You have your bag full of snacks, your dice, your rulebooks, your props. Your convention badge is proudly displayed somewhere on your person. You have written an exciting, interesting, and punchy description of the game you are excited about running, and there it is on display in the convention program (with your name spelled correctly even!). It’s fifteen minutes to go time, and you have your game face on as you head to the room/table/area listed for your game. You plop down at the table, set up the screen, put your notes in order, and put the handout material out for the players.
Then you wait.
Game time! Any minute now there should be players – excited players ready to adventure in the game you have so lovingly crafted, ready to make a great story from the foundation that you have provided for them.
It starts out slowly, in the back of your mind – a nagging feeling that something is wrong, that things are not going as planned. The soundtrack in your head slowly shifts from whatever music was appropriate for the game you are preparing to run, to the soundtrack for “Identity”, and you flash to that moment in “Training Day” when Ethan Hawke realizes that things are about to go very, very wrong for him.
It begins to dawn on you that your game isn’t going to run.
This is almost always a big disappointment for a GM – you have put together something cool, and have frequently even gone the extra step of creating characters for the players. In addition, in most cases you are surrounded by other people who ARE gaming and having fun – and other GMs who are practicing their magic while you sit forlornly at your table with metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing all around you.
What do you do when your game doesn’t run? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Help your players! The saddest thing that can happen to you as a GM is when you decide that you don’t have enough players to run, but there is SOMEONE who has shown up for your game. These people are your disciples – value them! Treat them right. Maybe you hadn’t thought of it before because your mind was too filled with the idea of a table full of raucous, excited gamers having a blast with your game, but take a moment to ask yourself “Can I run this game with the players I’ve got?” “Can I run this as a solo adventure?” If you can, do that. You owe it to yourself for making up the game and you owe it to the players who showed up for it.
If you just can’t run the game for the number of players that you have, help them find another game. Seriously. You should. They put their trust in you by signing up for your game. Don’t just abandon them with a shrug of the shoulders and a “sorry”. Maybe you could play a board game, or you could all try to get into a different roleplaying game that needs players. Now is not the time to mope, as tempting as moping might be.
2) See if you can reschedule the game for Open Gaming or another timeslot. Let the convention organizers know that you would be willing to help out if one of their games cancels by covering that time with your game. Put up a few announcements about when and where your game will be running and try to generate some buzz.
3) Ask yourself why your game didn’t run. Was it scheduled at the same time as one of the major convention events such as the address of the keynote guest, a major tournament, or the time when the party rooms are giving out free booze? Did you schedule your game for 2:00 am because you thought it was the perfect time to run “Don’t Rest Your Head”? Was your game actually listed in the program, or did someone put it on an addenda sheet at the last moment (or maybe not advertise it at all)? Was all the information about your game correct and was the gaming area marked so people could find it?
4) Read over the blurb that you put in the convention booklet and ask yourself it was REALLY as enticing and evocative as you hoped it would be. Get a friend to look it over and make recommendations. The punchier your game description is, the more likely you are to get players,
5) Put that game in your hip pocket! OK, so the game didn’t run… this time. Well, now you have a fully written game, all ready to go for the NEXT convention that you go to, without you needing to do anything more than put all your handouts, characters, and notes in a safe place so you won’t have to reprint/recreate them. Your work is done – you can now use the scenario to get credit at two conventions instead of one, with very little extra work.
6) Go game hunting! Several hours of convention time just freed themselves up for you. Don’t sit around sulking or feeling bad. That way lies madness! Go wander the convention and see if you can find a different event to get into. Do something fun! Find some game that it struggling (and if your game didn’t run there is almost certainly another game out there at the convention that is limping along with fewer players than the GM would like) and get into it! Go to the Dealers Room. Get food! Check out Open Gaming! Don’t let the time go to waste!
Having your convention not run is a lousy and sad experience for any GM, but there ARE things that you can do to make it easier, for you, for any players who might have shown up, and for the convention. Take it in stride, be flexible, and turn the problem to your advantage as much as you can.