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Conventional Wisdom Getting the best from your gaming convention experience
Introduction “A convention, in the sense of a meeting, is a gathering of individuals who meet at an arranged place and time in order to discuss or engage in some common interest.” Wikipedia
aming conventions are brilliant. They combine the best of social hobbies, in a place where you are surrounded by like-minded people, with all the buzz and excitement of a festival. Yet, they can also be intimidating to the newbie. If you don’t know what’s going on, or who’s who, you might think all the fun was happening elsewhere. Even if you’ve been to Cons before, you might be nervous about stepping up to run games, or volunteering to help with the organisation. This guide is for everyone who wants to get an even better Con experience. It’s written with the UK community in mind, but the etiquette of Cons is pretty universal, and travels well! Cons are about much more than table-top roleplaying games of course. They often include LARP (or Freeform) games, perhaps card and board games, auctions, art displays and who knows what else. The advice hereafter is mainly aimed at the RPGer, but it’s got plenty of value if you’re into other ways to play ‘let’s pretend’. The first section, ‘Rules to Live By’ is for everyone, but especially if you’re new to Cons. The second section ‘Mastering Games’, is for those who want to run games at Cons, or just run even better Con games. Even if you don’t think that’s for you, it’s well worth a read. Running good Con games is easier than you think, and incredibly rewarding. Finally, there’s some handy links and further reading for you. Thanks for picking this up, I hope to see you at a Con soon.
Baz Stevens August 2014
Glossary Con: short for Convention. A gathering of games and gamers. Slot: a single game session, usually between one and four hours. Often used interchangeably with ‘game’, ‘scenario’ or ‘session’. GM: Game-master, a generic term for the person facilitating the slot. Muster: the time and place for all players to congregate just before games start. Sign-ups: where you put your name down for a game. Slot 0: an informal pre Con get together that may involve ad hoc games Campaign: linked games that combine to make a larger event within a Con Delegate: Player at a Con, as opposed to a trader or organiser. Pregen: a ready-made and supplied character for gaming. Literally, pre-generated. Tags: Words or short phrases used to highlight elements of a prospective game
Rules to live by What’s in it for me? Gaming has been around for a long time now, and it’s evolved and spun off into thousands of different ways to play. Conventions are a chance to spend time immersed in gaming, with fellow gamers. You may have a home game, or be part of a club, or you may not be getting a regular game at all. Either way a Con gives you the opportunity to play something different, with some new faces. It’s all about the experience, and that includes the social element. There’s also the possibility of spending time with the designers and artists who make the games we love. After your first Con, you’ll have new friends, ones that may well last you a lifetime. Cons can seem intimidating to the uninitiated though. They can appear mysterious, difficult or cliquey. Occasionally all three. Actually, they are none of these things. When I first attended a Con I thought it might be like the Olympic games of gaming, and that I wouldn’t have practiced hard enough, or be good enough with my character. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In every Con I’ve ever been to, it’s very much a relaxed and casual affair. People are by and large very welcoming, though you may have to be brave and make yourself known.
Pick a Con, any Con There are Cons to suit all styles. The UK is blessed with loads of relatively small scale Cons, often styled around a central gaming theme. You can go for something very compact, like Seven Hills in Sheffield, or a bigger regular event like Continuum in Leicester, or even join the masses in the wonder that is UK Games Expo in Birmingham. You can also find daily drop in events like Concrete Cow in Milton Keynes, or Dragonmeet in London. You can even go residential and make a weekend out of it, for example, Conception on the South Coast. Any decent Con will have a dedicated website for the curious punter to peruse. There’s a great resource at UKRoleplayers.com which lists many of the currently held Cons and their forums. That’s a great place to start as you can get a real feel for what they offer, and read up on reports from previous events. This guide makes the assumption that you’re primarily into tabletop roleplaying games, like D&D or Fiasco. Alongside that you may well be a fan of LARPs, card, minis or board games, or simply a genre fan who likes meeting authors and genre figures. There are Cons for every taste, and most have a mix of all of the above. Ask around, have a look, and make your choice.
Policies and Procedures Cons have rules of their own. Sometimes these are codified and written out as a set of policies for all attendees to live by while they’re at the Con. These are carefully considered by the organisers and often come about as a result of attendee’s feedback over the years. They may be about health and safety, harassment policy, or simply the list of charitable beneficiaries. Read them closely, and pay them all due attention. If you step outside of ‘Con law’, ignorance is no defence. These policies are for everyone’s benefit. If you don’t agree with them, perhaps this isn’t the Con for you.
Consider your first move “If it's your first con try and find a friend to attend with so you have someone you know handy. Especially if you find new social situations a bit tricky to deal with. A wingperson is always useful to provide help and backup.” nclarke
Get a mate, or a bunch of you together. Make it a real outing and get some wing-folk on board with you. Although Cons are a brilliant way to meet new friends, it’s best to not go it alone on your first time. Even if you do find yourself getting right into the swing of things and perhaps find yourselves separated later on, it’s good to have someone to share your experience with. It’s well worth flagging up your attendance on the Con’s site. The organisers will happily give you advice and guidance at this point and there may well be other Con novices who get in touch too. The Con really does start online before anyone gets to the venue. Check and double check the Con requirements for attendance. Many allow you to rock up on the day and just pay on the door. Others will have expected you to organise tickets in advance and to have paid for all your accommodation and other sundries too. In this regard, every Con has its own requirements, so check before you go.
What to bring, along with the awesome? “Make sure you've taken what you need to do what you want to do at the con, don't presume that batteries are included because nine times out of ten they're really not.” Weatherman Cons are a balancing act between bringing everything you think you might need, and travelling light. ‘Must haves’ are the things you will need to actually play games. No-one will expect you to bring books (as a player at least), but it’s considered good form to bring dice, pencil and all the other paraphernalia that the hobby requires. Don’t sweat it if you’ve forgotten anything. The organisers often provide loans, or failing that, a trip to the Trade Hall will net you the right dice in a pinch. For regular kit, treat a Con like a festival or a camping trip. Even if you have accommodation, you’ll need to check on things like linen and towels in advance. Don’t get caught out on hygiene essentials either. Cons are social places, in close proximity with others, often in hot and stuffy rooms. Bring deodorant, use liberally. One quick tip: that ‘hilarious’ t-shirt you have? Consider who you might be spending time sitting opposite at the Con. First impressions matter, so if there’s the slightest chance of offence, think twice. As for food and drinks, catering varies massively across Cons. Do your research. Those Con forums I mentioned earlier are a great place to look as Con food generates a lot of interest and discussion! My advice is to plan to self-cater and supplement that with onsite hot food whenever you can.
Getting a Game “When you pick your games keep to something you either know or have recently read up on just to smooth over the uncertainty cracks; you may not know the other players but you do know the game.” Ragr Cons are mainly about playing games, as you’d expect. You’ll want to get some game time in, so again, check to see what you have to do to get involved. Every Con has a system, and sometimes they can appear a little arcane. Persevere with your research, the organisers want people playing so your questions won’t be seen as a burden. Chances are you’ll know what games are available on the timetable before you even rock up. Make a plan based on what you can see, but leave it flexible enough to change when games change over the advertised schedule. Game ads usually give you plenty of detail on what’s to come, so read them carefully. It will always tell you the system, and if there’s anything out of the ordinary about it. As usual, if it’s not clear, ask someone.
A common misconception is that Cons are for elite gamers that have mastered the rules of the games. Not so. More often than not games are new to many of the players at the table, and often there’s a bias towards freshly released systems. If you know nothing about a games rules, you’ll be in good company. Don’t worry about it. If a game is not suitable for beginners, it should say. The most common method of getting a seat is the sign-up sheet. This is simply a piece of paper with the game detailed on it and space for folk to literally sign up their names. These can be a bit of a scrum, like the opening of a sale at Harrods. Don’t get exercised though, be patient, but be firm with your pencil. If you see something that floats your boat, put yourself down. If you do change your mind later, make sure you go back to the sheet and erase your name in plenty of time. It’s bad form to sign up to a game and not attend without notice. Some sheets have spaces for reserves just in case there are drop outs. Always worth putting yourself down if you’ve got a passion for that game, but don’t rely on getting a space. As I say, every Con has a different method, so be prepared to get involved, be decisive, but also prepared to compromise. If you don’t get the game you wanted, why not try something new? Chances are there are GMs who didn’t get all the players they wanted and there’s always an opportunity to meet up at the last minute. Be at the muster point (usually where the sign ups were) at the right time and see if you can join a pick-up game. The organisers usually try to pull people together in these situations. Don’t be too precious about system or setting at this point, broaden your horizons and it could be the start of a beautiful new thing.
Playing Con games “Ultra-cautious preservation-of-your-character play? That's for your home campaign that's been running for 20 years. Leave it out of cons. Same goes for the mysterious enigmatic character.” Magus This is where things are very different to the games you play at home. The big change is that you’re very likely to be playing with a group of strangers. So, the expectations and etiquette need special attention if you’re going to get the best out of your slot. Be on time, sit yourself down, and sort yourself out. Don’t take up all the available room with your stuff. The GM usually hosts the table, so they’ll get everyone introduced to each other and the expectations for the game. If there’s anything about the situation that doesn’t sit right with you, pipe up now. Now is not the time to sit in uncomfortable silence. You might suddenly feel unwell, the game might not be what you thought it was, you might have an important message from home, or another player might be someone you were hoping to avoid. Whatever the issue, be courteous, and make your excuses. The group would rather you drop out now than after the game starts .More likely that you’ll simply be a bit confused by something. Just ask, the answer will put you at ease, and it’s game on from that point. Assuming everything is cool (and 99% of the time it will be), get stuck into the game. You’ll be handed a ready to run character 99 times out of 100. These are called Pregens and are a great time saver for the whole table. If you get a chance to choose, do so in a timely manner. Chances are, all the characters will have something cool or notable about them, and the GM will have made sure none of them are ineffective in the coming game. Look through the sheet, read through any supplementary notes, and ask questions if there’s anything you’re unclear on. Similarly, listen attentively to the others at the table. You’ll get more out of the game if you know who’s in the party from the outset.
Enjoy yourself, and do what you can to ensure everyone else enjoys themselves too. Be curious, ask questions and be proactive. You’ve got a relatively short amount of time with this character and this group in this game. Make the most of it and play your heart out. As a player, the vast majority of the time you can afford to not worry too much about rules; the GM will usually be happy to translate your intentions into game actions for you. Get on with your roleplaying, and have fun.
Pacing yourself Cons are a huge temptation to indulge yourself, and to an extent, you should! If you can handle too much junk food, sleep deprivation, hangovers and dehydration and yet still get your pretend-elf on, more power to you. For us mere mortals, it’s about finding a balance. Games are intense. Four hours for a slot is not unusual, and if you’re going to be on your A game for that, you need to take care of yourself. Hydration is key. Get some water down you, as much as a couple of litres per session. Energy drinks and coffee will get you up and running in a pinch, but nothing keeps your mind and body game ready as good old H2O. Similarly, your mind and body need rest. You know how much sleep you need, so do your level best to get it. If you’re missing hours from your sleep bank, there’s not much you can do to get them back. That last pint in the bar is a heck of a temptation, but you might be better served taking that time in the sack instead. Food is always a hot topic at Cons. Getting a square meal can seem a bit of a mission sometimes, especially if you’re short of time between slots. It’s always worth setting aside some time to eat well. If you can’t find something onsite, there’s usually a supermarket nearby. If you do get a chance to make a supply run, don’t forget to load up on decent snacks too.
Thems the Breaks Games need your attention, and so do your mind and body. Over a couple of hours you’re going to need to eat and/or drink and you’re not always going to be able to duck out of the game to do that. If you’re GMing you can call a break whenever you feel it necessary and I would always advise a good break after a couple of hours at a minimum. Let people get some air and stretch. It will make the game better for everyone to get a chance to decompress. If you’re a player, your time is your own of course, and you’re not at school so go ahead and take that comfort break. Don’t forget, everyone is responsible for good gaming, so take a look around, if there are signs of flagging round the table, why not suggest a recess? If you fancy snacking at the table, you’ll be continuing a fine tradition enjoyed by gamers the world over. You should be eating fruit and vegetables. You actually be wanting crisps, chocs and pizza. Clearly, the decision is yours, just be prepared for the consequences. One thing to look out for, if you’re polite you’ll want to share and offer around. Pick your time for this bit of largesse wisely. If the GM has just asked for initiative, don’t disrupt the flow by asking everyone at the table if they want a bite of your Ginsters at that precise moment.
Post Game Analysis Thank your fellow players, whether they be players or GM. If everyone has done their best to make it a great game, then show your appreciation. Personally, mine’s a pint. Feedback is a great thing, though take care that it is actually wanted. If the GM asks you how it went, say so, but ensure you praise in public and criticise in private. No-one wants to be made to feel silly or small, even if inadvertently. And if you do have issues with the game, then ask yourself if that’s something anyone could have done anything about. There’s no point being all bent out of shape about Armour Class and Hit Points when you’re playing D&D, that’s not the GMs fault!
On rare occasions it might be that the game just wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s not great when it happens. I’d suggest taking a few minutes to reflect, and if you really do want to thrash it out with someone, approach them carefully and say your piece respectfully and discreetly. Or, just chalk it up to experience, and walk away older and wiser. You know better for next time now. GMs, if you really want to get some feedback from your players, don’t be afraid of asking. You’ll have spent enough time with the players by now that you should know who’s likely to have opinions and who is not. But if you’re going to ask, then do listen. Don’t get into a back and forth about it, just thank them for their time and move on (to the bar). When you all hook up with your mates afterwards, there’s always a ‘how did it go?’ session. If you’re going to tell a war story, take care about who is able to overhear you. This is also true when you get home and feel compelled to write up your experiences online. If you’ve had a great time, shout it out. If you haven’t, talk about it, but be sensitive and try to get a conversation going rather than an argument. Take it on faith that everyone set out with good intentions.
Oh no you didn’t! Very rarely, things go very wrong. That’s a natural function of any sufficiently large group of human beings all inhabiting the same space. Just because you’re at a Con, spending a lot of time in an imaginary head space, doesn’t mean that behavioural standards are any different to what you’d expect at home, at work or on the street. In fact, if anything, behavioural standards may be higher than you’re used to as the role playing community takes great pride in its respect, inclusivity and diversity expectations. If you witness anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, report it. If you do anything that makes someone else feel uncomfortable, apologise if you can, then sort it. That might mean you taking a step back and seeking assistance from an organiser. Do it, immediately and without complaint. Show and expect respect. Don’t be an idiot or tolerate idiocy. Play fair, play hard and add to everyone’s enjoyment. Nuff said.
Mastering Games What’s in it for me? Running games is its own pleasure, but there’s other reasons for stepping up and GMing at a Con. First of all, without GMs running games, there are no Cons. It’s as simple as that. Cons need games and they only happen when people run them. If you want to give something back to your hobby, run a session at a Con. You’ll be appreciated, possibly with actual rewards like accommodation or product. More likely, the heartfelt thanks of your peers and players, and that’s a very big deal indeed. Second, it gives you enormous control over your fun. You’re probably the person who always runs games at home, and if so, you might be tied into an ongoing campaign with old friends. So why not spread your wings and give yourself a change? What about that great game you bought that isn’t getting played? What about a new twist on your old favourite system? What about a classic old scenario that you want to play again? All these and more are possible, and fresh faces will mean you’re going to be constantly surprised.
Best Practice tips “Running a con game is a piece of cake, from a social point of view. Essentially, you need to be courteous and respectful. However, don't get steamrollered by a special snowflake with a sense of selfentitlement that has decided how your game is going to run because they have paid money to attend the con.” Zackspacks There are almost as many ways to run a Con game as there are GMs. In other words, there’s no shortage of advice or opinions about what’s best. At the end of this document you’ll find condensed and concentrated guidance from some old hands in the hobby. At the end of the day, it’s not as hard as it looks, and if you can run a game at home, you can run a Con game. Have faith in yourself, relax, and give it a go.
Know your stuff “Get used to running a few one-shots first. Being used only to running campaigns makes one-shots hard.” Dr Mitch If you’ve ever run a game before you’ll know that a lot of expectations fall on your shoulders. Thankfully, people are coming round to the idea that the GM isn’t the sole provider of fun at the table and that everyone bears a responsibility to make it a good time for all. Even so, the GMs badge comes with certain responsibilities. The major one being, know your stuff. Whatever you will be showing up with, you will have to know it well enough to teach a bunch of strangers. Never rely on getting a table full of experts in your chosen system, even if you’ve flagged it as such in advance. You will have to explain things, like system, setting, characters and expectations. You don’t have to have a Master’s degree in your chosen system, far from it, but you will be expected to display your knowledge and competency. If you’re the sort of GM that likes to play fast and loose with the rules, then don’t ambush your players with this. The default expectation will be that the GM knows what they’re doing. So, read and understand your chosen rules and scenario. If possible commit them to memory, or use good notes. No one will object to occasional rules look ups mid game, but equally no one will be impressed if you can’t be bothered to know the Magic rules in your fantasy game of Wizards and Warlocks.
Preparing your Scenario You will most likely have prepared a game in advance of the Con. That’s the traditional method, although there’s no shortage of prep free, GM free, or heavily improvised games available these days too. If you’re writing your own, there’s an art and a science to the one shot. First thing to take on board, it is only a one shot deal. You have a limited window of time in which to deliver a complete game session with a beginning, middle and end. Even if your game extends over multiple slots (a campaign game) you will want to reach a satisfying conclusion before everyone heads for home. So timing is crucial. You can expect to lose 20 minutes of your allocated slot time to introductions, settling and comfort breaks. Factor that in. Similarly, no-one will complain if you reach an exciting finish a bit early. Three good hours is always better than four weaker ones, or worse overrunning which is impolite to the other delegates at best. Given these restraints you should try to get as much bang for your buck out of the scenario as possible. Slow burn scenarios can be a poor fit for Con games. Start with some action, or conflict, and finish with even more. The middle section can flex, escalate or simmer down as you feel appropriate. One of the best things about Con games is the opportunity to play outside the normal bounds of your game. All evil groups, traitors, secret agendas are all possible. Even the story, which could have an apocalyptic end, or beginning. You can shake up the world as much as you want, there’s no ‘next week’ to consider. Ensure you have opportunities for every character to shine, and give yourself a few strong NPCs in order to give them something to play with or against. The key is conflicts, and your system of choice will give you a lot of guidance on how best to approach your scenario. If you have the time and resources, play test your scenario and make amendments off the back of that session. Even if your scenario went down brilliantly, it will give you practice at running it, which is a great confidence boost for the day. Having said that, don’t expect your Con game to go in exactly the same direction. Players will be players.
Characters Unless generating characters from scratch is going to take less than 10% of your slot time, don’t do it at the table. It’s almost always a more effective use of time to have made pregen characters to hand out at the start of the session. By all means leave spaces for the players to add their own characterisation, they’ll thank you for that. By offering pregens you can ensure the sheets are accurate, and custom built for the scenario too. This is important; make sure the characters get to shine, by highlighting skills and abilities that will see use in the session. Stick with the classic archetypes (noble warrior, clever rogue, bookish academic, sassy charmer etc) so that your players have something quick to choose from. If you’ve time and some artistic flair, you can make custom built sheets that really accentuate the feel and tone of your game. Portraits, imagery, fonts, backgrounds, name cards, the sky is the limit. Having said that, nothing beats clarity, so don’t be afraid to keep it clear and simple. Many official character sheets are too fussy for Con play. You don’t need to know how the bonuses were calculated, you just need to know the totals. Same for experience or advancement boxes, simply unnecessary in a one shot. Bear this in mind, generating 4 to 6 characters for a Con game can take as long, or even longer than writing the actual scenario. Don’t leave it too late.
Online promotion Con organisers will want to help you advertise your game on their site, so help them do that by getting your info across to them in a timely manner. Every Con has different demands, so do your due diligence early rather than late. Veteran GMs of the Con will know all the deadlines, as well as all the plum slots and spaces. Get in early. Or it may be that you will be in a ‘game on demand’ or ‘show up and play’ slot where nothing needs arranging in advance. Either way, be ready and able to deliver as advertised. There’s usually some flex time built in so that you can amend details of your game if things change along the way. That even occasionally goes as far as a complete change of heart on system or setting. Best practice would be to keep to your original idea, as organisers and potential players may already be making plans based on what’s public knowledge. If your Con has a forum, be active on it and promote yourself and your game. Watch what the veteran GMs do in order to strike the right tone. Don’t be shy, you want people to play in your game, and players will spend time considering all the options. Make yourself available to answer questions, with confidence, and clarity.
Flyers, sign-up sheets and tags Your game needs a simple pitch in order to inform organisers and attract players. Check your Con policies on these, but at a bare minimum you’ll want to come up with a game title and a couple of lines of text to hook people. The chances are high that you’ll be asked to do more than that, perhaps even to go as far as prepare a colourful flyer for your game. This might double as your sign-up sheet. As with character sheets, do as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. No-one is expecting award winning graphic design skills, though some simple formatting will go a long way. See what everyone else is doing in advance of the Con. The text of your pitch is important. Keep it short, no more than a paragraph, and use it to your advantage. This is your best signal of what sort of game you’ll want to have, and what sort of play styles it will suit best. A popular method is to use ‘tags’. These are words or short phrases that let the reader know what’s in store at a glance. It’s no guarantee that they’ll be considered, but it mitigates the risk of clashing.
Timing Take breaks, and bear in mind that the players will take their lead from you in this regard. Don’t go more than two hours without calling for a decent ten to fifteen minute break giving everyone a chance to refresh themselves. Your game will be a lot better for it.
Handouts and props Everybody loves a handout! One of the best things about Con games is the opportunity to really push the boat out with physical props. Maps, letters, objects, hats, it’s all possible. None of it is strictly necessary but if you have the wherewithal I highly recommend it. One note of caution: sometimes excessive prop needs get in the way of the ‘travel light’ maxim.
Seating The physical environment at a Con is one of those areas where you might not have complete control. Tables and chairs are a bare minimum, and that’s all you might get laid on for you. There’s every chance you’ll be sharing the room with other groups too, so occasionally space can be a little tight.
Noise can be an issue too, so be courteous and try to keep your group’s enthusiasm levels down to a mere rumble. Where and how you sit can have an effect on the nature of your game. The traditional time honoured lay out is to sit at a rectangular table with the GM ensconced behind a screen at one short edge. If that suits, go for it. For something a bit more open and collaborative, try seating yourself half way along a long edge. It’s surprisingly effective. Or you may have a round wedding style table, which plays havoc with screens. Make the most of what you have, and don’t be afraid of getting up and pacing around a bit. It’s not school, so don’t glue everyone into a learning posture.
Introduce yourselves Tell your players your name, and that you’ll be GMing such and such game today. Simple, yet incredibly effective. Shake hands if that’s your style, and ask them their names. You’re about to share close quarters and some intense experiences for a few hours, it’s courteous to know who you’re playing with. Folded index cards and marker pens make for easy name displays. Have some in your GM bag. Similarly, it can pay dividends to check who already knows each other at the table. Often people sign up in pairs or packs. It’s good to have a handle on pre-existing relationships, and definitely to ensure you make an extra effort to include lone players. To strike the right tone, I’d suggest adopting a professional attitude and imagine you’re delivering a presentation to a friendly meeting. If that sounds intimidating or too formal, don’t worry, it’s just an opener. Once the ice is broken, things can and will get as casual as is necessary.
Table rules “People are paying to be here at the Con and have fun, don't stop that happening.” Woohoo Always ask who has played this system before and how much. It’s almost always a real mix of experience and it’s something you will need to factor into your GMing. By necessity the game moves as fast as the slowest player, so if you know who’ll need extra help with rules guidance, that can smooth the whole process. If you’re making any considerable changes to the base rules as written, flag it up now. No-one will object, but they might if you say nothing then spring it on them half way through a particularly visceral encounter. Next, table rules, which is whatever you feel you need to say out loud to ensure everyone is on the same page about such things as table chatter, using mobile devices, breaks, and rulings. No need to dwell, or justify, they will be looking to you for leadership and reassurance. Just make sure you’re not contradicting any Con policies. Lastly, set the tone of the style you prefer, in just a couple of sentences. Something like “you’ll need to be heroic and proactive today” or “in character dialogue will be the priority in the game”. This should reflect your promo, but be prepared to compromise to suit the table dynamics. Lastly, hand out the pregens and ask if there are any questions. Answer as best you can, or tell the player you’ll answer it during play. This whole introduction piece looks like a lot, and it is, but you should look to get it done in 15 minutes max. It’s worth taking this time to get things set up correctly and have everyone happy and in the zone. Cutting corners at this stage can result in misunderstandings down the line and you’ll only have to deal with them then when you’re in the flow of the session.
Lines and veils Roleplaying games are nothing if not versatile. Subject matters runs the gamut from heroic warriors and wizards, to police procedurals, to historical conspiracies and everything else you can imagine. As with any media, it can also touch on some fairly mature topics. Using cinema certificates as an example, will your game be a U cert, or 18 cert, or something in between? If you’re going to address adult themes in your game, then you need to flag that up in your promo. Even if you’re not planning a gore fest, and you think you’re going for something a bit more PG, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at your planned material afresh. Will there be swearing? Sex? Violence? Intense emotion? None of this is a problem, if no-one at your table (or within earshot) has a problem with it. Your job as GM is to ensure your players are comfortable with your plans, and a good start is to manage expectations at the start. One caveat: simply asking if everyone is cool might not be enough. If someone is nervous about things, they might not want to hold up their hand for fear of being spotlighted. Use your empathy and your common sense here. Take a little time out if need be, and be prepared to compromise and adjust downwards the levels of drama you had planned if it makes for a better game for all.
Teaching the game People tend to gravitate towards the new at Cons. There’s always a surprising amount of first timers to any system, and Cons are seen as a great way to try things out. As such, even if you haven’t advertised your slot as a Demo game, there is likely to be a large element of it in what you do. Teaching is one of those things where you could spend a lifetime learning how best to do it, and there’s an enormous amount of literature of the subject. As a brief guide, it’s all about finding a balance between learning through play, and explaining the game outside of the narrative. If you have a table completely new to your game, then in some ways it’s easier. Slow down on occasion and tell your group how and why mechanical stuff happened behind the curtain. Don’t dwell on it, and launch straight back into the story once you see nods and smiles. As GM, you’re likely to be seen as the oracle when it come to the system and setting, so don’t be afraid to make suggestions if the players are struggling with either of those elements, or are about to do something that you know will get punished by the game purely due to player ignorance. Beware, get too heavy handed with this and you’re playing the game rather than your players. Let them make their decisions, just arm them with knowledge they should have. If you’re happy and enthusiastic about running demo sessions, then get in touch with your favourite game publisher beforehand. Many companies are interested in rewarding hard working GMs for their labours. You’ll never become a millionaire this way, but there’s kudos and merchandise aplenty. Many published authors got their start volunteering for companies at Cons. It’s a toe in the door.
Disruptions “It's not up to you to make sure no one is ever upset by anything you say, if someone tells you they have been upset, accept it and apologise.” Nerulean The vast majority of the time your session will run pretty smoothly, just like your home games do. You’ll always find something you could have done better on the day, but if you’ve got your head right and your prep right, the rest usually follows. Very occasionally, there can be a challenge. Again, as GM, unfortunately people will look to you to solve any problems that come up. But you’re not alone, so don’t panic, and grab an organiser if you’re
in doubt. Most issues can be solved with communication, and luckily, that’s a skill all GMs have in spades. Attendance can cause upset to perfectly planned scenarios. You may get too few, or too many players. Flexibility is key here, your game will be able to cope if you’re not too precious about it (and that’s the first lesson for all GMs; don’t be married to your prep!). If you only have two players, unless you really have to cancel, give it a go. You never know, it could be the best session you’ve never played. If you get too many, which is a rare occurrence given the sign up formats most Cons use, that’s actually more of an issue. It might be better to ask an organiser to split the group down into two if there’s another willing GM nearby. But if you have to go large, don’t be afraid of it, just grab a copy of another pregen if you have to and call it a twin! I bet the best PC interaction comes from those two. Similarly, you might get drop outs mid-way through the session, and more rarely, late comers. Again, go with the flow and adapt. It might be disruptive to the unfolding story but inclusivity trumps narrative fidelity. Roll with it, and move on. If you’re not flustered your players won’t be. Things can get tricky when you have a disruptive player at your table. Disruption needs to be qualified though, and it’s a judgement call you’ll have to make on the day. Low end signs of boredom can be misleading. Someone texting could actually have a home emergency and they’re just trying to get it dealt with discreetly. Dice spinning and doodling are actually signs of a creative mind, let it slide. Outright yawns and sleepiness simply call for fresh air and a comfort break. At the other end of the spectrum you might be unfortunate enough to encounter aggression (thankfully, vanishingly rare) or idiocy. The latter can raise its head in many forms, such as blatant sexism, racism or other such nonsense. This can be exacerbated by alcohol, so care should be taken in any confrontation. Most of the time, a firm word is enough to put the idiot back in their box, but if there’s anything about the situation that looks like its leading to real upset for anybody, then call a time out, and clear the room. At that point either have a one to one chat with the transgressor, or grab an organiser and explain your situation. Always be respectful, and discreet. This isn’t a place or time for heated words. At the end of the day, an individual is responsible for their own words and actions, so if someone won’t play right, they don’t get to play at all. Hopefully you’ll never be put in such a position, but if you are, stand firm.
Online Resources and Further Reading Running Games http://darransims.livejournal.com/2610.html http://www.ukroleplayers.com/columns/gaz-bowerbank/top-ten-convention-game-pitfalls/ http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=430#tips http://ryanmacklin.com/tag/convention-gming/ http://thatsnotmysquid.com/blog/?p=81#content http://dungeonsmaster.com/2013/08/gencon-2013-tips-6-for-players-6-for-dms/ http://swshinn.com/rpg-hobby-games/running-a-stress-free-convention-rpg-game/
Organising your own Con http://www.philm.demon.co.uk/RPGs/ConOrganising.txt http://www.mk-rpg.org.uk/Concrete_Cow_howto
First steps for novices http://www.gregstolze.com/downloads.html Scroll down to the bottom of this page. This advice is invaluable, even to veteran gamers. http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/101145/Fundamentals-of-TabletopRoleplaying?term=fundamental
Current Conventions http://www.philm.demon.co.uk/RPGs/conventions.htm http://www.ukroleplayers.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=73