How to Successfully Have RPGs at Your Convention

So you’d like people to run some roleplaying games (RPGs) at your convention (con).  We’re assuming for the moment that you’re not running a RPG con itself; this is not a primer for that kind of situation, and if you are running a RPG con then my advice here is simply to go find somebody with experience and have him or her run the whole thing. You can be the assistant taking notes. Lots and lots of notes.

But if you’re running any other sort of science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror con, and you figure that having some RPGs on the program is a good idea… well, yes, it is. But, like anything else, prior preparation produces pleasant [insert word meaning ‘results’ that starts with ‘P’]. Get a few things right at the start and you’ll have a happier time of it.

First off, decide which RPGs are appropriate for your con, and which ones are not.  If you’re running, say, an anime con, it’s perfectly reasonable to require that all games being run have an anime ‘theme’ to them.  Or you might decide that having a live-action roleplaying game (LARP) going on at your con is too disruptive, whether or not somebody is willing to run one. Or you could simply decide that (Hey, watch me commit heresy!) there are going to be enough kids running around that you don’t want to have any game running that’s too visibly in-your-face ‘adult.’ The overarching point is this: it’s nice when people volunteer to do stuff for you, but you’re not actually obligated to accept their help. It really is all right to say “No, thank you.”

Moving on from that bout of acute crippling social awkwardness… put RPGs on your space and time programming budgets from the very start. Don’t shoehorn them in at the last second; that inevitably leads to what the philosopher called ‘confusion and delay.’ If there’s not going to be enough space/time available, then considering reducing or even eliminating your RPG programming. Or, of course, giving RPG programming more space/time, but that’s a fraught decision when it comes to any events with limited budgets.

Speaking of space: always bear in mind that RPGs at cons involve a bunch of people sitting at one table for at least three hours at a time. Often longer.  They need to be able to see, sure—but what they really need to be able to do is hear.  That means don’t park the gamers under the noisy HVAC machine, or anywhere where people are happily screaming hello to their friends, or next to the kitchen, or… you get the drill.  You can put four or five gaming tables in the same room without real trouble, but if you really want a bunch of people hating you for the rest of your life, put the gamers out in the middle of the shambolic chaos that is a con’s main room.

Speaking of time: of course conference rooms cost money to rent, and of course the idea is to efficiently use the rental period. No argument there. But RPG games can very easily run overlong, and if you’ve got somebody waiting on the table, again, ‘confusion and delay.’  Add a little padding to your programming times.  Even a fifteen minute buffer between games can avoid convention drama.

As to specific requirements of RPGs?  Easy access to electrical sockets are generally helpful, especially if the gamemaster (GM) is using a laptop or tablet.  Water is, generally speaking, a must. This is, after all, a past-time where everybody involved is constantly talking to each other for several hours.  And, for the love of everything that is holy: no drafts.  There is no subtle torture quite like the one where you have to sit in a constant draft for four hours while still talking. It’s like you’re inviting the respiratory illnesses in, really.

Lastly: have somebody in charge of RPG programming, and have them be available at the con and prepared to field questions or concerns.  Which there will be. It’s like any other kind of convention programming, really: if you have somebody there, you probably won’t need him; and if you don’t have somebody there, you’ll wish that you had—at least five or six times per day of the con.