Tutorial: Creating a Convention Program

Covers 2008-2012For several years now I’ve been volunteering for several tabletop game conventions.  One of the tasks I’ve assumed was the creation of the print programs and other documents for some of them, particularly Emerald City Gamefest and Dragonflight.

I’ve prepared the program for Dragonflight since 2008, and it occurred to me that although I have no plans to stop volunteering, stuff happens and eventually someone will have to take over for me.  I decided to prepare a tutorial on the complete process, from negotiating with printing companies to using desktop publishing to create the document.

Although this tutorial is targeted at one specific convention, I think it can be useful to other convention organizers elsewhere.  Local and regional tabletop game conventions usually work with shoestring budgets, so I use as many free, platform-independent and open source tools as I can (such as GIMP for image editing, Scribus for desktop publishing, Calibre for e-book creation) but the workflow I describe works with equivalent commercial tools.

The tutorial can be downloaded here.  (It looks scarily long because I tried to make my explanations detailed enough to be understood by newcomers without any other help.)  I hope it can be of use to other people.


A word of warning: I discuss a visit to church but I am functionally atheist.  If this bothers you, don’t read; go do something else.

Glide ChurchBackground

My husband and I are friends with Pastor Chris Owens of the First United Methodist Church of Laurel, MD.  My husband Edmund is atheist; functionally, I am too1.  One pet peeve we have about theist behaviour is that people often seem to think that “I’ll pray for X” is a sufficient response when action is needed.  Very few people just try to pray a compound fracture away, for example; they know that unless they get medical help it will not just get better.  So why would they think that it was sufficient to pray about ills that don’t affect them directly, instead of taking action?

Edmund and Chris had an online discussion about this after Edmund wrote a blog entry on this following the Sandy Hook massacre, and the discussion continued on Facebook.  Edmund ended up challenging Chris to get his parishioners to do something — send letters, sign a card, etc. to show solidarity with the Newtown community, rather than only relying on prayer.  In exchange, Edmund offered to undertake a task of Chris’s choice, so Chris asked him to go to mass “at a Christ-centred church” the following Sunday and report his thoughts on the experience.

I wasn’t part of the bargain, but a few days before Edmund and I had been talking about Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco (we live just south of SF), so we both immediately thought this would be a good place to serve penance complete the challenge.  I said I would not go to a mediocre church, but I was interested in seeing service at Glide for myself.  I had high hopes because Edmund said they were big on liberation theology, which was my particular bent back when I was Catholic.  So yesterday we went to the 9am service, and I had a few thoughts.  (Edmund wrote his yesterday.)

Continue reading “Churched”

Mapping Your World: Brush Packs

Map Symbols - sampleOver at the Emerald City Gamefest site, I review five free brush packs that are useful for map-making in Photoshop, GIMP or PaintShop Pro, and I explain how to use them and exchange them between these three programs.

Three Good Things

ShellsA few people in my Circles are on the “three good things” regimen — they post about three good things in the day.  I find it charming, but I have been resisting  trying it myself because I’ve been afraid I would get repetitive.  In other words, afraid I would not find three new good things every day.

But I recognize that this is a self-centred, first-world-problem attitude and also the very point of the exercise: recognise the things one can and should be happy for.  So I will give it a try; I don’t know whether I will remember every day, and I don’t promise to post if I don’t feel like it, but I will try to find my three good things when I think of it.

Fence Cat – Progress

Fence Cat: progress 2

I’m pretty happy with the progress on my portrait of Kitt E. Katt (her new name, now that she’s been adopted), a.k.a. Fence Cat.

Convention Season: What Works

This is the final instalment in my series of game convention retrospectives, in an attempt to draw general conclusions about improving attendees’ and organizers’ convention experience.  In the time it took to write this last segment, I signed up to help organize an entirely online convention, ConTessa, which will take place March 8-15, 2013.

It’s a long post and it took me a while to write, so let me give you the TL;DR of advice to convention organizers:

  1. fight inertia in order to keep up with change and avoid obsolescence;
  2. get the best people, have their back, but also check how they’re doing;
  3. communicate with your staff, volunteers, sponsors and attendees, don’t leave them in the dark; and
  4. put some policies and practical means in place to reach more people: families, young people, women, people with disabilities, etc.

Here are some of the best aspects I observed in recent tabletop gaming conventions and, I think, the most commonly needed improvements.  I’ve tried to group them into logically related units for sanity’s sake but you’ll notice some crossover themes.

Continue reading “Convention Season: What Works”

Ready to Frame

Kitty_colours2I printed the portrait of Banshee “Kitty” Welton today — life-size! — and it looks pretty good.  However, I think the printer at FedEx Kinko’s did not produce as nice a finish as the one at Office Depot, where I had printed the last two big images I made, so I may re-print there.  I have also ordered a mat cutting kit because it was cheaper than having the last mat cut to order!  The kit is supposed to arrive on Monday, so I’ll frame the image and have it ready for Masayo and Caleb (Kitty’s humans) for the holidays!

Turkey Pot Pie with Mashed Potato Crust

Turkey Pot Pie with Mashed Potato CrustEdmund wasn’t feeling terribly well today, and certainly not up to eating the spicy leftovers of pulled pork from the other night, so I made a pot pie with turkey leftovers and a mashed potato crust (basically a shepherd’s pie, but then who herds turkeys, right?)  I got the proportions from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (a really, really useful resource for cooking-by-method rather than cooking-by-instruction) and I used what I had on hand.  (Recipe after the cut.)

Continue reading “Turkey Pot Pie with Mashed Potato Crust”

Really real?

Fence Cat, step 2: closeupI love to do arts and crafts.  I draw and do photography, but also collage, tole painting, calligraphy, and even on occasion make lamps or quilts.  In the last three years or so, however, more and more of my work has been digitally created.  I’ll go into the reasons why in a minute, but first I want to talk about something I noticed recently: when people compliment my work and ask how I did it, they almost invariably seem disappointed when I say that it’s drawn or painted digitally.

It reminds me of the look you get on someone’s face when they praise the cake you brought to the party, and you tell them it’s from a box mix — or Costco.  Somehow, most people reevaluate downward their appreciation of the image; it’s like I’ve cheated them.  Often, they’ll say something like: “Oh, my friend X does the real thing, you know, with paint.” Continue reading “Really real?”

New Art Project: Fence Cat

Back in late September, I saw this wonderful photo on Jerry Coyne’s site Why Evolution is True. One of Dr. Coyne’s readers, Rik, had met with this stray cat and taken a very striking image, perched on a fence post. (He adopted the cat.) I loved the image and I asked Rik’s permission to use it; he graciously agreed. (Continued after picture.)

Fence Cat: face

Although I confess I have not quite finished some of the other projects I’m supposed to give my attention to, I finally broke down and started working on Fence Cat’s portrait.  This is a close-up; so far I have the silhouette pencilled in, a light undercoat of white for the fur, and I started working on the face.  I hope to finish it before the end of the month and the year.