Origins 2011: The Games I Ran
This year at Origins was a special one for me because it was the first time I ran a game at a large convention. I had previously GMed informally with the gamers at Wittenberg as well as at WittCon and FOPCon, two small conventions with less than 100 people. The main difference to me GMing at Origins was that I had no idea what type of people would show up for my games and it was highly unlikely that anybody I had gamed with would sign up for what I was running. Still, I was really pleased with how it all turned out and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to do it.
I decided to run four games each of which were four hours long for a total of 16 gaming hours, which is the minimum to get a free badge at Origins. I spaced it out so that Wednesday through Saturday I was playing in two games and running one, which I felt was a good balance for me.
My first session that I ran was a scenario I wrote with called Sovereigns of the Sea for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle 7. I’m a fan of the hit British sci-fi show and it’s always amazed me how well this game system is able to capture the feel of the show. To my surprise, I was the only person at Origins running Doctor Who. One player told me that the demand was so high my first session was sold out 2 minutes after Origins’ event preregistration opened and the second 2 minutes later!
“Sovereigns of the Sea” lands the TARDIS on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, captained by Blackbeard himself. It seems he’s found a treasure map. But little does he know that the treasure he seeks actually belongs to aliens who don’t take kindly to pirates. One thing I love about running Doctor Who is that it never turns out the same way twice. Players come up with creative and ingenious ideas that really help the scenario. Armed with a basic outline of the scenario and filling in the details as we went along, my players and I were able to create a really interesting and enjoyable adventure for everyone.
The players were fantastic in this game. They were all older than me, mostly middle aged with two men who were getting on in years. But that didn’t seem to bother us: we were all Doctor Who fans and that was what mattered the most. The person who played The Tenth Doctor was able to imitate his personality incredibly. Joining him on this adventure were Captain Jack Harkness, Donna Noble, Rose Tyler, K-9 “the tin dog”, and Mickey Smith “the other tin dog.” Surprisingly in both my games, Rose wound up being the big hero of the day, although all the characters were able to have their shining moments. We all had a whole lot of fun with this and walked away from the table very happy.
The next day I ran Stargate SG-1: Shifting Loyalties using the Savage Worlds system. In the show, the Goa’uld Klorel was last seen being extracted from his host Skaara and was said to have been permitted to travel to another planet of his choosing. He never reappeared in the show. So I decided to fill in this gap. The premise of this scenario was that after Apophis died, Klorel contacted SG-1 claiming that he wanted to join the Tok’ra and was willing to turn over a partially completed mothership in good faith. Of course, who better to investigate this than SG-1! This scenario also had Bra’tac and Jacob Carter guest starring to help determine if they had found a potential ally, or if the whole thing was a trap.
I’d run this scenario twice before at Wittenberg and it too wound up being slightly different than the previous times I ran it, although not nearly as much as my Doctor Who scenarios. Whereas usually the enemy Jaffa can’t shoot to save their life, this time one of them was nearly able to kill Jacob Carter during their initial skirmish. Still, everything worked out in the end the players had a good time.
One thing that frustrated me was that one of the players in this game seemed to have the D&D mentality of kill everybody and take their stuff. For instance, they wanted their character to ditch their P-90 and loot the dead Jaffa’s staff weapons just because they could, which really didn’t fit with the mood of the show. One thing about running at a large convention like this is that you may get people who are poor gamers or who don’t want to match the intended style of the game. But all things considered, I had five great players and only one player that wasn’t so great. And we all walked out of there happy again.
Friday I ran Stargate Atlantis: No Man Left Behind, also using the Savage Worlds system. This time, the gap I filled was with Lt. Aiden Ford, a military man who was part of Sheppard’s team in Season 1, became half Wraith in Season 2, then promptly disappeared from the show. This scenario took place in Season 5 beginning with Todd the Wraith scientist contacting Atlantis to say that he discovered that Michael, in his quest to create a better Human/Wraith hybrid soldier, had captured Ford and was hoping to experiment on him. Col. Sheppard and his team, with the help of Carson Beckett, of course needed to launch a full scale rescue to get him, but there was the nagging question: what was Todd hoping to gain out of all this?
I think that this was my best game all convention, although my first Doctor Who game was a close second. The show was less popular than SG-1, but I was sure that I would be able to find six players who were enthusiastic about Atlantis at a convention as large as Origins.
And find them I did! One player told me at the beginning that he had never played in any role-playing game before, but he did a fantastic job portraying the irritable yet lovable Dr. Rodney McKay. I was a bit worried when I planned to let Todd be a player character with a hidden agenda. But the player who played him nailed it on the head, talking like the character, creating a sense of paranoia and distrust with the other team members, and even managing to successfully capture Aiden Ford and gain him as an ally by the end without the Atlantis team suspecting him! All in all, it was a fantastic adventure and it was one of the high points of time at Origins.
My final game was a repeat of Sovereigns of the Sea. This time, I had among my players three young boys who were brothers, which was a bit different for me and required a bit more coaxing to get them to share the great ideas they had been thinking. The group as a whole lacked the energy and enthusiasm that the first group had, but in the end were still able to pull out a great scenario. Although the first time I ran this was better, I wouldn’t call this one a failure by any stretch. The players had fun and that means it was a success!
I found it interesting how much of an effect the players had on how well the session went. There’s lots of talk in the RPG community about how system matters and how the GM’s skill matters. But even when I had the same system and scenario (and obviously the same GM), the players had the biggest impact on whether the game was outstanding or merely good. After thinking about it, I think that what makes a good game is influenced the most by the GM. The players have the second biggest influence with system and scenario being the third. I think that sometimes GMs focus too much on the system and scenario and not enough on improving their own skills as a GM. It’s difficult to change the players themselves, so the surest way to have better sessions is to work on improving your skills as a GM.
Also I’ve realized that although at a convention you can get people in your games who are detrimental to everyone’s enjoyment, sometimes you get shining players who do an incredible job at helping to make things incredibly fun for everybody!