[This is the fifth in my series of game convention retrospectives, in an attempt to draw general conclusions about improving attendees’ and organizers’ convention experience.]
The One that Got Away: DunDraCon
(San Ramon Mariott, San Francisco Bay Area)
DunDracon, held every February during Memorial Day Weekend from Friday through Monday, has seen 36 editions — making the oldest in the list. It has a solid role-playing focus with a good amount of all types of other games, Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) presence, costuming, and panels.
Every time we have been at this convention we have run lots of role-playing games and the occasional miniatures or RPG tournament. This used to be my favourite convention, my benchmark for what I hoped a convention would look like.
(Things that went well, things that went poorly: after the cut.)
Things that go well at DunDraCon: There are lots of games, and lots of role-players. For example, even now and months away from the next edition, there are already on the schedule some 114 RPGs, 22 board games, 5 card games, 7 LARPs, 9 miniatures games, 6 games for the Kids’ Room, and two other games. The programming is varied and there is always something to do, what with SCA demonstrations, seminars, the movie room, the dealers’ room, etc.. The experienced staff has been doing this for a long time, and they know their jobs well.
This is also one of the least expensive convention hotels in the area but it offers really good service. And between the focus on role-play and the excellent relationship the organization has with the hotel, most role-playing games are held in individual rooms, which wonderfully cuts down on the background noise.
Things that go poorly: Once again, a convention that has a fairly blah Website; it has looked the same for a long, long time and there is still information that I just can’t find easily — or sometimes at all. The organization is fairly hidebound; Edmund and I have never worked as staff for this convention — in fact, when we tried some years ago, there seemed to be very little interest in bringing in anyone outside what was then the core group of staffers, the old hands. I know that there has been some rotation in the years since, but this really chilled my interest in trying to help organize.
The convention’s image of what an RPG should look like harks back to 1990, so the game requirements are unwieldy. For example, the minimum number of players you can offer a schedule RPG for is 6 (but they prefer 8), and the minimum event length is 4 hours (but they prefer 6 or 8). (See the list here.) I understand this is to maximize use of the game rooms, but I have much more fun with two 4-player, 4-hour games than one 8-player game of any length at all.
But all this is minor annoyance; the deal-killer for me is how hard it is to get into games of your choice. The attendance is high so there is a lottery system, much as described in Ryan Macklin’s post I mentioned in an earlier instalment of this series. That means that although Edmund and I can “save” spots for each other in events we run (we typically offer 6 seats and hold a seventh unadvertised in reserve, but that means running for very large groups), we’re unable to plan on ever getting into a game as players together except impromptu ones in Open Gaming.
I have so many memories of being unable to get into any of the games I wanted, except maybe for one thanks to the “priority game slip” you receive for running games at the convention (one per person), that I can’t bring myself to spend all this effort and money again for a mediocre result (especially since in this case it’s a little too far to commute from home, we definitely need to have a hotel room.) So right now, we’ve decided to keep giving DunDraCon a miss until and unless they set up a different game sign-up system.
Edit: Even though I stand by my comments, DunDraCon has no incentive to make any changes, as they are more successful than ever. On January 2 they had to stop accepting new games for the schedule because they had 347 — more than they could actually fit, although they are scrambling to find space; and the Mariott filled up all rooms and started offering the same low convention rate at the nearby Mariott Courtyard. I will not be going, but I’m glad they are doing well.