Convention gaming has a distinct difference from home games in that the play group assembled is eruptive (coming into being with multiple full experienced viewpoints) versus organic (most often assembled by the GM willing to run a campaign). This difference can be particularly challenging to GM. A home GM can control the chemistry of the players in any given game, the GM of an Organized Play scenario and other adventures gets what they get. A convention goer can make life much easier for the GM with the right mindset.
Supporting the Alien GM
The GM in a convention is likely to have what is best to call “parallel experience” with any game system you are familiar. Parallel experience means that they have experience from the system that is as valid as, but different from a players. Keeping this in mind is essential supporting and enjoying convention GMs. This is even more true with Organized Play events. Key points to remember:
- Everyone House Rules: Even unconsciously, GMs house rule. Lighting conditions get ignored (or vigorously enforced), encumbrance is hand-waived, or environmental rules all can represent examples of rules that get house ruled by omission. It is entirely likely that a group at a home or LGS ignores a situation so consistently, they don’t remember to enforce as an event GM. Consider the reality of the 4-5 hour con block before trying to burn 10% of debating an absent or present house rule.
- Travel Duress: Destination Gaming is hard enough on a GM. Doing it on command for strangers is worse. GMs that find themselves without prepared material that was lost in travel or surprise illness during a time slot they commit to are not going to be at their best. Understand the circumstantial challenges to quality and adjust expectations accordingly.
- Not Mom’s Chicken Noodle Soup: If a player always plays with the same group and under one or two GMs they WILL experience dissonance. Players and GMs grow together and over time begin to reflect each others expectations and reactions. Any variation from that will be uncomfortable. It is the mindset of the player that then makes this the excitement of the unknown or the disappointment of not running another game with Steve.
- Guardians of Shared Universe: GMs in convention settings are often responsible for maintaining core facts about the setting. Players should avoid assaulting known canon NPCs (unless that is actually the scenario’s point) or mucking with established storylines without realizing that this will put a GM in the conflicted space of maintaining the Shared Universe and allowing a player their freedom to choose. Weigh decisions carefully before deviating from an adventures path or attacking canon NPCs.
- You are the Unknown: In a home game, players become co-conspirators in developing, exploring and revealing the campaign setting. In a convention game, the PLAYERS are the unknown. Most scenarios have been available for weeks and sometimes even pregenerated characters reduce “surprise” to the GM, but the players a most often the most undefined variable. Party chemistry and metabalance roles are all up in the air. This is particularly true in organized play when a player has been able to develop their own character. Try to come up with a concise description of the character and its role.
- Riding the Train: While many convention GMs do it superbly, there is always likely to be some railroading in a prepared scenario. Players can learn to expect this and accept it gracefully. A player who rages against any assumed behavior is probably not one to encourage attending a convention and if they do they may want to really work on accepting needed pacing considerations. Learn to follow the “railroad” gracefully and enjoy the ride.
Knowing the situation of the alien GM breeds greater understanding and enjoyment as a player. Being aware of what is likely challenging to them helps set reasonable expectations that will make the moments of transcendent play that much more enjoyable.