How do you know what you are getting?
Posted by jpaulus594

Greetings fellow Genconers!  I and four close friends attended Gencon for the second time this year.  Our first year we came up for just one day, and scheduled no events in advance.  As such we spent all of our time doing demos and perusing the vendor hall.  This year we came for two days, and scheduled 2 events on each day.  We have gone from 1 extreme of not scheduling anything to another of over scheduling ourselves in the day.  Moving forward I think we will be a little more judicious in how we schedule our time, but to be frank, we are a little gun shy about how to move forward.  The reason for the apprehension is that we had a mixed bag of experiences from the GMs running the games we signed up for.  While there as a group we played (not every player participated in every session):

-A Call of Cthulu game the player said was one of the worst RP experiences of his life.

-A Pulp Cthulu game where the GM had never run Pulp before and had admitted to barely skimming the rules.  The session played as a regular Cthulu game and was not as advertised.

-A L5R game that was run well, no complaints.

-A Shadowrun game that was well run mechanically, but the collective agreement from the table was that it was boring, anticlimactic and felt as though we were playing a game of "guess what the GM is thinking".

-We participated in NASCRAG where we were impressed with the overall organization and handouts but the game was advertised as Pathfinder 1st edition, and it clearly was not.  It was based on Pathfinder.  On top of that our GM did a good job of being engaging with the box text and getting us through the adventure, but was dead pan through the rest of it.  I personally was OK with our GM, but the other 3 people in our group were not.

-A Star Trek game that ended up being the highlight of the weekend, by far our best gaming experience.  However, that is because the GM of the Star Trek game had a friend step in for him to run the game.  The guy that was supposed to GM the adventure admitted he had not read the adventure he was supposed to run.  He ended up playing in the game with us instead of running it.  It became clear within the first 30 minutes he did not understand even the basics of the Star Trek system.  I am thankful that he abdicated to his friend who provided us with a great experience, but it illustrated clearly how differently that experience could have gone.

I post this with the hope of getting some guidance on how to better schedule events next year if possible, particularly with finding quality games/GMs.  I think we are planning on trying to extend our trip to include Thursday next year.  I doubt we will schedule ourselves to do two role playing sessions each day of the event we are there.  But one friend in particular is considering not going whatsoever after his experience this year, and if he does go doubts it will be worth it to schedule any games.  I know that our experience is just one among many.  I am certain  there are people out there who came away with several game sessions that were the highlight of their gaming careers, I just want to be able to improve our Gencon experience next year if possible.

Thank you and have a great day.

Posted by skilletaudio

Well, you never know. Sometimes the random GM is your best experience ever, sometimes a working employee of a company that MAKES the game hasnt read it and is covering for someone and halfasses a game into a glorified roll-and-hit because he doesnt know any actual rules (happened to me 2 years ago and completely soured me on an entire system).

I will say - I've never had a bad game of Kobolds (only GMs who like kobolds run kobolds) and the GMs from Goodman Games are quality GMs and are working under the auspice of the company. YMMV is a tough proposition, but it is the reality.

I'd say, measure your scheduling against how much fun you have in the dealer hall. I do not have fun wandering the dealer hall, going to a table and seeing its full, shoulder surfing then being offered a demo for a game I dont care about. I do 100% scheduled events, and theres a certain amount of arbitraty guessing about whether I "trust" the event. But for me, personally, a few misses is worth the hits because the alternative (wandering around) is not fun for me.


Posted by rutherfordr

Honestly, it's a matter of trial and error.

Here's my thought process for this - maybe it will help:

There's only so much time available at the show to do the things I want, and I only have so much energy to put into the events (for me, it's one or two per day, with nothing scheduled on Sunday).

So over the past several years (through trial and error), I've narrowed my events down to the kinds of convention games I like: LARPs, because there's lots of roleplaying and storytelling, and no dice-rolling. My regular weekly gaming group doesn't do roleplaying of any kind, so this is an annual treat for me.

And after trying a bunch of LARPs, I've prioritized the people who IMO do a fantastic job running them (BYOV, for example).

Everything else is secondary. If I can fit in a seminar or board game that I'm interested in, so much the better, but if not, I'm still doing what I like to do best.

And that's the key to it all, really. Focus on what you like to do best, and do it. Remember the people who did a great job, and sign up for their games next year.

Posted by rutherfordr

One more thing: You may find that the cost of a ticket is an indicator of the quality of the event.

There's no consistent correlation between cost and quality, and you can certainly find some high-priced events that really didn't work out.

However, I've found that the quality of the events with minimum-cost tickets is far more likely to be hit-or-miss.

Posted by jpaulus594

Right, you get what you pay for.  And my guess would be you are largely correct, but that would not inform our experience this year well.

L5R was good, $4
COC was not good, $8
COC Pulp was not good, $8
Shadowrun was not good, $8
NASCRAG was good, and we got the deluxe version, $16.  The non deluxe version was $8.  The only thing I can tell we got for the extra $8 was a pin they handed out at the beginning of the session.  Maybe I missed something, but I felt like the "deluxe" experience was a wasted $8.  That being said, at $8 NASCRAG would have been well worth it.  Their production value was extremely high, we were all impressed with that.
Star Trek was good, $4, but had the GM switch not occurred this easily could have been the worst session of the weekend instead of the best.

So I take your point that the price may be a guide, but it would have steered us down the wrong direction this time around.

It may end up becoming something that gets abused, or manipulated, but I wish there was some sort of a rating/ranking/feedback system for game groups/GMs, etc.  Something that we could use as a guide to help us steer towards quality games.  It is just a bummer to pay for a pass to Gencon, then pay for tickets to play in games and then have it be a dud.

Posted by brotherbock jpaulus594

jpaulus594 wrote:
  It is just a bummer to pay for a pass to Gencon, then pay for tickets to play in games and then have it be a dud.

It is. I unfortunately don't have any advice for being able to pre-judge the quality, other than coming to places like this and asking around. I've been attending GC for a lot of years, and when I was still playing a lot of games from people I didn't know (these days, I am mostly a player in games written/run by people I know personally), I just had to build a list. Have a bad experience, file that away, same for a good experience. After that, you can find the good GMs and stick with them of course. But that doesn't work for those times when you're trying to try new things :)

You might consider for some events swinging by earlier events run by that GM and observing for a few minutes. Are the players having fun? If not, if the GM doesn't know the game, players are bored, etc, maybe consider not going later.

Posted by nscott

There are different ways games get offerred and that can play a role as well. True independent GM’s typically are just running two or three events during the convention. There are gaming groups who submit a number of events, there are companies that submit events and then find there own GM’s and there are companies that outsource their games to an event management company. True independents will often not have a group affiliation in the event listing but do have their name listed as the GM. They are typically running something they know and love. Groups like Nascrag who are doing one type of game generally have a lot of QC for their events. The company games can be some of the most variable. Watch social media ahead of time and if you see them desperately trying to round up GM’s in the weeks right before the con then you might want to be concerned. Someone who is signed up just to get a badge is often unfamiliar with the system they are supposed to be running. Same goes for a group looking for GM’s. But as always this is just my opinion.

Posted by brotherbock

I'd generally agree with nscott--the bigger companies paying people (by giving them badges) to GM will be the most hit or miss. I think the key is that there are two ways of being bad.

The first is not knowing the game. The larger gaming groups (not selling anything other than the games) can vary depending on the GMs, of course. But there, you are likely still to find people doing it because they love it. The individual GMs are almost guaranteed to know the game (although maybe the house rules will be more common).

The second way a GM can be bad is by knowing the game but, well...just being bad :) If we're talking about GMs who only want to gush on and on about their worlds, or railroad you while you watch their NPCs fight each other--well, that's almost always the individual GMs in my opinion. Larger groups might not let someone GM if they get bad feedback, and the company-paid GMs won't be that invested. Most individual GMs are not like this, but when you do get away :)

Posted by glory

It stinks when you get a dud at Gen Con - but the way I look at it is that Gen Con is only 4 days long. So if I'm not having fun at a game, I leave. If you've got a handful of generics, you can always find something else to do. 

In 16 years, I've only had to leave a game a couple of times, but the times I did I either put that company or that GM on my "do not play list" and moved on. 

When event lists come out, I filter out those GMs and simply pretend like their events do not exist.

On the other hand, when I find a GM that is amazing I make it a point of putting their games on my wish list the next year. I've made some great friends this way and look forward to certain games every year since I know that person will be running. It's worked out rather well for me. 

Posted by rutherfordr nscott

nscott wrote:
There are different ways games get offered, and that can play a role as well.

This is true. Up until this year, Gen Con bestowed a "Premier Event Group" title to groups who have had at least 60 players, and consistently sold out all of their events. The idea was that if they're selling all those tickets, and didn't receive a lot of complaints, they must be doing something right.

I've used that status as a way to judge whether or not to try a new game, and it has worked out pretty well. Gen Con plans to replace the title with something new, but I haven't seen it yet.

Posted by jpaulus594

Thank you rutherford!  That is a very helpful tip.  With Gencon removing that title and not yet replacing it, do you know of anywhere that does keep a list of the groups that met that criteria.  That seems like a very useful first pass at picking events.

Posted by rutherfordr

Check out this thread:

Posted by brotherbock jpaulus594

jpaulus594 wrote:
Thank you rutherford!  That is a very helpful tip.  With Gencon removing that title and not yet replacing it, do you know of anywhere that does keep a list of the groups that met that criteria.  That seems like a very useful first pass at picking events.

Premier Gaming Groups was a pretty handy tag, although it had a few issues. We (BYOV) lost our status for one year after we decided to have a post-game concert as a ticketed event--ticketed but free, IIRC. Brought in a band and bar and everything. Had no idea how many people to expect, so I think we offered up several hundred tickets. When it was more like several dozen people, we took a huge hit on our percentages of tickets sold vs tickets offered. Even though it wasn't one of our 'games', our numbers dropped, and we lost Premier status for the following year. :/ Got it back the next year when all we ran was games again. Just a small hiccup. It also didn't take no-shows into account. A game sells out before the Con, is still sold-out during the Con, but then people no-show (who knows why...tired, their ride was leaving, etc). Premier status was based on how many tickets you collected, not sold. So in some ways the status was out of the GMs hands.

But that aside, it was all in all a pretty handy indicator. Groups that upset players and didn't sell out for those reasons, or no-showed for their own games, didn't make the list. Scanning through the list each year, the groups I have had personal experience with that were on the list were all good groups.

Posted by gcbrowni

jpaulus594, you need to put me in touch with your "Worst CoC game ever" person; I think my son and I were in that game also.

An RPG not run by a group, but by an individual, with have a higher percentage chance that person does not suck and is invested int the game and/or system, for personal reasons. 

Both my "upcharge" games this year (including the CoC game) were poor also, and both were run by premier groups. Games run by groups, Learn to Play/Introductory games all have a higher percentage chance of being poor experiences, based on my GenCon experiences over the last couple of decades. Some of the specialized large groups (Goodman, some Cthulhu-only groups) can be exceptions, but that's a trial and error thing.

Posted by mu skulls frank

I'd recommend you write down who your favorite GMs were and look for their names next year. I run for the MU Skulls and I have players that specifically look for my games at registration and that's true of the other GMs as well. Their players just want to play in their games not just in any MU Skulls game because they connect with that GM's personal style. By history our group is a cliche in that I was disappointed with the game offerings at Gen Con (for many of the same reasons you and everyone else was) so I started running games myself and I recruited players that I really liked to run a few games for us. Our group is kept small for quality assurance reasons (and we may all be too demented to associate with others). Philosophically, we're against upcharging events with the goal of providing an excellent convention RPG game within the standard convention parameters. Our LARP has an add on fee to cover incidentals which is pretty standard. We also run at other local (to us) conventions and playtest our games online.

Posted by brotherbock gcbrowni

gcbrowni wrote:
An RPG not run by a group, but by an individual, with have a higher percentage chance that person does not suck and is invested int the game and/or system, for personal reasons. 

I agree that the individual GM is more likely to be committed and invested. Unfortunately, what that sometimes brings with it is the railroad of 'watch my powerful NPCs act out a scenario I have planned' or 'listen to my 45 minute lecture about my world's politics'. That particular problem is more prevalent with individuals, and less with the hired GM. I wouldn't say that's a common problem, but when it happens, it's with the super-invested GM :)

I want to jump onto what MU Skulls Frank said as well about smaller groups. We (BYOV) also keep our group small in large part so we can control event quality better, and we also have players who prefer certain of our LARP writers over others. It seems to work. And I'll also say that I have only ever heard good things about MU Skulls from friends and strangers who have played in their games. :)

Posted by tdb

It's always a bit of a roll of the dice *grin*.  Seriously though, even great GM's have bad days, and sometimes the game they're playing doesn't mesh with what the players are ready for.  But I have learned a few things by trial and error (mostly error) that seems to help.

First, take note of the groups (or individuals) that have run good games for you in the past.  Look for their games next year.

Second, do the same for groups that failed you.  Poorly prepared GMs?  GM no-show?  GMPCs?  Railroad plots?  Avoid them next year.

Third, I generally avoid "living campaigns".  I have had some great GM's in some of the games, but too often I got someone who hadn't read the module until they sat down at the table to run it.  Some groups screen their GM's well, some don't.  Take note of not only the quality of your GM, but what players at other tables are saying about theirs, and about the level of organization for the campaign as a whole.  If you're marshaling and you hear the phrase "we'll find a GM for that group" take note - even if it isn't your group (this time).

My luck with independent GM's has been generally very good.  All the really bad GM experiences I had were with GM's working for gaming groups or gaming companies.  I've had some mediocre independent GM's, but mostly they've been quite good.  Maybe I'm just lucky.

Finally, I think system matters somewhat too.  Maybe it's just coincidence, but in general I've had much better GM's for systems that encourage roleplaying than I have for ones that more "crunchy" mechanically.  YMMV, of course.


Posted by brumcg

With RPGs, my experience has been dismal.  I'd call maybe 10% of the events "good" or better.

I've decided that most of that is on me.  I think my expectations are too high for many reasons.  

So my strategy is this:

  • I look for two hour events.  Four hours is too big of a chunk of the con for me to not enjoy something.  Also, I'm not comfortable leaving events that I'm not enjoying.
  • I contact the GM - if possible - ahead of the event.  
  • While I'm looking for fun first, I also look for a secondary objective (like learning a new system).

This year I nothing sounded right, so I didn't have any RPG events.  That was fine.  So much to do!

Posted by mu skulls frank brotherbock

brotherbock wrote:
gcbrowni wrote:=inherit And I'll also say that I have only ever heard good things about MU Skulls from friends and strangers who have played in their games. :)

Aw shucks, thank you very much! And likewise, you folks are legendary!

Posted by quarex

An excellent chance for me to bust out my catchphrase "if you want to spend all your time at Gen-Con gaming, go to Origins."  Obviously there are boundless opportunities for gaming at Gen-Con, but for people like me whose gaming experiences are tied almost entirely to the people I am gaming with, it is not worth the crapshoot of hoping for a good group, even if seemingly most people's experiences are positive, to say nothing of how there is so much going on at the convention besides gaming that I personally do not want to spend any of my precious time actually playing things.  I find it annoying enough when friends want to get lunch; that is prime Exhibit Hall time!!!

So yeah I basically recommend only scheduling games for hours the Exhibit Hall is not open.  Well, and for me personally the Auction schedule is amorphous enough year-over-year that I could not risk missing any particular category by having an overlapping event, though Sundays are safe there.

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