IntrigueCon: A History in Buttons
IntrigueCon: A History in Buttons
Author: Daniel Hodges Category: Articles
When is a button no longer just a button?
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS ONLY DARKNESS...
The story of IntrigueCon begins in April of 2013. The four of us had been playing together off and on since the early aughts and, in a bit of down-time during one of our regular sessions, we got to talking about going to conventions. We'd been to some, sure, but nothing regularly. As is probably true for most roleplayers, the main obstacle, we agreed, was cost.
Being a relatively obscure pastime meant that there weren’t many events that catered to roleplaying and there certainly weren’t any near us, were there? So we, uncharacteristically, unanimously agreed we should run one right here in Edmonton, after all, it’d be pretty easy to put on a roleplaying convention. As it turned out we were wrong, on both counts. Running a convention wasn’t quite that easy, and we discovered that there were, not one, but two dedicated roleplaying conventions, in the area, Nerdly North at Camp Maskepetoon on Pigeon Lake, and UndergroundCon just down the QE2, in Calgary.
Instead of packing it in before we’d really started though, we decided to use Underground, as an opportunity to learn as much as we could about running a con under similar circumstances i.e. for Albertans in a city of about 1 million people (rather than a live-in con over a weekend). In hindsight it’s lucky a couple of us did make the trip down the QE2 that June morning. UndergroundCon did not return in 2014, nor has it since.
So, on October 18th, 2013, when IntrigueCon opened its doors, we had no idea it had already become, the largest dedicated roleplaying convention in Alberta. This is, of course, not to say there aren’t larger cons at which roleplaying is a part, but, to the best of our knowledge, aside from Nerdly North, there aren’t any others where roleplaying games are front and centre.
While we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years, we’re also well aware that our relative success is, in a lot of ways, tied to one of the major challenges (and subsequently goals) of running a roleplaying convention: bringing roleplayers together. While we were actually pretty lucky not to face any serious logistical problems, the real challenge turned out to be finding ways to reach people to let them know the event was on.
In these times of ubiquitous internet, it might seem counter-intuitive that reaching people was the biggest hurdle, but consider this: people who have formed a stable roleplaying group might well go online to chat about roleplaying, but they are unlikely to go to places targetted at people looking for home games.This meant that, although we could find places dedicated to helping Edmonton roleplayers form new groups, the vast majority of roleplayers in and around the city would never go there.
The second problem was created by the impact of ebusiness. Once upon a time lots of shops would carry a few roleplaying books or related items and even those people with regular groups would go there from time to time. So you could reach them by putting up some posters in those places for when they came to get new supplies or check out the latest games. Now though, because most people buy their stuff online, that avenue also provides minimal returns.
It’s true that there are now many Tabletop cafe’s in the city, but back in 2013 there weren’t any. In fact, I wrote to Brian Flowers, owner of the first boardgaming cafe in Edmonton to see if he wanted to publicize his new business at our first con but, due to delays, he wasn’t even open yet. Since then many have opened and we have taken the opportunity to advertise there but, we’ve found over the years that board gamers aren’t necessarily roleplayers and and central hub still eludes us.
Anyway, when you put these two challenges together, it’s easy to see why a significant number of the hours put into establishing the con were, and still are, spent on finding small pockets of roleplayers within the city.
IntrigueCon 0.1, as we called it, was held in 2013 at the Lansdowne Community League Hall. It was a proof of concept and we hadn’t at this point begun to produce buttons. They were, however, being earned.
Although the event was a success in terms of attendance and feedback from participants, financially it was a failure. It was particularly dispiriting when we met for dinner after the con to discuss how, after all the hours of work, we were all about to get a hefty bill for the privilege of doing it. In short, after that meeting we decided that there was not going to be an IntrigueCon 2014 unless we could do something about it. Something significant had to change.
First,we agreed it was unlikely that we were going to double the number of attendees in the next year. With that in the front of our minds, we were left with only two options: double the price for players or, ask everyone attending to contribute equally to running the event. We opted for the latter, and we’ve unapologetically stood behind the philosophical position that everyone in the game needs everyone else. GMs enjoy GMing and players enjoy playing and, as both enjoy having a con to attend, both should contribute to making that possible. Having said that, we absolutely recognise that GMs do more preparation for the event and so, over the years, we’ve tried to do little things to recognise that.
In future we will find a way to offer tiered registrations and GM discounts but every complexity we add, increases the amount of administration time required to run the con. Although we've put on seven events, we're still learning things and each con presents new challenges that supercede fixing something that's currently not broken. If costs for registering at the event were simlar to others in the city we'd look much more carefully at making payment more granular, but,for now, we operate from a simple principle that people would rather pay a few extra dollars each year than pay less one year and the con fold the next.
In our second year Lansdowne Hall was undergoing a major renovation which meant that we had to find a new venue. We settled for Brookside Community League Hall. The event took place October 24-25 2014 with an attendance of 40.
Asking everyone in attendance to contribute worked, and we almost broke even, going in the hole to the tune of the cost of the complimentary coffee we provided (a generous attendee insisted on buying the tea bags we tried to give them!).
2014 also marked the first year we had buttons, and there were four:
This was our first button, even though we handed it out in our second year. If you see someone wearing one of these it means they were one of the 31 attendees at the very first IntrigueCon; one the Original 31.
You’ll notice that even though 2014 was the second year of the con centre of the button reads “1”. Because we put the first con together very quickly as a proof of concept the first con was actually called IntrigueCon 0.1.
Although we’re firm believers that Game Masters run games because they want to run games we still try to do a little something extra to recognise our GMs. In 2014, and beyond, one of those things has been a button exclusively for everyone that runs a game.
Since 2014, this button has been awarded to folks who’ve gone over and above to help make the con better for everyone. Whether it be hanging around after the con to help clean the venue, doing promotional work, or coming to our rescue in many and varied ways, these people are ICon All Stars.
2015 saw the convention return to the newly renovated Lansdowne Community Hall. Now a much bigger and state-of-the-art building our attendance swelled to 60 people and ran from October 16-18.
A third year attendance button with only a two in the middle…? What is this witchcraft? We consider 2014 our first proper year of the con hence the “2”.
Awarded to people who ran games at IntrigueCon 2 in 2015. There was a lot of back and forth over this button. I guess we, uncharacteristically, had a bit of time on our hands. Anyway, in my head the button represented the face of a king.
You be the judge…
2015 Hat Trick
This button went to everyone who completed a “hat trick” of IntrigueCons. As it was only the third year of our existence it went to people who’d been to the first three cons.
The rejected version had three bullet holes.
2015 Full XP Bar
2015 was the first year the convention ran for three days: Friday through Sunday. So to recognise attendees that signed up and played, or ran, a game in every session we awarded them with the “full xp bar” button. We didn’t keep track of exactly how many of these were issued, but a surprising number of attendees came out for the whole shooting match. The four sections of the bar represent the four sessions, but there were five, and we won’t dwell on that… moving along.
One of the fixtures of IntrigueCon is Sſtabmontown, a brutal, but fun, Old School Dungeons & Dragons game run by Adam Waldron-Blaine. At some point every IConner worth their salt should play it. When you do, you get the #sstabz button to show you’ve had your mettle tested, and met the challenge!
Fun fact! There was actually an IntrigueCon 0.5 which consisted of about ten of us getting together in April 2014, playing Sſtabmontown, and making plans for the event that would become IntrigueCon 1 that October.
Having outgrown the Lansdowne Hall we moved to the Parkdale/Cromdale Hall. Although our attendance was up, 65 people came, we were told that the location of the event was a problem for more than a few potential attendees. Even so, we were very happy with the venue and the way the con ran in general. 2016 also featured the first theme This way to certain death.
The third official year of the con marked the introduction of themes to the event. The first “This way to certain death!” was not as heavily publicized as it should have been (we didn’t really do it at all) but we had one, by gum, and it played into our first theme button.
Judge… and if we’re honest, jury and executioner. The 2016 GM’s were encouraged to work in the theme for the year (see above) and some really embraced the idea. GM Graeme Comyn won the award for “most deaths” in his game of Operation: Fallen Reich where he killed everyone… and their dog… twice.
2016 Four Elements
Like the ancient Greeks, IntrigueCon recognises only four elements. Attendees of the first four conventions received a button infused with these elements so they might better carry the power of the con through to next year and beyond.
The theme for the con was used as the basis for the first IntrigueCon bingo. “This way to certain death” inspired the Death button which was awarded to people who completed their bingo card.
It's 2017 and we were in our third building in three years. This time we had intentionally gone for a venue as close to the middle of Edmonton as we could without looking at commercial spaces. The Queen Alexandra Community Hall fitted us perfectly and it, apparently, fitted attendees too with over 80 showing up for the weekend, comfortably the largest turnout yet.
Our theme this year: "Glory is Fleeting but obscurity lasts forever."
Convention 5 but button four. It's an easter-egg for those who've read this far. Enjoy! You're welcome.
A button and a mini-map! It's a double threat in paper and metal. Awarded to people who ran or facilitated games at IntrigueCon 2017.
Probably one of the most important aspects of promoting the con is word of mouth. The third of our permanent buttons, it's awarded to anyone who brings a friend with them to IntrigueCon.
I Cthu-Cthu-Cthoose You!
Over the years a lot of Call of Cthulhu has been run at the con, probably more than any other game. This perma-button is awarded to anyone who takes their chances with the Great Old Ones.
Taken from the Napoleon quote, the theme this year was an inducement for players to do the most interesting things they could with their characters. Although it was the theme for 2017, it's a great way to approach every con game in every year.
Fun Fact: that says "i 4" over the little fellas right shoulder rather than 14, as a reference to Bastille day.
Fun Fact about the fun fact: Napoleon was of average height for his time.
The White Hand
A signifier that the possessor has attended all five of October conventions. Each year there are fewer and fewer of us until there will be only, well, four, or something.
Three year either in a row or altogether. Posessors of this button have attended three of the October events.
Although we'd talked about doing it for years (and did it in a minor way in 2014) 2018 was the first year we committed.
The Fellowship of the Spring
The Fellowship of the Spring was a return to our roots in a way. Held in Lansdowne Hall we set a maximum attendance of 52, which we comforatably filled. The event's success bodes well for the future of a regular spring con.