Where the Con Orgs share their experiences. - Medium
Woke up this morning with things in my head besides potential blues lyrics. Today, I’m going to share my perspective on the Plan & Play meeting, and some of the things which will happen, are happening, and have happened. Come along with me!
The Plan and Play meeting on Jan 20th was intended to lure potential organisers & staff into three hours of convention planning & delegation, followed by three hours of games! In a small, cheap hall, hired for the same duration as Winter 2015, it would occupy the vacuum left by the lack of a Summer 2019 event. I arrived a little late, rushed, scattered, and once again prepared more for what I hoped would happen than what was likely to happen. That’s okay! It’s got us this far.
I need to say that the numbers were overwhelming. I’m all out of whelm. We had seventeen people there willing to share ideas for 2019 and 2020, and it’s inevitable in these sorts of things to spend a bit of time sharing information about what we’ve considered or explored before, and why those things may or may not be worth pursuing afresh. Sadly, due to illness and other commitments, our numbers thinned a bit by the point of playing, but PLAY WE DID.
There were several rounds of Blood on the Clocktower, including some first-timer teen storytellers, and after much coaxing, I finally relented and joined for a round. I was the Imp, and I employed the famous noob bluff of Terrifyingly Having No Idea What I Am Doing In This Game to distract people with the actual truth that I had no clue what to do. My son was the Spy, and we slaughtered the entire village. Lucky!
He and I also joined some first-timers for Illimat, and I felt really bad for winning, so please know that was lurking behind the winner’s grin. I love Illimat but usually avoid competitive games in favour of collaborative ones, so that’s probably a good thing for everyone. Rhino Hero Super Battle came out and when I tried to photograph our tall building, I accidentally captured the moment it started to topple:
I didn’t see everything which people played, but I overheard some Red Dragon Inn 2, noticed some Klask in the background, and had my first session of Instant RPG, which really helped me get my head around the approach for editing the rules. That one’s going to be released for free, probably by August, and I’m confident we’ll see some fun demonstration sessions in the main hall. The accessibility and portability of that RPG could only be beaten if it were also produced in audio/braille editions, but give us some time and I’ll look into it. Great gateway to stories with friends. More soon.
Before all that went down, we had a juggling brainstorm of stuff, and lots of it was useful/timely. Some delegation went down (posters and flyer distro, vendor relations) and we even squeezed in an AGM, followed by some new member signups! We have the 2019 skeleton staff already, plus enough interested parties to almost get that to the happy medium staff level of 30. We talked about why that really needs to go up to 40, so more recruitment is needed. Join us if you like!
Oh, and pitches have started coming in, so we can start building the timetable as those pile up and vendor activities are confirmed. Someone even asked us for an audio promo suitable for podcasts, which made me wonder “If #EttinCon were a genre of background music, what would it sound like?”
The big task, post meeting, is to stimulate online discussion and action around the topics which interested people. I’ll do my best to create discussion groups and spark things, but I’m really dreaming of seeing more initiative being taken to ask questions and suggest actions without me — it could happen!
Speaking of dreams, I had my traditional pre-event nightmare this morning, which prompted this blog post. It followed the usual theme of The Event is Here and Everything is Wrong and It’s Too Late to Fix It, but there was a fun twist at the end, for a change. Fun for an anxiety nightmare, anyway.
It goes like this:
#EttinCon #Winter2019 was in full swing, with people everywhere. Actually, way more people that possible, so I should’ve realised it was a dream, thanks for deceiving me, brain. Someone saw me tidying up a loose copy of Hero Quest and asked if I needed a drink, and then I hurried off to check on the extra hall for RPGs. It was a mess, tables scattered everywhere and not set up, one group playing and the rest of the room was empty. I noticed that I hadn’t arranged table signage, and started to freak out. People started helping with the tables, so I moved off towards the open doors to the gymnasium, which doesn’t exist in the real world, thanks, brain. People had wandered into the gym and triggered a security alarm across the whole venue. People were understandably cross. I asked the gym people to move along, and then checked the imaginary ampitheatre. It was full of people, too! I asked them to please leave and as some of them did, someone informed me that they were waiting to see a charity screening of a film, so I was messing with someone else’s event! Lunacy.
I hurried back to the main hall to deactivate the alarm, and noticed only one person staffing the front door! I realised that I hadn’t organised wristbands and apologised to them for it. They were super miffed. Suddenly, I realised that August had come too soon, because I hadn’t had a chance to confirm our usual door staff. THIS HAS TO BE A DREAM, I remarked. Mood much improved, I started singing a version of “Welcome to my Nightmare” to everyone arriving, hugged a bunch of door staff as they arrived, then woke myself up.
I grabbed my phone and set a reminder to order the stupid wristbands in July.
Con Org for Ettin Con
Announcements made, tickets on sale, planning in progress. This is a nice way to start the year!
I’ll need to send that poster off to print soon, so that we have plenty of flyers over the next thirty weeks. Oh, and before I forget, I was lucky enough to be invited on the Insert Quest Here podcast to chat with Ray (NewConOz) and Hayley (ArcanaCon) about Con Org Stuff: insertquesthere.com/2018/12/iqh-presents-convention-chats/ — many thanks to Hayley & Ray for your time, thoughts, and audiences!
This week, I’d like to talk about what I’m trying to achieve in our preliminary planning for the event, and some of the ideas in the back of my mind, whether or not they come to fruition this year, or at all.
As much as I wanted to achieve a two-day event this year, I’m feeling very lucky that we were able to choose a date which [a] didn’t directly clash with any announced conventions (although I would’ve preferred to give NewConOz more room, if I’d realised they were eyeing the weekend after us), [b] suited not only Aetherworks (who had reached out to offer various ideas of how they could contribute), but also suited [c] The Games Cube, who can see the triumphant return of a Magic tourney, which was missed at our last event. Having something to work towards, knowing something is going to happen, is uplifting.
To address our greatest challenge of staff levels, both in planning and running the event, we’re having a private Plan-and-Play event (including our games library) later this month for anyone committing to one or both of those abovementioned capacities. It will temporarily supplant our Summer event, though smaller in scale, with three hours of planning, brainstorming, and voluntary delegation, followed by three hours of gameplay and socialising. It will be so nice to dedicate some time to these ideas, have interested parties distribute the workload, contribute to the structure of the event, and get to know each other around the table. If you want in, and agree to the terms outlined in this paragraph, please visit EttinCon.org/volunteer, sending us an email before 15/01/2019 so we can give you access to the details.
Lots of people have expressed interest and I’m hoping most of them can make it to the meeting. I’m still trying to figure out the most efficient way to use our three hours for planning, but I have drafted an idealised staff plan for us to work towards in terms of recruitment. If we can get 50–75% of those spots allocated before August, we’ll be in great shape. We’ve run with less before, but I’m aiming higher this time. At the very least, it’s great to be talking to so many people about the building the event, and hearing their enthusiastic responses! I’m really interested in seeing what improvements could be made to our processes across the board, from promotional avenues to the moment-to-moment intricacies of the event on the day.
My ideal (as I babbled about in Ray’s podcast) is to have at least two staff at every station at any given moment, so that even when they are working a shift, they have company (and possibly a playmate) to chat and/or game with, especially during quiet moments. I usually push pretty hard for this, but we have more time (and more hands) to work towards it this time.
I’ve been thinking about competitions or challenges for prizes or accolades — effectively achievements in general, for attendees of all kinds. We already run the Team Player program to encourage and reward a variety of fun and supportive activities, and role-playing GMs have a ranked leaderboard alongside their tiered rewards, the latter being based on our usual biannual model, which isn’t available to us this calendar year. If GMs have half the opportunities as we usually provide, how does that affect their rank/reward? Should we just cut the thresholds in half, or invent new types of supplementary achievements for them to unlock?
Further to this, what about special events or challenges centred around certain concepts? We could have a prize-winning tournament (or maybe just some exclusive Team Player badges) designed around a marathon of three or four games which are either thematically or mechanically adjacent. A dexathlon of dexterity-based games, for example, for nimble players.
Other ideas we’ve considered including, but never formally implemented include:
Do you have any ideas to contribute to our convention? Please tweet them to us @EttinCon or email them through to [email protected] — we’d love to hear them, and if we use them we’ll ensure everyone is informed that you were the catalyst for their inclusion.
Con Org for Ettin Con
After three months of “rest”, the organisation is revving up their collective motor for our next event. We’ve had a couple of obstacles, but overall, it’s looking good, and we’ll be announcing final details early next week.
Greetings! As everything winds down for the holiday season, we’re winding ourselves up for the challenges of 2019. Our first foray, once injuries and illnesses were quelled, was to get our library over to Katoomba Library to share with the public alongside Afternoonified’s collection earlier this month, which seemed to go well. Hooray for that! We’ll be doing this again each month unless life gets in our way, but we’ll always let you know if we’ll be there.
Our library copy of Thornwatch arrived, which is also great to see! Thanks to Afternoonified, Let’s Play Games and Lone Shark for all their patient collaboration to get our delivery sorted. Our copy of Good Society is also enroute today, thanks, Storybrewers! Xmas post is fun.
The next thing was to find a date and venue for Winter 2019, which was no picnic. It seems that all the suitable venues were already booked, if not for whole weekends, at least enough parts of them to thwart most of our opportunities for a weekend-long convention. One of our principles is to work around existing events and communities, so we try to avoid asking people to vacate their spaces or reschedule their commitments. There are farmers, philosophers, musicians and religious congregations who rely on the spaces we share with them. In the end, we needed to decide between a spring weekend which would clash with SydCon, or accept that 2019 was a single-day affair, and that anything we want to achieve in 2020 needed to be booked in the next few weeks to have any chance at a two-day model in our future.
It was during this process that my other knee gave out, the punchline in an increasingly bad joke about ConOrg health.
I’ve seen illness derail other conventions, though I’ve been really lucky for most of my life, despite treating my body mercilessly for the better part of four decades. Something had to give, eventually, and it all pitched in to teach me this lesson in triplicate during 2018. It’s another reason we needed three months off our usually year-round cycle of organising events. Thankfully, it’s probably a manageable condition, but it pushed us over the edge to just get one day booked, sticking to our familiar format, for now.
The good news? We’ve got lots of interested parties on board right now, and a good buffer of time to make Winter 2019 really good. We have a bunch of plans for the event, and the Ettin Games Association community, both within and without the convention. We have a real shot at making 2020 amazing, too. We’re a teensy bit sad that a weekender has evaded us for three years, but we’re super-grateful for what we have achieved and shared with you all.
We’re also planning a private play event in January for anyone who would like to help plan and run the Winter 2019 event with us. It will be cosy, like our first event, but multiple tables and library games will be there, and we’ll spend 50% of the time just playing games and socialising. If you want in, reach our to us via EttinCon.org/volunteer.
If you’re signed up to our Patreon, our Discord server, our mailing list, or follow us on any social media, you’ll see our Winter 2019 announcement between Sunday and Monday as it works its way through that list of channels, in that order. We expect to have tickets on sale by new year’s day, if not sooner. We’re going to do our best to make another great event for you next year, and even better ones after that, and we’re excited to see you there to share them with us.
Con Org for Ettin Con
Running a convention every six months since 2015 has been a blast, and we’re not finished, but we need to take a short break over Summer 2019. In this post, we’ll talk about our reasons, our vision for Winter 2019, and our commitment to low-cost, high-value events.
Anybody who’s read this blog (or spoken to me in 2018) knows I’m tired. I love Ettin Con and am determined to keep it alive, but we have some things to address before it can continue. Before I dive into the detail, please know that if you’re one of our monthly patrons, we’re committed to giving you the rewards you expect. If you want/need to pause your pledge, we totally understand. If you would prefer a refund to Summer rewards, we‘re happy to do that. If you’re not interested in the details, but want to stay in touch, please take a moment to sign up for our email newsletter, so we can keep you posted on developments towards our Winter 2019 event. On with the post!
Firstly, we’re a skeleton crew. Each station at our event has fewer staff than it requires, and I had to put myself on every shift in Winter 2018 to run the event at all. Someone wasn’t able to make it to their shift, or even warn us, which led to me (poorly) covering two shifts at once. This isn’t the level of support we want for our attendees. Deferring the event until Winter 2019 gives us much more time to recruit committed staff across all stations, and room for surprises.
Moreover, with a small number of hands, the planning stages of each event have been increasingly difficult to bring together as sponsors change, or demonstrators aren’t available for our chosen date. Finding alternate people to run things like the Magic tourney (absent from Winter 2018) or following up on promised support for the raffle (also absent from Winter 2018) became impossible amid, well, everyday life and work. We’ve always been ambitious and for the first few years, we managed to make almost everything happen, but that quality is clearly starting to slip, and we want to do better for you.
Hanging over our heads for some time has been the oft-requested dream of running a weekend-long event. We’ve been deferring this for years, because there simply hasn’t been enough time to organise it — but we see 2019 as our opportunity to make that time. Skipping the Summer 2019 event means we can carefully choose a weekend for Winter, book the venue well in advance, recruit enough staff and THEN start accepting bookings as we bring all the other pieces together.
More of our planning tasks need to be assigned across our volunteer base. New sponsors and collaborators need to be found, consulted and secured. Extra raffle prizes need to be procured. More carefully planned & tested network management tools need to be implemented to stop rogue devices from using up all our data quota before the doors open. All the things we normally do need doing again, but bigger and better for attendees, as well as slower and easier for volunteers.
With all of this in mind, we’re starting our biggest volunteer drive over the coming month, with a two-day event in our sights. As soon as we have the dates/venue locked in, we will be offering plenty of detail on what we need help with, when, where, and for how long, as well as how we plan to compensate volunteers for their time. Our strategy has always been to offer the most value to attendees for the lowest possible cost, and our volunteers have enjoyed a ratio of double the fun to the amount of work — both aspects we’re quite keen on maintaining.
Also, to make the most of our growing games library, starting in November 2018 (if not sooner), we’ll be making best efforts to bring some or all of the library to the Katoomba Library board game events on the first Saturday of each month, run by Afternoonified.
If you have any ideas for our two-day event in Winter 2019, or would like to volunteer to help plan and/or run the event, please get in touch via EttinCon.org/volunteer. Thanks!
Con Org for Ettin Con
On the weekend, I heard about a 15yo who met someone at Ettin Con and is now part of their weekly Dungeons & Dragons group in Katoomba. This lead to a conversation with their science teacher and now they’re playtesting the teacher’s own system at lunchtimes — these stories make me very happy, & coincide with a bit of a focus for the convention next year.
Over the years, we’ve been using small amounts of event proceeds (and now Patreon proceeds) to purchase library games and resources, either through Kickstarter, distributors, or local shops. Board games are one side of this (and the majority of our table space), but our convention was originally driven by a love of role-playing games, and we are always looking at how we can support that side of the tabletop gaming hobby. Today’s post is mostly about providing physical resources, but also touches on how we’d like to help people learn, teach and organise RPG sessions both within & without our events.
Local designer Justin Halliday donated a copy of his Hero Kids RPG to us early on, both in softcover & a bundle of PDFs to round it out with adventures. You can borrow the core softcovers from our library at each event, and if you’re planning a session ahead of time, we can provide PDF access to adventures, plus a small amount of printing in conjunction with that commitment. It’s a simple system designed specifically to introduce young kids (ages 4–10) to the basics of rolling dice and being heroes in a fantasy setting. Over the course of 2019, we hope to have a few more kid-centric games available, already downloaded (both free and purchased), awaiting either printing or delivery in coming months. Amazing Tales (we picked it up on sale for $2.99) is another streamlined storytelling system headed to the library.
Two copies of No Thank You, Evil! (plus supplementary materials) are on their way to us, one for the library & one for a future raffle prize. It’s a system for players aged 5 and up, and tailors to three levels of complexity so that older kids and parents can still be interested when playing alongside younger kids learning the ropes. It also gives the younger ones something to aspire toward!
Any moment now, our library copy of Thornwatch should be arriving. This is a card-driven RPG which bridges the gap between traditional RPGs and modern board games — so it’s as good a place to dip your toe as any — mixing a comic-art-panel play area with icon dice and character cards, you won’t need a pencil or eraser to track your abilities, combat order or injuries.
Local Luminaries Hayley and Vee from Storybrewers Roleplaying completed their amazing second kickstarter, this time for Good Society, a more developed version of the first game they ever ran at Ettin Con. It’s a Jane Austen RPG with two cool expansions, and we backed a hardcover copy for the library, partly out of the reward budget we use to compensate GMs like them for their time donated to running games — we figured the best way to reward them was to help them print this lovely game, and get it into your hands.
In addition to the games mentioned above, as many free games as we can print for the self-service table, boxes of pencils, erasers & scrap paper, we have something special for anyone running fantasy RPGs for kids (or at least characters who are kids) — a full set of Wardlings miniatures you can borrow for a session (or more). There are six classes available, two variants of each (loosely gender-based but easy to gloss over) and each variant has a miniature to represent a pet or spirit companion. I used the first six of these to run a session last Winter, and am planning more for next Winter, but we’d love to see these used, either for D&D, Hero Kids, or anything else! I was using a second iteration of a custom ruleset for all ages, and the third iteration looks promising to release for others to use next year.
We’re not intending to increase the number of RPG tables or spaces at this point (noise is our biggest obstacle there) but growing the hobby as a whole (across ages, genders, and every other existential spectrum) is my personal project since before Ettin Con began. The goal of running some conventions across two days in the future should be sufficient, I hope!
In terms of getting people together, we’re still holding out hope that between social media communities, alongside Discord and GameFor, we can be a hub through which more gamers meet each other and have more fun (and friends) in their lives. If you’re interested in learning a system, or teaching it, it’s only a matter of asking in any of these spaces, or if you’re shy, send us an email and we’ll be happy to act as your proxy.
If you have any ideas about supporting RPGs at Ettin Con, please send us an email via [email protected], we’d love to hear from you!
Con Org for Ettin Con
One of my haphazard convention traditions has been acknowledging the people who take time to prepare games to run for people over the course of three hours, usually RPGs, with a personal card and gift, either at the event or shortly afterward, from my own pocket or convention funds. I know the own pocket thing was a bad habit to get into but if there was only one area for me to donate money to our fledgling convention, I was happy for that to be it.
This year, exhausted and quite literally broken by a variety of physical factors in July/August, I am typing this from a standing position on a rickety train, hurtling towards the city, because my handwritten cards would much harder to read. This post is a letter to all of our GMs, past, present and future, about how things are going, and how grateful I am to each of them for their role.
To date, we have run 227 hours of RPGs, across 76 sessions these past 7 events (within 3 years). Twenty-four different people have played the role of Game-Master, and you’re all just wonderful for doing so. We hope it’s worth the effort for you, in prep, and travel, patience and expertise. We see a lot of smiles at your tables!
Special mentions this year go to Rodger Dean for achieving Gold status (running 4 or more sessions within a calendar year), a title previously only held by masochistic-marathon-runner Jez Gordon, who still holds the crown of most sessions/hours of GM duties at our convention overall. We’d also like to acknowledge Jack Maidment, Torrey Keown and the Storybrewers (Hayley Gordon and Vee Hendro) for running concurrent sessions across the divide of years, effectively missing out on certain accolades (because being a Con Org is all about making decisions you may come to regret).
We tried a few new things this Winter, with varying degrees of success, and with your help we hope to get better at them together:
Again, the hard work of being a GM makes the day better for so many players, and not only did all the sessions sell out (making our new last-minute seating process redundant), but we had the usual bunch of unregistered players hoping for a chance at a table, and not enough seats for them all. We’re still entertaining the idea of running games on demand, especially if we manage a Sunday in the future. If you’re up for that, let us know!
Oh, and thanks to Lu Quade for running a Scum & Villainy demo for Aetherworks, scoring himself an advance copy of the rulebook in the process! I’m envious. Rewards and awards are being posted to everyone today, courtesy of our budget. We know it’s not much, but we like that we can now afford to give you something for each session you run, and a little extra for each Worldbuilder session. Door takings at this event were lower due to [a] more comfortable numbers, [b] No card tournament and [c] Raffle prizes not arriving, but thankfully we had [d] Patreon subsidy, [e] Shirt sales and [f] Noofy’s Pop-Up Fundraiser Stall, so we can still mange it and afford to keep running next year.
In summation, we love you as always, more than ever and things are only going to get better if we all work together to make Ettin Con the best places for the best GMs. If you have any suggestions, want to help, or know anyone else who’d like to help us plan or run the day, please get in touch!
Con Org for Ettin Con
This is going to seem like a sponsored post but OMG I just heard about this website a few days ago and you absolutely must hear about it in depth if [a] you are a gaming convention organiser in the USA or Canada, or [b] you are a gaming convention organiser anywhere else in the world.
https://tabletop.events is effectively 90% of what I’ve been trying to build with Shoestring over the past twelve months, except that I hadn’t heard of it. It’s designed to be game convention management in a single software solution, and I can’t find many holes in it at all. The features are there, the user interface is…pretty damn usable, especially when balanced against the cost versus the benefits of having everything in one place, and documented really well.
Hang on, why would Matt be telling us about something that effectively rivals his own system?
You’re about to find out, though I first need to tell you exactly what their system provides. Buckle up! This website has documented the process of organising a games convention, and then lays out the tools for aspects leading up to the event (including required equipment), tasks during the event, and even sells customisable supplies to complement their offering. Step-by-step articles to lead you through the process of being a ConOrg? Check. Ticketing, badges, scheduling, marketing, web presence, merchandising, library management, reporting, table signs…it’s all there. Seriously. Checkity-check-check-check-check.
https://tabletop.events only accepts USD/CAD currencies at present. Understandably, they haven’t received enough expressions of interest to put the considerable effort into supporting other currencies, so if you are an outsider like me, and crave what I’m about to describe, let them know you’d like to give them your money.
Alright, so let’s go through their system in some detail, so you can see the effort they’ve gone to in not only building these tools, but organising them in the most straight-forward and helpful way imaginable. I’m not going to tell you it’s the most user-friendly system ever built, but it’s a one-stop games convention in a box, and it’s easier to understand than running one without it, let alone building equivalent tools from scattered systems without their outgoing and well-reasoned documentation.
Nevertheless, they’ve done it. Go to https://help.tabletop.events and see for yourself! There are even pages here teaching you how to encourage your attendees to commit earlier, which is one of the biggest challenges in getting your convention to run at all — early commitment means not only being prepared for numbers, but having the funds to prepare the space and equipment to support them. It’s like they really get me! This site is built by ConOrgs, for ConOrgs. The help is not just about how to use their system, it’s about how to create and run the event their system is designed to support. Extra miles, people.
The first thing you see when managing your convention here is a collapsible checklist, teaching you what needs to be done to set your convention up. You set the dates & times (multiple days supported, obviously), your venue and its spaces, the badges attendees/staff/exhibitors need to enter, and what types of submissions you’ll accept. Once your event is listed, you can choose to approve or reject submissions, manually or automatically schedule games, and allow badgeholders to register tickets for those games — automatically building a mobile-friendly, customised schedule for each attendee in the process — and set up scanner-friendly point-of-sale and game library systems. The games library supports direct import from your BoardGameGeek account.
Okay, so the game library isn’t on the checklist, but it’s optional, just like the customisable, automated electronic billboard screens, keeping your attendees informed about events in specific spaces, or the whole venue. They thought of everything, I mean it. Not everything is mentioned in their (extremely helpful) quick video overview, and no doubt things are being added too regularly for that to ever cover the lot, but if you look around, it’s all there. There’s a heap of design functionality to customise your branding throughout online and printed materials. Typing this, I just noticed that there is social media integration, too. They’ve built robots to replace almost everything I do. It’s a dream.
So I’ve waxed lyrical for a while here, and you’re probably wondering about fees. I’m not going to lie, the costs are a little higher than what we pay TryBooking for purely a ticketing solution, but this is so much more than worth it. If, like me, you’re outside America/Canada, it doesn’t matter, because there’s currently no way to give these brilliant people your foreign money. I’m looking forward to having the option in the future, that’s for sure!
You can set up your merch store inventory here, too. Optionally adding to badge types for complimentary or included items. Amazing.
Another thing: The system allows you to print scannable stickers for library games, as well as badges for attendees, but what if you need badge supplies, or customisable table signs? DEAR LORD THEY DO EVERYTHING:
I was going to walk through all the pieces (and will in future blog posts if you ask me nicely) but it’s all there on their website if you sign up and create a sample convention to play around with. The whole shebang is produced by the folks who brought you The Game Crafter, a print-on-demand solution for indie designers to produce and sell physical manifestations of their work.
I hope this looked like your dreams, because it vastly resembles an end to many of my nightmares, primarily a way to be sure that someone could step into any of my many shoes without needing to know what I know, or have specific technical skills. Tabletop-(dot)-Events makes the process manageable in such a way that not only could anyone do my job, but many people could share tiny pieces of it, and be supported by systems and documentation, designed by like-minded professionals to make it much, much easier.
You can view all our articles at EttinCon.org/blog.
Right after the doors opened on Saturday, I ran an ambitious all-ages session, with players aged between five & thirty-something. I was concerned that they wouldn’t succeed in the time we had, so I had given their characters three heart points, two lifelines, a magic item, skills, tools & friends…but in short order, their dice and imaginations had claimed all three keys from the guardians, earning their Adventurer’s Patches, qualifying their young characters to go questing in the wider world. No-one was injured, and they hardly spent anything to get there. In hindsight, how could they fail, when I’d given them so many resources?
Three years ago, a church hall saw a handful of people (who knew each other as neighbours, Google Plus gaming friends or customers of Katoomba’s Afternoonified game store) turn up in the cold and dark to play games for a quarter of the day. Entry was free (donations welcome but not expected) and I had to abort my second RPG part-way due to a kind of exhaustion I hadn’t experienced before in my life. My brain was empty, my nerves were shattered, and I clearly had neglected more food/rest requirements than my aging corpus would tolerate. Everyone was very supportive, I took it easy for the remainder, and when people excitedly asked about the next event (which had barely been a dream in my mind), I suggested we could do it again in a year’s time.
“TOO LONG!” they cried in chorus.
“Six months?” I meekly suggested.
They smiled and left, then as we drove home, I counted the donations to see how much of the hall hire had been covered. It had been covered by about 250%, so I suddenly had not only the thrilling capacity to do something again, but a mild (and not unwelcome) obligation to make an even better day out of the show of trust I’d been given in a pretzel bucket full of jingling change.
Work began in earnest. A better venue was needed, but expensive. If people were prepared to pay for that small foray, surely cheap tickets could have a chance at covering that cost, but what about insurance to protect the number of people required to buy that many tickets? Afternoonified came to the rescue, offering to guarantee the venue costs and help figure out what insurance might be needed beyond what they already had for their store and external gatherings. They had brought board games, unasked, to the first one and offered to bring a larger library to share.
Going to all that trouble surely meant that six hours was a bit short. We should probably think about running at least three RPG sessions to not only enable rewarding playtime, but drawing more people to each table and reducing ticket risks for our sponsor. What else could we do? Who else wants to be involved? It just exploded, really.
We cobbled together a skeleton crew of staff (mostly Afternoonified customers and my family) and the results in 2016 exceeded expectations. We were a brand now, with logos and fonts and T-shirts and street flags and paid web ads on BGG and flyers in stores across the state. People were coming from Brisbane & Melbourne. Google Plus became Facebook, Twitter, and Mailchimp. Afternoonified helped us become an incorporated association, a non-profit with meetings required by government at certain intervals, plus financial reporting. The kitty grew and there were banners along the highway.
Last Saturday, the banners flew out of my trailer on the way to the event.
I briefly considered turning back to find them, the key to the venue around my neck and my phone buzzing with notifications that I was five minutes late, and volunteers were waiting outside in the fierce mountain breeze. Some of them in shorts. They were all relying on me, and as much as I try to keep it all tied down, I will invariably run out of time to tie each and every knot. People had been talking for a year or more about their concern that I would eventually burn out, and I half-joked that this event could potentially include front-row seats to my very public and explosive breakdown.
I had spent the past two years improving the event, the systems and procedures, the documentation. Automating the website, taking the poster graphic design tasks over from the brilliant Paul Shanta so he could focus on his family and not the unpaid work for us he was donating his time to. Roster systems, checklists, trying to increase (or at least maintain) volunteers. Encouraging a culture of pre-booking to help us pay for things before they’re due, and not risk personal or shop money. Trying to improve how people shared their tables, their games, and find ways to reward them for their time and effort. Creating welcoming platforms for them to speak to each other and form groups to play between events. It never seemed like a big task, but there were lots and lots and lots of little ones. I started packaging up the whole shebang as something other convention organisers could benefit from, hoping to improve the gamer ecosystem, reduce the amount of work I was doing, as well as lowering the amount of specific knowledge, tools or expertise which other interested parties might need to take some of it on. The subject of a two-day event kept coming up, both feasible & sensible. We just have a few hurdles (namely adequate numbers of organisers, staff and pre-orders) to clear first.
Aside: Our mascot illustrations are all also practically donated by Edward Baueris (I bought him a Dungeon World rulebook), and our Worldbuilder cartography similarly procured by exploiting the generosity of Michael Wenman (Jez Gordon & I conspired to get him a copy of Stone Dragon Mountain from GenCon last year).
People are helping! I’m no longer delivering posters and flyers to every shop and community noticeboard. There are people who really want to help, and some of them are available when we need them, and some of them have the skills we need for the tasks, and some nice people just give us money on Patreon without expecting anything more than just keeping the event running. I tried to scale back my involvement in the previous event’s planning (around the arrival of my latest child), but in truth, the other things in my life since then are clamouring for my attention more than ever. It’s difficult not to disappoint someone, either at home, at work, or at the event, by simply not having time or headspace for all the plates I tend to spin.
The economics of the event are well-balanced now, thanks to the surprise 80–120 unbooked people who tend to turn up on the day to save us, every time. We love when they arrive, but not knowing is so scary, it’s like riding a rollercoaster where you can’t see if the track around the corner will be built by the time you get there. Dismantling our beloved culture of avoiding commitment (even for tickets as cheap as ours) — where travel, accommodation and babysitting might be involved — is not a simple task, and no event organiser should expect the lives of their attendees to revolve around their event. Our lives should revolve around themselves, and our loved ones, and when we can get to these events, it should be a little treat, not a tithed and regimented pilgrimage.
Anyway, I’ve taken a long time to type this today, and should be doing other things, but I wanted to say that Ettin Con was pretty great on Saturday, and the people were pretty great, and I don’t have any plans to let it die, ever. But a few things will need to change in 2019, and we’re starting discussions now to see exactly what and how. If you want to lend any kind of hand to the planning, the promotion, or the running of our events, we’d always be glad to hear from you. I’d be the happiest to hear that somewhere out there, an assortment of paladins are heading towards the mechanical lions for form a Voltron who can defend our dear convention, wielding spreadsheets, and scissors, and instagram posts. It takes a village, and I still think our village is out there, they’re just busy with their own stuff, like I should be. I can’t wait to meet them, and all be less busy together.
When we’re less busy, we can play more, and that’s what we’re about.
Ever Your Grateful Servant, and
ConOrg to a Hall Full of Rockstars.
Last Friday night, we momentarily closed ticket sales and permanently locked the library list so we could download both and get our systems ready for all the people and games we expect this Saturday.
Five minutes later, I re-opened ticket sales until Wednesday night because cash sales can be a bit of a hassle, so any amount we can reduce those by makes everything faster and safer for everyone concerned.
A little spreadsheet juggling, then the games/members are all loaded, and I’m working through the gaps right now. Library cards and lanyards were printed before midday Monday. Sent a dozen emails to lenders to confirm their lists and beg for more barcodes (checking games in on the day will be so much faster if they’re pre-loaded and lenders with tickets are the best lenders, because we can easily figure out who we need to give the game back to at the end of the day). Things are looking good!
New electronics have been tested & tagged. Ticketholders have an emailed guide to the event, and I posted a version of it on the Facebook event. Staff have been sent the second draft of the roster, and although it’s lighter than we’d prefer, we should be okay as long as I’m not trying to shuffle anyone too late in the week (these things have a tendency to domino).
Printing of other signage and game collateral has begun in earnest, and I’ll be working my way through lists of that until Thursday in a best-case scenario. Last-minute gear like extra lanyard cords & cases are being snapped up to ensure we don’t run short, and an extra card reader to replace the one we borrowed last time. Table hire is paid, delivery scheduled. Nice.
A few more reserved sessions have filled up, we’re sitting around the 75% mark, which means most sessions are guaranteed to run, and the remainder of seats spread across a variety of games gives impulsive players a decent menu from which to choose. Six sessions of the 13 have sold out, and there are also some open games on the timetable for people to just turn up to on a whim, or miss without causing chaos. Tops!
So now it’s about printing, cutting, loading library images, and posting daily with important info about this event for new attendees, and new info for returning attendees — including food, procedural improvements, and the need for patience with our new library as we book in many items (and people). Phew.
Anyway, I’ve got to get back to it now, but that’s my week!
-Matt Horam, Con Org for Ettin Con.
For most everything you need on Saturday, visit EttinCon.org/help !
After Saturday, I’ll be taking a month or two off to plan next year. What we’ve learned in 2018 is that for the event to survive and thrive, even with Patreon support approaching 50% of costs, we need to increase staff numbers by 100%. If you enjoy attending our events, please consider working for part of one! It earns you a ticket, other rewards, discounts, and once we have enough staff, more of the on-duty time can be spent playing casual games with your co-workers! We strive for great conditions, and can only achieve them with more people at each post.
Things are a bit busy, we missed our chance to mention the Trogdor kickstarter on Friday, but here’s some insight into the workings of this week:
Originally, to encourage the pre-sales we need to run the event, we had advertised to close online ticket sales two weeks before each event. Getting closer to that deadline, we hadn’t seen the usual spike in bookings, so we extended it by one week. Numbers are good by the usual measurements, we’re still a little bit ahead of our normal curve, but we’re twice as far behind it if you consider that new deadline.
The week’s breathing space between online tickets and door sales allows us to do a few things:
Selling tickets all the way up to the night before worked alright when we were smaller and had a sponsor acting as guarantor (and a certain volunteer providing the float), but we were quickly able to pay our own way ahead of each event as things proved more popular. Now, it’s mostly about the sheer organisation complexity of an accountable public games library, and a little about keeping personal funds away from the risks associated with running any event.
We’ll still be printing spare library cards but the event runs so much smoother without needing to create memberships on the day. It’s simpler for attendees and organisers, so we need to keep working on making early bookings an attractive proposition beyond the 20% earlybird discount.
In other news, the various stations of the event have increasing needs for internet access (registration, last-minute seats for certain games, digital announcements, library system) so we spent a few minutes on Saturday hacking together an internal network from various pieces of donated, borrowed or purchased gear. Thanks to Helpful Greg, everything was up and running in no time and should work well for us on the day. For those interested in tech details, we have a prepaid mobile internet stick plugged into a Raspberry Pi which then uses a router to serve secure wifi to our machines across the venue. We’re only spending $10 on data, so we can’t share it further (and had to pause all Windows/Steam updates to survive), but it looks promising after 15mins of typing SUDO EVERYTHING very hard into the command line.
T-Shirts are in transit to our headquarters, should arrive by Wednesday, and all paper printing for cards, lanyards, badges, signage & game collateral can be done next week (once tickets close). We now have an automated process which provides last-minute seats to be printed and posted on the noticeboard when registrations close for each session. If we’re very lucky, we can get a small donated printer running and not need to take a heavy laser with us.
Other than that, we just need to chase up all the little things, table hire, insurance certificates, electrical safety testing and tagging, etc. Volunteer levels are probably tolerable for something just above skeleton levels, so if you or a friend (or both) want to lend us some of your time, we’ll try to make it worth your while. Let us know!
-Matt Horam, Con Org for Ettin Con.
Get your tickets while there’s still time — EttinCon.org/#tickets