Tips for Running Games at Cons

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Are you new to the convention gaming scene?  First time running a game at a con? Here are a few tips for the GMs/Event coordinators/tournament directors that run events at conventions., in particular our events  This once applied mostly to RPG GMs.  However, as time went on, we added notes for other types of GMs and event coordinators.

How do I prepare for a convention game?

This depends on your type of game.

The Basics

RPGs (non-organized play) – You would always have at least six (6) pre-generated characters, unless you’ve told the Gaming Coordinator less.  You should have a full adventure that should fill 3.5 to 4 hours, that has been playtested at least once. Play testing the scenario prior to the con is very good practice.  You should be prepared to teach the game to new players.

RPGs (organized play) – Organized Play is a little more organized, as the name implies.  A convention usually has a central coordinator for the specific organization and he/she will have the basic guidelines for GM preparation including a means to access the adventures.  There also may be requirements outside the organization that the convention has.  For example, some conventions my still require pre-generated characters for people that just want to sit down and play, although the organized play rules may not require them.  If this is the case, check with the organized play coordinator for any resources for pre-=generated characters.

We prefer that any organized play game have pre-generated characters prepared for first time players.

RPG.net – One Shot #17: The Dos And Don’ts Of Game Mastering A Convention Game

Board Games – It is very important that you know your game. If you can, play test before the con. You should arrange the parts of your game in ziplocks or something to make it easy access.  Unless you have told the gaming coordinator that you want to be a “host player” – a GM that is also a player – plan to marshal the game and not play. We prefer that you play only if you need the players. The priority should be the paying attendees.

Collectible Card Games (Demos) – Prize support and freebie handouts from the manufacturer are good, but it’s up to you to get them. You can coordinate that with the Con Management to see if they have contacts or check with the dealer room to see if there are any dealers that might carry boosters of your game.  You might be able to get some help sponsoring the demos.

Miniature Games (Demos) – Have enough armies for 2 to 4 players. Not many people bring their own stuff, unless it is a tournament.

Beyond the basics

If your game is an obscure or new game, you should be prepared to advertise it in some way to attract players. Prior to the con, post on social media, newsgroups, mailing lists and forums related to the game about your game at the con to attract players.

Make your game special. Coordinate with the Con management to get prize support for your game. Dollar Stores sometimes have cool things you can buy cheap to give away. Dice is always good.

Where applicable, try something different.  For example, an RPG GM might try a totally different adventure style than he would normally run with his home group. But do not go too outside your comfort zone because players can sense a disaster session before it get there and that can destroy a session before it gets started.

TOURNAMENTS

Prize support is good – Coordinate through the Con Management. Coordinate closely with the Gaming coordinator for space, and scheduling. Advertise on ALL pertinent boards, forums, lists. Make flyers and either mail them out or coordinate with con management to have them mail it out with their flyers. Bring flyers to OTHER cons you go to for
advertisement.

Tournaments are hard to get going with out a lot of advertisement and coordination. Corporate sponsorship or sanctioning is important.

Some cons may have a specific game description format to follow. Ask the gaming coordinator for the format and submit it to him. There may be an online form for you to fill out.

I have never run an RPG game before but want to.  Can I run a game at a con? 

Short answer: Yes, but I would not recommend it.  Some cons may require some experience in running games before they let you run a table at their con.  How your game goes not only reflects on you but it also reflects on the con, so understand if they reject you for lack of experience.  A con game is not the best environment for trying out RPG GMing for the first time.  I would recommend a game store  or a home group to get started and then you can graduate to convention gaming.

We prefer that you have some experience before running games for us.

What do I do if not enough people show up for my game?

In short, ANYTHING you want to get players (with in the restrictions set by the convention). Youc an start by going to whatever gaming registration set up they may have and see if their are any players just floating  around looking for something to do. Push your game, show-case your good GM personality.

One thing that makes a good GM attractive to other players is a good and personable personality. You may have to step out of a shell to do it, but at a convention, you sometimes have to sell your game and yourself to get players.

Go around the gaming room and see if their is anyone looking for something to do. “You looking for a game?” “Are you into role playing… board games … card games?”

Search for players as long as you can, depending on how long you think it will take to play your game/scenario. If at some point – at least 30 minutes into the session – you are unable to find players, ask the gaming coordinator if you might be needed elsewhere.

You could also ask the Gaming Coordinator if you have the option of moving your game to another subsequent slot to give you another chance to get players. He may be able to do that.

What do I do if too many people show up for my game?

In most cases, the gaming coordinator should have a means to limit the number of seats for people to sign in.  Either an online tool or some manual system used on site.  Most cons use the first-come-first-serve rule, either way. Check with the Gaming Coordinator to see how that is handled. When the seats are full,  the con may allow the others to sign up as alternates. Usually, those that preregistered get priority.

One option is to try and plan on running it again in another slot. Arrange it with the Gaming Coordinator and the extra players you have.

When should I actually start my game?

Start your game probably no later than 15 minutes after the start of the session. Give people time to get settled and you’ll always have a late player.

When should I actually wrap up my game?

You can end it right at the end of the session or a few minutes past, depending on the time left between breaks. Some cons leave an hour between sessions while others leave 30 minutes. It’s up to you and the group and how well you paced your game.

If we’ve dedicated a table to you all weekend or all day, then you can go at your own pace and the pace of your players.