Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

My gaming notebook, pencil, and eraser

Over the years, I’ve used and experimented with a ton of different notebooks, pencils, pens, and erasers for gaming. I’m almost as much of a notebook and writing implement geek as I am a bag geek, and I enjoy the hunt for the perfect thing as much as I enjoy the satisfaction of finding something that comes close.

I’ve used the same pencil and eraser for about a year now, and they’re perfect for me in every way. I’ve used my current notebook for just over a year and a half, and ditto.

The notebook

I’m a big Moleskine (paid link) fan, so for the past several years my gaming notebooks have always been Moleskines.

I’ve found that the hardcover ones don’t offer me much more durability (the softcovers are plenty tough), and what little they do offer comes at the expense of comfort while writing — they’re too stiff to lay flat easily. I also used to use smaller ones (easier to pack, right?), but they made my hands cramp because they didn’t give me enough room to write.

The extra large, ruled, softcover Moleskine notebook (paid link) solves both problems: It lays flat, making it easy to write in, and it’s large enough (7.5″x10″) to make taking notes a breeze.

For the money, Moleskine makes a durable, high-quality notebook. The bookmark is handy, as is the elastic closure. They feel good in-hand, and they’re a pleasure to write in. I don’t bother using a pen for gaming notes anymore, but when I did I sometimes found their paper a bit thin for that, depending on the pen.

(Yes, I have terrible handwriting. All-caps is the only way anyone can read my notes, including me.)

The pencil and eraser

After mocking one up in paper so I could confirm that it wouldn’t be too short, I splurged on a Kaweco Brass Sport pencil (paid link) with 0.7mm leads. I’m 6’0″, and it’s just the right length for my rather large hands. It doesn’t look like it’d be long enough, but my grip ignores the back third of most pencils/pens anyway, and that’s all that’s missing from the Sport.

Brass is one of my favorite metals, particularly for things I use often, in large part because it patinas. I’ve entirely failed to capture the patina in my photos, but it’s there and I think it’s lovely.

I love the styling, but it’s also functional in a minimalist way: It’s a comfortable pencil to use, even for long periods. It only holds two spare leads, which isn’t the end of the world (though I’d prefer more), and it doesn’t have an eraser.

Lacking an eraser doesn’t bother me, since I’m happy to use a separate, much longer-lasting, stick eraser — specifically, the rOtring Tikky eraser (paid link). Absolutely everything about this eraser is perfect, and it’s miles better than any other stick eraser I’ve used.

Before I switched to that pair, I used a Pentel Side FX 0.7mm pencil (paid link). I still swear by these as disposable options, and I keep this one in my gaming bag as a loaner/backup.

I’ve used it for so long that the lettering has rubbed off, because it’s the best pencil of its kind I’ve ever used. It holds a half-dozen leads in the body, the grip is comfortable, and the action is perfect.

The twist ring at the top controls the retractable eraser, and the button on the side advances the lead. Those are both a big deal, because crappy pencils don’t have a retractable eraser (whereas this one lasts for years), and the lead is advanced by pushing the eraser — often, in my experience, while erasing.

These are little things! But little things make the difference between the almost-right tool and the tool that’s perfect for you. These are perfect for me, and I highly recommend all of them.

Miscellaneous geekery

Part of me is still skydiving

This past Sunday, I went skydiving for the first time.

It was a tandem jump at Skydive Snohomish, and my instructor Mike (who rocked!) and I jumped out of an airplane at 13,500 feet (2.5 miles). We reached our terminal velocity, 180 mph, in a few seconds, and spent about a minute in freefall.

It was totally amazing.

I’m still processing the whole experience. My stomach felt like it was at 13,500 feet for at least an hour afterwards. And in the same way that part of me is always hiking up a mountain, part of me will, I suspect, always be skydiving.

Holy fucking shit!

Once we were at altitude, there was very little time to think about what was happening.

Mike and I were the first two tandem jumpers, but we were preceded by a team of five who exited the plane in formation, and a team of two doing some sort of headfirst freefall thing. From the moment the door opened[1], this is a rough summary of my thought process.

Hey, those people in front just fell out of an airplane! What the fuck! Hey he’s scooting us forward! Okay, my job is to tuck my feet under the plane. Hey, we’re about to fall out of an airplane! I JUST FELL OUT OF AN AIRPLANE!

That only took a few seconds, tops.[2]

There were two terrifying moments. The first was the initial drop, which I expected to be scary. The second was when the canopy opened, which I didn’t expect to be scary. What those moments shared was my body’s realization that it was falling towards the Earth from a great height.

The Fitbit knows

This is my heart rate today (thanks, Fitbit!):

That spot where there’s a gap in the graph, where it spikes from around 70 bpm to around 115, is when our plane took off. (“Oh shit, this is actually happening.”)

I’m pretty sure the spot where it spikes to 126 bpm is when we actually jumped.

The clichés are true

I’ve heard skydiving described as “the ultimate freedom.” That’s true.

Once we hit 180 mph, it felt like floating. I was so high up that the ground didn’t feel like it was rushing towards me, so even looking straight down didn’t feel like I thought it would. The part of my brain that should have been terrified after the initial drop hadn’t fully caught up.

I’d also read, and heard, that the feeling of skydiving is indescribable. That’s also true!

It was a jumble of terror, with my brain lagging well behind my body in responding to the situation at hand; exhilaration during freefall, which is one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever experienced; and a deeply chill, relaxing float down under the canopy, having a conversation with Mike about the sights, and skydiving, and whatever else came to mind.

I’m so glad I did this

Skydiving is something I wasn’t sure I could do. I wanted to see if I could do it, so I did it.

I didn’t even want to do it, except in the abstract sense, until a couple of years ago.[3] That was when I started hiking up mountains and learned to take considered risks around lethal drop-offs — and enjoyed it. Five years ago, I don’t think I could have gone skydiving.

It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The adrenaline was unbelievable. The mix of fear and excitement and anticipation and freedom and the wild rush of air at 180 mph and the knowledge that I was falling out of an airplane, towards the ground, faster than I’ve ever gone and higher than I’ve ever been before . . . is hard to put into words.

“Totally amazing” is probably as close as I can get. Two hours later, it still doesn’t seem entirely real. It doesn’t even sound real: “I fell two and a half miles, but, thanks to some straps, buckles, rope, and a fancy piece of cloth, I didn’t die.”

If the opportunity arose, I would absolutely do it again. And I’d happily do it at Skydive Snohomish — they were awesome.

[1] Which, as a lifelong air traveler, was just one more moment of weirdness. (“THERE’S A HOLE IN THIS PLANE!”)

[2] Thirty minutes afterwards, I noticed that my teeth felt sore — I must have gritted them like crazy.

[3] In an “I’d like to do that someday” sense, I’d always been curious about skydiving.

Miscellaneous geekery

A 1,700 year-old Roman Antoninianus

Back in 2013, I went looking for an old English coin in the basement, which I couldn’t find, and found this 1,700-year old Roman coin instead.

It took me an hour to go from knowing precisely dick about Roman coinage to being 99% certain about what this one is, when it was minted, etc. I love the internet!

I believe it’s an Antoninianus from the reign of Probus, minted in Antioch in 281 AD. The obverse (above) is a bust of Probus, and reads IMP C M AVR PROBUS P F AVG (“Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Probus the Dutiful and Fortunate Augustus”). The reverse (below) depicts the emperor receiving Victory from Jupiter, and reads CLEMENTIA TEMP (“Clemency of the Emperor”). Probus was assassinated in 282, the year after this coin was minted.

Had I been able to read much of that initially, it would have been easier to identify the coin. But I had to back into it from the bits I could read, paring down results that didn’t fit the other stuff I could make out. I felt like I was making a Library Use roll in Call of Cthulhu (paid link).

I also learned that the Romans minted a metric fuck-tower of coins in a billion denominations and variations. This one’s not worth much of anything, but it’s neat. I bought a little case for it so I could carry it in my pocket, which I did for a year or so; now it sits on my desk, alongside myriad other doodads.

Back in high school, my favorite teacher once said, “Everything is interesting if you look close enough.” It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten, and it fits this sort of thing perfectly.

Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

5 years, 82 projects: My Kickstarter sniff test

Yesterday I was thinking about Kickstarter and how happy I am with some of the stuff that’s come in the mail this year, and I realized I should revisit a post I made on Google+ back in January — one that prompted some great discussion — and see if it still applied. It does, so I’m reprising it here on Yore.

I’ve been backing stuff on Kickstarter since 2011, and over the past five years my engagement with the site — and the “culture” of Kickstarting stuff, particularly tabletop RPGs — has changed. I’ve backed 82 projects as of this writing, mainly tabletop RPGs but also a couple of movies, some comics, several board games, and a few one-offs in other areas

These are my personal guidelines (not rules!) — a sort of informal sniff test that helps me decide whether to back a project. Some are weird, some may not apply to anyone else, and some I consider best practices.

No board/card games

I’ve kept just one board game I backed on KS, Swords & Strongholds — and I haven’t played that one yet. I have enough board games, and my track record in this area is terrible.


“First created, zero backed” is one of the biggest canaries in the Kickstarter coal mine, a big ol’ red flag that the project creator has no fucking clue what they’re doing. Granted, most gaming projects I’d consider backing don’t fall into this trap, and most gaming FC0Bs suck in all sorts of other obvious ways. I mind the 0B a lot more than the FC; everyone has to have an FC, after all.

No at-cost fulfillment

I totally get why offering backers an at-cost copy on DTRPG or Lulu, rather than handling fulfillment directly, is great for creators. But if I have to take the risk of giving you my money up front, I expect you to keep that skin in the game. It’s also inconvenient for me to have to essentially preorder, then order again; I’ll just order once, if the project succeeds, at zero risk to my wallet.

No spreadsheets

If I need a spreadsheet to figure out which reward level to choose, I’ll pass. I don’t feel like investing that much time in what’s essentially a preorder, and it can be a sign of excessive complexity in the project itself, leading to delays and other problems.

No paid autographs

It’s cool if you want to charge for signatures, but paying extra for one has zero appeal for me. I won’t avoid a project for having this option, I’ll just back it at a different level.

There must be a print option

I don’t read PDFs unless I have to, and I don’t back projects without a print book available.

Have your shit mostly done

This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.

Have actual risks and challenges

Don’t be cutesy (“The only risk is if I get hit by lightning!”), don’t boast about how many years you’ve been gaming (which has fuck-all to do with your ability to shepherd a project to completion), don’t say there are no risks. Do mention past projects, realistic hurdles, third party involvement (e.g., printers), and things like impending parenthood. Disclosure is good.

Limited clutter

The best stretch goals make the product better for everyone, and reward backers for taking a risk on your thing. Doodads, which generally involve additional parties and workflows and production hassles, can die in a fire. Make the thing better, and have a plan for wild success (i.e., some stretch goals in mind).

Some sort of sample

If I’m on the fence, being able to see part of the thing for free will help me get off the fence. If I don’t know you or your work, I probably won’t back without a pretty robust sample — a chapter, a draft, some excerpts, whatever.

My stats

Here are my Kickstarter backing stats by year, including 2016 to date:

Projecting a simple trend (average of 1.2 projects backed/month in 2016 so far) through the end of the year, it looks a bit different:

Those charts look like me mostly eating my own dog food[1] — there’s a board game project on my 2016 list, for example (one with a previous KS and a great track record, and I like the first set) — but it also looks like I’m headed for an uptick in backing stuff this year.

My guidelines have helped me choose KS projects better-suited to me, and that’s upped my confidence in backing things this year. I’ve passed up some fantastic-looking games because they only offered at-cost POD fulfillment, and I’m okay with that; I can always buy them later. I’ve ignored a host of gorgeous board and card games, and I’m okay with that, too.

I also tend to star instead of backing right away. I star, come back when the reminder lands in my inbox, and wind up backing maybe 10% of projects I’ve starred at that point.

There’s so much out there on KS now, especially in the RPG world, that I don’t even visit the site to browse anymore. Instead, I let my G+ stream be my filter, and generally only check out stuff I see other folks mention. That keeps the volume fairly manageable, and so far it seems to work.

[1] Guidelines, not rules!

Miscellaneous geekery

Stepping down from Gnome Stew

As of today, I’m no longer running or contributing to Gnome Stew. There’s no drama or bad blood, it was just time for me to stop, and fortunately the Stew’s own John Arcadian is taking over — the site is in great hands.

Today feels super-weird. The Stew has been a fixture in my life for 8 years. To put that in perspective, during that time I’ve had a kid, bought and sold a house, changed jobs, and moved to another state. I woke up sad this morning, and post-coffee I still feel about the same.

I won’t retread all the ground I covered in the linked farewell article, with one exception: To everyone who has contributed to, read, commented on, or spread the word about the Stew over the past 8 years, thank you!

Miscellaneous geekery

Ultima Online ate my life

I was cleaning out the office closet today and came across this CD.

There was a good long chunk of my twenties where I played at least 40 hours of UO a week, and I still vividly remember many, many things that happened to my characters.

Miscellaneous geekery

The winter pork shoulder

Sometimes I’ll watch a movie and wish I was more like one of the characters, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier made me want to look like Chris Evans.

Not facially; I’m reasonably content to look like me (kind of weird). But holy shit, that man has a bangin’ bod. Chris Hemsworth might win out on sheer dreaminess, but he’s big in a way I don’t think I could be. But Chris Evans’ physique, while separated from me by a gulf of 15 years of my being fairly sessile — plus probably a host of other factors — looks like it could be achievable if I stick to my daily regimen.

I’ve got muscles like one of those soft, doughy pork buns right now, so next month or next year this ain’t. But it’s a goal I don’t recall ever having before. It’s an odd feeling.

Now I want a pork bun. Delicious pork.

Miscellaneous geekery

This is officially the weirdest collectible I own: the first printing of the collected edition of Squadron Supreme, which has creator Mark Gruenwald’s cremains mixed into its ink. My wife says we should keep a camera on it at all times, just to see what happens.

I was given the final issue of the series by a teacher in 4th or 5th grade, and it was like no other superhero comic I’d read before: no clear villains, just two groups of “good guys” killing each other. I read and reread it dozens of times, and it’s fair to say that part of my love of deconstructed superhero comics comes from Squadron Supreme #12.

Yet, somehow, I never went back to read the rest of the series. I’m looking forward to rectifying that.

Miscellaneous geekery


My mom sent me my high school yearbook.

Yes, I was starring in the SyFy original movie Dorknado.

As pretentious as it was to use a Nietzsche quote . . . I still like the quote!

Miscellaneous geekery

The world’s largest Jawa

Jawas are one of my favorite Star Wars aliens, and making a Jawa costume for Halloween 2010 sounded like fun. Looking at the one commercially available option, I wasn’t thrilled; for $60, it looked pretty meh. Once I got into researching better options, I knew I had to give making my own Jawa costume a shot.

Here’s the finished product — the World’s Largest Jawa.

Partly because I was reading The Making of Star Wars at the time, I became fixated on making it as screen-accurate as possible, working towards the 501st Legion‘s standards for serious costumers as spelled out on the Krayt Clan website. There’s a lot of great info online about making a Jawa costume (some of which I’ve linked to below), but most tutorials and threads focus on making one for your kids. I wanted to be the World’s Largest Jawa (at 6’0″ and around 195 lbs.), so I had to tweak things to create an adult-sized Jawa costume.

It was a hell of a lot of work, so I figured I’d document it here in case I could save other folks some time and heartache. Going this route took Alysia and I about 20 hours (10 for the robe and hood, 10 for everything else not counting dyeing time) and cost around $200.

That’s not cheap, but a) it’s cheap compared to many screen-accurate costumes, and b) it’s an investment in a costume you can wear for years to come. The robe and bandoliers are quite durable; even if I have to replace the shoes or mask down the line, it will be relatively easy and inexpensive to do so.

Online Resources

I spent hours researching this costume, so I’m sure I forgot to include some awesome sites on this list — but I did keep track as I went, so this should be most of them. I’d also like to thank the folks on the Krayt Clan forums for their advice; Krayt Clan is the official branch of the 501st Legion for “denizens of the galaxy,” which includes Jawas and Tusken raiders.

Complete jawa tutorial
Harlan’s Workshop’s jawa outfit tutorial
Jawa costume thread on The Dented Helmet
TD8733’s jawa costume tutorial
Jawa on a shoestring
Keep to the Code thread on weathering
Krayt Clan’s official costuming requirements for jawas
Krayt Clan’s reference photos
Star Wars Trader’s prop reviews
TK1336’s jawa tutorial
TK409’s mask tutorial
TK409’s robe pattern

Materials and Supplies

Here’s a complete list of what Alysia and I used to make this costume, including some stuff you likely already have (like electrical tape) for completeness’ sake. You’ll also need a sewing machine and someone who can sew (thanks, Alysia!).

There are lots of ways to skin this cat, but I can only speak to the materials I used — this approach worked for me, and I was happy with the results.

Costume Components

7.5 yards of natural monk’s cloth. This was $7/yard at Wal-Mart, the cheapest I could find (it’s $10/yard at fabric stores). I could have gotten away with 7 yards, maybe even 6, but I’m 6′ tall and wanted to some room for error (monk’s cloth shrinks a lot, too). Pre-dyed monk’s cloth is crazy expensive and might not actually be the right color; dyeing is easy and cheap.

1 yard of non-shiny, breathable black fabric. $6 at the fabric store. I wanted the furry/textured stuff I’d seen in online tutorials, but couldn’t find anything similar. I wound up using the stuff I picked up to cover the mask as well as make the cowl; if you find something better to cover the mask, you still need breathable cowl fabric.

1/2 a yard of black cotton fabric. About $3 at the fabric store. This is the hood liner.

A pair of dark brown jersey cotton gloves. $1 at Lowe’s. If you can find convincing fur to put on the cuffs, rock on; I couldn’t find any I liked, so I skipped that element.

Bandoliers. There are lots of options for these, but I went with a bandolier (a replica 1903 .303 five-pouch bandolier, $45 + shipping from IMA), a wide, dark brown belt ($20 at Sears), and a replica ammo pouch (WWII Mauser pouch, $18 + shipping on eBay). This is a middle-of-the-road approach: the bandolier and pouch are screen-accurate; the belt isn’t, but it does keep costs down. Using leather as opposed to vinyl makes for much more convincing weathering and looks better overall. If you’re tooling a custom ion blaster holster, buying two bandoliers, etc., expect to spend more.

Crappy plastic goalie/Jason mask. About a buck at a local grocery store around Halloween.

2 1″ diameter plastic toy pods from a vending machine. These were ubiquitous when I was a kid, but surprisingly hard to find these days. $0.25 apiece at a grocery store; buy four in case you screw up a couple. These are the shells for the eyes.

Pre-wired orange LED “Jawa eyes” with a battery pack. $10 on eBay. The wiring is supposed to be pretty easy, but I’m not an electrical guy.

Crappy shoes or boots. $25 duck boots from Wal-Mart are pretty close to the real thing, but I just used an old pair of Vans from the basement to save money. You’re going to glue fabric to these, and if the robe is long enough no one will see whether they’re shoes or boots.


2 bottles of RIT liquid dye in dark brown. $3 apiece, also from Wal-Mart. (I wound up buying four bottles so I could re-dye my fabric, but the re-dyeing didn’t actually help — two bottles was plenty.)

Large plastic tub with handles. 7+ yards of fabric takes up some room, and the handles make it easy to move. (The dye actually rinsed out easily, so you don’t need to buy a tub just for this purpose.)

A 1″ thick piece of soft craft foam. Around $4. Not every craft store carries the soft stuff, so you might have to poke around (I got mine at Hobby Lobby). It doesn’t matter what color this is — it goes inside the mask to give you some padding and create extra breathing room.

Hot glue gun and glue sticks. About $9. I wish I’d paid more than $6 for a better gun, but the crappy one I bought worked OK. Available at any craft store.

3′ of 14 guage coated wire. About $2 at Lowe’s. (Apparently 12 guage works just as well.) This is for shaping the opening of the hood.

150 grain sandpaper. A buck or two at Lowe’s; I needed two sheets to weather and distress the belt, ammo pouch, and bandolier. I also tried 100 grain and 220 grain; the former was too rough, the latter took forever.

Black electrical tape. About $2. This is for taping the wiring for the eyes to the mask (hot glue was way too messy).

Dark brown thread. $2 anywhere. I didn’t worry too much about matching the robe color perfectly (Jawas aren’t perfect).

Black shelf/drawer lining. $4 at grocery or craft stores. This is the stuff you lay in drawers to keep what’s in them from moving around — a kind of lightly tacky mesh. It goes over the eye holes to keep your eyes from being visible in the mask.

1 can of satin-finish spray paint, almond color. $4 at Wal-Mart; I used Krylon Satin Almond. This is used to spray sand/dirt stains onto the robe.

Jawas aren’t Perfect

The nice thing about this costume is that unlike other Star Wars costumes, Jawas aren’t shiny and perfect. They’re dirty upright rodents who steal shit, repair droids, and tool around the desert — not fashion plates.

This means your costume doesn’t need to be perfect to look good — and some sloppiness is desirable, in my opinion. One of the coolest things about the original trilogy is that everything looks dirty and lived in, and this suits Jawas perfectly.

Ideally, this costume doesn’t look like a costume — instead, it looks like something a Jawa has actually worn while kicking around on Tatooine. Here’s a much larger shot of the costume that hopefully illustrates that.

Dyeing the Fabric

First things first: Monk’s cloth shrinks like crazy, so you need to wash it (cold/cold) and dry it (delicates with a sheet of fabric softener) before doing anything else.

Since the monk’s cloth started out natural, it then needed to be dyed. I half-filled my plastic tub with hot tap water, and then threw in both bottles of RIT dye along with one cup of salt. I let it steep for an hour, agitating with a broom handle every 15 minutes, then threw it in the washer on cold/cold with detergent. Then I popped it in the dryer on delicate with a fabric softener sheet, just like before.

It came out with some blotchy and light spots, so I threw it back in the dye tub for another hour and then washed and dried it again. That didn’t eliminate the blotches, so after a bit of research I decided it was because parts of the cloth hadn’t been completely submerged. So I bought two more bottles of dye, used more water, and didn’t agitate it this time around; it still wasn’t perfect, but that was where I stopped.

I decided that the imperfections were actually just fine, since I was planning to dirty up the robe anyway — I thought some subtle blotches would actually look pretty cool, and as it turned out they do.

This whole process was less intimidating than I expected, and would have taken about four hours if I’d skipped the third dye bath (which wasn’t necessary). That wasn’t four hours of work, though, since it’s just steeping, washing, and drying.

Making the Robe

I picked up the McCall’s “Space Nomads” pattern for reference, but nothing in it is quite right for a Jawa robe. I think Alysia used the large robe pattern as a reference for the sleeve cutouts, but apart from that the pattern wasn’t helpful.

We wound up just throwing the whole bolt of fabric over my head and adding a little extra on each end for good measure; that was about 5 yards total, leaving 2.5 yards for the other soft parts (sleeves, hood, and shoe/boot coverings).

Then Alysia cut a 12″ lateral slit for my head in the center, pinned the fabric where it should fall from my shoulders, and cut out holes for the sleeves. For the sleeves, she threw spare fabric over my arm and pinned it so it flared a bit. I wanted a frayed hem and sleeves, so she sewed a reinforcing stitch 1″ from the edges and left it at that.

I then laid the robe in the grass, stretched the hem so it lay flat, and sprayed on the sand/dirt/weathering around the hem. After letting it dry for a few minutes, I flipped it over and did the other side; then I hung it to dry in the garage. (I wanted to just go roll in the desert dirt, but it was waaay too cold by this point in the year.)

Start to finish, the robe took about six hours to sew and 20 minutes to spray paint. (Monk’s cloth is thick and hard to work with, so be prepared for things to take longer than expected.)

The Hood

The hood sucks to make — it’s fiddlier than it looks. Alysia draped fabric over my head and we spent quite a bit of time estimating the right size to get the perfect opening. The cowl portion needs to cover the neck slit in the robe and drape a bit in the front and back, but not too much.

We opted for the simplest closure, just a piece of velcro in the front. I’ve seen screen-used Jawa costumes with this closure, as well as ones with flaps that overlap in front.

She then lined the front portion with black cotton fabric (which enhances the effect of the eyes and helps keep you from seeing the mask), folded over the outer edge around the opening and sewed it up to accommodate the wire, and ran a reinforcing stitch around the hem. To keep the wire from poking through, she put a U-bend in each end.

The hood requires a bit of adjusting to get it to drape properly, and a bit more to get the opening to look right. Once it’s on, though, it looks great and stays in place.

Start to finish, this took four hours.

The Mask

I followed TK409’s excellent mask tutorial, diverging only a bit from it, so this section will be brief.

I couldn’t find the right fuzzy stuff to cover the mask, so I just used some textured cotton/poly fabric. I glued on the neck cowl and separate head cowl, then covered the front of the mask with strips of fabric. Since the goal is never to see these, it’s kind of a Plan B: If you do see the mask, it should look rough, like the rest of the costume. The two cowls contribute to this as well.

I used electrical tape to keep the LEDs for the eyes in place, but I wish I’d found a better solution. I padded the cheekbones (which provides clearance for the LEDs) and forehead, which makes it a bit more breathable. Some folks install a CPU fan, but I couldn’t see how there’d be enough room for that in my mask. I wound up just taping the battery pack to the top of the mask, since I wanted the whole unit to be self-contained; I left the little door accessible for battery changes.

Once it was built, I realized I could have dropped amber vase gems into the ends of the eye capsules to create a more natural effect, but it was too late. If I did this again, I’d go that route or source some 1″ diamater vase gems (which I couldn’t find locally in time) and skip the capsules entirely.

The mask took about two hours to make.

The Shoes

Since I was working with a normal pair of shoes (Vans with laces), I put them on, made them a bit loose, and then double-knotted the laces. That way I could glue cloth to them and would still be able to just slip them on and off.

Using a triangle of monk’s cloth that could just about cover the whole shoe, I first glued it along one edge of the shoe so that it lay just above the sole line. I wanted it to make the shoe invisible but not drag any fabric on the ground; to be screen-accurate, I would have needed to fully wrap the shoe, including the sole (and it would have needed to be a boot, of course).

To make it look less like a bootie, I cut leftover pieces of monk’s cloth into strips and covered the whole thing in a hodgepodge fashion. To simulate wear, I sprayed sand-colored paint around the edges.

All told, this step took about an hour.


I covered simulating weathering on the robe and shoes above — this section is about weathering the bandolier, ammo pouch, and belt. There’s a certain amount of letting go and saying “Fuck it” to this part of the costume. I had to take this awesome thing Alysia and I were working so hard on, and which cost quite a bit, and mess it up, which felt weird at first. But messing it up the right way is the thing that takes this costume — which is relatively simply in appearance, if not in construction — over the top.

After doing a bunch of research online, the biggest takeaway seemed to be that in order to weather something authentically, you have to consider how it would actually be used and then beat the hell out of it. I started by sanding all of the high points and edges — the spots where these items would naturally wear.

I erred on the side of caution, sanding a little instead of a lot and then returning to further distress some areas once I got the hang of it. Thinking how authentic the costumes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy looked, I also erred on the side of subtlety overall; like Lucas did in shooting ANH, I wanted the weathering to just look right, and therefore to disappear — IE, everything should look well-used, not artificially (or over-) weathered. Reading The Making of Star Wars, which goes into all that stuff, was a big help.

After I’d done all of the sanding, I basically just beat each piece up for 30 minutes. I rolled and unrolled fastener straps (the heaviest-used parts of the bandolier and pouch) and belts; twisted belts into a coil in one direction, then the other; folded belts the long way, and then back; rolled everything up and stood on it; crumpled things in random directions; broke in all the surfaces; made the pouches less perfectly squared off; and generally just had a good time — this was a lot of fun, and I think it turned out well.

To achieve a naturally weathered and beaten-up look that I was happy with took me an hour per piece, so three hours total.

What I Skipped

While a droid caller, second bandolier (in place of the belt/pouch combo), and ion blaster with custom holster and power pack would have been awesome, I didn’t have the time or want to spend the money to do all that stuff this year. Using an actual Enfield rifle with grenade cup for the blaster, a Kobold flash unit for the caller, and a custom-made holster would have been expensive. I didn’t even know where to start for the power pack.

The slightly less expensive route is to use resin kit versions of the caller and blaster, which I found on eBay for around $20 and $60 respectively. Those would need a non-crappy paint job to really shine, though.

I also would have liked to be able to find convincing fur to stick on the wrists of the gloves, and to have had the time to do natural weathering on the robe and leather bits — IE, go roll around in the dirt — but I couldn’t make that happen this time around.

What It’s Like to Wear

This costume provoked great reactions — people loved it. After the amount of time, work, and money involved in making it, that rocked.

Most folks found the mask creepy, and it seemed to have about a 50/50 chance of frightening small children. My daughter Lark didn’t know what to make of it at first, but once I took off the hood and mask and she saw it was me, she got excited because she knew it was me under there.

On the flipside, it’s insanely hot to wear. The robe is heavy, which isn’t too bad, but the hood and mask combo gets miserable after about 10 minutes, as it features monk’s cloth, liner fabric, a cowl, and a fully covered mask you exhale into constantly.

Thanks for Reading!

I’m not a costumer, and in fact I usually really half-ass my Halloween costumes, but I’m glad for whatever put a bug up my ass about giving this costume a shot. It was a lot more work than I or Alysia expected, but it looks great and, I think, has most of the subtleties and authentic elements that make up a good screen-accurate Jawa costume.

I hope this tutorial was useful to you!