I just returned from a 5-day trip to Chupacabracon IX. While I was there, I GMed three games— Necronautilus, Cthulhu Dark, and Dread—and each one provided a positive experience. In fact, I am still riding on good feelings from the con—to a point where, despite the somewhat punishing workload, (I never learn!) I came home feeling rejuvenated and ready to explore new gaming territory.
For me, it is a remarkable shift. I generally run at least two games a week—one of them public and open to strangers—so nothing I did as a GM at the con was atypical overall. And while Texas may be very different from Illinois, I don’t think that a change of venue is what really led to my positive feelings. I owe most of these to 14 very cool players.
One very important characteristic of players at conventions: they choose the games they play from a very wide range of options. If they show up at your table, it means they are there to play your game, which may sound facile, but what I mean is this: they are committed to playing your game. Sure, they can get up and walk away, but generally, in my experience, they don’t And their commitment means you can run the games as intended—you should. It’s what they want, or they wouldn’t be there.
Necronautilus is an unusual game with rules that can be challenging to pick up quickly. I made sure that everyone knew that I loved the game, and that if they gave it a shot, I’d do everything in my power to make it a good game. I almost didn’t need to say any of it. In the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledged that the game was weird. (It is.). One player said, “Then it’s the perfect game to play at a con.” He was right. Why not throw yourself into something new and really try to play it wholeheartedly? They all did, and after they’d finished burning down a massive dollhouse and putting an end to the machinations of the Heretical Doll-maker who lived inside it, they talked about what an interesting game it was, and how it had encouraged creativity in all of them. One of the players immediately bought the game.
That was my first game, and I would’ve thought the rest of the con might be an anticlimax. Game #2 happened that same evening. It was Cthulhu Dark, and it proved to be anything but anticlimactic. I ran a scenario that I wrote in which all of the player characters are women in the early 1960s. (You know, in the same way that they’re mostly all men in most RPG scenarios 😉 My table was entirely male, and they dug into the pre-generated characters with a lot of energy and depth. I’d kept the number of players low, as I wanted this game to play more intimately and to allow the players plenty of room to go big with their RP. They did—and it being a very rules light, horror heavy game—we had plenty of room to draw drama and catharsis out of the game. I am really proud of it—not in the least because it was the second game of the day for me—but, even more so, I was impressed by my players and grateful for the degree to which they bought into the basic premise of the game. We were all gonna hit the bar at the end and debrief, but the evil hotel had closed it down for the night. It wasn’t even midnight yet!
But it was all OK, because the next afternoon I GMed another really good game, thanks to the buy-in of my players. This one was a custom Dread scenario that pays tribute to bad shark movies that are set on yachts. Dread is a fun game to play, when you just want to screw around, and I intended this particular game to just be dumb fun. How seriously can you take an RPG that uses a Jenga tower to resolve tasks? All my players bought into the setting and the humor with loads of energy. They picked up my premise and carried it past “dumb fun” to something that was really remarkably comic. I had a great time in the midst of a highly improvisational game filled with Australian gangsters, pirate ghosts, and (yes, sorry,) coke-addled dolphins. I think they all did as well.
So thanks to all my players at Chupacabracon. You restored my faith in the whole gaming thing. To my players at home: I like you just as much as ever—which is a lot—and hope that you’ll believe me when I say that I’m grateful for all of you as well. You are very fun, very cool people who have enabled my excursions into…well, all sorts of weird places. I’m looking forward to coming back to the home games and bringing a little something extra to them. See you soon!