Role Playing Games Conventions in 1980s and local community

[ By Helen Stuckey on December 10, 2013 | Filed under: Blog | Tagged with: , , , ]

Local role playing games conventions such as Melbourne’s Arcanacon and Canberra’s Cancon were important in the 1980s in bringing together people who were interested in the emerging genre of home computer games. Steve Fawkner, author of the “Warlords” series and “Puzzlequest” games, recalls taking the first computer game he wrote “Quest for the Holy Grail” to a games convention in Melbourne in 1984 and giving it away. Not knowing how to publish his game he packaged up a dozen copies on cassette which he sealed in sandwich bags with a note saying “If you like this game please send me $5. Here is my address”. Over the next few months, envelopes containing $5 notes and the occasional letter offering feedback and encouragement, would arrive in his post. Buoyed by finding an audience for his designs Fawkner wrote a new game each year for the local community till 1989 when he published “Warlords” with SSG.

Did you encounter any games software at your local role playing games conventions in the 1980s? How many of the games you played were distributed in sandwich bags with mysterious P.O.Boxes? Was you RPG gaming a gateway to the world of digital games?

Steve Fawkner – His first game from PlayItAgain Project on Vimeo.

Arcanacon 1984 Program Guide Image courtesy of Arcanacon

6 thoughts on “Role Playing Games Conventions in 1980s and local community

  1. I remember going to Arcanacon in 1984 as a wide eyed 13yo country kid in the city without parental supervision for the first time. Had lots of fun with my mates playing games we’d never encountered before. Kept us coming back year after year for the longest time, mainly because everyone was so friendly & welcoming and made it all fun.

    I remember Warlords hitting the shelves of the games retailers too and played a friends copy at weekend events.

    ARCANACON (Victoria) & CANCON (Canberra) are still running every year, both over the Australia day weekend in January and both still friendly.

  2. The other major convention at the time was Phantastacon which ran from 1981 to 1986, and was the first roleplaying convention in Melbourne. I’m pretty sure it was at Phantastacon, that was where Steve distributed his game.

  3. Hi Martin,

    Thank you for letting us know about Phantasacon.
    Can you tell us anything more about Phantastacon?
    Do you remember Playing any of Steve’s computer games?
    Did you or any one you know send him $5?


  4. I remember playing Bridge Crew (maybe at CanCon, probably in the ’90s), which had a fantastic set up. Five players: one captain, who didn’t have a computer; and four players controlling different aspects of a spaceship: fire control, engineering, security; helm, etc. Think standard Star Trek.

    The software took all of the commands from the players, combined them and projected them on a screen. On the screen you could see your ship, and the other NPC ships.

    The captain had to manage feedback from each player, continually assess the situation and tell everybody what to do. They had no actual control over the situation. The other players had to do what the captain said, keep an eye on what was going on and let them know what was happening. Chaos ensued.

    It was the first multiplayer computer game that I’d ever seen. It was the first every game I’d seen projected onto a wall.

    It was the only computer game I’ve ever seen that included a player that didn’t actually use a computer.

    It was fantastic! Neroli and I eventually bought a copy of the software (shareware) and the necessary hardware to connect the PCs together and ran a few sessions in the back shed.

    Bridge Crew was created by Robert Cox and Trish Crowther, from Mithril Software, based in Canberra.

    Review here:

    I think that you’ll be able to contact Robert at University of Canberra:

  5. I think that the convention that Steve was at was Phantastacon which ran from 1981 to 1986 in Melbourne. I was one of the organisers and vaguely remember
    Warlords from then



  6. Hmm,

    okay didn’t remember replying to this 2 years ago and never realised you’d asked for more info, sorry Helen. No, I didn’t have a computer in 1981, so taking a game would’ve been a bit pointless.

    Phantastacon was started in 1981 by Joe Italiano who still runs Alternate Worlds in Bayswater. It ran at the Melbourne Townhouse (which is now Rydges on Swanston) over Easter. It was inspired by the first Cancon, which Joe had attended and he hoped to turn it in to a general games convention, so there were some board games and some very early computer games of which Steve was one. There were about 650 attendees all up from memory. The Dungeons and Dragons tournament however, ended up dominating the convention with 408 players (51 teams of 8) playing a three session tournament. Andrew South and I did the scheduling and were up to about 4am doing so. There was a convention banquet, with a costume parade (cosplay is not a new phenomena!).

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