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Hot Button – Run or Play?

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. [1] 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 [2] posted one yesterday discussing Exiles of the Wicked Maze [3], 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 [4] 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:



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?


12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Hot Button – Run or Play?"

#1 Comment By RF On June 20, 2014 @ 6:56 am

When I go to a con, it is mostly to play. I run a couple of games if I feel like it, because if someone doesn’t GM we can’t have games. If I don’t feel like it, like last year at Dragon Con, I didn’t GM at all and was totally fine with it. We’ll see if I GM at Gen Con or not. But yeah, I mostly put on my player hat.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On June 21, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

Exactly.. if GMs don’t run, we can’t have nice things. 🙂

#3 Comment By Gamerprinter On June 20, 2014 @ 9:46 am

Yeah, at cons I generally play not run. Now one of the writers for my Kaidan setting of Japanese horror (PFRPG), Jonathan McAnulty has been running Kaidan one-shot modules at Origins for at least the last 4 years. I don’t know about this year, but last year, Jonathan’s eldest son of 12, ran Up from Darkness, a Kaidan one-shot, as a con game at Origins. If you think running games for strangers is intimidating, think how it must of been for a 12 year old running his first con game with a very dark, horror module! I heard it was a great success, and he had lots of fun.

#4 Comment By Angela Murray On June 21, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

Wow, that’s impressive! I know I never could have done that at twelve, not for strangers, especially not for adults or older kids. Glad to hear it was a success. Hopefully it’s the start of an awesome GMing ‘career’. 🙂

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On June 20, 2014 @ 10:17 am

Like you, it depends on the size of the con. For local cons, I tend to step up and run more… it’s less a vacation than an event. It’s a great way to run those one shots and odd systems!

For bigger cons, I don’t want take vacation time to go and “work”–they typically demand a lot of hours of running to get free admission. More, though, is that I don’t go very often and rarely plan so far out that I can make the catalog. I try to have something fun that can be run off the books or after hours with me, just in case.

#6 Comment By Angela Murray On June 21, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

Local cons usually need a little more help with event submission. There’s a smaller pool of available GMs to choose from, so… For Running GAGG (small con in Geneseo, NY) and Con on the Cob (smallish con in Ohio), I always try and run two events. For other small cons, I’ll try and at least do one session. Big cons… it always seems like there are enough GMs.

#7 Comment By Omnus On June 21, 2014 @ 12:31 am

I consider it my responsibility to nurture the local conventions when I can by running at least an event or two. I want to see them thrive, and many are still in their growing stages. Board games and card games dominate in many of the nearest cons to me, and I enjoy giving people options. Of course, I like to keep things flexible. I try to run a few different kinds of games for people of varying tastes. Last year I ran a game of Monte Cook’s Numenara the day after I ran a 3.5 D&D game. The ones interested in Numenara were themselves veteran gamers who wanted to take a look at the new game. The 3.5 went to the young ‘uns who were at the con.

The first time I go to a con, though, I only play to get a feel for the con and what seems to have success. If I go to a very big con, I’ll sometimes run an informal game (or marathon session) outside of the organization, based on popular demand. One of those turned into one of the most memorable Marvel Super Heroes (SAGA Edition) games I’ve ever played in.

#8 Comment By Angela Murray On June 21, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

That’s a very good point about being a first-time-attendee at a con. I’d want to get a feel for how the con operates before I submit an event. Of course, the exception might be if someone I knew was in charge and ASKED me to submit some events. I’ve heard of that happening before.

LOVE Marvel SAGA. 🙂 That system doesn’t get enough love.

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On June 23, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

Now that you mentioned this, I recognize myself in it. Yes, for a con I’m familiar with (or it’s small), it’s easier to run. If it’s something I’ve never done, I do want a chance to see where the bar is–or even to see if it’s a con I enjoy enough to attend throughout!

#10 Comment By John Fredericks On June 21, 2014 @ 4:06 am

Thanks for tagging onto my article, Angela. Glad to be of some use, and like that you took it in a different direction.

I like to run one session and play in another at our local gameday. But last time I did that I really bonked during the second session, just ran out of juice. I think I underestimated how tiring running a four hour session can be. Next time I would play first.

#11 Comment By Angela Murray On June 21, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

No problem. 🙂 The subject came up while I was at Origins. I mentioned to a friend that I felt a little guilty just playing at the con and it lead to a conversation on whether or not we *should* run at cons.

I don’t get how some of the GMs do it. I know guys who run ten or twelve events over the course of four or five day cons.

#12 Comment By Brian Bentley On June 22, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

I ran into an interesting opportunity for Gen Con this year. I backed Shadows of Esteren: Monastery of Tuath on Kickstarter a few months ago. They asked their backers if anyone wanted to run sessions of Shadow of Esteren. These are essentially demo sessions to teach people about the world and mechanics of Shadows of Esteren. I always enjoy teaching people new settings and games. I’m excited because this is both my first Gen Con and my first time running for a con.

I also plan on running a pickup session of D&D Next/5th Edition. I have the starter set pre-ordered and should have it by the time I leave for Gen Con.