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A Community of Gamers

Posted By Scott Martin On January 22, 2010 @ 1:40 am In Gaming Conventions,GMing Advice | 3 Comments

I recently volunteered to run a couple of sessions for the new con in town this upcoming weekend on Saturday and Sunday. I already know the organizers from their previous efforts, where they coordinated game days at local library. In many ways this is just a bigger version of their library game days- though much more ambitious, including an attendance fee, five time slots with six games apiece [running from 8 am to 10 pm on Saturday, and 8 to 5 on Sunday] and a larger dedicated venue at a local college campus instead of using the library’s free facilities.

I have a couple of local groups and almost as much gaming as one man (or two thirds of a gnome) can handle. When the call for GMs went out, I was initially reluctant to sign up, (I have plenty of gaming) but quickly decided to pitch in. There are many reasons, though the largest orbit the idea of community.

Seeking Gamers

Six years ago my gaming was settling back to an even keel after a dry spell of a couple of months. A new player came to town and contacted me from an old “seeking games/players” post I’d put up on a roleplaying finder site months back. I met Phoenix and enjoyed his company, but he didn’t fit when I introduced him to my group. A few months later he headed out of town, lured by a tenure track teaching job… and later that month I found a local gaming community website, where his willingness to GM would have netted him a group in no time. Over the years I have met a lot of people like Phoenix– people away from their home groups and looking for games in a new place.

A year prior to meeting Phoenix, I joined a game store D&D campaign during a lull in my other gaming. It was nice to show up and find some instant common ground, pick up swords (and spell books) and defend Nesme together. It wasn’t as rewarding as a home game with custom crafted plots– but it was good fun and easy to slip into.

Cons can fill a similar gap between home games-or even provide an opportunity to meet people, enjoy a common game together, and provide the kernel of a new gaming group. I met a group of great people at a local store’s game day– we enjoyed each other’s company around the table so much that we formed a new group to save driving to the game store all the time.

Community

Life gets hectic; as players mature and their friends move away, it is often difficult to find enough players and time for a regular game. While there are alternatives like Walt’s short sessions, a con fits schedules that can’t squeeze in even monthly games. Cons are a great way to visit the land of gaming even after you leave– and you never know when you will find yourself lured back and blocking out Thursday evenings for a little hack-and-slash.

The organizer set up the con as a mix of scheduled events and open gaming. For this event, the scheduled games are all RPGA or Pathfinder Society– basically, organized D&D play. As an extension of the already popular library game days it makes sense, though I have to admit that I selfishly wish there was a better balance– something more like Endgame’s Minicon schedule. If I feel ambitious, I might try to run an open game of Penny for my Thoughts during the Sunday morning slot…

Community also means spreading the word. I want the con to be successful and popular, so there’s a clamor for it to return. If there’s enough of a clamor and enough volunteers, I could even enjoy the con as mostly a player next time– which is a pretty motivating incentive!

Prep

I have read through the scenarios for the two sessions I’ll be running. I plan on reading through them again, with a careful eye to the stat blocks, maps, and tactics, so I won’t have to flip back and forth wildly during the session. I plan on taking a lot of Walt’s con prep advice, though I won’t have a chance to run the scenario before the con. (That’s because at least one of my normal players intends to play in my Saturday night game– and because I was given the scenarios only a little more than a week ahead of run time.)

The scenarios use pre-printed tiles, but I’ve spoken with the organizer and those won’t be available. So I’ll draw out the map and see how complex it is to do; if it takes more than a minute or two, I’ll pre-draw the maps or bring printouts of the map sheets if they’re available. [I might use Newbie DM's approach, which looks great.] Similarly, I will look through the critter lists and either bring the appropriate monster minis or tokens for the beasties they’ll be facing.

Another part of the prep is getting a handle on the sequence of events and identifying the transitions between scenes. In both scenarios, I was pleasantly surprised to find that talking only and skill challenge scenes are included. Part of my review is to make ensure that the players are properly motivated when the scene rolls around– it doesn’t make sense to have a PC instigated skill challenge if the players don’t see a reason to engage in the challenge. I’ll see what I can do to telegraph the assumptions ahead of time and patch any obvious plot holes that develop.

Then I turn to you…

That’s my prep plan for the upcoming con, and why I want to contribute to my local community. How do you give back to your local gaming community? Do you enjoy being part of a larger community? Is there anything obvious I am missing in my game prep? Please share your thoughts in comments. Thanks!

About  Scott Martin

Scott is an engineer turned gnome and game store owner. He lies awake at night building intriguing worlds and plotting your character's demise.




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3 Comments To "A Community of Gamers"

#1 Comment By Omnus On January 22, 2010 @ 10:00 am

I do my duty by participating in the con closest to me as a GM. OshCon, when I first went to it five years ago, was just a tiny thing in a remote hall in the state campus, and was as big as the event you’re going to be participating in. The thrust of the con then was mostly card games, a few board games, and a local game designer or two trying to promote their wares with free demos and running a booth. I’d never have even heard about it if it hadn’t been for my FLGS being the largest and most wide-reaching in the area, hitting all the local cons.

The first two years I went strictly as a player. With a nominal fee, it was a fun way to spend a day or two, and I hit every RPG my schedule could reach (the excellent gyro restaurant nearby was a big plus too). I realized though, that without continuing help and support, the con would never grow, and would break up when enough of the organizers moved on. So the civic booster in me decided to help out by doing what I do best – running a game or two. The first year I brought along my Nuclear War Mega-Deck and play mats. It was a resounding failure. No one showed up until I guilted my FLGS owner to take a break from his booth and come over to play. I was pretty disappointed, but looked back on it and decided it was a bad time slot. I resolved to not only keep contributing but to widen my availability.

The next year I joined the Gnome Stew community and Gary Gygax passed away, so I decided to run Tomb of Horrors in Gary’s honor and my own created adventure, Against the Gnomes. The con expanded, but the RPG room was so far away from the con floor that I didn’t get any takers again, except for a father-and-son couple who had a no-show game that folded and a guy from my group I brought with me. Not one to give up, last year I returned, running Against the Gnomes II. Again, almost no takers, but I will continue to bludgeon RPGs at their gaming community until I get solid groups. Next year I hope to be debuting my own homemade RPG, so wish me luck with that.

I love how people in my own neighborhood know me as a gamer, and I have lots of friends in my community through gaming. Since I transplanted here from college, I guess you could say all my friends, either directly or indirectly, I have met though gaming. It keeps me going and sane, and I have years of great memories and stories, some heartbreak, some triumphant. I consider my local community to be very important, and I give back when I can.

You’re a veteran GM, Scott, so I’m sure you’ve prepped enough. Without knowing who your players are, you can’t really tailor the adventure to fit them, which is what makes running games at cons challenging. Besides, if things go awry, a GM worth his salt knows how to ad-lib and BS his/her way through. If the players don’t know you, it makes it harder for them to detect that you’re off script, trying to get them back to the planned route. Keep fighting the good fight, brother!

So sayeth Omnus.

#2 Comment By BryanB On January 22, 2010 @ 11:19 am

I think that gamers are often cloistered by nature. Attending mini-cons, cons, and meetup events is a good way to build a sense of community and make contacts beyond what you already have. It is also a great way to screen potential new recruits to your own gaming group. I don’t know about you, but I like to play with people in a public venue so that I can get some kind of vibe as to whether or not I want to continue gaming with that person. Sometimes it is an issue of play style, but far more often it can be a simple case of personalities clashing.

Scott is dead right about gaming groups. They change over time. People move away and new players are invited to attend. In some cases, work and family can disrupt a group to the point that it just fades away due to distractions. These things happen. If it happened to you, wouldn’t it be a good thing to have made some contacts or have available a place to meet new players? These cons and meetups serve that purpose well.

Three years ago, I was three months into a serious case of group collapse. Due to a number of reasons that I won’t retell here, my group disintegrated. I was bummed out and maybe even burned out. I had been the glue that held the previous group together for many years. At some point, my reward was not worth the effort and I allowed the group’s direction to take its course.

Enter the Fresno Roleplayers Meetup (now on hiatus). I just happened to see the meetup group on the web. I hadn’t gamed in nearly four months. I was burned out on d20 and especially D&D. I had been reading about a new game called Spirit of the Century on RPGnet and it sounded interesting enough to give it a try. Gnomestew’s very own Scott Martin offered to run SotC on the local gaming forum. Being a bit reluctant to venture onto new ground, I pushed myself to go. I brought another friend from Hanford and we had one of the finest gaming sessions we’ve ever had. It was new. It was different. It was a hell of a lot of fun. Gaming could be fun again.

Playing in that SotC game was one of the best things I ever did. I decided to run Coyote Trail at the following meetup. I had never run CT before and I let everyone know it. But everyone was patient and forgiving and we had a good time, despite my failure to furnish pre-gens like I had wanted to. :D

As time went on, I continued to go to the meetups. I had no gaming group for nearly ten months. Scott Martin and I began to realize that we were playing in each other’s games. Star Wars Saga Edition had come out and I was preparing to demo it at the meetup. We realized that we should probably just start playing twice a month at one of our homes. We forged a new group with other friends and have since added two more players. Despite some scheduling issues caused by adult real life obligations, we have had great times during the past two plus years. The point is that it never would have happened had we not ventured out to help build the gaming community.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On January 24, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

@Omnus – Thanks for the complement, Omnus. I’m sorry that they didn’t come to your games– but try try again, right?

@BryanB – A nice capsule review; gaming together at cons and meetups is a great way to find new people to game with.

And an update; elevator problems resulted in the con’s delay, so the prep has not yet had a chance to see daylight. I hope that a successful rescheduling happens soon, though with the school semester beginning soon, it may be a while.


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