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Concrete Cow howto

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If you're thinking about organising your own RPG mini-con, I really encourage you to go ahead and do it. Concrete Cow is remarkably easy to organise. In fact, it's quite surprising just how little work it is make everything come together. Importantly, it doesn't require any great outlay of cash for a really good day of gaming.

This page is a quick how-to guide that should help you get everything together for your own mini-con. It's pretty much our distilled wisdom on running Concrete Cow.

Start small and grow

This, I think, is the most important thing. Organising a 200+ member event, over 3-5 days, is a big logistical headache and it'll be difficult to get it to critical mass if you don't have a reputation. Start with something much smaller and easier, and allow the event to grow as it becomes more widely-known. A couple of dozen people for a single day is a good way to start.

Pick a date

This is actually the hardest part. There are quite a few gaming events on throughout they year, so finding a date that's not too close to an existing event can be a challenge. Lists of conventions are maintained by Phil Masters and Dave McAlister at UK Roleplayers. Pick a spot in the calendar and then tell Phil and Dave about it. Hopefully, Phil will put it on his webpage and Dave will add it to his calendar. These guys do a sterling job of making people aware of your event.

At least at first, stick with a one-day event. If you make it longer, you have to start thinking about organising (or at least finding) accommodation, bars, and the like. That's just hassle for no guaranteed benefit. You can always expand to something bigger and longer later.

Pick a location

For your first run, aim for having a few dozen people attend. That means you don't need a lot of space. Pubs are a good place to start. If you can find a quiet, out-of-the-way pub, you can probably talk the landlord into letting you have a back room for free, on the understanding you'll be bringing in a few dozen extra punters who'll be eating and drinking all day.

The main criterion is that you want to keep the gamers away from the mundanes. The first Concrete Cow was in the back of a pub, but ordinary people were sitting at tables next to gamers. That made some people uncomfortable.

If you're going to hire some space, make sure it's not more expensive than you (and your friends...) can afford to pay for if no-one turns up. Ideally, you want somewhere with lots of little rooms rather than one big hall. If you put five or six tables of rowdy gamers in a single, echoy hall, you very quickly get to the stage where no-one can hear anyone else.

If you are paying for space, you'll need to charge people for attending. If you get 20 people for your first showing, each paying £5.00 for the day (about the most you can charge), that only gives you £100 for room hire. That's not a lot.

Find a name

Always a good plan. Call your games day something short and memorable.

Safety

Physical health and safety should be covered by the venue, but you should ask about risks and procedures in the venue. This feeds into arranging insurance, below.

The other part is the wellbeing of the attendees, particularly with reference to other attendees. Make sure you have a code of conduct and/or harassment policy, and have thought about how you'll enforce it and deal with complaints. Try to have diversity in the group of people nominated to deal with complaints. Publish the information on the event website. Don't give the impression that safety and behaviour standards are an afterthought or will be treated casually.

Insurance

Check with the venue about Public Liability Insurance. Most venues will have insurance that covers your event. If not, you'll need to arrange your own; the venue should be able to advise you. Concrete Cow is covered by the MK RPG club's existing insurance, so I don't know about this.

Advertise!

People will only come to your games day if they know about it. You need to put the word out, and continue to put it out.

The first thing is to write an announcement for your mini-con. Post it to some website somewhere. Then, post the announcement to every forum and social media outlet you can think of. See the 'Want to know more' section of the Concrete Cow announcement for some pointers. Every time you have some news, or even if you don't, post an update to the forums to keep the event fresh in people's minds.

Create homes for content. Ask UK Roleplayers if they'll host a forum for your event. Create accounts and groups on social media (Facebook, Google+, etc.) for discussions.

Tell all your gaming friends to tell all their gaming friends about the con. Make sure they're all coming.

If you can, put up flyers for your con in local games shops, branches of Waterstones, and the like. If you've got a Games Workshop nearby, talk to the manager. Send flyers to other cons. Distribute their flyers at your con.

Create a Google Alert for the name of your con. That way, as soon as Google notices a post somewhere about your con, they'll send you an email and you can join in the discussion. Make sure to always engage positively.

Invite guests and gamers

The bigger the day, the more people will come. If there are plenty of games on offer for the day, people are more likely to find something they'll want to play, and so the more likely they are to come. Ask people to tell you what games they'll be offering, and make sure to publicise them on the BBSs and your website.

Various games companies, such as Pinnacle Entertainment, Steve Jackson Games, and Cubicle 7, have dedicated demo teams. Drop them a line to see if they can send someone along. If they do, advertise some more!

Traders

To be honest, don't. You're unlikely to have enough people to make it really worth the trader's time, and I don't like wasting people's time. Even a bring-and-buy stall requires someone to staff it all day.

That said, if there's someone who really wants to come and sell some stuff, go for it! It's another great thing to put on your publicity. Make sure they understand what the event will be like before they commit to it. Ask them what you can do for them to make their day better: the good suggestions will make the day better for everyone, including you. If you have a trader, make sure to advertise the fact.

Make a point of asking the trader how their day is going, and how your event could be better. They've seen a lot more of these events than you have, and been behind the curtain of a lot of them. Traders know a lot about good and bad practices of running an event, so make sure you heed that advice.

On the day

There are a few things to do on the day to help things go smoothly. None of these are essential. If you can spread the preparation among a few people, that'll make your life easier.

Signs
If you can, put up some signs nearby so that drivers can find your location. Print them on ordinary paper and laminate them, and they'll last the day. Blu-tack is fine for sticking them up.
Print some name badges
Just get a sheet (or roll) of sticky labels. If you have a logo, you can always get some printer-friendly label sheets and print the logo on each one. Labels also make a good receipt if you charge an entrance fee.
Sign-up sheets
A few generic sign-up sheets for the games. Nothing fancy.
Internal notices
Put up some notes about things such as times of game slots, location of nearest food/drink, code of conduct and harassment policy, etc. It will deflect some (but not all!) of the questions about these things.
A float
You'll need change if you're asking for money. People will wave £20 notes at you quite expectant of change.
Pen, paper, etc.
People never have enough of these. Bring along some spares if you can. You'll need marker pens for people to put their names on their labels.
Enjoy it!
It's a gaming day! Play some games and enjoy the atmosphere.

Don't do too much

I was once advised that you shouldn't do too much. Everything you, as a con organiser, put in place, organise, or provide is another opportunity for someone to complain. Paradoxically, if you don't do things for people, they'll do them themselves and perhaps develop a community spirit. This is the main reason I've resisted pre-registration and advance booking in all its forms.

Ask for feedback

This is important. Before, during, and after the day, make a point of asking people what you could do better. You'll get some amazing ideas. Remember them, and act on them. All our best ideas for Concrete Cow came from other people.

Wrapping up

That's it. There are a few things to remember, but nothing is particularly onerous. The main thing to remember is not to bite off more than you can chew.

If you want to organise your own mini-con, go for it! It's a great feeling to see a bunch of happy gamers in a room, knowing you had something to do with making it happen. If you've got any questions or comments about Concrete Cow, or organising your own con, drop us a line.

See also

You can read some other advice on running conventions in an archived conversation on Con organisation from Usenet or John Stavropoulos' notes on How to Run Safer, Accessible, and Inclusive Game Conventions.