Thoughts, Feelings, Plans

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.

Photo courtesy of David Jacobs, paint by Nathan Roberts, sculpt by Atlantis Miniatures.

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.

-Matt Horam,
Ever Your Grateful Servant, and
ConOrg to a Hall Full of Rockstars.