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This one comes from the heart.
A few weeks ago, I hosted another 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“1e”) game at my home. The group spent over an hour at the start of the session just reminiscing about the good old days when most of us first met. This was during the era of 4th Edition. Inevitably, the subject of synDCon came up. synDCon was the gaming convention financed primarily by Vic and me. The two of us did almost all the work of running the convention once it began. It was large enough that we had everything represented (see below), yet still maintained the coziness of conventions like Winter Fantasy.
synDCon Was Awesome
I need to put my modesty aside for a bit and say that we pulled off something magical (pun absolutely intended). In our first year, we took advantage of a holiday and put on a four-day convention. We provided tons of organized play: Living Forgotten Realms (4e), Pathfinder Society, and Heroes of Rokugan (Legend of the Five Rings). We also had individual games from less popular RPGs being run here and there, tons of card games (including, of course, Magic the Gathering), tons of board games, and we were the official DC-area convention for Munchkin. We had special events, a LARP, dungeon delves I wrote based on classic 1e adventures, and live music on Saturday night for one of the cons. Our slots were staggered so that slots didn’t start every four hours but rather every two hours. If you wanted to sleep in a bit, you could. You’d just start playing at 11 am instead of 9 am, but there were enough 2-hour slots of other things to do that you could still get three slots of gaming in.
It wasn’t run in a convention center, nor in the basement of a mediocre hotel, but rather in a really nice “hotel and executive meeting center” right across the street from a Metro (subway) stop in Rockville, Maryland. As the county seat for Montgomery County, there were tons of restaurants, et al. in the area, including a gaming store down the street. Of course, we had a gaming store as our in-convention vendor both years, and we generated about 200 attendees both years. Our attendees represented everywhere in the United States east of the Mississippi (e.g., Florida, Georgia, and Ohio), but we gave an award to a guy named Matt for having come the farthest for the con (Alaska).
We had tremendous support from volunteers that helped organize the detail while Vic and I focused on the big picture, and we’re forever indebted to those friends, but I’ll be damned if my feet weren’t atrociously sore by the end of both cons.
Seriously, it was stupendous, and everyone that attended and commented on it said so.
A Slight Diversion Before My Point
I’ve been thinking of doing something other than a Vegas blackjack trip for my fall vacation – I say this every year, so we’ll see if I follow through – and was considering an RPG gaming convention instead. Because I wanted to play 1e, I was initially thinking about GaryCon, but a friend pushed me towards GameholeCon. It was an easy sell because the timing would be better. GaryCon would interfere with Winter Fantasy, but GameholeCon would slide right into the Vegas slot (again, pun absolutely intended). The trouble is that Winter Fantasy and synDCon have spoiled me. I have no intention of going to a convention and paying between $100 and $200 per night for my hotel room if I’m staying at least 2 miles from the convention. That’s ridiculous. It’s like GenCon on a smaller scale. The city is obviously not big enough to handle the convention. So, I decided to look into other options.
There Aren’t Any
Sadly, I went through all my options I could find online, and nothing quite matches the magic of Winter Fantasy or synDCon as far as I can tell. The lists were not complete – Winter Fantasy wasn’t even mentioned (?!) – so maybe there are some other cons out there, but I can’t find them. The cons are at least one of the following: in an inconvenient or excessively crowded location, lack inexpensive parking, or focused on only a few things (usually the shiny new things of the day). Some are also not “cozy,” which I define as between 200 and 350 people. It’s large enough that there can be plenty to do, and you can meet new people, but small enough that you’ll always be able to find your friends and hang out with them. Winter Fantasy doesn’t even satisfy all of these characteristics perfectly – I tried to run 1e but only one ticket for only one slot of three was sold – but it’s as close to perfect as I think practical for a cozy con. It’s also in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I’m fine going out there, and I will every year they’ll have me, but I find it odd that an area with as big a gaming community as DC doesn’t have something like this.
And this is my point. DC needs a convention like synDCon or Winter Fantasy. Such a con isn’t going to hit the radar scope of the big players (i.e., Wizards of the Coast and Paizo), but it’ll appeal to plenty of players. The DC area is filled with them. Our Gamers’ Syndicate gaming club had over 200 people that identified as members, and we ran game days every single weekend in as many as five gaming stores at a time. While organizing synDCon, I learned of several other groups just as large that had never even heard of us. They were organizing at other stores. This area has an abundance of gamers, and I suspect there are even more here over 10 years later.
Will There Be a synDCon III?
That’s the magic question. I’m happy to organize it, but as we discussed at the game session, my demands are high. First off, I want to do it right or not do it at all. I’m not willing to put together a con in “the basement of the Best Western.” No offense to the chain in general, but that happens to be a hotel we visited that would be the site of a con not worth having. It was downright gross but not unlike venues of cons I’ve attended in the early 2000s. No thanks. Second, having learned from my experiences with the first two, the only way I’d do it is if I had a number of additional owners willing to slap down cashier’s checks for at least $2,000 each (or more depending on how many people commit) and having signed an operating agreement that prevents them from every cashing out that initial investment. That is, I need a sizeable stable of people willing to commit whole-heartedly so that I know I’ll have both the funds and the work ethic necessary to make this doable. Trust me when I say that it’s not enough that someone throw money at me. I need to know that they’re committed to doing the work necessary to pull off a great con. Because it’s been over 10 years, I don’t know what the minimum acceptable number of owners would be, especially without knowing exactly how much each would be willing to contribute up front, but I do know $2,000 is enough to motivate most gamers to stay the course and do what they could not to throw that money away. Any of them willing to drop $2,000 are likely to take it seriously.
Another thing I remember is that no one wanted to be the guy, the “convention coordinator” or CEO who had to make the calls when weird situations arose. While I’m happy to be that guy, I’m not willing to be the one that puts out the feelers (beyond this post, I guess) and see if there’s interest. If I thought my odds were better than 50% of finding such interest, I would, but I don’t think there are enough people willing to make this kind of commitment, so why bother trying? I did my part for king and country, and wound up with a small, overworked group. If this is meant to be, then someone else will have to get the ball rolling. So, while I’m not the one destined to put this together, I strongly suspect there’s a market for it, and my recent thoughts and conversations on the matter sure leave me wishing someone would.
If that’s you, drop me an email when you think you’ve got something real.
Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Vic @Luddite_Vic