First thing, I bet as you (an Australian roleplayer) read through this, you’ll think of some con which does some portion differently. Neat, throw it down in the comments. I can only build a picture from what I know. (Which is one of the points in the us vs. them debates going on at the moment I think).
Australian cons don’t pull the numbers of either Gencon or Origin. Small cons can run at around 50 players, larger cons can get up to 400 players.
A couple of months before the con starts, all the games are put up on a website, with both a textual description of the game and a rating system to help players discover what games they’d like to play. There tend to be games for three sets of groups. Tabletops are five (some cons have six) players sitting around a table. Freeforms are for approximately 15, 20, 30 or 40 players in costume (some people don’t costume, but many do) walking around a room acting out their characters' actions. In con history, freeforms went up to 250 players (for a 500 person con), but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. Multiforms are roughly tabletop sized, but players act in a freeform manner.
One difference from our American cousins is that each game gets its own room, whether that is a tabletop or a freeform. This allows for much shouting and stomping within a game. Possibly this is one of the points which lead to the Australian systemless style of gaming. Systemless gaming is a whole separate topic, so I’ll skim over it here with a quick – systemless gaming is where there is an emphasis on a particular theme of the module and tends to be played without the use of a extrinsic system. The GM arbitrates conflicts and successes where necessary. Often, these are not an important part of the module.
GMs, unless they state otherwise, are understood to want to run for as many sessions as players sign up for. Players pre-register their interest in games, sometimes forming full (five player) or part (two / three player) teams to do so. There is a current trend of the mega team (more than five players) which breaks into five player subteams teams for particular games. Each game might have a different subset of the mega team, depending on which player wants to play what.
In the final week before the con, registration is closed and everyone is scheduled into games. Players might find out they have registered after a game is filled, and there are no spaces available. Games are filled on a first come, first served basis.
There is a registration evening, where players pick up characters, hints and tips on costumes, con badges and fill any holes in their schedule with other games. Freeforms in particular are known for gathering their final few players during Friday night rego.
The con will run over a long weekend (Friday night, through to Monday night), each sessions run for 3 hours, with a 30 to 60 minute break between games. The con will run from 9am through to about 11pm, with the last session of the day being the least popular. Some people see this as extra gaming time and run their session late. There is a food and drink available at the con, but nowadays this tends not to run to full meals. There is an expectation in the air that people will run on chocolate and caffeine for the weekend.
There is a banquet during the con in which players gather together for some food and drink. Because each game will be run multiple times, there are a lot of conversations over the weekend around what happened in your session of a particular game and a lot of anecdoting. Players who haven’t played that game yet will run away when this starts. The con gossip will also start applauding the good games and disparaging the bad. There will be a movement towards filling any gaps good games might have left, although at this stage there is no expectation that there will be more sessions offered.
Prize giving is the last official event of the con. Every game offers a number of trophies and certificates. Again, I’m only going to touch lightly on this topic with a quick – there is a lot of heat about the usefulness of prizes giving and angst about appropriate criteria for a trophy.
After the con is officially over, many people head over to a designated pub, and basically have a wrap-up party. More ancedoting happens, much congratulating of con organisers and GMs (and buying them drinks). There are many drunken game ideas written on the back of a coaster and giggled over. The con organisers start gathering games for next year’s con.
The next day, one final get-together happens for people who have to head to a different city, or have taken that day off work. There is a brunch, where people get together, keep anecdoting, dissecting games and generally dwelling on the fun we’ve all just had.
So, what’s so special about Australian roleplaying conventions?
- Smaller numbers means I am on nodding acquaintances with many of the con goers, makes for a friendly feel
- Games are pre-registered, pre-scheduled
- Games allow for teams of players to play together
- Games are run multiple times, allowing for anecdoting heaven
- There is wide use of systemless gaming (and a variety of systemless games and meanings of the word)
- All games have prize giving
- Afterwards, we party. Then the next day, we party some more