GM training
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Posted by derekguder

From my experience in talking with folks about gaming in general, it seems like one of the biggest hurdles to getting more people to run events (setting aside folks who just flat-out aren't interested at all) is simply confidence.

It can seem like a big thing to take responsibility for the fun of a group of strangers at a con.

The truth is, everyone is at the con to have fun and it'll all work out just fine, usually, but there are definitely a lot of skills new GMs can learn to not only make them better equipped but also more confident in their ability to handle whatever comes up.

Aside from just jumping in and going for it, what are the best ways for new GMs to learn? We could build another list of tips, certainly, but I'm not sure how effective that will ultimately be. I feel like we need something both more structured and hands-on.

Has anyone attended an event that they felt really helped them run events at cons? What was it?

How useful are seminars for this kind of topic?

How appealing would a workshop be? Maybe something where participants can actually run a game for a bit and get immediate feedback from "experts."

Off the top of my head, there are three broad categories of skills GMs could practice:


  • System Mastery: This is just straight-up familiarity with the game itself (and thus doesn't apply to a seminar or some other events). There are ways to mitigate this skill with event labeling and a general culture of "don't argue the rules at the table."
  • Social Management: How to handle a crowd, large or small. Keeping the group on-task and entertained, and knowing how to deal with problematic players that may pop up.
  • Event Structure: The obvious would be how to manage tournaments (What are the different formats, and their strengths & weaknesses?), but also applies to general pacing for RPGs and even board games, if in properly estimating length, if nothing else.

I've been stewing on how to try to organize some official/semi-official "GM Bootcamp" for quite a while now and figured I'd just try to start a conversation about it to see what ideas other folks have.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by nscott

Maybe something as simple as having current GM's check a box indicating a willingness to have a "trainee'" shadow them during their event this year and then allowing shadowing hours to count as a new class of hours for the existing volunteer system? If you feel like you need more of a carrot, hold a drawing for the "trainee" GM's for a badge for the following year if they run an event?

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Posted by lemurtanis

I think a bootcamp is a great idea . . . might even be worth a programming track. I've been to many events at the show as I approach my 20th year of attendance (ulp!) and I can think of many event organizers that could have benefitted from some knowledge sharing. Maybe do separate roundtables (not panels, interactivity is essential!) for different event types, and have some big panel discussions on more general issues like group management.

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Posted by derekguder nscott

nscott wrote:
Maybe something as simple as having current GM's check a box indicating a willingness to have a "trainee'" shadow them during their event this year and then allowing shadowing hours to count as a new class of hours for the existing volunteer system? If you feel like you need more of a carrot, hold a drawing for the "trainee" GM's for a badge for the following year if they run an event?

I don't think this is something that would work well as a check-box on any given event, but it would be a good thing to have as a thread here, I think - either for folks to volunteer to have a shadow and for potential GMs to ask for someone running what they specifically want to observe.


Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by derekguder lemurtanis

lemurtanis wrote:
I think a bootcamp is a great idea . . . might even be worth a programming track. I've been to many events at the show as I approach my 20th year of attendance (ulp!) and I can think of many event organizers that could have benefitted from some knowledge sharing. Maybe do separate roundtables (not panels, interactivity is essential!) for different event types, and have some big panel discussions on more general issues like group management.

Yeah, I've definitely wanted to chat with you about the idea, I think you mentioned you had some thoughts on it before.

I figure it would be a mix of hands-on workshops, general seminars, and would require the buy-in from companies. I would love to see a company step forward and have a seminar & workshop that's basically "Here is how we would like you to run our game at conventions." Gets the skills out - and gives them an opportunity to interact with potential GMs before they might need to actually rely on them to run actual games.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by dgeiken

I am considering running some games at Gen Con but have been rather intimidated by the whole idea.  How does it work and what proceedure do I need to go through to submit games for the con?  Thanks!

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Posted by marimaccadmin

If you go to the first thread in this section, which Derek posted, it has links to all the info you need about how to start running games.

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Posted by derekguder

We've also got a page of tips for new EOs & GMs, so check that out. It should help orient you.

Broadly, you just need to submit the event details to us using the form once that opens up in January. We'll review and place that, then you need to show up where your game is scheduled to run it, collect the tickets, and turn those in to us.

If you've played games at Gen Con before you have a general idea of how things work, and you can always talk through your plan here to get feedback and advice from other GMs, too.

What were you planning on running?

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by dgeiken derekguder

derekguder wrote:
We've also got a page of tips for new EOs & GMs, so check that out. It should help orient you.
Broadly, you just need to submit the event details to us using the form once that opens up in January. We'll review and place that, then you need to show up where your game is scheduled to run it, collect the tickets, and turn those in to us.
If you've played games at Gen Con before you have a general idea of how things work, and you can always talk through your plan here to get feedback and advice from other GMs, too.
What were you planning on running?
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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC
I am considering a game or two of the Memoir '44 game in the Overlord version.  Days of Wonder used to do them in a big way but they did not ( I think because they got bought out by Asmodee. )  this past year and I (and others) kind of missed it as we all seemed to come together for the game.  

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Posted by derekguder

Cool. Sounds great - bring it back, just submit the details of what you need when that opens up and ask if any questions come up.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by garhkal nscott

nscott wrote:
Maybe something as simple as having current GM's check a box indicating a willingness to have a "trainee'" shadow them during their event this year and then allowing shadowing hours to count as a new class of hours for the existing volunteer system? If you feel like you need more of a carrot, hold a drawing for the "trainee" GM's for a badge for the following year if they run an event?

That sounds like an awesome idea.

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Posted by cornlime

I started as an independent GM, before finding a gaming group to run games with. I suppose it can be a bit intimidating to run something on your own. Even when I joined up with my group, for the first year or two, GenCon put me off on my own, away from my group (space issues?). I did not like that.

Maybe having a designated area for independent or new GMs would help. I think this may already be the case, but maybe it could be made a bit more obvious. Groups like GameBase7 have an HQ table, sometimes on a raised platform, or even in their own room. Maybe you could have a roped off area with a couple of "pit bosses" to provide assistance. These bosses couldn't help run the game, but would be there to answer questions, or just to walk around and check that everything is okay. Safety in numbers. :-)

It would also help the players. If you are new to GenCon, and you arrive in an area, but don't see your game, you can go to the HQ table for a table map/schedule. If the GM does not show, you can ask what you're supposed to do. Etc.

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Posted by garhkal cornlime

cornlime wrote:
I started as an independent GM, before finding a gaming group to run games with. I suppose it can be a bit intimidating to run something on your own. Even when I joined up with my group, for the first year or two, GenCon put me off on my own, away from my group (space issues?). I did not like that.
Maybe having a designated area for independent or new GMs would help. I think this may already be the case, but maybe it could be made a bit more obvious. Groups like GameBase7 have an HQ table, sometimes on a raised platform, or even in their own room. Maybe you could have a roped off area with a couple of "pit bosses" to provide assistance. These bosses couldn't help run the game, but would be there to answer questions, or just to walk around and check that everything is okay. Safety in numbers. :-)
It would also help the players. If you are new to GenCon, and you arrive in an area, but don't see your game, you can go to the HQ table for a table map/schedule. If the GM does not show, you can ask what you're supposed to do. Etc.

I like that suggestion.

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Posted by parody

There's already HQ booths in various areas in the convention center and the hotels for these purposes.  I personally think you're better off staying away from them if at all possible, but experiences will vary wildly.  My only good experience with an RPG HQ booth is when nobody was there, so I went behind the booth and used their computer to look up where my game had been moved.  (Earlier the volunteers had refused to do that for me.  This was before the registration system was available onsite.) The Board and Miniature HQ folks are OK; thankfully nowadays you can find your table yourself as long as you remember the serpentine numbering.

Making things easier to find is always good, but as I haven't had to deal with them for years I can't speak to how hidden they are.

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Posted by derekguder

Parody, don't step behind the HQ and use it's equipment in the future, ok? :)

And I would give the opposite advice: use the HQs as much as you can - and if they aren't helpful, tell us so we can fix that. There's a reason we go through the expense and effort of putting them there in the first place.

To address the two ideas folks commented on:


  1. GMs Saying They're Open for Shadowing

    Any solution requiring development can't be implemented quickly, and I doubt that this would be wide enough to really apply to most GMs, to be honest.

    I think it would be much better to roll that into the GM Recruitment Drive plan. Individual GMs would explain what they're open to, when they're available, etc.

  2. Newbie GM Pits

    On the surface this doesn't seem like a bad idea, but how would it be different from just providing more staff at our existing HQs? Or encouraging new GMs to join existing groups? We also have the challenge of identifying new GMs to place them all together. We don't ahve any quick-and-easy way to track that.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by parody

If you don't want us to use the computers, tell the volunteers to actually help us when we ask.  It would have taken the guy less than a minute to type my event number into the form showing on his screen and hit Enter, since that's all I did. :(

Also tell them to lock the machines when they step away from the booth. ;)

This was something that happened ~10 years ago and is unlikely to happen again now that the registration system is available to everyone onsite.  We no longer need to ask HQ/Registration/etc. people to tell us info like the current room and table number of the event we're trying to run.  I'm all for letting us get info for ourselves and letting the HQ folks worry about issues that can't be solved by a database lookup.

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Posted by derekguder


  1. We do tell them to help, and I've already explained that if you don't tell us when they aren't then we can't fix the problem.
  2. "There was no one watching" isn't an excuse.
  3. if it happened 10 years ago, it's not really relevant anymore. I've seen GMs walk up to every HQ and ask these questions and get answers, so - again - if they don't do that, tell me and the volunteer will undergo "re-education" or be assigned somewhere else more suitable for them.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by parody

You're right, it's not an excuse.  But at that point I was frustrated because my players were waiting and I was still trying to resolve something that a series of volunteers had refused to help me find out: "Where did Gen Con move my event?"  My players and I could have waited longer, but I took action rather than continue to waste their time.  (We finally started a half hour late.)

I reported it at the time so hopefully it helped.

Addendum: Just to emphasize, my point is not that volunteers can be incompetent. We can all be incompetent at times! The point is that you are better off preventing problems before they happen and, where possible, solving them yourself when they do happen. For example, I now spend some time Wednesday night confirming the locations of my events, whether I'm playing or running.  This wasn't easy to do before the registration system was available on-site, and thus I had a problem. :(

If you have a problem you can't resolve, then by all means go to the HQ booth. Just make sure it's not something you can easily resolve yourself.

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Posted by derekguder

Pre-planning and double-checking is always good advice. Keeps us from freaking out at all when you're under pressure to get ready and run - which makes everything better for everyone.

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Derek Guder
Event Manager
Gen Con LLC

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Posted by unglitteringold

It would be pretty awesome to have an event for potential GM's to "practice" running for. I know several people who won't run because they are too nervous, and they're pretty great GM's. The issue for them is running for strangers, and that only gets easier with practice. So a big room where GM's practice running mini encounters and give each other feedback might be fun.

I do agree with a previous post that panels aren't the most helpful things. Sometimes I have learned one or two cool things, other times I get there and realize that I completely misinterpreted the description. (Such as, "adventure design" to me is not "adventure design for publication," so that was a wasted block of time.) 

But even as someone who has been running for a long time, I would love to have a GM track to mingle with other GM's and learn, share stories, hell, even just to hang out! GM's are some of the best story tellers alive today. We should have a GM brunch. :P I'd pay to go to that.

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