Gone Expoing!

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgThis is a light week for me, blog-wise. I’m the Team Lead for the Tabletop Games area at the Edmonton Expo, which runs this weekend. I’ve been busy sorting out my volunteers and events, then I’ll be busy setting up the gaming area and preparing for the weekend which starts at 3pm Friday. If you’re a nerd in Edmonton you’re likely already coming to the Expo already, so this is my call to stop by the Tabletop Gaming area and play some games. Besides the library of board games we have for you to try, we also have volunteers on-hand to help you learn a game, or give you an extra body for the game you want to play. You can also take in one of the scheduled events run by our gaming sponsors, and you are welcome to bring a game you just bought and give it a play.

Posts will return to their regular schedule next week, when my life gets a little less busy. In the mean time, play games!

Get in the Con Game!

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgGen Con started today, with tens of thousands of gaming nerds gathering in Indianapolis to celebrate the hobby they love. Sadly, I am not among them this year, though I have made the pilgrimage to gamer mardi gras in the past. If you have the means, I highly recommend attending Gen Con at least once in your lifetime. The experience is like nothing else.

But even if you can’t get to Gen Con this year, there are likely plenty of smaller gaming conventions just waiting to entertain you. There are regional and local cons held all over the world, run by nerds who love the tabletop hobby as much as you. Sites like Upcoming Cons and Game Convention Central can help you track down nearby cons. Most local cons will advertise where the gamers hang out, so check out your FLGS or game café for posters and/or flyers.

I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and we have a number of local cons which feature gaming. It wasn’t always the case, of course, but with the general rise in popularity of tabletop gaming came an interest in sharing that experience with others. Even five years ago you could struggle to find something year-round. Now, I’m actually staggered a bit by choice. For those living in Edmonton (and the rest of Alberta, if you want to make the trip) here are some upcoming gaming cons happening in our fair city.

Edmonton Expo (Sept 23-25, 2016) – While not a gaming con per se, the Expo is a big convention and has a little bit of everything. In the last couple of years the tabletop gaming area has expanded and improved, and the Expo has introduced hundreds of new people to the hobby, as well as showing off new games to the veteran players. Full disclosure, I’m the Tabletop Gaming Team Lead for the event, so I might be a touch biased. But we try to make the tabletop gaming area as welcoming as possible, with an eye toward getting folks around a table and playing something. Because playing the game is the fun part, right? This year I’m excited because we have a number of local game designers and companies demoing their stuff, and folks can come try out games which are fresh on the market.

FallCon (September 30- October 2, 2016) – Not a local con, but definitely close by when compared to other cons you could travel to, FallCon happens every year in Calgary, AB. Currently in its 29th year of operation, it is currently the province’s longest-running gaming convention. And it shows; every year FallCon is a well-run weekend of fun for boardgame enthusiasts. Also a great con to help get an idea of what it’s like to travel to a con, if you haven’t done that yet. Think of it as the start of your training regimen for attending Gen Con.

IntrigueCon (October 14-16, 2016) – Locally run by Hazard Gaming, IntrigueCon is an annual role-playing convention. Its attendance is growing nicely, with a wide variety of both new and classic RPGs for local gamers to try out. The staff and volunteers are great, and the times I’ve managed to get out and run a game have been a blast. Edmonton gamers, if you’re looking for a great con experience while still being able to sleep in your own bed at night, this con’s for you.

Gamealot (October 21-23, 2016) Yes, that’s right, you can get in two back-to-back gaming conventions in the space of a week. One of the Edmonton area’s longest running gaming conventions, Gamealot used to be run out of Mission: Fun and Games’ store every September. This year they finally acknowledged that the store could no longer contain all the gaming goodness, and have moved to a much larger off-site venue. But in true Gamealot fashion, the weekend is shaping up to be just as packed with boardgames and card games as ever. And this is definitely the place to go if you want a boardgame palette cleanser after your IntrigueCon RPG experience. You’ll likely find me there running some Cheapass Games and the like.

KefCon (November 19-20, 2016) – An acronym for “keeping evenings fun”, KefCon is brand new boardgaming convention just entering its second year. No dates are announced for the next one, but they seem to be trying to run a single-day event every six months (the last was in mid-July). I haven’t been myself yet, but friends have told me it’s a good time, not unlike spending a day at your friend’s house playing boardgames. You know, if your friend’s house was the size of a local community hall. Update: They’ve picked some dates in November, and have expanded to two days. Tickets are on-sale now!

GOBFest (April 8 & 9, 2017) – Organized by local group POGOB (Players of Games on Boards), GOBFest is a wonderful two-day boardgaming event. Went to KefCon and you’re ready for something a little heftier? This is for you. Not only do they feature scheduled games and tournaments, but they have an impressively large library of games you can borrow for open gaming. Not to mention a number of “life-sized” games, for when you want to be the meeple. I’ve run games and played games at GOBFest, and had a blast doing both.

Okay, that’s my list of Edmonton gaming cons available for your enjoyment and titillation. Did I miss one? Did I get something wrong? Drop a note in the comments. And for everyone not living in my city, get out there and see what’s going on near you. You’ll be surprised at what you might find with just a bit of digging.cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpg

Convention Time, Part Deux!

A longish while back I wrote a post about going to conventions, with some tips and tricks I use when conning around. Since then I’ve written a few posts on subjects touching on gaming conventions; if you search the convention tag I’m sure they’ll pop up. Since the Grand Daddy of all gaming cons, Gen Con, starts this week, I thought it was a good time to P1000011_smtalk about them some more.

I have long believed gaming conventions are one of the best parts of the hobby. They offer a way to try new things with new people, in a generally supportive and positive environment. Even playing your favourite game with new people can be eye-opening. I love discovering a new strategy for a game by getting my butt whipped, knowing I can take that strategy back to my regulars and unleash it on them.

If a regular gaming convention does this for you, Gen Con ramps that up to Eleventy-One. Let me start by reassuring you, you will never get to do everything at Gen Con at a single Gen Con. Why is that reassuring? Because you have an ongoing reason to go back, my friend. And you will want to go back. There is no other con in North America, possibly the world, which can offer as much concentrated gaming goodness in one location. Whether you’re on the hunt for shiny new thing in gaming, or an OG looking to relive the games of your youth, Gen Con has it and you can play it. I have never been disappointed.

So I wanted to offer some tips to make your experience as good as it can be. Some of these are specific to Gen Con, but most will make any con better.

Be Considerate – This covers a wide variety of situations at the con, and obviously isn’t limited to just Gen Con. But there are just so many people at Gen Con that dickish behavior can quickly spiral. However, considerate behavior can also spiral, so follow Wheaton’s Law and keep it wholly.

This includes but is not limited to: bathing and using deodorant; not blocking the aisles for too long as you look at the new shiny or take a picture of cool cosplay; asking the cosplayer if you can take a photo in the first place, and being okay if the answer is no; not arguing rules during the time-limited game event you’re playing in (yes, you’re very smart and likely right. Who cares? Shut up and let everyone play!); follow Thumper’s Law (“If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.”); play the demos, play all the demos, but don’t hog the demos. If you want to play more of the game, sign up for one of the events or buy the game; watch your language, Gen Con is a family friendly con; say thank-you, every chance you get, to anyone who deserves it (food servers, game masters, the woman who ran your demo, game designers and authors you run into…the list is Me and the Eyeballendless).

Do the Things! – With an event catalog the thickness of the average game manual, it can be easy to be stymied by analysis paralysis as you try to figure out what to do next. You can spend hours sitting around, pouring through the events, trying to find the Best One. But you didn’t come to Gen Con to read the con guide, pretty as it is. You came to get your nerd on!

Hopefully you picked some events early and pre-registered, so you’ve already got those on your schedule. But hopefully you also left holes in your schedule for picking games/events as they appeal to you or as you find things you didn’t notice before. If that’s the case, don’t get too bogged down trying to figure out the Single Best Solution, because there isn’t one. Honestly, pick the first event that looks fun and get in there! As I said before, you won’t be able to do everything at a single Gen Con. So just do everything you can, and save the rest for next time. As long as you are having fun you are Gen Conning correctly, so don’t worry about what you might miss.

Look After Yourself – Gen Con is an endurance race, not a sprint. Trying to do all the things all day and night will burn you out. By Day Two you’ll be a wreck, and by Day Three you’ll be curled up in your hotel room trying to recover. So:

  • Get sleep, at least six hours a night.
  • Shower every day. We touched on cleanliness under the first point, but it is also a good way to look after yourself. You’ll just feel better if you’re clean every day, fact.
  • Eat actual food at least once a day. Anything served from a kiosk in the convention centre barely counts in this category, but even the con food is better than a steady diet of chocolate bars, soda, and chips. However, within five blocks of the convention centre are a variety of excellent restaurants and food trucks, all wanting to exchange currency for delicious, fresh food.
  • Drink water. How much? Hard to say, since it depends on a wide variety of physical factors. But here’s a tip: if your urine is the same colour as any of the various Mountain Dew varieties, you aren’t drinking enough (and if it’s the same colour as Code Red see a doctor immediately).
  • Try one thing you wouldn’t normally try. Could be a game, could be LARP, could be anything. Try something outside your comfort zone, at least once. You might pick up a new hobby, but at the very least you’ll gain an appreciation for something you’ve never tried before.

Thank the Volunteers – They were there before you in the morning and they’ll go home after you in the evening. They are constantly in motion, doing things you’ve never had to think about, so your convention experience goes smoothly. No convention in the world, Gen Con included, could run without volunteers. So say thank-you. Takes a second and it can make a volunteer’s day. And they deserve it.

And if you can swing it, volunteer. You’ll work your ass off, but you’ll also gain an appreciation of how much work goes in to making a convention run well.

Those are my tips. I’ve also got a a page with suggestion on what to pack in your Convention Kit, so check that out. If you’ve got a con tip please drop it in the comments below.

IntrigueCon is Coming!

bannerIf you’re a role-player here in Edmonton, you really need to get on-board with IntrigueCon, running October 16-18. For those that have attended in years past, you’ll notice they’ve expanded to a third full day, running all day Sunday as well. With weekend passes at just $20 if you pre-register, that works out to less than a dollar an hour for a weekend’s worth of role-playing entertainment. You just can’t beat that price, and you’ll be supporting a great local gaming con.

The best thing about gaming cons is the chance to step outside your normal gaming patterns, and try a game you’ve never played before. IntrigueCon is perfect for that; a quick glance at the schedule and I can see games like Mouseguard, Fiasco, Edge of Darkness, Hong Kong Action Theatre!, Deadlands Reloaded, Werewolf: The ForsakenPashkovskaya Nocturne, and Star Trek, as well as fantasy standards Pathfinder RPG and D&D 5th Ed. There’s plenty of gaming goodness running all weekend, so you owe it to yourself to grab a seat at a new game.

Need more reasons? If you’ve been looking for a gaming group to join, cons are a great way to meet new gamers and make those connections. Whether you’re a player looking for a table, or a GM looking for players, cons are a way to meet new gaming nerds. And I’ve said it before in other places, but local cons are very much a “use it or lose it” resource. If they aren’t supported they go away, and it becomes harder to get another one started; folks see how the previous one failed and are less likely to get behind the next venture. In short, local cons can’t be taken for granted, and even if you can only make it out for a day you should try and support the cons as best you can.

Support comes in many forms of course. Cons always need volunteers, whether as a GM or general help around the event.  If you’ve been looking for a chance to try GMing at a con (and you should, it’s awesome), IntrigueCon is a great way to get your feet wet. And if you aren’t ready for that quite yet, cons always need help taking tickets, cleaning up, setting up tables, organizing…lots to do, and many hands make light work.

I’m running some Kobolds Ate My Baby! on Friday night, and then some Pathfinder Society games all day Saturday. If you want to get involved in either (or anything else), head over to IntrigueCon’s site and pre-register, then sign up for your games. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

On Being a Better Con Gamer

Here in the snowy wilds of Canada, winter is loosening its grip on the land. Which means all the introverted nerds like me can come out of our winter hibernation and start taking in that most glorious of gaming activities: the gaming convention. Locally, GOBFest was just this past weekend, a mighty collection of board gamers gathered together to share the hobby we love dearly. With the gaming con season starting back up (not that it ever really ends, but spring is as good an arbitrary starting point as any), I thought I’d share some tips on being a good con gamer.

Keep it Clean – Every convention is a busy place filled with nerds. And where there are nerds, trash is sure to follow as we consume our snacks and drinks, scribble on scraps of paper or character sheets, and generally just live in the convention space for a few days. While no one is expecting you to clean up someone else’s trash, you should always pick up your own. I can promise that no convention has enough volunteers that they can dedicate them to constant trash policing. Looking after your own mess makes the con space a much friendlier place to be.

And especially at a board game convention, cleaning up after yourself means helping to pick up the game you just played. Don’t be that jerk that figures out his/her final score and then walks away from the table. You played it, you clean it up. If you’re old enough to be going to game conventions, you’re too old to need to be reminded to help put your toys away.

Don’t Be a Downer – You’re at a gaming convention, and of course you want to talk about games. But there is a right way and a wrong way to start that conversation. One wrong way: walking up to a table with a game just being set up or already in progress, and saying any variation of, “This game sucks!”

It is a fact of life that not everyone is going to like the things you do, and vice versa. No where is this more true than in the gaming hobby. Tastes, preferences, and play styles can vary greatly from gamer to gamer. Just because you don’t like a game does not make it a bad game. Let me break that out on its own, because it’s important:

Just because you don’t like a game does not make it a bad game.

So making a table of gamers feel bad for liking a particular game when you don’t is just a dick move. Don’t do it. If you can’t manage to say something positive about it, follow Thumper’s Law and say nothing. And if you do find yourself talking to gamers who are playing a game you don’t like, maybe try asking positive questions. “What do you enjoy about this game?”, or “This game isn’t my bag, but could you recommend anything similar?” are questions which will lead to actual useful conversation. Which is a good thing, unless…

Don’t Be an Interrupting Cow – I’m sure you’re familiar with the old joke:

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting co– Moo!

There is a right time to ask gamers questions about a game, and a wrong time. The wrong time is right in the middle of a game, when it is quite obvious all the players are focused on playing; the right time is just about any other time. While I’m sorry you are waiting for your game to start, or haven’t found a game yet, I’m busy doing the thing I came to the con to do. Don’t spoil that by engaging me in an interrogation mid-game. If you have questions, wait until the players are taking a break or have finished and are cleaning up, we’re happy to talk then.

The exception to that rule is when I am officially demonstrating a game in my capacity as an organized play volunteer or con volunteer. Then I’m happy to give you a brief bit of information about the game. Emphasis on brief, though, as my attention belongs to the people for whom I’m demoing.

Thank the Volunteers – I’ve said it numerous times before and I’ll keep saying it: without volunteers, cons can’t happen. No convention can afford to pay wages to every person needed to make a con run, and if they tried they’d have to jack the ticket price so high no one could attend.

The volunteers at your con have given of their free time to help put on an event for your enjoyment. They do it without the benefit of pay and with no thought of getting thanked. So thank them. When you see a volunteer picking up garbage somebody left on a table, thank them (and help pick it up, you jerk). When a volunteer gives you your badge, a program book, directions, opens a door for you, thank them. If you see a volunteer, period, thank them. Thank your volunteer game master, thank the room monitor. Just thank every volunteer too slow to get out of your reach, and then shout thank-you to the fast movers. Trust me, they can never hear it enough.

Volunteer – Just like volunteers never get enough thanks, conventions never have so many volunteers they won’t take one more. Most cons have perks for volunteering, which at minimum is usually a reduced price or free badge, depending on how many hours you volunteer. Beyond that, volunteering for your local events is a great way to meet new people, grow your hobby locally, and give back to the community of gamers to which you belong. Plus it can be metric buttloads of fun.

Have any tips of your own for being a better con gamer? Share them in the comments below. And if you liked this article, please share the link on your social media de jour.

3 Games to Kill Long Lines

Anyone who attends cons knows about the scourge of long line-ups. They can plague any convention, no matter how well organized it may be. The negative side of long lines is…well, you’re stuck in a long line for an indeterminate length of time. The positive side of long lines at cons? You’re stuck in that line with other nerds, which makes it a perfect time to play a game!

Obviously this isn’t the time to whip out an Arkham Horror or Risk. No, for “line games”, you need something with minimal to no set-up, very few (if any) moving parts, easy to teach rules, and a relatively short playing time. Here are three games I’ve found that fit the bill perfectly.

1) Zombie Dice/Cthulhu Dice –  Okay, so you’re actually getting four games, because I’ve lumped Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice, both from Steve Jackson Games, together. Both involve dice rolling as their main mechanic; Zombie Dice uses just dice, while Cthulhu Dice uses a combination of a single die with counters. In Zombie Dice, you are a voracious zombie trying to be the first to get to 15 brains. In Cthulhu Dice, you are an eldritch cultist trying to be the last to retain your sanity while you explore the eldritch horrors of The Great Old One. Both games became flash-fire hits upon release, so it’s likely your line-mates will know how to play. But if they don’t, instruction takes 2 minutes, tops, and can happen during the first round of play. Games run about 15-20 minutes, which allows you to potentially play several times depending on the line length. Best of all, each game fits in your dice bag without displacing your dice.

2) Danger Patrol, Pocket Edition – It might seem odd to recommend an RPG as a line game, but hear me out. Danger Patrol, by John Harper, is currently in Beta Test mode, and is a rollicking good time. I highly recommend it if you like some pulp sci-fi in your game night. But there is also a Pocket Edition which distils the game down to two pages. Yes, you read that correctly; two pages. While you aren’t going to get a heavily nuanced role-playing session out just two pages, that’s okay, you aren’t looking for that in a line game. You want a fun way to kill 20-30 minutes, and the high action, pulp sci-fi Danger Patrol is perfect for that. The game uses standard RPG dice (you’ll have those anyway, right?), and it’s easy enough to print extra copies of the game to hand around. You can be role-playing sci-fi action in minutes, and with the right group you can entertain not only yourselves, but everyone around you in line. Nerdy sci-fi fun!

3) Button Men – There are many Cheapass Games that would fit the “line game” bill, but Button Men is one of the few that is wearable. Well, if you have the original buttons, that is; it’s out of print. But Button Men cards are available for free download from the Cheapass Games site, so it isn’t hard to throw a set together and pull them out of your dice bag when needed. Button Men is a strategic dice capturing game, played with the usual selection of RPG dice. Game play is deceptively simple; you try and capture your opponent’s dice by rolling higher than him on opposed dice rolls. But there is a wonderful level of nuance and luck that affects strategy, and games can take interesting twists and turns.  Games run about 10-20 minutes, there is little or no instruction necessary (rolling higher is sort of second nature to gamers), and best of all…it’s free! Can’t beat free fun!

There you go, three (four+) games you can play while trapped in a line with your fellow nerds. Do you have a favourite quickie game you like to play? Share it in the comments!

The Con Game: 3 Tips for Conning on a Budget

My local fan-con, Pure Speculation, happens this weekend. As I’ve mentioned before, I love going to cons. I think there is no better place to celebrate our mutual nerdiness than a convention. And while I like all types of conventions, fan-run cons are my favourite. They may not have all the bells and whistles of company-run conventions, but with very few exceptions I always feel the sense of nerd community stronger at a fancon.

Big or small, though, many people stay away from conventions because they think it will cost a ton to attend. And certainly, with that much geekery packed into an enclosed space, the temptation to “GET ALL THE THINGS!” is quite high. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As someone on a budget myself, let me pass along three tips that will make your con experience affordable, and keep you from having to eat cheap ramen to atone for your mistakes.

1) Volunteer – The one expense you know you’ll have every convention is the pass. Whether you go one day or all weekend, you have to pay to get in. But every convention I know of needs volunteers to make the con run, and I know of very few that ever have enough. And they all offer free passes if you volunteer. Usually you need to volunteer for a set amount of time to get the free pass, but so what? While you’re volunteering you’re still AT the con, so you don’t miss anything. When I volunteer, I try to use the time to look around the con as much as possible. I always try to look around the dealer room and landmark where I need to go for panels before I actually have to shop or attend panels. If I can do that while I’m volunteering, so much the better; I’m earning a pass while doing something I’d do anyway. Plus, volunteering is a great way to make sure the con keeps happening. No convention anywhere would run without its volunteers; doing your part keeps cons healthy. And you can meet new people who are also nerds, and there are usually volunteer perks and activities throughout the year…the list goes on. In short, volunteering can net you a lot more than a free pass.

2) Set a Budget Before You Go – And stick to it. Yes, there will be lots of pretty-shinys, and yes, maybe you do have enough in your account to get the gold bust of Gary Gygax you’ve had your eye on. But do you have enough to get it and pay your phone bill? It’s amazing how we forget about or minimize other necessaries when something we desire is right in front of us. To minimize the lure of the impulse buy, set a daily budget for yourself before you go to the con. Setting it before is important; chances are that budget will inflate if you set it while salivating at the dealer’s room. Nope, save yourself the grief and set it the day before. Then stick to it. Doing this will help you when you come face-to-face with that gold bust. You can remind yourself you only have x dollars to spend, and move on. But do keep that bust in mind for later; no one is saying you can’t save up for it. Pro Tip: If you are someone who has serious impulse control issues, most banks will allow you to change the daily withdrawal limit on your bank card for a few days. Just remember to change it back after the con.

3) Look for the Free (and then Cheap) – If you know where to look at a con, there is a plethora of free stuff for the having. Promotional items from companies can be anything: pens, pencils, hats, posters, buttons, water bottles. Hey, maybe the company isn’t your favourite, but…free. At gaming cons, its possible to get free or discounted gaming material, and all it will cost you is sitting down and trying out a game’s demo. That’s practically like getting paid to play a game! Regardless, the con-goer on a budget doesn’t turn down free stuff. The con-goer on a budget says thank-you, and puts the free stuff in the bag he brought for that purpose. Also, don’t ask for seconds or thirds of something, that’s just crass. Think of the other con-goers on a budget.

The next best thing to free, is cheap. There are plenty of cool things you can get at a con that won’t break the bank. If the con has an artist’s alley or similar area, head over and see if there are any artists offering inexpensive sketches. Not all artists do it, but many offer a $5 or $10 quick sketch, in addition to the more expensive detailed drawings. If comics are your thing, the 25-cent bins are your best friend (and the $1 bins are friends of a friend). Check the game dealers for lightly used or shelf-worn stock, which is usually discounted. And don’t forget to make a pass through the dealer’s room late on the Sunday; most dealers will have marked some prices down, so they can avoid hauling or shipping all that stock back home. Just try not to be obnoxious about asking for deals, nobody likes that.

I hope you find those tips useful at your next con. Do you have any tips or tricks for con-going on a budget? Drop them in the comments!

3 Tips for Running a Con Game

Summer con season is in full swing, and that means con gaming! I love playing and running RPGs at cons. It gives me a chance to try out new ideas and game with folks I don’t see or have just met. If you’ve never tried gaming at a con, I highly recommend it as a great change of pace from your usual table(s).

I’ve GMed a number of games at cons, both as a Venture-Captain running Pathfinder Society and just a schlub running his own creations. A convention RPG event is a different beast than a home game, and you have to approach it differently to pull it off. Here are my top three tips for running an exciting con game (which players love) and doing it in the time the con gave you (which the con organizers love).

1) Preparation, preparation, preparation! – Gaming conventions set aside a certain amount of time per game, usually referred to as slots. Slots can be anywhere from 2-6 hours in length, with most shaking out at 4 hours. Four hours is not enough time to create characters, look stuff up in your books, scribble out an adventure etc. That might fly in your home games, but gamers come to a con to game so it’s important not to waste their time. If you are running your own creation, get it in shape before the con. If you are running a prepared adventure (say, for Organized Play), make sure you have read it cover to cover at least three times. Have your maps pre-drawn (if you just stick to drawn maps, see below), tab your books , hardcopy or PDF, so you can find any monsters, treasure, special rules and so on you might need. If you are not running for some sort of organized play, where players will generally have their own characters, provide pre-generated characters. And even if it is organized play, have level appropriate pre-gens in case you get a new player at your table. In short, do everything you can before the con, so when your slot starts you can just sit down and roll dice!

2) Put the “Special” in your Special Event! – At a con you are generally running a game for new people, and they’ve come to your table to be entertained. So this is the time to pull out all the stops! If you have 3D terrain to use, use it instead of flat maps. If all you have are flat maps, no worries; try to pre-print some good looking colour ones, or add colour to your hand-drawn maps with markers, paints or art crayons. Print any hand-outs (player hand-outs, pre-gens) in colour on good paper, and laminate if possible (lamination will not only keep the pages, especially character sheets, in good shape longer, it gives surface player’s can use wet/dry erase markers on). If your game uses minis, provide good looking minis for the players to use, and put effort into finding the appropriate minis for your monsters and NPCs.

But the special doesn’t stop with the materials. You have present your adventure or scenario in a fun, positive, and exciting manner. Any text you have to read allowed should be practised out loud before the con, so you can get a feel for the words and pick out any points that should be punched up. Keep energy in your voice, don’t mumble, don’t talk into the page, and try to make eye contact with the players as you read to keep them engaged. If you have any acting skills at all, or even just a selection of funny voices, this is the time to bust them out! Keep the energy up and the action moving, and don’t let the rules bog you down. I have never once remembered a con game because of the GMs slavish adherence to the rules.

Okay, I have. But not fondly.

3) Stand Up! – This could probably be a subsection of point two, but I think it’s important enough to warrant special mention. A con is a busy place, and you are usually in a hall with a bunch of other tables, all noisy and distracting. The single best way to keep the players’ focus on you is to stand up. Placing yourself higher in their line of sight forces them to look up from the table and pay attention. If you stand up your players can also see and hear you better, and are less likely to get distracted. And standing puts you in a more dominant position than your players, which allows you to control the events and energy of the table better.

Standing also energizes you, and forces a certain urgency into what you are doing, which in turn keeps the action flowing. It also allows you a good view of what is happening on the table, and gives you more space to cut loose with actions and gestures. Remember what I said about busting out those acting skills? Only so much you can do from a chair!

Of course, if your are physically unable to stand for long periods, then pick your moments: combat, or important NPC interactions are good times to stand. And if you can’t stand at all, maybe find a way to raise your seat, or make sure there is some separation at the table between your space and the players’ space. Though not as effective as standing they will help keep the focus on you when you need it.

Those are my big three “best practises” for running a con game. I have other tips and tricks, depending on the game I’m running, the venue, number of players, and so on. But following these three will get me (and you) through just about any con game you care to run. Just remember the most important thing: keep the fun! If it isn’t fun, for you and the players, you’ve missed the point of running the game at all.

Have con GMing tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Gencon Day Three: Hug your Volunteers!

Day Three was a blur as well, but for an awful instead of awesome reason.  Food poisoning, when you are safe in the comforts of your home, is bad.  The experience is not made better by living out of hotel in a strange city.  So I’m not going to dwell too much on what my Day Three was like.  Despite it all I managed to run two of my three scheduled slots, and thankfully an overflow GM was available to cover my table so I could grab a much needed nap in the afternoon.

Instead, I want to talk about volunteers.  If you have spent any amount of time going to cons you know that volunteers are a convention’s lifeblood.  If everything that had to be done at a convention had to be done by a paid employee, there would only be one big convention for everything every year, to save money.  Do the math yourself at the next con, the equation is pretty simple: #volunteers times total hours of convention times Minimum Wage for your area.  And even that only gives you an estimate, because a lot of volunteer work begins and/or continues before/after the con.

So volunteers make a convention run.  Good volunteers?  Good volunteers can make the act of convention going so effingly effortless for your attendees that they will actually wait in long lines with a smile.  They’ll actually make the times between events enjoyable, even memorable.

I’ve come in contact with two main sets of volunteers this weekend: the Gencon volunteers and the Paizo volunteer team.  And I can say this about both sets, those are some good volunteers.  How so?  Here are just a few things that stood out for me:

– As I was leaving the ICC at the end of a long day (it was after midnight), there were still some folks in the ticket line to secure tickets for the next day’s events.  The registration volunteers, to a one, were all smiling, joking and generally seemed to be enjoying the company of the attendees.  I can tell you from experience, that attitude makes having to be in line comfortable, if not enjoyable.

– Every time I spoke with a Paizo volunteer (and as a GM I speak with them a lot), I was greeted by name and with a smile.  When you are at a convention numbering in tens of thousands of attendees, the luxury of being greeted as a discrete individual is immense.  Did they likely sneak a peak at my con badge before saying hello?  Sure, but who cares?  That they thought it was worth taking that effort is fantastic.

– 6:30am, and a team of Gencon volunteers are pulling a hand-truck laden with boxes of program guides around the ICC, filling the Guide Stations so people can find the program books if they need them.  This was on Day Three of the con, when it could be reasonably expected most people had programs already.  For perspective: the program guides are essentially small books about 140 pages in length and a box of them likely weighs 50lbs.  The smiling, joking team was pulling a hand-truck with maybe 20-30 boxes around a convention centre you could run a marathon in.  And here I was, begrudging having to leave my room to go somewhere and sit down for four hours.

– A Gencon volunteer stopped what she was doing and helped calm a crying child for a mom that was obviously at her wit’s end.  Did she have to? Nope.  But she did.

And so on.  Both sets of volunteers did little human things to make the experience better this weekend.  As a result, hey presto!  The experience has been better this weekend!  Who would have thunk it?

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Volunteer Coordinator Pro-tip:  Besides a great way to make your volunteers feel appreciated, running social events for your volunteers prior to your con is an opportunity to observe how your volunteers deal with people.  In turn, you can put the more socially comfortable volunteers in positions dealing with your attendees.  Everyone wins from that: your volunteers are contributing in a way comfortable and easy to them, and your attendees reap the benefit of that.

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That’s all for now, kiddos!  The sun is rising on Day Four, so I must away.  It is the lark…

Gencon Day Two, Continued

The highlight of Day Two was, of course, the Pathfinder Society Gencon Special.  My introduction to Pathfinder Society came through playing in the Gencon Special back in 2010, so I was excited to be a part of the GM team this time around.

I won’t talk a lot about the story of the Special, because a) I’m not supposed to and b) I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you when it gets released for general play.  And if you don’t play Pathfinder, well, you just won’t care.  But it was a big, sweeping adventure full of dark tension and fear.  Yeah, that about sums it up.

So what puts the “special” in the Gencon Special?  When you play Pathfinder Society at your local store or game day, it plays out as most table-top sessions do: you play your adventure at your table, and it doesn’t affect the play at tables next to you.  At the Special, however, all tables taking part in the session are playing the same scenario at the same time, and results at your table can (depending on the scenario written) have an impact on what happens at other tables.  And of course other tables can change how things run at yours.

That itself would be cool enough, even with just five or six tables playing.  This year’s Special was run simultaneously at over 100 tables, in two rooms.  All tables played through the same story events, and all contributed to the eventual success (or failure) of the mission.  Add to that Paizo bringing in people in costume to LARP the scenario NPC’s, and an actual life-size prop of the main plot item and the Special becomes a high energy role-playing romp!

I’ll be honest, the night was sort of a blur for me.  Up to this point in my Paizo Con-Volunteer career they have scheduled me to run low level scenarios (in PFS terms, Tier 1-5).  Which made sense; it is my first year volunteering at the “big two” (Paizocon and Gencon) as a Venture-Captain, they might want to test me out where I would do the least harm to players/characters.  I guess for the Special they wanted to test other things, because I was tasked with Tier 10-11, the second highest tier in PFS.  I had, of course, read the information for all the tiers when they sent me the scenario, because I’m like that.  But I hadn’t focused on the higher tiers because it never occurred to me I’d run them.

Surprise!

A combination of luck, preparation and having easy access to all the sourcebooks I needed on my handy “HAL Friday” (my laptop), meant I was able to surmount a little thing like a full four tier jump in difficulty like a champ.  I mean, I assume.  Like I said, it was a blur.  My table seemed to have a great time, we got along famously and they were super excited to be presented with the actual plot prop at the end.  Discussing it with other GMs doing the same tier, it didn’t seem like I missed anything I was supposed to do and I did about as well as they did.  This might mean Paizo will trust me with some higher tiers in the future.  Which I’d love, but maybe we could do a few Tier 3-7 scenarios, just to ease me in?  Please?

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Con GMing Pro-Tip:  Go digital and save your back and brain.  The math for the back is pretty easy: HAL Friday weighs maybe 3-4lbs, compared to the (conservative estimate) 60lbs+ of all my Pathfinder resources.  As for the brain…well, with the right PDF reader (I highly recommend Foxit Reader, though your mileage may vary) You can pre-tab the bookmarks in your reference books.  In PDF terms, this means avoiding the “page flipping” needed to find what you need during a game.  I just open the file, click on the tab I need and roll for initiative.  It may take some adjustment, especially if you are a dedicated bibliophile like me.  But when I’m GMing at a con, and especially an event that is timed, nothing makes my players happier than not having to wait for me to find something in a book.

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We wrapped the 2012 Gencon Special at 1:15am, and tired, happy Pathfinders spilled into the night.  After that I hobbled back to my room and tried to grab a few hours sleep for Day Three!  Which didn’t work out so well, but that is a story for next time.