Convention Civilian

Someday, I should put in words what elements of GMing I enjoy and which I don’t.  In the meantime, I was reading this article on about the do’s and don’t’s of running a con RPG and thought to share how I end up doing in each category.

1.  Preparation

I don’t do enough preparation for games I run, convention or not.  I get bored doing certain types of prep.  And, actually, that’s the greater problem I have:  I don’t do a trivial amount of prep, I spend too much time on the wrong things.  I might statblock tons of NPCs and antagonists when having full sets of stats aren’t really that important for something/someone who is going to only be around for a scene.  I might delve into the subtleties of a culture while either not bothering to use those aspects of the culture in an evocative way or not using them at all and keeping the info to myself.

I should be flow-charting the adventure for plot and connections between locations.  I should constantly be figuring out why a NPC, locale, challenge matters to the party and/or plot.  I should be considering how any scene will not go according to expectations and be prepared to adjust things to make the adventure more enjoyable.  I should be thinking of how my pregens are really going to work and what happens when different ones get played.  And, at the same time, I should be comfortable with my material to where I’m not rigidly slaved to my notes but also not just making everything up on the fly.

Then, there’s maps and other visuals.  I’m not a visual person.  I may have gotten caught up on L5R’s 4e mechanics for tactical movement because it’s such a contrast to 3e and/or because it’s important to a number of combat tactics, but I’m perfectly happy to not have tactical movement.  I rarely have a problem visualizing what is going on and, when I do, I just ask the GM if my understanding is correct.  But, other people really like maps and visual representations of positions.  I should have the ability to give them what they want since the point of running a game is to entertain players (while also being entertained).

2.  Timing

I’m much better at tracking time than I used to be.  Yet, I still don’t do it well.  I’m always worried about not providing enough story, but the reality is that playing a RPG is really slow and, as Tom Idleman says, conventions are even more problematic as people need food breaks, breaks to register for games, screw around with their hotel rooms or roommates’ needs, etc.

My games always run long.  Even when they don’t.  I’ve had to stop an adventure halfway in for a non-con game before because … it was only halfway in and we had been “playing” for 5-8 hours.

I also routinely forget just how long combat can run.  Even as a player, I just get amazed at how long a combat goes.  I think I’m better about allowing time for combat now that I’ve run so many HoR mods, but I still forget to include that time in my scene planning.  And, I’m not even sure whether there will be combats in certain scenes or not – I should just always assume a combat for a major scene since it’s likely either going to be a fight or a long drawn out conversation with NPCs.

3.  Pregens

I always do pregens for con games.  I have seen how brutal character creation can be timewise.  Still, I always forget that I need to explain basic rules to people as not everyone who plays is a veteran of the system.  Sure, some things can be learned as you go, but players will miss out on using abilities if they don’t realize certain mechanics to begin with.

4.  Useful pregens

I do put thought into how to make every pregen useful to the party/adventure.  I think this, though, is the hardest part of character creation for a con game.  In a home game, can just adjust abilities on the fly.  Also, it’s even harder when you know the system well enough to know how awesome someone is at something but the character sheet doesn’t convey that to where the players have unequal interpretations of their characters’ abilities.

5.  Early tone

I’m usually so flustered by getting everybody together and focused that I don’t start with a strong lead in.  I’m too concerned with making the lead in make sense where flavor would be better.

Also, tying in with timing, I have tried to start adventures off with an opening sequence, a la James Bond movies, but it never works.  Somehow, it invariably involves wolves, a combat with the wolves, a combat that goes on hours longer than I had planned.  I might try one more time to do a wolf fight to see if I can break out of the mode of having 2-4 hour fights that aren’t intended to be major fights.  But, instead, I need to come up with more ideas for how to put the PCs into the action right away.  And, then, not letting up.  I like breakneck adventuring.  There doesn’t need to be any quiet time to reflect, just a bit of time to heal wounds.

6.  Summarize mechanics

As I said, may forget about this.  Actually, I’ve done cheat sheets for mechanics before, not that people look at them, which is odd as people look at them when I play con games.  What I’m far worse about is making sure that everyone knows what their characters are supposed to be good at.  I have taken people aside to point things out, but it hasn’t worked that well, and I don’t always remember.

If I were more industrious with character sheets, I would have a cover sheet (or first sheet after a color picture cover) that summarized the character’s abilities.

7.  Rulings

I think I do fine with rulings.  I hate rules as a GM and I hate arguing about rules as a player.  I don’t recall ever running into even more minor issues with rules while GMing at a con.  In a home game, I might spend more time on rules.  Also, I will let players look things up, like the precise wordings on spells and such, as I can’t be bothered to memorize every possible mechanic in a game.

8.  Splitting the party

As a player of con games, I have often enjoyed split parties, as long as people have something to do when the GM is with the other PCs or the people not doing anything gamewise can handle other things, like food, or just observe something interesting going on.  Unfortunately, it’s tricky to have separate groups be busy.  I take my hat off to the various GMs I’ve had who have had adventures where I was busy while the GM was working with another group.

If you can make sure that everyone gets to be busy, then this isn’t an issue to me.  If you can quickly handle a party split, then it should be fine.  How do I do?  I’m not sure.  I think I do okay with split parties as I try to bounce back and forth quickly, resolve one group’s side activity quickly, or even try to run simultaneous combats.  However, it’s hard for a GM to judge these things as the GM is always busy, so maybe it’s not as good as I think.  I don’t try to split parties, so I don’t think it comes up a ton, either.

9.  Outrageous results

I like extreme results.  However, I’m not into slapstick and making a joke out of what’s going on.  Fumbles in my games aren’t generally punitive unless the game has punitive results, like Savage Worlds’ rather brutal Fright Table.  Even if they are, I try to make it serious.  I might joke while playing a RPG, but I don’t want the adventure to be a joke.

10.  Perverted Genie

While use the term “Perverted Genie” rather than “nitpicking” or the like?  Because, I’ve run into this often enough, if not so much at con games, that I can’t get the idea of a wish-granting genie who tries to pervert every wish out of my mind.

I’m really not into mundane things.  I don’t care how much ammo I have.  I don’t care about how many feet of rope I have.  I don’t care about light sources when underground.  I don’t care how much money I carry, how much things weigh, whether a bow’s strings will get wet, and so on and so forth.  Occasionally, realistic problems might make for a contrast with high adventure or might be an integral part of a challenge, no light source for instance.  But, usually, it’s just tedious to worry about such things.

In the real world, I worry about logistics all of the time, mostly how to get people to and from gaming events now that I no longer do inventory planning.  So doesn’t interest me to be an organizer or manager.

Not to say that this topic is all about whether you remembered to bring gear to your expedition and the like.  There’s also things like making assumptions that people aren’t idiots.  If there’s a mysterious gas, you can have people roll to see if they hold their breath in time or long enough, but you should assume someone is going to hold their breath.  More commonly, what players say to NPCs is often not what their characters would say.  Whether it’s letting a secret slip, offending someone’s culture (when the PC would know better), articulating almost the opposite of what the player intends, or whatever, I see players say the wrong thing all of the time because they don’t know better or because the player is suddenly in the spotlight when the character was there all along, so the player is more stressed than the character would be.  The situation might not be clear to the player.  The world may be unknown to too much a degree.  Whatever.

I think I’m virtually never nitpicky.  I will be a bit with HoR mods since the mods are written by others and intended to be relatively objective, and there are numerous instances where the whole point of a scene is to say the right thing.  However, even then, I will try to give the party enough opportunity to hit on the right thing to say.  I also don’t sweat mundane stuff people would logically have or stuff they would grab while running out the door.

In fact, I will even paraphrase what PCs say in conversation to see if I understand what they are trying to convey.  Or, summarize plans they come up with.  Or, whatever.  Just so that the party can move on to doing dramatic stuff.

11.  Dialogue

I’m not an explanation kind of guy.  I find long explanations of what things/people look like in books to be stuff I skim over.  In fact, my favorite parts of books are dialogue, so when I write stuff, it tends to be heavy on dialogue.

That being said, I’ve probably made the mistake of overdescribing.  And, while I like box text in HoR mods, people I run for don’t seem to care much for it.

As to “game dialogue”, having PCs be the ones who determine what happens, I’m sure I’ve made the mistake of having PC actions not be as important as they should be.  I try hard to not have NPCs step on the toes of PC awesomeness, but I also enjoy creating NPCs and like some of mine a bit too much.  I’ve been in enough situations where the GM’s characters were far more important than the PCs and hope to never make the same mistake.  Yet, I expect that my inclination towards story first and to trying to paint dramatic scenes means taking too much influence out of the players’ hands.  HoR mods can be bad about this, as well; actually, I notice this far too often in HoR3 to where I’m getting annoyed by it.

I have considered that I should not run the way I am inclined to play.  That I should let things be more open when it comes to player actions and where the story arises more out of what players do than there being a story that the PCs find themselves in.

12.  Bad Apple

I haven’t noticed this in my few convention GMing experiences and never in home games.  I’m not sure what I would do.  As a player, I’ve run into this on a number of occasions.  I tend to just ignore it as it doesn’t happen that often, and usually, if a player is that big of a problem, there’s a greater problem with the session.

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