I got back from GenCon Indy 2006 on Sunday, and as always it was an absolute blast. This year, two GMing-related things really jumped out at me, although I wasn’t really looking for them.

The first was some truly appalling GMing, and the second was lots of cool products for GMs. I’d also like to touch briefly on Mastering Your GM-Fu, the GMing seminar I took part in.

Appalling GMing

Out of the six events my friends and I signed up for, two were so bad that we walked out mid-game. A third was bad enough that we were tempted to walk out, but it was over so fast we didn’t need to.

Of the other three, one was above average (“Freak Show,” an 1890s Call of Cthulhu game about circus freaks), one was quite good (“D&D for Cash,” a competitive team-on-team tourney) and one was superb (a session of Hollow Earth Expedition run by the game’s designer, Jeff Combos).

In past years, we’ve nearly always played in at least one mediocre event. We’ve usually had at least one terrible event — including a demo of Game of Thrones in 2004 that was the worst game any of us had ever played.

But three shit-tacular games in one year? That’s pretty bad.

In one case, (“Undeath Before Dishonor,” an Asian-themed d20 game), the group was part of the problem — although the GM was still the biggest factor. In the other two games (“SG99 — Redshirt Rampage, The Sequel,” a Stargate game, and “Escape!,” an old-school d6 Star Wars game), the GM was the primary factor.

Apart from bad GMs, other common threads included: railroading, PCs with zero depth or background, lame or non-existant NPCs and inept plotting.

Why do GMs like this, who run games like these, come to GenCon? And why isn’t there a way to rate them after the con, so that other people can avoid registering for their events in the future? I’m all for encouraging first-time convention GMs to give it a shot, but when the games are this terrible it really drives me nuts.

Products for GMs

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing TT for the past year, but I noticed a lot of GMing products at GenCon — including plenty of products from first-time exhibitors. (I have to apologize in advance for the lack of pictures — for some reason, covering these didn’t occur to me until after the con…)

The Combat Pad: This nifty initiative tracker consisted of a magnetic wet-erase board, several small magnetic nameplates (also eraseable), an arrow for the round and a “round done” magnet. With two columns, you could shift characters from “hasn’t acted yet” to “has acted,” and it was quite nicely put together. At $17, though, it was a bit too pricy.

Laser-etched wooden tiles from Dragonfire Laser Crafts: These were some of my favorite GM aids at the con. In a nutshell, they were light wooden tiles etched with useful words or images — monsters, conditions (stunned, flying), and so forth. Their coolest products were flat wooden ship decks, etched with 1″ squares for use with minis. The largest ship had masts, including gridded spars for fighting amongst the rigging. The ships got expensive quick, but overall their prices seemed quite good — and they even did a custom wooden GM screen.

Steel Sqwire templates: The friendly folks from Steel Sqwire were back, and they had two products I hadn’t seen before: color-coded versions of their wire area of effect templates and Flip-Mats with landscapes on them. If I played D&D with minis (as opposed to counters) more often, I’d definitely own a set of their templates.

ZÜCA rolling bag/stool: Man, these things were hot. Picture a rolling suitcase with an anodized metal frame, only instead of a suitcase you have a multipurpose bag full of pockets, slots and other storage options. The hook was that the bag doubled as a seat, and they looked quite strong. I really wanted to pick one up — they looked ideal for cons — but they were ferociously expensive (around $120 for the full size version).

Monster Tiles: Ocho Games made their first appearance at GenCon, and they brought new tiles (including NPCs and furniture) — as well as bundled sets (big monsters, common monsters, etc.), which were an excellent idea. They also lowered their prices, which is always a good thing. (I reviewed Monster Tiles here on TT.)

Hobby Cube’s custom wooden organizers: Hobby Cube makes wooden boxes (in various sizes) with slots for shelves and drawers, and you could customize their components to suit your needs. So if you wanted a deep drawer for oversize minis, two small drawers for regular minis and some flat shelves for rule books, you could get exactly that. Very cool.

Alea Tools stackable markers: Designed for minis games, these magnetic markers are color-coded for character status — invisible, flying, etc. I’d heard about Alea’s products, but I’d never seen their sets before. The Ultimate Game Master Pack is pretty saucy, if you’re into the tactical aspect of RPGs.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something awesome — the dealers’ room was just so packed this year! If I missed any great GM aids, let me know in the comments!

Mastering Your GM-Fu

Zachary Houghton, Vicki Potter, Phil Vecchione and I ran a seminar called Mastering Your GM-Fu, and we had a great time. More importantly, it seemed like everyone who attended and participated had fun and took away some useful advice.

TT forum member Carolina, who attended the seminar, has posted a couple of good threads about his favorite aspects of it: GM’s attention deficit disorder and Cycling players in a game store setting.

We’re also hoping to have audio and/or video of the seminar available for the many folks who couldn’t attend. If we’re able to sort that out, I’ll post about it here.

And who knows, perhaps next year TT will have grown to the point that we can have some sort of Treasure Tables meetup.

(For the curious, my GenCon 2006 photo gallery is also up. It’s not GMing-related, but there’s some fun stuff in there.)