Why do you GM for strangers online or at conventions? What do you get out of it?

Emirikol

Adventurer
Why do you GM for strangers online or at conventions? What do you get out of it?

I've been convention gaming for 30 years and VTT gaming for about 10. I'm soul-searching on why I bother to GM for total strangers.
I'm having second thoughts about doing it anymore.


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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I find it fun to play with new people who have different perspectives than the same ol’ people I’ve been playing with for the last 20 years. In limited doses. Like one or two conventions a year.

Plus it’s a way to give back to a hobby that I’ve been part of for 40+ years. That’s why I’ve been doing Adventurers League at Gamehole Con. It’s a great, local con that needs a lot people for the popular D&D events and I get to support them by being one of their volunteers.

I have run other games at other cons in the past (mostly Villains and Vigilantes at Gen Con). But now I mostly focus on AL so all I have to do is prep work someone‘s already written, and that’s a whole lot easier.
 

Reynard

Legend
I started running games at conventions because, frankly, I was not having fun playing games at conventions. As egotistical as it may sound, I decided that if I ran games then at least 6 people plus me would get to have fun instead of no one.

Over time, I evolved into running "convention campaigns." That is, I run games that range for 3 to 6 four-hour sessions in length that tell a complete story. What I found was that some people who come to conventions do so because they don't have home groups, and a thing they found really fun and compelling was getting to enjoy a "campaign" over the course of a long weekend. Once I started doing that i realized I enjoyed a great benefit too: got to run a campaign I had been thinking about, but in truncated for, without the months or even years of investment. Sometimes I discovered that there was more "there" there and the con campaign extended from con to con. My longest was a Starfinder campaign that covered two conventions plus a long weekend, multi-session private game where half the folks were players from the con.

More generally: running games if fun. Running with strangers can be a challenge, but challenges are often fun. yes, it is possible to have a player that is very difficult. In that case, you have to use your grown up skills and solve the problem. But by and large, people that sign up to play a game with strangers are in and all they want is an enjoyable experience.
 


TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Sometime ago, I started filling open spots in my games to people I didn't know well, or at all.

Its gone well. Some don't stick, some do, a few I have become friends with.

In my case, there was really no alternative. The whole casual (or even edgier professional) gaming culture that has arisen around VTTs can also feel a bit frantic, and I try to find people who will be a good longer term match.

In any case, for me its working well.
 

aco175

Legend
Last convention before Covid my local Con oversold tickets for a slot or just did not have any D&D set up so myself and some other guy took a couple groups of players to an empty room and set up a game ourselves. I had a couple of the AL modules and some maps and such in my car so it was rather easy to get it going. The Con staff eventually found us and gave us the typical reward tickets to give to the best player at the table. I would bring my bag to the next Con in case people get stuck again. Last time before this was 30 years ago when I was in the Army and the local FLGS was putting on something at the local college and I was able to run a couple games.

Like what @billd91 said above- it is a way to give back to the hobby. Playing with others is fun in the 4 hour blocks. Some people do not mesh in style or attitude, but generally I find good people and find it self-rewarding. Like how I have my adventures on DMsGuild for PWYW and like to think some kids getting into the game are thankful for getting them for free and might pay it foreword someday.

Not sure I would like to do this all the time, maybe if I did not have a home game or regular group of players. Maybe I would check at the college for a night and try to make a set group.
 

MGibster

Legend
Why do you GM for strangers online or at conventions? What do you get out of it?
The same thing I get out of playing, fun. Usually it works out okay, sometimes it works out great, and on rare occasions it's just not much fun at all. It's also a great way to meet new players. I ran a game at my FLGS for Free RPG day this year, and while the game wasn't that fun and I didn't meet anyone suitable to game with regularly....wait a minute, why am I doing this?
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
I run multiple PBP groups here on ENWorld. I have played with a few dozen people. I have met ONE of them IRL, and I like to think we're friends now. It's also made for something closer to friendship with my interactions with the others on these boards, as well.

I also play with strangers at my Comic & Game store. Now, part of that is to help sell the books, dice, and supplies and grow the hobby. But I also enjoy it. Sure, I've played with many horrible people over the years, but I've also played with many lovely people. In fact, my ENTIRE personal group (we play after hours at the store) started as comic collectors that I taught to play D&D. They are now some of my closest friends.

So I wouldn't trade it.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Why do you GM for strangers online or at conventions? What do you get out of it?

I've been convention gaming for 30 years and VTT gaming for about 10. I'm soul-searching on why I bother to GM for total strangers.
I'm having second thoughts about doing it anymore.

What I get out of it?
I love to show off good games that aren't D&D. (not saying D&D isn't good; am saying I'll leave the D&D evangelism to people who actually like it rather than who (like me) find it merely "good enough to play occasionally."."
I love to see the "Oh, that's how that works" look.
In some cases, it's the only chance I get to run certain ones with/for fellow fans - like Tails of Equestria or WEG Star Wars.
Run 2 sessions to get free admissionto the local con (JAGC) for the weekend.
Because it gets me in free, I can play boardgames, too.
 

payn

Legend
I used to run PFS about a decade ago. I did it mostly to meet gamers in my local community. I definitely had to adjust my expectations as personalities were wide and ideas of fun varied greatly. Though, I enjoyed it most of the time and learned new things about the game, the rules, and how to be a better GM.

Now I run for strangers online because my local group of ten years has fallen apart due to covid and moving around the metro etc... Though my online group is no longer what I'd consider strangers.

I guess for both PFS and online gaming it was to meet people and try and forge a game that is consistent with matching playstyle preferences. Thats the best thing to get out of it.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Why do you GM for strangers online or at conventions? What do you get out of it?
It generally lets me play a wider range of games and a wider range of styles. If I only played face-to-face with my regular group my choices would be 5E played as a combat sim or nothing. 5E is not my favorite RPG and combat is my least favorite mode of play. So to play anything even approaching what I want to do with RPGs, it's strangers or not at all.
I've been convention gaming for 30 years and VTT gaming for about 10. I'm soul-searching on why I bother to GM for total strangers.

I'm having second thoughts about doing it anymore.
Nothing wrong with taking a break and recharging and reassessing.
 


I switched to online gaming last year as my local game community is dying out, and frankly, it is far better than any other gaming I've had since 1979.

I've used VTT at the table for over a decade, so that aspect is familiar, but what I love about online gaming is that you can find good, reliable players in quantity. There was a short learning curve in terms of posting openings and interviewing prospective players, but in the last year I have kept three groups full with zero effort. With a largely infinite pool of players, there has been no tolerating marginal or high maintenance players simply to make table count or because they have a friend in the group, no struggles to keep a group fully manned. Any player who doesn't measure up gets booted, and the next one of the waiting list gets called off the bench.

And then there's the beauty of no commuting to the game, or lugging all the gaming stuff around (I live in the country so although I was always the GM, I never hosted the game). At thirty minutes before the hour I stroll into my office, hook up my headphones, and begin my pre-game checklist. The players pop up on Discord chat (we don't use video) and BS a bit, and then at the stroke of the hour, we commence.

At the end of the session, we log off, I hook up my headphones to recharge, update the game support site, log in reward points on the PCs sheets...and I'm home.

Comfort, convenience, and unlimited quality players; I'll never F2F again.
 

Birmy

Adventurer
I don't DM online as I find the format far less enjoyable, but I do DM at conventions (including Gamehole Con; I've probably run into Bill D., above). I'm happy to just be a player in my home campaigns, so I use conventions as my ongoing "DM Academy"--to get more confident and hopefully better at DMing, a role I haven't regularly played since the '90s (and in grade school at that). The cons are a good environment for this: You get to see how you handle a wide swath of different kinds of players, and if you (or they) suck, you take the lesson and move on in 2-4 hours without having to worry about alienating friends or derailing a campaign. Since I mostly do organized play (Adventurers League), I know I can stick to a couple of short modules all weekend and, by the nth time running it, feel like I have a better understanding of both the rules and what makes a module tick. Also, it's not that big of a community, so it helps you get to know a lot of the frequent players.

So, for me, it's a kind of boot camp, where I can gain confidence and improve in my DMing, get a better grasp on storytelling in this format, and maybe meet some people on the way. Also: There's often free admission, PDFs, and swag.
 

One of the big motivating factors for me is knowing that someone that's never played a game before can show up to my table and have an amazing first experience with it. That can turn into a lifelong love of that game. It's like the time I was DMing an open table running Tyranny of Dragons. Some young kid showed up that had maybe played D&D once before. For the final fight with Tiamat. One blow or breath weapon from her would've killed his character, but instead I made sure he had fun and got to contribute to her defeat.

I started running games at conventions because, frankly, I was not having fun playing games at conventions. As egotistical as it may sound, I decided that if I ran games then at least 6 people plus me would get to have fun instead of no one.

Same. Every friend was a stranger once.

I've GMd for strangers online. Those strangers became friends.

Another factor is that there's something about the communal aspect of gaming. I can sit down to run for people from all over the country or even world, and we can all tune into the exact same wavelength for a few hours. That's pretty heavy.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
I love it! My total numbers are pretty large thanks to the RPGA and then EN World gatherings, I've run for somewhere between 2000 and 3000 strangers at gaming cons etc., spread out over the last 25 years. On average at each table there's one person I don't want to game with again, four people who are fine, and one person who is really interesting or a fantastic player. I love keeping in touch with those people; they're a huge pillar of my relationships with friends, and they're largely responsible for the truly remarkable gaming I've gotten to experience.

I also love getting to introduce new people to the games I love. It means that next time, there's even more people to play those games with.
 
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Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I ran games at Gen Con for the first time this year. I did it because a) I put in to run a module I was working on, never expecting they'd actually let/want me to actually run it, but they did, and b) I wanted playtest feedback from a group completely unknown to me, unlike the game I run at my FLGS.

The experience was a humbling and rewarding one, and I will do it again.

For clarity's sale: the system was Dungeon Crawl Classics, which has as far as I can tell one of the greatest, friendliest, and most supportive fanbases imaginable.
 

Echoing what other have said with emphasis on the "I get to run systems my home group wouldn't want to play".

Most of my recent con-GM'ing has been in the Indie Games on Demand room at Origins, where pretty much anything you put on the menu will get least 4 people to the table, often 6, and occasionally more than 6 and you end up running it again even though you didn't plan on it to accommodate the waitlisted players!

So it's a place to try out those systems I've always wanted to experience but never have, in an environment that is (paradoxically?) more tolerant of not-totally-awesome game experiences than might be expected.

I say paradoxically because everyone knows the random mix of players at the table can make for some less-than-amazing games, which tends to cover for any less-than-amazing GM-ing on my part. Not that I would ever deliberately GM poorly, but sometimes for a system with which I'm not that familiar, I execute it worse than I would otherwise. If that made any sense.

= = =

I also really like @Reynard 's idea of 'convention campaigns'. At any given time I have about a dozen campaign ideas, and if I try to run those as full years-long campaigns with my home group, I'll be senile or dead before I get to experience them all. I need to get some of those to a convention table when I can... and maybe it'll inspire one of the players to go home and GM "my" campaign idea for his group!

(I put "my" in quotes because a lot of the ideas were absorbed by osmosis from rulebooks, discussion boards, and media; plus idea ownership is murky at best.)
 

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