Posts Tagged ‘conventions’

Run Your Own Con!

Posted: April 6, 2016 in General
Tags: , ,

I love games. LOVE them. If you’re like me you have adventures, entire RPGs, and board games on your shelf that you’ve never played… maybe never even opened! Even as a kid I didn’t have time to try everything. Now that I’m an adult, I have more money and even less time so the books continue to pile up behind me. I tend to run long campaigns so my groups only have a chance to switch systems every two years or so. I never really got to try anything new. Then I went to my first Gen Con.

Conventions are a great way to try games you never get to play otherwise. You can run that adventure you’ve been dying to play or experience a complicated board game none of your regular group knows and have a veteran teach you the ropes. When we came home from our first Gen Con, Rudy Basso and I preached the gospel of gaming conventions to our regular game group. We tried so many awesome games surrounded by other who understood the glory of tabletop! We asked our friends to come with us the next year… but when the time came it was just Rudy and me again.

Our friends all had valid excuse for not wanting to attend a gaming convention. “It’s too expensive.” “Too much time off work.” “I can’t leave my wife alone with the baby for that long.” “I don’t really travel well.” “Large crowds make me anxious.” All of those made sense to us. We didn’t want to force our friends to do something they didn’t want to do. Still we couldn’t help but feel a convention would be more fun for us if our regular group of friends attended.

Rudy and I got thinking about why we wanted our friends to come to a convention with us. When it came down to it what we really wanted was to immerse these friends in a weekend of new gaming experiences. We didn’t need Gen Con to do that. We could do it in our own backyards with less expense. We were going to throw our own con.

In November I organized my buds to spend the weekend gaming at one of our friend’s beach homes (which was close for most attendees). It was such a rousing success that we’re in the middle of planning the next one in July! I planned the thing so my friends dubbed the gathering IntroConso and the name stuck. It was such a good time that I want to share with you how you can plan your own weekend with your friends.

Step-By-Step Planning

To create your own IntroConso follow the steps below.

  1. Make Your Guest List. First things first, figure out everyone you want to invite to this shindig. Put all of their email addresses (or Snapchat names or Twitter handles or whatever you use to keep in touch with your friends) into a group because you are going to be contacting them regularly to get this thing off the ground.
  2. Find a Weekend. Or a day. Or a week. Or month! Figure out how long you want your private con to be. We settled on a weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon so people wouldn’t have to take too much time off from work. To plan the event you need to find the right time when most of your friends are free. Even with 15 people this can be a headache, but free apps like When Is Good or Doodle make scheduling a lot easier. Try to start planning at least 3 or 4 months out so people have a maximum heads up for family and work commitments. Even then odds are not everyone will be available at a given time, so pick the time when the most people can attend for maximum fun and promise those left behind they’ll remain on the guest list for future cons.
  3. Find a Place. Once you have your dates, find a place to throw your con. Pick some place close so that travel isn’t a pain in the butt. IntroConso has been lucky in that an attendee has always donated a place for us to stay. Maybe that’s the case for you. If one of your friends has a house or the extra space somewhere that can fit everyone and is willing, free is always good. It’s not too many people for a home. If you’re not so lucky, have no fear. Airbnb is a great way to find entire homes for rent near you for cheap. If everyone chips in it could cost you less than $100. Another option would be a cheap hotels where you might be able to also grab a conference room.
  4. Ask for GMs. Ask your friends what they want to run be it a board game or RPG. Even ask those folks who are always players. Many may be fine remaining such, but this con experience will give others a chance to be a game master for the first time. They can do so without fear of failure or a ton of prep, since it’ll only be a couple of hours and not a couple of years. When people sign up to run a game be sure to ask the following questions…
    1. What game(s) do you want to run? Please list in priority order.
    2. How much time do you need to run your game? (include any time caps here like 4 hours max, etc.)
    3. How many players (not including you) does your game need to play?
    4. How many players (not including you) are the max for your game?
    5. When do you plan on arriving to and leaving from the con?
  5. Make a Schedule. Armed with information from your GMs, you can now make a schedule.
    1. Figure out how many tables you can run at once.  First figure out how many games you can run at once based on the number of attendees. In general I figure 5-7 people to a table (including the GM for RPGs). So if you have 7 or less attendees, you can probably run one game at a time, 14 or less, two at a time, and so on. Keep in mind you may less attendees at the beginning and the end of the con based on who is coming or going early.
    2. Make slots for games. Create time slots for games. For IntroConso we break our days up into four-hour time slots with all the tables on the same schedule. This way when one table ends a game, so do the others, which makes it easier for people to schedule themselves and easier on you as a scheduler. Four hours is enough time to get in a solid adventure and time with an awesome board game. With the first IntroConso we found that games tended to run a little over their time limits and that people liked to take a break between sessions to eat, chat, etc. Realistically you can fit about three four-hour sessions of gaming in a full day of a private con. That’s accounting for games running over, food breaks, etc. It’s not really fun if you’re watching the clock the entire time you’re rolling bones, so I recommend scheduling your games this way. Of course you may have a different idea for your con and that’s ok too. Maybe one table wants to run Curse of Strahd for an entire day while another table runs a new game every two hours. The choice is yours!
    3.  Fill the slots with games. I like to make sure each GM gets to run their first choice and then go down the list and see what’s left. If something looks like it might run short, I put it toward the beginning of the day and if something might run long I put it at the end of the day.
    4. Example. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.55.46 PM
  6. Send the Schedule to Attendees. I make the schedule in Google Drive, duplicate it, and then send it to the attendees to fill in their names. If you make a spreadsheet like the example above it should keep everything clear. The main point is that they can’t sign up for more than one table in the same time slot.
    • Subnote: To cut down on costs, I recommend scheduling people to take care of meals, snacks, drinks as well. Here’s what our food schedule looks like if you’re curious. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.31.45 PM
  7. Have GMs Prepare Their Stuff. GMs need to be ready to teach the game to their players and have an adventure good to go. That usually means a lot of work on the GMs part so make sure a busy person has the time to run a bunch of new games. Published adventures will save prep time and can often be found for cheap or free online. Then the GM has to decide if pregenerated characters will be provided for the PCs or if character generation will happen at the table. If you’re playing a game where character generation requires everyone to have a copy of the book or takes more than 10 minutes, go for pregens. A quick Google search will probably help you find what you need. If there’s a starter set for a new game you want to play, that’s always a great place to start since you get quick rules, an adventure, and pregens all at once. Don’t forget to double check everything after you pack to make sure you have the promised games and food you’re bringing.
  8. Have fun!  No notes needed.

Has anyone else ever done anything like this? Do you want to? How can I improve IntroConso? Sound off in the comments below!

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This month’s RPG Blog Carnival‘s theme is “Convention Gaming” chosen by Mark over at Creative Mountain Games. This is a great topic considering Gen Con kicked off the beginning of August. If you missed Gen Con, fear not! The Tome Show has you covered. This awesome Dungeons and Dragons news, reviews, and interviews podcast network features many a fine show (including three hosted by yours truly) and shows up at Gen Con every year to record interviews and seminars. Even if you were at Gen Con you should check it out because we may have caught some stuff you missed (like press interviews with fifth edition D&D lead designers Jeremy Crawford and Mike Mearls).

Moving on from that shameless plug, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to say about convention gaming. I love going to gaming conventions and have plenty of advice to give, but many have already covered the topic in-depth far better than I ever could. Mike Shea has the best Gaming Convention Survival Guide over on Sly Flourish. And the host of this month’s carnival, Mark, has already written some great advice about running a game at conventions. I’m sure more advice on how to be a great player or get the most out of a gaming convention are sure to come. So what can I do?

I’m going to tell you why you should go to a gaming convention.

Why Gaming Conventions are Awesome

Here’s some reasons gaming conventions are great!

These Are Your People!

If you’re like me then you’re a gamer who grew up in a community of folks who mainly did not play tabletop games. Sure, I am lucky enough to be close to my brother Andrew, who introduced me to D&D and still enjoys great board games to this day. I imagine if you’re playing tabletop games then you must know at least a few folks who are also gamers and those are the people you play with. Still, we live in an age where many who love Marvel movies and the Batman Arkham games still think of tabletop games a bridge too nerdy. No one who thinks that attends a gaming convention.

Gaming conventions are full of people who get all your critical hit jokes, appreciate your T-shirt no one else laughs at, and understand what you mean when you use the phrase d20-based game. Most gamers, especially the kind who travel to a convention to be social with other gamers, are not sexist internet trolls. We’re cool people who want to hang out and talk to you about the things you love and play the games that thrill you. You will love the people you meet there and for many it feels like nerd heaven because you can finally talk games with new people without having to answer the question, “How do you win at D&D?”

You Can Play New Games

Ever want to try Pathfinder? 13th Age? Call of Cthulhu? Night’s Black Agents? BattleTech? Warhammer? Love Letter? Boggle? Well at gaming conventions you can sit down at a table having read no rules and play almost any game for hours with very little or no cost. There’s always someone at every table dedicated to teaching the game and providing the supplies needed. Imagine getting to play Warhammer without having to buy a single miniature or paint a darn thing. Imagine sitting down to play 13th Age without having to read a giant rulebook or take the time to make a character. The people running these games are always happy to see new players trying out the game because it means more support for what they love.

You Can Play Weird Games

Do you have a copy of Car Wars you’ve read 1000 times, but never found anyone who would play with you? Do you think OD&D is the best edition of the game and can’t find players who agree with you? Are you looking for a game that has the edge of Cards Against Humanity, but has the complexity of Risk? Gaming conventions are the place where you can find folks who want to play older, out-of-print games, rare games, or just games that don’t have a large audience. If you’re looking for weird and don’t know what, just take a look at the list of games offered and you’re sure to find something that will light your fancy.

There’s Always Convention Exclusives

Even the smallest conventions usually have some exclusive adventures or games that can only be played at conventions. For instance the D&D Adventurers League Epics are adventurers that can only be played at conventions. True Dungeon is an experience one can only be played at Gen Con. Other companies might be doing exclusive playtesting of new games only at conventions. It seems almost every gaming company has some experience like this which can only be found at conventions.

If it’s not an adventure or game, many vendors are selling or giving away freebies that can only be snagged during a convention. Special dice, books, miniatures and more are given away all the time to those who visit booths, wait in the right lines, or play certain games.

Then there’s the talent who shows up to conventions. Again even small conventions are sure to have at least ONE of your favorite designers, artists, actors, comedians, authors, bloggers, or podcasters. If you see someone you recognize and want to go thank them for their work go ahead and do it! People are always happy to have some praise for their hard work and talk games with others who love them.

Seminars, Parties, Pickup Games, and More

It’s not all about playing organized games. Most conventions have parties, concerts, contests, scavenger hunts, demonstrations, seminars about game design, seminars about creative writing, seminars about what’s coming next from your favorite gaming company, and way, way, WAY more. You can meet lots of people, go out for fun meals with friends, and plays loads of pickup games with anyone who happens to be walking by. It is gamer heaven.

Find Your Con

Last year was my first Gen Con. I went with my pal and fellow podcaster, Rudy Basso. We’ve been friends since college and play tabletop games with a whole bunch of friends from our alma mater. Last year we sort of decided last-minute we’d go to the convention, but we thought that this year since we planned ahead and had a sweet deal on an amazing hotel room that at least some of our friends would decide to go with us.

We were wrong. Our friends could not make the trek to Indianapolis, stay for four days, and pay all the money required for a lot of really good, really valid reasons. Some have families they can’t leave, others had work commitments, others were low on funds, and others didn’t have the vacation days. Totally understandable.

Here’s the thing. I’m not saying you have to go to Gen Con. I’m saying you should go to ANY gaming convention for the experience. If time and money are a factor, try to find some place close and go just for the day. There’s tons of gaming conventions out there. They’re all run a little differently. Some have you wait in lines for games… others make it so you can register beforehand.

Rudy and I are still working on our friends. Maybe we’ll get them to attend a more local con with us… and if not that… we’ll create one! Stay tuned.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

So it probably goes without saying, but in this post I’ll be discussing trigger warnings at the game table. While I won’t go too in-depth into any one topic, there will be mention of some topics that might make people upset. Just a heads up because I love you all and don’t wish to offend.

I’m almost 30. When I started playing tabletop RPGs as a 10-year-old kid, my games were a lot like The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. By that I mean simple tales with simple themes of good folk battling evil folk and scoring some treasure. As I got older my games became more complex and sometimes verged into themes found in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (that’s Game of Thrones to all you HBO viewers out there). Plots certainly became more complex but the stories of my games also dealt with more adult issues. While these themes and ideas made for more interesting narratives and more realistic characters, many of these issues can make players, even fully grown adult players, uncomfortable. Suicide, sexual assault, sexual intercourse, physical and mental abuse, torture, addiction, physical illness, mental illness, and a lot of other serious, complicated real world topics can make for a moving story, but they can also ruin a game for a person who just showed up to have a good time and forget about the worries of the world for a bit.

It’s a Game First, Art Second

Personally when I read or tell a story, anything goes. As a professional writer and producer, I believe in a storyteller’s right to portray these topics as they choose and I believe an audience has the right to not watch, gripe, and criticize as they choose. That’s not to say I’m always comfortable with tasteless storytelling where gratuitous violence or offensive material of any kind is itself the entertainment, but I am comfortable saying storytellers should be able to make what they want and people should be allowed to pick it apart and/or not consume the product as they see fit.

All of that being said, remember that role-playing games are games first and the art of storytelling second. Players and a GM tell a story together for their own fun and entertainment. It should not be a GM or player forcing the story they want down the throats of others. People have given up hours of precious free time to come and sit at a table, often with strangers at a friendly local game store or convention, and don’t need to leave the experience feeling uncomfortable, offended, or ostracized. That kind of stuff doesn’t get people to come back to a game. I’m reminded of a Vice article in which a DM forced an NPC onto a female player’s character. That player left the table in tears and never returned to the game. I think most of us can agree we do not want anything to get that far at our tables even if most people think a topic is harmless. These situations are even more likely to come up at conventions and organized play events where the group may be strangers to one another and have no idea who is comfortable with what. We need to be able to put all people involved in the game at ease. That doesn’t mean these triggering topics are off-limits, but it does mean we need to be mindful and respectful of our fellow gamers.

Here are some handy tips and methods for keeping everything cool and comfortable at the table when you story heads into questionable territory.

Ways to Mitigate Trigger Activation

When someone has a visceral uncomfortable or hurt reaction to an event or description in a game, a trigger response has been activated for that person. Here are a few ways to avoid trigger activation.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

When it comes to trigger activations, nothing helps more than simply talking with your players. Before you get started ask them what style of games they like to play and what books, television, and movies they like to watch. Remember that just because a person enjoys book containing a triggering topic doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy it in the shared environment of a role-playing game but it gives you a good idea of where to start. This is also a great way to break the ice before getting going during a game at a convention or local friendly game store with a bunch of new players.

Remember to set up questionable events with trigger warnings before you play. If you aren’t sure about how a description or event will go down with the players, ask them first. “Hey this adventure includes a possible suicide, but let me know if you’re not ok with that because I can change things very easily. You don’t have to tell me why, just let me know if it’s a problem,” is a great way to give a warning. Make sure the players know they aren’t inconveniencing you or ruining the fun of the game for anyone else. Don’t make them give you a reason why the topic makes them uncomfortable since that defeats the purpose of the warning. Be cool. Everyone is there to have a good time.

If you’re playing a longer campaign made up of multiple sessions, spend some time talking to your players about what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable throughout the run of the game. Let them know they can come and speak with you if they have a problem with anything that comes up. Establish trust by listening to concerns, and by not asking probing, personal questions when concerns are brought up. In addition to providing trigger warnings, talk to them after a questionable event as a check-in to make sure everyone’s still feeling good about the campaign and story. It’s definitely better to over communicate than to have a friend get upset and leave a game.

Set Ground Rules

Before a long campaign there’s time to talk with your players and go over a list of questionable topics that might come up in the story. Why not immediately check off all the things that someone says are off-limits for them? You could email the list to people or talk with people one-on-one so they can respond individually and not in front of the rest of the group. Then you can just let your players know topics that won’t be part of your game so they don’t bring them up at the table as well.

If you’re playing with a group of good friends, you could always have a larger discussion about setting ground rules before a game starts. A discussion like this can even allow for ground rules to be more specific. Rather than removing an entire topic from your story (e.g. physical disease) you might be able to cross off a specific item within that topic (e.g. a specific terminal illness).

Tap the Card

Setting ground rules and lots of communication are great, but what happens when you don’t have the time cover everything before a convention game with a group of strangers? Or maybe you’re playing a game with so many questionable topics, like Monsterhearts, that going over a list would be maddening and time-consuming.

On an episode of The Round Table podcast where we discussed sexual harassment at the game table panelist Barak Blackburn brought up the idea of placing an index card in the middle of the table. Whenever any person for any reason felt uncomfortable with what was happening in the game’s story, that person could tap the card without a word and the GM would simply fast forward and move the story past the scene and the topic wouldn’t be touched again. If you’re running a short game with a lot of questionable material and don’t want to upset anyone, this is a great trick. It’s commonly known as an X-card, because the DM typically draws a large X across the index card.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!