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TimCon Retrospective

So due to a change of jobs and move away from London TimCon XI is definitely the last in a series of unique weekend conventions. I have been to all of them bar one (an embarrassing mixup with dates in my calendar) so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has gone with its passing and what kind of legacy it leaves.

TimCon is named after its driving force and organiser Tim Eccles who you may know as the creator of some of the most distinctive and rich Warhammer amateur campaigns and scenarios. I don’t remember exactly when TimCon started but I suspect that it was a post-Dragonmeet pub suggestion. Now if every idea that was suggested in the warm embrace of a post-convention pub actually happened the world would be a much more awesome place. I think it really tells you something about Tim that not only did he take on this slightly facile suggestion but turned it into an exciting and essential gaming event.

In additional to running more than his fair share of games Tim also took on the task of organising and promoting the event and setting the overall parameters and tone of the convention. This might seem easy but gamers are notoriously fractious and unreliable and therefore Tim has taken a lot of personal friction so as to allow us as attendees to just focus on the gaming. We all owe him a major debt of thanks.

Thank you Tim for creating something really special and allowing us all to be part of it.

Beginnings

Running my first game at TimCon was actually quite nerve-wracking and I wimped out of using the Warhammer system due to my inexperience with the system in the face of what I expected to be die-hard enthusiasts for the game.

Instead I chose to run a D&D 3e update of a dark fantasy adventure I had written as a teenager and which John Foody had expressed some appreciation for.

It went well and I found out that actually a lot of TimConner’s were actually starved of their fix of Dark Fantasy rather than regularly confronting the Dark Powers.

I was also to learn a lot of valuable lessons about how to run a convention scenario. Over the years I have got a lot better about understanding things like pacing, timing, the importance of material and the basic craft of storytelling. However in doing that I unfortunately had to go through a number of games that ran too long, had too much material and required a great deal of charity from their players. If nothing else TimCon has been a personal education as a GM, not just in running my games but also by seeing how some of the other amazing GMs structure their scenarios and run their games. Unlike a lot of conventions I’ve never really had a bad game at TimCon, just less than perfect ones.

Pastiche

A lot of my early TimCon scenarios were actually movie pastiches. My personal favourite being Kill Wilhelm which again was the result of a post-Dragonmeet challenge to use the Warhammer 1st Edition rules to create the hyper-violent slaughter of the first Kill Bill film. I think the same evening John Foody also first conceived of his Bubba Lichemaster scenario, a crazy classic that is probably not as well known as it should be.

For the early TimCon’s Gavin Taylor also used to do movie pastiche’s so I would get to play them as well as write them. In fact it was really Gav’s Tilean Job that inspired me to imitate him. Gav’s games were always fun because he is one of those people who love using and preparing props and because a lot of his games seemed to involve silly songs that I can still remember. The Tilean Job ended with us grabbing the one cornet(-o) and Gobbo! had a rousing finish to the tune of Men of Harlech.

Perfecting the art

Having managed to screw up my dates and therefore miss a TimCon I started to try and write scenarios that perhaps matched attendees desire for a “classic” Warhammer experience more. My first attempt Bled dry in Altdorf was a good gothic horror but failed to reach a conclusion due to over-running and having too much material.

This experience was definitely a turning point for me as a GM and after this I really began to work on the structure of the scenarios.

I think it was also roughly here that Steven Hanlon started to create a series of scenarios that were based on his life and therefore created a more pastoral vision of what life might be like in a grim and perilous world. As I got to playtest these scenarios it also meant that I could get even more TimCon flavour gaming.

Experimentation gets serious

If TimCon can be said to have a golden age then in my memory it is the next few events. The restriction of the convention topics to Warhammer Fantasy created one of those powerful creative constraints. The scenarios all acknowledged a vision of a gothic Renaissance world but within that we were travelling from the frozen wastes of the North to the jungles of Lustria.

In Dave Allen’s game I was a halfling entertaining royalty by having to play the triangle and sing in real-life. In Toby Pilling’s game I was a Norse warrior while drinking mead from a tankard in real-life.

I think I have played a Chaos Dwarf twice and as Marx predicted the first time was a gritty tragedy of infighting and the second time was a farce when the hold was destroyed in the first ten minutes.

Sadly you can only pick four games in a weekend and therefore while I have my favourite memories I am sure other attendees would have equally strong and different memories.

The table talk at the pub was equally fascinating: educated, informed and entertaining. Sadly also the one time of the year that I saw many people.

Perhaps the most memorable evening was at one of the Northfields barbecues where the conversation ran so late into the night that we all ended up talking in the dark.

Editions

Although the remit of TimCon remained on fantasy rather than the 40K universe (although time-travellers, Slann, genestealers and other aliens all appeared at one time or another) it was always agnostic about which version of the game was played. At the last TimCon I played two First Edition games, one Second Edition and ran a Third Edition game.

Ironically each edition was uniquely unsuited to convention scenarios in its own way. The First Edition has long-winded and often highly uneventful combat, the Third Edition has a rich and detailed combat system which also takes too long. The Second edition skill system can result in supposed experts suffering a run of bad luck and therefore looking total incompetent in a way you had never anticipated.

I feel that in some ways that TimCon’s high-points coincided with the release of Second Edition in that the game got an influx of interest and there was more continuity between those two versions rather than the radical departure involved in the Third.

And so, the end…

The last two TimCon’s suffered from a lack of GM’s volunteering and also from player drop-outs for good reasons and also seemingly random ones. The crowd had also become familiar faces which is nice but indicated that new blood were not being drawn in.

I wonder if TimCon became a victim of its initial success. Players thinking they could skip the current one and come to the next. Potential GMs put off by some of the standards that some of the best games had set.

Despite the existence of the on the day fanzine there wasn’t really an effort to communicate out about the games and what was happening unlike when Warpstone was a fulcrum for the community.

The games remained excellent to the last though and though they are exceptionally large boots to fill I hope that someone is brave (or mad) enough to try. However, in the final analysis, there can only be one TimCon and it was a great adventure.

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