Saturday, 16 August 2014

And So...Worldcon

Never been to a Worldcon before, indeed, it’s not often that they’re actually close enough for me to think about attending them, this being the first one in my lifetime to be held in London.  So it was a no brainer that I’d volunteer to help where at all possible.

I travelled down on the Thursday Evening to stay with an old friend (As in I’ve known her for a long time, not that’s she’s old J ), and between dropping off Tiny Wife to see one of her friends in Hemel and then somehow having the Satnav believe that the best way to get to Lewisham from Hemel was right through the middle of London, I arrived late, and spent probably longer than would have been sensible catching up with Sarah, but if you don't catch up with friends when you're with them, what's the point?

Up early and out to the postcode given as the right one to arrive in and it was at that point that I realised the scale of the place that had been picked to host Loncon.  The Excel Centre in London is colossal, in the way that men think of Gods as, and it was only when I arrived at the west end of it that I was told that the convention was going on at the east end…

One mile later…

I was down to assist in a few panels, only one of which I could actually manage when all was said and done, with the problem of having to work on Saturday and Sunday precluding my attending the rest of the con and assisting with all the other panels, but I was also there to provide support to the gaming tent, and in this I was not alone, with Simon Burley of Squadron UK and Gary Loveridge also volunteering their talents to help out.  I had just enough time to meet up with the RP Haven and their enthusiastic Leader Garry Harper before I had to depart to the panel I was supposed to be helping with.

The Exceptional Girl Warrior

A brief note on the panels I’d been asked to help with, they had the feel of being panels that were randomly selected rather than things that I could actually help on. This panel was aimed towards young adults and there were four women on the panel, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Elizabeth Waters and Kate Elliott, all of whom were published, knew each other, and all of whom had strong opinions on the matter.  The audience usually waited for them to finish and then went straight on with the next question before I said anything and I do think that I was more there as the Token Guy on the Panel.  Did my best to help out, but did feel somewhat surplus to requirements, wasn't one of my specialist subjects and while it certainly wasn't the ladies fault and they did do their best to keep me involved, I’d just have been happier watching the panel rather than getting in the way.

Still, Panel fail notwithstanding, I’d had several conversations with people outside, including Bernice, one of the only South African Delegates to be attending the convention, and a committed reader of many different things with strong opinions on the matter.  Twenty minutes went by like as many seconds and I realised that part of the joy of Worldcon is that it really is for people who don’t normally go to conventions, but have strong interests that aren’t shared by the average person on the street.  I came out of the panel feeling a little down at not being able to contribute more, but as I got down to the bottom of the stairs, I got a call from Tony “Hurricane” Hyams saying that he’d got out of the panel he’d been in and we caught up.

For those who don’t know, Tony is one of the Directors at UK Games Expo, and upon finding out that I was helping out at Worldcon, came down to lend a hand himself and catch up with me while he was there.

For those wondering why he’s called “Hurricane”… Come to Expo and ask him… Or better yet just watch...  J

So we went down to the Games Tent and started running a few games, got a couple of Games of Smash up in for people, taught a number of other games and then took a brief walk around the Convention to see what else was going on. 

Books it seems…

Books were certainly going on…

Readers too, and that was the other wonderful thing about the convention, practically everyone I talked to was a committed reader, and had a list of what they were reading and what they were waiting on reading, and they were happy to talk about all different subjects as well as their own.  Now granted I didn’t go wandering into the hard science panels (unlike the Hurricane, who came out looking nervous…), but I did wander around the rest of the convention and talked to whole bunch of people, most of whom were there because it was the only time that they too were going to be able to get to a Worldcon.

I ran a game in the afternoon starting at two that was scheduled to run for three hours and when all five players sat down, three of them said “I have to be gone for three for another panel I’m going to, you do understand don’t you?”

Well, Yes I understand, not ideal, but I’ll do what I can…

To a man they forgot they were going to another panel at three and a good game was had, it’s joyous to see people who aren’t familiar with roleplaying sit down at a table and get properly immersed in the game for the first time, doing what they want to do rather than what they think that they themselves can do.  I found out shortly after I started on the last panel of the day that they’d closed a number of roads on the way back, necessitating that I cut my involvement as Garry’s wingman on the “How to GM” panel short, which was a shame as I was really enjoying that.

The Hurricane was outside on a beanbag, having discovered the scientific miracle of cider…

And so we set off home, got out of Excel at 17:30, got home at 23:30 on a trip that should have been done in less than four hours and then back up again for work at 05:45, which is something that I have to point out to all concerned, massive travel followed by early start at work, not recommended, really not…

The low points of the convention were only two, the first being my lack of contribution to the panel in the morning (Which in retrospective, I shouldn’t have been on, but when asked to help, you tend to help don’t you?), and the second being the food in the games area, which was half raw and I’m still suffering from the effects of that now, even after taking the first burger back, which was stripy down the middle and getting another one, which was warm, but by all accounts, not cooked properly…

The high points were many, lots of cheerful people all loving science fiction under one roof, lots of different activities ongoing to cater for any one of a hundred different aspects of Science Fiction, and most importantly, everyone was enthusiastic, there weren’t groups of people sitting in a corner waiting for the end of the day, absolutely everyone who was there wanted to be there.

And in the end, I learned a few things, which will certainly help me for the future planning at Expo.

1)      Beginners to Roleplaying have no interest in putting aside three hours to play a game, they don’t understand how involved you can get in something till they find themselves in the game and wanting to do more.
2)      It’s possible to put board and RPG in the same area and not have them react like you’ve just crossed the streams, you’ve just got to be careful that there’s a slow blur between where each one of them is (usually by bridging the gap with CCG players).
3)      Strict planning is a good thing, allowing people to get from one thing to another is even more important if you want everyone to have all the things they wanted.
4)      Never again will I listen to a complaint about Food at Expo after that Burger…


Given that the next Worldcon is in Washington, I may be missing it, but when one gets closer, I’ll certainly be taking a look, very well organised and my congratulations to those involved as it’s clearly taken a lot of work to get to this stage and the results were very much worth it.

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