Run Your Own Con!

Posted: April 6, 2016 in General
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I love games. LOVE them. If you’re like me you have adventures, entire RPGs, and board games on your shelf that you’ve never played… maybe never even opened! Even as a kid I didn’t have time to try everything. Now that I’m an adult, I have more money and even less time so the books continue to pile up behind me. I tend to run long campaigns so my groups only have a chance to switch systems every two years or so. I never really got to try anything new. Then I went to my first Gen Con.

Conventions are a great way to try games you never get to play otherwise. You can run that adventure you’ve been dying to play or experience a complicated board game none of your regular group knows and have a veteran teach you the ropes. When we came home from our first Gen Con, Rudy Basso and I preached the gospel of gaming conventions to our regular game group. We tried so many awesome games surrounded by other who understood the glory of tabletop! We asked our friends to come with us the next year… but when the time came it was just Rudy and me again.

Our friends all had valid excuse for not wanting to attend a gaming convention. “It’s too expensive.” “Too much time off work.” “I can’t leave my wife alone with the baby for that long.” “I don’t really travel well.” “Large crowds make me anxious.” All of those made sense to us. We didn’t want to force our friends to do something they didn’t want to do. Still we couldn’t help but feel a convention would be more fun for us if our regular group of friends attended.

Rudy and I got thinking about why we wanted our friends to come to a convention with us. When it came down to it what we really wanted was to immerse these friends in a weekend of new gaming experiences. We didn’t need Gen Con to do that. We could do it in our own backyards with less expense. We were going to throw our own con.

In November I organized my buds to spend the weekend gaming at one of our friend’s beach homes (which was close for most attendees). It was such a rousing success that we’re in the middle of planning the next one in July! I planned the thing so my friends dubbed the gathering IntroConso and the name stuck. It was such a good time that I want to share with you how you can plan your own weekend with your friends.

Step-By-Step Planning

To create your own IntroConso follow the steps below.

  1. Make Your Guest List. First things first, figure out everyone you want to invite to this shindig. Put all of their email addresses (or Snapchat names or Twitter handles or whatever you use to keep in touch with your friends) into a group because you are going to be contacting them regularly to get this thing off the ground.
  2. Find a Weekend. Or a day. Or a week. Or month! Figure out how long you want your private con to be. We settled on a weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon so people wouldn’t have to take too much time off from work. To plan the event you need to find the right time when most of your friends are free. Even with 15 people this can be a headache, but free apps like When Is Good or Doodle make scheduling a lot easier. Try to start planning at least 3 or 4 months out so people have a maximum heads up for family and work commitments. Even then odds are not everyone will be available at a given time, so pick the time when the most people can attend for maximum fun and promise those left behind they’ll remain on the guest list for future cons.
  3. Find a Place. Once you have your dates, find a place to throw your con. Pick some place close so that travel isn’t a pain in the butt. IntroConso has been lucky in that an attendee has always donated a place for us to stay. Maybe that’s the case for you. If one of your friends has a house or the extra space somewhere that can fit everyone and is willing, free is always good. It’s not too many people for a home. If you’re not so lucky, have no fear. Airbnb is a great way to find entire homes for rent near you for cheap. If everyone chips in it could cost you less than $100. Another option would be a cheap hotels where you might be able to also grab a conference room.
  4. Ask for GMs. Ask your friends what they want to run be it a board game or RPG. Even ask those folks who are always players. Many may be fine remaining such, but this con experience will give others a chance to be a game master for the first time. They can do so without fear of failure or a ton of prep, since it’ll only be a couple of hours and not a couple of years. When people sign up to run a game be sure to ask the following questions…
    1. What game(s) do you want to run? Please list in priority order.
    2. How much time do you need to run your game? (include any time caps here like 4 hours max, etc.)
    3. How many players (not including you) does your game need to play?
    4. How many players (not including you) are the max for your game?
    5. When do you plan on arriving to and leaving from the con?
  5. Make a Schedule. Armed with information from your GMs, you can now make a schedule.
    1. Figure out how many tables you can run at once.  First figure out how many games you can run at once based on the number of attendees. In general I figure 5-7 people to a table (including the GM for RPGs). So if you have 7 or less attendees, you can probably run one game at a time, 14 or less, two at a time, and so on. Keep in mind you may less attendees at the beginning and the end of the con based on who is coming or going early.
    2. Make slots for games. Create time slots for games. For IntroConso we break our days up into four-hour time slots with all the tables on the same schedule. This way when one table ends a game, so do the others, which makes it easier for people to schedule themselves and easier on you as a scheduler. Four hours is enough time to get in a solid adventure and time with an awesome board game. With the first IntroConso we found that games tended to run a little over their time limits and that people liked to take a break between sessions to eat, chat, etc. Realistically you can fit about three four-hour sessions of gaming in a full day of a private con. That’s accounting for games running over, food breaks, etc. It’s not really fun if you’re watching the clock the entire time you’re rolling bones, so I recommend scheduling your games this way. Of course you may have a different idea for your con and that’s ok too. Maybe one table wants to run Curse of Strahd for an entire day while another table runs a new game every two hours. The choice is yours!
    3.  Fill the slots with games. I like to make sure each GM gets to run their first choice and then go down the list and see what’s left. If something looks like it might run short, I put it toward the beginning of the day and if something might run long I put it at the end of the day.
    4. Example. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.55.46 PM
  6. Send the Schedule to Attendees. I make the schedule in Google Drive, duplicate it, and then send it to the attendees to fill in their names. If you make a spreadsheet like the example above it should keep everything clear. The main point is that they can’t sign up for more than one table in the same time slot.
    • Subnote: To cut down on costs, I recommend scheduling people to take care of meals, snacks, drinks as well. Here’s what our food schedule looks like if you’re curious. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.31.45 PM
  7. Have GMs Prepare Their Stuff. GMs need to be ready to teach the game to their players and have an adventure good to go. That usually means a lot of work on the GMs part so make sure a busy person has the time to run a bunch of new games. Published adventures will save prep time and can often be found for cheap or free online. Then the GM has to decide if pregenerated characters will be provided for the PCs or if character generation will happen at the table. If you’re playing a game where character generation requires everyone to have a copy of the book or takes more than 10 minutes, go for pregens. A quick Google search will probably help you find what you need. If there’s a starter set for a new game you want to play, that’s always a great place to start since you get quick rules, an adventure, and pregens all at once. Don’t forget to double check everything after you pack to make sure you have the promised games and food you’re bringing.
  8. Have fun!  No notes needed.

Has anyone else ever done anything like this? Do you want to? How can I improve IntroConso? Sound off in the comments below!

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  1. Mike G. says:

    We did something similar in January. My group and I went to ravenwood castle in new plymouth, ohio from Friday through Sunday. I ran two tabletop games and several others ran board games- in a castle! It was spectacular! We found out there is a game master there that will run adventures for us as well. Next year, I’ll get to play with the group I run games for so often. I can’t wait!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brian says:

    My college gaming group has done this annually for over 10 years now. We’re scattered all over the country now, so finding a location was difficult. We’ve been defaulting to Vegas for a while now, because of the availability of rental houses, although AirBnB makes it easier now. Some years we hold it closer to a specific player, who can’t travel that year, or has small kids.

    it’s a smaller group than yours, eight players, all mid-40s, so we’ve got different issues than other groups. The big problems for us are people being unable to come because of kids or work, or worse, dropping out last-minute. One year, both our scheduled GMs had to cancel the day before, so we had no prepped RPGs, and it was just board games. It’s also pretty common for a participant to have to spend a large portion of con time working (I’m guilty there. I always seem to end up attending an emergency work meeting during the con.)

    The biggest issue lately, though, is people not having enough prep time. There’s always somebody who shows up and can’t run the adventure he promised because there was a work crisis and it isn’t ready, or the guy who thought he’d have time to write it on the plane, but didn’t. I’ve had an idea in my head for years that I’ve never run because I won’t commit to the prep time (so I never promise it). This year, we ran “no GM” games like Microscope and Fiasco to avoid that problem, but I don’t think I’d want that as a permanent solution. We use a schedule like yours, but never stick to it.

    I’m making it sound negative, but we do have fun at our annual con. For some folks, it’s the highlight of their year. For others, it’s a Vegas vacation without kids, and the gaming is incidental.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As long as you’re getting together and still having fun you’re doing it right! I hope by the time we’re all in our 40s we’ve still got an annual thing going. Good on all of you for making the effort!


  3. Marty says:

    There’s a *free* registration / game slot scheduler tool online:

    Written by Dan from the Fear the Boot podcast, they built it for Fear the Con and put it out there for use by anyone. It’s darn good for being free… May even be better than Warhorn (although the UI is a little odd in a couple places).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. MerricB says:

    Reblogged this on Merric's Musings and commented:
    No, this isn’t my usual life – despite the amount of gaming I do. James Introcaso’s post on running your own convention makes for fascinating reading. It’s the sort of thing that I’d love to do one of these days…

    Liked by 1 person

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