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Running at Cons

Con Game Dos & Don’ts

An examination of common con game pitfalls and triumphs!​

Getting people to show up.

How to design and schedule a con-game that people will want to play!​

Con Costs

Why do conventions cost so much anyway?

Getting People to show up


   Okay. Cons. Running games at cons is hard. 100%. For those who don't run games at conventions, you can't really imagine the amount of stress that goes into it. What if no one shows? What if the players suck? Worse: what if only one of the players sucks and the rest are awesome but that one is ruining it for the rest of them? What if they don't like it? What if they don't like me?

   As a GM, I love sharing my passion with people, and the more people I can expose to my style of play, the better. So every year when I go to Gen Con, I usually run at least one game, until this year. That's right - I am not running any games at Gen Con this year. And here's why: people don't fucking show up. I plan for a 5 player game, and 2 show up. Do you know how hard it is to run a game for 2 strangers? It's fucking hard. So I've been putting a lot of thought into how to run a successful con game, and decided that it's just not the kind of game I want to run. But, anyway, here are my thoughts:

  • Run a system people know.

  • Use a world people know.

  • Timing is everything.

  • Prep for full, plan for half.

Run a system people know.

   Not many people are going to commit 4 hours of their con to play in a game that they may or may not like with people they don't know. To draw people in, run a system people already know they like to play in. Pathfinder. 5e. Savage Worlds. GURPS. Even other systems like Unisystem, QAGS, and Blue Rose, have cult followings of people who will play in con games with those systems just because they never get a chance to play in them. But if you for sure want people to sign up for your game, running some straight up D&D is the way to go. I've never had less than a full table for any 5e or Pathfinder game I've run at a con.

Use a world people know.

   If you have a solid gimmick or world you can get away with an unknown system. For example, someone ran a Kung Fury themed game at Gen Con last year and all the runs were full before I, the 346th person, got to sign up for events. Why? Kung Fury is AWESOME. I didn't care what system it was being run in. I didn't care what the game was about. I just REALLY WANTED TO PLAY IN A KUNG FURY GAME. And if you don't know what Kung Fury is, it's an amazing short film about a kung-fu master/cop from the 80's traveling through time with raptor riding viking chicks to kill Hitler. Yes. Go find it. Watch it. It is that good. Did I mention Triceracop? Seriously, my blog is not that interesting: go watch Kung Fury.
   I digress. The point is, people want to know they are going to like the flavor of your game. They want to invest their time only in a game that suits their interests and desires. Let me throw some examples of awesome con game titles:

  • USS Hogwarts

  • Tatooine’s Got Talent

  • Frankenstein’s Lament

  • Flowers in No Man’s Land

  • Fear is the Mindkiller

   Just from those adventure titles, you get an idea of what the game will be. Into Harry Potter? Love silly Star Wars games? How about some gothic horror shit? Maybe you’re more of an alternative history, WWI kinda gamer. Is Dune your favorite book? Theme or franchise-based games will draw in a specific crowd who are the kind of people that want to play the kind of game you’re running. They might even show up.

Timing is everything.

   At a convention you will struggle to fill a table that starts at 8 am on a Sunday. You can have the best idea in the world and it won’t make a difference. You know when people play games? 10 am. 12 noon. 6pm. Maybe even 10pm. But remember, you’re asking people to be awake and not hungry. Gamers are a complex mix of people from many lifestyles and professions, but rarely will you get 6-8 random gamers that all happen to love waking up at 6 am to go for a run before tucking into a protein rich breakfast to fuel themselves through an 8 am game of Munchkin. Know your people. If you really want to run, you will need to play at a busy time in the con. Those times are busy because they are the times when most people will play.


   I am a crazy person, and I made graphs of event start times for Gen Con events from 2012-2017. (When prepping for Gen Con 50 I used 2012-2016 to estimate how many events there would be at different times to see when would be best to run our events, and my projections weren’t far off.) But you can see from what I found that there are peak times. There is a reason 600 games started at 10am on Saturday, but less than 300 started at 8 am. There’s a reason why there’s a drop at 5pm. There’s a reason there’s a sharp decline in event numbers at 9pm. Most people want to play between 10am and midnight on Saturday. When you’re planning on running, it’s worth looking at past years and seeing when people run things and think about what time is going to be successful for you.

Prep for full, plan for half.

   It would be awesome if everyone showed up when they said they would, but things happen. Even at Gen Con where people pay for each individual event they sign up for, people still don't show. When we ran our LARP last year, we never had a full run. Out of 9 people who signed up to attend each run, we had between 5 and 7 actually show. This can be a problem when you've planned on having a full compliment of people. But if you make an event for 8 people expecting only 4 to show up, what happens when you have a full table? That happened to my group as players when we showed up for our last game at Gen Con 50. Clearly the GM was not expecting a full party, and as a result, things did not go well. There were pregens for everyone, but the game was so severely unbalanced that it was no fun, and half the players didn't even get to do anything. With our workshops it's easy - to have materials for 30 people, knowing only 15 are likely to be there. So you charge a little extra for the tickets to cover losses and call it good. But for a game things aren't so easy. And if you're planning to charge for your event at a con like Gen Con, remember that you only get paid for the number of players who actually show up. Don't be afraid to do some self-advertising. Go on the forums, and post in facebook groups. Let people know what your event is and why they should sign up for it. Or don't worry about it at all and just roll with the punches.

In summary, if you're trying to run a high concept game, do it in a popular system. If you want to run an obscure system, run it in a popular world. Pick a time that will be popular to get maximum player-arrival. Prep for a full table, but be prepared to scale down if fewer people actually show up.

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