DipCon Tempest 2003
The Effort, the Tradition and the Honor

By  Edi Birsan with input from Andy Marshall

The whole idea of DipCon was to provide a single venue where the hobby could meet. It was always the number one priority for all travel able and oriented fans as well as the one event of the year that everyone tacitly agreed to make the effort to attend. Old friends and foes would gather and there would be a reaffirmation of the social aspect of the hobby as well as the securement of new bragging rights. It took a while for those bragging rights to include an actual Diplomacy tournament, but it has been a feature of the DipCon for the last 30 years. Originally started by the postal players who wanted to see face-to-face (FTF) those people from whom they only received letters, it has also become the favored destination of face-to-face players who look forward to meeting those on the tournament circuit around North America or the world.

The effort at travel honors the tradition of DipCon and this one was privileged to receive wide support from the hobby. Looking over the list of the 62 participants, there were 23 locals, there were nine who came from between 60 and a 150 miles, and 30 who came from over 150 miles. The farthest participants were David Norman from the United Kingdom, Mike Hall from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and Duck Williams from that other foreign culture, LA-LA land, Southern California. For me the participation of the Canadians was as always a point of satisfaction and reaffirmation that this is the North American DipCon and not just an American event. It was the Canadians who generally reminded us to make DipCon special with a focus on the hobby and not on nationalistic issues. This is why the DipCon champion has never been considered the U.S. champion: They are the hobby's champions.

The running of these DipCon's has never been profitable. Starting with the very first one in John Koning's back yard in 1967, they have all been a financial drain on those who organized them, from the cost for donated hot dogs and French Fries bourn by John to the several thousand dollars of individual contributions from Dan Mathias and associates for DipCon XXXII. We asked Andy Marshall, the TD and the leader of the Potomac Tea and Knife Society (or PTKS) effort, if the same was true for this one: Did the economics work out balanced or did the club have to subsidize the effort. If the latter, by how much?

His response suggests that this well respected tradition continues: “PTKS has a large body of dues-paying members, and many of those members make additional contributions to the organization. PTKS typically subsidizes major events to some extent, both monetarily and with in-kind contributions of time and energy from its members. We generally don't even bother figuring out the math, but it would be fair to say that DipCon was subsidized at a pretty significant level.”

This particular DipCon was a stand-alone event with a majority of experienced players. Historically the hobby swings back and forth around two main thrusts:

  1. Stand-alone versus part of an overall game convention
  2. Building new relations/recruiting or rewarding a veteran group's efforts

With the increasing number of regional and local events taking up a lot of the recruiting, the recent trend for DipCons leans more towards a veteran effort. The venue from a stand-alone to inclusion in a major game convention still seems to be an oscillatory role.

Regardless of the site and its background themes, the work of the Tournament Director or Games Master, as always, is dealing with the players. We asked Andy what were the things that he had been called over to rule on as a GM. “The usual,” he reported. “This one swiped the other one's binky, and that one won't settle down and let the other ones enjoy Sesame Street. It's DipCon. People can be pretty stressed when they get into the competition. Things that are not really important become extremely magnified, and people get pretty intense over handwriting and such.”

“Handwriting on orders is the single biggest issue -- the difference between 'Sev' and 'Ser', that sort of thing. Those are easy calls for me. I usually go with my gut impulse -- my first read of a given bit of writing -- but I also try to give players a fair amount of leeway within reason, which is not to say that you can get away with writing the convoy but not ordering the army to move.”

“There were an unusual number of instances where dot counts and unit counts were discrepant, and I was called over to rule. In every single case, I was pretty easily able to determine that the discrepancy was accidental, the result of a group error, or the result of someone doing something about-medium underhanded to get a forced removal of a pirate unit or some such twaddle.”

Spreading the word of the event and getting people to attend, sometimes called marketing, has always been a challenge. Very few of the last thirty-five DipCon organizers ever felt that they did enough. Despite the positive factors measured by such classical standards as veteran and first time player turn out, Andy and the PTKS's are no egotistical exception in self criticism. It is Andy's opinion that, “from an organizational perspective, (the PTKS) did not do a very good job of marketing this year.”

The other issue of minor criticism that Andy added to his list of things to do better next time was food accessibility. He submits that a weakness of theirs is, “... the quality and availability of in-house food service that we have been able to obtain for our large events. As Edi and others have gently and correctly pointed out, we have a history of failing at this pretty miserably. We're fixing it by moving to WBC, where it will not be something under our control.”

This DipCon had one of the few cases of a strongly contested division on where the next DipCon was to be held. The discussion at the hobby meeting swirled around issues of hobby perceived tradition and precedence as well as the respective themes of the DipCon as a stand-alone versus greater convention events or a recruiting or a rewarding designation. Arguments on all sides were valid and it is in just such meetings that the hobby moves forward to redefine itself and resolves the conflicts to move ever onward. In the end, the future host was selected by a close margin of 16 to 14. The honor was given to the PiggyBackers of Portland, Oregon, to continue with their contribution to hobby history.


Edi Birsan

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