Weekend Wrap-up: CalCon

I firmly believe that every gaming geek needs to attend conventions as often as possible, and not just because I happen to run one. Gaming with your friends is great, and hitting events at your FLGS is also fantastic. But neither one will give you the concentrated gaming goodness of a gaming convention. A convention is where you steep yourself in the gaming culture and for two-and-a-half days celebrate your obsession with the teeming mass of fellow geeks.

With that philosophy in mind, this past weekend I attended CalCon (link in the title), Calgary’s gaming convention. Not having attended a gaming con in a while, I was in desperate need of that concentrated gaming I spoke of, and CalCon did not disappoint. All weekend long I had ample opportunity to get my gaming fix, and even when I wasn’t playing or sitting in on a panel, I was able to maintain a contact high from the enthusiastic gamers around me.

(Okay, fine, a drug metaphor isn’t going to endear me to the RPG-shy parents out there; for you I say, “I was swept away by waves of positive gaming energy all weekend”. Happy?)

I won’t bore you with a moment-by-moment breakdown of the weekend, I’ll just give an overview and some highlights. Over the course of the weekend I played Puerta Rico, D&D, Citadels, Munchkin, D20 Modern and Pathfinder, and attended two panels (both presented by the awesome Amber E. Scott, see highlights below), and took in any number of ancillary events. The highlights, in no particular order:

*I had been at the con for a few hours on the Friday, just wandering the hall. Since most of the stuff I had signed up for wasn’t running until Saturday I was just looking around, getting my bearings, and watching games in progress. Noticing a game board I was familiar with, I wandered over to take a closer look. Turns out a game of Puerta Rico was just starting, and one of the players asked me if I wanted in, as they had a seat free. Turning down games at a gaming con is tantamount to sacrilege, so I gave the only correct answer and sat down to play. Two great things came out of that decision: I got to play Puerta Rico, a game I enjoy but manage to play rarely; and I made my first gaming buddy of the weekend, Christina. We hit it off while trying to outwit each other and the other “governors”, and that got me my second game invite of the evening, as Christina asked me to come along to her 4th ed. D&D game a little later. As fun as she was to board game with, she was an absolute riot to role-play with! Unfortunately, schedules kept us from gaming together for the rest of the weekend. But we would hang-out and chat when we saw each other over the course of the con (Christina had a unique method of greeting me on Sunday morning; she whipped her car keys at the back of my head as she walked to the registration table. Thank goodness for that Dutch/Scottish skull…). And we are staying in touch, so I look forward to many more games with Christina. Good thing too; I really want to be at the table when she plays a bard, I hear it is not to be missed!

*As I said earlier, both the panels I attended were presented by the con’s gaming guest, Amber E. Scott. Besides being a great person, Amber has done an impressive amount of writing for Dragon as well as Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG (look for her contributions to the Pathfinder Gamemaster Guide, out later this year). She ran two panels, one on adventure writing and the other on the best way to start as a freelance writer in the RPG biz. I had missed seeing her panels at Pure Spec last year (you know, ‘cuz I was busy running the damn thing), so I was extra thrilled at the chance to get her insights on adventure design and freelance writing. If you have a chance to listen to her on a panel (say, at this year’s Pure Spec) take it; she is well worth the listen. Amber also ran the other two RPGs I played: a D20 Modern scenario called, “Isla de Muerta“, inspired by a weekend of monster movies watched through a flu-induced fever haze; and a Pathfinder adventure entitled, “Katapesh: Land of Mystery”. She is a great and talented game master (and kudos as well to her husband Jason for co-GMing), and I was glad to get the chance to hang out and game with her, something that I have little chance to do regularly, despite us living in the same city. Thanks, Amber!

*This highlight is personal, rather than gaming related. I happened to run into a friend I knew back in high school, who was volunteering for the con over the weekend. After the usual round of, “Are you…is it really…?” we established that, yes, I was the Brent she knew back in Fort McMurray, and she was the Tamara I had the unrequited crush on before she left Fort Mac. We had a great little reunion, and spent about four or five hours sitting together in the lounge on Saturday night talking and catching up. It was a totally unexpected and excellent addition to what was already a great weekend. It is very rare to meet someone from that far back in your life (twenty years? Yeesh!) that you can still talk to, and it turns out Tamara is one of those people. So if everything else about the weekend had turned out to suck (which it did not) it would have been worthwhile just to meet up with Tamara again. Hey, Tamara!

Other con stuff, more comments than highlights:

– the volunteers, without fault or fail, were friendly and helpful all weekend. And I mean all weekend. The girl who worked the reg table a good chunk of the weekend (and who, I am ashamed to say, I never asked the name of) was just as friendly and conversational on Sunday morning as she was on Friday evening. And everyone else was on par with that. How important is that? Try going to a con where the volunteers and staff are not friendly, and see how much fun that is. The answer is *spoiler alert* not at all. Not that I wasn’t already planning on attending next year, but the volunteers sealed the deal. Great job!

– the vendor room was on the small side, and sparsely populated all weekend. I tried to be in there as much as possible and make the circuit of all the vendors, but I am only one man. It is a little worrying, especially with CalCon being a new con. Poor vendor-room attendance can lead to a vicious cycle; vendors can be reluctant to come back because attendance was low, so less vendors come out, so less people go to the vendor room because there aren’t a lot of vendors, so attendance is low, so less vendors…and so on. So I have this to say to the vendors: Tough it out! Attendance will get better as the con grows, and if you keep coming back and supporting the event the attendees will remember that. It will be worth the time put in now, believe me.

All in all, a great weekend at a new, growing, enthusiastic gaming convention. Luck willing, I will have a chance to watch it grow over the next several years. And if you are smart, and a gaming geek anywhere in Alberta (heck, or Canada) you should make your way to the con in 2011 and beyond.

Thanks to John and the whole CalCon team, I had a blast! Next year I am up for running some games and panels, so we should talk… 😉