I may have bitten off more than I can chew: Gen Con Edition
April 26, 2016 8:35 AM   Subscribe

In a fit of "I can do ALL THE FUN THINGS!" I signed up to run three very different types of games that I love at Gen Con this August. Problem: I have only ever played these games, never run them. Additional problem: One of these games is heavy on improv, and I'm starting to get antsy about that. Looking for seasoned advice, specific resources, and hearty encouragement.

Here are the games/modules I'm running:
-The Sea Queen Escapes! (A Level 3 Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure)
-Facts Pertaining to the Property on Hill Street (a Trail of Cthulhu/GUMSHOE adventure)
-It's Not My Fault! (A FATE Accelerated Character & Simulation tool i.e. the improv one.)

Obviously, step one is going to be reading over the core rulebooks and adventure modules for these games really well, but there is always that gulf between being familiar with the rules and actually running the game smoothly. I've run games from other game systems in the past, so I'm not brand new to DMing, but I wouldn't call myself a seasoned pro either.

I'd really like any specific advice, known pitfalls, important chapters/tables, online resources, general DM advice, etc. for these game systems or modules that will help me not look like an idiot in front of folks just trying to have a good time gaming. (Also, if you know of any pregen character generator tools for DCC or ToC, that'd be swell.)

It's Not My Fault! is the real wild card here, if you'll pardon the parlance. I'm running three different sessions of this, and it's going to be at full-tilt random every time due to the combination of the scenarios drawn from the cards and the player input (i.e. explaining why "It's not my fault!").

I know half the fun of this game is never knowing what you're going to get, but I also don't want to sit at the table with a furrowed brow for ten tense minutes trying to weave a non-terrible narrative web on the fly, which is my nightmare right now.

I don't have an improv background, so any advice anyone has on improv, fantasy/game tropes that could be easily mined and remixed for one-shot game ideas, or any other useful thing you can think of would be much appreciated.

posted by helloimjennsco to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you run any of them beforehand, even with only one other person?
posted by michaelh at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a bad idea and quite possibly disappointing to your players. Could you pare down to 1 or 2 games and really master running them?
posted by crazy with stars at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

At least for the traditional RPGs (Trail of Cthulhlu and Dungeon Crawl Classics), I agree with michaelh that you should try to run each of the adventures at least once, if possible. That way your GenCon experience will not be your first time as a game master, nor your first running the adventure, and it'll give you confidence in your ability, as well, since it'll cut down on the First Time Ever factor.

Make those two adventures your bedtime reading for a while. The better you know the potential of the adventure's story, the better you'll be prepared for whatever curves your players throw at you. And encourage them to do so -- be prepared to accept any reasonable actions the players declare and incorporate it into the existing storyline.

Sometimes I find it useful to pre-generate the sheets I'll use to keep track of combat encounters. You could ask your current game master if he or she has a preferred system.

I presume that as a player, you're reasonably well acquainted with the game systems, so I wouldn't sweat that aspect too much.

Also, be sure to stay hydrated -- you'll be talking a lot for several hours, so keep a water bottle handy.

It's still several months until GenCon -- you have plenty of time to prepare! And most of all, have fun -- if you're relaxed and enjoying yourself, I'm sure your players will be the same.
posted by Gelatin at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try to find someone to play each game with you. Ideally, find the person most likely to try to completely derail your efforts. It'll also help you figure out what extra things you might want -- a single sheet with all monster HP on it so you have one place to tick their health down? Sure.

For memorizing things in more plot-based scenarios: write things down on colour-coded and cross-referenced index cards (I usually do Red for Things Likely To Kill Them, Green for Things Likely to be Helpful, and then colour-code locations with the rest -- so yellow might be floor 1 of the house, and purple is floor 2). So purple room card 15 describes the things in room 15, and references Creature Card 5 (Red) because the players might encounter a ghoul here. The ghoul card references rooms 15, 20, and 21 because those are possible (or likeliest) ghoul locations. Then I practice running the adventure solely from cue cards, with improv.

Writing helps you remember, and now you won't have to flip through books but limited stacks of cue cards. You might also want to put rules reminders on the index cards as appropriate--this beastie can make people Afraid, so here's the Fear rule.

Trail: pregen your characters. I recommend buying a Pelgrane adventure with pregens -- I know "Stunning Eldritch Tales" has some with a breadth of experience and backgrounds. This is a good guide for running it, with a cheat sheet.

I'd also recommend cancelling sessions if you can, simply because that is a lot.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am very lucky to have some friends, as well as my regular gaming group who are willing to play test with me so I can patch any holes before Gen Con. (Thanks friends!) But I wanted to make sure I was Gen Con-ready with pregens and everything in place before I ran anything for them.

As for dropping games, I'd like to try to avoid that since everything is in the roster already, but it probably wouldn't be impossible to drop a session if this seems like too ambitious a schedule. The three sessions of It's Not My Fault! are what I'm running in exchange for my GM badge though, so those are pretty non-negotiable.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The advice to practice is super important. I ran games of various sorts for years and years, and whenever a new system came along that everybody wanted to try, I'd begin by having everyone make characters and we'd just do some plot-free exercises, (mostly combat), to get a feel for the flow of the rules and any weird edge cases that were going to be trouble before sitting down to have a real story. I credit many successful years of D&D 3.x to this approach, and I will note that I learned *far* more from DMing those scenarios than as a player. Players tend to have niche mastery of systems: they often know their classes and special abilities really well, but they generally lack a big picture understanding of how various elements in a system work together. It's hard to develop that knowledge without actually putting together scenarios, being forced to make a dozen different types of enemy unit function cohesively and so on.

Notes are good too - flibbertigibbet and Gelatin have gone over that in good detail already, so I wouldn't want to retread.

The game I would be most concerned about going into cold is the improv one. FATE has simple, simple rules, but that's a two edged sword: on the one hand, less obtrusive rules mean that the players can try crazier stuff. On the other hand, there are fewer rules to help you make rulings if you don't feel comfortable just making a call. If you must cancel something, that'd probably get my nod simply because it's the hardest to prepare for.

If you want to do it, mostly keep in mind that it's collaborative: unlike a dungeon crawl, you are not telling a story. The players should actually be doing most of the heavy lifting, being entertaining with their actions. Your job is to tease that creativity out of them and adjudicate results. My best experiences in freeform gaming all worked the same way: I would create a problem for the players to handle, too big or too mysterious for them to handle alone. I would let them decide what to do about it, and let them succeed or fail based on how well they thought it through, being more generous if they came up with solutions I did not foresee.

As a for instance: one time I gave every character in a science fantasy game the same dream. Each of them dreamed they were in a room in a museum with a plain stone box that the plaque purported to be Pandora's Box. One guy panicked: he tried to get out of the room. I made the room panic back: voices behind the walls getting more agitated as he tried to escape, culminating in his waking up in a cold sweat. Another guy smashed the case open and stole the box - I gave him a prophetic vision about a problem that was going to happen in a couple of days because that was nuts. The rest must've been boring, because heck if I can remember what they tried.

In neither case did I have a predetermined outcome - I just rolled with whatever crazy thing the players felt like doing, because hey, it's their story too.
posted by mordax at 10:02 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since you're also looking for improv suggestions, I'd like to recommend Keith Johnstone's book Impro, partly because it has some tips that might be relevant but mostly because it's fun and worth reading regardless. I bet you'll have a blast, whatever you choose to do.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

For further information on an improv approach to GMing, I recommend you take a look at Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters (currently on sale at DriveThruRPG) and Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:29 PM on April 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

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