This past weekend, I attended KantCon, in the Kansas City area. I wasn't sure of my schedule beforehand, so I went as a player, not a gamemaster. I carted along a couple of games in case I needed to run a pick up game of something, but my goal was to play more than run this time around. I've talked a lot about creating adventures for cons the past few weeks. This time I want to talk a bit about the logistics of playing and running in an event, with this fresh in my mind.
First off, players. If you've never played at a convention before, you might not know what to expect. Convention play can be a lot of fun, especially if you like trying out a variety of games, scenarios or playing with new people. Big conventions offer many more events, but smaller conventions are often a lot more relaxing and laid back.
Here are a few tips to help you out:
- Be prepared to play with people you've never met. While this can be intimidating, or make one uneasy, it's often one of the best parts of con play. There will be players you like, and others you don't. Sometimes you'll like the people, but not their play style. Remember, its just a few hours.
- When you sign up for the game, it should state if characters will be provided, be created at the table, or you need to bring one with you. If not, you should assume that one will be provided (pregenerated). However, if you're signing up for a "living" style game - Living Forgotten Realms (D&D), Heroes of Rokugan (L5R), Pathfinder Chronicles, etc. - you're better off bringing one with you, created under the terms of the official rules. If you don't know them, you can find them online or often create a character at the con, prior to play. The event organizer should be able to help.
- Roleplaying. You will find a lot of variation here. If you're handed pregenerated characters with a background history, you'll be expected to try to play the character to the history as written. The history and attitudes provided are usually heavily integrated into the adventure. If you're just handed a character sheet, you can deduce some roleplaying hooks from the character's abilities, but beyond that you're on your own. The gamemaster might provide some clues.
- Rules. Don't worry if you aren't familiar with the system. Most convention tables have at least one person who hasn't played, or hasn't played much. Gamemasters expect to teach rules to some degree at the table. However, avoid games listed for experienced players. They expect veterans of the system.
- Gamemasters: Let the GM run his or her game. Try not to argue rules too much.
- Finding your table - each con does this differently. You might have a ticket with a table or room number on it. You might find the location posted on a sign up sheet, on-site. Some tables are marshalled - all players meet in a certain area, and a marshall groups them and directs them to a table. Ask the convention staff, if you can't figure out how things work.
Players - What to Bring:
- Dice, pencil
- Character sheet for "living" style games, others only if needed.
- Core rulebook
- Other rulebooks - if you know some details about the adventure, you might be able to predict what you'll need. If you're playing in a living campaign, you should bring those books you used to create the character.
- In a pinch, you can get by just bringing yourself, and hope you can borrow what's needed at the table.
Gamemasters. Running a game at a convention can be highly rewarding, but demands more planning than just showing up to play. Be prepared to run tables with people you've never met before, and who won't know your style or nuances from your home games. This is often a lot of fun, and provides variety from your home campaign.
- Know the system you're running, well enough to not look up common rules during play. Even so, you'll still have some players more knowledgeable than you. Take advantage of them to speed play or help less experienced players. If an unusual situation crops up, its ok to consult the book briefly.
- Know the adventure you're running. If it's someone else's work, read it ahead of time. If it's your own, prepare enough information to keep things on track. That might mean an outline, or a fully written adventure.
- Keep things moving. You have a limited amount of time, and its your job to mind the clock as well as the game. Combat or other scenes often drag on longer than you intend - find ways to shorten them on the fly when needed. Try to focus on the most memorable encounters over standard fare.
- Be prepared to teach the game. You will have players who don't know the system, or don't know it well. See an example of how I run things below.
- Own the table. You're the GM. It's your game. Keep things fun, but you may also have to referee between antagonized (or antagonizing) players. If you have a particularly difficult player, ask them to step aside to discuss it. If things get worse, you may need to involve a convention staff member.
Gamemasters - what to bring:
- Dice - including extras for players who forget.
- Pencils - again, including extras for others to use.
- Core rulebook and any other rulebooks you need for the adventure. Extra core rulebooks can be helpful to have on hand.
- Adventure - annotated with your notes to speed things along.
- Characters, if pregenerated. If you're running more than once, bring extra copies of the characters. Players usually understand when you need them back for another game, but you never know what condition they might end up in.
- Battlemat or preprinted map
- Minis or tokens
- Markers for battlemat
- GM screen, if you use one.
- Other player handouts - ship or vehicle stats are a common one in Star Wars.
Now for an example of how I run a table:
- Try to be at the table early, to set up prior to start time.
- Make sure the preregistered players are seated first, then add other players to fill up the table (this may vary, depending on the convention rules).
- Ask if the players have seen Star Wars, and if they are familiar with the exact era/setting I'm using.
- Ask who has played whatever version of the game is I'm running.
- Hand out characters. I usually read off the class/template and species and give the players a choice. However, I usually know the adventure and characters well enough to avoid handing complex characters to new players.
- Give a brief rundown of the rules to those new to the system, while the others read their character sheets. If I know which systems the new players are familiar with, I'll often compare them during the explanation. I basically explain how to read the character sheet, how the combat round works (including types of actions), plus skills, Force Points, etc. I explain other details when they arise in play.
- Answer questions about the game, characters, system, etc.
- Start the soundtrack, when I can bring something along, and start playing.
- Outline or mark up adventures that are not of my own design.
- Review rules, especially those specific to the adventure.
- Specialized GM screen. Sure, I use the official one to a degree, but I have some extra cheat sheet ones to cover things like space combat or other aspects of the game I want at my fingertips. My personal GM screen is quite different from the published variety. Mine has more rules summaries, fewer charts.
- Player handouts, especially vehicles and unusual equipment.
- Minis and maps.
This has been less Star Wars specific than I envisioned, and longer. So, next week, I'll get into some comparisons between running various versions of Star Wars over the years. I've run convention games using every version of the RPG.
Also, check out these cool Star Wars related links:
A really cool way to play a Star Wars starship combat game someday in the future (hopefully).
A good discussion on how The Old Republic uses maps in the game.