A Quickstart Guide for Game Masters at Gen Con

In hindsight, GMing at Gen Con is not easy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast! But a 60,000 player convention has a lot of moving parts, and I would have loved a guide to avoid all the inefficiencies, mistakes, and general frustrations I experienced during my first few years.

So, without any further ado, here are some of the things that are in the Event Host Policy document Gen Con releases every year, but hopefully a little more concise:

GM vs. Gaming Group
If you are running an event by yourself, you are a GM! That means you’re only responsible for yourself and your event. This eliminates a lot of possible advantages, such as getting complimentary GM Badges or requesting a GM Hotel Room, but this provides a much faster, simpler submittal process and you don’t have the pain of herding the cats that are your fellow GMs. Good job on not being insane!

GM Badges
As a GM, you still must purchase a Badge as an Attendee, then request before mid-May a GM Badge for pickup at GM HQ. Once you pick up your GM Badge, you drop off your Attendee Badge and, after the convention, request reimbursement.
As a Gaming Group, you can request a number of complimentary GM Badges equivalent to number expected of player hours generated from your approved events divided by 72 hours. What does this all mean? If you plan to run 72 player hours of events (# of Events x # of players x # of Event’s Hours), you’ll get a free Badge.

GM Hotel Rooms
If you are running literally hundreds of player hours of events, you may qualify for a GM Hotel Room. To receive a complimentary room, you need at least 800 player hours.
The form you need to submit for requesting this last year was not properly linked to the Event Host Policy. Since this form must be submitted between the time your events are approved and around when events go live, you need to keep your eyes open for this!
My one suggestion would be this: try to get a hotel room first through a site like Expedia or Travelocity. Then, during the Attendee Hotel Room cattle call sometime early next year, try for a cheaper one. Finally, if you are running a lot of events, ask for a room directly from Gen Con as a GM. However, don’t count on getting it, there are a lot of us!

Event Submission
Okay, the meat and potatoes, as it were, of this whole thing. You need to submit your events. I put a screenshot of one of my prior events below so you can see what that screen looks like.

Event submission form

When you’re doing this, you should have everything ready before you start working on this. That means knowing your scenario information and when you want to run it. Don’t wander in here, start it, and leave it there for months. It doesn’t matter if you start right on January 6 or wait until August 2 if you aren’t sure what you want to do. Get it done as soon as you know! Also, canceling or changing events on your players is a huge no-no. If you aren’t sure, wait!

That all said, remember you are one event among thousands! You need to pick a system players want to see, schedule it when demand is high, and make the event sound interesting. Failing to meet any of these criteria is not Gen Con’s fault, and I have seen many a table empty with a lonely GM wondering why no one wants to play his homebrew Cyber-Steam-Punk Fantasy Setting where everyone is a floating hedgehog. It might sound like a blast to your local gaming group, but those are your friends, and they won’t tell you want a bad idea it is! Think main stream or go on the Gen Con forums and see what folks are asking for. Failing that, I understand there are things called Twitters you could dispatch to see advice as well.

At the Convention
Okie-dokie. The big day has arrived. You show up and pick up your Badge. Now what?!? I would recommend the following order of events:

  1. Immediately go see where your room and table is for your event. Really, getting lost on your way to the event is bad, and players will complain if you’re late. Gen Con recommends arriving early to your events anyway.
  2. This goes for GMs and Attendees: Bathe at least for the day you’re running something. You don’t want to be that guy, especially if you’re the GM.
  3. Have your materials ready and in a bag. This includes your scenario, character sheets, dice, pencils, scrap paper, and at least one copy of the rulebook. I would also recommend that your scenario and sheets be typed and you have at least an extra copy of each.
  4.  At the start of your event time, have everything laid out and ready. Collect tickets, count, and put them in a safe place, you’ll need to turn those into GM HQ later. If you forget, it’s not that your event didn’t happen; it’s that it did and no one showed up. Think about how that will look when you want to do this next year. Also ask if any player needs to get to a slot immediately after yours. If anyone says yes, ask if anyone minds you trying to end early to give that person some extra lead time. This is an easy way to be a cool GM to your players.
  5. Pace yourself. Gen Con is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. When you start the event, introduce yourself and spend a few minutes chatting with your players. This not only helps break the ice, but you should also wait a few minutes for any stragglers. You should try and seat all players with real tickets first, and them being late by 5 minutes is, once again, bad form!
  6. Give your players time to pick and familiarize themselves with their characters. While they’re doing that, you can point out important information to them on their sheets and go over some of the rules. Don’t try and crash course players through your scenario.
  7. Take a break! Around the half way point let your players use the bathroom, get some water, and generally just stretch. This also lets you gauge how you’re doing. A couple of my players usually stay at the table and chat with me about their thoughts so far and, if you’re able to, you can modify your scenario on the fly to fit the second half to your players.
  8.  Back to pacing. You committed to running during a set time slot. Don’t end too early (more than half an hour) or two late (past your slotted time). Either of these will piss someone off, either your players for not getting enough play time or the next GM who need that table!
  9. At the end, make sure everyone had a good time. This is your chance to have a bunch of strangers let you know how they thought you did. Don’t get defensive, just talk to them.
  10. Clean up the mess you and your players just left. There are garbage cans everywhere. Hotel staff is making sure the rooms are straightened every day, there is water, and those garbage cans are empty. Don’t ask them to clean up after you too.
  11. Turn in your tickets. Also, be nice to the person taking them. I have never had a problem with my ticket count, so don’t force them to count them for you right then and there. Photocopy the tickets and, if the count comes back wrong, go to GM HQ and ask for them to check. Those folks at the GM HQ are volunteers who also want to enjoy Gen Con, so play nice!

Problems
So, there will inevitably be problems. I’m going to address the one that I hear the most about from other GMs. Jerk players and convention staff. Yes, this will happen to you. You can’t avoid it. I have had both at many Gen Cons and you need to roll with it. I am going to advise you to do the following:

  1. Do not throw a player out of your table. This player will go to GM HQ and complain, and it won’t matter at that point if you were right or wrong to do it. You were wrong and now you have a complaint against you on record. That is going to be with you when you request to run an event next year.
  2. Do not fight with Gen Con staff. Many of them are working a lot of hours and are following rules meant to broadly apply to everyone. If you have a problem with it, address it later and away from your players and/or other attendees. Give these folks a break and do not make them regret trying to help put this show on.
  3. If you have a jerk player, be respectful and ask why they aren’t having fun. If they cannot verbalize it, they may just be having a bad day or thought your event was something it was not. Don’t apologize, but perhaps ask them, if they have time, what they would have rather seen. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it may even help you next year.
  4.  If you have a jerk staffer, they have a badge, get their name. Do not do this openly or flagrantly. They may just have had to deal with a lunatic gamer who was yelling at them 5 minutes ago. If you really feel like this staffer is picking on you, go talk to Gen Con HQ in the main hall. More than likely they’ll get to the bottom of it and, at least, ask the staffer to leave you alone if you aren’t doing anything wrong. If you are doing something wrong, you’ll find out and you need to fix yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.
  5. The Jerk GM. It’s rare, but you may have a GM from another table try and poach your players. This is why it’s important to get the tickets early. Honestly, your players don’t want to play that GM’s game. If they did, they would have signed up for it. So, give your players the easy way out. Just say, “If you want to jump to that table, go ahead, no hard feelings. However, I’ve already filled out the paperwork for this event so I can’t return your ticket.” The other GM will be pissed (Have you ever been sworn at in a fantasy language? I have!) but that’s really not your problem.

Will all this guarantee you the best darn Gen Con ever as a GM? Nope. However, if you have read this far, I hope this answers some of your questions about the process and maybe relieves some of the stress.
And, if you want to know more, drop me a line. I’m gearing up for the convention myself and it always helps to talk things through.

Mike
MAMS Gaming
@MamsMike

A Chicago native, Mike started playing RPGs in the 2nd Edition of World of Darkness, but quickly started playing Dungeons & Dragons. After Gen Con 2000, he started GMing at home and then conventions. As D&D and WoD decided that insanity was a good decision for their new editions, he started playing other systems, and discovered how great other game systems were. Now, he will play almost any game once and, thanks to his local gaming group and TRF, gets to. You can play his games at Gen Con, under the Gaming Group MAMS Gaming. Campaigns so far: Not So Strange; Invasive Procedures

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