Richard Rowlands

Shoemaker:  What can you tell us about the European Gen Cons you worked on?
Rowlands: Back in the 1980's, there was an multi-day event run by TSR called Games Fair at Reading University. It had a few organised events (such as the AD&D open championship) and big sign-up boards where anyone could post a game and people could sign up to play them. Since this ceased, there was a gap, with lots of one-day events.

The multi day reformed by TSR into a "European Gen Con", originally run by TSR at a holiday camp for families called Pontin's on the south coast of England. Being in the end of November - early December, it was cold and wet, but no-one minded as the only bit outdoors was the short walk from the chalets to the main building where all the gaming took place. This ran through to 1995 at the same place (though moving to April-May to avoid the cold). There were AD&D and other roleplaying games, card games, social activities, such as the charity auction, a trade area and lots of player generated games, including Tribunal (in the aliens attack, the aliens overran us. Each player, as head of one unit of the forces, has to take us through what happened and what went wrong. At least one of you is a traitor. Lots of chances to make things up on the spot and stitch up your fellow players!)

From 1998, this took on the name of Gen Con UK, drawing inspiration from Gen Con in Milwaukee and attracting players from across the UK and beyond (especially with a Dutch contingent coming over). The date was a month after Gen Con in Milwaukee, and so all the new releases could be flown over the pond and shown to the UK audience. We started at Loughborough University, using most of the buildings and accommodation, spread across a wide campus. This was a popular event with 30-50 tables of organised roleplaying, card games and tournaments, board games and rooms for ad-hoc games. Although AD&D was the most popular roleplaying game, there was a wide range, especially Call of Cthulhu, and also Paranoia, Feng Shui and others. One adventure (Tutentarrasque) even changed game system half way through! The team competition was always the non-serious event. For example one year we ran "King of the Goblins". The King has died and each tribe (6 players) were rushing around the same dungeon at the same time trying to collect artefacts to claim the king. So teams could meet each other, and occasionally bash each other up (AD&D combat) to get each other's stuff. Players changed tribes and some "tables" has 20 players on them! It all ended up as a huge mess where everyone gathered in the great hall to claim the kingship. One live roleplaying game had over 400 people all in full costume at the Masked Ball, which gave many people their first experience of live roleplaying. Even the bar staff dressed in costume. I'm not sure what the drink called "Werewolf's blood" contained, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't non-alcoholic!).

This ran for a couple of years in Loughborough (1998-1999), until they decided they needed the halls for exam resits and we had to move. We spent one year at Manchester University (with the card gamers having to move round the hall as the roof leaked in different places to avoid getting their cards wet!

At this point Peter Adkison took over. He decided to make Gen Con UK a much more prestigious event, moving to Olympia, a 100 year old conference centre in London and we spent three years there from 2001-2003. However Olympia was expensive for the gamers (e.g. London priced hotels and food). Thus it was taken over by Richard Rowlands (doing the logistics) and Mark Smith (doing the people side of the event). Supported by a great team, a huge holiday camp called Butlins in Minehead was selected. It had a huge marquee where we could house the entire event under one massive roof. At any point, you could look round and see other games, a trade section, sponsors, other games and social areas. Only the live roleplaying took place in other areas to give them the peace and quiet they needed to such out each others' blood, etc. However Minehead was a bit too remote, so off we went to the sister Butlins at Bognor Regis. We used the main halls there and although the event was a little more compact, it did have that campus atmosphere. Everyone on site was a gamer and a lot of careful organising ensured that everything ran. The Living Campaigns (Living Greyhawk, Sarbreenar and others thrived at these events where much bigger one-off adventures could take place).

For our final site, we searched the whole country for a venue with enough flat floor space and accommodation on site and ended up right back where we started - at Reading University! In addition to the card playing, roleplaying, board games area, trade hall, and a free computer-gaming zone, we also had a vidi-veg (just sit in a room and watch classic films and TV programmes). In the lawns between the buildings we had a medieval village and even a small flock of birds of prey (including a vulture) for the delegates to meet. We had a social programme, Dead Gentlemen even allowed us to have a premier showing of The Games 2, just after the US release!

Finally, with the financial crisis, the venues all wanted to raise their prices and the gamers wanted to pay less. Thus the painful decision was to cease Gen Con UK for the time being. Maybe there will be a revival of the event in the future. Meanwhile, there are still many gaming events across the UK throughout the year and a gamer need never spend long without his dice rolling.

We are immensely grateful to Peter Adkison, the venues who allowed us to things in their buildings which they didn't even understand, Wizards of the Coast, Games Workshop and Upper Deck who sponsored the events, Esdevium (the UK's biggest distributor) who ran games for us, the guest artists and writers, the traders, the team of over 100 volunteers and, most of all, the players who came and made Gen Con UK the event it was.

Richard Rowlands