise, it has the basic elements of other turn-based classics. Fighting enemies and leveling up, and collecting items and leveling up, and exploring the map and leveling up,  and getting killed by higher level enemies and realizing you have to level up even more, and then trying to get revenge on those enemies and they still kill you, and then you restrain yourself from breaking the console or the controllers, so you just continue to level until you can triumph over the stupid enemies.

The two main protagonists in this demo are Olberic, a warrior who once was a knight who lost everything in battle and started anew in a new town with new peeps. He is your standard male character who protects the villagers and also trains them to fight by challenging them to duels. Yes, each character will have abilities that only that character has, and for some reason, this dude likes to duel with random villagers, so there’s that. I won’t spoil the story, so I’ll just say he does warrior stuff and kills some people. The other and more interesting protagonist is a young female dancer named Primrose who plies her trade in the “pleasure district” of her town.

Primrose needs to slap him silly!
Primrose needs to slap him silly!

Each person has a different starting town, but you will be able to travel to these towns and the characters and story will become interlaced. There will also be 8 protagonists in the final version, but I am straying from Primrose a bit here, so back to her. Primrose’s backstory consists of her witnessing her father being murdered at a young age. She remembers these men’s identities because of a mark on each of them, so she decides to become a “dancer” in a town that has lots of travelers pass through in the hopes of one day finding a clue to these men’s whereabouts.

Her unique ability is the power to “allure” people to help her in her quest, whether that be taking them back to the club where she works or assisting her in battle, but only for a few turns per battle. So basically, she is a kickass female character who will do anything to help her achieve her destiny. I don’t wanna spoil too much more than that for anyone who would want to enjoy this demo themselves.

Excuse me, what did you say to her??!
Excuse me, what did you say to her??!

Lastly, the art style is very interesting. It has a 16-bit hand-drawn appearance to it, which really makes it stand out from others in the genre as of late, which has been more of a hyper-realistic aesthetic, so it is refreshing to see a change of scenery in the genre. It’s described as a mix of CG, pixel art, and “HD-2D” visuals, so it is very original.

The music is exactly what you would expect from Square Enix, very orchestra heavy and really appropriate to the visuals of the game. The right notes are always struck at the right times based on the mood of the scene taking place. The producers of the Bravely series really took great care and detail to make this an RPG that many fans of the genre will really appreciate and hopefully will enjoy.

I look forward to the finished product when it releases sometime in 2018, under its official name, whatever that may be, so certainly keep an eye out for it. Anyone who owns a Switch and is interested, the game is a free download in the Nintendo e-shop, and remember to answer the questionnaire Nintendo sends out so you can contribute to what may be one of the best RPG’s in some time. In the meantime, check out the two-minute trailer from Nintendo below:

 

RPG Humor

Five ways to add humor to your campaign RPGs

RPG Humor

I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs for almost four years and I’ve found that some of my favorite moments from our sessions have been the funny situations my character or my players have encountered. When I started running games, I felt that it was important to plan humor into my games in order to make the adventures less boring, more enjoyable, and definitely memorable. Here my top five ways to add humor into your gaming sessions.

1. Magical Items with a Twist
Everyone loves epic loot, right? When choosing or creating magical items for my players I like to throw some in that are a little different than what they are expecting. For example, a player might find a ring that enhances their charisma in sticky situations but in order to get the buff, they may have to deal with something unpleasant, like the inability to smell or an infinite wedgie. Sometimes I come up with my own magic items, but to make my job easier I have bought a few compendiums of interesting magic items through the Dungeon Masters Guild.

Some of my favorites include Bazaar of the Bizarre: Rings that Do Weird Things by Jon Bupp, The WhatNot Shop’s Absurd Accoutrements by Sean Hower, and Cursed Magic Items by Erik Hawley, which includes the famed Corset of Strength that our heroine Zeyda purchased rather early on in our campaign.The corset makes the wearer’s strength score 18, but their gender changes to the opposite gender whenever it is worn. Zeyda’s corset has become so integral to her character that she lives a double life as Zeydan, a male version of her character. Most of these compendiums have a suggested price of $.99, which makes the value exceptional for such rich content to add to your games.

2. Unusual NPCs
As a GM, sometimes you miss actually having the opportunity to play. Creating colorful, fun and entertaining non-player characters give you the opportunity to role-play, participate in battles and be a foil to your players. Sometimes I plan ahead and create written backgrounds for my NPCs and sometimes I purchase NPC tables and references from the Dungeon Masters Guild – but my favorite way to create NPCs is on the spot and letting the dice determine the attributes. Most game masters will use a table beforehand to build an NPC and while I may have an outline of the characters’ personality, profession, etc. – sometimes it’s just fun to roll race, attributes, and flaws right in the middle of the game.

For example, one of my characters may be forced to go on a blind date and when he shows up the dice may determine that he is a smelly, half-orc that talks too much, has a drinking problem and loves to cuddle. If you love to roleplay and aren’t afraid to be dramatic, this can be especially fun…for you, but maybe not so much for the character stuck on the date. The NPC tables in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide can be used for this but you may need to create a few new homebrew tables to add to it or download an NPC reference as well.

3. Awkward Situations
Now that you have the unusual NPC, you need put your characters in an “interesting” situation that forces them to interact with that NPC. The blind date idea from before is one option, but you can also incorporate this into quests and random encounters. My players have had to deal with a variety of strange situations including destructive pets, proposals of marriage, ladies night at the local “club,” and much, much more.

One of my favorite random encounters occurred in the very first game of our Heroines campaign. As the players walked the streets of Phlan, they heard and saw what looked to be a baby crying in an alley in Phlan, the question was – do they investigate and run the risk of being attacked or do they walk away and not save the “baby?” Two of the three players wanted to walk away from the situation, but our heroic Paladin Vasa couldn’t, of course, bear the thought of leaving a helpless baby in an alley. In the end, she ended up being robbed and slashed in the face, with a knife, by a one-eared Gnome thief in a baby costume. This scar is a constant reminder for Vasa that she should avoid dark alleys (and gnomes in general.)

4. Character Flaws
Nobody is perfect, even your half-elf Paladin with an Armor Class of 21 has a flaw. As a player, I have always enjoyed adding flaws to my characters. It makes them more relatable and “human.” Flaws can be funny or serious and can vary from addictions, hygiene problems, deformities, to nervous habits and more. I, of course, lean towards the funny character flaws myself.  

For example, I’m currently playing in a Starfinder campaign and I specifically asked our GM if we could add flaws to our characters as we built our sheets. Being the creative (and ridiculous) person that I am, I came up with some fun ideas for the other players. Our serious Android Science Officer, in an effort to relate better to humans, will believe that she has mastered the art of joke-telling. Her fatally bad puns will be peppered throughout the game. Our Lashunta (think Andorians in Star Trek) Technomancer kills with her computer skills, but when she gets nervous she starts to sing random songs out loud. Finally, our Vesk (reptilian) Soldier is quite the badass when it comes to strength and weaponry, but when he gets angry he has the overwhelming urge to cry. The next time you GM a game, give it a try and encourage your players to add flaws to their characters.

5. Mystery boxes, machines, and potions
What is it about mystery items that make them so hard to resist? At the last two cons I attended, mystery boxes were huge sellers. People shelled out tons of cash to purchase a cool-looking box full of unknown (most likely clearance) items. The same idea applies in game, my characters can’t resist sticking their hand in a mystery box, drinking an unknown liquid in a bottle or vial, or experimenting with some type of mystery machine.

I’m a huge fan of M.T. Black’s 5th Edition adventure modules. One of my favorites is Expedition to the Lost Peaks where the characters find a crashed spaceship and spend hours exploring the ship. In the ship’s medical bay the characters found a cabinet of unknown medicines and boy did they have the time of their life testing them out despite the fact that they were sometimes hit with negative effects. Black included a Effects table for easy reference and the characters simply rolled a D20. They had such fun, I added new effects on the fly during the session and I’ve continued to incorporate this idea into other dungeons. For higher level characters try Jeff Stevens’ The Throne of Bone, the adventure ends with an interesting turn on the mystery throne where your characters may end up changing color, alignment or even race.

The most important thing is that you and your players have fun while gaming. Trying some of these methods will lighten the mood, make for interesting play and keep you laughing out loud during sessions. Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear your stories!