Con of the North 2013, part X: Reflections

This has been a long series of posts, but Con of the North is probably the most intensive few dozen hours of gaming that I do in a year, so I think it’s worthwhile.

This year’s lessons for game-running at cons:

  • Stick to the number of players your scenario can handle. Make sure every player gets to do something important, and make sure every character can enable its player to do that something important.
  • GM exposition at the beginning of the game shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes for a 4-hour game, and hopefully much less. Use handouts, illustrations, abbreviated (or no) character generation, simplified game rules — whatever it takes to get the players making meaningful decisions as soon as possible.
  • Make it clear what the scope of player and character agency is. Make sure the players’ expectations about the game — mechanics, genre, etc. — match yours as quickly and completely as possible.
  • Give the PCs reasons to work together, because the players might not have one. Unless, of course, the game is about PC conflict. In either case, try to establish a social contract while you’re setting up expectations.
  • As always, worldbuilding ain’t bad. But expositing at players needlessly — especially when there are time pressures — shouldn’t happen. Don’t detail what the players don’t need.
  • Streamline wherever possible. Cut out the fat. Don’t allow for needless errands, pointless side-quests or excessive planning, unless your session allow a lot of time for that sort of thing.
  • Try to end slightly before your session is scheduled to end. Allow a true wrap-up, and give the players a chance to describe their characters’ epilogues.

These are lessons I’ve learned before, but several of them were brought home to me in particularly clear fashion this year, sometimes due to bad examples, but quite often due to really good examples of how it’s done.

I had a wonderful time overall. No blizzard, no truly lackluster games — and a few amazingly wonderful ones. Con of the North continues to grow from strength to strength, and when it’s in a newer, bigger hotel next year, the few problems it’s been having (stinky rooms, insufficient garbage collection, horrific parking) will presumably be behind it. I’m already starting to concoct my games for next year.


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