Lessons Learned at MEPACon 2017

For years it was matter of pride that I ran three events at every MEPACon, our regional gaming convention. It gave me a chance to represent some of the non-D&D games that I love — Savage WorldsStar Wars: Saga EditionRisk 2210, etc. — and my registration fee was waived, which made the weekend a little more affordable.

And then I had to give it up.

Prepping for convention one-shots is time consuming. It’s not so much the adventure writing, though that certainly takes time (even more time if I’m running something like Savage Worlds, where I have to prep for newbie players). It’s the pre-generated player characters that really slows things down — I usually create six characters per game; at three games per convention that’s 18 characters. With work being work, and family being family, I told myself I didn’t have the time to do the prep. I stopped running games but kept going to the conventions. I felt a little guilty not running anything — without my games, the likelihood of playing Savage Worlds dropped to zero — but it was a relief to not do the mad, pre-convention scramble to get my games ready.

Except … I really missed it. For the Fall 2017 MEPACon, I decided to plunge back into game mastering. I pitched three games: two Savage Worlds, one Hollow Earth Expedition. Only one of the three — a Savage Stargate adventure — ran. Looking back, I realize I made a lot of mistakes going into that convention. Some were old mistakes I should have avoided, but others were new ones that I didn’t see coming.

Don’t run three RPG events.

Running three RPG sessions for two systems I don’t normally run was my biggest mistake. Savage Worlds is a lightweight system that’s easy to write. I also know it well, so game prep usually isn’t a big problem, even for a con game. That said, homebrewing my Stargate adventure took time, and creating a dozen player characters is a slog no matter how streamlined the system. It was even worse with Hollow Earth Expedition, which is a system I like but don’t know well. Even though I started prepping a month before the convention, I didn’t have enough time to get everything done and I was still writing at the convention. That was stressful and exhausting … and I should have known better.

In the past, I ran two RPGs and one board game. The RPGs were typically something I’d run before — at least one of them was a system I was fluent in — and the board game was something I already knew well. This let me meet the game master session quota without having to prep for three full games. It also provided for some built-in downtime during the convention, as board games are generally easier to run than RPGs. I need to get back to that model, or go even easier on myself and only run a single RPG and board game.

Don’t forget to coordinate with the Blackrazors.

The Blackrazor Guild (my local gaming group) has always had a coordinated approach to MEPACon. We pick the games we want to play ahead of time, make sure we have two or three people in the group who will sign up for them, and then submit the events. This greatly increases the chances that those games will run, which helps us and helps the convention.

Except in my scramble to get my events in, I forgot to double-check the Blackrazor planning thread, and accidentally scheduled some of my events at the same time as other Blackrazor events. That’s the main reason that only one of my three events ran at MEPACon. It was a rookie mistake and one I plan to avoid at the next convention.

Plan for the kids

One of the Blackrazors brought his kids to MEPACon, which was cool but introduced a new wrinkle to our planning. That player ran kid-friendly events at the convention (which his kids then played in) and those events really needed to run in the morning slots when the kids were at their freshest. Unfortunately that’s when I scheduled my games for as well so next time around I need to plan to run my games in the afternoon or evening.

Having the kids they may also present an opportunity for the next convention. In the past the Sunday morning session has been something of a waste because there are so few people still there on that day. We’ve ended bagging that session as often as we’ve played it. Having a Sunday morning kids event could be a lot of fun and give us a reason to stick around a little longer.

Don’t forget to sleep.

My mountain of prep work meant I didn’t get a lot of sleep leading up to MEPACon. That was an exhausting mistake that left me feeling wobbly going into the convention. I didn’t sleep particularly well at the convention either and by Sunday morning I was crashing (note to future self: Staying up to 2 a.m. playing Munchkin was a hell of a lot easier when I was 30).

For the Spring 2018 MEPACon I need to make sure all of my events are done two weeks before the convention so I can rest up ahead of time.

Eat better.

I didn’t eat well at the convention. We ate pub food for most of our meals and my digestive tract wasn’t super thrilled with that. It wasn’t catastrophic, but I was occasionally uncomfortable and should have known better. Normally I’d bring my own breakfast, lunch, and snacks simply for cost-saving reasons but this time around I thought I could save time by skipping that prep.

Big mistake. Combined with the lack of sleep, my less-than-steller diet dragged down my energy levels. I realize now that prepping breakfasts, lunches, and snacks is important for cost andhealth reasons. None of this is to say that I had a miserable time at MEPACon — I didn’t — but eating better would have helped my energy and my focus.

Get exercise.

Broken ankle aside, I’m used to getting regular exercise. It clears my head, gets me energized, and helps offset my occasional excesses (like eating a whole can of Pringles at a game convention). I thought about working out at MEPACon but chose not to because 1) it added logistical challenges and 2) I was so damn tired. Next time I need to plan for at least some light exercise at the con. Like sleeping and eating well, it’ll help with my energy and focus. Plus, I really do have the time to do it — I typically share a room with 2-4 people, all of whom need to get showers in the morning. It’s easy enough for me to work out for 20-30 minutes in the gym while they’re doing that.

Get organized.

I spend a lot of time prepping for conventions. I only bring what I need:

  • a variation of my lunchtime gaming toolbox with wet erase markers, bennies, tokens, index cards, pencils, and such.
  • a battle map
  • each adventure and its characters in a dedicated folder
  • essential rule books to run the game
  • a game master screen

I can’t say I’m not organized, but I could be better organized. At the convention I started thinking about different Plano cases I might be able to get to help with my organizing my convention materials. I expect the rule books and GM screen to always be in my backpack, but the gaming toolbox — currently an old Batman & Joker plastic lunchbox — contains a mishmash of gear. I’d loved to find a tackle-box-sized case that I could use to streamline my convention toolbox. Having dedicated compartments for things like minis, writing implements, and the rest would make things more efficient while I’m getting ready for — and running — the game.

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One of the big game rooms at MEPACon Fall 2017. Credit: Ken Newquist.

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