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I Get Anxious When I Run a Con (RPG Session)

As I searched for a system to run a new campaign, I ran several one-shot RPG adventures for small groups of players. The concept is not new to me and the players and I had a good time playing together. This week, I’m running a game of Tales from the Loop of a group of six at Midwinter Gaming Convention. I’ve got to say, this effort’s got my anxiety kicking into high gear. Something about trying to entertain and engage six strangers for four hours that causes me to lose a bit of sleep at night. In an attempt to figure out why, I thought I would put down a couple of my concerns and make a plan for addressing them.

I’ve boiled it down to three ideas: I am used to a comfortable gaming space. I’m not used to a low tech set up. I don’t know most of the people who plan to sit down at the table with me on Friday.

Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

Since moving two years ago, I’ve been able to create a very comfortable space for gaming. Twelve people can sit around a custom table I built myself. Players can recharge their phones and plug in their laptops at built in outlets. Shelves of games line one wall and my collection of comics, the other. We’re in the basement, far enough to laugh and play without bothering other residents of the house. Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

I know very little about the space I’ll use for the game this week. It’s table six in room Wright A. That room will host five other games at the same time of our session. I’ve got a few plans to help make our group more comfortable.

Hostess can save the world!

Scheduling the game for day two of the convention provides me with a chance to scout the location in advance. I’m even playing in a game in that space the day before. I’m also packing a few items that might help: a power strip, portable speaker to play some mood music (quietly), and a collection of alternate 80’s treats. (If we learned anything from Captain America in the 80’s, it’s that Hostess baked goods can save the world.)

I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil.

My game space at home allows for me to run a pretty technical game. A built-in monitor provides me a virtual tabletop where I can project maps and images for everyone to see. I keep my notes electronically in a searchable notebook. Lugging my 5′ x 5′ table from Chicago to Milwaukee is not an option. I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil. Well, maybe laminated sheets and wet erase markers.

This isn’t as bad as it may seem. Taking some time before a session allows me to find just the right images I want to use for flavor and what elements from the adventure the players really need to see. I’ve had a great time searching through old 80’s magazine covers to find images that strike the right tone. A member of the TftL Reddit community offered up these beautiful icon item cards, that I believe open up a great tactile experience for players. With laminating machines going for $20, I’ve been able to create game resources I can reuse for future adventures.

A $20 laminator makes sturdy handouts.

Going a bit lower tech may work out better for me in the long run. It offers me more time to plan out what I show to the players, instead of what I just find in an instant internet search and provides me with tangibles I can use for other sessions. I’m still going to use my tablet for reading my notes, though. It’s just way too convenient.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part.

For someone usually considered an extrovert, meeting and working with new people often fills me with dread. Running a session when people expect to enjoy themselves for four hours, even more so. Teenage insecurity still haunts me and, like every time I’ve ever been on stage in my entire life, I know I will need to take that one nervous pee before we start.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part. I’ve emailed the folks who will participate to provide a quick overview of the rules and setting. I’ve written down an outline of what to say when we first start the session. In my head, I’ve practiced greeting each player while extending a handshake.

A different space, using new tools, with people I don’t know. I hope to reduce my anxiety and increase the enjoyment for everyone by increasing my general level of organization; making sure I have all the information, props, and outlines I need ready, and taking advantage of what technologies and other resources I have available. I will also do my best to ensure I’m well rested and fed. I can’t GM at my best if I’m tired or hungry.

No. I can’t bring my cozy geek cave up to a convention, but I can certainly do my best to carve out a comfortable environment for myself and the players for our game.

Featured Image credit: NASCRAG


  1. Scott F

    You did a fantastic job from start to finish with this game. I had an absolute blast, and I would never have known the insecurities you held before and during the game. Thank you for a very memorable game that just reinforced my desire to play it, and try running it!

  2. Liza

    You were GREAT! It was So Much Fun! You were way more prepared than I would have expected, and really broke the ice. You were an awesome storyteller. Honestly, we had such fun laughing and getting a feel for the genre. Also, how you started (asking us how we all fit together as characters) was super helpful, not just for this game, but I’ve struggled with that running games. I’ve gotten characters together, and told the players that they needed to decide why they’d stay together, but your plan made it way more organic, so that was an unexpected help.

    Also, I get nervous playing new games, though since I knew most of the group, I figured it’d be fun regardless. Getting the small intro ahead of time, and getting to email you was just great. Honestly, it helped to break the ice.

    Thanks for an awesome intro to this game. … and for Go-shawk, the Gos-hawk of judgment. 🙂

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