Worlds of Design: Single RPG Conventions

It’s hard out there for new RPGs. Specialized conventions can help.

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Not D&D​

People who play the most widespread RPGs such as the latest editions of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder don’t need a specialized convention, they should be able to play a part in conventions with broader topics. Most big conventions usually have D&D or Pathfinder events. Some tabletop game cons (e.g. World Boardgaming Championships, PrezCon, World Series of Boardgaming) won’t have any RPG component at all.

Let’s say you’re a fan of an RPG other than D&D (5e) or Pathfinder. And you want to attend a game convention that focuses on your game. But there probably aren’t enough fans nearby for a convention, and while you’re willing to do some work to organize a convention, you don’t want to take on the whole body of work—a lot of work—associated with a big, day-long meeting. You can’t expect any convention to make money, but there are examples (such as PrezCon in Charlottesville VA) of smallish game cons that have made money for many years.

Here's an example of what you can do. Grogtalk is a well-known podcast for AD&D. Several years ago the podcast principals decided to try running an Old School D&D convention, James Garoutsos taking charge. When James was involved in early advertising for his convention he was contacted by Craig Russell and Tim Wright, who run a mid-size miniatures convention called “Crucible.” Miniatures in this case meaning fantastical games like Warhammer 40K and War Machine much more than historical miniatures. The only RPG at Crucible was the D&D 5e. It was a natural fit to add Old School/AD&D, and piggybacking on Crucible reduces James’ organizational and financial burden as Crucible takes care of things like finding a venue and registering players.

GrogCon is a long weekend (three day) “Old School” convention where the principal activity is playing one-shot (the British would say one-off) adventures. Other than games, an episode of GrogTalk was recorded at the con, with me talking at some length about what characterizes “Old School” and “New School” RPGs.

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The 2022 Convention​

I attended the 2022 edition, which had the misfortune of running just after Hurricane Ian crossed Florida. Though GrogCon has only run for a few years, and is near the east coast of Florida, it has had people attend from as far away as the west coast, Mexico, and Minnesota. Although Orlando didn’t suffer much from the hurricane (mostly power outages), air travel did. Many people could not make it, though one fellow drove 19 hours from New Jersey right through the hurricane to attend! Altogether, the con was no more than half as large as the pre-registration of 48 indicated.

Crucible included the official D&D (5e) Adventurers League, at least eight tables with eight people per table, probably two to three times as many players as Grogcon. The few 5e sessions I focused on did not actually use any miniatures, preferring Theater of the Mind. (Some of the GrogCon 1e sessions used miniatures, though not all, but few used an actual board.) Whether the 5e games were played as storytelling or as actual game I don’t know, though the 5e rules facilitate the storytelling style via mechanics such as skill checks and lots of healing.

There was a big difference in clientele. As is usually the case with 1e players, we were young 40 years ago but not anymore! On the other hand, most of Crucible’s 5e players appeared to be 20/30-somethings. Another difference, many college/university players have laptops at the table, and in some cases their character sheets are on smartphones. This was rare with the GrogCon players, not because the Old Schoolers cannot use computers (e.g. I taught college and graduate school computer networking classes), they just don’t feel a need for them.

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Discoverability​

Discoverability is always a problem in gaming. That is, if people don’t know your RPG/campaign/convention/book exists, they cannot buy/participate. Grogcon has the advantage of growing out of the popular Grogtalk podcast and “Flipping & Turning” magazine, so people hear of it in those ways. And hear of Crucible as well, of course. On the other hand James doesn’t want a really large convention, under a hundred people seems to be comfortable. They’re on track.

So this is an example of a specialized convention that has found its niche by working with a larger convention.

GrogCon 2023 (the fourth edition) will be Sep 29—Oct 1 at the Doubletree Orlando, 5780 Major Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, piggybacked on Crucible Miniatures Con. Weather and other “acts of god” willing, I expect to be there again.

Your Turn: Have you been involved in any small specialized RPG conventions? How did they go?
 

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Thondor

Explorer
Thanks for the reply, but what I'm looking for is the size of the convention. CanGames, at least on their event list, is a small convention.
CanGames has sort of made the choice to stay small. It's more important to them that they run each year in the same place and provide some of the same experiences (i.e. a tournament of the Britannia board game each year) than they grow.
It's my home con and I love it.

CanGames, Terminal City and Phantasm are all around the "running a dozen RPG sessions in each slot" size. Of the three, Terminal City is newest, and may be the most likely to grow that.
Breakout is the only one that is larger. They attract more indie-designers too. Breakout's RPG size is a little harder to tell though because they don't run fixed time slots for RPGs. (CanGames and Phantasm both use a 4 slot, all games start at the same time approach, with 3 slots on the Saturday.)

I think you are pretty hard pressed to find a convention in Canada that runs more RPGs than these, but I'd love to have someone tell me otherwise.
 

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Conqueror Worm

Explorer
Back in the day, I used to attend Gloranthacon which was centered around Runequest. There was also Arcanicon (centered around the campaign setting of Arcanis by Paradigm Concepts) and a convention centered around Legends of the Five Ring RPG.
 

Thondor

Explorer
I suppose as designer of Britannia I ought to "approve this message"!

Well . . . isn't that a small world that I would respond to your thread with this specific fact? I've participated in the tourney twice I believe. It's a great game. Been attending CanGames almost every year since 2010. It was a tradition there well before that.
 

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