As those of you who follow my blog, The Heavy Metal GM, may or may not know; Gen Con 2016 was not only my first Gen Con, but my first gaming convention. Ever. Having the pressure of trying to maintain Pelgrane Press’ prestigious name and reputation in our beloved community was very stressful. However, as is with most nerve wracking things, once I got rolling, it was like being at home! For first time GM’s, here are some fears I had that ended up not even being remotely realized in my convention experience.
1). “What if nobody shows up?!”
Believe you me, they’ll show up. Having known that Gen Con is a crazy convention among crazy conventions, I was scared that people would say, “Meh, I’d rather go play Pathfinder.” THE HORROR! All my games sold out in a matter of minutes when the event list went live, but still there was that little voice in my head whispering your GMing sucks and every stranger knows it all the way up until my first game. Sure, I had a game or two with only three players. That’ll happen. More often than not, I would assume, enough people to run a decent game will show if your tickets are sold. So kick that little nay saying brain goblin in its ugly little nose!
2). “Convention players only want to ruin my game!”
Wrong again! You should always mentally prepare yourself for the one player that just wants to muck about, don’t get me wrong. However, people want to come to have a good time. All of the people I had contact with at the convention had that attitude, though we did deviate from the path every now and again. If you’re proficient at what you do, you can steer players into following the path without outright forcing them. People pick up on that stuff and usually are cooperative.
3). “If I don’t finish the adventure, my game was terrible.”
This was probably one of my biggest hurdles. Most of the 13th Age adventures I ran for Gen Con were pretty long (20+ pages!). It’s always a good idea to do some adventure trimming well before the convention to get all the good spots without wasting time. Running a good game in a small time slot like two hours is very difficult as is, no need to throw in unnecessary things that may promote immersion, but if they don’t propel the story forward, they’re useless. Save that stuff for the home game! After your trimming, you should be able to run the high lights of the adventure in the block you’re given. Unless, of course, you have enthusiastic players that like to spend time role playing situations to the utmost detail. Slow progression may make you sweat that the table but just remember: BREATHE! If your players are spending valuable story time role playing, it means they’re invested. If they’re invested, they’re having fun. The most memorable moments from my convention games had nothing to do with the plot, but what my players had fabricated with each other and that I had actually encouraged/fed into. It keeps people engaged and it makes them feel like they’re accomplishing something, even if they aren’t on the page. Sit back, relax, and if you don’t finish, it’s likely for a good (and memorable) reason!
4). “Role-playing with strangers is embarrassing.”
Every individual has their own feelings on role play. Some take it and run to the moon, others do it minimally and only in a third person stance. The most important thing to remember is that everybody is hanging around and playing pretend. Together. Interestingly enough, they actually paid hard earned money to do so. Looking up the word “validation” in the dictionary will be defined as such. Play to your comfort level, don’t worry about going over the top or coming short. Players will feed into the vibe that you’re laying down if they’re feeling it. You’ll know when they’re not.
5). “What if I turn them off to the system I’m running?”
This one is a bit of a double edged blade: both rational and irrational. It’s a rational fear because, simply put, nobody wants to do that! Running that system means that it’s important enough to you to play with strangers. Of course you’d want everyone to like it. The irrational bit comes in when you’re losing sleep the night before the first day of the convention, the ceiling laughing at you as cold sweat beads on your forehead. You can’t control what people like and don’t like. What you CAN control is how much effort you put forth into making the game you’re running the best it can possibly be. As a passionate GM, I have full confidence that you will convey that at the table and sell some books!
Simply put, there’s no easy way to quell the restless heart and mind before you run your first convention game. By no means do I claim to be a season convention veteran, but I certainly learned all the points I addressed above. I will be back to Gen Con, so long as my wallet doesn’t decide to hold me captive. Convention GMing was easily one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve had and made me truly see how welcoming, wonderful and personable the folks in our hobby can be.
This isn’t my personal blog but I still command you to…
STAY METAL \m/
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.