Monday, 4 July 2011

Why are we so special?

There’s a lot of us vs. theming going on at the moment in my world, for a wide variety of “us” and “them”, rather than join in I thought I would walk through an Australian convention and point out the bits we do differently from everyone else.

First thing, I bet as you (an Australian roleplayer) read through this, you’ll think of some con which does some portion differently. Neat, throw it down in the comments. I can only build a picture from what I know. (Which is one of the points in the us vs. them debates going on at the moment I think).

Australian cons don’t pull the numbers of either Gencon or Origin. Small cons can run at around 50 players, larger cons can get up to 400 players.

A couple of months before the con starts, all the games are put up on a website, with both a textual description of the game and a rating system to help players discover what games they’d like to play. There tend to be games for three sets of groups. Tabletops are five (some cons have six) players sitting around a table. Freeforms are for approximately 15, 20, 30 or 40 players in costume (some people don’t costume, but many do) walking around a room acting out their characters' actions. In con history, freeforms went up to 250 players (for a 500 person con), but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. Multiforms are roughly tabletop sized, but players act in a freeform manner.

One difference from our American cousins is that each game gets its own room, whether that is a tabletop or a freeform. This allows for much shouting and stomping within a game. Possibly this is one of the points which lead to the Australian systemless style of gaming. Systemless gaming is a whole separate topic, so I’ll skim over it here with a quick – systemless gaming is where there is an emphasis on a particular theme of the module and tends to be played without the use of a extrinsic system. The GM arbitrates conflicts and successes where necessary. Often, these are not an important part of the module.

GMs, unless they state otherwise, are understood to want to run for as many sessions as players sign up for. Players pre-register their interest in games, sometimes forming full (five player) or part (two / three player) teams to do so. There is a current trend of the mega team (more than five players) which breaks into five player subteams teams for particular games. Each game might have a different subset of the mega team, depending on which player wants to play what.

In the final week before the con, registration is closed and everyone is scheduled into games. Players might find out they have registered after a game is filled, and there are no spaces available. Games are filled on a first come, first served basis.

There is a registration evening, where players pick up characters, hints and tips on costumes, con badges and fill any holes in their schedule with other games. Freeforms in particular are known for gathering their final few players during Friday night rego.

The con will run over a long weekend (Friday night, through to Monday night), each sessions run for 3 hours, with a 30 to 60 minute break between games. The con will run from 9am through to about 11pm, with the last session of the day being the least popular. Some people see this as extra gaming time and run their session late. There is a food and drink available at the con, but nowadays this tends not to run to full meals. There is an expectation in the air that people will run on chocolate and caffeine for the weekend.

There is a banquet during the con in which players gather together for some food and drink. Because each game will be run multiple times, there are a lot of conversations over the weekend around what happened in your session of a particular game and a lot of anecdoting. Players who haven’t played that game yet will run away when this starts. The con gossip will also start applauding the good games and disparaging the bad. There will be a movement towards filling any gaps good games might have left, although at this stage there is no expectation that there will be more sessions offered.

Prize giving is the last official event of the con. Every game offers a number of trophies and certificates. Again, I’m only going to touch lightly on this topic with a quick – there is a lot of heat about the usefulness of prizes giving and angst about appropriate criteria for a trophy.

After the con is officially over, many people head over to a designated pub, and basically have a wrap-up party. More ancedoting happens, much congratulating of con organisers and GMs (and buying them drinks). There are many drunken game ideas written on the back of a coaster and giggled over. The con organisers start gathering games for next year’s con.

The next day, one final get-together happens for people who have to head to a different city, or have taken that day off work. There is a brunch, where people get together, keep anecdoting, dissecting games and generally dwelling on the fun we’ve all just had.

So, what’s so special about Australian roleplaying conventions?

  • Smaller numbers means I am on nodding acquaintances with many of the con goers, makes for a friendly feel
  • Games are pre-registered, pre-scheduled
  • Games allow for teams of players to play together
  • Games are run multiple times, allowing for anecdoting heaven
  • There is wide use of systemless gaming (and a variety of systemless games and meanings of the word)
  • All games have prize giving
  • Afterwards, we party. Then the next day, we party some more


  1. A number of the points you have made apply only to Pheno, out of the cons I have attended at some stage. (Pheno, Arcanacon, Conquest, Unicon, Briscon, The Big Weekend by whatever name it went by that year, Conjure, Gencon Oz, Vorpalcon, Cancon, Noncon. I really must get to a Sydney con some day.) There is a lot of variation in Australian con culture. Post-con parties don't exist or are private affairs for some cons, some cons don't have set team sizes. Con length varies, pre-registration procedures vary. On a good year, big cons in Melbourne have been known to break 600 registrants (though some of those will be playing strictly non-roleplaying events). Some writers prefer not to give trophies.

    Basically, all the little details are up for grabs. The best bet for any newcomer is to ask how things work at that particular con.

    However, there are one or two things that are pretty constant. The way we will run a tabletop game over and over is something that has been true of every Australian con I have attended (though it has occurred to a somewhat lesser extent at Gencon Oz, where some writers offered their tabletops only once, twice or thrice). You didn't mention what I see as a big benefit of this, though. Because games will be run six, eight, a dozen, even two dozen or more times over the course of multiple cons and private sessions for the most popular games, many writers consider it worth it to put a lot of work into these games. They often aren't the two-hours-prep-on-a-good-week sessions of regular campaign play, but carefully crafted works of art. This is far short of universal, but for some writers this is their opportunity to present a masterpiece that endures even if only in the memory of the players.

    Freeforms don't tend to run as many sessions (because more players play in each session, so the player pool becomes exhausted more quickly) but again, because they often do run several times and each session is experienced by a large number of players, the writers may feel it is worth putting a lot of effort into these games. I've put literally hundreds of hours of prep work into some of my freeforms.

    In many parts of the world, I'm not sure you get the same attitude. (Though I have heard of certain places... Finland seems to have come up with a lot of similar ideas and attitudes in roleplaying, from what I've read, as one example.)

  2. I suppose the two big differences I have seen from Aussie Cons and NZ cons is numbers and how many games a GM would run.

    Kapcon, NZs largest con attracts approx 120 participants from across the country, and most others are in the 40 tops mark.

    Registration is similar, the format (3 hour sessions) is remarkably similar and group size while slightly higher in NZ (average game runs for 6 players), isn't a significant difference.

    The other big difference between Kapcon and Pheno in particular (and from what I hear from other Aussie Cons) is the propensity to run the same game multiple times. In Kapcon (and generally in NZ), it is a very rare thing that someone will run the same game multiple times over the total con.

    Every session therefore has a different selection of games, games that haven't been offered before and (most likely) will not be offered again. This inspires an attitude that when you come to Kapcon, at least half of the attendees are expected to run a game, it also means that (from the players point of view) that you need to bring your ACE game to each and every session you attend.

    Over time, quality has improved - I can't say it was quality all the time - but it definitely has improved to match Pheno standards. (I also think this also might be a cause for the demand for systemed games at Kapcon where Pheno does not).

    There is an expectation that the game you bring to Kapcon be a certain quality, for everyones enjoyment and Kapcon has fostered a culture of bringing the fun. I guess in NZ we don't believe that running a game multiple times will help ensure or improve quality.

  3. Dan, let's be clear about this. Nobody has claimed that running a game multiple times, in itself, improves quality, and the only way it might help ensure quality is that early plays can demonstrate quality, thus providing reassuring evidence before later plays.

    Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

    However, I think it is hard to deny that when more effort and care are put into creating scenarios, the end result tends to be improved, at least up to a certain point. My own observations bear this out. Pheno's writers today put a lot more effort and care into their scenarios than writers for Briscon did in the early 90s, and the scenarios are generally much better.

    I'll also point out that there is precisely one reason that games are played multiple times at Australian cons: People want to play those games, and writers and GM want to run the games that people want to play.

  4. Dan, is there a culture in NZ of rerunning games off con, or at later cons? To me the idea of running a game no more than once or twice has all the tragic connotations of a single, brief flowering - as GM and writer, I'd find it hard to let go of a good game so easily.

  5. Running the game once, and running the game many times (almost every session) are extreme ends of the spectrum. At Kapcon many games are run more than once, but few games are run every round.

    I think the difference is that at Kapcon the GM determines many times they want to run the game, and even in what rounds, so they can play other games they're interested in (running a game at Kapcon gets you one priority player entry into another game) and catch a rest. Some games are playtested multiple times before the 'con with strangers and soemtimes games are run again after the 'con - often at other Wellington 'cons like Confusion, Fright Night or Day of Games - it just depends on the GM.

    Aside from that, things are largely the same across the Tasman. Kapcon usually has a final round after prize-giving which often features lighter or more comical games, as people blow off some steam before the post-con party.

  6. Oh, and the team thing of course - we don't do that. And systemless games are reasonably rare - although some games might be listed as Homebrew - which can be similar in practice.

  7. Dale, I think you might have the wrong idea of how Australian cons set up events. While games at Australian cons are typically offered many times, it is rare here, too, for a game to run every session. At most Australian cons, the writers and GMs can set limits on how many times they wish to run and/or what sessions they wish to run (although there does tend to be negotiation with the organisers, especially for large games - typically freeforms - because running several really big games in the same session can just be really bad for everyone). The Melbourne cons all currently use the same registration system, which gives writers a lot of freedom to set up their running schedules how they like. Pheno's scheduling is done by the orgs, but Ingrid (the writer wrangler) does ask after GM availability before building the schedule.

    At Pheno, certain games do tend to end up running every session or nearly so. Part of that is the Triptych, which a lot of players play as a matter of course, either because they wish to compete for the trophy or because they consider a Triptych game to be very likely to be of high quality. However, certain writers (hi Stu!) do have very large followings, which sometimes leads to certain games being filled in as many sessions as the writer is willing to run. (One writer has talked of running a game called "Mik Reads the Newspaper", for which the blurb will read "The GM will sit and read the newspaper for three hours." We reckon he would still get players signing up.)

    But as I said, ultimately the reason games run so many times here is because people want to do that. It isn't something the orgs push. (Although, if you hope a con will pony up for trophies, you had better be prepared to run enough times to make that worth it economically for the con.)

  8. Ah, my mistake then, overall we are more similar than I'd thought - my comment on the differences in scheduling were based on my experience of Pheno and J's statement:

    "GMs, unless they state otherwise, are understood to want to run for as many sessions as players sign up for"

  9. Jacinta's statement has two important qualifications: "unless they state otherwise" (but we are given the opportunity to state otherwise) and "as players sign up for" (which is frequently considerably less than all the sessions of the con). Stu, Jacinta, Ingrid, Shane, Jimmy, Terrance and Barbara ran insanely popular games at Pheno; many of the rest of us ran considerably less sessions.

  10. Nonetheless, the idea that a GM must "state otherwise", and may be beholden to the number of sign-ups for a particular game, represents a different ethos to that I outlined.

    It's not something I'd personally be comfortable with (our prizes are products or vouchers that the 'con receives these from sponsors, rather than paying for them out of 'con funds, and are determined at a 'con level rather than individual game level).

  11. Thanks for this post. Very helpful to explain to newbies what an RPG con might be like.

    You might want to offer this to Pheno in an edited form for inclusion on their website next year; I think it would fill a hole in their online information and advertising.

  12. Well, of course you'd have to "state otherwise". If you don't say what you want, you can't expect the con orgs to provide it to you.

    The real difference here is that the Pheno orgs construct their schedules manually, based on entries, rather than saying when things are going to run and then waiting for people to enter at those times. As that is the case, the easiest "default case" is to run whatever groups you get. If you've got a limit when running your game, there's no way for anyone else to know what that limit is unless you say so. And yes, Ingrid does ask.

    And for many other Australian cons, you have to state your availability to run when submitting your event proposal. For Melbourne cons, you have to enter the sessions you are prepared to run in the rego system when you submit the event. You literally can't have an event in the system without it.

    No, speaking as a writer and a writer wrangler, I firmly believe that the way many of us run our games for as many players as want to participate has nothing to do with requirements or pressure from the orgs. Rather, we do this because we are proud of our games and want as many people to experience them as possible.

    As for prizes, sometimes Australian cons do get prize sponsorship. However, such sponsorship tends to be based on the games run. (For example, Arcanacon used to run a Cthulhu Masters tournament, which was frequently sponsored by Chaosium quite generously. But recently that hasn't happened, so Chaosium hasn't been a sponsor some years.) With systemless games being so popular here (and again, these games are being run because those are the games players chose to play the most) sponsorship has tended to be suppressed in recent years. (Anyway, the sponsored prizes I've acquired over the years have been pretty much universally useless to me, as they have always been books for games I don't play outside of cons.)

  13. Travis
    "No, speaking as a writer and a writer wrangler, I firmly believe that the way many of us run our games for as many players as want to participate has nothing to do with requirements or pressure from the orgs."

    Very different thought process right there. But I would have to disagree, I did feel in my first time running at Pheno, pressured to run a single game "as many times as possible".

    But it is a cultural difference, over here at Kapcon we don't tend to identify our GMs (and don't use the word "writers") in any particular way - and while certain GMs have a following, it is nowhere near as pronounced as the followings I have seen at Pheno. I guess because of the variety of GMs that are on offer over the course of Kapcon - you could have a few years between playing in the game by the same GM.

    Finally, we like our GMs to play games as well, in fact, we like them to play more games than they GM games at the 'con. I feel that this gives the GM a "break", but also helps them build a better game as they are more aware of the challenges the players face as players, and more aware of the demands that players have for types and qualities of games.

  14. @ Travis - my experience is with Canberra and Sydney cons, so between us we're good :)

    @Greg - Good idea!

    @Dan - I agree that GMs need to experience what other GMs have to offer. Speaking personally, I like to GM one year, play the next as a way of covering that. But I know of many GMs who like to run all they can.

  15. For example, I like to run all I can!

    That said, the cross-pollination is important. I try to chase up interesting or well-reviewed games post-con. A tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside was "Pheno reloaded", a weekend where the GMs could play each other's games. While a lot of us are involved in playtesting, sometimes it's nice to experience the polished product.

  16. Dan, if you felt pressured *by the orgs* - do take careful note of that part of what I said - that's something you should definitely take up with Ingrid. Handling that sort of stuff at Pheno is her role. I don't think you'd find many other writers prepared to agree with your assessment of how she has handled this, though. In fact I've got another window open showing her email from 2008 - that would be the year you first ran, right? - asking how many times we were prepared to run and stating that a tabletop runs, on the average, five times. (I wouldn't call five sessions nearly all con anyway.)

    If you just generally felt pressured to run too many times, that's something you need to look into yourself about. You'd have to identify where those feelings are really coming from.

    I've been involved in a number of discussions with other writers (sometimes as a wrangler, sometimes just as a fellow writer) concerning how many times they have been prepared to run games. Arcanacon frequently has games offered on schedules like every second session or the two middle sessions of the day, and said schedules are always set by writers who, for various reasons, don't wish to run their games 13 times. We've discussed strategies to prevent burnout, strategies to allow GMs to play other games they are interested in. Some writers specifically run games at certain cons and not other cons so that they get plenty of chances to play. I've even had discussions with potential co-writers concerning a potential game which would be especially harsh on one of the two required GMs in any given session, about how to alternate GMing duties to prevent either GM being hurt by the game.

  17. Just to chime in here; A direct quote from an unnamed SRGA con org re; SydCon "We're happy for our GMs not to run every session. Ideally we'd like to run at least 2/3 of the con"

    To me, this is indicative of why I'm less inclined to attend Sydney Cons. By asking GMs to run for 2/3 of a con it's hard to play with friends who are GMs and it reduces the pool of available games by discouraging those who have limited schedules of when they'd like to run.

  18. I'm interested in asking you a question Travis - so you see I don't have a problem running games all cons (I do it regularly and prefer running to playing), but I do not particularly like running the same game over and over again during a con.
    In your anti-burnout strategies in your other discussions, have you considered thinking about allowing GMs to run different games each session?

  19. (Bear in mind, anti-burnout discussions have all been as a fellow writer, not as writer wrangler. I've only been Arc writer wrangler for a year, and that question did not arise in the lead-up to the last Arc.)

    Not as a mechanism to combat burn-out, no. Running multiple games adds to GM prep load, rather than easing the burden, so it isn't generally a viable strategy for that scenario. Bear in mind, here, that the objective has been to meet the demand for a game or to limit the demand to a level that can be met (or both in combination) without destroying the GM, rather than to maximise the number of sessions a particular person will run.

    If you prefer to run and prefer running multiple games over the course of a convention, and wish to attempt such at an Australian con, my suggestion would be to get together with a group of like-minded GMs. If you have a team of three GMs, bring three games and each run each game twice, that's six sessions of each game (which is likely to meet the demand) and you get to run three different games.

    But do bear in mind that players in Melbourne and Canberra have gotten used to very finely crafted scenarios. Don't assume you can do all the writing yourself, put a third of the prep time into each of your three games, let your friends just GM, and have your games receive acclamation from the Pheno, Arc or Conquest crowds. I don't know, you might be able to pull it off, but by the same token you might not. Depends on the type of game and the amount of prep work you generally do.

    (I have written multiple games for a single con myself in the past - a freeform called The Trial of Lucifer, a systemless multiform called One Minute To Midnight, and a systemless Red Dwarf tabletop co-written with a friend called The Smeg It Is. I ran The Trial in one session, One Minute in four sessions, and my co-writer ran Smeg four times, I think, but I still haven't ever run that game because we agreed that he was better suited to running it than me.)

  20. As I typically write freeforms, I don't have any difficulties getting a chance to experience other writers' games. I, too, agree that this is a good idea, but even if I weren't running freeforms, I wouldn't find this hard because I attend several conventions each year, and don't try to write for all of them. (Now I have to fit in orging duties again, but the principle still applies.)

    Also, when I have run team games, I've never been as popular as the most popular writers of such events. Running five sessions at an 11 session con still leaves six sessions to play. As for those whose games are so popular as to necessitate running nine or more sessions at Pheno, if they do so several years in a row, they are obviously doing something right despite the limited opportunities to play, so I can't say there is a problem there.

  21. Rachel,
    I read that quote as a statement that you can run your game as little or as much as you like. Why do you read it as an expectation that you run a game for 2/3 of the con? The org stating -their- ideal situation is not a requirement that you do it.

  22. Personally I think we're talking here about the overall feel, culture and outlook of a 'con. This may manifest through specific communications from a 'con organiser, via a website BB or blog, or through interactions with other GM's and players before, during and after a 'con - online or otherwise.

    If a 'con wants to grow, it should be looking constantly at these fora and deciding if it's current communications are sufficiently welcoming, take into account what new GM's might want, and specifically how they invite new people to participate - or whether the bulk of such communication is aimed largely at exisiting 'con goers.

    Once you're actively involved with running 'cons or regularly running games at them, it can be easy and dangerous to assume that your experience is representative of every potential 'con goer.

  23. Speaking personally, I -want- to run as many sessions as possible. The idea of running just one or two sessions a con - what's the point? I can run a game once or twice with my friends without going to a con. You run for ten people, they're not going to be able to share that experience with anyone, they're not going to create a shared frame of reference for working out what did and did not work.

    I ran The Heist at Pheno 10 in 10 out of 11 sessions, which was too many, and ran Every Body Else at Pheno 11 in 6 out of 11 sessions, and that second mix seemed to be about right as I got the benefit of running a game into the ground but still got to play a couple of other games. But any game I submit, I expect to run as many sessions as there is demand for.

  24. @Greg I like to run as many sessions as I can. My feeling is that I have worked hard to produce something I'm proud of and would like to see it come to fruition as many times as possible. However, having said that in speaking with other writers I know there's a strong desire to run only a few times or only once. If as Dan says in cons where the expectation is to run as often as you want and GMs still run multiple times, I reckon there's a need for both limited runs and full on ones.

    @Dan - Do you know the trend in NZ (while fully realising speaking for an entire country is somewhat hubris, but hey I just did it)? Are con goers trending up or down? From my conversations cons are heading in both directions in Oz (depending on which one we're talking about)

    @Rachel - do you reckon they try to cover this by increasing the number of games on offer? I don't know how many people turn up to Sydcon, so I don't know whether the nubmer of games is telling...

  25. Dale, who is "we"? Because when I talk about a culture, I use the term "culture"; when I talk a general feel, I say "general feel"; and when I say "con orgs", I mean con orgs.

    Really, the biggest part of a person's emotional response to a great many situations is what they bring into those situations themselves. Our own expectations play a big part.

    And I think it is important to separate out the true sources of our views. Have the con orgs been pushing people to run more sessions than they should run? Are other writers pushing people to run too much? Are writers pushing themselves too hard in an attempt to keep up with GMs who run a dozen sessions without blinking? Or is it perhaps just that some people are looking in from the outside and assuming

    Because if the orgs are pushing writers too hard, there's something to be done about it, and if it is peer pressure we can all work to reduce it, but if the issue is just an I'll-informed assumption, what we should be doing is telling that person to sod off so we can get down to dealing with the real issues.

    And we can ascertain these things, often, at least in part. There are facts to be had. For example... Dan, you talked about feeling pressured to run your game many times, but you didn't say how many times you actually ran your game. My research indicates that you are probably referring to your running of a seven-player tabletop game, yes? So, how many times did you run it?

    Because when a game is running only a few times, you really couldn't claim that the orgs should be searching for ways to ease the burden of running it.

  26. @Travis - I like your point about the possible different sources of the push to run all con. I think it an important point to note within that the differences between the expectations of a writer or player before con on how many times a game will be run and the actual reality - which is unknown in the con formats we're talking about. I'd suggest in the Melbourne cons, there is a difference between the number of times a GM offers a game and the number of times it fills, but I think that a lesser version of the same expectation issue.

    Really, the biggest part of a person's emotional response to a great many situations is what they bring into those situations themselves. Our own expectations play a big part.

  27. We should also be aware that writers have at least some ability to manage their commitments.

    For Melbourne cons, writers can log in to AON at any time during the lead-up to the con and check who is signed up to play in which sessions. We can see whether sessions are filling quickly, and perhaps open more sessions if we want to accommodate more players, or if we are getting only a trickle of players we can close sessions so that further sign-ups are channelled into a smaller number of sessions so that we get closer to complete groups. We can plan our playing schedules around the sessions, and if we close a session can then modify our schedules to play in that session instead, or if we want to find space to run another session, we can choose which game to drop out of. We can even send messages to players asking them whether they can change schedules to "bunch up". (Though, some of this functionality may require org intervention - I forget the exact restrictions, but I think there are some around opening and closing sessions. But the orgs are generally happy to help.)

    For Pheno, because the scheduling is manual, we have to work off the reports that Ingrid sends out. She does this a couple of times each year. This year, I noted that I wasn't getting a lot of players entering my game, so I responded by signing up to play an extra couple of sessions.

    It's not like we commit ourselves to running the entire con and aren't allowed to sign up to play anything, all under conditions of complete information blackout. We start with a rough idea of our commitment, we get partial feedback as we go, and we have at least some opportunity to respond to the information we do get.

  28. @Jacinta "Do you know the trend in NZ? "

    NZ congoers have generally risen over the last 10 years, although not by much (from about 80 regular attendees to 130 regular attendees at Kapcon). More regional cons like Buckets of Dice, Magecon are more dependent on the local organisers and their peer group and what they have done throughout the year to promote - so any given year they may have lots (30-40) or none (con didn't run).

    But cons not dependant on the Uni crowd (fright night, Confusion and Day of Games) tend to have an increasing number of attendees.

  29. @Travis - inadvertantly you have highlighted one of the major differences in con "style" between the kiwi style and the Aussie style that I have overlooked. So thank you.

    By this I mean answering your question "referring to your running of a seven-player tabletop game, yes? So, how many times did you run it?" - I only ran it five times.

    However, in running it five times I became more tired, or more "burnt out" than I would've by running a different game *each game* five or more times.

    Both you have Jacinta have talked about having pride in something you have created, which doesn't resonate with me - not at least with RPGs anyways. I never feel (and have never felt) a sole pride in a game I have facilitated. I can have pride in how a game run, but that pride is shared with the players at the game when it was run, so its not my pride. And while I prepped the game and all that, I feel (when as a GM) just one part of the overall machine (with players) that makes the game memoriable or to be prideful about.

    I guess, my strategy in combating a possible crap game is to run as many different games as I can - different styles, different methods, different stories. Because the creative juices in my head don't work the same each and every time - so each same game will just be shadow of another same game. Whereas, each individual game is allowed to, and will shine in its own right.

    Is this clear?

  30. Dan, neither Jacinta nor I said we don't share our pride in our games with our players. Anyone who has listened to the writers talk about their games at post-cons knows they (typically) do. Please don't misrepresent my statements that way (and if you are unsure about whether you are about to misrepresent something, the thing to do is ask, not state). And if this is the difference in style of which you speak, I believe you are quite incorrect.

    How you avoid crap games is your own issue to address. The rest of us have our own strategies (which vary from one writer to the next). Some of us, as noted above, are quite happy to run the same basic scenario many times, and yet I think Jacinta, Stu and Greg (who have all stated that they run their games as much as they can because they want to) would all agree that we aren't generally running into problems with one session being "just a shadow" of any other. Your needs here don't reflect on anybody else's style.

    Now, getting back to my question... You ran five times at an eleven session convention. This makes it obvious that you were not pressured to run almost every session - you couldn't have even if you had wanted to, as you didn't have enough players sign up. You had six sessions free to play, and since some cons offer as few as eight sessions total (Sydney, I'm gazing in your direction) it'd be rather a stretch to suggest that six sessions is too few to get an opportunity to play and stay in touch with the hobby as a player. Since that is right on the typical number of times that the writer wrangler informed us all we might expect a game to run, it's not like you were not given an opportunity to prepare for this.

    That's how observable facts intersect with your described experiences. Perhaps some other writers could claim that these factors were serious problems, but not you.

    So what it really comes down to is that you, personally, are not comfortable running a single scenario five times. Now, you can't claim that the orgs should be organising the con to accommodate you there - they've got a dozen or so other writers who want to run their scenarios at least five times each, and can't know that you are different when you haven't told them. (And you didn't ask Ingrid about this limitation on entries to your event, did you?) You also can't expect other writers to run less games so that you aren't out of place - they are generally running in the fashion they wish to. And 35 players signed up for the game under the current system, which doesn't really indicate a lack of willingness to play in this environment.

    And I don't see that your preference really speaks to anything more than your preference. There are already ways to shape your experience of Australian cons more to your liking (limiting the number of times you run a particular scenario yourself, for example, or, better, organising a GMing group consisting of like-minded GMs) and you have not chosen to use them. In the meantime, nobody else should be doing things other than what they want just to accommodate your if it sacrifices their own experience of the con.

  31. Travis said: "Now, getting back to my question... You ran five times at an eleven session convention. This makes it obvious that you were not pressured to run almost every session"

    There is not necessarily any correlation between actual runs and pressure to run. To state otherwise is to make assumptions without actual evidence...

    Travis said: "it'd be rather a stretch to suggest that six sessions is too few to get an opportunity to play and stay in touch with the hobby as a player."

    This seems to be based on an assumption of 100% attendance at the 'con, and again is entirely based on your assumptions about what is both reasonable and desriable...

  32. Anonyous, read the rest of that sentence you cut off half way. Dan did not and could not run almost every session. How could he possibly have been pressured to do so? You'd be correct about the lack of necessity for correlation in general, but not in this specific case. It's like a kid claiming his friends had pressured him into smoking when none of them even had a cigarette.

    And again, with your second objection, you should read the entire sentence. Any factors that limit the ability to make use of the 11 sessions of Pheno also applies to the 8 sessions of at least one Sydney con (and the defunct Brisbane cons). Are we going to assume that Sydcon GMs are out of touch with the hobby after running a mere two sessions?

    Of course it is possible that Dan has unusual needs in this regard again, but if so, we are back to his preference not reflecting on anything other than his preference.

  33. Travis said: "How could he possibly have been pressured to do so?"

    1. Did Dan know before he submitted his game how many sessions he would be required to run?

    2. Did he know before playtesting how many sessions he would be required to run?

    3. Did he know before the first day how many sessions he would be required to run?

    4. Has Dan outlined ALL communications between himself and the 'con organisers in these posts, including personal verbal interactions?

    5. Did Dan have other communications with other GM's or others who could reasonably represent the established in-group of GM's at the 'con that led him to feel pressured to?

    6. How does Dan interpret pressure - you may assume that others don't feel pressure in the same way he does. I may asume that others don't feel pressure the same way you do. To make a claim about what Dan FELT, unless you're Dan, is flawed. To make a claim about what Dan SHOULD have felt seems unreasonable unless you are in possession of all of the information - which seems unlikely given the limits of this form of communication. As communication is 2 ways if at any time, either party feels pressured, or any other negative emotion, surely BOTH sides should examine their pre-conceptions and the underlying objectives of the communication?

    Dan wanted to run a game - presumably he's okay with not running games as he didn't again this year and has mentioned other 'cons which he attends. The 'con wanted a GM to run games - presumably the 'con doesn't feel the need to cater for new GM's pre-conceptions in their initial communications?

    Travis said: "Any factors that limit the ability to make use of the 11 sessions of Pheno also applies to the 8 sessions of at least one Sydney con (and the defunct Brisbane cons). Are we going to assume that Sydcon GMs are out of touch with the hobby after running a mere two sessions?"

    Both the Melbourne 'cons you have mentioned and presumably the Sydney 'cons seem to allow you to opt into running as many games as you want. The 'con Dan describes seems to require you to opt out of running as many games as they require. These seem like different approaches, which are likely to make people feel differently.

  34. Midnight in Canberra, and people are wrong on the internet. Heh.

    Keep it civil, folks, and keep it informative. Or interesting. Or fun. At best, keep it not boring, hey?

  35. Anonymous, you've done an awful lot of writing about how Dan might have felt pressured. However, there is a difference between feeling pressured and being pressured; a difference between what somebody feels and what feelings others are responsible for.

    I haven't said anything about what Dan felt, nor about what he should have felt. I have written only about how the statements concerning writers being pressured to run almost every session of Pheno compare to the observable facts.

    And yes, the con orgs should examine their communications, but the first part of that examination should be much like what I've done, and if the facts don't show up an external problem, the con orgs should ignore .

    Because as I said, the most common cause of feelings is the person experiencing them, and the con orgs can't change Dan directly. With neither evidence of a factual problem nor concrete suggestions that can reasonably be expected to improve matters for the community as a whole, there is no action for them to take.

    By the way, you are presuming an awful lot. You do realise that others here are familiar with the communications in question, because we received exactly the same communications? (We were all on the same mailing list, as writers that year.) If Dan had other communications that were at odds with those the rest of us have seen, I am sure he is capable of bringing them up so the facts can be seen and dealt with. If they aren't in evidence, the proper assumption is that the ones we do know about are representative.

    All of the cons in question ask GMs to state limits on how many teams they will accept into their events before rego opens. The only difference is in the medium of the communication. (Email vs web form.) For the record, I have mentioned three Melbourne cons, not two, and all three of them use the same rego system. I do not speak to the system used by any Sydney con, as I have not attended any.

  36. Whoops, forgot to finish a sentence there. "... should ignore the complaint in favour of getting on with the business of running the con."

  37. There's a comment I wrote that disappeared there. It showed up on my iPad just after I posted (which is how I noticed the incomplete sentence) but not now. Is that another spam filtering, or something else?

    (I'm not trying to be disruptive with any of this, BTW. There's an important point I'm trying to get across, about how a person's emotions are not necessarily an indication that anything should be done/fixed/altered by anybody else - con orgs or other writers in particular, here. That often, for a person to stop feeling something negative, the only way for that to be achieved is for that person to change something, often something about himself or herself.)

  38. @travis - Found it down the back of the couch :) Not sure how it got there, but its back again now.

    My only other comment is that I don't believe Dan is alone in his perception. So, I think a wider solution might be needed on some kind of expectation management thing.

  39. @Dan - I think you might be underselling the case there Dan; Kapcon has increased attendence by almost 200% since 2001 (2001= 55, 2011=150+).

    Chimera (the LARP or theatreform live action roleplaying 'con) increased player numbers by at least 20% since last year, and tickets were sold-out online within thirty minutes of going live.

    As you point out other, smaller, Wellington 'cons have remained fairly static, although I believe Hydra (the Wellington LARP 'con) will debut next year, and the advent of almost monthly one-off theatreform games in both Wellington and Auckland for 30-50 players seems to be going strong. However, I understand there are other Auckland multi-event 'cons like Battlecry which are struggling to get numbers.

    In short, the NZ 'cons are on the rise, fuelled largely by the burgeoning interest in LARP's - whether this increase continues, or is sustainable, remains to be seen.

    FWIW and somewhat on topic of the last posts,I attribute the growth of Kapcon almost exclusively to the positive experience of 'con goers who have a great time, then go home and tell their own gaming groups about it.

    Eventually such a reputation reaches a critical mass, and people are willing to *make* time to attend the 'con almost irrespective of other plans or events (something that the smaller Wellington 'cons have yet to achieve). Without such a positive reputation, I doubt Kapcon would have grown nearly as much over the last decade.

  40. Yes, I think it's true that GMs need to keep playing convention games to get better as GMs.

    I also believe that running the same game over and over again for different sets of players will also greatly improve GM skills, as every group of players will approach the scenario differently, and a lot can be learned from the variations. This has been true in my personal experience, anyway.

    So I think it's good to play at some cons, and run a lot at others...

    I spend from 20 to 40 hours writing and playtesting a game for five players. To only run it for one or two sessions of 3 hours each does not seem worth the effort.

  41. Jacinta, even if a number of people feel pressured to run almost every session of Pheno, any wider solution still has to deal with the facts. The analysis I have been doing would still have to be done before the orgs could implement a solution, unless they wish to flail around in the darkness and hope their flailing does something helpful.

    Frankly, I think con orgs in general have bigger fish to fry than this sort of thing, at least while there is no practical suggestion to address such issues. (And a general "Spend time writing in our forums," doesn't count. I've watched Pheno people do this for several years now, and have yet to see any noticeable effect on anyone's attitude. Nor does "Make your current crop of writers run games the way I want to," because as a writer, I would be quite a bit less than receptive myself.)

  42. Hi folks, Pheno org here. I think Dan's main point was that he felt pressured to offer a single game, rather than multiple games as he would have preferred.

    (Dan, please correct me if I'm wrong, and it was the amount of runs that was at issue).

    Now I'm just going from memory, but I think there's some truth to that. Dan did offer a few games, and was encouraged to go with just one game that first year, and offer more in future years if things went well (which, to my knowledge, things did).

    Clearly this stems from differing expectations, perhaps differing cultures, and doesn't suit Dan's preferred style, as he's said. But for a new to-the-con writer, I don't think it was an unreasonable suggestion/request.

  43. Shane, that summary would seem to match fairly well with what Dan has been saying. Again, note that I haven't been saying that Dan wasn't pressured to run a single game more than he was comfortable with, just that there's nothing to suggest that he was (not felt, was) pressured to run a single game "nearly every session". Or anybody else, for that matter, as it is important to realise that Dan is simply the example at hand, not somebody we want to pick on concerning this.

    Anyway, the two are different problems, and would require different solutions. It is important to be clear what problem is being addressed, or solutions aren't likely to work.

    I'm not sure how Pheno could best address the needs of writers who want to run only a very small number of a given game (barring radical reform of the system). At a Melbourne con, it'd be easier to do, as the sessions in which a game is offerred is set before entries are permitted. The writer would just offer the game in only a single session (or two sessions, or whatever). For Pheno, if Dan offerred to run a five-player game exactly once, odds are that the scheduler would have to select four teams to miss out on playing that game. And if Dan was the sole GM for five different games, each run exactly once, you could well wind up having to do the same thing five times over.

    Not that I'd suggest changing your system to accommodate. You've got good reasons to do things the way you do at the moment, and you can't accommodate Dan while messing up the things 20 other writers want from you.

    Even in Melbourne, Dan would have to accept some compromises. Arc most likely wouldn't give him trophies on the same basis as other events, and for most events I allow considerably more blurb customisation than Pheno does and I'd not be willing to go to as great an effort for Dan. Basically, expect support commeasurate with the benefit you bring to the con and the players.

    As I've mentioned before, some writers who don't want to run a game repeatedly may be best off teaming up with other GMs - sharing the load of a repeating game, or a GOD format, or maybe someone has another idea.

  44. Yep, I wasn't speaking to the run-more-than-I-want pressure which you've been addressing. Had nothing to add :) I'm keen to hear more from Dan or another GM who had that experience, so we can improve.

    I can say what we'd do in your hypothetical, cos we've done it. When a person wants to run a limited number of times or for a limited number of people, we handle it through the rego system - just closing their game off and making it unselectable when that number is reached, with an explanatory note.

    This happens most years with the RPGA and pathfinder 'interactives' which are fixed size tournaments, and to a lesser degree the wargames ditto. It also happens with occasional team games or freeforms.

    Contrary to what has been said upthread, number of signups is not the first nor the guiding factor.

  45. I'd agree with a few of the other comments here that this really just a description of Pheno. Briscon, the Toowoomba Gaming Club's con (not sure if it still runs), The Big Weekend and GenCon all ran slightly differently. Games might have been run more than once, but Pheno is the only place that I've seen a GM run their game every session of the con. Pheno is also the only place that I've seen multiple GMs running the same game.

    I've also been to Con's where tabletops did not all get their own rooms. D&D and similar "hack and slash adventure" type games have been run with many tables in a hall, similar to minatures wargames. And I've seen other tabletop games run in booths set up with dividers in a shared hall too.

    Banquets and whole of con parties/drinking sessions vary wildly from con to con. Generally I think that explicitly shared social time (like a banquet or official party) adds a lot to the atmosphere and community feel of the con and should be encouraged. But it's certainly not done everywhere.

  46. I don't recall a Queensland con where somebody did run a game for the entire convention, but a lot of games were made available during all sessions at Briscons, and there were one or two cases of a game running in every session (just not with the same GM in every session). There were also a number of cases where writers had additional GMs to run the same game. (I was the scheduler for Briscon for a couple of years, and wrote games for Briscon as well - including one game that had a second GM and was available every session of the con, but didn't actually run every session.)

    In that regard, The Big Weekend ran very similarly to Briscon. In fact, I offered a game every session of The Auran Big Weekend, and every session bar one of The Big Weekend. (The con changed names slightly due to sponsorship changes.) The bar one is because I was running a different game, a large freeform, in that one session.

    The Toowoomba Gaming Club's con was called Ozcon. It seems to have disappeared in the early years of the last decade.

    GenCon Oz was a significant departure from all the norms for cons in South-East Queensland. It was based on the model of its parent con, and pretty much any time GenCon differed from an Australian con, GenCon Oz followed the lead of its parent con, as far as I could tell.


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