Five Games Masters and Players You See at Every RPG Con

By David N. Scott in Daily Lists, Gaming
Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 6:00 am

Carlos A. Smith Photography

Gaming cons are quite possibly my favorite times of the year, a brief but glorious long weekend wherein the only worries are making it to games in time, staying awake through games, and eating so you can go play more games. It's like being a kid again, but you get to stay up really late. Although there is a dealer room, it is not particularly commercialized, and the local cons tend to be attended by the same major gaming clubs every time, so there's a good sense of community.

All of that happy-fuzzy stuff aside, after running and playing games at cons for over a decade I've started to notice a few archetypes you see every time. Some can be celebrated, some can be a little terrifying, and they could all do with a little bit of mockery. So, without further ado, here are ten people you will see at a gaming con, split into Game Masters (them what run the game) and players (those what play).

The Game Masters:

1. The Unprepared GM

The Unprepared GM has had as much time as anyone else to put a scenario together but fell prey to the dread beast procrastination. A prepared GM will have STUFF - character descriptions, a snappy intro, maybe a map or three - whereas the Unprepared GM has little more than a special badge and a glassy eyed stare. They will become more difficult to spot by about day 3 of con, as the Unprepared GM will become hard to distinguish from Exhausted, Hungover or Malnourished GM. Is the GM's blank stare because they have no idea how to answer your question, or because a hangover is squeezing their brain like a massive spider? (For the purpose of this example, the spider both squeezes things and is invisible).

Maybe if I look thoughtful, they won't notice I forgot my books.

Dead giveaways are a lack of character sheets, those little mcguffins that tell you what the virtual you is capable of and how good he or she is at it. A GM who tries to write up characters at con or guide others through the process at the table either vastly overestimates the skill of most people to instantly pick up a game, knows exactly who will be playing or just had no alternative. Another giveaway - when the GM switches games on you at the last minute. At the last con I attended, a GM decided to switch from werewolves characters to ordinary humans in a zombie-pocalypse since the 'adventure was too hard' with the number of players who showed up. I don't buy it, but on the plus side I got to make a Sea Captain. I like Sea Captains! (Arrrrr is for role-playing.)

2. The Edition Warrior GM

There is a certain type of GM who lets their tastes get a bit rigid at some point or another. The stereotype for someone getting stuck in their ways is usually AD&D (say, from the '80s) but these days you even find people willing to grognard about DND 4th Edition (first released in the ancient year of 2008 and technically still the most current edition of the game). How you get emotionally attached to something that's only existed for five years, I'm not sure. But then again my daughter is currently spending 30-40% of her time fawning over Sherlock, which came out in 2010, so maybe I don't understand real obsession.

This picture alone could start a thousand flame wars.

With these guys it becomes like those people on Facebook who regularly cite "Obama" or "the Republicans" whenever a post even vaguely related gives them an opportunity. These edition true-believers only play one system (and generally only one edition of said system) and take up any opportunity to say vaguely or directly unflattering things about those who play others. A typical enough fandom rivalry, except within a fandom so tiny, maybe we should all appreciate each other. On the upside, at least they don't think they're saving the world with copy paste arguments, unlike the wannabe pundits on Facebook. Well, probably. I'm not sure with some. Did I mention they take this stuff really, really seriously?

3. The Sequel Writer GM

It's rare when a Game Master literally repeats games across cons, though I do know at least one GM who does exactly that. He has beautiful handouts, nicely decorated character sheets, and has a pre-set scenario that gives a group of players a lot of reasons to murder each other, then watches them fight it out. When it gets boring, he drops demons in to accelerate the action. It's sort of like a bored kid filling a box with bugs and shaking it until they kill each other, except it's actually a lot of fun for the bugs, probably because they aren't really dying.

However, it is fair to say each GM has a default style and when they've run games at a con for a long time, you can pretty much expect what will happen. My wife and I run a Gaslamp (or Steampunk, if you like) game that depends on the players getting excited about playing the same group of Victorian-ish characters and getting into monster-themed adventures twice every con. I have a friend who runs investigation games that consist of driving out to Nowhere, America and talking to bored truck stop waitresses about flashing lights for the first 2-3 hours followed by a big fight pretty much every time. And then there's Pathfinder Society, which receives their games from a central geek HQ and runs them according to the book. (No EXCEPTIONS. There are rules, sir!)

And why do we do that? Honestly, even though GMing offers theoretically unlimited potential, it is easier to run similar scenarios over and over again. It's difficult to come up with a totally original scenario every time, and it also gives some comforting continuity to people who like picking up the same character con after con. It can, however, come across as a bit lazy, which I say despite doing it myself. I guess it's like movies - I still enjoy Fast and Furious sequels but I know they make some people want to jump off the nearest bridge (which, being in real life and not in the Fast and Furious universe, would actually kill them). Even GMs know sequels sell.

4. The Salesperson GM

In the late 90s, many role-players (myself included) had a dream of one day being an RPG creator. I worked for ages on a homebrew RPG, but it never truly got off the ground and when the D20 movement came along, it seemed pointless. Soon after, RPG publishing was not immune to the effects the Internet had on the general publishing world, and recently I've heard there are more professional astronauts in the world than professional RPG writers. This doesn't stop some, though. They are working on publishing game systems with a mindset that the market is still there for small publishers. Admittedly, with Kickstarter and other new resources for the indie publisher things seem to be looking up for them, but overall it's a tough road. Going to Cons is a logical way to build up some audience for your game and even though it can take a bit more convincing for people to play a game they've never heard of, a bit of campaigning can go a long way.

Seriously. Prizes! I got a whole box of them!

On a less indie wavelength, there are big game companies who also try to tap the con marketplace by providing perks and bennies to those willing to run/demo games. My wife and I perform this service for SJ Games, having been recruited by friends. There are also clubs such as the aforementioned powerful Pathfinder Society and its rival, the DnD centered Role Playing Games Association (See Edition Warrior). Now, most of these groups are very hands-off and just assume that running a fun game will get people interested, so there's nothing all that shady about it (plus we have prizes! PRIZES!). But still, an official game may have a very different flavor than an unofficial one (Like, we might make you fill out forms. People hate that.) Not that this is always a bad thing, as you can at least assume your GM is familiar with the gaming system and probably won't be completely reshaping it in his own twisted image with custom rules molded by his twisted obsessions and shoddy understanding of the real world. (Hey, that sort of reminds me of a Lindelof production.)

5. The Creeper GM

RPG cons are, for the most part, fairly wholesome affairs with families and such running around. Geekdom may have a pop-culture rep for sexual twists and strangeness but I would say an RPG con is pretty far removed from a super sexed-up furry convention. That's not a value judgment, I'm just saying as far as sex goes it's a different vibe (ha!). Unfortunately there are still some creepers out there, and they can sometimes interact badly with their fellow humans in person. Generally even creepers can keep things under control for four hours, but sometimes a GM gets a little too creepy or involved with sexual innuendo. For example, I've played in games where a liberal amount of rule 34 had been applied to Velma, and I also may have played Conan once in a game and participated in an orgy. But none of you were there, so you can't prove anything.

I got this game idea from a fan fic I read. It's hot.

All of which can be fine in an Adults Only game, but when a creeper GM hooks up with a creeper player it can be the worst. In my experience, the most discomforting version of this scenario is when a creepy male GM interacts with a creepy female player (yes, women can be creepers, too.) This is because when a female player starts drawing from the well of perversion most male bystanders seem to be too dumbfounded, amused, or aroused to put any stop to it, while the rest of us twitch nervously. This can lead to all kinds of dark places, from creepy interrogation scenes to long, detailed lists of sexual conquests. This sort of role-playing can be fine in the proper setting, usually with people you know well, late at night, maybe with a few beers involved, but when you're sitting at a table getting bored while the GM and a player go off on detailed sexual fantasy tangents, it can make the sexy go bad and creepy if not just boring/clinical. Sort of like bad fan fiction.

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