The discussion on how much we GMs should play instead of run has been a bit of a hot topic here at Gnome Stew. John F. just did an article discussing the many good reasons for GMs to make sure to occasionally sit on the other side of the table, and Matthew posted one yesterday discussing Exiles of the Wicked Maze, a unique solo game that would give a GM a chance to play to a certain degree. I’ve also been thinking about this subject, but specifically in relation to attending conventions.

Last weekend, I got to attend Origins in Columbus, Ohio, one of my all-time favorite conventions and one I try and hit every year. While there, I got to hang out with many awesome people, check out the abundance of new stuff in the dealer’s hall, and bask in the abundance of gaming related nerdiness surrounding me. I also, of course, played a bunch of games. I got to demo two new RPGs and play a handful of old(ish) favorites. The one thing I didn’t do, though, was RUN a game.

A part of me felt a little guilty for that. Since I started running games, I’ve felt a certain degree of responsibility to provide games for people to play at conventions. For smaller cons, I usually get a couple of events on the schedule, but I never quite get around to putting anything together for the larger conventions, like Origins or GenCon. Part of that is the massive and intimidating size of those cons. Even extremely experienced GMs can have a little anxiety when six strangers sit down at their table to play. The other, and probably larger, part of it is that I still really enjoy being a player. Getting a chance to play in an abundance of good games is something I’m reluctant to give up.

So there I am, stuck waffling back and forth on whether I should play or run at a convention. There’s good points on both sides of the discussion:


  • Attending a large con can require taking time off work, turning it into what is essentially a vacation. Why work more than you have to on your vacation? Relax and just play!
  • If you’re the only GM for your regular group, attending a con may present the only opportunity to actually play instead of run.
  • Sometimes the best way to learn a new game is to play it and where better to learn how to play it than at a convention where an official rep of the game company may be running it?
  • Occasionally there are games we love that our regular groups don’t. Attending a con can present an opportunity to play an old favorite you don’t stand a chance of getting your players to try.


  • Running for new players, especially ones that paid to be there, is pretty much guaranteed to make you step up your game as a GM. It’s a chance to stretch your skills to try and run the best game possible.
  • Every GM I know has more ideas for games than they have time to run. While running at a con doesn’t completely fix that, it does allow the chance to try out one-shot scenarios that might not be a good fit for your regular game.
  • When strapped for cash, it’s a good way to cover some of the costs of the con. Most cons will cover the cost of admission as well as some other rewards for GMs that run a certain number of games.
  • For some of us, the excitement we get running a game far outweighs what we get from playing.

Conventions thrive and survive based on the events offered and for RPGs, those don’t happen without GMs stepping up to run them, but it’s also a chance for playing deprived GM’s to get a chance to relax and be a player again. For me, I’m going to keep submitting events for the smaller cons I attend, where there’s a smaller pool of GMs submitting events, but I think I’ll keep being a player at the big cons.

So how about you? At conventions, do you feel the need to run, or are you okay with putting on your player hat?