All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG. Bring these games to your table!
Last year I was chatting with a co-worker who asked about my plans for the weekend since I was taking an extra day off to make it a long weekend. When I described the gaming weekend my friends were hosting at their house, he replied, “Oh, it’s another one of your bespoke, artisanal conventions then.”
Anyone who has read my articles know I love conventions. I’ve got several scattered throughout the year, with Origins being a highlight in June. GenCon used to be part of my regular rotation each year, but I eventually had to back off due to expense and size of the con. As much as I love the big cons with throngs of people, there is also something wonderful and amazing about getting together with a smaller group still focused on enjoying each other’s company while playing as many games as possible. My co-worker may have been joking by describing my upcoming weekend as bespoke, but it does ring true. Bespoke essentially means custom tailored for the specific needs of a person, or in this case, a group. It’s a funny, but true way to describe a private mini-convention.
What qualifies as a ‘bespoke’ mini convention? By my definition, it’s any time you get together with a group of select people and play multiple games over the course of a day or several days. Here are some of the ones I have attended:
- This year will be the 10th anniversary of a ‘House Con’ that friends have been holding for the last decade. They average about twenty-ish players a year with four slots of games between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. They often have three to four games running during each slot.
- When a GM running an ongoing, annual invitational game at Origins decided to end a session in a cliffhanger, we were ‘forced’ to gather a couple months later to find out what happened next. The group of us crossed several states to hang out and play the sequel to that game as well as a couple of other games that weekend.
- One mini-con was born out of a desire to thank a group of GMs for running consistently awesome games at Origins and some other cons. For the last three years, about 25 folks have gathered at a hotel in Ohio that was chosen for being somewhat central to people in multiple states. We get downright serious about games and squeeze in five games between Friday evening and Sunday morning.
Beyond the fact that you’re getting to play games with people you know you like, there are a few different benefits to having a small gathering like this:
- The cost can be significantly lower, opening up the opportunity for people to attend who may not be able to afford the not insignificant cost of a larger convention.
- Many people don’t enjoy big conventions because they don’t like large crowds, or find no joy in playing games with strangers. Coming to a smaller mini-con gives them a safer space to still enjoy multiple games.
- Events held close to home allow those with family or work responsibilities a chance to attend. While they may not be able to get to a big con in another town, getting to a friend’s house for a day is more doable.
- A more intimate event can provide newer GMs a chance to run a con-style game in a safer space. Running for friends, but in an organized setting is really good experience for new GMs.
A potential downside to be mindful of is the perception (or reality) of exclusionary gatekeeping. Any time a group gets together with a closed invite list, it can be purposefully exclusionary in all the wrong ways. Now, with each of the mini-cons I have mentioned above, they were essentially extensions that grew out of the larger cons we all attended. A goal of most public conventions should be to open doors and create welcoming, inclusive environments for gaming. This is my goal and the goal of many of my friends, but we all still want an opportunity to focus our gaming time with each other.
So, let’s get into some of the specifics for organizing a “bespoke, artisanal convention”:
- Understand the space you’re working with. If you’re going to hold this at your home, be realistic about the number of people you can fit in the space. An apartment will work fine if you’re only having a handful of people, but isn’t a good idea if you’re inviting enough people for multiple games at a time. You also need to consider crash space if you’re inviting folks from out of town. Do they need to get a hotel room or do you have a guest room? When you’re organizing and hosting, it’s your job to at least consider the options available to your guests.
- Have a plan, but be flexible. You’re holding a con, so you need to have a general itinerary of what’s happening when. Regardless of whether you have multiple games happening at the same time or just one table with different games throughout the weekend, your GMs need to know what they’re running and when so they can prep. You also want to tell the players what they’re playing when. Respect your attendees time and make sure you have a plan in place. At the same time, maintain enough flexibility to adjust on the fly when people can’t make it or other issues pop up.
- Food is a thing. People need to eat. Whether you’re hosting this at your home or some external location, you need to account for how and when your attendees are going to be eating. Believe me, you don’t want to leave it up to the last minute and end up with a dozen or more people all going, “What do you want to eat? I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” Decide ahead of time if you’re ordering in, caravanning the group to a particular restaurant, or ambitious enough to try and cook for the crowd you’ve invited.
- Keep in mind your costs. Organizing one of these isn’t necessarily cheap. If you need to rent a room or cover the cost of food and snacks, make sure you recognize when you need to spread the cost out to your attendees. No one is going to begrudge you asking for $20 if you’re feeding them for the whole weekend.
As I said, I love conventions. The people, the games, the concentrated gaming. It’s one of my joys in life. But, my friendships with my fellow gamers always end up stronger after these smaller, more intimate gatherings. There’s still a ton of gaming, but the chance to hang out with a smaller group makes my gaming even stronger.
Have you ever hosted or attended a ‘house con’ or a small mini-con like this? I’d love to hear about your experiences with them.
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It’s International Tabletop Game Day and I am lucky enough to be at a friend’s house to run a rousing game of Pasión de las Pasiones. I walk in to the smell of something delicious and the sizzle of a hot pan on the stove. Fellow gnome Camdon is standing in the kitchen and he’s got piles of chopped onions, carrots, and celery while the chicken cutlets in front of him brown with a touch of salt and pepper, and he’s got capers and dijon set aside to add in once everything is combined. We chat, and then we sit down to game and eat some wonderful food.
Running the game, I lay out my thoughts — there’s a pile of relationships, all tangled together. There’s the glitz and glitter and riches of the telenovela, shining for our theoretical audience. There’s the evil twin, working at cross purposes. I’m throwing all of these into the sizzling pan of El Jefe’s illicit alcohol smuggling operation, with a little extra seasoning from the helicopter that is about to explode. We chat, and we laugh, and we jump in to play a wonderful game.
In the same way that the practiced cook will trust themselves to create a meal, the practiced GM can drop a game. And in both cases it comes down to the same ideas — experience, practice, and trusting yourself. If I am going to toss together a meal, I need to have an idea of what ingredients I have on hand and what will work together to create a harmonious meal. When I’m running a game, I need to have an idea of what genres and tones of games I am comfortable running and what kind of tropes I can use or subvert to create a shared story experience that matches the expected tone. It’s fun adding that one flavor that makes the dish pop in the same way it brings me joy to throw in the twist that makes all my players gasp. And sometimes, when you’re tired, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a sandwich instead of doing anything fancy — just like it’s totally fine to run that game that is exactly and precisely in your comfort zone, that you don’t have to think about. (Except, maybe sometimes, grill it and put an egg on it. The sandwich, not the game.)
So what is the point of thinking of GMing the way we think about cooking? The thing about cooking is that anyone can learn how to cook if they don’t already know. Your taste buds will guide you as you learn, and there are so many recipes out there to help you get started. Some you’ll love and you’ll make again and again and get so comfortable with you’ll be willing to start tweaking. Some you’ll make and not see a need to make again — they just don’t hit the right flavor profile, or they were far more work than they were worth.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and not get it perfect the first time. Share1Tweet1Reddit1EmailGMing is the same thing. Anyone can learn the skills to do it. The games that you enjoy will guide you to what you will enjoy running. There are many pre-written adventures out there that you can run, or analyze the construction of so that you can start creating your own. Some adventures may work better for you than others, and you can learn from both what works and what doesn’t work for you. Or you may be more comfortable starting with something you know — like a sandwich — and building on it, adding things that seem like they’ll work and learning from experience what works well and what doesn’t. You don’t need to be an expert to GM a game — just like cooking, you can ask other people what might go well in that dish, or what the best way to cook something is (or how does this mechanic work). If you try to make a dish and it doesn’t work, you might eat it anyway and shrug, or you might throw it out and go out that night and try again later…but we don’t tend to put the same amount of pressure on successful cooking that we do on successful GMing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and not get it perfect the first time. Every time you run a game, no matter how successful or not it feels to you, you are learning more about how to run a good one next time — just like how every almost successful meal teaches you to add more salt or to lower the heat a little. So go out there, pick up some plots at your FLGS on your way home, and cook up a good story tonight.
It’s really no surprise that we call this blog the stew.
What’s your best GMing recipe? Soup’s on!
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Original review appears here: [http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/05/review-bx-essentials.html](http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/05/review-bx-essentials.html)
Old-School Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources. The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format. All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green.
A moment about these covers. They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement.
All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off. Everything is easy to find. Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.
Old School Essentials expands on these rules and reorganizes them some more. There is a Basic Rules that takes place of the Core book and then a Genre book that covers classes and other "D and D" like topics. I imagine that different genre books will have other rules and classes.
Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line. Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE. Also this book covers just about everything you need to play right now. It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure. Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like.
It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play.
There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.
I am really looking forward to seeing OSE out. But until then I am going to enjoy playing with B/XE!
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