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Interesting times

By Claire Godfrey


The first time I went to GenCon UK I was a sweet and nubile 20–year old and it was 1994. In those days it was held in a dodgy holiday park in an uninspiring part of Kent, with itchy bedsheets and dubious damp patches on the ceiling. I spent four days gaming non–stop and making friends with complete strangers — and being a girl (and girls being in short supply at role playing conventions) I don't think I bought my own beer all weekend. It was fantastic! I promised myself, as we drove away into the sunset, that I would go to GenCon every year.

Eight years later I went to GenCon for the second time. No longer nubile but still quite sweet, I showed up at Olympia 2 on 31 August 2002 armed with a pack of pencils and my 'darling' little organza bag of dice. I hadn't intentionally missed the last eight GenCon's, I just, kinda, hadn't got round to it.

I only went for two days this time (with living and working in London I didn't feel the need to make a 'holiday' of it) and I've been regretting that decision ever since. I didn't want the weekend to end and felt strangely hollow, and very bored, the next day.

The reason I enjoyed myself so much may be that my weekly role playing group is gradually falling apart, and what with the new 'imagination–killing' 3rd Ed we do little else but push tiny metal men around a rubber mat.

I was losing the will to live on Wednesday nights and could often be found miming my own special version of a shotgun blast to the head in great dramatic detail — and washing my GMs dishes rather than playing. On reflection, there's something very wrong with that.

The best thing about GenCon is that everyone is there to game — it's the foremost thought in every mind — it doesn't matter whether you're a tabletopper, a LARPer, a war gamer, a board gamer or a card player. In just 48 hours I rediscovered my passion for playing. We covered more ground in one four–hour session than in six weeks with my group at home.

I over–acted my way through an effete English soldier fighting Cthulhu beasties in the Boer War, and a jacked–in half–feline rigger in Shadowrun. I felt the excitement running through my veins again, the adrenalin rush I get when I've got a mystery to solve. I fell truly, madly and deeply in love all over again.

I also attended a seminar by Peter Adkinson called 'The future of GenCon'.

Taking my seat in the lecture hall, feeling content and 'included', I was eager to be swept along on a tide of inspiration. I love change and will quite happily jump into anything new with both feet. Being a 'female gamer'* I also welcome anything which will drag this wonderful hobby of ours into the 21st century, and which recognises that we don't have to keep perpetuating the stereotypes we've been branded with.

Peter Adkinson ignored the chairs set out for him and perched on the edge of the stage with the rest of his team — comprised of two black American's and two women — Peter was — significantly I think (take that how you will) — the only middle aged, white male in sight.

Peter was brutally honest about his business intentions for GenCon and this is what he laid out for us:

  • GenCon UK made a loss of approximately £20,000 in 2002.
  • GenCon UK will be brought forward to April 2003.
  • GenCon UK will move to Europe in 2004 — most likely to Amsterdam.

The last two points were enough to set the traditionalist's in the audience sputtering and turning purple, but I sat and listened in a fairly non–sputtering way until Peter finished.

Firstly, GenCon UK makes a loss because it relies almost entirely on the British role player, and despite the fact that we are the most fanatical and dedicated role players in the world (what do you expect me to say? I'm English), there simply aren't enough of us spending our money at GenCon to entice the industry giants from across the pond. What results, in my opinion, is a valiant but rather feeble attempt at a trade floor. Let's put it this way, I'm female and a role player — it goes without saying that I like shopping — however, I spent less than ten quid on gaming paraphernalia over the whole weekend.

What the traditionalists don't seem to understand is the reality of business. GenCon UK might be as good as it gets when it comes to quality role playing, but (and let me emphasise this in big letters) IT'S NOT A CHARITY. It's a business, and Peter and his team need to make a profit so that they can pay their mortgages.

Entrance fee goes nowhere near to paying for the Con. If the traditionalists want it to stay in England (ignoring the German and French markets completely, who, along with England, are the two other biggest role playing markets in Europe) then they should start thinking about how they'd like to pay £20 a day entrance fee on top of accommodation, travel, food, beer and coffee — or what about £30? or £50?

The organisers wouldn't do this because they know that people would just stop coming and it would be the death of the biggest role playing Con in Europe. So, if GenCon is to survive outside of the States some radical changes need to be made.

The solution? 'Build it and they will come'. Next year, Peter has promised to lose even more money on GenCon — yep, you heard right — 'you have to speculate to accumulate'. He believes so much in GenCon that he is going to invest in it despite the fact that it is currently a loss–making business. He hasn't given the details, but I assume that this means a bigger, better and brighter trade hall and a lot more interesting things going on to distract those of us taking a ten minute coffee break from a 12–hour game. Personally, I can't wait — I'm so excited I could pee myself.

He is also moving the Con forward so that himself and his team can dedicate as much time to it as GenCon US. I think that shows a lot of a commitment.

And finally, of course, it will be moving (most likely) to Amsterdam. The perfect choice, as it's pretty much central to England, France and Germany — and as Peter astutely pointed out, the English would whinge if it was in France, and the French would whinge if it was in Germany, and on and on...

Amsterdam is in neutral territory and it's a great city. GenCon attendee's should be wary of its many distractions though, as neither the 'coffee' houses (paradoxically, Amsterdam 'coffee' houses tend to make you sleepy...) or the red light district ('nuff said) are conducive to good role play.


Peter, if you're reading, you don't want a riot of hairy English beer–monsters on your hands — you've been warned.

In order to entice us over to Amsterdam, Peter has promised us a free beer night. He may have been joking, but I'm pretty sure that everyone in the auditorium took him seriously (again, we're English, we take our beer very seriously).

And really, for most people, travel to Amsterdam will probably be cheaper then travel to London (what with Go and Easyjet fares) — and accommodation will certainly cost less.

If you ask me, I think it's a great idea, and I can't wait to see GenCon transformed into an all–singing, all–dancing, profit–making business. In fact, I've been so inspired that I'll be volunteering for all four days next year! I think it's about time that I became part of it all. I want to invest a little of my heart and soul into the gaming community and it's GenCon that I have to thank for that.

* I recommend the Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers from Mongoose Publishingback

Claire was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 7 by her 13–year old cousin who would use her as a guinea pig for the games he was running for friends. Nightmares aside, Claire was hooked, but said older cousin fobbed her off with Fighting Fantasy books and left her to her own devices for the next 9 years. At 16 Claire finally found a group of like–minded individuals and has been playing and running a myriad of role playing games since.

Self–confessed Ladette and geek, Claire still likes shopping, shoes, and sparkly things and can therefore be clearly defined as female. 28 years old, Claire possesses a naivety and enthusiasm for her interests which often belies her advanced years.

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