Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More thoughts about GMing at Carnage

After my game at Carnage failed to go off, my previously discussed concerns about GMing at cons have taken a slightly different shape.

Previous times I tried to run things at cons, I got zero sign-ups, or just one. This time, my game "filled up" and it's entirely possible people got turned away, but it still didn't go off for several reasons, some my fault and some not.
  • When filling out my registration, I listed myself in my own game because, 1, that's where I would be during that session, and 2, if it didn't go off I wanted to have a second choice I could fall back into. However, the Carnage organizers had me take up one of the player slots in my own game. This is not wholly ridiculous since in some games the GM is also a player (for instance, pretty much any board game, and many storytelling games); but you would think that the GM would account for that and not include his own slot in the number of players. It's ambiguous; I don't think that either way would be immediately evident to everyone, so there's probably no solution that doesn't involve them having to explain the question.
  • When Siobhan and I talked about the game, we put her with another game as her first choice, but we put my game as her second choice. When it came to it, she didn't want to play even if that was the only way to make the game happen. So we should not have listed it even as her second choice. That ate up another one of my six slots.
  • Of the four remaining players, one never showed, and another one showed up, then left, saying that he'd been asked to GM another game, leaving only two. I could make it work with three, but it'd be tough; two is just not enough.
How many players, if any, got turned away? No way to tell. Most of the other games I saw were overfull; despite there being a lot more RPGs than last year, there were also a lot more players. Carnage seems to be growing considerably and maybe even threatening to outgrow its venue (their conference rooms are up to the amount of activity, but their hotel rooms were sold out on the first day of the con). So maybe there were a bunch of players who tried to sign up and got bumped, or who couldn't get added in during "on the day" registration because it was listed as full. No way to tell. If only they would do an online registration system so you could see where the slots were in advance...

I'd also agonized about whether to run the game using my RTC rules, which are very lightweight and (to my mind) ideally suited to a con game, or the published Serenity roleplaying game. The reactions of the two players I did get makes me think I might have gotten more interest if I'd gone the latter way; one of them even managed to convince himself that since the C in RTC stands for "Core" that therefore I was running the Serenity rules since they are historically derived from a system that is called "Core" (though this doesn't actually appear in the rulebook itself).

So will I try to run a game next year? At this point I am inclined to say no, but it's a long way off and I have plenty of time to change my mind. I think there's one thing I can say with near certainty: no more trying to run homebrew rules. That's something to do only after I have proven myself (if even then).

So the question then is, what would I run? GMing is always a challenge; you need to be firing on all cylinders, simultaneously considering the rules and all the players and the world and all the story elements. At a con, you're doing all this plus dealing with people you don't know and who have wildly different backgrounds, you probably are teaching them the rules as you go, and you're watching the clock to use the available time to ensure a satisfactory conclusion right as the session runs out, not before and not after. This is not a situation in which you want to playing with rules with which you are not so very thoroughly familiar that you can resolve them in your sleep. So you can't bring a game to a con to GM unless you've played it in your normal group not just a few times but a lot, really testing it, gathering and refining your expertise in it. So it's not enough to say, maybe my group wouldn't mind dabbling a little in this-or-that game, they'd need to be willing to play a game for a while and give me a thorough workout in it, test its boundaries.

On the one hand, I could try taking a fairly mainstream game off the shelf and run it as written. My hesitation there is I can barely get enough sessions and participation with the game I already have to try to throw in something entirely other, and I don't know how much time I could spare working something else up that would interest them. On the other, I could try a storytelling game where less is demanded of the GM in terms of preparing a campaign, and less commitment on the part of the players, since it's something you'd only play for a session or two now and then. But these are also, in some ways, more challenging for the GM since they're a little more nebulous and harder to grasp. (Certainly that was my reaction to Solipsist, though I speculate that's in part a flaw in the game itself.)

I'm not sure how my group would feel about them, though. One of the group is what Robin Laws calls a "casual gamer" who, as often as not, just wants to be there while we play but doesn't really stretch to involve herself, and seems happy with that (nor do I try to force her to participate more; if she's enjoying herself, that's fine). I'm not sure if a storytelling game, where players have a lot of narrative control and provide much of the drive to make the game happen, would draw her out more, or just make her feel pressured. Two other players are fairly new to roleplaying and still going through that stage many new roleplayers go through of treating it like a sport where you might not be "good enough" at it, and while I have no doubt they have the imagination needed to do a storytelling game if they put their minds to it, I'm concerned they would be way too hesitant. So I'm looking at the question of whether there's a storytelling game more suited to luring people like that out without making them feel threatened or too lacking in confidence.

If such a game exists, I might try that, and see how it works. It could be fun, and if it works, it might also help those two players come out of the shell a bit and feel more confident and thus more assertive in our regular games. Whether that'll lead to me GMing at Carnage I don't know; I'd have to feel very confident in whatever game or games we ended up trying. Even with a whole year, with us meeting on average once a month, I doubt I will get enough sessions in by next November.

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