I’m getting ready to attend a convention and run a game – something I haven’t done in a while – so I’m slowly pulling myself and my materials together in a somewhat-familiar way so I’m as prepared as possible to put a positive face on the event.
I haven’t attended a convention as a gamemaster in a while. Before becoming a father I had a regular calendar of several regional conventions each year, at which I’d do the gaming guest thing running roleplaying game sessions, speaking on panels, mingling with gamers, and occasionally hosting a dealers room table. I’ve since had little time or energy to regularly attend conventions; most of my recent forays have been as a regular con-goer, hanging out with gamers, playing in a game or two, and shopping among the dealers. Having worked both ends of the spectrum – from hard-sell game designer to average con-goer – I can appreciate the amount of work gamemasters put into their convention games as well as the relaxed and friendly atmosphere a good convention offers.
But I’ve set myself the goal of taking some new game designs to demo, playtest, and showcase at some small, regional conventions in the new year; so I’m trying to get back into the groove to make myself and my game look as professional as possible.
I’m planning on running a free-form, four-hour demo/playtest session of Panzer Kids, a kid-friendly wargame of World War II tank battles I’m developing. Although the first draft of the basic rules is complete, it hasn’t quite entered the layout stage yet. (And I’m still drafting “optional” advanced rules for the deluxe version.) So I’m prepping some essential materials for running a game at the convention, most of which are planned components of the final game: simple stat cards for various tanks for reference, a one-page summary of the stats on the cards, and a one-page rules summary to display at the table. My brilliant stroke of marketing genius (or shameless self-promotion) came in devising the stat card backs; since I intend to print and trim a host of them to give out to players, I put a short blurb about the game on the card back with the Griffon Publishing Studio website address so they can watch for further updates about the game in development.
Aside from game materials I need to produce, I must prep and pack all the wargaming paraphernalia for the convention: tank miniatures to match the stat cards, terrain pieces, my 4x6-foot, tan felt “desert terrain” mat, dice, hit tokens, and sign holders (for the aforementioned one-page game reference materials).
I always have to psych myself up for conventions where I’m presenting my game design projects. It’s not that I’m immersing myself in a role of game designer, but more training myself to project a positive, friendly, and open presence. Much of this actually comes down to believing in myself and what I’ve created to overcome a natural degree of self-doubt.
Once I finish with the “business” end of con prep – including making hotel arrangements, registering the game, and registering for the convention itself – I can move along to more enjoyable activities based more in my convention-goer role: perusing the program to look for games I’d like to join as a player, packing some board games to try in any open board game areas I find (and resisting the urge to pack everything...), compiling a short list of game goodies to seek among the dealers, and e-mailing a few friends I hope to see.
Over the years I’ve kept a small journal with notes from my past convention participation: game sessions I ran with times and number of players; impressions of convention space, attendance, and dealers; contacts I make; and ideas for future convention appearances. It’s all done in the spirit of learning by reflecting on past experiences. Using this method I’ve learned a lot and changed how I approach conventions, yet I also realize I am always learning, that I always have something I can improve and must adjust to new situations. I’m looking forward to the upcoming convention and my Panzer Kids demo/playtest session; we’ll see what notes I add to my convention participation notebook and what areas I can improve.
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