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Johnny’s Five – Five Things To Learn From Gaming Conventions

Posted By John Arcadian On July 6, 2009 @ 3:06 am In Gaming Conventions | 10 Comments

I just got back from my most recent trip to the Origins Games Fair. While we Gnomes will be at Gencon en masse, Origins has always been my home convention. Its about 2 hours away from me, has a lot of people I know and they think we’re the source to go to for game mastering advice. Besides the 2 big name gaming conventions and a few big fantasy, comic  and sci-fi conventions, there are a slew of smaller conventions in lots of places. No matter what conventions you might go to, they are always awesome experiences full of lots of new things to learn.

1. Every new type of game you play can teach you something different
One of the things I like most about conventions is the fact that there are so many different types of games to play. Ones I wouldn’t normally get exposed to through my FLGS. There are games with unique mechanics, games with unique settings or just games you always play, but played with new people. Conventions are one great place to go and try new things, because new things are everywhere. Make it a point to try out as many as you can at a convention.

2. Meet and talk to new people
One of the most awesome things I can say about gaming conventions is that they are a chance to meet new people. Most of my time at conventions is spent running demos for my company, but one of the best parts of that is getting to meet new people. While running  a game is an awesome excuse to meet new people, commenting on their awesome costume or kilt, making jokes while riding the elevator or asking someone if they have any good suggestions for games to check out are great ways to start up conversations. These conversations aren’t usually going to lead to lasting friendships, but it is always good to make contacts and meet new people. At conventions, people are generally more friendly and open. Boundaries still need to be respected, especially in more open and friendly situations, but the atmosphere at a convention makes starting conversations easier.

3. Developers usually man their own booths, and are pretty open to conversation
Speaking of conversations, conventions are great places to meet and talk to high up industry people. . . . Wait. Scratch that. There is no such thing as a high up industry person. Most of the people who work in the various exhibitors halls are the people who sit down and make the games. Anything not run by Wizards of The Coast or White Wolf is going to be staffed and manned by people who have a hand in making the things they are selling. Usually. They are also usually pretty willing to talk about their products, upcoming avenues or thoughts on gaming. If you see someone whose name you’ve read on a by-line, don’t be afraid to say hi and ask how its going.

4. Very few people want to hear about your character, but listening to them talk about theirs can teach you about what people like in their games
When you’re off talking to new people at conventions, talking their ear off about your character or game will generally endear some groans and long looks staring into the distance. However, listening to them talk, while you groan and give long looks into the distance, can tell you the kinds of things people like in their games. The people that I talked to at Origins usually had really interesting stories, and kept them at an appreciable length. The thing that struck me about every one of them, was how I’d love to do some of the things they described in my games. Epic battles, long campaigns, interesting takes on old ideas. Every story had a new bit of info that I’ve added to my upcoming game ideas file.

5. Having fun at a convention, like in a game, is one of the most important things there is
Go to a convention. Play in games. Have fun. Get to know people. Talk to the developers of your favorite games. Have fun. Talk about your character and games. Listen to people talk about your character and games. Have fun.

So what are some of your favorite convention moments? Which conventions do you attend? What are the awesome things you’ve learned from conventions?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




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10 Comments To "Johnny’s Five – Five Things To Learn From Gaming Conventions"

#1 Comment By Ameron On July 6, 2009 @ 6:31 am

Excellent list. May I also suggest readers who found this interesting check out the 10 Things I Learned at Worldwide D&D Game Day which is in the same vein.

#2 Comment By pseudodragon On July 6, 2009 @ 9:18 am

I’m glad you stated point 5 (“Have fun.”) explicitly. I attended conventions for many years and helped to found and run a gaming convention (alas, BenCon ended last year due to the challenging economic times). The RMBGA board members thought having fun was so important (and so often overlooked in the drive for fame, glory, and a choice item off the prize table) that we included it in our official motto: “Play games. Have fun. Do good.”

Our convention was an all-volunteer affair. No one got paid a dime and the proceeds went to local and regional charities. Every year we’d get three or four newbies coming up to us at the con and asking how they could get involved in running the convention. Their next question was almost always, “How much does it pay?” Their eyes and mouths widened when they heard that we did it for the fun of it and to give something back to the community, but it was true. If you go to a convention with the idea that you’re going to have a good time and not worry about how you place or whether you’re voted best DM, you will have a much richer experience and maybe even form a few lasting friendships. You’ll also come out of it as a better roleplayer and/or DM.

#3 Comment By DocRyder On July 6, 2009 @ 10:36 am

I was just reading a friend’s blogpost about his first non-Camarilla con. He’s very into LARPs and prefers to play. But he touched on problems with con games, which is cancellations due to low attendance, and obnoxious players who lie, cheat and steal to get into the game, much less their behavior once there.

To those ends, I and another friend spend our time in seminars pretty much all weekend long when we go. I’ve spent many hours now listening to Ken Hite go off on some tangent. :)

What it really boils down to is find what is fun for you. I went to an Orccon in Los Angeles years ago in which three of the four that went had a great time, and the fourth was grossly disappointed as he didn’t know what he wanted to do, so spent his time wandering around bored.

Figure out what you want to do ahead of time. Know yourself and what you enjoy and do that.

That’s the best advice I can give. But what do I know? :)

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 6, 2009 @ 11:05 am

I agree with John that you have to focus on having fun with a convention. I’ve been to cons where I was having a great time and there would always be the one person who was whining for the whole trip. You know the type.

“The food is too expensive.” “No one plays my favorite game at this con!” “The convention center doesn’t have enough coffee shops.” “The event organizers are not giving enough space to the board games.” Etc., etc.

Every con has some problems, but I’ve yet to attend a con that was an outright failure. When you attend a con try to practice this simple rule:

“I will find the fun, or I will bring the fun.”

At Origins there weren’t enough moderators to run “Are You A Werewolf?” across several groups. I decided to bring the fun and grabbed a deck of cards and ran a few games for others. I could have sat around whining about how the event organizers failed to plan accordingly (but maybe they did and the turn out was greater than they could have foreseen?) and that would have done no good.

Instead I stepped up and brought the fun. We had a good time, and that is what a convention is all about.

So when you attend a con be prepared for some letdowns, but because youa re surrounded by others who just want to have a good time I’m sure that with a little effort you can quickly turn any con letdown into an opportunity for a con triumph.

John – Great hanging out with you at Origins this year! See you there again in 2010 if all goes well.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 6, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

As a parent and husband, I can really only attend one con a year, so it’s Gen Con.

Lessons learned: Keep an open mind and a closed mouth, although I don’t always do either.

Favorite moment: Gen Con 2006 – “Talking shop” with a guy at the Malhavoc booth for about ten minutes while a friend looked at the Ptolus book. We chatted away about gaming, GMing, where the hobby seems to be going, etc. And when we left, someone mentioned that it was Monte Cook. *boggle*

Other favorites:
The now-defunct Midnight Zombie Game, which took milliseconds to descend into sexual innuendo, and was great fun.

Having Sean Patrick Fannon give me the “GM’s Award” in his epic Shaintar “Burning Heart” session, where dozens of players challenged a legend from the past. And all I did was drive the plot…

#6 Comment By John Arcadian On July 6, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

@Ameron – Thanks! The list you link to is an excellent read. It is good solid advice on the basics.

@pseudodragon – I’ve always been amazed by people who think there are fortunes to be made in the RPG industry. The only place you’re finding loads of cash is in the treasure tables and dragons lairs. I’ve always been a fan of anything that is done just for the love of it, no matter how professional the end result. You’ve got to give credit to the people who go out and give it a shot.

@DocRyder – Good advice doc. I know I’ve seen lots of conventions with sub-par organization. People get locked out of games and wander around looking for things to do. Thankfully, there are always enough things going on that you can find something to occupy your time. Pickup games, screening rooms, exhibitor halls, board game rooms, etc.

@Patrick Benson – “I will find the fun, or I will bring the fun.” Awesome advice! It was great hanging out with you as well. Now if you could get a zombie game going without scruffy the wonder pup ;) the Zombies might stand a chance.

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Progressing plot? You silly gnome! I’ve had moments like your Monte Cook moment. Gaming is one of those hobbies I love because of the connection between people. Unlike movies and other high budget modes of entertainment, you can generally just walk up and talk to the people who are involved in making the things you love. My buddy chastises me because I always forget to get stuff signed when I meet someone.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On July 6, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

I enjoy cons, though going with friends is a great way to improve your odds of having an enjoyable time. Don’t sit with them through every event, but having someone you can discuss the con, your table, your joys and frustrations with improves the experience quite a bit above the baseline.

#8 Comment By Lunatyk On July 7, 2009 @ 4:53 am

My last venture to the con showed me I need to make an extensive list of things I should take to the con in order to survive and save money on food… it’s not fun when you arrive in another city only to learn you forgot about something crucial…

like a towel… I’m such an idiot…

#9 Comment By John Arcadian On July 7, 2009 @ 8:31 am

@Lunatyk – A towel!!!!

A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar con-goer can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for protection as you bound across the heads of the multiple anime cat-girls; you can lie on it on the floor to prevent sleeping where multiple gamer feet have touched; use it to sail a miniraft down the crowded aisleways; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough!

Lovingly paraphrased from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Con prep is definitely important. I know that buddies of mine and I have tried to bring and share food, but it never quite worked out. We fell back on people bringing their own if they wanted, but that resulted in multiple coolers and less car space.

#10 Comment By Bandersnatch On July 19, 2009 @ 8:29 am

I guess I was lucky.

My first convention was a small regional one. Myself and my friend decided to go on a whim. The moment we walked into the hotel ballroom, we were approached by the lady who was the co-sponsor of the con. Within ten minutes (after asking a few questions) she had our whole weekend registered for us. It was at this con I discovered the White Wolf games (Oh, where art thou Naugahyde-Face?), Warhammer fantasy miniatures, and several other games which, without her help, I would never have thought to play.

We attended that con every year for the next 14 years, eventually bringing my wife along and getting her interested in playing.

A good con is a wonderful thing.


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