Behind the Screens – Multi-Table Events (Part 1)

For the first Behind the Screens article of 2017, I thought I might start us off with a closer look at that rarest of game-type, the multi-table event. If you’ve had the opportunity to go to GenCon and secured a ticket to Paizo’s PFS Season Finales, you’ll know what I’m talking about. A football-sized room packed wall to wall with tables full of happily dicing gamers. At each table, a GM leads a group of PCs on an adventure, much as one would expect at a normal game. But even though each table progresses through their own series of encounters, the direction of the entire event is dictated by the sum total of all of the tables. A bell peals and a voice booms over the event hall speakers. Some critical event has transpired and all the tables much scramble to react.

This is the grandest of multi-table events and it’s hard to describe the experience of being one of hundreds of people all taking part in a single game of Pathfinder. If you’ve never been to GenCon (or PaizoCon) and gotten to play in one of these games, I’d highly recommend it. Having only participated in these events as a player, I’m afraid I’m not terribly qualified to give any sort of meaningful advice regarding events of this size. But chances are if you’re going to help organize such an event, you’re going to have mentors far more experience that I.

Rather, this article series is aimed to help a curious GM take the step towards organizing special events for a dozen or so people at smaller venues – an FLGS, a small local convention, or even between a few home gaming groups.

To start things off, in this article, I thought I’d go over some advantages and disadvantages of running a large event.

Pro: Lots of Players

If your local gaming community has a lot of active members, a special multi-table event might be a great way to get a bunch of players involved or invested in an ongoing story line. Paizo does this on a global scale with its Pathfinder Society Organized Play program which culminates in the massive multi-table event I talked about earlier. But there’s no reason that you can’t do this for groups of local players

Con: Lots of Players

There’s a huge jump from managing five players at a table to managing five tables of five players each. Do you ever feel like you have your hands full when one person has an issue or question? What about five players? Ten? Twenty?

Pro: A Great Experience

Owing to their rarity, special events tend to be exactly that. Special. Hosting or organizing a special event can be a great opportunity to provide players with a unique experience that they might not ordinarily have at a typical game day or group meetup. You could cook up a special scenario, or create a 3D terrain board, or have set piece events. Anything you can dream up that excites you will probably also jazz your players.

Con: Great Expectations

Going hand-in-hand with the potential for a great and unique event comes the pressure to make that a reality. It can sometimes get overwhelming for organizers who fall behind their deadlines or get caught up in minutiae of details and forget about original goal of the event to begin with.

Pro: A Reward All Its Own

You know that feeling you have when a finely crafted scenario comes together when your players run through it? Multiple that by ten. Running an event and seeing dozens of players discover and interact with the plot elements and scenarios I’ve cooked up can make all the time I put into the planning worth it. It’s hard to describe the feeling of  seeing the excitement on their faces and hear their cries dismay and cheers of triumph.

Con: It Might Not Be For You

As with any undertaking, it can be difficult to figure out how much you will or won’t like it until you’re in the middle of the experience. As I’ll discuss in later installments, planning a multi-table event takes foresight and a lot of effort in advance. If you decide part way through that running these things might not be for you, you can’t exactly pull out and leave everyone who’d already signed up for the event hanging.

 

That’s all for now, just a brief intro into what a special multi-table event can be like and why you might consider stepping up from running a single game to organizing several tables at once. Have you had any experience organizing a special event? I want to know about it in the comments section below!

Anthony Li

Anthony Li has been pretending to be someone or something else for about as long as he can remember, which some people might consider a problem. He cut his teeth on 2nd Edition AD&D when he was 14 years old and his only regret is that he didn’t start rolling dice sooner. Due to an unhealthy addiction to Magic: the Gathering he missed the entire cultural phenomenon that was the 3.X era of D&D. After a brief stint with 4E, he was dragged kicking and screaming into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game where he has since acclimated, adapted, and thrived. Most of his roleplaying experience has been behind in the GM screen where he has trained his dice to confirm crits on command. He always roots for the bad guys.

3 Comments

  1. This sounds really interesting, but I think I might be missing some of the details. Is every table playing the exact same adventure or are they in different parts of an a larger adventure and some how they all connect back together? Do the events at the different tables impact each other? This sounds like a lot of prep, but the payoff would be unique and really cool.

    • Anthony Li Reply to Anthony

      Yes and no. It can depend how you’d like to structure your multi-table event.

      With Pathfinder Society, there are different Tiers of play based on the level of the PCs. So at PaizoCon/GenCon, each table plays at the Tier that is appropriate to their characters and the which Tier you play affects the type of encounters you face on your adventure.

      Events at different tables can indeed impact one another and the larger story line progresses based on the sum experiences of all the tables. It can help to visualize it as an umbrella scheme. Each 1st Level GM runs a table of 4-6 players. Then you’ve got 2nd Level GMs who manage 4-6 1st Level GMs. Then you’ve got 3rd level GMs managing 4-6 2nd level GMs. And so on, until you’ve got one Super GM who is GMing all the GMs.

      And yes, it can definitely be a lot of work. My goal for the next few articles will be to break things down into manageable sections so you can take something like this and bring it to your local store or gaming group.

      • Ah okay I see how it works now, I am not familiar with Pathfinder society play, so that might be part of why I was having trouble picturing it. Cool, can’t wait to read the rest of your articles it would be interesting to try and plan this with my regular gaming groups.

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