Having been "volunteered" to run the games room at Beccon '87, I thought that it might be a good idea to describe a few of the problems I encountered.
1) Programming. Although we decided roughly what we wanted to do quite early, I forgot to rope in anyone to help with the items we intended to program. This led to several problems.
Initially we had intended to run panels and workshops related to the two competitions (see below). Sloth and amnesia led to these panels being more or less forgotten; instead, we posted the rules on the first day and let players get on with it!
Since I knew that John Dallman intended to continue his Unicon discussion, the main programming I intended to arrange was some demo games. Once again, amnesia set in, and I forgot to ask anyone to run them. Luckily there were several volunteers, but we would have had more with more advance warning. Several people were willing, but had left their equipment at home. The format used (an introductory talk followed by a game) seemed to work fairly well.
Since these activities all took lace in the games room, it would probably be unfair to schedule many more items there; each item disturbs the people who just want to get on with their games. A few main programme items tied in to the gaming theme, which helped a lot. I had nothing to do with arranging them, and can't take much credit.
2) Sponsors. If you are going to put on a good show, or run competitions, it's a good idea to get some sponsorship. I tried about 18 companies; unfortunately only five were even potentially helpful. They were:
Games Workshop Ltd (White Dwarf etc.): Games workshop gave us six White Dwarf subscriptions and a copy of their Warhammer role playing game with two supplements, to be used as competition prizes, and several posters. They didn't impose any conditions about the nature of the competitions.
TSR UK Ltd. (D&D, Marvel Superheroes etc.) TSR gave us wo games, D&D modules, and some SF story collections for prizes, plus a load of pens which tended to vanish as soon as they were put out. They gave us huge quantities of display material, from posters to window stickers and mobiles. TSR did originally suggest that we might like to run tournaments based on their own games, but were prepared to sponsor our written competitions instead.
Mersey Leisure Publications (Adventurer magazine). This company gave us some back issues and a couple of small poster, and some badges which we eventually used as consolation prizes in the competitions.
Mayfair Games (a US company producing DC Heroes game etc.) Mayfair sent us some posters advertising the "Watchmen" module for DC heroes, and also offered us some coupons that could be exchanged for games by mail order. Unfortunately, they wanted us to run a DC heroes tournament for the coupons; since we weren't prepared to do this (no experienced referees, and few players), I sent the coupons back.
Steve Jackson Games (A US company producing Car Wars etc). Steve Jackson games also offered to sponsor competitions, again they had to be based on the company's own games. Unfortunately the prizes were dollar coupons, without any easy way of exchanging them in Britain, and dependent on running Car Wars or GURPS tournaments. Accepting would have caused problems, so I sent them back.
I think I wrote to all the UK companies above four or five times in all and contacted each of the US firms twice.
Local sponsorship, and involvement of local games clubs or companies, might also be a possibility; unfortunately I didn't think of it until after the convention! The NEC is a little isolated in this respect; there are no game manufacturers in the area, and the nearest shops are in Birmingham. In 1988 it may be worthwhile contacting Games fo Liverpool, a fairly large importer, and Merseyside Leisure Publications. I've already told the editor of Adventurer that the con will be in Liverpool next year. Games workshop have also opened a Liverpool shop.
3) Fan Activities. I was hoping to get a good range of games fanzines on display, and wrote to various fanzines a few weeks before the con, as well as having had some publicity in various game magazines several months in advance. Unfortunately only one fanzine responded. It looks like an earlier and more intensive campaign is called for.
4) Accessories.TSR supplied about 80 biros. During the con all but one disappeared. These were free, but a good supply of cheap biros or pencils is ESSENTIAL, even if they have to be bought. Items we should have ideally provided include graph, lined and scrap paper. I had one lucky break; I attended a wargames convention a week before the con, and found a stall selling shop-soiled dice. The dealer offered "a handful" for £1. I got about fifty in a variety of shapes and sizes for £2. Most were usable, though none perfect, and we put them out on the tables. Approximately half (mostly the more expensive types, such as D30's) disappeared during the con. This loss rate seemed fairly acceptable. The remainder are available to any con wanting them.
5) Competitions. We announced two competitions, for trap and scenario design, but made several mistakes:
i) Exact details weren't announced until the con, so the entries couldn't be prepared in advance. Since it was a written competition, we effectively stopped most people from submitting typed entries, and gave the entrants (and the judges) a lot of legibility problems.
ii) One competition attracted much better entries than the other, and was attempted by more people. In hindsight we should have really gone for a single competition, since the low response to the traps competition meant that some poor entries won prizes.
iii) I didn't find judges until the con. Terry Pratchett and Ashley Watkins kindly agreed to be press-ganged, but I should really have asked them in advance.
iv) We didn't have prize certificates ready until a few minutes before the awards were made, and there was a bit of a rush to get the winners' addresses before they left. I also forgot to return entries to the authors and had to arrange to post them back after the con.
6) Tournaments. We didn't run any. I don't really think that was a mistake, since they are a lot of hard work and would monopolise the games room for several hours. We could have got more sponsorship if we had agreed to run particular games under competition rules. Draw your own conclusions, remembering that you'll need to find several referees.
7) Security. There wasn't any. We left the room open at al times. Apart from the missing pens and dice, and some posters that were apparently cleared by the hotel (or some of the fans) during the closing ceremony, there were no problems. I think that an open policy is a much better idea than attempting to impose any form of discipline, but it does mean that the games room must be accessible from a public corridor, and must not allow access to any secure area. Game players tend to prefer odd hours (I saw one game in progress at 2am), so an "open all hours" arrangement is best. All the companies who supplied posters etc were warned that we wouldn't7t be providing security; it was suggested that the art room or book room could be used for valuable displays, but no one took us up on this.
8) Stewards/gophers. These weren't used. Once or twice a day I wandered in and asked people to lend a hand clearing the beer cans etc away and tidying up; it seemed to work reasonably well.
I suspect that there would be more problems with a larger or rowdier con having a lot of day members. Fortunately Beccon was isolated enough for a relaxed policy to work. I don't want to lay down any hard and fast rules for future cons, but it would be a pity if cons went back to the "one empty room with tables" style of games room, or tried to add so many programme items that the players left in disgust. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a games room and an adjoining (possibly lockable) room for panels and workshops if sufficient space was available.
Some ideas for future cons:
1: Model making workshop.
2: Figure making/painting workshop.
3: Improvised theatre (get someone who knows about this to teach players a bit about characterisation).
4: Guest celebrities.
5: Panels on religions and/or ecology for fantasy and SF. Get a theologian, ecologist etc. then see if they can come to any conclusions. A possibility for Jack Cohen's help??
6: Computerised aids to gaming (universe generators etc.); discussions of usefulness, programming etc.
* Games Workshop, Chewton St, Hiltop, Eastwood, Notts (Head Office)
* Games Workshop Design Studios, 16-18 Enfield Chambers, Low Pavement, Nottingham. (White Dwarf etc)
* Steve Dillon, Mersey Leisure Publications, 85 Victoria St, Liverpool L1. (Adventurer magazine)
Games of Liverpool, 89 Victoria St, Liverpool L1 (distributors)
* Sally Meadowes (Publicity), TSR UK Ltd, The Mill, Rathmore Rd, Cambridge, CB1 4AD. (D&D etc)
Virgin Games Centre, 100 Oxford St, London W1
Dixon's Miniatures, Unit 28, Spring Grove Mills, Linthwaite, Huddersfield, W Yorks.
TM Games, Chart House, Station Rd, E. Preston, Littlehampton, W. Sussex BN16 3AG. (James Bond, wargames etc.)
Chris Harvey Games, PO Boc 100, Bath St, Walsall, W. Midlands
Grenadier Models UK Ltd, Babage Rd, Dee Side, Clwyd CH5 2QB
**Steve Jackson Games, Box 18957-Z, Austin, Texas, TX 78760, USA
Game Designers Workshop, PO Box 1646, Bloomington, Illinois 61702-1646, USA
**Mayfair Games, PO Box 48539, Niles, Illinois 60648, USA
West End Games, 251 West 30th St, Suite 11, New York, NY 11001 USA
Chaosium Inc., Box 6302, Albany, CA 94706 USA
Different Worlds Magazine, c/o Sleuth Publications Ltd, 2814-19th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
Dagon Fanzine, c/o Carl Ford, 11 Warwick Rd, Twickemham, Middx TW2 6SW.
Superhero UK Fanzine, c/o Jonathan Clark, 9 Mounthilly Rd, Chapelton, Strathaven ML10 6RU
Imazine Fanzine & Koancon games convention; c/o Paul Mason, 19 Rusholme Rd, Putney, London SW15 3JX
+ Fantasy Chronicles, 3 Lower Fitzwilliam St, Dublin 2, Ireland.
* = Companies/zines providing prizes, publicity materials etc.
**= Companies offering to sponsor games tournaments.
+ = This company gave Beccon some publicity, and purchased some advertising space in exchange for space in their magazine. For various reasons I would not recommend repeating this arrangement.