Today, let’s talk about running games at conventions or other similarly organized events. It’s very important to be prepared for what you have committed to do. Many conventions give comp admission badges in return for a prescribed amount of games run/facilitated during the convention; my convention does just that. Therefore, it is important that you run a great game and earn your admission badge. Most of what follows is applicable to both boardgame and RPG game masters. Many of the points addressed are from my own experiences as both a GM and con organizer.
- Personal Hygiene – No conversation about gaming is complete without briefly touching of what most of us think is the obvious, personal hygiene. Take a shower, change your clothes and wear deodorant! Even if you have an aversion to deodorant (for whatever reason) please use it at conventions. I would also like to note that no one wants to smell your feet either. Please use foot spray/powder if you shoes smell. The people around do not want to smell your body odor. Plan and simple!
- Don’t Cross that “Red Line” – We all know and accept that some game topics are meant for adults and not children, right? If you’re organizing a game that is geared towards the 18+ crowd, you need be cognizant that every person at your table has had different life experiences. Please ensure that you don’t cross any boundary lines that might offend or hurt players at your table. I recommend that if your game touches on themes that might be taboo that you ensure everyone at your table is aware of these possible themes and allow players to walk away from your table if there’s a theme they find objectionable. Secondly, I suggest using the “X card”. The “X Card” is simply an index card with an “X” on it. A player may place their “X Card” in front them if a topic or theme arises that they find objectionable and don’t want to participate in. In these cases, the GM should fast forward the story line/game to a point beyond the objectionable material. The “X Card” is a non-retribution means of keep peace and ensuring fun is had by all at your table. Players should be encouraged to speak up if something arises they find objectionable. Bottom line, establish ground rules and stick to them!
- Do Not discriminate, Treat Your Players With Respect – This one should be obvious, but without fail I see or hear stories of rude and disrespectful GMs. We all have different morals and social skills, please be aware of this as your players assemble. For whatever reason you may find someone at your game or event objectionable; keep it to yourself! Players are paying customers and as such, event staff expects them to be treat kindly and fairly regardless of a GMs particular beliefs. If you find working with or associating yourself with certain demographic groups hard to handle–don’t volunteer to run games at events! Everyone is there to have fun, being an ass hat to a player(s) ensures they will not having fun. Bottom line, be courteous and respectful!
- Be Early – Conventions run better when game masters arrive at the check in point (where ever that may be) to get the names of their players and table assignment early. As a con organizer, I recommend to our GMs that they come by the sign-up board about 10-15 before their scheduled start time. This way, as soon as the assigned table is empty they can begin setting up. The hope is that by the time the players begin arriving (on time we hope) the GM is putting the finishing touches on his/her setup. Allowing them to get started on time.
- Know The Rules – When you commit to run a game(s) in exchange for your admission badge, it is assumed that you know the rules for the game(s) you’re planning to run. Please take time before the convention to read them thoroughly and dry run the game so that you understand how the mechanics work. You will be expected to be able to teach new players these very same rules. Plan you time accordingly in the weeks and days leading up to the convention.
- Have Your Materials – Many games, especially RPGs, require a game masters to have preprinted material on hand at the table. Please, for the love all that is holy, do your homework and have all your pre-gens and player aids completed, printed and ready to hand out. Trying to get them printed at the convention shows a general lack of preparedness. It’s also an indicator to the con staff that you are someone to watch to make sure the players at your table are not wasting their time while you fumble to get things going.
- Table Signs – Not all conventions use table signs or tent cards to mark which table are reserved for which games. I encourage all game masters to have some form of table signage prepared. When you arrive at your table, place your signage on the table so your players can easily locate your game.
- You’re an Ambassador – As a game master, you by default, become an ambassador of the convention or event you are working with even if you didn’t get a comp’ed admission badge. Don’t shit talk the event or other conventions that you attend or chose not to attend–people hear what you are saying! Keep your comments positive even if things are not going well. Take up any issues or complaints you might have with the con staff after your game is complete.
- Ensure Players Have Fun – The players that sit at your table or event are there to have fun! Keep that ever-present in your mind. If players aren’t having fun they are likely to let con staff know. It is your job to insure fun is had by all. To increase the odds of this happening, look for visual clues in the body language of your players. If they are day dreaming or surfing Facebook and not paying attention to the game and what is going on, chances are they are board. Get them redirected and engaged again.
- Explain Basic Rules Only – When you’re getting ready to start your game, it is best to explain only the very basic rules to new players. During the game, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to have short rules discussions; keep them short and on point. If you make your players sit there for 30 minutes at the start of the session while you drone on about rules that may or may not be applicable to each person, you’re going to bore them. If they get bored, they’re not having fun!
- Be An Active Participant – Be engaging and animated at the table. If you, as the game master, are enjoying yourself, your players will as well. It also serves to keep their attention focused on you and not staring at their phones because they are bored. The more engaging you are, the more likely your player are going to have a more meaningful and memorable game experience at your table.
- Timing and Pacing – If you are scheduled to run a game in a 4-hour time slot, keep an eye on the time to ensure your game wraps up at or slightly before the end of your time slot. If your game runs longer, you prevent the next GM from getting set up and getting his/her game going on time. Thereby, creating a traffic jam of sorts. If you need to continue your game, consult with your players about continuing and go find an open gaming table to occupy and finish your game. The inverse is also true; ensure your game fills the better part of your prescribed time slot. In the event that your players avoid all your monsters or find a way to race to the end, be creative and flexible to help extend the game out longer; this mainly applies to RPG. Your players are paying to play a four game (RPG) or to participate in some type of event, make sure they get their money’s worth out of your game.
- Turn Your Ringer Off – This should be obvious, but inevitably it’s not! I have fielded countless complaints from players that their GM received a phone call in the middle of the game and it disrupted the game experience. If you must keep your phone ringer on, maybe due to an emergency situation, please tell your players up front that you have something going on in real life and you may or may not receive a call regarding it. If you do receive an emergency call, excuse yourself and handle your situation and then get back to your game.