- Gnome Stew - https://gnomestew.com -

Organizing a Small RPG Con: The Setup

You can play wherever you can find enough space.

The last couple years have been a rough time for gaming conventions. Some cons have gone on, however others have been cancelled due to safety or existential issues. If you aren’t able to find conventions that you want to attend, perhaps you should organize one yourself. While you could tackle the task of organizing a gaming convention for a thousand of your closest friends, you can get a lot of enjoyment, and save yourself a lot of work, by running a “convention” for a smaller group.

Regardless of the size, pulling off a good gaming convention is a bit like throwing a party. The complexity primarily depends on its size. A weekend with your friends is less complex than a full scale large convention, however the key elements are the same. To run an RPG convention you’ll need to balance guests, location, cost, and schedule.

The weekend gaming session is perfect for 5-7 participants and 2-3 game sessions. When you want to keep it low key, get your gaming group together for a few days. There are several options for playtime. Have your regular gamemaster run a double-length event or have two or three group members trade off.

The cost of such an event is primarily due to location. If space is available, meet at someone’s house. Alternately use a hotel suite or rent a meeting room at a hotel or restaurant. Plan time for getting meals out or having them bought in. It’s hard to go wrong with your tried and true gaming group.

Example Schedule (6 participants, 3 games)

Multi-group soiree works for 12-18 participants and 6-12 game sessions. This can be done as 2-3 groups doing simultaneous weekend gaming sessions (or mixing and matching) or it can be 12-18 individuals who self-organize 3 to 4 slots during the weekend. If half to two-thirds of the players are gamemasters, then they can each chip in one game session. Otherwise, you’ll need a few gamemasters to double-up.

Choosing a location also becomes more complicated, as you’ll need space for 2-3 simultaneous games. Some folks may have homes that can accommodate three RPG tables, but not necessarily the sleeping space for 18, so you may need hotel rooms anyway. If that hotel has a small meeting room you could rent it instead and game right on the premises. Choose a hotel which offers breakfast so that you only have to bring in dinner.

Example Schedule (18 participants, 11 games over 4 slots)

Small con is for a group of 24-42 and 15-30 game sessions. The con may have 3-5 slots and each slot of the con may have 3-7 simultaneous events. At this size, organizing games and selecting participants becomes more challenging. You’ll need a system for assigning players to groups and/or gamemasters for each slot. One option is the standard first-come, first served. However, if you have a seasoned con organizer available to help you, you could allow round-robin or point-based game selection. Get some technology to help you, like google spreadsheets or the open source GameConSuite software (https://github.com/lhamel/GameConSuite).

Example Schedule (36 participants, 27 games over 5 slots)

Again, the location requires a meeting room large enough to hold all the gaming tables, so choose a location with that in mind. Alternatively, choose a hotel with suites that allows for gaming in individual rooms. See if they’ll offer a discount for a group of your size or give you a discount on a meeting room. At this size, you will definitely want to plan out meals and costs in advance. Don’t forget to consider dietary restrictions and food allergies.

The other factor to consider is cost. Presuming that you are volunteering your time to organize the convention, the main costs to participants are food and lodging, making location the single most important factor. A single-group session might use a participant’s home and allow for couch-surfing to reduce costs, but a larger gathering will require more space. Consider using a hotel with rooms and furniture that allows for in-suite gaming, or renting a meeting room and sharing the cost. For example, my small con hosts 24 guests at an inexpensive hotel. The meeting room costs $200 for Friday through Sunday. We charged $40 per person, budgeting $10 for the meeting room, $12 for catered lunch, and $18 for catered dinner including tips. A few guests opted to bring their own food (make sure you ask ahead of time), and the estimates gave us a guide as to how to adjust their cost sharing. Each time we have used this model we’ve been within $20 of our budget.

As in the above examples, the main drivers of complexity are the number of participants to invite and how many game sessions are desired. Inviting 30 people is all well and good, but only works if you have enough gamemasters to accommodate the group. I have met a few folks who strongly prefer running games to playing in them, but the truth is that most gamemasters also want to play. Here is a formula to help you determine how many games are needed.

(# of participants) times (# of sessions per participant) divided by (participants per session)

For example:

In the formula above, the term participants is inclusive of gamemasters, so 6 participants means a gamemaster plus 5 players while 7 participants means a gamemaster plus 6 players. The formula also assumes that participants are playing every slot, so if you have folks who want to sit out a couple games, arrive late, or leave early then you may be able to reduce the number of games available in some slots (as shown in the example schedules). You can modify the expected number of slots or participants per session to affect the number of games needed overall or participants you can accommodate with the gamemasters you have.

Running your own small con is a great way to get much of the joy that comes from attending a convention without all of the work of running it. If this is your first small con, try it out with a smaller group of about 12. Write everything down. Keep your arrangements simple and make sure to communicate with your participants about your expectations. Even better: find a partner to work with you and divide the work.

Happy gaming everyone!