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.

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