Burst of Insight—5 Easy Convention Prep Tips for GMs

Gen Con 50 is just around the corner so I thought we would talk game prep. Whether you are running at the convention or not these simple tips can help you get your game ready. Obviously, you’ll want to read the adventure you plan to run and if there are pre-generated characters you’ll need to be familiar with their capabilities but here are five tips I find useful when preparing to run.

  1. Prepare based on your weaknesses: We’re all better at some things than others. Be honest with yourself and prepare most based on the things you are not so good at. If the Adventure you are running uses rules you don’t often play with such as drowning or other environmental hazards make sure you review those rules carefully before the event and have a copy of those rules ready at the table. If instead, you have problems describing NPCs evocatively and quickly consider “casting” famous actors in those roles and name drop them to your players. This is especially good if you can type cast a little. Need a slightly crazy villainous witch describe her as Helena Bonham Carter in Harry Potter, or maybe you need a wise retired Pathfinder for that role Sir Ian McKellan or Patrick Stuart could make good choices. Similarly, most modules have pictures if you have a similar issue describing other things the characters will see have a few of those printed off or queued up on your phone or tablet to show you players. Honestly, this is a good idea even if you’re great with descriptions.  Whatever your weakest GM skill might be, make preparing to compensate for that your first priority.
  2. Have good statblocks: A three-line statblock works for publication but I recommend using the bestiary PDFs, the PRD, or d20pfsrd to find full statblocks for each monster. Then print off what you need before you sit down at the table.

    I find the hit point check boxes incredibly useful. You can make them yourself with the wingdings font.

    Sure you can carry your bestiaries but it speeds things up if you don’t have to search for the right monster or juggle multiple books. A couple of blogs back I talked about using the Starfinder statblock model for your Pathfinder game.  I’d like to say even if you don’t use the statblock I suggested in that article you still should have physical copies of all the statblocks you’ll need for every encounter in the adventure.

  3. Preroll initiative: As I discussed in the statblock blog I don’t roll initiative for my monsters I typically use a base 10 + Initiative modifier but if you still prefer the randomness of dice rolls, consider rolling all of your monsters initiative in advance and include that in the statblock. I was surprised how much this one small adjustment helped speed up combat. You can do this for Perception as well if you opt for the base 10 + Skill = DC variant.
  4. Maps and minis: The right props at the table can make a big difference. Pathfinder is tactical and while you can run combat theater of the mind, it is easier if you have maps. When you are running at home you may have the luxury of drawing the maps as you go at a convention that can really eat into the limited time you have. I suggest you have tactical maps for every encounter ready to go. Last year for Gencon I was one of the GMs for the first round of the Four Horsemen Open and I took the provided encounter maps and had them printed at Staples as black and white blueprints pretty cheaply. Alternately, You can use preprinted Flipmats or draw them yourself on a wet or dry erase mat or on a roll of Gaming Paper. Just have your maps ready before game time. If you have a decent collection of minis and you can bring them to the con (and you really want to) that’s great. If you don’t or cant bring a mess of minis don’t sweat it, just bring enough tokens to represent the PCs and each monster. The tokens can be nearly anything. I find the bases from the Pathfinder Pawns to be fine for most encounters.

    If you go the Starburst route I recommend getting some small round labels to apply to the candies. Wax paper is hard to write on and you may want to differentiate the villains with notations like “orc 1.”

    I once played a game with Alex Augunas, where he brought a bag of Starburst candies to be all the monsters and the players got to eat what they killed. Just make sure you have everything you need ready before you sit down to play.

  5. Plan your timing: Review your adventure for areas that might sap a lot of your player’s time just to prepare yourself. You should also try to identify elements in the second or third acts of your adventure you can cut, hand wave, or otherwise speed along so that your game still reaches a satisfying conclusion should you run out of time. Likewise, look for elements you can expand on the off chance your players race through the adventure easily. Ending early can be nearly as disappointing as not getting to finish an adventure. A great way to work on timing if you have the opportunity is to run the adventure for your home group before running it at the convention.

Did these tips help you get your game ready for your next convention game? Let us know in the comments. Also if you have any tips I didn’t cover leave your suggestion in the comments.

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.

1 Comment

  1. Iammars

    If you’re running a PFS scenario, there may already be a stat block document done for you at pfsprep.com!