I’ve been thinking about the subject of roleplaying games and how the convention-game can be a bit different from one’s normal home game. No matter which con or where in the country I go, several things keep popping up year after year. What follows is a compact distillation of things to have in mind to keep a table of 4-7 strangers playing happily together for a few hours.
- We’re all there to have fun.
I’ve seen players at conventions ‘going through the motions’ while taking part in a game. If you aren’t going to be having fun at the table, why play? Sign up for those games you’re really passionate about, have fun at those sessions, and let yourself enjoy the rest of the convention. Don’t fear that you’ll be ‘wasting’ the convention if you haven’t played in at least X many RPG sessions.
- Bring your best to the table.
Simply showing up to play is not enough to make for a great experience. Bringing your A-game means not only playing your character well and knowing the basics of the system; but most importantly having a good attitude. Let yourself get excited! Get into character! Remember that there will be several other gamers at the table with you, all of whom want to have fun. Don’t hog the spotlight or upstage the other players. Let them each have their turn to shine. If you want to enhance the game, help them shine! Spread the fun around. Give that brooding loner someone to bounce quips off of. Be the straight-man who walks into the joke set up by the wisecracker.
- Pay attention to what’s going on.
Nothing slows a game down more than a GM having to repeat the status of an encounter every few minutes. Put your cell phone away, listen to what’s going on, take time during the other player’s turns to decide what you’re going to do. A lively group will be a much happier group by the end of the event!
- Boredom is the foe. Hesitation is death.
Convention games run FAST. Your regular gaming group can rely on the fact that what doesn’t get covered in one session can roll over into the next. Convention games don’t have that luxury. On top of that, GMs are often kept to a strict schedule and must end their events by a set time, no matter where the plot stands. With that in mind, don’t dither over your choices. Once you pick a course of action, run with it.
- Risk it!
Your plan isn’t perfect, the odds may be against you… So what!?!?! Never let the search for the ‘perfect strategy’ get in the way of acting on a perfectly good idea right now. If you pull it off, you’ll have an awesome tale. If you fail, you’ll still have a heck of a tale!
- Embrace critical failures.
Risks are great. By definition, you’ll fail at least some of those. Part of being a good player means keeping your cool when the dice don’t go your way. Don’t try to weasel out of it, don’t cheat, just accept that Lady Luck isn’t always your friend. Roll with it and if possible, make it an amusing failure or one that can still spur the plot ahead.
- Communication of expectations = WIN.
If you’re playing in a game system or genre you’ve never played before, it is ok to ask what the expectations for players in that game are. Even within the same setting, one GURPS game might be encouraging high-fantasy derring-do, while another GM might punish ‘action hero behavior’ and focus on gritty realism. In games such as D&D, ask what is expected of your role in the group. Having a fighter who refuses to get her hands dirty during combat or a rogue unwilling to disarm traps can quickly derail an encounter that assumes the players will be co-operating.
- Try new games.
If your home group constantly swaps between D&D, Shadowrun, and Vampire then now may be the perfect time to try all those weird looking games no one in your group has ever played. If you don’t like it you’ll only be out a few hours of your time. If you do find a system that catches your eye, you may be the one bringing dozens of hours of fun back home with you to your regular group. There are a lot of amazingly enjoyable RPGs out there from small Independent publishers, self-published games, or even older out-of-print titles. Go exploring.
- Keep it classy.
You’ll be sitting down to play with a handful of people you may not have ever met before. You may never see them again after the convention or you might see them regularly every year. Either way, focus on the current game, not on the one time when your 7th generation Assamite totally took over the… Part of this etiquette also means keeping in mind some topics you might happily discuss with friends might not be as well received by a table full of your fellow con-goers. When in doubt, avoid the big 3 conversation killers: Politics, religion, and sex. Make sure to let your GM know if you’ve had fun during their game. ’Thank you,’ can go a long way at the gaming table.
- You can’t win if you don’t play.
All the way back to #1! We’re here to have fun! It’s ok to feel a bit shy. It’s ok if you feel a little awkward due to being new to the system being played. Odds are rather good that most of the table has been there. You may get the occasional anti-social gamer, but by-and-large the people you meet at cons will already be in a great mood. “We’re at PAX/GenCon/ComiCon!!! This ROCKS!” Relax. Take a deep breath. Now go find a table with a few empty seats. Go play.