Playing With Strangers

A friend told me, a long time ago1, that you shouldn’t game with anyone you wouldn’t invite over for dinner. There’s wisdom in that – gaming is an hours-long social situation that forces you to interact with everyone at the game. Why would you want to spend that time with someone you don’t know you get along with?

I run a lot of games in public – at game days, at conventions, at parties, whatever. That means that I don’t always get to choose who sits down at my table2. Sometimes, I can be pretty confident that I know who’s going to come to a game, and sometimes it’s really a crap shoot. And playing with a player you don’t know can be challenging. Playing with a whole group of them, even more so.

I’ve learned some things by running these games about how to make things go smooth3. They’re not foolproof, and they require some effort on the part of the person running the game4, but they can help the experience be fun for everyone at the table.

First, some assumptions:

  • I assume you want to create a welcoming, fun experience for everyone who might sit down at the table. If not, you may want to ask yourself why you’re running a game.
  • I’m not going to talk about “problem players.” I don’t like the term, because it’s behaviour at the table that’s the problem, not the player. Also, any problematic behaviour might just be a cultural mismatch between your gaming ideal and the player’s5.
  • I assume you’re not deliberately trying to piss off someone at the table. If you are, you’re on your own with that6.

And now, some tips that I’ve found useful:

  • Set expectations at the start of the session. If you want to keep the language and content PG-13 because you’re playing in a public space, for example, say that up front. Tell the folks what kind of time investment they’re looking at. Talk about when breaks will be, if there are going to be any. If you don’t want people writing on the character sheets, tell them so.
  • Remember that, if you’re playing in public, you’re likely representing someone else. At a game day at a local store, for example, you may be a volunteer, but your actions reflect on the store. At a convention, how you behave affects how people talk about the event and the organizer. Do your best to make sure the impressions you make reflect well on the host. Even if you’ve just added a person or two to your regular gaming group, how you act will colour how the newbies view the entire group. So, y’know, Wheaton’s Law applies.
  • Read the diversity of your group. In a random group, you may have kids, older people7, young people, people of colour, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, people of a different gender than you, people of different religions, folks for whom your language is their second language, people on the autism spectrum, neurotypical people, Klingons, Whovians, Trekkers, Trekkies, Stormtroopers, Jedi, Ricks, Morties, furries, vampires, LARPers, grognards, n00bs, bronies, Marvel fans, DC fans, and trivia-stuffed blowhards8. You don’t have to take a survey or anything, just be aware of any obvious diversity, and realize that there might be more that you don’t see9. Keep the diversity in mind when you think about my first assumption up above.
  • In keeping with the previous point, and the assumption about making your game both welcoming and fun for everyone, I learned about a neat little tool when I ran some games for Games on Demand at GenCon. It’s called the X-card, and is the brilliant idea of John Stavropoulos. The link explains it in wonderful detail, but the idea is that you have an index card on the table with an X on it. You explain at the start of the session10 that you want everyone to help you make a fun game for everyone. So, if someone is uncomfortable with something that happens in the game, all they have to do is tap or lift the X-card, and that bit gets edited out, no explanation necessary, no judgment attached. I’ve been using this at all my public games since I learned about it, and it has rarely been used, but it provides a really useful safety valve if someone is facing something that’s going to ruin the game for them.
  • Remember that this is your game. Don’t let the players push you around or bully you. Just be firm in your decisions. I’m talking about your game decisions, here, but I’m also talking about your out-of-game interactions. If someone is ruining someone else’s fun – saying rude or inappropriate things, trying to quarterback, ignoring the X-carding of a subject, whatever – , ask them to stop. If gentle admonishments like, “Come on. Let’s not have any name-calling,” or, “We X-carded baby-eating, so how about we come up with something else?” then you may want to call a short break and speak to the person one-on-one.
  • If you have to speak to someone about their behaviour, speak to them about their behaviour. Don’t talk about the person. “I don’t like some of the language you’re using. I think it’s making some others uncomfortable, too. Can I ask you to rein it in, please?” This is all conflict management stuff – “I” statements, addressing the behaviour, clear language, polite and respectful but firm, etc. You’ve probably learned at least some of it just by running games with your friends, even if you don’t realize it. You can also find a whole lot more of it online by searching for conflict management.
  • If behaviour escalates to the point that it’s ruining the game for everyone, call a break and ask the person to leave the game. This is supposed to be fun for everyone at the table, including you; if one person’s fun is causing everyone else to not have fun, it’s time to cut that person loose.
  • BE FAIR. Running a game makes it easy to play favourites, to fudge things, to reward or punish the players individually or as a group. Don’t do that. Play fair. And applaud good play by the players.
  • If, however, you are demoing a game with a winner and loser, especially if you’re demoing it for the manufacturer at a convention, try not to win. Yes, this contradicts the previous point, but winners get excited and are more likely to buy the game. You must serve your corporate master in this regard.

So, that’s a pretty long list. I’m now going to answer a few questions that I think it might raise:

What, I’m supposed to think about that huge list of different kinds of people who might be at my table and remember them all? No, of course not. Some of the things on the list are serious things to consider, and some are me just trying to be funny. If you can’t tell which is which, you may want to rethink running games in public11. It is important, though, to recognize that you can’t always know all the various intersections of diversity that will show up at a table, and treating everyone like a human being, worthy of respect and courtesy, and a welcome addition to the group, helps get you in the mindset to accept any diversity that does come up. Again, my assumption is that you want to welcome everyone and for everyone to have fun.

Why do I have to be the one who calls out bad behaviour at the table? If it’s bothering someone, why don’t they say something? Well, they might. And if they do it calmly and reasonably, that’s great. But some people aren’t comfortable with that kind of confrontation, or get too angry, or are dealing with other issues, and just won’t. They’ll suffer silently, and then talk to their friends about how much your game sucked. Like it or not, this is your game. You’re the boss of your table. Maintaining courteous behaviour amongst the players is part of your job.

What happens if someone seems likely to become violent if I ask them to leave? Well. This can happen. It’s not good, but it can happen. My recommendation is, if you think you might get hurt, get back-up. Store staff or convention staff, or a buddy from nearby, or even a police officer if you can get one in time. Remember: this is a game. It’s not worth you – or anyone else, for that matter – getting hurt because of a game. If you have no back-up, but the situation has become untenable, call the game. “Sorry, folks, I’m out of time. Thanks for coming out, and I hope you had fun.” If you think there’s a chance of violence, you can be sure that some of the others have also picked up on it, and will be willing to wrap up before things get ugly. It’s sub-optimal, but better than an actual violent confrontation.

This sounds like it takes practice. How do I get practice? It’s like any skill. You get better with practice. If you’ve got a local game store, talk to them about running a game at the store. There are regular D&D games supported by WotC at local stores, or Pathfinder, if you prefer that flavour. Other game companies are usually really supportive of anyone demoing their games at a store, and my even be able to provide support – scenarios, prizes, stuff like that. Look them up and e-mail them.

If you really want to go full-bore, though, nothing beats volunteering for Indie Games on Demand at a convention. They have a presence at most gaming conventions these days, they’re always happy to have more GMs running stuff, and they have a top-notch support system to help new GMs find their feet and not feel abandoned. This is also where you’re likely to run into the widest variety of gamers, and will get the most practice making strangers feel comfortable and getting them to have fun.

I’ve got one last tip for you: relax. Have fun. If you’re not enjoying this, why bother doing it?

Gaming is for fun. Remember that.

  1. So long ago that I don’t really remember being told this, and it’s just a truism that I’ve always known. But it must have come from somewhere. []
  2. Though I can choose who gets up and leaves, sometimes. []
  3. Even Firefly games. []
  4. Why do I talk about the person running the game, rather than the GM? Because these things are just as applicable when you’re demoing a board game as when you’re GMing an RPG. []
  5. This last idea may be worth it’s own blog post in the future. []
  6. And again, why? Why bother? []
  7. Like me. I’m old, now. I’m not telling you which of the other categories I also belong to. []
  8. Okay. I lied. I belong in that category, too. []
  9. And is none of your business. []
  10. While you’re setting expectations, right? []
  11. Though, to be fair, some of the funny ones can be serious concerns, too. []

International TableTop Day 2015

This Saturday, April 11, is International TableTop Day!

I’m going to be at Imagine Games and Hobbies all day, from when they open at 11:00 AM until they kick me out at the end of the day. I’ll have a large dufflebag full of board and card games, and a smaller backpack with a few RPGs, and I’ll be demoing, playing, teaching, and talking about the games for anyone who’s interested1. There’s always a pretty good crowd at these game days at Imagine, and there will be others there with games that aren’t mine2, doing the same kinda thing I am. So, if you’re interested in games, I urge you to come on down and play a few.

I just finished packing my bags, so here’s a list of what I’m bringing:

  • Castle Ravenloft
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • King of Tokyo
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Tokaido
  • Dixit
  • Mysterium (Tajemnicze Domostwo)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Stone Age
  • Forbidden Island
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • Infiltration
  • The Resistance
  • Race to Adventure
  • Elder Sign
  • Escape from the Aliens in Outer space
  • Mad Scientist University
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Love Letter
  • Star Fluxx
  • Skippy’s Revenge
  • Berserker Halflings
  • D&D Starter Set
  • Fiasco
  • Monster of the Week
  • Dungeon World
  • Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game

 

  1. To be fair, I’ll probably talk to people who aren’t interested, too, because I’m kinda pushy. []
  2. A very strange concept to me. []

C4 2014

This coming weekend is Central Canada Comic Con 1 here in Winnipeg. As is my habit, I will be trundling a couple of huge bags of boardgames, card games, and RPGs2 down to the convention centre and spending the weekend teaching, demoing, loaning, and playing games with people for my good friends at Imagine Games and Hobbies.

Normally, I’m a little more on top of things for C4, but I’m just catching my breath after a bit of a marathon run at work, so I don’t have all the particulars. I know that we’re in a different spot than previous years, and I think it’s on the main level, and I’ve been told that we have four tables near the JimCon folks. Other than that, I’m going to have to search.

I don’t even have a final list of the games I’m bringing to show you. That said, there are some particular ones that I’m guaranteed to have there:

So, I’ll have those 19 games at the con for sure. I’ll probably have a few more. I’m trying not to duplicate the list of games JimCon has posted that they’re bringing, and I’m debating whether I should bring the D&D Starter Set. If you’re planning on coming by C4 to game, and there’s a game you’re particularly keen to try, give me a shout in the comments, and I’ll see if I can’t oblige.

Either way, come play some games with me.

  1. Affectionately referred to as C4. []
  2. Though I have yet to demo an RPG at C4. Came close a couple of times. []
  3. Yes, I got an early release copy at GenCon. []
  4. With both expansions. []
  5. With tons of playbooks. []
  6. With all the expansions and several promo cards. []
  7. With expansions. Also, I think Perry is running a game of this on Saturday. []
  8. With all the expansions. []

C4 Is Here!

Central Canada Comic Con, or C4, starts today. I’m not going to be there this evening, due to a previously scheduled Apocalypse World game, but I will be there all day tomorrow and Sunday, down in the gaming area with a big pile of games to talk about and demo.

This year, I’m bringing the largest selection of games in all my years doing this at the con:

Board Games

  • Firefly boardgame
  • Fortune and Glory
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Tsuro
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Pandemic
  • Carcassonne
  • Legend of Drizzt
  • Race to Adventure
  • Shadows Over Camelot

Roleplaying Games

  • Firefly RPG
  • Fiasco
  • Leverage RPG
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
  • Dungeon World
  • Fate Core
  • Fate Accelerated Edition

Card, Dice, and Other Games

  • Zombie Dice
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Infiltration
  • The Resistance
  • Dixit
  • Elder Sign

That’s twenty-five games in all. I’ve managed to pack them into two large packs so that I can haul them all up from the car in one trip, but I expect I’m going to look a little like Nodwick hauling the whole pile.

So, if you’re interested in playing some games, come on down to the gaming area tomorrow and Sunday. I got ya covered.

C4 Is Coming!

Next weekend – November 1, 2, and 3 – is Central Canada Comic Con, or C4. There are some awesome guests this year, including Ron Perlman, Tony Amendola, Walter Koenig, James Marsters, Bruce Boxleitner, David Prowse, Avery Brooks1, and Chris Sarandon. There are lots of others, too – those are just the ones I’m personally most excited about.

As has become traditional, I’ll be hauling a huge pile of boardgames, card games, and roleplaying games down to the convention, and demoing them in the game area for Imagine Games & Hobbies. It looks like the gaming area is in the same spot as last year, on the second floor of the Convention Centre. Unlike last year, it looks like you’ll need to actually purchase a con pass for access to the gaming area.

I will be showing up early on Saturday2 morning, and will be in the room all day Saturday and Sunday, running, demoing, playing, talking about, and answering questions about games. You should join me.

How do you get in on the gaming? Simple! Come by the table, find a game that looks like fun, find me – I’m usually within arm’s reach of the table – and say, “Can we play this?” If you already know the game, you’re good to go. If you need me to demo or run the game, you’re good to go as long as I’m not currently running a different game and we have enough people for that particular game.

Pro tip: if there’s a particular game that you really, really want to play, check the box for how many players it can handle, and bring your own group. That way, we don’t have to scramble to find other players and – bonus – you get to play with your friends!

Here’s a tentative3 list of the games I’m bringing:

  • Firefly boardgame
  • Firefly RPG
  • Fortune and Glory
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Tsuro
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Zombie Dice
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Fiasco
  • Leverage RPG
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Infiltration
  • The Resistance
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Pandemic
  • Dungeon World
  • Carcassonne
  • Legend of Drizzt
  • Dixit
  • Elder Sign
  • Race to Adventure
  • Fate

So, come on out to C4 next weekend and play some games with me. It’ll be fun!

 

  1. Hawk! Hawk is coming! []
  2. Prior commitments prevent me from attending on Friday evening. []
  3. Subject to change if packing any of them proves a problem or if I think of something better to bring. []

Tabletop Day at Imagine Games

So, you folks may be familiar with Tabletop Day. It’s happening this coming March 30, and celebrates the one-year anniversary of the launch of Geek & Sundry show, Tabletop, starring Wil Wheaton. The whole idea is to celebrate the playing of games by – and this is the clever part – PLAYING MORE GAMES!

In that spirit, I’m going to be at Imagine Games and Hobbies here in Winnipeg from open to close on Saturday, March 30, with a big stack of games. Some of the games have appeared on Tabletop and some have not, but they’ll all be available to try out. If you know the game, you can just grab my copy and play. If you don’t, I’ll run it for you.

Subject, of course, to demand. I’m unlikely to stop running one game for folks in order to run a different one for newcomers. Also subject to time. I’m going to bring games that can be wrapped up in an hour or two, but hitting me up for a game of Fiasco fifteen minutes before closing is unlikely to get a positive response. But you never know.

Anyway. I’m going to be bringing at least the following games:

  • Dixit
  • Tsuro
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Pandemic
  • Zombie Dice
  • Fiasco
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Leverage RPG
  • Dungeon World
  • Fury of Dracula

How do you play one of the games? Come up and ask me to play. If we can put together enough people to play, we play. So, one of the best ways to make sure you get to play a given game is to come down with a group and grab me.

There is one catch – the entry fee is a food item donated to Winnipeg Harvest. One item gets you in for the day; multiple items give you some ways to cheat at the games. And it all goes to a good cause.

So, come on down and play some games on March 30th. Doors open at 11:00, and close at 6:00. I’ll be there the whole time, anxious to play something.

After all, it’s Tabletop Day.

C4 Gaming

This weekend is Central Canada Comic Con, better known as C41. As I have for the past several years, I will be at the convention demoing a wide range of board, card, and roleplaying games for the good folks from Imagine Games and Hobbies. What do I mean by a wide range? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve been doing some test packing over the past couple of evenings to see how many games I can cram into a couple bags that I can carry in one trip. Here’s what I figure I can bring with me2:

Board Games

  1. Conquest of Nerath
  2. Carcassonne
  3. Legend of Drizzt
  4. Fury of Dracula
  5. Tsuro
  6. Tsuro of the Seas
  7. Pandemic

Card Games

  1. Deluxe Illuminati
  2. Skippy’s Revenge
  3. Dixit
  4. Ghost Pirates
  5. Chrononauts

Dice Games

  1. Elder Sign
  2. Zombie Dice
  3. Cthulhu Dice

Roleplaying Games

  1. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying3
  2. Apocalypse World
  3. Fiasco
  4. Leverage RPG

So, for those keeping track, we’re looking at nineteen games to choose from.

Gaming this year is free to the public – the gaming room is on the second floor of the Convention Centre, and you don’t need a Con badge to come and play. I’m going to be there part of Friday evening4, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday5. If you’re at the Con, or even if you just want to try some fun games this weekend, come find me and I’ll hook you up.

  1. I don’t really know if it’s better known by that name, but it is the common abbreviation. Shut up. []
  2. I can probably bring a few more, but at that point I’m running out of games that I can comfortably demo. I mean, I can bring along Cards Against Humanity, but that’s not really appropriate for an all-ages con, and setting up and running Battlestar Galactica just eats more time than people are generally looking to spend. []
  3. The good folks at Margaret Weis Productions have even supplied a couple of very cool – and exclusive – convention scenarios. Thanks, Cam! []
  4. After I get off work, of course. []
  5. I’ll stay as long as my energy holds out and there are people interested in playing games. When one of those things drops, I pack my bags and leave. []

Central Canada Comic Con 2011

This weekend is Central Canada Comic Con, and once again, I will be there with the good folks from Imagine Games and Hobbies running demos of board and card games on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve made my selection and packed my bags1, so it’s just a matter of hauling them down to the convention centre Saturday morning and setting up.

Last year, I tried the sign-up thing for running the games, and it was a complete bust. The few people who did sign up for a game didn’t show, and I deferred demoing games for interested folks because it was almost time for a game that never happened. So, this year, it’s catch-as-catch-can; come find me in the gaming area, and if I’m not running a game for someone else, I’ll set you up.

Here’s what I’m bringing with me:

  • Legend of Driz’zt
  • Conquest of Nerath
  • Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space
  • Deluxe Illuminati
  • Elder Sign
  • Mansions ofMadness
  • Berzerker Halflings From the Dungeon of Dragons
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Zombie Dice
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Carcassonne
  • Chrononauts
  • Fiasco

In addition, I’m going to bring along the Leverage RPG and The Dresden Files RPG, and am ready to demo either one. These take a little more time, though, so I recommend you get to me by early afternoon if you want to try either of those. And if you can supply a full roster of players (3-5 for Leverage, 3-7 for DFRPG), that’ll make it far more certain that you get to play. Figure three hours for either of those.

So, if you’re at C4, and you’re interested in gaming, come see me, whether to play or just talk about games.

I’ll be there.

  1. I’ll try and get a picture of them up – my bags are awesome! []

C4 Post Mortem

I spent Saturday and Sunday at the 2009 Central Canada Comic Con, running board and card game demos for the good folks at Imagine Games and Hobbies. It was a good time: the con was well-attended and well-organized, and the folks who came by the game tables were all friendly and interested. Some highlights and observations:

  • My friend Pedro, who owns and runs Imagine Games with his wife Wendy, got to meet Julie Newmar, gave her an iron rose he made for her, and got her autograph and a picture with her. He has now fulfilled his childhood dream and can die happy.
  • Another friend, Sharine (whose name I have probably misspelled), had Adam West sing her the Adam West song from The Family Guy.
  • I got to high-five a bunny rabbit that had high-fived Adam West… yes, parts of the con were quite surreal.
  • I got to meet GMB Chomichuk, one of the creators of Imagination Manifesto, an interesting graphic novel that is also turning into an RPG. I haven’t read more than the first five or so pages of the book, yet, so I can’t tell you too much about it, but it looks good. And it also looks like I’ll get to take part in the blind playtest of the RPG rules.
  • The mornings were slow in the gaming area both days – I figure that attendees were spending the morning walking the floor, buying their stuff, and meeting the guests, then heading over to the gaming area afterward to see what was going on.
  • Afternoons were pretty full – each day I ran two game sessions in the afternoons for people showing up, which is really about all you can fit in between about 1:00 and 6:00.
  • On Saturday, I got to play The Stars are Right this time, instead of just observing. It’s fun, but there’s a tendency to bite off more than you can chew sometimes. At different moments, both I and another one of the players thought we’d be able to put together a combo that would let us summon a Great Old One, only to lose the pattern on the third push or flip, leaving us with a wasted turn. Frustrating, but still a fun moment, when you realize that the pattern in your head has collapsed and you can’t see it in the layout of the stars anymore.
  • Also on Saturday, I played a session of Fury of Dracula. I love the game, and the folks who played loved it, too. As usual in a demo with players who have never played before, I took the Dracula role, as it’s the most complex one to play. Because of weird dice luck, I wound up doing better in combat with him during the day than at night, but they still ran me to ground in Belgrade and killed me.
  • Sunday was a big day for Battlestar Galactica – I had two groups who wanted to play it specifically. Well, three, actually, but more about that below. In both games, I facilitated rather than actually playing, because there were plenty of players – the first session had five players, and the second had six. The first game, the cylons won without ever specifically revealing themselves, as the cylon admiral used some strategic choices to drive the population down to a point they just couldn’t recover from. The second game, the cylons revealed themselves very early, and really pounded on the poor humans, doing substantial damage even before the first jump. That game ended early as players had to leave, but things looked bleak for the humans.
  • As a departure from our chaotic “just come and play” style, we decided to have a sign-up game for Battlestar Galactica on Sunday afternoon. I had four people sign up, but then had a group show up half an hour before the game was scheduled to start who wanted to play. I agreed to run the game, but let them know that I’d have to stop when the signed up group arrived. The people who signed up never showed, so we got the whole game in.
  • Next year, I think I’m going to have a sign-up Arkham Horror game with all the expansions. It’s a big, splashy game, and should attract some interest.
  • Pedro and Wendy’s kids, Leo and Maya, won the children’s costume contest for their costumes of a completely normal human meat-child and his pet dog. Yay!

So, thanks to Pedro and Wendy for paying my way to the show and supplying me with Japanese crackers and candy. Thanks also to Brian, who ran the gaming area at the con and kept things moving smoothly. And most especially, thanks to everyone who came out to try a game or just talk about them. You all made the weekend a real success.

Can’t wait for next year!

Central Canada Comic Con 2009

Central Canada Comic Con 2009 runs this coming weekend, Friday through Sunday, at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. I’m going to be there, demoing board and card games for the good folks at Imagine Games and Hobbies on Saturday and Sunday.

What games? Well, here’s a list of what I’ll have with me:

  • Arkham Horror
  • Beowulf the Legend
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Gloom
  • The Stars are Right
  • Runebound
  • Anima
  • Deluxe Illuminati
  • The B-Movie Card Game

Tentative plan is going to be to do what I did the first time I did this, the year before last. Saturday, I run pick-up games of whatever people are interested in playing, except Arkham Horror. If there’s enough interest, and people commit to it, I set up Arkham Horror for a big, long game on Sunday. If there isn’t enough interest, Sunday is more pick-up games.

Why am I holding off on Arkham Horror? Because the game is huge, and it takes a long time to set up and tear down, and an even longer time to play. If I start Arkham Horror, I probably won’t be running anything else for at least four hours, more likely five or six. That means I only want to do it if people are really interested in playing it; nothing sucks more than having folks getting bored in the middle of a long demo.

So, if you’re at the con, stop by and say hi, or sit down and play a game or two.

It’ll be fun.