The Captain’s Corner: June Update from HQ

The month or so since the Kickstarter ended has, predictably, been busy here at TsunamiCon HQ. The first priority was collecting info from backers and working up a strategy for Kickstarter fulfillment based on our needs. There’s a lot of back-and-forth going on as we sort out details, but I think everyone involved is pretty happy with the experience and excited about the convention. The money always takes a couple weeks to show up, as well, and then there’s merch to order, flights and hotels to sort out, products and services to plan, supply caches that need to be built, and so on and so forth. To be fair, the details would get a touch boring. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot to do.

While the busy work may not be all fun and games, however, the convention is exactly that! Game masters have begun submitting their initial offerings, and you can expect to see the gaming and event schedule take shape over the next several weeks. Once we reach an arbitrarily determined point of saturation on said schedule, we’ll open event registration – starting with VIGs and, soon thereafter, all registered attendees – and let you reserve seats. You’ll need to buy your badge to get “tickets” for any given game, but you’ll also save a few bucks on the badge by purchasing it in advance, so it’s a win-win.

We are still actively on the hunt for exhibitors and event sponsors, so if you know anyone who might enjoy peddling their wares or purchasing sponsorships or advertising at the con, please let them know where to find us.

So, two things we still need more of: Game Masters and Volunteers. Both opportunities include significant discounts on your badge. Notably, for every four hours you sign up for either duty (or combination, for that matter), you get $10 off the badge. For 12+ hours of GMing and/or volunteering at the con, your weekend pass is free. If you want to take advantage of this option, simple purchase your badge and select the appropriate discount code for your volunteer hours. You’ll see the codes listed on the screen where you add the badge to your cart. Then you’ll need to either register your games on the site before August 31st or fill out the volunteer application so that we know when you’ll be available and how you can best assist us.

Please continue to spread the word and let folks know about the con. Thanks!

Game Mastery and the Art of the Con

Ken runs a table of D&D Adventurers League at TsunamiCon 2014!

Over the past few years, one of our most frequently revisited topics on the Metagamers Anonymous podcast is the art of running “con” games.  In contrast to the sprawling campaigns we enjoy in our everyday gaming or even the limited series arcs we like to run for four of five sessions at a shot, con games are designed to be completely encapsulated in a specific period of play, typically four hours.  Needless to say, the strategy for running effective convention games is only marginally related to the art of the campaign, as it serves an entirely different need and requires an alternative form of investment from the participants.

Many GMs approach this practice with a sense of apprehension, whereas other game masters find the format infinitely more rewarding.  Either way, there is definitely an art to running an effective con game.

In the strictest sense, a con game is a singular scenario or streamlined adventure.  It can often be winnowed down to three or four scenes or story points, with a strict observance of the time required to move from one sequence to the next.  Fluid games are popular at cons, as they provide players a sense of agency while giving the GM a largely reactive role.  Alternatively, many con games are on rails, driving the story from scene to scene in order to derive the greatest story potential from the limited scope of the game.  Most fall somewhere in between, with players bashing through the GM’s hooks and obstacles as willing accomplices in the developing scenario.

Liz runs a World of Darkness game on a Sunday morn.For some games, numerous examples of suitable con games are available for GMs to explore, and they are no less challenging to manage.  Take any two dungeon masters with a copy of the very same D&D Adventurers League scenario and you may still end up with radically different experiences at the table.  This is because every adage invoked in campaign design regarding the chaos of player engagement is magnified in a four-hour game, wherein players are expected to have a more casual commitment to their characters.  Gamers can play it fast and loose, plot holes are virtually irrelevant, and character death is often celebrated.

With TsunamiCon approaching fast, it’s time to accept the challenge.  As a game master, you play an essential role in our community, and a game con is the perfect environment to celebrate it.  Players are ready to sign up for this year’s events, so get your games listed now.  It only takes two scheduled games to earn the GMs badge discount, and running at least one game each day of the convention will net you a free weekend pass.

Secrets of the Tsunami

About four years ago, shortly after running our second local Tsunami GameDay event, I floated the term “TsunamiCon” onto the world stage via the auspices of our RPG podcast Metagamers Anonymous.  It was kind of intended to get a rise out of my co-hosts, who were already reeling from the high-energy output necessary to make a GameDay happen… and my insistence on treating a day of tabletop gaming for 20 or 30 people like a major event.  Everyone laughed nervously and rolled their eyes a bit, certain that ol’ Erik was just reaching well outside the bounds of reality.

Liz runs a World of Darkness game on a Sunday morn.

Liz runs a World of Darkness game on a Sunday morn at TsunamiCon 2014.

Even if you’ve never run a major event, or even contemplated it, there are a few things which you can reasonably assume:

  • It’s complicated.  There are obviously a organizational details and planning exercises involved, and you have to know where to start.
  • It’s questionable.  Just because 30 people show up to a free GameDay, what makes you think you can get a couple hundred gamers to pay for the privilege?  And doesn’t advertising cost money?
  • And it’s expensive.  Clearly, it takes a solid wad of cash to put something significant together.

The first point is inevitably true, and this is where my radio background has served me well.  I’ve helped organize – and often spearheaded – numerous events over the years, from concerts to cooking shows to variety shows at the local park.  I’ve also been firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing, so I’m no stranger to the art of promoting an event.  And as for the cash… well, I wasn’t the first to use Kickstarter to fund a convention, but I definitely felt like a pioneer.

The real secret of my success is in that first paragraph, however.  I figured it out a long time ago, when I was touring the Midwestern bar scene as part of a blues band.  You see, real blues fans are kind of an exclusive crowd.  Sometimes, you’d land somewhere and pack a tiny club with enthusiastic locals; at other times, you’d be lucky to have half a dozen folks in the audience.  But both kinds of gigs had something in common… the audience was full of people who loved the blues.  So whether you played for six or sixty, you got up there and jammed out like it was the freakin’ Hippodrome.

ShaunVIG

Shaun runs a private game for VIGs.

In short, any event worth doing is worth doing to the best of your ability.  Last year our attendance ran at about 220 people, not counting volunteers, guests, and staff.  Not particularly large by convention standards, though given that a gaming con is about hanging out all day long playing games, it sure feels busy.  And I’ve had a chance to visit with other small convention organizers, and you guys’ll be happy to know that our numbers for the first two years compare very well indeed.  But my point is this… even if you’re game con has only 200 people, it’s your job to treat it like there are 2000.

Details are important to me.  Impressing people with a world-class experience is important to me.  Not just because I want them to come back next year, but because I want the folks in our gaming community to feel like they’ve had a chance to do something awesome.  To have an experience that’s both fulfilling and memorable.  To be fair, we struggle to raise enough capital to have a convention at all… but I could easily sink another $10,000 into our con just to make it shine.  Just to make the experience that much better for everyone involved.

So the secret is this…  If you want to do something BIG, do it right.  If you find yourself looking at the details and going, “that’s just too much work”… buckle up and do it anyway.  Don’t cut corners, don’t over-promise and under-deliver, and don’t shy away from a cool idea just because it sounds complicated.  Take risks, and understand that the reward is the undertaking itself.  The rest will come in time.

Oh… and back my Kickstarter, would ya?  Thanks.