Mastering as Game Master: Conventions Episode.008

The ring hovers in the air after you touch it, spinning methodically in an encasement of blue sapphire.  It resonates that chatter your teeth and make goose bumps on your arms.  The thoughts of the numerous battles, traps, and puzzles you’ve championed since you initially embarked upon this incredible journey months ago almost overwhelm your senses of nostalgia.  This artifact means so much to your tribe, however.  The spinning slowly comes to an end, and you take it into your possession.  No sooner than you do….Oh I’m sorry, everyone.  Our time slot is up.  Thank you for playing.

Playing a game at a convention just feels different than when you are at home with your friends around the table.  There is something unique, something special, that you can’t help but feel a better sense of awareness of what’s going on in the game.  Our minds are more focused, and we can ignore more environmental distractions.  Even a GM should approach a con game differently than when they are playing among friends at home.  More is at stake.

A minor digress.  Out of every convention I have attended to play role playing table top games, I can count the number of cons that required me to pay to play each game on one hand.  Most of the time, these are “justified” by the convention paying for their badge or a portion of a hotel room.  This is simply ridiculous and just a way of bringing in more money into an already profiting convention.  If attendance is reaching 40,000 to 50,000 attendees, and you give out 4,000-5,000 free badges, the amount of money brought into the convention by the other 35,000 – 45,000 attendees easily trumps the loss in earnings.  Moreover, a large reason those ~40K attendees bother to show up is because of the GMs who are willing to run a game.  It’s almost as bad as having to buy a membership to a store in order to shop there.  It’s the same concept though.


  “Overgrown” by nilTrace

Back to the topic at hand, a GM should approach each convention game with the perspective of being a professional GM.  In a sense, you are paid to run your game.  There are people who not only chose to play in your game but were willing to pay additionally to assure a seat.  That really is a humbling feeling.  As a result, a GM should go above and beyond their usual methods of running a game in order to give these individuals satisfaction for the cost of the game.

Keep in mind that the players either regularly plays with a group at home or they never get to play except for conventions.  If the former, they are going to come in with experience from their games.  They sit around a table, they have nothing more than dice and their character sheets, and they game with the same GM.  If the latter, they come to the conventions in hopes of their experience to be so memorable that it holds their craving over until the next convention.  Either way, a GM has a duty to entertain to the best of their ability for the time slot.

First, you should have a practice run of your game with your usual group with a strict 4 hour time limit.  Just like we rehearse for a speech that cannot be longer than a certain period, GMs should prepare for their game to finish in the allotted time slot.  Even more, expert GMs should wrap up completely within 10 minutes before the end to give players enough time to make it to their next game on time.  Sloppy GMs will still be playing at the end of the slot, go over it by 15 minutes, and screw up the next game at that table as well as every other game each player is about to play next.  Keep a watch handy, keep an eye on it, and break your game down into intervals that are easily chewable.

For example, the first hour could be just roleplaying with townsfolk to acquire clues on the overall plot.  The second hour would be the first half of the journey to the destination.  A break is taken at the 2-hour mark, and then the third hour involves entering the destination and exploration.  Leave the final entire hour for the last confrontation.  Take the structure of the plot and practice running each segment, making notes on what slowed time down and what could be changed to pick up the pace (or slow down if it’s moving too fast).

Second, try to do a little bit more than just narrate the game.  Although role playing games are meant to stay in the mind, consider a few handouts for visuals to add to the realism.  Perhaps it can be an image of something that is difficult to describe (or important to show every detail).  Bring a map of the area.  If you wish, provide battle maps (preferably already drawn to save time) and miniatures.  Or just bring miniatures to have each player set on his character sheet to have a showpiece while they play.  Go all out and build terrain out of foam board.  Create, or have someone create, custom-made character sheets in full color.  Provide background music or triggered sound effects.  Any of these would be fine and bring your game more to life and unique for the players.  Sometimes it is unnecessary to be extravagant to raise the bar:  bring a second person to co-GM separated groups.  Whatever the case may be, it’s the added elements that can spice your game up to make it a bit more memorable.


Third, and this may just be a pet peeve, but character creation at conventions is just wrong and a definite sign of a lazy GM.  If you are going to have players spend 30-60 minutes of their paid time rolling up characters, then it had better be stated in the description that it’s an introductory game to be run in an abridged timeframe.  Typically a convention game slot is 4 hours, and after late straggler arrive, then creating characters, we have burned up the first hour.  Never have players roll up characters at the conventions.  Take the time of making pre-gens.  You wanted to sign up as a GM, and you did so with weeks to spare.  If you have a regular meeting group, have them roll up characters before or after a game session so they are ready by the convention.  Players nearly always enjoy making new characters.

Finally, think about the games you played in as a player that you remember fondly at conventions.  Was the GM talented at speaking in multiple characters with different accents?  Did the GM bring 3D terrain?  Elaborately drawn maps?  Well painted miniatures?  Or was it something else such as keeping pace going smoothly, making sure everyone has equal time to speak up, or just having a well-written plot?  Just walking around conventions, it’s obvious many GM’s have taken this initiative and found their own ways of making sure the players have the best experience for their game.  Truly the goal is to have players remember your game the following year.


Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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