I haven’t been to a gaming convention in 15 years or more, and the last one I went to I organised. Also, I will point it out now just so you can stop reading this if you decide not to like me, I don’t like Birmingham, which is where PaizoCon took place. So, as you can imagine, I was well of practice and out of my comfort zone.
For about 10 minutes.
Lets start at the beginning. The venue. Aston University is located in the city centre. About 15 minutes walk from New Street Station (one hour if you stop by Forbidden Planet on the way there, as I did). The Business School, which is where our rooms were located are extremely smart. A new, clean, modern and with terrific facilities for food and relaxation, welcomes visitors with a rather nice and charming receptionist. If that is not impressive enough, the personnel at the bar and restaurant are also absolutely fantastic. Polite, friendly and terribly helpful, they were always there to answer questions, fetch food at very acceptable times and give any help you could need. The food choice was excellent and the quality of the cooking at a par with that of the building and its staff. It sounds as if they teach business in that building, and they do indeed mean business too!
The rooms were light, spacious, well stocked with strong tables (we’re gamers, we need those!) and comfortable chairs. They could host some 40 to 60 people, all around tables, and not feel terribly squeezed. Water dispensers at the ready, glasses supplied, whiteboards should you choose to use them and an efficient air conditioning system (silent too!) made for a really good gaming environment and I do have proof of that.
Take this test. Throw a bunch of people in a room (they don’t need to be gamers) and let them do whatever they like most for some 11 hours. Then leave the room, wait a couple of minutes and come back in. If the smell doesn’t kick you back, it means the air conditioning system is VERY good. Well… the smell didn’t kick anyone back.
Upon arrival you’re greeted by a smiling and charming Dave who has taken a lot of effort in organising the event. Badges at the ready with everyone’s names on them (Thanks for spelling my surname correctly, by the way. You’re in a very small, yet highly respected minority!). Explanations about how to find everything are given, a table allocated, a character provided, miniature provided and the fun can begin. And it does!
Tables are of around 6 to 8 players with an experienced GM. There are two slots of gaming per day of about 5 hours each. The players are allocated randomly for each session so you’ll have the chance to meet quite a few of the players while you do your adventuring. This works remarkably well considering we’re all perfect strangers. The setup of the adventures and the setting gives a common ground from the moment go, so there is no need for awkward introductions or chance for split objectives that could lead to arguments and disagreements. The second day, though, you’ll have the chance to play with the same people you played the day before, so that gives the perfect chance to swap stories and rekindle conversations and gaming goals.
The adventures are new material designed specifically for these events, sponsored by the Pathfinder Society. How it works is fairly simple. Paizo has organised the Pathfinder Society, which anyone can join for free and has forums, goodies and events. Once you arrive at the event, you have a character that’s “official” and you play the official adventures. Every three games you play, your character goes up a level and, if you manage to sort out all the faction quests, you also get prestige points that allow you to buy materials and magic objects of different value. Once the game if over, the GM will handle some paper to let you know how much gold you get, what magic items you can buy (if you have the cash) and keep a record of your character’s level and prestige. All characters belong to the Pathfinder Society and a faction. Faction goals never collide with another faction’s, so there is no need to argue, but it gives each character a chance to develop further and to interact with other players of the same faction. Terribly clever.
There was also a chance to try an experiment that worked rather well. Basically all the tables were part of the same adventure, but each table was doing something different according to their levels. Accomplishments would help other tables get new items, unlock areas, shut doors, weaken enemies and so on. Achievements were delivered by messengers, who would inform the relevant GM of whatever had happened to aid their table.
Although no doubt hard work for the GMs, it was terrific fun. Hearing screams from another table takes on a new dimension when you know their actions can make your life easier or more difficult, so it is very easy to feel empathy for the rest of the game and wish they do as well as they can (for purely altruistic purposes, of course!).
It was also a pleasure to meet Joshua Frost, the official representative from Paizo and their events organiser, who’s been in a tour of Europe. A really likeable chap only too happy to engage in conversation about anything gaming and Paizo. It does reinforce the general knowledge of Paizo people being real gamers who are just as passionate about the games as we are.
Not all was perfect. On the second year running and with 70 people playing, PaizoCon is a big success that needs a bit more thinking and a bit more space. Bigger rooms wouldn’t go amiss, by the end of the second day, we were very, very noisy. Something other than a badge to remember the day by would be good too. A certificate of attendance, the possibility of buying a t-shirt, access to the adventures run… all those things would make PaizoCon an even more memorable event.
Also going with a friend is recommended. Please note that this is not compulsory and it won’t detract from the enjoyment, but it will enhance it. It is really nice to finish a game and join a friend to talk about the adventure with, specially because it is very unlikely you’ll play them together all the time. However the attendants couldn’t have been any more welcoming and charming. A crowd of anything between 25 and nearly 70 and with a substantial presence of women, this Con is indeed for everyone.
I truly can’t recommend it enough. It is fun, inspiring and well worth every second of the journey!