I got back from Gary Con 2023 yesterday afternoon. It was a good time.
Having GPS or google whatever really helps getting around. I believe my last Gary Con was back in 2019 (where I got lost on the way home) and I didn't realize you could just have your phone navigate you all the way to your destination.
But this time, I had a friend navigate and the phone technology working, so got back in an hour and twenty minutes, stopping in Milton for some delicious fast food Mexican... Taco John's.
Anyway, let's get down to business!
I ran 5 games. All of them Cha'alt and all with Crimson Dragon Slayer D20. I came up with an original scenario for the convention, which I like to do when there's time. And I ran that thrice, along with a semi-original scenario that borrowed heavily from previously published material.
For those who want to hack Cremza'amirikza'am (or any megadungeon) and turn it into a convention game or one-shot, here's what I did - provide a reason for them to go, present some kind of encounter, complication, social interaction, or whatever on the way to getting there. Then, I dug out one of my many hand-drawn cavern maps and cherry-picked rooms, encounters, and set-pieces on the way to the McGuffin at the other end of the map.
Yeah, I ran that twice, and it worked just as well as the original scenario. I decided to go with a smaller player max of 6. In the past, I wanted to meet, game with, and run adventures for as many players as I could at one time, so usually a max of 8. And that's fun, but when you've been doing this as long as I have, you realize that with a group of 8, generally, you'll have 2 or 3 very active players who do most of the talking and decision making, then you have 1 or 2 players who perk-up occasionally, taking a secondary role on the action-scale, and finally everyone else stays in the background until it's their turn to roll dice and let me know the result.
With a smaller group of players, you pare that down. Let's say you have a group of 4 players. Usually, there will be 1 player who's the most active, 1 who's moderately active, and the other two are pretty much wallflowers. That's... not ideal.
I mean, every group makeup and dynamic is different, so there's no telling for sure until you actually sit down and start playing. By and large though, the bigger the group, the more active-players you'll have... and you really need active-players because they generate the fun and excitement, they drive the story and get the action rolling.
I asked one of my players in the Sunday game (Sunday mid-morning is always my lowest attended session of a convention) what the best game he played in was. He didn't remember the system and barely remembered the scenario. So, I asked him point-blank what made it so fun. He said the players. The players were really engaged and into the game (usually preceded by a passionate GM), and their enthusiasm just made everything else better.
So, there you go. I think I'll go back to max-8 player sessions because there's a better chance of getting 3 or 4 active players. I still remember a couple of different Game Hole Con sessions with 7 or 8 players each and how wild and crazy things got. Looking back, each table had 4 or 5 active players, and it just made everything about the game come alive... well, more alive.
Let's talk about the pre-gens, shall we? So, this convention, I decided to make things easier on me and the players. I came up with ten PCs that all fit on a single page. They didn't have any numbers or mechanics, though. Just name, class, race, something about who they are as people, and a significant moment in their background that intersected with another PC's background (sometimes 2 or 3 PCs).
I printed-out 50 of those sheets so every single time a player sat down, he'd get that sheet to have and look at the entire game (frequently, players would write down who their companions were playing in the margins of that PC roster for easier interactions), then keep after the session was over, if they wanted some kind of souvenir. Once everyone had picked, I'd hand every player a simplified character sheet and we'd spend about 2 minutes filling in the numbers... level, armor class, hit-points, etc.
That was literally it. Because it was always the same ten PCs, I pretty much knew them all, and there was enough variety that everyone had something cool to pick from - without so much choice that it took them forever to decide. Best of all (though it happened to be completely unnecessary in all the games I ran this weekend), the remaining, unchosen PCs could be in the background yet at the ready. So, if one PC died, that player could assume one of the other PCs on that sheet immediately, rather than waiting to create a new character and for me to find a way to jump them back in.
That is now something I'm going to do with every fucking convention for the rest of my days... unless I stumble upon something even better. If you struggle with character generation or pre-gens, I suggest you give it a try.
My games being Cha'alt, the scenarios focused on the Federation, the Great Old Ones, zoth, the Loc-Na'ar, bizarre creatures, weird dimensional rifts and sacrificial altars.
What else? Oh yeah, Crimson Escalation! I've used that for every game I've run (except for a couple playtests of Obsidian Escalation) for the last year or so. It's awesome, and I've never had a combat last more than 7 rounds. The only downside, if you can even call it that, is that long boring battles won't pad your session. So a standard 4-hour sessions will probably come out at about 3 hours because your players didn't waste time with, "I hit... 2 points of damage," on the 11th round.
As a GM, I tried to narrate almost every single attack, which (most of the time) went well. Every once in a while I was tongue-tied or flummoxed, but there was so much flavor text that it was like an all-you-can-eat buffet. I even got to try out GM Ben Shapiro's "How do you do it?" or "Tell me how you do it?" to good effect!
If you haven't seen Ben Shapiro Game Master D&D, I recommend you watch this. I never expected to take GMing cues from an A.I. Ben Shaprio Game Master... but here we are.
I bought a book on writing that I hope to use in my scenario design and GMing (will review that once I've read it), and 3 sets of dice. I would have bought more at the con (other than food, which was fantastic, BTW - that chocolate croissant from the lobby coffee shop [warmed-up] changed my life), but I only sold 2 Cha'alt books and the dice merchants wouldn't budge on price. $43 for three sets of dice - ouch!
My favorite of the new dice is called Blueberry Doom. They have such a cool look. I don't normally go in for opaque dice, but the weirdly marbled "blueberry squirt" coloration in these lavender dice with deep- purple numbering just tickles my whimsical bones, I guess.
If I had sold a couple trilogies, I would have sprung for a matching set of The Last Unicorn bookmarks for my girls or fantasy artwork for my game room. The economy, at least among independent creators, is circular.
Oh, and the highlight of the convention (but only if you count Twitter likes) was sitting directly behind Vince Vaughn during one of my games. When he was done, Vince stood up to leave and was swarmed by several people wanting pics and whatnot. I didn't want to add to his fan-service burden, so waited until he had a free second and asked for a quick picture, which he graciously accommodated.
Who else did I meet and take pictures with? So many fine gamer folks, I can't name them all... but there are pics in my Twitter feed, if you go look through @VengerSatanis. The most notable was running into "ShadowDark Kelsey" who knew my buddy Colin. Kelsey was really nice, telling me how much she enjoyed my writing, said that she was a fan of mine, and that Kort'thalis Publishing books like How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss had inspired her.
Yes, if I had thought of it, I would have put a signed and numbered hardcover Cha'alt book in Vince Vaughn's hands before he exited, but it just never occurred to me. Next time!
Speaking of next time, the next gaming convention I'll be attending just happens to be the one I'm organizing - VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo. Grab your ticket today (limited to 100 attendees)!
And if you'd like some hardcover Cha'alt trilogy love, Here's your chance.
I believe the Crystals of Chaos campaign is picking up where it left off this coming weekend, so I've already got to start thinking about more GMing stuff... plus, finish revising the Advanced Game Mastering Like A Fucking Boss manuscript before it goes to layout.
And here's a photo of me with my friend Griff from BlackMoor Film fame!
Feel free to comment down below. I'd love to get your feedback (especially if you played in one of my sessions). Alas, there's always room for improvement, so criticism is also welcome. Well, not welcome, but I'm learning to tolerate it. ;)
Make your next game the very best it can be, hoss!
p.s. On the drive back home I was talking to Colin about incentivizing players and their PCs to interact with stuff that has little or nothing to do with the main objective. So many times, the players bypassed, ignored, or spent minimal time exploring aspects of the adventure that didn't intersect with the main objective. I'm going to tackle that next!