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Natural 20's Random Thought Table - Gaelcon, the After Print
Written by Brian Nisbet   
Nov 01, 2009 at 06:10 AM

Brian gives us his thoughts on Gaelcon 2009, and how he got on at it. Once again we are at pains to note that Brian's thoughts on a subject are not necessarily those of the rest of the IrishGaming.Com team :)

So, as promised two weeks ago, this is part two of a two part article. If you haven't read part one, Gaelcon - The Before, it might make more sense if you read that first, but it's not the end of the world either way, just some of my comments here might make more sense. Part one also explains some of my, well, conflicts of interest, in relation to Gaelcon. Anyway, let's get on with the review of Gaelcon 2009.

I'll start off with a pretty simple statement, which should help those of you with lots of the Internet to read and very little time to read it: Gaelcon 2009 was a damn good con. It wasn't perfect and there were clear areas in which the con needs to improve, but it was the shot in the arm that Gaelcon needed and it puts the con on a much, much surer footing for the future. Indeed, it gives the con a future, something which was genuinely in doubt earlier this year. So that's the short version, now to the long.

My initial experience of the con was a slightly confusing one, for which I largely blame myself. Upon handing over my hard earned to the people at front desk I was asked, "Have you been to more than four Gaelcons?" I'm still actually a bit irritated at my gut-reaction response of "Well, I used to run them." I was, entirely understandably, informed that the staffer didn't know everyone and it was due to an old/new thing they had going over the weekend both, I believe, for stats and competitions. It didn't impact on the rest of weekend, but it did amuse me. There were many similar stories from people over the weekend. What had also confused me was the changes that had been made to the venue to convert it from the old Jurys Hotel into the new D4 Hotels, changes that were to make the venue particularly good for holding Gaelcon.

While the core of the venue was still a decent sized hotel ballroom with a private bar and many smaller rooms for LARPs and tabletop games, the new D4 Hotels now features a deli, a pizzeria and a small supermarket, removing completely the issues of congoers bringing in food from outside. The Dubliner Bar is still in place and while overall the prices were a little higher than I'd like to pay, they're the kind of prices I'm used to paying in hotels in Dublin. The con staff had laid out a system of coloured paths to guide you to various places which certainly helped as you got deeper into the venue, even if it just assured you you were still going in the right direction. Despite the fact that I continue to feel the transport options to get to Clontarf Castle get a bad press, it is unquestionable that the D4 Hotels are a better venue, both due to location and facilities. They're closer to town and offer more, plus there are far more facilities near-by. I think the general consensus is that Gaelcon should do what it can to stay there for as long as it can.

The committee and staff appeared to be generally useful and enthusiastic for the whole weekend, with Andrew (the Con Director) never seeming to stop. Levels of customer service did vary and sadly a few tales filtered back of very confused or unhelpful staff at the ticket desk (not knowing anything about games and over selling tickets), but that's something that they can certainly work on. In a wonderful return to something that's been needed for years, the RPG Co-ordinators got the scenarios out to the GMs a few days in advance and managed to get more than a few GM briefings going before each session. This is wonderful and to be encouraged as it makes for a vastly improved experience for the players. Sadly for the Indy RPGs despite being on the timetable there was very little con support and it got a little chaotic on occasion, but everyone muddled through and when asked the committee did put shouts out for more players. But overall, games ran, people played them, they had fun.

Speaking of shouting things out, the PA system seemed to be a little variable (sometimes it was used, sometimes not) and very few of those shouting from the stage had the volume or projection to be heard in the hall. This really needs to be improved for next year. The hall was full of wargames, traders, some consoles, the charity stand and a reasonable number of free tables (and it seemed like a larger number than Clontarf) and a fair amount of noise. On top of this there was a decent number of people in the private bar area, including a very respectable consoles section, who couldn't hear a thing. Either the con needs to think about a better projection set-up (the one they had was, frankly, awful, as the projector was far too close to the screen) and/or making sure that every announcement uses the PA, but the current mish-mash isn't sustainable if you want people to be aware of things.

And, of course, when the sun went down, there were the evening events. For a very long time the pub quiz has finished reasonably early on the Saturday night and the charity auction has run late on the Sunday, so the con made some decisions here that confused me. Sadly I missed the pub quiz due to a prior commitment, but I was very amused by the multiple texts I got about the Pratchett question. The reports I received said that it ran even faster than usual (finished by 22:20 or so) and the hall was clearer fairly quickly after that. The impression a lot of people got was that the committee wanted to get to the pub asap and while that's no bad thing, it's not really the customer service feeling you want. It may not have even been the case, but as I said, it was the general feeling. The big confusion for me was why the very innovative live version of Dr Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog was then staged on Sunday evening, with attendant set-up and take-down time, before an auction which generally runs long all on its own. I think a number of people who weren't interested in the play didn't hang around for the auction, which may have contribute to the lower numbers there. That said, there were a few generous people who were only there for the play and did hang around, so it's possible it all evened out, but the planning of the evening events is something that needs to be considered for next year. Sadly the auction appeared to suffer from the recession and the lack of more than one or two really interesting lots. However €9000 is still €9000 and it's wonderful to see the Gaelcon attendees being so generous every year.

So, where does this leave us? Gaelcon 2009 was a con with a lot of energy, a few changes and a lot of the things that have kept Gaelcon a con worth going to every year. It had interesting special events, well written games, well stocked trade-stands and people having fun. It had a fresh feel that the con has been missing for a few years and it really seemed like it could be the beginning of something new. There were issues, some simple mistakes made and I think the con hive-mind can hopefully learn from them. The 2009 committee aimed very high and they fell short, but not disastrously so and certainly not in a way that takes away from the generally positive vibe that everyone seems to have got from the con. Now the IGA need to build on this, work on improving links with other cons, keep up the good work and rebuild the numbers. I'm hoping that a few more changes can be implemented for 2010 and the committee will continue to aim high, but perhaps now they'll do so with a little more experience behind them.

To those of you I saw at the con, it was great seeing you. To those who didn't make it this year, I'm hoping that you'll be convinced to go to the con in 2010 and I'll see you then.

I went to Gaelcon and I had a really good time.


User Comments

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