Five Things US Conventions Could Steal From Fastaval

The Dirtbusters receive accolades at the award ceremony. Credit: Bo Jørgensen

Yesterday,  I riffed on Fastaval, an awesome Danish roleplay convention I attended as part of my two-week Nordic roleplay junket. Today, I want to talk about a few favorite elements of the convention that US convention designers might import into their own conventions:

  1. The Dirtbusters. So far as I know, the Dirtbusters were created — maybe a decade ago or longer? — when no one wanted to clean toilets. These folks — mostly men — don jumpsuits, sunglasses, and pink tutus and spend the entire convention engaging in a larp in which they fight the forces of entropy with semi-military precision armed with plungers and mops. In the states, we’d have to do it minus the beer and porn-laden command center, but I love love love the idea of creating a pervasive larp that convention staff can participate in. Because people who help out deserve to have fun too.
  2. Communal Service. Fastaval has everyone do a couple hours of service for the convention, which really changed the dynamic from one in which we came to be entertained, like clients, into one where we were in it together. The hours I spent serving food weren’t necessarily my favorite, but they changed the nature of the experience for me. Many hands make light work. I’ve seen this helping-out super-power work at my local boffer larp, where everyone signs up for a mandatory NPC (non-player character) shift during the course of the weekend, with similar community-building results.
  3. Game Exchange. Bring an old board or card game you haven’t played in a while, and exchange it for another. The only stipulation is that when you’re done with your vintage game, you can’t sell it, but must pass it on. The games had little library cards in them, showing their history of ownership.
  4. Scenario Writing. In addition to the Fastaval concept — people writing and workshopping games for the convention, which is awesome and should be exported — Fastaval also ran a scenario-writing competition that took place during the convention. Participants were given their inspiration — two obese women and the scent of marzipan — at the start of the convention and had a couple days to write a scenario, which was then-judged. A cool idea.
  5. Photo Competition. Not immediately related to games, but another community-building activity. Maybe it’s just me, but there seemed to be tons of gamers walking around with serious photo equipment at Fastaval. Folks took photos of the convention, quickly printed them and slapped them into frames, and set up a display within the main function room. A cool way of encouraging people to document the convention with unusual angles, bright colors, and razor-sharp focus.

10 thoughts on “Five Things US Conventions Could Steal From Fastaval

  1. In some cases these things are already happening! Several cons in the Northeast, including Intercon and, I believe DexCon, have run “Iron GM” competitions. These sound very much like what you describe in #4 above: a competition where writers were given as a topic as a “secret ingredient” and 24 or 48 hours to write a game based on it, with the games being run and a winner selected at the con.

    Also similar sounding to what you described in your previous post, Intercon MidAtlantic for several years ran the LARPA small games competition. In this competition people brought a small game to the con, which had to be written so that it could be run by other people easily. The entrants had to agree to allow their game to go in a public “game bank” after the competition for other people to run, the games were run at the con, and a winner was selected with a cash prize awarded. It was a cool idea.

  2. Strangely enough, the prize for the LARPA small games competition was the “Golden Penguin.” I wonder if they’re somehow related.

    — Three Time Golden Penguin Award Winner, Mike Young

  3. Communal service is something I know well from the folk music scene. The Philly Folksong Society events that I grew up going to are run to a large extent through a small core of organizers leveraging the labor of all the attendants. It’s pretty great, and absolutely makes it feel like community.

  4. A few additions.

    The Dirtbusters have been part of Fastaval almost 20 years now. Started out with about 5 people putting on jumpsuits and plastic bags. Since then with a slow exchange of people over the years, they have “evolved” into their now, more or less, independent institution. Even doing some cleaning at other events.

    – To Mikes comment.
    The Otto award was first introduced in 1992, and is named after a figure in a scenario from 1989. I have no idea if there is any connection to “the golden penguin”.

    – Former Dirtbuster Commander and Two Time Otto-winner, Tim Slumstrup Nielsen (Got to get me one of ’em other golden penguins 🙂 )

  5. Slightly different from the Iron GM competitions, Intercons have also run “Build Your Own Game” seminars. They’re seminars for learning how to write games; the seminar starts Friday, the writing starts later that night, and runs through Saturday. The game runs on Sunday.

    We’ve also run these seminars outside of conventions. We’ll be running another one of these over a weekend this summer.

  6. About the photos: On Facebook it was also mentioned that we once had a newspaper:

    The idea of a newspaper is good. But it requires a lot of work, I did it for two years, and before me some awesome people did an Magazine everyday. It looked great but they had to be working on it all the time for the whole con. I tried to make a more budget version, so the writers wouldn’t have to give up their Fastaval for it, a sort of metro like thing.

    In the end, the amount of work that goes into a newspaper, and, for a con the size of Fastaval, is taken away from other things, is not worth the end product. With sms, Facebook and all the rest, the news that people need to see, can be delivered with other means.

    What there is a need for, is for participants to get a chance to “see” the things they missed. And fotos, maybe with a small caption can be used for that. So the photo display will be back for next year, but properly not as a competition, we have plenty of those already and people didn’t take pictures for the competition, they would have taken them anyway.

    So we’re working on some other solutions, perhaps a pressphoto group that makes sure, that most of the con is covered, and then some way of showing these photos either during the last day or even during the con, so people can see, what’s happening in the other parts of Fastaval.

    Anyway that went a bit to long, but thanks for the feedback, that an american wants to copy this, means we will have to do more of it next year 🙂

    • I hear you on the newspaper thing — I used to write an in-game paper for one of the larps I followed for Leaving Mundania, and while it was a lot of fun, it was also a ton of work; I can’t imagine doing so for every day of the convention.

      But the photo display, that’s definitely a winner.

      And I love knowing Otto’s origin myth!

  7. When I designed the penguin back in the early 90s I was inspired by a Call of Cthulhu scenario from the year before taking place in Greenland and in which a certain stuffed Penguin with the name Otto was used as a tupilaq to spy on the player characters.

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