Categories: Online Games, Real Life Happenings, Gaming & Related Conventions, Dragon*Con, E3, Origins, Hrafn Warband
And on the last day, I rested.
Actually, I had quite a bit to do - mostly involving checking out of the hotel room, and the emptying of things out of said hotel room.
But, while I love my friends to death, I needed to relax a bit. This was Sunday, and I also had Monday off, but I jetted off to have lunch with a friend of mine at a little Korean BBQ place.
That helped more than I could imagine; just got my mind refocused.
It also helped that I'd had major help cleaning up at home. I live with my brother; he and his girlfriend, after I'd passed out, had followed up on the job that some friends had started and done a massive clean up project. I still had some cleaning to do, but it was relatively minor.
From there I had follow-up to the hotel that I wanted to do. Unfortunately for me, about a week later I came down with the norovirus, and that wiped out any energy (and impetus) to do much. I just didn't [em]care[/em] after having that.
Was it fun?
Everyone seemed to have fun. I did have fun, myself, but it was a ton of work and a ton of stress.
Would I do it again?
I've learned some valuable lessons. Thanks to the generosity of my guildies, I haven't taken much of a financial hit, relatively speaking. However, I would know to check the contracts much more carefully.
I'd also try to lay something out for the second day in terms of "here's who is doing what" to help people out.
Finally, I know myself, and I'd have to set some limits for myself for the amount of drinks I'd had at the second night's party. If it hadn't been for an angelic act of kindness in cleaning, Sunday would've been a very miserable day.
The biggest thing I'd say, though, is that I *wouldn't* do this in any city other than my own. I can't imagine how it'd be possible for (say) someone in Dallas to organize it in Denver.
But hopefully down the road someone else in our guild will organize another one, and I'd be more than happy to fly out there and go to it.
So - day two dawns bright and early (and maybe a wee bit hungover, but not that bad).
Most of the people are going to get together and go tourist-ing in downtown DC. I did absolutely no planning on that; in retrospect, it might've been good to set up some kind of central "here's who is doing what where and when" kind of thing as some people (for various reasons) felt they got left behind.
But no harsh feelings came about...
First I had to head back to the hotel, fetch my car, load it up with the stuff from the night before, and head back to my house. There I unloaded it, finished cleaning the place (not that it needed much, thank god for housekeepers), and after grabbing a quick lunch, go shopping.
I'd wanted to go down to Les Halles with some friends for lunch; unfortunately the timing just wasn't working out. It was off to Shopper's Food Warehouse, all the way over in Alexandria (as it was the one I'd scouted out before) to stock up. Then a quick hit to the liquor store, too, to make sure.
One of the funny things: I had insisted on taking two of my friends beer shopping with me. I remembered that as they wanting me to take them beer shopping. So I hurried up about it, not wanting to let them down, just to get the "you insisted last night..." thing and feeling a bit foolish.
No worries, though! We stocked up on beer, too, plus some good ones, then, realizing there really wasn't time to do the rest of the shopping we thought we needed, called one of my friends to help pick up sodas and ice - just before we saw that the Total Wine carried them, too. GAH. Oh well.
We got back to my place, finished the final set ups, and my friends helped me prep the food for cooking on my big-ass grill. During that time - completely sober, mind you - I managed to slice deep into my finger while chopping asparagus. GAH (again!)
That crisis averted, people all showed up in one big fell swoop, and the place was packed. We rotated foods on the grill, people played games (Settlers of Catan and Three Dragon Ante), lots of good stuff was eaten, etc. etc.
A hint on food preparation: Keep a variety of foods handy, especially finger foods - and if they're messy, keep lots and lots of napkins and plates around. I did the latter fine, but the variety I failed at - I relied on a lot of shellfish and pork during the weekend, and when you have someone staying kosher, that's a no-no.
Fortunately, I'd thought ahead and bought boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs. The breasts became teriyaki breasts on the grill, and all was good, plus I had lots of veggie options. The boneless skinless thighs were the best idea for the party, though, compared to the breasts - they're pretty darn cheap, they have more flavor than the typical skinless boneless breast, and they're typically smaller, too.
Boneless pork country ribs work well, too, though with the shrimp, buy them deveined and peeled ahead of time if at all possible - it'll save you a ton of time. On the other hand, those little plates of pre-cut veggies typically are too expensive for what you get, in my opinion - it takes about no time to cut up vegetables.
Having things you can just open and leave out - such as salsa and chips, and one of the surprise hits for mine, pickled asparagus - also helped, plus the simplicity of cheese and crackers.
Back to the grill, the grilled green and spring onions (yes, there is a difference) sprayed with just a bit of butter cooking spray and sprinkled with a bit of salt, and the same done with olive oil cooking spray on asparagus, are easy and good (particularly with hot sauce, of which I had a number of varieties).
Of course, you should have more sodas and juice then you think you'll need, both diet and regular.
For alcohol, two important things:
1. Have a variety. Just because you love stout, or scotch, doesn't mean everyone does. Have a variety of beers, with a lot of the "in between" kinds that everyone at least will drink (such as lagers or ales, but without a lot of hoppiness). On the wine front, have your standard whites and reds, and for liquor, have the staples (such as gin, vodka, rum, whiskey) and make sure to have a variety of mixers (including ones you might not like, such as vermouth - and keep in mind vermouth is made with wine, and needs to be refrigerated once opened).
2. Keep the quality levels of alcohol separate. If you have some $50 bottles of wine, make sure that they're physically segregated from the other wine, more particularly, that only you know where they are. Same with (say) Scotch - keeping out a bottle of not bad, cheaper Scotch (such as Dewar's White Label or maybe Speyside) might not be bad, but keep your Johnny Blue away unless you want to share it with some specific people. (I brought out my Redbreast Irish whisky for some friends, but generally just the Powers was out - that, and the Bushmills bottle that I can't seem to get around to drinking.)
So we partied, we had fun, I broke out the stogies at the end of the night and seemingly dropped my humidor (doh!) and everyone went home drunk and happy (or, at least, most people went home drunk, and everyone seemed happy).
The Metro cards are bought.
The Meet & Greet, as I'd been calling it, was scheduled for 3-6 PM. At 8:30 PM we had dinner reservations at Old Ebbitt.
As it pushed to 3 PM we waited by the doors to our meeting room - which was labeled with someone else's name. At 3 we asked about it, they had to find a maintenance guy, and while it was never labeled properly we got it going.
I put out the food - they didn't have anywhere good to put it, but we figured it out. I'd hoped to have some tunes going during it by hooking my iPod Shuffle to a pair of MadKatz speakers that I'd gotten at E3 in 2005. Unfortunately, I didn't test those speakers, and the batteries I'd left in them had corroded the contacts. Oh well - we didn't need it.
People started filtering in, drinks starting flowing, many a ham biscuit and empanada were eaten.
At 6 PM we cleaned up and moved up to the room I'd gotten for the weekend. More people continually showed up, and a group of us headed out a bit early to make sure we got to Old Ebbitt in time. Unfortunately, most of the group hadn't gotten their Metro cards yet, and the train was just arriving when we got there - so two of us went ahead.
Old Ebbitt was waiting and eager for us when we showed up, and even ready to do individual checks for each person. Again, I cannot emphasize how great they were.
The only bad part was that we were separated into two tables - but with 20 people, it's hard to have one big table. Still, we could move around, enjoy the scenery, and best off, have some darn good food (I love the oysters there) and have a few more drinks.
From there, a number of people headed out for night tourism of the monuments here in DC. (A potentially dangerous activity, honestly, given some of the muggings that have happened around here.) As it was midnight, others headed back to the hotel for more drinks - I got off a couple of stops early and hit the sack.
After all, I had a lot to do on day two.
Sorry for the delays between posts; real life has been kicking my butt.
When we last left our intrepid guild-fest organizer, he was busy waiting.
The room block was reserved in the November-December time frame; people had until early March to sign up for a late March event.
Listen to the crickets...
That leads to another lesson. People will only sign up basically at the last possible moment.
Until then there's nothing you can do but wait and stress and remind.
And plan - what are people going to do the whole time that they're in the area?
Well, you don't want to over-organize. I set up a "meet & greet" (in the meeting room) for the first day, then dinner at an iconic local restaurant, the Old Ebbitt Grill. We could Metro there; I got 10 $5 Metro cards to help out for people showing up on Friday for it.
(A note on Old Ebbitt, one of my favorite restaurants in the DC area - they were a delight to work with. Completely the opposite of Marriott. From now on if I have to do any kind of large dinner I'll not hesitate to call up Old Ebbitt. And if you haven't eaten there, it's good stuff - I highly recommend it.)
Since I still wasn't certain how many people were coming until the very last minute, I did most of my preparations under "how much per person". "How much food?" "How many drinks?" Etc.
I asked people if there were any food allergies, vegetarians, etc.
For the Saturday we planned out that people would want to play tourist. I thought I'd have time to hang out a bit (I was wrong) but we did plan on a party that night complete with food.
Sunday nothing was planned.
As the day approached the final numbers finally coalesced; it took quite a bit of following up to make sure of it. A week or so ahead of time I went and bought the non-perishable items, such as paper napkins, plastic cups, etc., that I'd need and scouted out what I'd get in terms of food.
The Wednesday before I'd already coordinate picking up some growlers for beer which ended up not being necessary - thanks to the fact that Old Dominion Brewpub hadn't opened. I also put in an order for some empanadas from Julia's in DC.
Thursday I picked up one visitor from the airport, went to Old Dominion (no dice!), checked into the hotel, and went to dinner with the visitor plus a friend who was attending from my old hometown, plus with the planner that the second guy was friends with and had introduced me to who was helping us out (whew, that's an awkward sentence). Then I raced home to finish planning what I needed and make sure I had the coolers I needed (which meant buying one of them).
Friday dawned early and I did a big run to the grocery store for the "meet & greet" supplies (couple of hundred dollars there, including stuff that'd be used the next day), had to get everything over to the hotel, pick up the empanadas, got the Metro cards (or, rather, delegated someone to get the cards), and then had to find a maintenance man to actually let us into the meeting room.
The 'Fest was about to begin.
A.k.a. Why I'm Still Mad at Marriott
Figuring out who all will be coming is an intrinsic part of making a deal with a hotel. At the same time, it's hard to see who is coming until you can pick out a weekend and a room block rate with the hotel - so it can be a bit of a Catch 22.
I am not a professional event planner. I bummed some help off of one that I know in exchange for dinner a night or two, but she doesn't know our group, so she could only really give more generalized help.
But you've got:
* People who will definitely come
* People who are coming, but staying elsewhere for whatever reason
* People who are coming, but something comes up that prohibits them from showing
* People who are coming, but just never...sign...up...for a room...or say anything...
* People who are coming, but don't tell you.
What I did was call a few hotels first, after we'd nailed down a weekend within our group. It ends up that the timeframe in question is a big one for school trips to DC; that caused a few issues. It came down to two hotels - one, a Holiday Inn in Ballston, which I felt was the superior location, and the other a Courtyard Marriott that primarily caters to businesspeople just outside the Beltway, but right next to a Metro station and with much better rates. I took the latter.
I should've had an inherent advantage in these discussions - my brother, with whom I live, is a lawyer (criminal defense and civil law, mostly). Another one of my good friends is a contract attorney. Plus, as I mentioned, I had an event planner who was helping me "on the side".
But I screwed it up.
I took a count of everyone who said "yes" or "maybe" to come to the 'fest. I took 75% of the yes-s, and 25% of the maybe-s. I then talked to the hotel about getting a block of rooms. This was the same hotel that my friend Roy had used for his wedding guests, and it'd been a simple ten room block.
Well - we were looking at around 20 rooms. That's the magic number, it seems - it went from "sure, we can set that up for you" that he'd gotten to a forest of contracts and demands for me.
What got me were two things.
1. I was told things on the phone and they were different in the contracts. I felt I could handle this on my own, and did so - I ended up paying for it down the road. That was my own stupidity.
For instance, I was told "Yes, you can lower the number of rooms you have in your block if you're not going to use them." What they put into the contract was "But you still have to PAY for them if no one rents them."
I was told "The meeting room will be $250", and when I asked about other charges they said "Just tax" - especially as I didn't want any kind of set up or anything in there. Then, in the contract, they put in a 22% service charge - and never mentioned it, verbally, until after it was too late to cancel the meeting room.
2. They pressured me into signing "right away". I would typically get the documents by mid-afternoon and would be told I had to have them signed and returned by Close Of Business (COB) that day, or the deal would be null and void. That prevented me from showing them to my brother and pressured and intimidated me into reading them quickly to get them back, helping to lead to what was caused above.
Honestly, I was caught off guard by all of this; I hadn't expected a company with a corporate image such as Marriott's to be so slimy and underhanded. But they were, and when I pitched a fit about the service charge they had me take it off the contract.
Guess what? They charged it to me ANYWAYS.
But, at this point, we had the guest rooms, and we had a meeting room for a first day "meet & greet" situation. Now it was just time to wait...and wait...and wait for people to sign up.
Next up: the waiting game.
(First in a series)
I'm in what I consider to be a pretty great guild, the Hrafn Warband. We started in Midgard/Guinevere back in Dark Age of Camelot, and since then we've been represented in, let's see:
* Star Wars Galaxies
* City of Heroes/Villains
* World of Warcraft
* Auto Assault
* EVE Online
* Guild Wars
* Kingdom of Loathing
* Lord of the Rings Online
* Everquest 2
and probably some other games in a more minor capacity.
2006 was our five year anniversary - a pretty good one considering the nature of the guild. We're a completely democratic guild. All full members - thegns, as we call them - are equal in stature within the guild, no matter what, and anything that affects the guild as a whole requires a vote of usually 2/3rds majority, unless it's on a "dreng" who is being promoted to thegn, in which case it takes only two or more "no" votes to vote them down. In any single game, 3-5 members might make up a "Council" to handle guild leader responsibilities and other administrivia, but nothing more than that; they still have no more power than anyone else, unless you count the right to actually post a Thing for a vote.
(Surprisingly enough or not, that doesn't happen often, but I'll cover that more in a later post.)
What it also means is that it takes us forever to decide anything.
So, during 2006 we decided we should have a guild gathering in real life to celebrate.
We've met up in smaller, more informal gatherings a number of times before. A number of us go regularly to various conventions, such as Origins or DragonCon, quite a few live in close geographic proximity to each other in some parts of the country, and some of us, who travel a good bit for work or whatever, have met up with who they could.
But this would be different - a 'fest, a Hrafn-fest with nothing more specific than "Let's hang out with guildies."
Where to have it?
Ah, that's the question all the time, isn't? The West Coasters want it out there. The Texans want it there. The East Coasters want it there. Some even suggest Vegas.
So what do you do? You put it to a vote.
Vote once to narrow it down.
And even when Washington, DC, area wins out by a single solitary vote, you end up with another question - who is going to organize it?
I'm that stupid, masochistic person.
After all, it means *I* wouldn't have to travel anywhere. And that I'd get to pick what we do!
And I get to do all the work and shoulder the responsibilities.
How much is that?
I wouldn't know until much later, and, in fact, truly until it was over.
But until then it was endless discussions. When? What to do? How to keep non-gaming spouses amused? Where to stay? How to help poorer members?
We worked and worked on those questions. And soon we had a weekend, and a hotel.
Next time: The joys of working with a large chain hotel, and of trying to see how many people are actually coming.
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