The Top 10 Things That Can Make Convention Games Suck

As much as I like running convention games, I don’t particularly enjoy  playing in them. I came up with 10 things that can sour the whole experience. Things that I have experienced.

Note that the exclusive use of the masculine form is totally arbitrary…

10) That Guy

You know you’re in trouble when the Game Master starts ranting against the game he signed up to run. He obviously prefers another system but somehow agreed to run for a game he dislikes. The session is peppered with editorial comments on how this or that action/scene/resolution would have been handled in this or that other game. While common within the grand D&D family, I’ve seen it occur with fans of other games.

Don’t be that guy, run games you enjoy, and please leave your irritations at the door.

9)  That Guy

The game is 15 minutes late because of missing players, and the GM completes setting up. Then he starts talking in a morose voice, obviously not wanting to be there. Chances are, the GM jumped on the occasion to score free admittance to the con (including possible free lodging) but realized late that GMing for 10 hours a day for the whole con wasn’t such a great deal. The game runs on autopilot, with minimal descriptions and a complete lack of enthusiasm on the part of the master.

Don’t be that guy, sign up for less or just skip the con if you can’t afford it.

8) That Guy

You signed up for one of those “learn to play’ game because you don’t know the rules but are eager to learn.  The GM sits down, looks at the newbies (and veterans that brought new players)  and says  he’ll be using a bunch of undocumented house rules that his gaming group plays. “It just makes the game better”.

Don’t be that guy. You accepted to teach the game as is, within parameters set by the organizers. You are one of the most critical advocates of the game and even if you are an award-winning game designer, you MUST stick to  basic rules. If you absolutely must, discuss your hacks AFTER the game.

7) That Guy

This one may be a tad bit more controversial, but I can’t bear a GM that signs up to run a game he doesn’t master enough to run. I’m not asking for complete mastery here, but I can expect not having to wait inordinate amounts of time while the GM frantically looks up rules. To a lesser extent, I don’t have a lot of patience for those who run adventures they haven’t parsed enough to run within acceptable delays.

Don’t be that guy. You can’t afford to be unprepared at an event people paid good money to attend. At least be familiar enough with the material to wing it.

6) That Guy

The last GM-only archetype of this list, the laid back “who needs pacing?” Guy is the scourge of con games. With a limited time slot and a table full of people, everyone expects to experience the best a game has to offer. In such cases, the last thing you want is someone who doesn’t speed things along when players flounder, are being too risk-adverse, or lose time roleplaying with every merchant to save 4 cp on a lantern. In the same vein, some GMs insist on seeing each combat encounters go to the very end, even when it becomes obvious that the PCs will win and it is just a matter of time.

Don’t be that guy. Keep things rolling, drop more hints, help stuck players along and know when a fight should be brought to an end.

5) That Guy

The GM revs up and the game starts. Everything is going along fine, until it’s time for Mr. Smartphone to play. Mr. Smartphone has grown such a symbiotic link to his phone he has to go back to it whenever he isn’t being actively solicited. This breaks immersion as the GM must always get the player’s attention. Now I’m not so naive as to expect people to leave their phones away during play, that boat as sailed a few years ago, but I really don’t appreciate those that clearly focus more on the phone than on what’s happening at the table.

Don’t be that guy. If you must absolutely stay on your phone or tablet, at least have the decency to pay attention to catch your turn before it comes around.

As a caveat, I’ve seen people, present company included, become that type of Guy when a convention game turns sour. This is often because some or several of the things outlined in this article occur. This is a common, passive aggressive way of dealing with what’s wrong at the table.

4) That Guy

…is a close cousin of the GM that doesn’t like the game he runs. He vocally announces that he’s never played the game he’s joining and likely heard horrible things about it. He often start rehashing some of the overblown generalities we all heard at game stores or on game forums. The worse thing about that type of player is they often obviously have fun during the session, getting into things and forgetting to bitch about the game… until the game ends and they start complaining about it again.

Don’t be that guy. If you decided to invest 3-4 hours in a game that you have heard bad things about or aren’t sure you’ll like, give it an honest try. Please keep your negative opinions to yourself please, the others have a right to experience the game from a neutral perspective too.

3) That Guy

The GM doesn’t have the time to start to introduce himself that this player starts talking over him, putting both hands on the Spotlight with no intention of This type of Guy has many flavours, from the extroverted Method Actor who insists on describing each sword strokes in excruciating details to the tactician that tells everyone how they should play their characters. Worse still is the one that patronizingly challenges everything you do. While not quite reaching the levels of the next guy (see below), this one can turn the rest of the table into wallflowers unless someone (usually the GM) takes active measures to rein him in.

Don’t be that Guy. Extroverts know they’re extroverts, and while it may take some efforts, if you MUST have your hands on the spotlight, at least help out by shining it on the other players. Become a cheerleader for the rest of the party, it is a lot of fun too.

2) That Guy

The Lone Wolf, the player type that is powered by unfiltered selfishness, pure douchebaggery or abject social skills. He gets a kick out of being the table’s outlier. The more harmless versions of that Guy constantly ask non-nonsensical, badly timed questions or always tries to do things that are so outside the rules the GM may become flustered and frustrated. In the middle of the range lies the impatient instigator that slices through any delays longer than 5 minutes with an action that puts everyone in mortal peril. At the extreme end of that range lies the ultimate game killer, the jerk just likes disturbing the social equilibrium of a group by sowing discord and being downright offensive (See #1 for a particular lethal combo).

I can’t really tell you not to be that guy, because if you are you wouldn’t get it or listen to me anyway. Others, stay tuned we’ll see what we can do after we deal with the next issue.

1) Any (Noun)-isms

I’m going to break form with my initial joke here because I care deeply about this one and I have yet to take a formal, documented stand on the issue.

My number one convention game/panel/discussion killer is any and I mean ANY kind of exclusionary behavior.  Sexism, Racism and any form of discrimination or prejudice against the varieties found in our community (religion, sexual orientation, appearance, domains of interest, etc.) This is the kind of thing that gets me so riled up I will interrupt the game, point out the behavior and threaten to leave the table (or kick the offending player off if I run the table) unless the behavior stops cold.  This is one of the greatest enemies of our hobby.  This pushes potential players away from the hobby forever. I will even challenge people who make cracks at LARPers, Cosplayers and fans of sparkly vampires.

For the love of all things that are so awesome in RPG games, Don’t be that Guy*

What can we do?

If you are sitting at a table with such players/GM and you feel this will spoil your experience, you should bring it up. Explain, focusing on your point of view to prevent defensive behavior. Explain how this or that behavior or approach prevents you from enjoying the game. That might be daunting, but remind yourself that you invested money and time to be there, you are entitled to a good experience.

If that doesn’t work, feel free to just walk away from the game, go enjoy those hours somewhere else.

What’s your horror story?

I’m sure you had bad experiences. Feel free to share them here (don’t name people please), more importantly share your ways of coping with less than ideal games and how you can manage to save them.

I promise to restore balance soon and write another Top X post that focuses on things that make con games great.

*or Gal



  1. Some on Twitter have mentioned playing with a Drunk GM (I’ll also say player). It may be cool when the level of intoxication is light, but passed a certain point, things usually degenerate.

  2. Great article.

    I’ve had experience with a type #3 who is very excited to play the game you are running either before he loves the game, your GMing style or both. I’ve managed to control him by asking him to calm down while I’m interacting with another player at the table. I’ve also took him aside to ask him to mention his action are being disruptive and he shouldn’t interrupt others. It can be tiring as a GM to devote the extra energy to deal with disruptive types.

    When you are a GM at a convention, it is difficult to walk away from the table you are running. Sometimes, you have to firm with a disruptive player. Another thing which can help is having convention staff nearby in case there is an issue.

    I find the best thing is to keep track who is participating and try to give equal attention opportunities to everyone.

  3. My worst story is something that didn’t happen to me, but to a poor soul that was just looking to enjoy the game and happened to be female. About 30 minutes into the play session, she was told “You don’t know how to play this game because you’re a woman.” The word “woman” was filled with enough crappy subtext to choke the most apologetic gamer, but unfortunately the DM did not want to kick the bad guy off the table, because it would mess with “balance issues”. Instead, the rest of us got up and left 15 minutes later after another horrible remark, and reported both the player AND the DM.

  4. samldanach says:

    I won’t go into details of my worst experience. But, it happened to include a few cardinal sins that aren’t on your list above.

    First, the GM seemed much more interested in chatting about the game than actually running it. He was super enthusiastic, but we were all already well familiar with the game and sitting at the table because we loved it.

    Second, the GM didn’t actually have a scenario planned. He had a few general ideas, and was just going to wing it. This wouldn’t have been terrible, if he had used that to tailor the action to the group. But, he didn’t.

    Third, he created a scene that was, literally, “Here, meet my home group. Aren’t they awesome?” They weren’t, and he was clearly offended that we weren’t impressed.

    Fourth, he ended up running a scenario that had zero action. Poking around some ruins, finding an Indiana Jones-style puzzle, solving it, and taking home the treasure. Boring.

  5. I had a GM at a convention, who forgot all his materials. We had to roll up characters. Did I mention this was Call of Cthulhu, it took a lot of time. And it was a midnight game.
    Whilst everyone was creating characters, he started telling us that it was going to have racism in (not uncommon for 1920’s, but not a good con topic). And then the politics started with another player and the GM. It went very bad.
    And I took the cowards way out. I said I got an urgent text from a friend and had to go.

  6. What an excellent list… My only two times at big cons I have gladly not encountered those. I run demo games at local sci-fi and anime cons, as well as rpg related activities in Puerto Rico, and have not run into major issues. Perhaps a few jaded players who disparage the game, but its been mostly new players and the majority have been great. I agree with #1 and try to do the same not just in games but other social gatherings. Again, great post!

  7. TirionAlexander says:

    I ran my first con games at Gen Con 2012. I ran 15sessions of the D&D 4E West Wall game. While
    I had fun, I did encounter many That Guys. In order To get all the dice from WotC, people had to play in my game. This led to having many players who were anti-4e And very outspoken about it through out the game. Although many of them calmed down and at the end and even admitted to having a good time. I also had one player who complained how the Essential builds of the pregens were vastly inferior to his home game characters.

  8. One of the worst games I ever played at a con soured me to a system I had enjoyed up until that point. I’d had fantastic fun at cons playing Serenity and Supernatural, so I was looking forward to the new Smallville setting using Cortex.

    The GM absolutely REFUSED to start the game until he had six players, even though he had four. That should have been my sign to just get up and go get a refund, but I was willing to give him a chance. Almost an hour after the scheduled start, he finally got the extra two players he needed and he started. I’ve seen railroads that meandered more than that game did. Nothing we players did really made any difference and he just ushered us from ‘cool’ scene to cool scene. He also insisted on having us roll dice for the weirdest of roleplayed scenes.

    I finally lost my temper when he started making one of the players roll a morale like check on a pissing contest he was having with an NPC. I pointed out to the GM (who had kept touting how much more the game enhanced roleplaying) that he was ruining the game by making us roll for everything and interupting the roleplyaing.

    I’ve played with some That Guys before, but this experience was the one that probably made me the angriest and feel like I’d completely wasted my money.

  9. It’s not nearly as major an offense as anything you listed Phil or people mentioned already in the comments, but I will note it here: The very first time Dave and I ever got to play 4E D&D (a specific preview before it was released), we were having a lot of fun and were up against some tough low level encounters, and the DM didn’t pull any punches so pretty quickly were were faced with a TPK. The convention DM seemed to take this as a chance for him to have some extra free time and was content ending the adventure with all of the players bleeding out and him going to grab lunch. Certainly not the best introduction to 4E, especially considering the closed minded attitudes of many of the other players that were at our table (at least one of them was easily That Guy discussed in your post).

    If you’re an convention DM and you’ve signed up to run a preview adventure, don’t take a TPK to mean you can get out of running the rest of the adventure. Be a creative DM and turn it into fun and excitement, please!

  10. I’ve played in a few groups with one or more from the list. We had one player who as the night and campaign went on he changed through several of the above list’s personalities. We had put up with him for years as he was the brother of the host but not the DM. We had to change the time we played, the rules about food and finaly stop any alcohol being drank at the game. He loved to be the most powerful in everything but when it came to almost any type of rp he did’nt care and would disrupt the game by moaning that wasnt what he made the char for. He was fianly asked to leave the group after several cases of cheating in one night of a epic level game of D&D. He’s been to several other groups and been chucked out also. He has also been blacklisted from the local con’s due to this behaviour and reputation. The most tell tailing thing about he being asked to leave was that it was agreed to by his brother without a second thought and asking why hadnt we mentioned it sooner.

  11. @Eric: As a GM having to deal with one or several of these issues, your options are more limited. As you say, the onus is on you to handle the situation, call players on their behavior and be ready to intercede up to and including asking a player to leave the game. Fortunately, that’s not something all that common.

    @Gamercow: That’s exactly the kind of story that gets my blood boiling. I’m glad you left the table as a gesture of solidarity.

    @samldanach: The overly chatty unprepared GM is indeed something that’s likely to drive a game into the wall. Being a good convention GM is about being humble enough to know you need prep. I can pull an all improv D&D game, but that’s because I’ve been doing it 30 years, I usually only do it for 1st level games with pre-gens and I have a special template I use.

    @Heather: That’s not so much a coward’s day out. Your free time is your own. When you saw the signs that the game was going to go south, you made the correct call IMO.

    @Sunglar: Way to go man. Keep doing a great job bringing in new players to the fold. Thanks for the praises.

    @Trion: Yeah, I had DMs like you in mind when I write about the player versions of that Guy. I’ve done your job at NYCC 2 years in a row. Thanks for being one of the stalwart ones. 🙂

  12. @Orikes: I’ve seen this level of inflexibility (and cluelessness) in some GMs and it actually is one of the reasons why I don’t like to play in games run by people that aren’t friends or that haven’t been highly recommended. I need flexibility when I play a character and I want my actions to matter. Rolling dice on demand without significant choices and consequences? I’d rather play slot machines.

    @Bartoneus: Ack. I agree with you. Much like Jim Wyatt did with us in 2008, he turned a TPK into an encounter where we had to broker a deal with the bad guys to be set free. That I loved.

    @xalphe: This is a perfect example of “we should have talked about this first” in homegames. Thanks for sharing the story.

    Awesome comment! Thanks everyone!

  13. Jimmy Patterson says:

    I was with you until “Sparkly Vampires”. If I were challenged over a pop-culture quip, I’d leave the table before you had the chance to ask me.

  14. There’s good-natured quip and an all out rant trying to attack/destroy someone else’s geeky interest. I could have been clearer here.

    I know many many gamers hate Twilight with an unbridled passion that verges on that seen in the trenches of the Edition Wars… but those books have added a lot of new geeks in the community and I find it as valid a passion as Furries Cosplay, Extreme Combat LARPing and people who think the best D&D edition was the 2nd one… regardless of my personal stance on it.

    And I do plenty of jokes about that last one. 🙂

  15. Another -ism: cannibalism, the player who insists on having his or her character feast on the remains of the fallen enemies after each combat. That was a weird game.

  16. I ran 4e for 4 people who’d never played it before. One of the four, dispite having NEVER played 4e, had a whole list of reasons why 3x was better, and wouldn’t shut up about it. Even to the point of rules lawyering at me about books he hadn’t read, and telling me to DM it like we were playing 3x.

    “But..that orc mini as you placed it on the table is PHYSICALLY facing AWAY from my mini…why can’t I get my flank?!” and “WTF is a dragonborn?! That’s stupid!” as examples, is just the tip of the iceberg.

    It was pretty bad, and almost turned my then girlfriend, now wife off to table top gaming forever.

    It has a happy ending, however. All of us, minus that guy, are still playing 4e. Now we’re familiar enough that we rotate DMing duties and our adventures are like that ‘exquisite corpse’ game surrealist artists used to play.

  17. That GM: Spends at least half of a four-hour slot on character creation and then barely makes it past the first scene of the adventure.

    That Guy: Takes the opportunity of being offered a Pre gen of a female character as an excuse for lame sexist jokes and general misogyny and immaturity.

    On drinking, my experience has been that the GM should always imbib less than the players.

  18. I had two really lousy experiences at GenCon one year that contributed to pretty much turning me off to the event. The first was a GM who advertised his D&D v.3.5 game as a traditional Eberron romp and then transported the party to Ravenloft halfway through, completely changing the tenor of the session. The second was a Cortex game of Supernatural, I believe, wherein two players’ characters came to blows (and so too did the players, nearly) and the GM did nothing to smooth the situation out, creating a powerfully awkward situation for the rest of us and ending the game prematurely. In the second case I don’t think it’s necessarily the GM’s responsibility to SOLVE player disagreements, but I think it is incumbent upon them as judge, referee, and shared storyteller to create an environment that fosters good will between players, even if it there is enmity between characters.

  19. Sat down to play a well run Vampire RPG game at a con once and was hit with the most mind numbing display of bad roleplaying ever. 1/3 of the way into the adventure the DM introduces a npc who is a Ventrue class (kind of the elite snobby vampire if you don’t play).

    One of the players stands up from the table and says, “My character hates them! I refuse to go any further with this!” and walked out of the game….picked up his dice and gear and left. It left us all without a crucial player who was needed for the adventure and kind of blindsided the DM who expected us to actually find ways to solve problems like having to deal with npc’s who you dislike. He scrambled for a few minutes and then recovered to have us all finish the game. Good game, but THAT GUY took his roleplaying a bit too far.

  20. The most common That Guy that I have run into, that always detrimentally affects my/our enjoyment of the game, is the Combat Guy. DM or Player, all he is really interested in (or good at) is the combat encounters. If the former, he puts no effort into responding to character actions with anything but boxed text and calls for skill checks. If the latter, he has no character background, chose an odd race-class combo specifically for its mechanical edge, and contributes nothing to roleplaying or exploration encounters but skill checks and “yeah, me too.”
    But when the Action starts, these guys prove they’re not overly tired or introverted or otherwise distracted – they jump into things with gusto. Which is fine, to a point (the one where they start ‘helping’ other players) – I love a good tactical challenge too, so I appreciate that they’re engaged in the combat.
    However, the contrast is striking and just, well, annoying. 🙂

    Of course, my Guy is a teddy bear by comparison to some of the ten above. I’ve shared a game here or there with most of those over the years. And I know I’ve dissed a game mechanic or hogged a spotlight now and then – so maybe there’s hope for them/us all.

  21. I’ve never roleplayed at a con before. I’ve been tempted too, but any friends I’m with have cautioned against it with stories much like the ones you describe above. I have had a few negative experiences with in store gaming though.

    Every now and then the local gaming hub would have open table games or tournaments during big events like free comic book day. I remember one DM for a pathfinder game tar and feathering a little 13 year old kid who came to play at our table. The kid had roleplayed before, and was actually pretty quick at picking up the pathfinder rules (Having only played D&D at home with his parents), but the DM insisted on making this kid’s experience a nightmare, constantly complaining that “this is not a kiddie game”. If that had been my first time roleplaying with a group of unknowns, I would have given up for good.

    On another occasion we had an over cautious DM being super nice to the lone female at our table. She had never played before, so we were all being patient. But he kept fudging the dice rolls and made sure she didn’t fail at anything. It’s one thing to be helpful with a new player, and making sure they have a good experience. But she was being patronized! She wasn’t getting the roleplaying experience and she knew it. Talking with her after the game she mostly felt that the DM was creeping on her (Even insisted she sit next to him so he could “help her with the rules”).

  22. “Some on Twitter have mentioned playing with a Drunk GM (I’ll also say player). It may be cool when the level of intoxication is light, but passed a certain point, things usually degenerate…”

    Conversely, don’t be the guy who comes to an RPG meetup in a pub (very common here in UK) and doesn’t spend any money at the bar! Unless the group is paying for the venue, they are depending on everyone spending money at the bar to keep the landlord happy. Buy overpriced orange juice if you must, but spend that dosh – and preferably get some beers in!


  1. […] A really good article this week at Critical Hits. Chatty DM goes over The Top Ten Things That Can Make Convention Games Suck. […]

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