Relicblade Gladiator Arena

“TWO MEN ENTER, ONE MA—err… three pigmen, an ogre, two soldiers, a barbarian, a sabretooth cat, a lizardman, a samurai, and another barbarian… <double checks> ENTER, … <counting> FOUR OF THEM LEAVE!”

The local Lord of Darkness and his Aug-Suul henchtrolls have captured several parties of adventurers and thrown them into the arena to battle for their freedom! Also, the visiting ~~̶G̶a̶n̶d̶a̶l̶f̶~~ err ~~̶F̶i̶z̶b̶a̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶F̶a̶b̶u̶l̶o̶u̶s̶~~ err White Wizard Numero Uno is horrified yet intrigued to discover the evening’s entertainment is NOT simply a skeleton cabaret as he had let himself be led to believe.

A scenario made up on the fly to utilize this ~~̶a̶w̶e̶s̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶P̶l̶a̶y̶m̶o̶b̶i̶l̶ ̶c̶h̶i̶l̶d̶r̶e̶n̶’̶s̶ ̶t̶o̶y̶~~ very serious historical wargaming terrain. A rack of powerful relic weapons is at arena center. Captured adventurers start chained to rocks, with one party member waiting in the entrance tunnel to be permitted in as reinforcements. Monsters appear every turn from underground entrances around the circle. Disabling a monster grants a favor thrown from the crowd (small items, potions, etc). Killing a monster is one point, destroying a character two points, and the party with most points at game end earns the appreciation of the Lord of Darkness and is granted their freedom.

Mechanically we could maybe tweak this a little. Two of the three players (Jesse and I) just wound up in a huge scrum in the middle. Though, to be fair, the other player (Jake) simply walked carefully around avoiding the scrum to kill monsters, gain points, and win the scenario. So maybe the mechanics worked great and the two scrummers are just stubborn and dumb?

Thematically it was pretty cool. To paraphrase Jesse: “Time for all those Latin classes to shine! <starts discoursing at length on the layout and construction of the Colliseum>”

In any event: <SPOILER ALERT> The Lord of Darkness lied (!!!) and at the end sent all the warriors down into the pits anyway because THEY ARE THE MONSTERS NOW.

Wasteworld @ Open Sauce 2023

Sometime this spring—

  • Brett: “Wanna go to San Francisco this July?”
  • Me: “… Sure. What for?”
  • Brett: “To exhibit my toys at this Open Sauce thing.”
  • Me: “… Oof—you’re gonna lug all your stuff across the country?”
  • Brett: “Yep!”
  • Me: “Can’t we find a local maker fair or something?”
  • Brett: “Nope!”
  • Me: “Ok, but I can’t help get it to & from the airport, I’ll be coming from Seattle.”
  • Brett: “Rrrgh! That’s exactly what I needed help for!!”

But cut scene a few months and there we were anyway, surrounded by toys…


A few more photos of Brett’s exhibit additional to those here are in this gallery.

Open Sauce

This was the debut of Open Sauce, which I’m currently describing as a convention for electromechanical play and adjacent hobbies & tool building. A gathering of tinkerers, artistic engineers, and technical artists. That means lots of homemade robots, kinetic art installations, custom video game hardware, DIY electric skateboards, 3D printers, and so on. A lowercase maker fair, as differentiated and genericized from an uppercase Maker Faire, the conventions organized by Make: magazine. The community fabric of this one is largely a loosely associated collection of YouTube personalities and their audience, which is how Brett knew of the event. Nearly every person asked us “So what’s your channel?” and we were like “Naw, we don’ do that, yo.”

I have a few more photos and videos from around the convention in addition to those here, though just a small subset of what was on display, in this gallery.

A view from our booth of maybe 1/3 of the expo hall.

Automated piano and light display.

A platform for moving items or tools around, e.g., in a laboratory or manufacturing.


Through several hundred repetitions, we finally refined our spiel to something like—

Wasteworld is about playing with action figures and vehicles like we imagined them in our heads as kids, not just posing them for display.

All of the vehicles are remote controlled (RC). The bigger ones have animatronics synced to the controls (e.g., steering wheels, superchargers, lights) as well as multiple controllable details (turrets, doors, hitch lifts, etc.) and major secondary modes of play:

  • The Fire Truck has a working flamethrower;
    • Of course it does! Can you show me?
    • Nope, we promised the fire marshal we wouldn’t.
  • The DUME Cannon shoots airsoft pellets;
  • The Launch Box fires actual black powder model rockets;
  • The Drift Wagon plays Nintendo games out of its hatch.
    • But can it play DOOM?
    • Absolutely.
  • The CAT-CAT is… made out of cat hair.
    • Cat hair?
    • Yes, cat hair.
    • How many cats?
    • Three… One’s dead now.

Talking through the secondary play modes.

Just playin’ some Mario Kart in this Datsun.

The action figures are all, well, actionful. They’re articulated so they can hold on to and move with the steering wheels, e-brakes, missile controls, etc. connected to the RC receiver. Further, many of the action figures are animatronic. Built-in servos manipulate the heads to look left and right. Some have first-person view (FPV) video cameras in their heads, so you can use goggles to see what they see. One of them so far has built-in head tracking, so it looks around as you look around, independent of the steering.

Importantly, the action figures are interchangeable and not permanently attached to any vehicles. The animatronic ones plug into the vehicles for power & control signals but otherwise they’re self-contained and can be swapped in & out.

This guy disapproves.

A significant portion of the materials and elements are upcycled components and trash. Vehicles started as hobbyist RC chassis or cheap toys that have been totally rebuilt, and in a few cases are completely scratchbuilt (namely the rocket launcher trailer). Some decorative details, such as skulls, are 3D printed, while many are handmade from scavenged materials—seltzer bottles, gift cards, bits of wood, cabinet paneling, the hundreds and hundreds of individually placed 1mm rhinestones serving as rivets… The figures are mostly made from body blanks with additional 3D printed components such as heads. Clothing, backpacks, belts, etc. are hand stitched from scraps of fabric, straps, rubber bands, and so on. Other accessories are a combination of repurposed toys, sculpted, and 3D printed. Most of the painting has been done with oil paints.

Despite all the detail, it’s all been made to be played with. Anything that falls off was either designed to or should have been. Would you like to try? <holds out controller>

Twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!


There’s a lot more that can be said and shown, but Brett’s going to have to get his act together and make some good videos of the various features. Just don’t ask him to expound on the lore unless you’re really sure what you’re doing. That is a long, intense ride, and you can’t get off once that train leaves the station.

As far as Open Sauce, I enjoyed the convention as a whole, saw a bunch of interesting displays, and learned a couple things. At one point I had to run to the repair booth to get a charging cable re-soldered and I picked up a bunch of useful tips from the person running it. Our fellow RC enthusiasts in the adjacent tables were cool to hang out with all weekend. I particularly appreciated the art installations, like the unemployed robot street drummer and the storm cloud light & sound show, the latter of which was purpose-built for this event, disassembled at the end, and will never appear again.

On our side, we had a great time hanging out with lots of people and playing with toys. After talking through all of it with several hundred people over the weekend we were pretty cooked. Brett was decidedly stumbling around in a delirium and would only have been talking nonsense even if his voice still worked. But, as my mom said, that’s fine—he doesn’t usually make much sense to begin with.

The man, the myth, the Brett.

I don’t think the exhibit could have gone much better for not just a first outing, but one all the way across the country. Our biggest issue was all the many video transmitters in various projects around the expo hall stomping on our low power signals, and realistically there’s not much that can be done about that. Brett’s got a bunch of repair work to do post-event, but of course the worst damage was incurred by him and I.

It was great to see so many people play with, enjoy, and appreciate all Brett’s work. This was the first time Wasteworld has been shown in public. Locally most friends have no idea Brett’s been building all this. It’s an incredible body of work. The modeling alone is very good, the attention to detail and the scrap building impressive in particular. But it’s all functional in non-trivial ways? And even further, it’s (reasonably) robust enough for kids and whomever to just pick up & play with?? That’s crazy.

There are mores photos and videos from Brett’s Wasteworld exhibit in this gallery and from the convention overall in this gallery. Thanks for reading!



<whisper> wwaaasstteewwoorrlllldd </whisper>


This past Memorial Day weekend Alice & I took some tiny rockets to one of the East Coast’s largest amateur launch ranges, the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, NY (very near Rochester), for the annual NYPOWER event hosted by the Monroe Astronautical Rocket Society (MARS) and the Syracuse Rocket Club (SRC).

This was my first trip to a MARS launch at Geneseo and it did not disappoint. That’s an amazing site to launch rockets, and a really nice group of people. Alice and I managed to spend some time here and there hanging out with the organizers and she got more out of it than just Memorial Day cupcakes—though those were indeed a true highlight for her! We showed up late, but she really enjoyed the Sunday night campfire. I was particularly moved by how excited and engaged she was when everyone spent a few minutes pointing out and watching the ISS traverse the night sky overhead.

The ceiling for the event was 8000ft, and you had to go through extra review if you expected to go over 6k. The clubs running these high power launches get waivers from the FAA for given altitudes and time periods, and sometimes have to call in particular launches. The recovery area at this launch site is absurdly generous, like a square mile of primary and then a lot of surrounding open space as well.

A standout for the weekend, in multiple ways, was the giant rocket above from the Spring Grove High School club. Unfortunately its motor fractured and the 17ft long, 12in diameter, ~76lb aircraft broke up wildly not far above the launch pad, burning out of both ends and spinning around with parts ripping off. Alice’s chosen metaphor that she told everyone excitedly was that it “SNAPPED LIKE A FLYING GRAHAM CRACKER!!”

The huge silver retro-scifi moon lander below was beautiful though, at rest and in the air. Big enough for Alice to walk under the legs without ducking, it flew just high enough to be well up there but totally visible, and then floated back down on multiple parachutes for a very stately, graceful flight. For both its launches I saw this weekend it nearly landed on its legs, juuust tipping over at the last second. At one point it was set up on display with an American flag waving in the background and even 7 year old Alice realized and remarked on how evocative it was of scenes from the moon landings.

The vendor row for the event was packed: Us (low power kits, parts, motors); Ken / Performance Hobbies (high power kits, parts, motors); Ray / FlisKits (lots of unique kits, we stock a bunch); Rick / Wildman CT (high power motors). As always I had a fun and informative time hanging out with Ken, interesting discussions with Rick, and it was nice to meet Ray in person. Alice thought Ken in particular was a hoot. From a retail perspective the crowd here had the most interest I’ve seen so far in basic parts, including one youngish guy who over the course of the weekend bought & assembled all the parts and supplies for a new ad hoc scratchbuilt BT60 mid-power rocket!

We stayed in a tiny cabin in one of Lechtworth State Park’s campground areas. This worked well, and it seems like a great park. At about a month out though I had reserved one of the last remaining spots for Memorial Day weekend without realizing it was on the southern end of the park, about twice as far away from Geneseo as the northern camp loop I had been researching! Fortunately it was a really pleasant and still very reasonable ~25 minute drive to & from the airfield. In any event, Alice sternly refused to even consider taking a shower despite the facilities being available…

In an effort to keep Alice—just short of 8 years old—engaged with rocketry overall and to sell her on this trip specifically, I had planted the idea of hosting an activity table for kids. She immediately latched onto this and began making lists & plans of what we could do and what we’d need. In the end we brought some kits for kids to assemble, complementing the fly-it/take-it tent run by SRC, and a lot of stuff with which to decorate rockets: Stickers, markers, and lots of tapes—color masking tape, washi tape, and variously colored flagging tape for streamers. Also on hand were space and rocket themed coloring books, reading books, and a couple games. Put it all under a shade tent with a couple kid-sized folding tables and chairs, and you’ve got a party!

There weren’t a ton of kids around for the launch, and it can be hard to get little kids to socialize outside of well understood scenarios like playgrounds. But we had a lot of fun, built a handful of rockets, and decorated a bunch more with a small but steady succession of new friends. Notably, Alice enjoys being at launches, but she’s usually pretty blasé about actually launching rockets herself. She likes running around outside, being goofy with the people we know, going on expeditions to recover wayward rockets, etc.. But here she was motivated and eager to launch a bunch, especially late one day as the pads emptied out to do a 3-way launch of her rockets… and then spend a long time walking patterns looking for the third one (somebody else eventually found it nestled in the grass right next to a mid power pad). It’s been said often, but moral of the story is once again that the best way to engage kids is to engage kids, plural.

Although facilitating easy on-site construction has been a big focus of mine, increasingly I also wouldn’t worry about kids building their own rockets. I believe the Syracuse club also hold to that philosophy in their frequent kids events—they’re quite specifically fly-it/take-its, not make-it/take-its. If the kids are into building that’s great, but otherwise they’ll come to it if you get them hooked. Put a rocket in their hands, let ’em fly it, and they’ll adopt it and love it just as much as if they built it. Enable them to decorate it and they’re making their own thing and being creative and you’ve got an easy stepping stone toward building. Again, not a new insight. Lots of clubs have “rocket buckets” and so on for kids, and the hobby thrives on devotees giving rockets to newcomers to go launch. But for me personally it’s somewhat of a shift I’m making.

Lastly, get a cheap pair of walkie-talkies. Those are always fun no matter what, but also give cautious kids a way to wander a bit on their own without getting too nervous about being away from you, e.g., to go watch launches, look for kids, or wait in line at the food truck and then call over dad & his wallet to order…

Highlights in Alice’s reports to everybody at home:

  • Saturday’s night launch, which was short but sweet and involved being out launching rockets until way past bedtime;
  • The cupcake flag at the organizers’ cookout Sunday night, with inch thick icing;
  • The giant rocket that BLEW UP just off the pad (the ~16ft brown one in photos here disassembled itself maybe 75ft in the air);
  • That Erik Hansen from PARA gave her glowsticks after his dad Jim said Erik is too old for them, which she found to be riotous.

Long story short, NYPOWER was a great weekend for us as a holiday trip as well as a fun launch. Alice has been talking about rockets unprompted all week since. Pretty good return for a small investment in a box or two of stickers, tape, and markers.

That’s Jimmy, who Alice found on the prize table at her school’s spring fair a couple weeks ago. We are currently in the requirements gathering phase of building a rocket for Jimmy. The list so far: #1 is that Jimmy be totally isolated from the ejection charge. #2 is that we must get Jimmy back!!!