Normally I don’t actually game much at Gen Con, aside from a rare pick-up game or an after hours card/board game with friends. I prefer to cruise the near-endless Exhibit Hall and attend seminars, but this year I decided to check in on the gaming.
Out of the four RPGs I played in this year, two were excellent, one was just okay, and one was not-so-good. Particulars will be withheld to protect all involved, but the two excellent games had great players and solid GMs, the okay game was short some players but had a solid GM, and the not-so-good game had okay players but a weak GM. This confirms my thesis that the most important factor in a game is the quality of the GM. Despite all of this, I still managed to enjoy myself in all of the games.
Regardless, SOP for convention games should include the following:
- Table tents with room for player and character names on one side, and pertinent stats on the other. These are a great example. (Link is a PDF.)
- Extra dice/pencils/paper: I had to hustle to a game, thanks to Microsoft’s “Oh, you must have made that appointment in another time zone” feature, and didn’t have anything with me. I had to carve a wooden pencil to sharpen it, share dice, and write on the back of a to-go menu. Necessity is a mother.
- Characters should be designed to work well together, or at least get along. Do not use antisocial disadvantages unless the game thrives on them.
- More on Characters: Forcing a leadership role on a player at a convention can go horribly wrong. If the other players/characters have some way of influencing the leader, and if the leader’s player is decent, it should work out fine. If either factor is missing, then it could easily be a train wreck.
- Experience Required: None means none, you bastard! Don’t expect me to know the rules if you haven’t explained them, and if your game is advertised as “Experience Required: None (Never Played Before)”. There are categories for None, Some, Comfortable, Extensive and Expert. Use them.
What I learned from the four convention games I played at Gen Con:
- Don’t look to convention games for detailed rules nuance. Convention games should be one-shots for novices, full of action centered on the PCs, fast-and-loose rule interpretations, and a simple plot that can be resolved in about three hours.
- Narrative control (as in Serenity’s Plot Points) is a great way to make the game more fun. I plan to allow narrative benefits in my next Savage Worlds game with the expense of one or more Bennies.
- You can have fun in a bad game, as long as you can let go of the things that the rules or GM are keeping from you.