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[generic] Your formula for picking games at conventions?

Like I will be attending my first PaizoCon and I do not know the GMs there, but the way Paizo organised their system, is that you have a wide variety of role playing scenarios that all revolve around either the Pathfinder Society system or the Starfinder Society system all played with pre-written scenarios.

My attendance there will help me observe another flocking environment with complete strangers at the role playing table. Also, I will get to experience the techniques the big established game publishers use to attract strangers to the table.
Actually you wont because that's not how game sign ups work for Paizocon. You list yourself against games in a slot and the organisers then sort people into tables. There is some scope to make particular requests but the level of geek Sudoku required makes them pretty limited.

Also, GM'ing is not automatic. You can put yourself forward but ultimately the organisers decide who to take as GM's and they will assign scenario's to you. You could express a preference to run a particular scenario but organised play is restricted by the demand and the limitation on not playing any scenario more than once.
Hmm, if I am being honest my priority list looks something like this:

1. Who is the GM. There are loads of GM's I love to play games with, a small number I dislike playing with and a very small number I wont touch regardless. Ultimately who is running is one of the biggest indicators of how much I am likely to enjoy a game and it strongly influences my choices.

2. Number of players. I intensely dislike six player games and I am not that much of a fan of five. Four is my preferred number to run for.

3. Other players. Are their people prebooked who I dislike playing with, who have a clashing style or who I wouldn't want to spend four hours in a small cell with. Again, the other people at the table are a key factor for me.

Everything else is pretty much negotiable. There may by systems I would prefer to avoid for a con game (largely anything very rules heavy) but scenario content, genre or other factors are a distant consideration for me. I can enjoy myself playing pretty much anything, its all about who else is sitting around the table.

If that makes me cliquey then tough, I go to cons to enjoy myself.
Having said that this Furnace might be a very different experience as I haven't signed up to run anything so I will be descending into the queue for the first time in many years.

First Age

Staff member
Setting and/or system that I'd like to play, and maybe try out for the first time.
GM & other Players can influence this, particularly GM. Especially if the game is for longer than one slot.
I might want to play in a game with a friend who I haven't seen in a while.
Not generally more than 5 players.
My process looks something like:

1) Cross out anything Call of Cthulhu (Great Campaign Game, Poor 3 hour game)
2) Cross out anything Starfinder Society, Pathfinder Society, D&D Adventurers League, Shadowrun Missions, Sparks, or any other 'Living Campaign'
3) Cross out anything with a GM I've had a bad experience with (short list - just 3 people)
4) Highlight anything I've never played before that isn't crossed out
5) Highlight anything run by known good GMs that isn't crossed out
6) Skim read all the remaining descriptions and highlight anything which captures my imagination.

That gives me my shortlist:

I then reread all the shortlist paying a lot more attention, and pick a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice from each slot at the con so if I have to queue/rush to sign-up boards/make sacrifice to the arcane gods of the con I know what I'm trying to get into.

In fact, even when I'm pre-booked at a con I normally know what my 2nd and 3rd choices are just incase that game falls through.

However its worth mentioning that D&D, Pathfinder and Savage Worlds games have to go above and beyond to capture my imagination. I've played these games to death and unless the description makes it sound special they are unlikely to get shortlisted.

Also anything with 7 or more players is very unlikely to get shortlisted. There are exceptions - I played in Mitch's huge multi-GM game in the armoury, Neil Gow's Gleeville and I listed Newt's large Monkey game as a second choice at Furnace (but got into my first). Neil and I have also run Star Ace for ten players. As a rule, though I consider 4 or 5 players the optimal size for most games.
Hmm, it depends upon what mood I am in at the time. As my RPGing is now exclusively at a few cons a year, (thanks mainly due to playing Gloomhaven since the start of the year) I should be more organised, and yet for some reason I am more relaxed. Okay, so, here we go:

1. GM - either someone I know and trust, or someone I have heard about. When I sit down as a player, apart from trying to become a better player, I am always looking for good GMing techniques to steal to improve my own GMing. Since joining the con scene in 2008, I have kept a spreadsheet, and to date I have ran 71 con games, and AFAIC there is still loads to learn.

2. Setting - it has to be something I am interested in, so off the top of my head: Lankhmar, Arabian Nights, Ancient Egypt, WW2, Pulp, Hard Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Post Apocalypse, eg Mad Max, all the way to film/video game tie ins, so Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Mad Max, Assassins Creed, Hitman, Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and I am in. I also like Cthulhu stuff, but tend to avoid 1920s era scenarios, as I have played far too many. What I avoid is anything to do with Supers, especially Marvel or DC, as there is so much canon I don't know. Actually add Glorantha and Tekumel to that list.

3. Scenario blurb - I like to be given an idea as to what the heck is going on, but once I start seeing a data dump of facts, I am out. Once I start reading stuff I don't know, I get worried, e.g. "It is 2253, and the Xelovian State has declared an embargo of all Jitrovian Medication within the Ollidushian sector. Yet your group knows that the Ambassador to Huy has connections with the ports of Ne435 and Jikrova, and that the nearby warring planets of Loggar-7 and Bestrade-A could be drawn into this by means of the Ferdinand Treaty. "

Having said that, I don't like 'You just met in a tavern, and have accepted a job to guard a caravan to Stormwind' and nothing else.

4. System - Most new systems don't interest me until I have seen plenty of feedback from people I trust, so I am a bit of a laggard for adopting anything new. Having said that I jumped into 2d20 as it is the main system for Mutant Chronicles, that didn't work, and neither did Cipher as I really fancied Numenera. Rambling on here, but to end on a positive, FATE, Dead Of Night, Cold City and Hot War really worked well when I took a punt on them.

5. Other players - much harder to control, I like to play with a mixture of folk I know, and folk I don't, as it is a good way to meet more people. This is why I repeat run my con scenarios, as it means my 'regular' players won't be there every time. This category isn't really applicable, but it would be for Longcon, which is why I don't attend that con, despite being rather interested in it.

If I manage to get through 1-4 then I am in.
I eliminate games of D&D, Pathfinder, DCC classics, Runequest - fantasy genre - as I'm not a fan. Then I look at who's running the game, who the other players are, and whether I've had good or bad previous experiences with them. I like to play with people I've already had plenty of experience with as I'm a creature of habit and risk-averse, and know I'll get a good game with them.
Very simple solution to this one. Organisers should regulate and oversee the GMs by stating a minimum number of players to any submitted games. Bring down the hammer. And sickle while you're at it. Let's see how that goes.
Well, its a fast way to remove certain games from the con scene...

If I was running a game of Fiasco at a con I would ideally be looking at either 3 or 4 players. Fiasco in my experience runs best with 4 players and its GMless, so I'd be looking for 3 more people. It runs less well with 5 players (so 4 more people) and I could be persuaded to look for that extra player, but I know it would be a poorer game for it.

By contrast, if I was running a FASA Star Trek game involving starship combat I would want at least 7 players to cover Captain, Navigator/Tactical, Helm, Science, Comms/Damage Control, Medical, and Engineering who all play a key role in starship combat. D&D, Pathfinder, Dragon Warriors, Numenera and Paranoia all in my experience work well around 5 or 6 players and can scale higher. PbtA games work much better with a slightly smaller table - 4 or 5 players. All of these I could run with a table size of 6.

But Hot War or Drama system (Hillfolk) games - I'd aim for 4 players, and if I was forced to run for 6 players I simply would run them. And GMless games (Fiasco, Penny for my thoughts etc) are often best with quite small groups. Again with a 6 player restriction I simply wouldn't run them, because I wouldn't want to offer a significantly substandard experience to the players.

Also the style of the game has a big impact. Social and story games (and anything with its ancestry in improv) usually play to smaller groups, whilst tactical, skirmish games (things originating from wargames) tend to play well to larger groups. If I knew I was being forced to offer games to a larger audience I'd be tempted to make it more tactical, possibly even introduce battle maps and minis...
OTOH why use Roll20 for playing Fate at all? I certainly wouldn't do so and I suspect so would many other people. The issues that Roll20 has been having since Google dropped the API that allowed seamless integration for Roll 20 and Hangouts has made using Roll20 problematic to say the least.

Roll20 is based on providing a grid based virtual tabletop for games that make use of that. I've played loads of perfectly good games using nothing more than Hangouts and a die roller and sometimes not even a die roller.

Quoting the low numbers playing Fate on Roll20 is not worth anyone taking your argument seriously.
I go to cons to try out new games so I look for systems that I do not know (mostly those systems published in the past 15 years or so).
I avoid gonzo/silly/Cthulhu/superhero/modern.
I prefer fantasy/historical/hardsf/space opera/post-apocalypse.
If there is a Sheffield-based GM that I haven't tried yet, then try to get into their game.
Find the intersection between the above.
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Oh dear....ROFL :D

I'll come up with an analytical thoughtful point by point answer when I've picked my self off the floor from laughing at the whole idea that one has a formula for choosing games at cons:)



My formula:

Does it look interesting and is it likely to hold my attention for the slot?

Apart from that, I'm generally fairly easy about genre and system, but I do actively avoid D&D and the spin-offs. I also prefer a smaller group - especially if the gaming space is open plan as I find it difficult to hear what's going on with a lot of background noise. Mind you, I did play in an enormous Gloranthan Toon game last Continuum which was a blast.
OK I've picked myself up and dusted myself down and put my brain back in my head...

My gut reaction to all this having a Formula for picking Games is that its utter nonsense, and that it makes me feel somewhat sad :(. I once sat at the big gathering of people at the Garrison on a Friday pre-Furnace while one of our number sat with the Cons Timetable and ranked her prefered games by a similar formula to the ones that people are expressing here. I found it especially sad that the "I don't like that GM/Players on my blacklist" criteria was honestly brought out when I asked her how she was picking games. I said, well I like everyone*, which I was commended for.

You see I don't have a formula, as a Wizard of Awesome and Win I turn that on its head and instead have an outcome which is

"I'm going to play in a game and have fun"

Which means I can safely choose any game I want and achieve the above, unless the evil forces of Gaming-Not-Fun are active in the game and get the better of me - which to be honest after 22 years of Con Attendance (playing in some games that are so soooo sssoooo far below the standard of what we get offered today**) those Gremlins are so easily batted aside these days with the metaphysical equivalent of a feather or a dog's fart if I'm feeling fruity ;)

But Newt you big kidder, you're too busy running games at cons to play in other people's games! Not true I've been cutting down on the old Iron GM thing (ambition dies as you get older ;) ) and partaking in games here and there. Yes, I've been playing in games people I've known for years (which would have failed some of your miserable criteria) but mainly because I felt I had some sort of personal debt to pay for their support over the years (or I thought it might be fun to sit in their games and pull funny faces, you decide). If I had applied any sort of formula, or overthinking as I call it, I would have found one or more reasons why not to join in.

Also a big part of my approach*** is that I keep an open mind about the system. I publish the trad-of-tradist and games on the bleeding edge of story gaming cool, so to play favourites would be silly of me. My days being snobbish about games are way behind me (learnt that one when I met the missus and as a gamer into cool new wave European boardgames at the time, I really had to eat humble pie when I had a fantastic game of Monopoly with her parents). With an open mind, I can find the best way to have fun with whatever I encounter rules wise. Same goes for other players, especially people who have got on my goat repeatedly previously. Just chill open up, and find out what brings out the fun in them :)

*on a very deep level were it counts, I may occasionally get irritated with folk for various superficial reasons but as soon as I realise that's my problem and then it's easy to shake off :)

** ask yer Uncle Gaz and Baz about the bad old days of GenConUK for example.

*** see what I did there, I don't have a formula but I have an approach, that's a bit like SCIENCE!!! :)
Sorry to bring the maths here folks, but I'm seeing lots of algorithms on here, and not many formulae.

That said, I tend to be more careful than I used to be in picking games to play in. The overriding selection preference that I use is for games that I get a chance to play instead of run - so I often have a few systems that if I see advertised I'll go for (thank you to Pete Atkinson and Declan for running me Blades in the Dark, I'll return the favour now like a good boy).

Only rarely does pitch or story trump system or GM style preference (and usually GM style can be inferred from pitch).

That said, at Go Play Leeds I've usually picked whatever game has fewest players (I'm usually the guy running the muster, so it's poor form for me to rush to the game I want to play) - this has resulted in some very enjoyable experiences playing games I would never have picked, so maybe I should chill out and let it all wash over me haha.


Staff member
I have found my deliberate attempts to play what is available has massively increased my enjoyment, experience of new games, meeting new people and learning about new systems and GM styles. That's just me of course, but I commend it as an experiment.