One of the questions I often get asked is "how do I get organized play events started in my area?" There are many ways to answer this question, and I've turned to Venture-Lieutenant Carol Tierney in the UK to give her take. I've known Carol for years and her and I started planning conventions together. Before I turn it over to her, a bit of background.
In July 2010, my husband, Christopher (Crispy), attended PaizoCon UK II. He returned to our house excited to continue running and playing in the Pathfinder Society Organized Play campaign (PFS). He gathered a few people from work and a couple weeks later started advertising Pathfinder Society games. He registered it on paizo.com and we started running PFS with event number 2886.
A year later, we both attended PaizoCon UK III, where he introduced me to many people he had been telling me stories about for the prior year. Our Society event kept attracting new players (and GMs) and we had a regular Wednesday night game. We also added a few new players to our home campaign. One of our home players, Jester, asked if their friend, Carol, could come along. "Of course," was our answer. Carol and Jester became fixtures of our gaming group. So much that they joined us on our pilgrimage to PaizoCon UK IV in 2012.
At the end of PaizoCon, I asked the visiting Campaign Coordinator, Mike, what I needed to do to run a convention and get Paizo support. His answer was short and sweet—"Plan it and send me an email." As we packed up to head home, I mentioned to Carol, Jester, and Crispy that all one needed to do to hold a convention was plan the event and send an email to Brock. Carol thought this great news. She jumped in feet first and we spent the car journey home discussing logistics of our first event. CrispyCon (event 15862) occurred 4 months later, in November 2012, with over 85 tables of play. CrispyCon II followed in June 2013 and CrispyCon III in November 2013, when Chris Brockley-Blatt joined the organization team.
When we left England in 2014, the event had a change of name to 3XP and continues to this day. Carol and Chris BB expanded their scope, planning events throughout the UK, including the upcoming Contingency in Hampshire, England. Carol wrote up her thoughts on planning conventions and I'm taking this opportunity to share them with our community. Though we automated some of the event support processes, the main criteria for running an event is still, "plan it and let us know!"
"The Wyrd Sisters" started literally because we went to a Pathfinder convention and came away thinking we could do that. A dangerous thought which has led to Tonya becoming OPM, and Chris Brockley-Blatt and myself taking VO positions in the UK. We have also organized several Pathfinder events each year and are now two-thirds of the organizing team for Contingency, one of the UKs biggest open gaming events. We have also raised £10,000 for charity, made a ton of friends and had a huge amount of fun along the way.
So, if you find yourself thinking, "I want to run a convention," my advice is to go for it. Especially if you are lucky enough to have a fabulous friend or two who is willing to do it with you. Don't tell everyone, but Pathfinder/Starfinder conventions can be surprisingly easy to run. Of course, an event like Contingency with 500+ players over 5 days is going to take a stupid amount of work but if you start small, you can definitely do it.
Contraption and 3XP are at the easy end of con-running. These are one/two day events for between 25 and 75 people. Now that we have our systems in place they take very little work. So this is our system—hopefully it will encourage you to start your own mini conventions
First of all you need to know you have a pool of GMs available to run games—when it comes to selling tickets people are going to want to be guaranteed a seat in a game in every slot so you can only sell as many tickets as you have spaces available. We are lucky enough in the UK to have loads of really great GMs who will happily give up their time to attend conventions and run games, but if you only have a couple of GMs you need to plan for a smaller event. GMs are your greatest asset, so we always try to make them know they are appreciated. At the very least, they should get a discount on attending and the chance for some time off to play and socialize. If you don't know many GMs talk to your local Venture-Officer (VO) team. They can help put you in touch with GMs (and will often be willing to run games themselves) - if you can't round up enough GMs your event will not work, so make sure you have this step covered before you go any further.
Once you have your team sorted, the hardest part is picking the right date. There are loads of gaming events on throughout the year, so finding a date that's not too close to an existing event can be a challenge and you want to avoid clashing with holidays or celebrations where people will want to be with their families. In the UK, there are lists of RPG conventions (https://www.philmasters.org.uk/RPGs/conventions.htm and ukroleplayers.com) plus the Pathfinder/Starfinder events list on paizo.com. Make sure you know what is happening and when and once you have your date make sure it gets added to any published calendars straight away so no-one else books the same date afterwards.
Next, find your location. Contraption started in a function room of a pub, 3XP in a community center, but there are other options like hotels, conference centers, libraries and church halls. All you need is somewhere with decent lighting and enough tables and chairs for everyone where your gamers can be kept away from any non-gamers using the same venue. You may be able to find a pub that will give you the room for free in return for having a captive audience who will buy food and drink throughout the day. If not, there are options available in all price brackets.
In the UK. most RPG conventions cost around £5 per game slot to attend, so starting small with just 2 game sessions and 20 people playing in each gives a budget of £200 to pay for your venue. Check that the venue hire includes Public Liability Insurance. If it doesn't you need to factor that into your budget as well. It should go without saying that you should budget based on the minimum attendance you expect. We always try to raise money for charity with Wyrd Sisters events, and making sure all the costs are covered up front is essential if you are going to do this. Make sure you keep a careful eye on the costs. You don't want to end up in debt and your venue is the biggest cost. If you keep that affordable you won't go wrong.
The last thing you need is a name—ideally something that will stand out from the other events so people will remember you, and then you can start to promote and organize the event.
The first thing Wyrd Sisters do at this stage is set up an event on Warhorn. Warhorn is a fantastic resource for anyone organizing gaming events. It does all the table planning for you with minimum effort, serves as a website for the event, and will even collect your admission fees. Make sure your budget includes a donation to keep the site running.
Once the Warhorn site is set up and ready to go, write an announcement and post it to every forum and social media outlet you can think of. Pro tip—if you set up a Facebook group for your event, you can keep people informed in the run up to the event, and going forwards the group is where you start next time knowing you will reach your core players quickly without having to go looking. Every time you have some news, post an update. Don't be surprised if it takes a while for people to sign up, most people need to read about something new three or four times before they decide to commit to it so you need to keep the event fresh in people's minds. Post when games are added to the schedule, talk about your awesome GMs and what they will be running, give travel and accommodation updates and so on—keep the conversation going.
Do not rely entirely on social media. Ask your gaming friends to tell all their gaming friends about the con. Make sure they're all coming, invite them personally. Put up flyers for your con in local games shops, book shops, etc. If you go to other events take flyers. Send out press releases to local news channels. Create a Google Alert for your con. That way, as soon as Google notices anyone post about your con, they'll send you an email and you can go join the discussion. The easiest mistake you can make is not advertising enough. People will only come if they know your event is happening.
When joining in the discussions remember that you are the face of your event. Moaning about players or GMs or anything else related to your event is likely to put people off attending. Share the good stuff and you'll make people feel enthusiastic for the event.
Once your event is confirmed talk to your local VOs /RVC and ask about con support—this is where Paizo really excels, there are people who can offer advice and support and if you will be reporting 15 or more games of PFS/SFS, you will also qualify for gift vouchers, boons to use at the event, and free scenarios for your GMs. You need to apply at least 2 months before the event but sooner is better.
Other things to consider in the run up to the event: You'll need to make sure people know how to get there—check out parking and public transport and make that information known. If you are running a two or more day event you'll also need to circulate details of where people can stay. People are going to need food/drink. If you aren't in a venue that sells food and drink, you'll need to let people know to bring their own or where to buy locally. In these days of online takeout ordering it's pretty easy, but make sure the venue is ok with people bringing in greasy/smelly food. If you want to raise a bit of money for charity think about a tuck shop or cake stall. We always have snacks and drinks on offer at 3XP and have found the easiest way is to have an honesty pot for donations and let people help themselves. Our players are incredibly generous when they know any profit is going to a good cause and it means we don't need staff running the stall. We also have unlimited tea and coffee on hand, we've found it works best to sell mugs and give away the drinks. It's better for the environment than disposable cups and having players own the mugs means they do the washing up, not us!
If you are using Warhorn, you can keep track of any players who have not found games to play and speak with them before the event to make sure this is by choice rather than lack of selection. You'll also be able to see which games fill fastest and if any are not working out so you can change the schedule if you need to. Check this regularly.
On the day, you will want to have a member of staff available at all times. There will be questions and hiccups. We usually find that once the first game session has started things quiet down, but even if it is really quiet having a member of staff available is essential, they will be needed for collecting reporting sheets, helping people find games, directing food deliveries, liaising with the venue, selling raffle tickets, issuing boons and all sorts of other things you won't have thought of before one of your players asks.
People always forget what they have signed up to play, so make sure you print out a copy of the sign ups from Warhorn and have it handy. This will also come in useful when players need to change games. For example, their 8th level character died in the last game so they no longer have a character in tier, or they've played a few games since they signed up and have leveled up so they are now too high for that game or they realize they already played the game they were signed up for. You can also use the Warhorn sheet to keep track of the reporting sheets, ticking off each game as it is handed on. You can print reporting sheets for the games from the event page on paizo.com, make sure you have plenty available as reporting games is essential.
If you qualify for boons, you'll want to have them printed and prefilled a much as possible so they just need to be signed. You'll also need to decide how you are going to distribute them. Whether you pick names out of a hat or give them as a reward for good role play or heroic deaths, roughly 1 in 10 players should get one.
You will need to have a stack of pregenerated characters (pregens) at every level available and a few new player numbers. Laminating the pregens means you won't have to keep reprinting them every time, especially if you also provide a wet erase pen to use with the sheet.
It's always a good idea to have a stationery box available with pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and note paper. Marker pens and colored card are great for quick signage and don't forget Blutack and rubbish bags.
If you have Internet access in your venue, you can report games as they happen. This is the ideal way of doing it, as you'll have access to the players and GMs so can deal with mistakes and omissions as they crop up. Mistakes will crop up and not just with the reporting. Don't think that is a failing of your event—the only failing is if you don't act to sort them out when you notice them. You aren't aiming for perfection, just to give people a fun time.
Finally—when the event is over, ask for feedback. Ask people what they liked and what they would change and you'll get some great ideas which will help you make your next event even better. Trust me, there will definitely be a next event, nothing beats the feeling you get when you see a room full of happy Pathfinders/Starfinders playing together - reporting, exploring and co-operating because you made it happen.
Thanks to Carol for writing about her convention planning methods. If you have a topic you're passionate about and think others may enjoy, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for review and inclusion in our blogs.
The Gen Con Lead team and I are working hard to get volunteer registration live before badges go on sale January 14th. If you are interested in volunteering, please keep an eye on this space for our "Call to Vol" blog!