Nashicon 2018 was the first time I was explicitly invited out to be a GM at a convention. While this isn’t the first time we at High Level Games have covered a first time experience as a con GM, I find it worth noting that my experience is different from what we’ve covered earlier. Primarily because Sean was at the longest running gaming convention in the world, while I was at a comparatively shorter lived anime convention that happened to have a tabletop gaming room.
While I believe I did a competent job as a GM at Nashicon, I’d be a fool to believe there wasn’t areas I could improve. So for your reading pleasure, I have compiled this list where I reflect on what went right and where I screwed up as a GM for an anime convention’s tabletop room.
1) Limit Yourself
Nashicon’s Tabletop Director invited me to run games for them because I’m knowledgeable about various Japanese RPGs. In my excitement to show all that I knew and was capable of, I prepared to run every such game in my repertoire and then some. This turned out to be a mistake.
I was prepared to run seven different games. By the end of the weekend, however, I had only run three of them, and each of those games was only run once. Having a wide assortment available did spark a lot of conversations, as well as attract many curious attendees. However, my broad selection worked against me when it came time to ring these attendees in; I couldn’t decide for myself what it was I wanted to run.
What was more important to limit was how much I wanted to convey in a game. The staff overseeing me at the convention suggested that I try to keep my games to just two hours if I could. While I wasn’t keen on the idea initially, as the weekend went on it became apparent to me why: it’s a lot easier to sell somebody on a game if it’s only 2 hours of their time they’ll be spending.
2) Handouts Are Your Friend
Familiarity is a boon in tabletop RPGs. Rules explanations can be kept to a minimum, or even done by other players at the table, lessening the GM’s burden to do so. By running less familiar games, I couldn’t rely on this, but I otherwise had a plan to work around this limitation.
Said plan was to prepare printouts of vital rules to use as a reminder for players. This alleviated a problem I’d often have running personal games when there was only one copy of the rulebook to go around: the players could have a quick reference to how the game worked.
To make these reminder sheets more interesting, though, I printed some images on the backside of these handouts. When I set up my table for a game of Ryuutama, I spread out two sets of my reminder sheets. One side with the artwork of the character classes displayed, and the other side with the abilities of that class. An unintended side effect of this was that it made it made my table much more identifiable, and also drew the attention of passers-by.
3) Pregen Characters Are Too
I didn’t have any pregenerated characters for any of the games I ran over the weekend; every game I ran we made characters for on the spot. By contrast, my Dungeons and Dragons playing neighbors had an entire table dedicated to displaying pre-made characters so that they could quickly jump in on a game that still had room.
From the glimpses I got of these character sheets, it seemed like many of them were the official pregenerated sheets provided by Wizards. For the uninitiated, these sheets have class feature explanations reprinted from the rulebook, as appropriate for the level. Functionally, this made them similar to handouts I created Ryuutama.
4) Assistants Are Your Best Friend
One challenge that I consistently encountered was gathering players. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of interest. That was far from the case. The difficulty was that I couldn’t get enough people gathered at one time to play a game. Towards the end of the weekend, though, the idea came to me to use my fellow staff to fill out the roster. (After they had done the same with me for another game.)
In fact, I would be inclined to say that help from the other staff was instrumental in making the game room successful. There were members of staff who were keeping tabs on which GMs were doing what, and would guide the players to the GMs they were looking for. These staff helped coordinate both D&D games, as well as independent RPG GMs such as myself.
5) In The End, It Comes Down To You
You can have the best support network and all the preparation in the world, but when push comes to shove, it’s exactly as the the title of this point says: it all comes down to you. Tabletop RPGs may be part collaborative storytelling, but getting one off the ground without a GM is more or less impossible.
As a GM for Nashicon, I was expected not only to run the games, but also to do the legwork to find players and organize these games. I didn’t expect this to be difficult, and it was the one thing I didn’t really brace myself for. (By contrast, I had literally hundreds of pages of character sheets and handouts at the ready.)
It turns out that selling somebody on a game they haven’t heard of that belongs to a genre they’ve only scratched the surface of (if they’ve even heard of it) takes more than showing up and having a sales pitch ready. I wasn’t able to get people to play anything until I or other staff insisted they sit down.
Once I got my players around the table though, it wasn’t much different than any other time I ran a game. I knew how to entice players to participate and let themselves be involved in the creative aspect of gaming. I knew how to keep things moving along and when to take short cuts: I was back in my element.
Even though it was a familiar activity in a familiar setting, being GM staff for this anime convention was a much more novel experience than I expected it to be. It made me more aware of some shortcomings of mine, and thus gave me plenty to work on should I continue down this path.
Aaron der Schaedel, despite his love of conventions and festivals, has yet to attend any dedicated specifically to tabletop gaming. He can’t be there, but thinks you should totally check out HLGCon. If you do go, you can gloat to Aaron about how much fun you’re having there and he isn’t via twitter: @Zamubei
We sat down the the staff at BrigadeCon, to see what their convention is about, and why you should attend this year! (Some slight editing occurred for clarity.)
1) First off, what is BrigadeCon and why is it important?
What is BrigadeCon?
BrigadeCon is a 100% free Online Roleplaying Game Convention and Benefit in which the online tabletop and virtual roleplaying gaming community the RPG Brigade hosts live gaming events, interviews, gaming panels, and art demos in order to raise funds for the Child's Play Charity. Sponsors that support BrigadeCon (and its mission) donate digital books, physical books, dice, playmats, minis, and much more for the raffle held the day of BrigadeCon. Simply signing up as an attendee and providing a valid postal mailing address qualifies anyone for these Sponsor prizes.
Why is BrigadeCon important?
BrigadeCon attempts to accomplish various important purposes.
2) Why did you make the jump from a community to hosting your own convention?
I think at some point all communities grow to a capacity in which they want to work and do some good for the community that they love. Four years ago when Michael Barker called for the creation of BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade exploded with excitement. We all wanted to do our part to make BrigadeCon something fun and exciting to be a part of. Now, four years later, I look back on that excitement, and I still feel it. I think the entire RPG Brigade does too. It's a very special day for us all to re-converge as a community and have fun together while supporting a great cause like Child's Play.
3) Could you tell us more about Child’s Play and why you decided to partner with them?
The Child's Play Charity is "a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of hospitalized children" by raising funds to purchase video games, toys, books, and other fun stuff for them while in recovery. During the preparation for the first BrigadeCon, we didn't have to look far to find a wonderful cause to support. The Child's Play Charity already had a strong presence in the gaming community and it was (and remains) meaningful to many in the RPG Brigade who were previously, or still are, hospitalized children that survived both the pain and boredom.
So we partnered with Child's Play and never looked back.
4) How can attendees donate to Child’s Play?
In the months leading up to BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade (and those that find interest in BrigadeCon) can donate to the Child's Play Charity using two methods.
5) What is the format of BrigadeCon and where can players, GMs and others sign up for events?
As of the date of this interview, Event Hosting Requests are being accepted by those who want to host Live Gaming Events, Interviews, Gaming Panels, and Art Demos. The form to register is here: http://www.brigadecon.org/eventrequest/ .
On October 15th, 2017 a new page will be revealed on BrigadeCon.org showing all of the events that are open.Simply review all of the events you would like to participate in, then buy the ticket (it is 100% free) and you will be able to correspond with you GM/Host from there.
BrigadeCon supports YoutTube Live and Twitch Live Streams
6) Finally, what was your favorite moment from the previous BrigadeCons?
Personally, there are so many, but one stands out to me right now. During BrigadeCon 2014 GM Chugosh ran a one-shot of Slipstream for three players. It was really a neat game. Everyone thought it was over .... but a young Russian player, Vlad, was trying really hard to tell the guys that he wanted to finish off the session with a song "Taking Home." He finally got a word in. Then, "something magical" happened, as is the case with all Bards. The players were lost in the song and so was the whole convention. It was beautiful. Everyone was texting each other, "THERE IS A BARD IN GM CHUGOSH'S GAME SINGING!" All of the volunteers that stayed up for 24 hours just watched it together in silence. It was a special moment.
Here is the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr2M8hTBktk
Once again, thank you,
Thank you and High Level Games for supporting BrigadeCon!
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
It’s convention season! Woo! I know GenCon isn’t until August, but it’s never too early to start preparing, especially with this convention, as it requires a bit more planning than usual even for old hats like me. GenCon has a lot of unique systems and traits -- some of which leave me scratching my head and others that make me wish they were the norm across more conventions. Without further ado, let’s hop on into it!
1. Dat Hotel Lotto, yo
Badges go fast! You need to make an account before you can buy a badge. Pay attention to when that portal and the housing portal go live. If you’re going with friends (and you should) have them buy badges separately. GenCon buys out EVERY hotel in the Indy area before the convention, so you won’t be able to circumvent their hotel block before the housing portal goes live. This portal is based on a lottery system and assigns you a time slot to access the hotel booking. In order to maximize your chances of not having to pay exorbitant costs set by the hotels after the portal drops (GenCon also secures you cheap con rates for otherwise very pricey hotels), have each friend make a separate account, and you each will get a different housing portal time. Choose whoever gets the earliest one, and use their guide to make a shortlist of hotels you’d be willing to stay at.
2. Ticketed Events?! Say What Now?!
Unlike other conventions, GenCon also uses a ticketing system for panels, games, and other events. Larger cons typically do tickets for concerts and large events, but GenCon is unique in that each event is ticketed. You order these in advance of the convention and they’ll be sent to you in the mail with your badge. You can also purchase the tickets at the convention. You can either buy tickets for specific events (usually around $0-20), or buy “generic” tickets, worth $2.00 a piece. As events fill, everyone with a ticket for that specific event will be let in first, and then everyone with generic tickets will be let in after. In order to save yourself some cash, I’d recommend buying generic tickets (you can also purchase them at the con) for less popular events or ones with fewer seats (such as a panel on women in gaming), and specific tickets for more popular ones (Star Wars tabletop tourney or Cosplay Burlesque [psst: go see Cosplay Burlesque if you’re of age, it’s really great and there are a LOT of puns]) to ensure that you get your bum in a seat at that event.
3. It’s Really Big.
I know what you’re thinking “Ya don’t say, bird” – but seriously, this convention is huge. Like 60,000 people. It’s also REALLY HECKIN’ HOT. Last year they didn’t turn on the A/C until Saturday and even with it cranking, it’s still really warm because of all the bodies. Plan your outfits/cosplays accordingly. Hydration is also really important, and thankfully our merciful overlords provide water at strategic points throughout the con (read: bring a refillable water bottle, you’ll thank me later when you don’t have to pay $5.00 for Poland Springs in the food court). This many people in one place also means herd mentality and “walk around aimlessly” logic applies, so it can take you a bit to get from one side of the con to the other, especially when you’re short on time. All hail lawmaker Murphy. That being said, please walk with a purpose or at least stick to the sides of the halls if you’re meandering. I have kobolds to shank and you’re making me late!
4. Used to being treated like the scum of the earth by normies?! Fear no more!
Honestly the biggest culture shock of attending GenCon for me was the warm welcome from the city of Indianapolis. I’ve been attending conventions for 11 years, and the non-attendees, or “normies,” are usually pretty peeved about the presence of a large faction of nerds descending upon their city. More specifically, businesses seem to be particularly irked, which has always struck me as odd given how much money we funnel into their economy. Previously, my standard of a “nice” reception was people not being outwardly hostile – but GenCon really raised the bar for me. Local restaurants have GenCon specials, the craft breweries create special beers, and even some of the hotel staff dressed up in Star Trek uniforms for the weekend! It was really shocking to have such a warm welcome and it was nice to not feel on the defensive all weekend. Whether that’s the case for cons in the Midwest in general or if it’s exclusive to GenCon, it’s a pleasant change of pace.
This is not an exhaustive guide by any stretch of the imagination but my corporate higher ups like things to be short and sweet around these parts. While there’s probably a bunch of other things I’m missing, I hope you find this helpful! And if there’s anything else you want to know, hit me up here or on any of my social media platforms; I love giving advice!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.