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Friday, 12 August 2016

A Conventional Hobby

When a man gets onto your train and announces, “You’re in the latest book I’m writing.”, that moment might be the time to start worrying. Fortunately this happened at eight o’clock on the morning of Saturday, 12th March, 2016 and I was on the London Midland 07:54 am train to London, Euston travelling to the village of Wolverton where I was to attend a very pleasant gaming convention. The gaming convention in question was Concrete Cow and fortunately, the author was also attending. The author in question was Simon Burley.

Simon Burley is best known for being the co-designer of Golden Heroes, the Super Hero RPG published by Games Workshop and being the designer of its more recent redesign, Squadron UK. He is also known for the prodigious number of gaming conventions that he attends each year from one weekend to the next, each time trying to referee as many games as he can. Now he has gone from writing his own RPGs to writing about the hobby in the form of Conventional Thinking. This is a guide to gaming conventions here in the UK from September, 2015 to February, 2016, serving as an introduction to the public side of our hobby as opposed to the hobby as we enjoy it at home around our domestic gaming tables.

In actuality, Conventional Thinking is not so much a guide to ten gaming conventions as a guide to the author’s experiences at each of the ten conventions that he attends throughout the course of the six months that the book covers. In each case, he provides not only the obvious such as name, date, location, and times, but also the convention and venue types, number of attendees, and entry cost, as well as his own personal travel and accommodation costs. So he begins in September, 2015 with ReUnicon 2015, a one day event in Brighton, where he stays overnight and as ‘Guest of Honour’, referees two games using his own rules system—one a superhero game, the other based on Doctor Who—and plays a Call of Cthulhu game set in World War Two and attends another eight conventions before book the closes in January, 2016 with Conception, a four-and-a-bit day affair at a holiday camp in Dorset on the south coast. Over the course of the convention the author runs games set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes as well as an anime game. Mr. Burley much prefers to be the referee rather than play games. In the process, his travels take him to Newport in Wales, Sheffield, Telford, Oxford, Dorset—again, London, and Stockport. All easily accessible because being Birmingham based, the author can get to most places in the United Kingdom with relative ease.

In addition to the details about each convention and his costs, the author goes into some depth about his experiences at each, about what he enjoyed and what he did not. This includes what he eats and drinks—the cost of beer being a constant concern—as well as how well each convention is organised. In fact, most of the ten are well organised and all of them are friendly and welcoming, all the more notable because in most cases they are not professionally run events, but organised by enthusiastic amateurs who do a good job on their own time, their efforts not only going towards the attendee’s enjoyment of the event, but also donations to charity that are organised as part of the event, typically a raffle or bring and buy.

As an introduction to an extension of what is a private hobby, Conventional Thinking is a useful little book. After all, taking a pastime that you normally do round the dining room table with your friends and doing it in public with gamers that you do not know, can be a daunting prospect (indeed, I know of gamers who would never think of attending a gaming convention). Thus it provides an introduction to roleplaying on a broader stage with fellow enthusiasts, in the process showcasing what going to convention can be like, though of course from just the one perspective, indicating perhaps that a book from multiple perspectives—for example, both a player and a referee—might not be unwarranted.

One issue with Conventional Thinking is that only covers six months of a year. This means that it misses out on the conventions that happen between February to August. This is intentional, as when this was released in April, 2016, the reader could pick this book up and plan ahead for the events that he might want to attend later in the year. That said, what it means is that does mean is that the author misses out on discussing the largest gaming convention in the United Kingdom, UK Games Expo, now also the fourth largest gaming convention in the world and the hobby’s showcase in this country. Its write-up will just have to wait for volume two.

Also, as much as the book is written in a light and chatty style, essentially that of a diary, it is somewhat scruffy and it really does need a good edit. Nevertheless, Conventional Thinking is a light and engaging read. 

Conventional Thinking highlights the public practice of our hobby and showcases how fun it is, how much effort organisers put into making sure that their conventions are well run and enjoyable, and to an extent, the state of the hobby in the United Kingdom. For anyone wanting to find out what attending a gaming convention is really like, then Conventional Thinking is a sound place to start. It is also a useful resource for anyone who runs a convention and wants to find out how others run theirs  and an even bigger introduction for anyone who wants to set up a gaming convention for others to attend.