Posts Tagged ‘Metamorphosis Alpha


RPG Retirement

This is a post about how, back in the day, players would set a safe and comfy retirement as one of the driving goals for their player characters. The post about the RPG Retirement Home, the safe and comfy place (probably in the Midwest) which I am driven to create so that we can spend the last years of our lives pretending to be elves 24-7, will wait for another time.

Original gangster Tim Kask, founding editor of Dragon magazine and co-founder of Eldrich Entertainment, posted recently at the latter’s blog:

End-game goals? What a novel idea, at least for what seems to be a majority of contemporary players. Just what were those novel ideas? Same as you and me in real life: make a stack of cash, buy or build the home/castle of our dreams on our own substantial property where nobody is likely to mess with us and retire to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Yes, Virginia, we really did play like that. All of us had PC’s that were “retired” or “semi-retired”; we did not use them except for special circumstances.

Adventurer Conqueror King is as interested in setting out a system for players to pursue end-game goals as I am in exploring how these goals arose out of the original conditions of play. In playing and talking to some of the OG’s, I’ve seen secondary evidence for PC retirement as the ultimate end-game goal. During one of the side chats during the campaign Michael Mornard ran in NYC, he talked about how, because clerics got their stronghold so much sooner than other classes, everyone wanted to play the class that was the easy route to becoming landed gentry. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this castle would be a de facto retirement home, but because clerics in OD&D also hit their more-or-less maximum level earlier this makes sense. (Tim’s post is mainly talking about class level limits. It also gets into players having a big stable of different characters in the same campaign as a corollary of PCs retiring, which Mornard posts about here.)

Last night’s game was the first time I’ve seen a player in one of my campaigns (Ray Weiss, author of Everything is Dolphins) expressly say that the main goal for their character (whip-wielding, whiskey-drinking Randy Buffett) was to reach a safe place and retire. After having celebrated this sighting of an old-school trope arising spontaneously in the wild, I’m now ready to speculate on the reasons why PC retirement might be sought after in some games but not others.

Character sketch for Randy Buffett, retiree wannabe.

Lack of advancement. We used the original edition of Metamorphosis Alpha as the player-facing rules in last night’s session. (Behind the screen it’s Adventurer Conqueror King, or a mutation thereof.) Metamorphosis Alpha has almost no system for a player to improve their character’s abilities through play. I’ve cobbled together a Burning Wheel-style advancement mechanic using the closest thing there is in MA – when you make five successful tests against Mental Resistance you get to improve it one point – but the zero-to-hero payoff is muted. My houserules mean that MA characters start off at the point an OD&D character reaches at name level, where further adventuring might get you some extra hit points and more spells per level but you’ll never get another hit dice or new level of spells. When MA is played as written, a new character is more like a max-level D&D character of one of the classes referenced in Tim’s article that have a hard level cap: they’re basically as bad-ass as they’ll ever be. Note that the original group of D&D characters to visit Metamorphosis Alpha’s Starship Warden ranged from 18th to 20th level, plus an intelligent sword and some level-capped characters: “Tom and Tim went as druids (probably because they liked all types of herbs).”

Recent editions of D&D place a lot of importance on offering many benefits from advancement evenly spread all the way to level 20 or 30. Given this incentive to keep adventuring, it’s not surprising that retirement isn’t on the minds of players in these games; few will ever run out of zero-to-hero. Mornard and Kask described groups in which, having reached the point where rewards from further adventures diminished, retirement became “the ultimate and totally honorable goal of the game.” Such lofty levels remain a distant dream for any of the New York Red Box D&D campaigns, but last night suggests that retirement is a much more immediate goal in MA where advancement isn’t much of a hook right from the start.

A long road to the top. No goal that’s easily achieved is worth setting for your player character. Original D&D, and Adventurer Conqueror King even more so, very clearly lays out a lot of worthy obstacles between you and building your own gated retirement community, all of which – like amassing a lot of gold and clearing a hex of monster lairs – can be achieved through play. (Interestingly, you’re assumed to do this at the point where your character’s stats can still advance by adventuring, and one of the benefits of levelling up is getting free followers to staff your castle with, so the system uses the zero-to-hero carrot to reinforce the retirement incentive.)

Last night the group had a chance to return to their home village and lord it over everything they surveyed, but they passed up this chance at early retirement because they hadn’t yet achieved true security. Retiring onto a patch of land that isn’t hurtling out of control through interstellar space, rapidly breaking down, and in the power of the deranged intelligences Mother Brain and the Captain is almost as beyond Randy Buffett’s grasp right now as a level cap is to a newly-minted D&D character.

Love for your character. Some of the strong reactions to Kask’s blog post at and theRPGsite come from the assumption that a rotating stable of characters means that the player has no more attachment to any of them than you would the counters provided to your side in a wargame. (Some also derive from the fact that Tim is either enough of an OG to have stopped caring who he offends, or enough of a showman to know the value of controversy.)

This is obviously wrong, even setting aside the ample evidence in Playing at the World that wargamers have been developing personalities for, and emotional ties to, individual units for centuries. If none of your characters means anything to you, why would you derive satisfaction from knowing that one of them has escaped from the fray to enjoy the good things in its imaginary life? The reward for advancing a pawn across the board is the exact opposite: it levels up and can fight more effectively, and because you don’t care about it like you do a player character you’re glad to pay the price that turning your pawn into a queen has also painted a target on its back.

As a point of OSR research and intellectual interest, I’m glad to see that this campaign has generated the conditions necessary to make an end-game goal emerge organically from play. (This bears out an observation of Chris Clark’s that the most important innovation of Metamorphosis Alpha was to make the end goals explicit and urgent: whether you’ll try to save the ship or escape from it becomes a pressing issue as soon as the players figure out what’s going on.) But as a player, what makes me proud is that in just two sessions of play Randy Buffett has gone from being 3d6 in order to a person who Ray cares enough about him to fervently hope he reaches a place where he’ll never again risk being sliced apart by animated bottles of Aunt Jemima syrup.

EDIT: I just remembered that one of the first OD&D characters ever created in my White Sandbox campaign, Lotur the Scurrilous Cur, was also explicitly retired from play. The omission was probably because Lotur’s goal seemed primarily to achieve domestic bliss with his beloved gynosphinx Ontussa, which seems different but is really just a specific flavor of retirement home. To the points of a large stable of characters and threat of death, though, Lotur’s player Greengoat was also explicitly interested in making room for a character whose stats wouldn’t suck so bad and perhaps would thus not be so constantly on the edge of mortal peril.


Friends of the Starship Warden

On the way to the excellent Wizards & Wookies discussion last night, I re-read parts of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, and was struck by this passage in particular :

And then there was Jim Ward, another of my idols, a fact I hadn’t realized until I met him. A former TSR employee, novelist, and game designer, Ward had written my favorite D&D spin-off game, Gamma World, a mutation of his Metamorphosis Alpha, the first-ever science fiction RPG. No longer in print, Gamma World was a similar RPG, but set in a postapocalyptic world full of mutant humanoids, messianic cults, and irradiated ruins. A dark but ideal antidote to the Reagan-era arms-race dread I had experienced as a teenager. “That gamers are portrayed as nerds drives me nuts,” Ward offered me without any prompting. “It irritates me when people do that to my hobby.”

This section of the book, recounting author Ethan Gilsdorf’s visit to the Lake Geneva Gaming Convention, resonated with me because it so accurately captured the emotions and experiences I’ve had at LGGC’s successor, Gary Con. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of some bad news I’ve been meaning to share. Tim Kask writes:

Jim Ward, author or co-author of [many awesome things in addition to those mentioned above]  and just all around nice guy and creative madman, is ill. Very ill. He has had to cancel appearances at several cons to which he was invited since last spring. He has been diagnosed, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, with a serious neurological disorder. The gaming world came close to saying goodbye to yet another of the pioneers of RPGing several months ago. The experts say that Jim’s condition is treatable and manageable, but will remain very serious forever. Jim is very, very slowly recovering; every day is a new skirmmish with the disorder. He still suffers from acute bouts of dizziness and a pervasive lassitude due to bodily energy issues.

While this is sadly in the category of Things that Suck But What Can You Do, Tim goes on to present something you can do:

While Jim and his family are fortunate to have some health insurance, the co-pays are mounting at an alarming rate, having hit five digits some while ago and showing no signs of abating any time soon. While we can’t make Jim well, perhaps we can alleviate some of his financial worries and remove some of the burden from his family. I hope you can help my friend of 35 years in his most low-down time.

When I learned of Jim’s illness, I picked up the Metamorphosis Alpha adventure The House on the Hill and the four issues of the MA magazine MAJOR at RPG. now, and also volunteered to donate material to the fundraising book Craig J. Brain has proposed. I’m glad that there’s now a way to contribute more directly and immediately, and if you’re a fan of Jim’s work I hope you’ll join me in making a PayPal donation to defray his medical expenses.


Running a Con Game pt. 3: Blurbs

Time for more advice on GMing a RPG at a convention! In previous installments I talked about figuring out what you want to get out of it and coming up with titles for your events. This post will cover writing the blurbs that will describe your games in the convention’s program book.  I’ll use the ones I did for Anonycon as examples, and then try to extract some general guidelines for good blurb-writing – which will also start to cover advice about the content of the adventures you’ll run, since that’s what the blurbs describe.

First up is the blurb for Hidden Secrets of Tamoachan:

Your band of adventurers accidentally destroyed the world. So far, only you know that in a few days everyone on the planet will die horribly. Your hasty research into ancient lore suggests that an escape route may be found in the depths of the legendary pyramid of Tamoachan. Can you fight your way through a dungeon full of poison gas and the relics of ancient civilizations, or will you die a little ahead of everyone else?

NOTE: The story of this adventure is loosely connected to “Swords and Star-Tribes,” “Battlefield Oerth”, and “War for the Starship Warden.” Players are welcome to sign up for all of these events, or just enjoy this one on its own.

6 players, AD&D 1e. Characters will be provided. No rules knowledge necessary.

Start with a bang. A good blurb will catch the reader’s attention within the first sentence. It doesn’t have to be as literal a bang as the destruction of the world, but it should be surprising, exciting, and quickly get across the essence of  the game – in this case, high-powered, light-hearted wahoo adventure.

Offer a unique experience. A long-form RPG campaign allows for lots of things like character development and sandbox world-building that you can’t do in a convention game where you’ll only see the players for a handful of hours.  Your adventure should take advantage of the things you wouldn’t do in a regular campaign, like destroying the game world! Some of my favorite unique possibilities of a con game, like designing the pregen characters’ Vancian magic to exactly dovetail with the challenges of the adventure, or making their individual goals into a shaped charge set to self-destruct at the end of the session, can’t be advertised in a blurb without giving it away. But you can and should say right up front that the PCs are going to be rulers of warring magocracies , or waking up naked in prison, or whatever other scenario that would be awesome to play once but too difficult to manuever campaign PCs into or unwieldy to sustain in regular play.

Is this game part of a series? Most convention games are one-shot affairs.  If that’s not true and you’re running a multiple-round tournament or a series of tightly-linked games where it’s important that players who were in one session come back for another, be sure to let people know so they can schedule accordingly! Many cons will have a pull-down menu or something you can use to say “this is a tournament,” but it’s still a good idea to explain the details of what you expect in your blurb. The loosely linked series I describe in this note is something I haven’t tried before. The idea is to let people who like one event come back for more, without turning away people who can’t schedule them all (a problem that often keeps me from playing in tournaments). We’ll see how it works!

What do players need to play? Most cons will ask you to specify whether all levels of experience with the game system are welcome and if players need to bring anything, and some will ask whether it’s suitable for all ages. It’s a good idea to provide that info even if the con doesn’t ask for it, because players want to know if they qualify for an event and you want to have people show up who are ready to enjoy the game the way you want to play it. You generally don’t need to specify that players need dice, pencils, and paper (although you should bring extra of each just in case). Even if your blurb says that players should bring their own characters, it’s a good idea to have some pre-generated ones available. Personally I’d say that unless you’re playing a game where group interaction is necessary to the character-making process, your limited time at the convention is better spent on playing than making the PCs you’ll need to play. I have already self-administered the censure necessary for disagreeing with Gygax on this point. I also think that it’s better to run events that are open to newbies, because it’s fun and worthy, but you should be sure that you actually are ready to help people who don’t know what they’re doing & aren’t trying to achieve something like playing a mechanically complex system or a conceptually sophisticated scenario where inexpertise would be disruptive.

Next blurb, for Swords and Star-tribes:

You are the Captains of the Crossed Swords, and your might, mutations, and wits have conquered all the lands you know. But the hawkoids from the vent in the sky-vault tell of new conquests. You have long suspected that there are many other lands layered above and below. And you’ve heard heretics whisper that your world is truly a vast ship traveling from one ball of gas to another. But what does it mean that “the Warden has landed”?

Playing this game will let you be a... Part of the appeal of RPGs is trying out new and exciting roles, and one reason to go to conventions is to experience characters and situations you wouldn’t normally. A good blurb quickly gets across to the reader who they’d be if they played this game, and hopefully makes it sound appealing. For traditional party-based games, I like to get across the idea that the PCs will be part of a cohesive unit; it saves time at the table explaining “your guys have  already been on many adventures together.”  Company of the Crossed Swords isn’t all that attractive (I was stuck thinking of a party name and so stole one from the Glantri campaign ) but who doesn’t want to be a conqueror possessed of might, mutations, and wits? I like to flatter the players with blurbs of the “your awesomeness will crush stars under your heel” variety. However, James’ famous line “This is the story of a gang of insanely greedy, stupid, merciless cowards trying to bullshit their way to a wholly undeserved victory” would also be a great blurb because it tells you right there who you’re going to be, and if it doesn’t sound like fun you’re probably not the player for that event!

End with a challenge!? The idea here is that the last sentence of the blurb is a personal call to action. Will your superior playing skills prevail, or will this infamous dungeon TPK another lot of pathetic losers? I dare you to preregister for this game and find out! Using all that dramatic punctuation is kind of a cheap trick, but I do it all the time anyway. Subtle refinement and RPGs don’t mix.

Next blurb,  Battlefield Oerth:

Your fellowship of heroes were the only ones to escape the hideous fate that befell your world. But do you have what it takes to survive an environment where metal walls talk and pigs can fly? In the spirit of D&D classics like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, in this adventure you’ll pit your swords and spells against robots and ray-guns. The future of more species than your own is yours to decide!

“It’s like Jaws, in space”. A blurb is like a high-concept movie pitch. You’re trying to sell someone on an unknown quantity. Pointing out how it’s like something they already know and love (e.g. Barrier Peaks) can help get your idea across. I think I used this technique for this blurb because I was insecure about how the fantasy/science fiction hybrid and wanted to point out its Gygaxian pedigree.

Highlight the cool. If your game has swords, spells, rockets, and rayguns, put that in the blurb! (Contrariwise, if the title of your event seems to promise something you won’t really deliver, this is your place to set people straight.) I’ve talked a lot about attracting players to your event, but ultimately you don’t want just any players. Getting the ones who’ll dig the kind of game you want to play also means repelling the ones who won’t. One accepted way to do this by specifying that players are required to have experience with the game system, because that way you can filter out the ones who don’t know yet that they won’t like the kinds of thing that system aims to deliver. Other than that, though, I think that if you try to use your blurb to describe the kinds of people who shouldn’t sign up for your event you’ll just look like an asshole. Highlighting the cool helps get the right players in both directions. The more I express my enthusiasm for mixing swords and rockets, the more people who think that’s lame will know not to sign up. If I don’t mention this central awesomeness, I’ll both fail to attract people who like that kind of thing and run the risk that some of the people who do show up will be dismayed when I spring it on them.

Last blurb, War for the Starship Warden:

Defend your home against invaders from Oerth! As long as you have charges left in your disruptor pistols, robots at your command, and the mental ability to drain energy from living organisms, the outsiders don’t stand a chance. This free-wheeling adventure uses the framework of the 4E rules to create a high energy mashup of the world’s first fantasy and science-fiction RPGs. Will it be you or your enemy who sets the next destination for the Warden?

Set the stakes. Even if they’ll only actually play in your world once, players want to feel that their actions will have lasting consequences. Unless you’re  in an organized play league like the RPGA, a one-shot convention game can’t provide the usual markers of change over time in a campaign like the steady accumulation of experience points (although I’m always surprised how often players nevertheless ask “How many XP did we get?” at the end of a con session). What it can offer is the freedom to set up a scenario where every outcome will involve dramatic sweeping changes that would totally screw up an ongoing campaign. One year at Princecon we were dealing with entire branches falling off the Tree of Life – although that’s maybe not the best example because the events of each Princecon do build on each other in a unique AFAIK kind of ongoing campaign stretching back to 1976, and I think next year the races that we failed to graft back on were no longer available as PCs.

Know what the action of your event will be. You’ll often write your blurbs before you actually put together the adventure they describe. This is Not Recommended! I didn’t really have it clear in my mind what would happen in this event when I wrote the blurb. I’d like to say that’s because I was avoiding having a foregone conclusion and letting the events of this one be shaped by player actions in the previous games in the series. In fact, I’m much more enthusiastic about having the GM lay rails to the action when it comes to convention games (although Zak provides good advice on how to do this in a sandbox style in this post at Playing D&D with Porn Stars). Really, I was just counting on procrastination to make me figure out what I was going to do right before the con, which may or may not yet happen in the four days remaining, and it kind of shows in this blurb.

Planning to run a convention game and want ideas for your blurb or feedback on the one you’ve drafted? Post in the comments and the Mule mass-mind will provide. It’d also be cool to have folks write blurbs for games they want to play in, instead of run; perhaps someone will take up that gauntlet!


Running a Con Game pt. 2: Titles

Let’s pretend that, having read the first post in this series, you know that you want to run a RPG at a gaming convention and what you hope to get out of the experience. What’s next? Deciding what to call your event(s).

Titles are important because, as the last post implied, attracting players is essential to being a con GM. The name of your event is likely to be the first thing potential players see when they pre-register for games or scan the program book at the con. If your title is unappealing, you might have no one show up for your game, which sucks. (If your title is misleading you might get disappointed players because they were expecting something else, which can also suck. But you can help avoid that when you write the blurb for your event, which is the subject of the next post. More people will read the name of the game than its description, so it’s better to have a catchy title and a dull blurb that says “ignore the title, here’s what this game will actually be about” than the other way around.)

On a practical level, the first step in setting yourself up as a convention GM is to get in touch with the con’s gaming organizers.  Cons need people to run games, so they’re eager to hear that you want to volunteer. The con website will usually have an obvious link to their instructions & contact info for GMs. It’s OK to start talking to the folks in charge of the con’s gaming track to help you decide what you want to run, but as soon as you figure that out you’ll need to give them the titles of your events so they can put you into the system.

Here’s an example of that process. I visited the Anonycon website and found the contact info for Max Saltonstall, its hard-working organizer. (I think I followed a link that’s not there now that the game schedule is established). I emailed him and we went back and forth:

ME: I’m interested in DMing some 1974-edition D&D games, and/or new- or old-system Metamorphosis Alpha, at Anonycon. Is it too late to submit events? What should I do if not?

MAX: If you can GM 4 slots we can set you up with a free badge. Have you DMed any of these at conventions before? Would you like to send me some titles and blurbs for a few module proposals?

In retrospect, I’m not sure whether Max was offering to give me some example titles and blurbs that I could use as a model for my own, or whether he had some existing modules that he needed GMs for. Either way it’s worth pointing out that, although I’m assuming that you’re going into this wanting to run an adventure of your own design, the con will often have ones that you could run (for example, Living Forgotten Realms mods) if you don’t want to go to the hassle of making your own. This can be a great way to get experience with just the GMing aspect of running a con game if you’re not interested in or ready for the adventure design part.

Anyway, I wrote back:

ME: Do you have a preference for fantasy (original D&D) or science fiction (Metamorphosis Alpha)?

MAX: I think I have a slight preference for scifi right now, but I like a mix, especially when it comes to game types and systems we do not already have featured.

ME: Cool, I might do a linked series of fantasy and sci-fi games culminating in a mash-up of D&D and Metamorphosis Alpha characters. (I think there are conversion guidelines in the AD&D DMG!)

MAX: I like the idea of a series of games that could also be played independently. How many would you like to do?

ME: I think I’d run four games – nice round number, free badge – which would suggest that they’d be:

Ancient Secrets of Tamoachan, an AD&D game riffing off the ‘easter egg’ reference to the Starship Warden in the classic module

Swords and Starmen, an original-edition MA game culminating in the PCs getting control of a landing craft & leaving the Warden

Battlefield Oerth, a 4E D&D game in which new-school conversions of the previous AD&D pregens fight robots and mutants from the Warden’s other lander

Starman’s Landfall, a MA perspective on the above (ideally using the 4E MA playtest rules)

Writing the blurbs to hint at those connections w/o giving them away will be fun!

Here’s the titles I finally settled on, and an analysis of how well they work.

Hidden Secrets of Tamoachan. The change from my original idea more closely references the original AD&D module, which works well because a) it’s not misleading (the adventure really will romp through the poison-gas-filled pyramid), b) it’s familiar to the target audience of AD&D players while signifying to them that there will be  new revelations even if they’ve been through the module before, and c) the phrase is evocative even to gamers who don’t instantly think “Ah, C1, I know thee well.”

Swords and Star-tribes. The original “Starmen” was meant to reference Andre Norton’s classic Daybreak 2250 AD, but a) it’s misleading because that book was an inspiration for Gamma World, not Metamophosis Alpha, and not all the pregen PCs will be men (some will be women, animals, plants, androids, etc.); b) even I wouldn’t get the reference if I hadn’t just been on a GW-inspiration reading spree; and c) I think the idea of warring tribes is more evocative than the dated-sounding “starmen”. Overall I think this title works pretty well because it takes a phrase that gamers know and love, “swords and sorcery”, and puts an intriguing twist on it that promises a gaming experience that’s relatively rare.

Battlefield Oerth. This is a terrible title. You have to be a Greyhawk nerd to get the twist, but everyone is likely to get the “worst movie of the century” vibe. (I like to think that’s this century he’s talking about, so everything else that happens to me in a movie theater for the next 91 years will be cake by comparison.) You should perhaps ignore all my advice on titles given that this is one that I stuck with.

War for the Starship Warden. The original “Starman’s Landfall” depended on starman, and locked me into doing something with shuttles landing on earth that I wasn’t sure was going to fit the adventure I’d want to run. I kind of like this one – there’s euphony (or something) between “war” and “warden”, and it promises high-concept action.

If I hadn’t put off doing my titles and blurbs until the last minute, it would have been a good idea for me to read these titles to someone else and see whether they’d sign up for a game by that name and what they’d expect it to be. If you are in fact planning to run a con game, post your titles in the comments and I’ll give you that feedback!


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

May 2023

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