I’ve never GMed a game at a convention, but I’ve played in plenty of them. In the same way that players and GMs often have different takes on what happens in-game (the flashlight vs. the 150 watt bulb), I thought it would be worthwhile to list 9 characteristics of a good con event from a player’s perspective.
Things You Can Control
• Be engaged. Nothing gets me interested in a con game than an excited, engaged GM. This is the biggest buffer you can put up to keep anything that does go wrong from killing the game.
• Be prepared. If your event requires prep, make sure you’ve done that prep. Know what happens when, what the PCs can do and where the game might bottleneck.
• Playtest your scenario. Whether it means running it at home for your group or fine-tuning it at smaller cons, playtesting makes a huge difference in how polished the finished product feels. (This one also stands in for “Write a good scenario,” because you’ll find out if it’s any good in playtesting.)
• Incite, incite, incite. There’s a reason why Luke Crane is one of the best GMs I’ve ever gamed with: he’s always stirring the pot at the con table, and he never lets up. It’s impossible not to be involved, and that’s a very good thing.
• Adjust the pacing as needed. Many pacing issues will get sorted out in playtesting, but sometimes events just don’t go as planned — and most players will have another event after yours. That means making sure you finish up on time, even if you have to cut chunks out of the scenario on the fly (or in drastic cases, jump to the end — I’ve seen this happen).
• Bring support material. Character sheets, pencils, spare dice, handouts, a battlemat, custom-designed props — anything your players might forget, or might enjoy seeing during the game, will only make the event more fun for everyone.
• Do what you advertised. If your event pitch in the con guide makes the scenario sound humorous, unique, totally off-the-wall, comfortably familiar (etc.), that’s what it should be. There’s nothing worse than when “Hey, that sounds unusual” meets “Man, that was just the same old railroaded crap.”
Things You Can’t Control
• Good players. It’s really too bad that you can’t control this one. Much of the enjoyment of a convention game comes from the strangers who are sitting around the table, and you don’t get to pick your players.
• A pleasant event space. Being in an overcrowded room with no separation between tables makes it hard to follow what’s going on. Conversely, being in a space with good table separation and (ideally) partitions makes the whole experience more intimate.
What are some of the characteristics of your favorite con games, from a GMing perspective?