Feb 10, 2014

No Data is Data

Convention roleplaying games offer a unique opportunity to game with new people.  What might work with your home group of campaign players might fail within the confines of a convention game and vice versa.  However, it's pertinent to ask why certain convention games fail and, conversely, why some are spectacularly successful.  I suspect that gaming with strangers creates a motivation that results in better preparation.  There may also be pressure to "sell" your game to the public, i.e., make it sound exciting and different.  Playing in public with strangers may also create an emotional dynamic that impacts how we remember those games.

I wanted to use a little inductive reasoning to investigate this issue, but I needed qualitative data.  Given enough responses I'd hoped to have been able to determine trends that, not only supported or denied my claim above, but would also have lead towards specific characteristics of great convention games.  The idea being for me to identify great convention game characteristics with the intent of sharing here.

I was lucky enough to garner fantastic support from two figureheads in the OSR.  Both Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor and Erik Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern agreed to solicit input from their readers.  Erik even extended his kindness so far as to allow me a guest posting position on his OSR blog.  I also posted prompts on Dragonsfoot and Goblinoid Games forums.

After twenty hours I got some data, it just wasn't the data I had anticipated.  Basically, out of two leading blogs with lots of readers and two forums, one exceptionally popular in our hobby, I collected a total of five responses, two of which didn't answer the prompt in any way and had to be thrown out.  Three from Dragonsfoot, one from Goblinoid Games, and two from Gothridge Manor.  As of 2/10/14 3:15PM there hasn't been a single response to the Tenkar's Tavern post.

I know Gothridge Manor and Tenkar's Tavern get a lot of traffic.  I know Dragonsfoot has a lot of activity.  Why, then, would a prompt receive so few responses?  I suspect it's because the OSR doesn't have a strong convention streak.  I now have one data set (or rather lack thereof) to support such a claim.  Again, not what I expected, but that's ok.

17 comments:

  1. I would have answered your question but sadly I've only been to one convention and it was a comic book exclusive back in 1996.

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  2. Thanks Charles! Actually, your comment supports my final claim. :)

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  3. I think Charles' answer is pretty indicative. Despite their huge turnouts, in relation to the number of gamers, Con Games represent a tiny fraction of over all games. Simply put, most gamers just don't go (for whatever reason). I am only just going to my second one next month, and I have been a gamer for 31 years. And also, as you say, OSR games are having a revival, but I think it is only now hitting the Con Scene. I could be wrong, but that is my limited perception. I'd be willing to bet you would get a completely different response a year from now.

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    1. Yes, it will be interesting to see how it changes. I love the challenge of running con games, myself.

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  4. Well, I can't say I've enjoyed many con games ... in fact every one I can recall has been a bust, except the ones where I mostly played with people I already knew. Also 20 hours is a pretty small window. I was just now looking for where to send an answer...

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    1. Thanks for the info. Yeah, I think I wasn't very clear. Though, I also didn't want to create answers based on specific questions either.

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  5. Hi Dylan:

    I actually misunderstood, and thought we were supposed to comment on your blog, so I was waiting for you to post something here. My bad.

    So here is my comment, such as it is.

    I've only been to a total of four cons, one over twenty years ago so I barely remember it, and two (Origins) where I went just to check out the vendors and didn't actually play anything. So Con on the Cob 2013 was the first con where I've played anything in recent memory.

    My favorite game at Con on the Cob 2013 – Blaphemous Brewery of Pilz

    What made that particular convention game memorable:
    - Great adventure and GM – Blasphemous Brewery deserves to become a classic. :)
    - Great players; for a group of people who had mostly never played before (I had played with Tim online previously, but otherwise I knew no one else in that session), people settled in and got comfortable with each other fairly early on, played a good-natured game, showed they had a sense of humor, and basically all contributed to the group as a whole having a good time.
    - PCs died (including mine); not that that's a good thing per se, but when PC death is a real possibility, it adds a certain level of narrative tension that's good for the game IMO; having a GM who lets the dice fall where they may, and players who are cool with that, makes for a good game, convention or no. The one-off convention game format may make PC death more palatable for a lot of players, since we're using pre-gens, who live and die for only one play session anyway.

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    1. Thanks Chris. I'm slowly coming to realize that I may not expressed myself clearly. Sorry about that.

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  6. I'll add mine into the data.

    I had two experiences where I enjoyed the most. One was your game. The first one going through Pilz. The reason I liked it was I got to play with some old friends and made some new ones. I still plan on visiting Dan C in the Burgh for a game day. The GM (that was you) had a lot of energy and I could tell how passionate you were about the game. While I may have joined it because of the OSR slant I would have joined it if it had been Shoots and Ladders. I enjoyed the game because of the people. I was very sick at the game and still managed to have a great time.

    Second favorite game was later that night. We played a pick up game. By this time I had completely lost my voice, but the others (all from the gaming group) went with my mute fighter theme and had a really fun time of it.

    I join the games because of system, but enjoy it because of the people involved.

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    1. Thanks, Tim! That's very kind of you. I also got a strange package in the mail today that has me running around the house naked for some reason...

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  7. last con was in 93 - GenCon

    that being said, plan to be at NTRPGCon in June and DexCon in July of this year

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    1. Thanks again Erik for letting me post on your blog. I hope I didn't do any damage:)

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  8. Another reason you may not have gotten so many responses was the nature of the query. You basically posed an open-ended "essay question". No one like essay questions.

    If you had, instead, asked 3 or 4 questions each requiring a short sentence or two to answer, it may have garnered more input:

    "What do you like to see in the way a convention game is run?" "What would make you get up and walk away from a convention game you've sat down to?" "If you could offer one piece of advice to someone planning to run a game at a convention, what would that be?"

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    1. That's a great point Tim. I was trying not to give too much of my intent away with the wording of the question, but it looks like all I did was confuse people. Hopefully I'll learn from this.

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  9. I've been attending Dragonmeet (a one day con in London, UK) for the last 5/6 years and have always made a point of playing at least one 3 RPG. I've had a great time playing indie RPGs like FIASCO, 3:15 Carnage across the Stars, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, but I've also played some stinkers like Living Greyhawk/Pathfinder and a Victorian themed Squadron UK which borrowed heavily from Arthurian Legend.

    For me characteristically, the best con games have not concentrated too much on a heavy plot, had simple PCs with very different skills and had experienced and passionate GMs who were happy to let you take their game in a direction they hadn't necessarily planned. This year I hope to DM at Dragonmeet and see the experience from the other side of the screen.

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    1. Thanks Antony. I'm hoping to comb through all the responses here and on Dragonsfoot, then publishing the results. First, I have to get my next product out the door, though...

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Thanks for posting to the Digital Orc! Be sure to pick up a copy of one of my old-school modules available at RPGNow.com!