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A Con From the Organizer’s Side

Posted By Scott Martin On June 21, 2011 @ 1:01 am In Gaming Conventions | 13 Comments

This weekend, we organized and threw our first minicon. It was immensely easier than running a “real” con in many ways–but it also telegraphed some of what goes into planning and executing a con of whatever size. If you’re looking at organizing a house con, or want to see what goes on behind the scenes, read on!

I was inspired by an Endgame mini-con that I’d been fortunate enough to attend. It was a great day of gaming, and I really wanted to try out a local version of the same thing.

Planning

While we had discussed the idea of mini-cons before the Squirrel ever opened, we didn’t think seriously about planning a mini-con until after our first Used Game Swap, back in February. Among the things we learned from the game swap was that an auction room or used game sale space takes too much time, space, and attention to do alongside a mini-con. The two do go great together, but that’s definitely full fledged con territory.

During March, I mentioned our plans for the mini-con in passing to several of our regular GMs and players, both at Encounters nights, at the RPG meetup, and in passing to other people who mentioned GMing. During this time Jennifer and I decided that I would take the lead on the mini-con; she would share ideas, but I was responsible for making final decisions.

Drumming Up Games

By early April we had finalized our date, deciding to pair it with Free RPG Day on June 18th. I had some soft commitments from a few people, but I knew that I wanted a lot of games–three slots times six or seven tables during each slot. I also wanted many GMs, so everyone could enjoy playing in games too. I threw together a quick game session form, publicized it through previously established channels, and got some game submissions almost immediately. Eleven games were submitted during the first ten days, followed by a lull, then a rush when I told people that I was going to post the game signups soon.

Signing Players Up

Early in the process, we had discussed a nominal fee to play in the mini-con–something like $3 per session. By the time we got around to signups, I had forgotten that there was a financial part to the plan, so signups were amazingly easy. I suspect that requiring payment at the same time as game submission would increase the workload for the signing up stage dramatically.

My “trick” was to test the system with our GMs first, opening registration to them early as a reward for running games. Unfortunately, my trick didn’t work out–I didn’t get early signups from the GMs! I wondered if the system was losing their signup emails, but my tests all worked fine. Once I opened registration to players, everything submitted smoothly–our GMs were just being polite and didn’t seize everything the first moment they were allowed.

When players completed the signup form, it sent us an email of their picks. I copied the names into a google doc with the game names and capacities listed. If there was still space for them in the games they selected, I sent them an email telling them that they had a seat at the table. If we were charging for the slots, for simplicity I would have submitted a bill at the same time– “You have reserved three slots; that will cost $9. You can pay in advance or on the day of the convention.”

That was the next month–I just checked emails from the form, wrote back with a “you’ve reserved a seat” or “bummer, all the seats at the table are taken… do you want to try another game in that time slot?”, and updated my doc to ensure that I didn’t assign eight people to a 6 person table.

Con Day!

Finally, the day of the con came. We got there early and setup the tables to maximize play space– and to separate the tables as much as possible to make it (slightly) easier to hear your GM. One table was set aside for GMs to store their bags, sort minis, and grab free donuts.

Several players and GMs showed up early–excited by both the Minicon and Free RPG Day spoils. Fifteen minutes before the first session we opened the doors and let people peruse their picks, showing GMs the tables we had set aside for them. (Fifteen minutes may not have been enough time if we had to collect payment and issue tickets, though RPG Day picks are an obstacle that most cons don’t have to address.)

The GMs were all present before their slot, as were almost all of the players, even for the first morning slot! Game masters set their screens and books on their tables, we directed traffic so players could find their games, and the rush of people was over by 10:15. The first slot was in session!

Refreshments proved popular, exposing some deficiencies in our stock levels for the con. I grabbed breakfast for “con staff”, and hit the store to get more snacks and drinks. About a half-hour before the end of the slot we made a time announcement and were amazed that the tables (mostly) ended on time. Most people grabbed nearby food and were back in time for the afternoon session.

The afternoon session was larger, with seven games instead of four. Space and volume control were more challenging and there was a scramble when we realized that we were down one GM. He had been called into work– fortunately, his players were able to be join other games as they were still setting up. The session chugged along smoothly, with GMs handling their games well. A few ended sooner and others pushed into the dinner break, but everyone seemed happy.

The evening session followed the same pattern– in fact, it was running so smoothly that I got a chance to play in “We Be Goblins”. It was a hoot. Fear Poog, the mighty cleric! It was a great finish to a surprisingly easy day.

Leveling Up

It was a great event! We learned a lot, but it honestly ran more smoothly than it had any right to. Here are a few takeaways:

  • You Need a Big GM Pool: Seventeen GMs signed on to run and 16 showed, which was great–but it’s also only a fraction of the GMs we know. Between playing and GMing with people for months in D&D Encounters, store Pathfinder groups, GMs who post “players wanted” posters, friends who were aware of the event, and other potentials, we knew 50-75 GMs.
  • Own The Space: For our first con, correcting on the fly was easy. When we realized we were short on drinks, I drove to the store for them during a session. If we’d needed another table or chairs, I could have gone to a store. If you’re renting a space, you may have to use their services–and they’re not always reasonably priced. Or available at any price.
  • Rooms and dividers are good: The other side of the “space” coin is that seven tables of GMs talking in one room is tough. Banquet halls and meeting rooms are much louder than suites or several smaller rooms. Consider partitions if you do have a large unbroken space.

We honestly couldn’t fit many more games or gamers into the room–leveling up would require a larger space, financial considerations like renting space, losing drink and snack income to the hotel/convention center, and other tricky tradeoffs.

This was our first attempt and it proved successful, so we’re looking at repeating it down the road. What have you encountered as a con organizer? I’ve heard stories about house cons growing into traditional conventions–how did you make the transition? If you’ve worked behind the scenes at a con, share your stories and tips. How do you make a con thrive? If you have any questions about running a con, ask away in comments!

About  Scott Martin

Scott is an engineer turned gnome and game store owner. He lies awake at night building intriguing worlds and plotting your character's demise.




13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "A Con From the Organizer’s Side"

#1 Comment By Clawfoot On June 21, 2011 @ 5:05 am

Quick question: who is “we”? The Gnomes? You and your friends? You and another organization?

#2 Comment By evil On June 21, 2011 @ 9:39 am

It sounds like you had a good first run. After having spent nearly twenty years organizing conventions and gaming events, it sounds like you were on the right track. I can’t necessarily agree with the Own The Space bullet, though. Most people don’t have enough room in their home or barn or whatever to really deal with this type of event. Most colleges allow students and student groups to host events for nearly free, though, which is how I’ve helped several events get off of the ground in the past.

For anyone wanting to try this, make sure you don’t fall into the hole that many events do….the event is about the games and the gamers, not about the organizers.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On June 21, 2011 @ 10:07 am

@Clawfoot – We, for this con, was Crazy Squirrel Game Store. It’s a store that my wife and I own.
@evil – That’s why I immediately contradicted “own your space” with the next bullet. If you already have the space, it does simplify finances, if nothing else. A con takes a lot of space, space that few of us have sitting around our apartments or homes.

Using college space for a con is a great idea–one con that almost took off last year was scheduled to use the student union at the local college campus.

#4 Pingback By The Mini-Con « Crazy Squirrel Game Store On June 21, 2011 @ 10:28 am

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#5 Comment By peter On June 21, 2011 @ 11:28 am

I got to play poog as well on free rpg day. hilarious adventure

#6 Comment By BryanB On June 21, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

The Mini-Con at Crazy Squirrel was a lot of fun. I don’t think that Scott & Jennifer could have done a better job, especially for a first attempt. Bravo!

I am actually in one of the pictures on this article, but I’ll let the Gnomestew readership guess who I am. :D

I will admit that I am one of the 50-75 GMs that the Squirrels know that failed to offer up a game for the con. Next time Scott. Next time!

#7 Comment By taxboy4 On June 21, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

Our local (Wellington NZ) use a local high school for the annual big con – each game goes to a seperate classroom spaced over three floors – with a central gathering space for kick off and regather / announcements.

Works really well logistically wise

:)

#8 Comment By mntineer On June 21, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

My meetup has done several mini-cons in the past, on much the same scale, and your advice is spot on. We’ve discovered that having your own space, whether owned or rented is the best proposition. We’ve worked and are currently with game stores. Sometimes they’ll work with you, sometimes they have other things in mind. Our best event (or mini-con) to date was in a karate dojo. Talk about a boost in visibility for our group. The work can be a little bit much at times, but it is well worth it.

#9 Comment By DocRyder On June 21, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

It was an excellent event for a “first time, (relatively) short notice” sort of event!

I’ll ‘fess up (unlike BryanB) that I’m the guy standing in the first photo, surrounded by kids. I run a monthly “D&D for Kids” table at Crazy Squirrel. It was decided we’d incorporate that into the Con, and it went well.

Thanks for the mini-con, Jen and Scott!

#10 Comment By BryanB On June 21, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

@DocRyder – You wound me Doc! :P

Peer pressure is a cast iron witch. Okay…. I’m the guy in the far right of the third picture down playing Pathfinder’s “We Be Goblins” adventure. I was Reta, the fierce goblin warrior with an oversized head. :D

#11 Comment By Feetz On June 21, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

How long were your time slots? A friend of mine is trying to organize an event for our area.

#12 Comment By BryanB On June 22, 2011 @ 9:18 am

@Feetz – The morning slot was 2 1/2 hours. The afternoon and evening slots were four hours each. There was a half hour break between the morning and afternoon slots and then a one hour meal break gap between the afternoon and evening slots. Some games went ten to twenty minutes over and others ended a bit early.

#13 Comment By Scott Martin On June 25, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

@taxboy4 – That does sound like a great setup!

@DocRyder and Bryan – Thanks!


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