Con Report: Arisia (Online) 2021

Arisia is Happy Monster’s home convention, and an event Joy and I look forward to attending every year. I generally run 2-3 games of Savage Worlds, using mostly Happy Monster settings but occasionally throwing in some Pinnacle settings as well. Last year was the first year that other Savage Worlds GMs ran games as well, and I think we’re starting to see a bit of a community building.

Of course, in the midst of a global pandemic, in-person convention-going is right out. Even if I had wanted to attend, Massachusetts rules on gatherings would pretty much have shut the convention down. So instead, the organizers, like those of many other conventions, opted for an online con instead.

The organizers did their best to replicate the feel of attending Arisia in person. They had a “coffee line” of photos submitted by “Arisians” in costume to mimic the people-watching at the lobby Starbucks. They had a virtual art show with links to portfolio websites for contributors, and a virtual dealer’s room with links to online stores. The Sunday night masquerade competition, a long-standing tradition, was replaced by photos and footage of past masquerades. The schedule was reduced, but they still had the “Fast Track” option for younger con-goers. Panels ran in Zoom, and the Arisia Discord channel was a busy, social environment. Overall, they did a great job with the tools available.

With that said, I think the gaming was one of the least successful elements in the con. A couple of key issues interfered with maximum tabletop enjoyment. First, the links for game signup were hosted on the Discord, not the main site. This was confusing, especially on Friday night, and contributed to low attendance and outright cancellation of games. Second, the process for connecting game masters and players was basically just hoping they all showed up at the appropriate time in a Zoom and connected up – and the instructions on how to do that were buried in the website rather than front and center on the Gaming page.

The result of these issues was that Happy Monster’s three events were quite poorly attended. Our attempt to run a board game table (Yedo) was a bust – we had only no-shows. We did get one player for Relics and Rayguns and three for Legion of Liberty, so we were able to run those (with Joy jumping in as a player in Relics), but compared to past years with maxed-out tables, it was a much-reduced affair.

There are definite benefits to online convention-going, and it’s certainly better than no convention at all, especially for cash-strapped fan organizations. But I’m definitely hoping for an in-person Arisia again next January.

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