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Convention bastards.

Started by Jared A. Sorensen, May 12, 2001, 01:58:00 PM

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Jared A. Sorensen

Well, due to my lateness in submitting my game, I'll be running Elfs at KublaCon on a Sunday morning.  Feh.

In the conversations between the con RPG organizer (a nice guy named Scott Bagley) and myself, I came to a conclusion.  That (to paraphrase the Joker), the world of Game Cons needs an enema.

KublaCon has room for X number of games, space and time-wise.  Of course, the vast majority of these games are D&D sessions.  Once the slots are filled, it's no use submitting your indie game because, well, there's no room left.  Fair enough.

Now imagine this improbable scenario: those X game slots are taken by a crushing wave of indie games -- Hero Wars and Sorcerer and Elfs and Obsidian and InSpectres and that Alyria playtest and Nobilis and Story Engine and IronClaw and OrkWorld and all kinds of small press games.

And not a slot left for D&D or Champions.

What would happen?  Obviously, not having the perennial favorites (D&D, Shadowrun, GURPS, Champions) would hurt attendence.  Would the small press games be bumped?  Would the Con shut down?

Not to mention the usual model of RPG sessions being for 6-8 players and running for 6-8 hours...

Do you see what I'm getting at?  The current paradigm of gaming seems antithetical to the demands of indie gaming and the indie gamer.  Cons are bloated dinosaurs -- RPGs are given short-shrift and CCGs and wargames rules .  Obviously, ApartmentCon-sized game cons are the way to go to introduce small press and punk games.  And the "Cult of Ron" at GenCon will no doubt be a kind of indie game Mecca.  But then what?  How do we spread the word?

- Jared, envisioning a take-over of the next big NoCal game con by indie games...just to see what would happen

jared a. sorensen /
indie game design from beyond the grave

[ This Message was edited by: Jared A. Sorensen on 2001-05-12 14:00 ]
jared a. sorensen /


Con director's hat on
Roleplayers are annoying, inefficient goits, and indie gamers are even worse than the rest of 'em. Roleplayers take up more space than card gamers, aren't visually interesting like wargamers, and have an obscenely high GM-to-player ratio.

I'll take the hat off now. I shouldn't even be touching it anymore, I'm retired.

Anyway: I'm not sure if Apartment-con style games are the way to go. In fact, I'm pretty sure they're not, 'cos they just going to get incestuous. You want to expose new people to the games, not people you already know.

I think, fundamentally, the best thing to do is just run good games. Get a rep as a good GM, and people will look for your events.

Face it - you're not going to convert all the old-school D&D players. 75+% of gamers are never going to be interested in any of the indie games. You've got to find the people who are looking for something new and different, but don't know what's out there.

Ron Edwards

All of this discussion is really begging a question ...

Why bother? What are cons about, and does it have anything to do with the goal of playing good games well?

Say, just to keep any bias of mine out of it, that I were a Rifts enthusiast who ran great games of that sort with a bunch of like-minded folks. Why should I go to a con? At all?

I'll pull in my usual music analogy, with a comparison between instruments (RPG books) and music (RPGs being played). As a Rifts musician, either I'm going in order to

1) play with some OTHER folks, which is fine but not necessary, as I've got my OWN great folks, or

2) I'm going to do some OTHER totally different thing that has very little to do with actually playing. And those other things are NOT based on me being a "musician," but on me being a fan.

Fan priorities are not practitioner priorities. This is a totally different hat, with totally different assumptions and behaviors. I do not, myself, see how role-playing lends itself to fandom in any way - aside from respect for the great work and effort put into many INSTRUMENTS' design - so in many ways, I see cons as basically and fundamentally inappropriate for role-players.

So what am I, the "real" me, doing at GenCon? Last year were my very first role-playing cons - and a good 9/10 of that was simply to meet some of the friends I'd made on-line over the previous two years. The other 1/10 was based on my growing awareness that maybe Sorcerer could be a book after all - as many of you have teased me about, I was pretty concerned about being seen as a designer and seller of RPGs, in my punkish way. Once there, I really liked meeting people like Greg Stafford and Jonathan Tweet, but I did not travel there for that purpose.

This year, my GenCon attendance is raw, commercial promotion - and this is largely due to the distributor-retailer grip on RPG culture. There's an unhealthy circle going in which consumers do not SEE a product unless the distributor/retailer dudes think it appropriate, and the money and time invested in a con is all about communicating that to them.

Why go to cons? Why bother with cons of any kind, apartment or otherwise? Why not (1) play the RPG you like WELL, and (2) help others put together quality play groups for RPGs that THEY like?

OK, if cons can help with either of these priorities, then that's fine by me. Any OTHER priority, aside from commercial self-interest (such as mine), seems pretty odd to me.



I must echo the sentiments expressed on this thread, both as an RPG fan and as a soon-to-be promoter of an RPG.  Currently I am attending conventions like mad to promote Junk.  However, Junk is a wargame, NOT an RPG.  Personally, I take a look at the space and environment devoted to RPGs at conventions and shudder.  There is no way that I would want to run or play in a game, given the lack of control over environment and players.  I don't want to roleplay with complete strangers.  Like Ron said, I have my group, and they're pretty good.  What's the point in going elsewhere?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


I illustrated two comic books (one you may have heard of "Thrillkill" postmodern vampire comic) from 1994 through 1996.  I went to the conventions to sign and review portfolios and all that.

Cons are a 'con'.

For creators: they are too expensive and serve no purpose except to gain 'approval' of distros.  Approval that a little aggressive marketing can easily subvert. I did.

Conventions are for fans.  They always have been.  I'll never pay for another one, let the distro pay.

Jeff Diamond.


Clinton R. Nixon

I'm going to have to defend cons a bit here.

I would agree that as your home RPG group become more well-oiled and well-running that conventions become less useful to you. However, it is an interesting change of pace, and a chance to learn new techniques and styles.

While G/N/S made some sense to me before Origins 2000, for example, I was not familiar with the different stances. I was happy with my group I was playing with. My ignorance of Author and Director stances kept me from realizing there were these other aspects of roleplaying I hadn't explored--and I met Ron at Origins, played Elfs, learned something great, and took that home with me to use.

Roleplaying at home with friends is the most rewarding RPG experience one can have, in my opinion, but the diversification is necessary. Our groups become a focus of social interaction, and the delicate strands of the relationships that form there can eliminate objective commentary. By going to a convention and playing with strangers, you can feel free to try new ideas you're not sure your group will like, and expect to get very objective comments.


To be short, I like roleplaying with strangers. I enjoy it more than roleplaying with friends a lot of the time. I can feel free to tell the GM what I think of his plot, or if I'm running it, I can feel free to tell a player if he's being non-condusive to the game. In addition, I can see how other people react to games. When one group plays together for a while, their styles tend to converge. Some variation's good for the thought process.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games


I undersdtand a lot of what ron is saying, but I think cons are the post -apocolyptic battle ground we must venture to in order to bring new ideas, and meet new people.
I have had 2 bad con playing experiences out of 3 cons. but I keep lashing myself with a missionary like mentality to go back and drag some one out of retro-evoloutionary gaming.
It is clear to me that the best overall promotional technique is to be active online, and then use face to face as a secondary outlet.
most cons will have private rooms available as well, and there is something tot be said for giving up a level of control that will expand your skills more as well


To continue a line of thought already broached by others, I must say that Cons do have value.  Not just cons mind you, but the clubs, organizations, distributors, and fans who attend them.  As a group of people who are - for the most part - insular and somewhat xenophobic - it is absolutely essential that we get ourselves out into the public (as much as we might not like to) and try to publicize our hobby.

In speaking with an RPGA exec at last year's GenCon, he informed me that the average age of attendees at the con increases by something like 1.6 years annually.  That's a weird statistic, considering that if only the same people went every year (and no one new came) the average age should only increase by one year.  The people playing RPGs are getting older, and we're not bringing new gamers into the fold.  And who could really blame young people for staying away...just take a good look at some of us.  Perhaps we are the last generation of hardcore roleplayers?  Something needs to be done about this, no?

Ron Edwards

Scott, poppacabba (Mike?), and Clinton,

You've raised some good points. I think some functional synthesis among ALL the posts on the forum is possible if the following idea gets verbalized:

(If you're not hawking a product, then ...)Attend cons to play, to play well, and to contribute to quality dialogues about role-playing. That hits the concerns of me, Jared, Jeff, and others, as well as the points added today. See, we can all hug!

I just thought of another legitimate or related notion too, which is of course simply to find copies of games you're looking for, or to discover those you haven't heard of. That seems like a fine corollary to the above.

Seeing the "hot new game," getting to touch So-and-so's sleeve, ogling the babe in the chainmail (or lack thereof), getting all hot & bothered about those abominations called awards, and so on ... well, that's fan stuff. Fun in its way, certainly, and I won't put a down on anybody who's doing it, but it ain't role-playing, and it ain't even ABOUT role-playing.


Jared A. Sorensen

Attend cons to play, to play well, and to contribute to quality dialogues about role-playing. That hits the concerns of me, Jared, Jeff, and others, as well as the points added today.

I'm just trying to wrap my head around the idea of a game con as a "good thing" rather than a) a market for advertising or b) a fanboy conclave.

I'm thinking of the idea of a game con being less about playing games and more about increasing the level of discourse -- like these forums, but face to face.  Let's look at technology cons as an example.  

Now,'s a pilgrimage to the temple of mammon and all of that.  But it's also a way to network with other people, learn about new products and technology, and (at best) share knowledge.

I think that GenCon 2001 is going to be very useful in establishing the exchange of RPG Lore.

I guess I wish that there were game cons with this purpose in mind, rather than "get together and play/run games for a weekend" without any real thought put into it...
jared a. sorensen /


Jared, et al:

Maybe I am out of it, but I haven't actually played more than one game at any con in many, many years.  I spent one con running demos until I dropped.  I stress "one" in that previous sentence.

Other than this, all I do is hang-out with industry/fan -folks and drink and chat.  

I never seem to have any energy left at the end of the day to game.  I always end up in bars until 4am, then hoof it back for some shut-eye so I can start it again bright and early the next day.  

I know that most people game at cons, but to me, they are for networking and punishing my liver for daring to reside within my body.  I know Ron thinks I'm using cons for the wrong past-times (maybe this one'll be different), but I *like* having no true responsibility other than watching someone schlep my game and chatting with whomever comes my way.


Ron Edwards


" I know Ron thinks I'm using cons for the wrong past-times (maybe this one'll be different), but I *like* having no true responsibility other than watching someone schlep my game and chatting with whomever comes my way."

But Dav, you're a game author and publisher. I think your presence is perfectly legitimate by your description - on the one hand, your physical presence, at the booth or at least in company with other Apophis folks, results in advertising your game. Even if you're not glad-handing customers, you're THERE, AROUND, being one of the "Apophis guys."

And on the other hand, by your own description - you chat and network. This sort of socializing and business makes perfectly good sense as a game publisher, even if it's merely light talk.

So you're on the radar screen of my description, I think.




Ah, good then.  I was afraid I was another degenerate with little to no actual benefit to the average patron of the 'con :wink:.  Miscommunication.  This time around, maybe I'll hit a few games.  I'm rather interested in Little Fears, and then there is this Sorcerer game I heard about somewhere...


Blake Hutchins

I've gone to cons to push out-of-mainstream systems, try out new stuff on a group of strangers, check out other folks' gaming styles. I typically run things like Everway and treat it like a demo. I've found that Everway's colorful cards combined with a few little props tend to suck people in. I've also been persuaded to go merely to hook up with faraway friends and hang out. Compared to Babylon-scale media circuses like E3, RP/wargaming cons strike me as a bit quaint, bazaars largely populated by lumbering bearded males and earnest wannabe vampires, with the occasional fully-uniformed Trek-head thrown in.

Casual, but fun.




Mytholder mentioned Apartment-con style games above, and said that they were incestuous.

Last weekend, eleven people that I'd mostly met at most once decided that I was holding a barbecue and game at my house. Poppocabba (Mike), who's gone into 'hermit' mode, recruited them using his web site, then sent them at me.

Anyway, we spent about three hours standing around outside cooking about thirty pounds of meat on six hibachis, talking, and watching the neighbor kids try to cut their toes off, and the next six hours playing a game. Not to brag too much, but I got a lot of e-mails the next day saying things like it was the best game they'd been in since college ... I feel that I've greatly increased my pool of possible players in the process.

By contrast, I've had very poor luck trying to recruit players at traditional conventions; the last game I tried to run at one had NO players sign up for it (in my defense, 2/3 of the games in that time slot had no players).

My point here is, for the purpose of recruiting (which those of us who've moved in the past few years will generally have need of), you can't beat inviting a large group of total strangers to your house and running a game.