Thursday, August 20, 2015

Con Games

My fairly recent post about a friend's poor experience at his first Gen Con received a number of interesting responses, and all positive I have to say. Kudos Barking Alien readers. It would seem my demographic isn't the one containing the players my friend had to deal with.

While I did get some comments here on the blog, I also received messages via email, Facebook, and Google Plus.

One such Google Plus message was from Charles Atkins, friend of the blog, an amazing blogger in his own right, and forerunner of an advanced race of people who intend to conquer the universe using only donuts, and beer.

OK, one of those may not be entirely true. I consider him a friend to the blog, but I have no idea how he feels about it.

On Google Charles wrote:

"I meant to ask you this when I read it [the His First Time post] last night, but what games do you think attract certain types of people?"

My response was:

"That may be a loaded question in my case (personal experience, and preference), but for example, Rolemaster draws a different crowd than Golden Sky Stories. Not that someone couldn't enjoy both, but they are certainly oriented towards two different play styles.

This may be worth a post in, and of itself."
Charles then wrote back:

"It absolutely would be because for people like me, who haven't been to a convention of rpgs it would be nice to know kind of what sort of personalities gravitate towards which games. Though it might be one of those posts that gets a bit . . . confrontational for some folks."

Indeed Charles.

So who's ready to open up a can of wyrms? Well alright then...

First let me start with a bit of a caveat.

I have a certain gift for picking the winners when it comes to things like games at conventions.

I know, it sounds crazy, but I also haven't seen a bad movie in years either.

I've worked at least two different jobs, for a combined total of six years, where my ability to see patterns, and project the outcomes of things has helped me in the positions I held. I'm really good at looking for certain clues, details, tell-tale signs, that something is going to work, or not.

It's not fool proof. I'm not psychic, or anything. It's not like I can tell what the winning lottery numbers will be. I just have a knack for noticing things that tip me off when something seems like it wouldn't gel, especially if it wouldn't gel with me.

The question, the real trick you see, is whether, or not I can teach that to you.

Furthermore, even if I can, it is distinctly possible that I might shy away from a game you (any one of you) might think is perfectly fine. The particulars I'm looking for may not be your particulars.

That said, I will impart what I can.

Those of you who are sensitive, and easily offended when someone criticizes your favorite  games, game style, or what have you, this may be a good point in the post to go do something else. Seriously. I am going to say some things a lot of gamers aren't going to want to hear/read. I am also going to say some things even I don't agree with, things I wish weren't the case, but they are, or have been in my experience.

Barking Alien Tips for
Picking A Good Game at Cons
Read the Games Descriptions Carefully - Watch Out for Red Flags
This should go without saying, but sometimes, often even, you can tell if you are going to have an issue with the game right off the bat if the games description contains conflicting information, vague explanations of things that are of key importance, and the like.
For example: A Champions game that says it will focus on characterization and role-playing, then says to be sure your character is a 250 point character, with an OCV, and DCV of at least 9, and a 60 point major attack power.
Yeah. Slugfest with rules lawyers disguised as a role play opportunity.
Go For Beginner Games, Even If You're Not Really A Beginner
Games listed as being for 'beginners', or that are 'beginner level' are usually ones that don't penalize you for lack of rules knowledge. Therefore, they end up with space here and there for character moments, and witty banter among the party. The adventure itself is rarely less deep, nuanced, and complex than any other game. It's just that the rules are a bit de-emphasized.

Also, if everyone there thinks everyone else is a novice, even if they're not, the participants are usually going to cut each other a little more slack.
Go Old School If You're Old School. Don't If You're Not

Have you been playing RPGs since the fat, grey-haired, bearded guys were fat, pasty faced kids? No? Then don't bother playing one of their games.

If you really want the experience of playing one of the RPGs from the Golden Age of gaming, that's awesome. Get one of your older friends to run one for you. Don't do it at a Con. The games the Grognards play are for Grognards. If you aren't one, don't even bother.

Games to avoid in this regard are Basic D&D, Advanced D&D 1st Edition, perhaps Chivalry & Sorcery, Rolemaster/Middle Earth Role Playing, and anything else that was printed before 1980.

This is less a reflection of the games themselves, and more the people who tend to be attracted to those types of games. Especially at Cons.

If It's The First In a Series, Try to get the Trilogy

I notice that games with multiple sessions, on different days, tend to be good. GM's planning out a series of related sessions at a show like Gen Con are focused more on story then not, and thinking of a bigger picture.

It's not a guarantee that the exact same player group will participate in all the sessions, but another bonus is that if a few do you know those people! You know how they're going to be, and you can react accordingly. You can get into the next one if there's an opening, or dump it if they were numb nuts.

If You're One of Those Guys Who Likes Playing Female Characters, Consider Not Doing That
I know I'm going to get flak for this one, but hear me out.
I have no problem with men playing women, women playing men, nor any gender playing any other at my home table. I am cool with it, my players are cool with it, and we are generally not judgmental people (especially me personally).
At a Con, there is no way to tell if the person sitting next to you is going to be a jerkwad. If you don't know the group, and/or the GM personally (or at least pretty well), why chance being the butt end of some moron's harassment.
You're a guy, and you want to play a female PC, that's great. Do it when you get back from the Con.
Now, that's my recommendation, but not my personal feelings on the matter. My personal feelings are play whatever the heck you want to play, no matter who, and what you are. If someone has a problem with that, stop the game with a time out, and verbally rip them a new a-hole.
My recommendation above is for the non-confrontational types who just want to game, and didn't come to the show to start a gender equality movement. While in many ways that is exactly what's needed, there are times where it just isn't in you.

Please bare in mind, we are living in the era of Indiana's state government passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This state, where our beloved Gen Con is being held, is not a hub of acceptance, and understanding.


If You Regularly Play With An In-Person Group of Friends,
Go Over Your Con Game Choices With Them.

In Person. Because They Know You. And They're Your Friends.

If I've been gaming with someone for a few years, I get a good inkling of what they like, and what they don't. I can usually gage whether, or not a game is right for them, based on the game's description, and the fact that I know the person.

Knowing an individual's sensibilities, and preferences makes it easier to help them pick a game that's right for them. Sometimes there are things they don't even realize they say, or do that might point out the game that's perfect for them, or help steer them clear of a bad match-up.

There are probably other things I could think of, and if I do I will be sure to post them. The bottom line is, don't be a jerk. If everyone followed that one, simple rule, this list would be unnecessary, and every choice would be a great choice. Until then, pick smart.

Barking Alien




  1. Really interesting article. Never had any particular problems with con games myself, but I never went to many of them on first place (the problems with living on a small town) and I don't think we have that many really old school grognards here on Brazil (besides the AD&D guys who started gaming on the 80s and 90s). The one that pains me to remember was a test game of D&D 4th Edtition that was really, really boring.

  2. Very interesting article. I will be attending my first con (a local one in Everett, Washington) in January, and I'm considering running some Kapow! there. What advice do you have for running con games?