Syn-Duh-Con: A Review, A Takeaway, A Lengthy Blather

I wasn’t supposed to go to SynDCon this year, as I had already attended my annual gaming convention, TempleCon, had a great pile of fun, and didn’t want to push my luck or spend piles of money I didn’t technically have. However, two weeks before it started, a DM I know from Meetup.com sent out a global alert/invite/threat saying he’d be going and would love to see everyone in his address book there. I thought about it for approximately 11 seconds and then fired off a text message to my best friend Dave in Rhode Island and said, “Gaming? Convention? Rockville? Maryland? Yes?” He was supposed to say, “Don’t be an idiot,” and then list hundreds of reasons why it’s a terrible idea. Instead, he agreed to be an idiot with me, and even bring along his son Mason, and suddenly the three of us were signed up for SynDCon.

For reasons that never became clear, everybody–attendees, organizers, mystified muggle hotel guest, and lunatic drivers killing pedestrians on Rockville Pike–pronounce SynDCon with an extra syllable, as in Syn-Duh-Con. I’m not really sure why, just as I’m not sure I have much advice or insight into the particular convention, except to say that if you find yourself sharing a hotel room with a professional grade snorer, your best bet is to smother him with a pillow on the first night. Unless it’s me. If it’s me, please leave me alone, because I’ve finally gotten to sleep (despite the world’s noisiest air conditioning unit), and I have a game the next morning at 8 AM. What was I thinking?

I am by no means a convention veteran, though I have been to enough to figure out what I like and what I don’t like, and SynDCon is one I like. Quite a lot. It could probably be described as modest, cozy, focused, and other not-so-flattering words for small, but this doesn’t matter to me, since I had more than enough time to play me some games and roll me some dice. I have found that the true tragedy of convention is there is a finite amount of time to actually play, and once I factor in sleeping, eating, washing, and staring off into space, I might have about a half-dozen games you can attend. And I’m rootin’-tootin’ okay with that. Sure, the glue-damaged part of my brain might think, “I’m going to this fancy hotel and I will play 152 games,” but the reality is, I will play in a handful and I will be happy.

So, what specifically did I like about SynDCon? A fair question. Here, have some bullets:

  • Painless Registration. This may be a result of the appendectomy-without-anesthesia experience at my last convention, but Rob Bodine ran a very tight ship, processing us dice-clenching nerds with excellent efficiency. Even when there was a problem with Mason’s registration, Rob and his minions sorted everything out, getting us to our first game without delay.
  • Game Variation. There were plenty of games to choose from, and these were smeared all over the weekend, allowing us to select the most games in the available time. Of course, there were conflicts, and that meant picking this one instead of that that one, but I nailed down each one of my first choices.
  • Convention XP. I was comprehensively impressed by the quality of the games and the game masters, and came away from each one with many “Remember that time…?” moments to share with Dave and Mason. In Blue Wounds, my halfling scout and the gnome warlock rained tiny death onto demonic aberrants. In the old school AD&D delves, we faced inevitable annihilated under the poisoned fangs of the queen of the demonweb pits and her swarm babies, and then battled a host of Fiend Folio foolishness. In the Living Divine Select Event, we took on the almighty mantle of godhood, though we hid it under a low-rolling facade of ineptitude. And finally, we traveled to Gamma World, where we clashed with the worst, most disgusting fiends in the known world: New York Yankee fans. In this one, I played Pixar, a sentient hopping lamp who carried a .45 in his prehensile cord. Lovely.
  • Book Learnin’. In the past, I’ve avoided seminars and workshops at conventions, with the expectation that they would take away valuable time from my dice-rolling and monster-killing. This time, I attended a Getting Published seminar and a Writing workshop, and loved every magnificent moment of both. I learned a ton, no question, but I also got to see and interact with people who were just as stupid-excited about this whole writing thing as I am. Passion is always a good thing, and it’s really easy to catch with moderate exposure.

All of that said, was there anything about SynDCon that was more of a groin kick? Well, yes, and it looks like I have a few bullets left:

  • RPGA Song and Dance. Nearly every SynDCon game was coated in a heavy layer of “organized play,” which is all well and good if you lived in and clearly understand that world, but we didn’t, and wound up missing our first game because we didn’t have approved characters… or any, for that matter. I spent a good deal of time asking fundamental, atomic level questions: Are pre-gens provided? Where do I get my characters? What are the rules for creating them? What would you do I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? I don’t have a problem with RPGA and organized play, but it was an alien world to me, and Dave, Mason, and I seemed to be the only ones carrying a jug of ignorance.
  • What? WHAT? Once again, this is a result of my previous con experience, but I was spoiled by separate conference rooms at TempleCon, and so I didn’t have to deal with seven other tables of shouting, shrieking, howling, laughing gamers, meaning I could only hear one out of every three words. I’m talking in “perfect world” terms now, but with unlimited resources and expense no issue, it would have been nice to have big rooms with only three games going on at a time.
  • Death is not Fun I’ll admit, a convention is the perfect time for one-shots, allowing me to avoid emotional entanglements with a character I’ll probably never play again, but still, I had trouble with the pointy-toothed glee exhibited by some DMs as they slaughtered us PCs wholesale. I’m not saying the DMs have to hold a moment of silence and shed a single tragic tear when he kills us, but… giggling? Really?

At the opening ceremony, organizer Vic Morales rather grandly proclaimed his intention to build SynDCon into a defining convention on the East Coast, but you know, this isn’t just rah-rah bluster. This was only its second year, but SynDCon had the feel of a long-term and established convention, intimate but not unimportant. Having gone to the convention, I can honestly report, they’re doing just about everything right, and when I left on Sunday, I wanted to start planning my next con. That feels like a success to me.

Comments

  1. “because we didn’t have approved characters”
    Aw, I am so sorry to hear that. I am a big fan of RPGA organized play, and each of the campaigns at SynDCon had pregens. I have set up a page here on ENWorld that walks through the options for Organized Play.

  2. Drat! Too bad I’m on the West Coast’ish, sounds like it was fun. I definitely have some lessons to learn about conventions…

    I’ve never really been interested in RPGA stuff, but I guess I should at least try it out.

  3. This is Rob Bodine, one of the convention organizers. Thanks for your kind words. I want to address your groin kicks.

    1. RPGA Song and Dance

    Every business has a base, and the RPGA is ours. Our secondary bases are Pathfinder Society and Heroes of Rokugan (unfortunately absent this year), both of which are also living campaigns, and not surprisingly we’re starting our own living campaign, and hosted two others, Ashes of Athas and Living Divine. That’s a lot of living campaigns, which is understandable considering our starting point. However, we made great strides in other areas. We offered a ton of Savage Worlds, which made us feel good about our non-living campaign component. We also offered a few other non-living campaign RPGs, though they were hit-and-miss. We still have a way to go to be more inclusive, but if you had attended synDCon 2010, you’d have seen just how far we came in only our second year. Don’t worry. We’re working on it. In fact, we had our first synDCon 2012 planning meeting tonight, one week after the event. This came up, and at one point I was reading this post aloud to the group so that we could address both your likes and groin kicks.

    2. What? What?

    I have no idea how to solve that. While I can’t speak to the con you mentioned, no convention can financially sustain itself over time if they’re consistently putting no more than three tables in a room that fits 8 or more. The numbers just don’t add up. In fact, there are few cons that can pull off what we did: using a bunch of small rooms rather than cramming hundreds of people into a single grand ballroom. As we grow to a huge size, we’ll inevitably have to do that.

    3. Death Is Not Fun

    It appears you didn’t think this was worth complaining about to staff, which is both good and bad. I’m glad it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I wish you had said something. There’s nothing wrong with reporting this because it doesn’t have to rise to the level of a *chastising* of the judge. Ultimately, this is one of those situations that’s impossible to avoid. Being a judge at a convention means you have to be many things to many types of gamers. In a perfect world, everyone judging for organized play or at conventions would at least consider my blog post, http://www.loremaster.org/entry.php/17-DMing-for-Organized-Public-Play-Player-Types , but I can’t force it on them.

    FYI, the reason it’s pronounced SYN-duh-con is because the Gamers’ Syndicate, LLC hosts it. It’s like
    “Syndicate Con” abbreviated, and the “i” is left out so that we can have “DC” in the center. Get it? It’s in the DC area. Also, bonus trivia: to emphasize the DC in the center, we never capitalize the “s” at the beginning of the word, synDCon.

    As a final note, I ask that everyone please visit the synDCon feedback forum at http://www.loremaster.org/forumdisplay.php/15-synDCon and let us know your “likes” and “groin kicks.” Although we’re all a bunch of gamers, we don’t necessarily have the same approach to gaming you do, but we want to be all things to all gamers. We want your honest feedback, positive and negative, to make this a better convention. Don’t be afraid to dish out some tough love. 🙂