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From Con to Con: 2010 Edition

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On August 10, 2010 @ 10:40 am In GMing Advice | 6 Comments

Well, here we are once again! I’ve just gotten home from my fourth Gen Con (and still the only con I’ve attended) and still coming off my “Wow, that went by fast!” buzz. The highlight for me this year was going up on stage with my fellow Gnomes to accept our Silver ENnie, while the low point was probably my revealing just how much of a bumbling idiot I can be on a frazzled Gen Con Saturday morning.

I decided to help out Cubicle 7 this year again by running some Victoriana events, this time being “the Hill Station Murder” (which draws heavily on the upcoming Jewel of the Empire supplement). I only got a chance to play in one game this year, but it was Call of Cthulhu (yay!) and completely unexpected. I’d gotten lost while wondering around in the outside heat looking for my event and not only wandered into the wrong room, but also the wrong hotel (turns out I’d read the wrong ticket). Thankfully, there was space at a table and I got to play.

Anyway, here are some of my notes and observations from this year.

1. Color-code your tickets. I’m not the only one who mixed up a ticket or brought the wrong one to an event. If you mark them with a color for each day, you’ll be less likely to mix them up.

2. If you’re using generics, 8am games are the way to go. I know it’s sacrilege to suggest getting up so early after gaming and partying all night, but guess what, a lot of gamers that paid for 8am tickets also prefer to sleep in. Of my four events, three were scheduled at 8 am. While they were all sold out, every one of my events had room for one or two generics (both “twos” were 8am games).

3. Players appreciate “quick and dirty” rules at conventions. I’ve probably said this before but it’s worth repeating. Stick with the core mechanic and just make on the spot adjudications for other stuff. Let the NPCs fall after a good lick or two. I’d much rather have quick combats that give the PCs a chance to shine and move on rather than bog down in a “nickel and dime” slogfest.

4. Rate your pregenerated PCs by necessity. Five minutes into the session is not the time to determine which 3 of your PCs should be handed out when there are only 3 players at the table (this actually did happen to me, but 2 more players thankfully wandered in soon thereafter). Also, figure out in advance what you need to change in your adventure if a PC is missing.

5. Always build backdoors if a scene relies on a dice roll or player response. In my playtest of the event, the crucial PC not only failed to spot a clue, but also kept his mouth shut and allowed two PCs to be killed in an easily avoidable situation. Not a good start to a four-hour session.

6. Playtesting is key. While this can be problematic in home games, you should at least try to get in the mindset of the players or have someone read over your adventure to find the flaws.

7. Don’t worry about gender-bending. My adventure used pre-gens that included four male and two females. It was much easier to leave the PCs as they were rather than change their genders to fit. I had a lot of female gamers at my events this year and those that played male PCs did a great job, as did a male gamer that played a female PC in my first event.  I think it helped when I pointed out at the beginning of each session that, as a GM, I gender-bend for NPCs all the time.

That’s it for me; how about you? If you were at Gen Con (or any con or organized play) what did you learn from being on either side of the screen?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "From Con to Con: 2010 Edition"

#1 Comment By Roxysteve On August 11, 2010 @ 10:26 am

Two PCs *died* at the start of the game? How? I’m running at my first con this year and I wrote two of the three scenarios I’ll be running. Design rule 1 was “No-one dies until the last hour of play”. I can’t imagine a four-year veteran would make such a design error as to allow this possibility. What went wrong?

All good advice there, Walt. I decided to avoid the “gender” issue by building charatcers that would be explainable in both male and female terms, and using easily feminizable names (Jake/Jackie, Brian/Briony, etc). Any girls that wanna join the sweaty, unwashed males (I always plan for the worst) in Beating The Mythos Threat (Schedule: 1 X Call of Cthulhu, 2 X Realms of Cthulhu, 1 X D20/Delta Green Call of Cthulhu) will be able to make the choice of playing the male characters as they stand or simply renaming and re-envisioning them as women.

One question: how do you deal with troublemaking players? The ones that decide for whatever reason to play anarchically in order to wreck the game at all costs?

#2 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On August 11, 2010 @ 11:01 am

@Roxy-This adventure was thrown together at the last minute and was still very rough when I playtested it. I don’t want to give spoilers away, but there was a surprise attack involved that should have been spotted.

After the playtest, I re-wrote the section (I spent four hours in the airport Wed and another four in my hotel room) to allow for multiple opportunities to catch the surprise before I’d roll out GM fiat. It worked beautifully in actual play.

As for your last question, it only happened once so far. I stopped the game and discussed it quickly with the offenders. The two agreed and it ended up being a great session. Had they resisted, I would have asked them to leave.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On August 11, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

I enjoyed playing in several games– a few new to me and a few oldies in new hands. I enjoyed all of my sessions, often for different reasons.

Burning Wheel was great to see in play; I’ve long owned it, but had been intimidated by the rules. I now think I could tackle it.

Dresden was great– I love the novels– but what really made it sing was watching the non-Fate players “get” Aspects. We did some crazy big, crazy cool stuff. I’m going to steal the GM’s big marker and index cards for keeping track of scene and city aspects– having them in front of you reminded you to tag them for awesomeness.

My Star Wars game involved some really well run intrigue. It was great to play with my normal Star Wars GM– he’s long run it, but hadn’t had a chance to actually play. Winding up the accidental straight man, and rolling incredibly lucky just when the story required that I not do so was great.

Learning byswarm’s “Dark Golden” world and Pathfinder was neat. The easy grapple rules really were impressive, and familiarity from long play of 3.5 made it relaxing.

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On August 12, 2010 @ 10:09 am

@Walt Ciechanowski – Eight hours? I run Call of Cthulhu and count myself lucky if I get off that lightly when it comes to prep 8oD

Okay then, I won’t sweat the bad player thing. I only thought of it because there’s a slight chance a former gaming acquaintance will attend, one with whom I experienced one of those “gamer break-ups from hell” I see written about here but until then had never experienced personally. I’ve moved on, but this person is proud of his ability to carry a grudge for years. Difficult to say “you can’t play” to a paying Con-vict (Convention Victim – well, it *is* Call of Cthulhu).

Thanks for the advice.

#5 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On August 12, 2010 @ 10:41 am

@Roxysteve – that was 8 hours to rewrite the offending sections and to dress up the rest.

Unless you warn your problem player beforehand that he isn’t welcome (which may or may not be cool based on your history – I warned one of my playtesters that if he tried to attend the actual game I’d throw $4 at him and make him leave), then I’d let him play, warn him when he’s disruptive, and then ask him to leave if he continues, warning the event staff as necessary (which is Gen Con policy for problematic players).

#6 Comment By Ampolitor On August 12, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

PC’s are the reason there are signs in the forest that say “Stay on the Path” I can’t count how many times they would manage to do or not do the one thing that needed to be done or go in a entire opposite direction! They would do things that I would never even think of..lol


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