Archive for November 19th, 2009


Running a Con Game pt. 1: Whaddya Want?

So you’re interested in GMing a RPG at a gaming convention! That’s awesome, both because Gary Gygax himself identified this as a way to ascend the higher levels of Role-Playing Mastery, and because as it happens I have to get ready to run a series of games at Anonycon in Stamford, CT on Dec. 4-6. So by writing a series of how-to blog posts using my own process of prepping for this event as an example, I’m hoping to trick myself into doing this work. Thanks for playing along!

The first step is to ask yourself “what do I want to get out of this experience?” When I take that advice, here are my answers:

1) I want to learn and get hands-on experience with Metamorphosis Alpha. I played the hell out of its successor, Gamma World, but the original rules and setting (available at that link as a free .rtf file) remain excitingly unexplored.

Getting to run the game you want to play is a great reason to volunteer to GM at a convention, Gentle Reader. If the RPG you crave isn’t on their schedule already, step up and run it yourself! Of course, if you’ve had problems finding people who want to play Super Awesome Let’s Pretend Time: d1,000,000 Edition among your usual group, recruiting players will still be an issue. The smaller the convention and the more obscure your passion, the bigger this problem will be. Future posts in this series will focus on ways to draw folks into your game.

2) I hope to do some playtesting of MA’s new edition, which uses the D&D 4E ruleset. That’ll mean doing things like having 4E characters mix it up with MA monsters and visa versa, as well as converting the original-edition MA characters to the new rules to see how well it preserves their spirit.

My motivation here is gets it exactly wrong. Good advice would have you playtest your adventure before you get to the con, not conduct playtesting once you’re there. For the Forgotten Heroes tournaments I helped create for Goodman Games and run at Gen Con, we ran the adventures multiple times beforehand with different groups in NYC. You don’t have to go that far, but it’s easy and recommended to take an adventure your regular group liked and use it as the basis for your con game, or slip the material you want to run at the con into your ongoing campaign.

3) I want to explore the mysteries of the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, which is fascinating to me because it was part of my first-ever experience of D&D and remains deeply strange: the pyramid seems to have been constructed as a forward-only time travel device and contains a tiny silver floating thing labeled “NEDRAW II” that I only recently realized is a link to MA, which speaks volumes to me about the early days of TSR history and the links between the first-ever fantasy and science fiction RPGs.

OK, I approve of my motivation here. Since it’s up to you what to run, why not choose something you have a personal connection to? If the mojo of your adventure is meaningful and exciting to you, your players are likely to be inspired by your enthusiasm.

4) I want to game with strangers and learn from their play-style.

This is especially valuable for playtesting, but I give this desire two thumbs up. Playing with groups whose approach can be totally different from your own can challenge your assumptions, and conventions are great for that. It’s an essential educational experience for every gamer. Pardon me while I flip through Master of the Game in search of textual support for this bold claim!

5) I want to help advance the outreach efforts of TARGA, the Traditional Adventure Roleplaying Game Association.

If you’re running something you think is a traditional RPG (read: specifically old-school, not just “is still played on the tabletop like they did last millennium”), you should want to help support TARGA too! More generally, it’s a good idea to see if you can link up with a publisher or organized play group, like the Kentucky Fried Gamers. Doing so can help you find players (the publisher may help promote your event, gamers may choose your game because they recognize your sponsor’s name). You may also be able to get some goodies like freebies and flyers to hand out to your players, prizes to award, a T-shirt, hat, or badge for you to wear, etc. Many publishers have demo teams devoted to this kind of thing that you can join, and you should go ahead and write to anyone you can think of who might be interested in supporting your event.

Here are some of the things I don’t want:

1) I don’t want to have a good time. I hope it happens, but it’s a secondary goal for me at Anonycon.

What I’m going to be doing at Anonycon- running four games in three-and-a-half different systems, related only by their themes – is insane and approaches making sense only in light of my non-fun objectives.

Don’t try this at home. Why are you doing this if not to have fun? Although, one of the ways to not have fun GMing at a convention is if you don’t get enough players for your events. Running the same adventure multiple times is easy because you get really practiced by the end of the con, which helps run it smoothly even when you’re worn out. And it’s enlightening because you get to see how different groups approach the same scenario. But it does mean that if you find some players who like your style, they can’t stick with you because they’ve played the adventure already. Doing related adventures using the same system and same pregen PCs is a good middle ground.

2) I don’t want to impress people with what a great GM I am.

One of the many reasons that convention games can go bad is that the GM is trying too hard. If what I want is to impress people, I’m likely to talk too much, sucking all the air out of the room and not leaving space for the players to, y’know, play. And if my motives for running a game are all about my greatness, there’s a pretty much 100% chance that I’ll be crestfallen when the players don’t shower me with praise. I’m going to show up and do my thing the best I know how. If the other folks at the table pick up on the example I’m trying to set and run with it, awesome! If not, maybe I’ll learn something for next time.

Part 2 of this series has advice on coming up with titles for the events you want to run!

Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2009

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