The new year is upon us and many game conventions are into their cycle of planning and scheduling. This is the first in a series of posts about running games at conventions. I’ve run and played games at many conventions over the last decade or so and have some lessons I’ve learned from old hands as well as my own experiences and observations. I’ll compile all of that and pass it on to you. Hopefully, you will get something useful from my suggestions.
Why game master a game at a convention?
There are many reasons but the main one, for me, is that it is an overall enjoyable experience. I have a good time meeting new people and running games. I’ve met some very cool people and had memorable gaming experiences. I could leave it at that but I’ll go on.
I have learned a lot about game mastering from being a player in and the game master at conventions. The group of players at your home campaign have their own preferences, play styles and quirks. It is easy to get into a comfort zone where you can anticipate what your players will do in a game because you know them so well. It is a joy to me as a game master when players surprise me with their inventiveness. When you have to improvise a response or make an adjudication that’s never come up in your home game, you learn something. Having that experience helps you to develop as a game master.
Convention Benefits Game conventions need game masters. Often game masters are given incentives to run games. The incentives I have seen include: Convention entrance fee rebates for this year’s convention or vouchers for next year’s convention, special game master only t-shirts and swag, game master lounge or party with free food and meet and greet with industry guests of honor, table side snack and beverage service during your gaming session, preferential game sign ups for next year’s convention. I’ve seen these sorts of bennies for game masters at game shops and game cafe/bars as well.
If you are working on something you want to publish, conventions are a good way to test your adventure or game. Many games and game products are tested at conventions. If you have a working draft of your game or adventure, this can be an opportunity to test it with a different group than your at home or online gaming group and you get some priceless feedback from those players. This is sort of a follow on from the previous point. Your group of players are different from other players, obviously. So when you have a different set of players demolishing what you thought was a carefully crafted puzzle or trap, its a valuable data point in developing your product.
Develop your audience. If you have a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, small game company or you freelance art or game design; running games at a convention can be a way to build a reputation. Many of the people who go to conventions are dedicated hobbyists who go to conventions, in part, to find out about new games or game designers. Showing up at a convention and running a good game, having great conversations with the people you meet establishes relationships with people who may be interested in your thing. If a blogger with a large audience talks about you in a positive light in their post-con review, that can be a benefit to your efforts over the long term.
Meet cool people. My favorite thing about running games at conventions is that this is my tribe. Going to a convention requires time, money and the desire to spend time (maybe vacation days at your job) to play games. These are not casual gamers. Table top gaming, though enjoying a major surge in popularity, is still a relatively niche hobby. The people at conventions are hard core and it is a pleasure to meet people who are also passionate about the hobby that has given so much to me and my life.