My Two Gaming Hobbies

For a few years now, I’ve cultivated two hobbies that relate to RPGs. They interact and inform each other but wow are they different.

The first is my home gaming. That’s the long campaign-y stuff like Pendragon and Mutant: Year Zero and most recently The One Ring. It’s my ongoing creative sustenance, my weekly sanity check, my only reliable real-world social outlet to be honest.

The second is my convention gaming. Meeting internet friends, one-shot intensive, highly improvisational, super-challenging subject matter.

I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have the one, I couldn’t have the other.

My convention gaming is for stretching my skills and exposing me to new ideas. I watch how other folks facilitate. I get to trot out stuff that my home players just aren’t especially interested in. My personal politics are indulged and obvious and right there at the table, largely because the convention audience is entirely sympathetic. Or if they’re not, that’s also obvious and I can filter for that.

My home gaming is for retrenching and building and cultivating the stuff I picked up through convention play. Not strictly necessary, I don’t think, since I ran games for many years between my big con-going eras (my last regular convention schedule was 1993-1998ish, when I was writing for the b-/c-list publishers and working booths).

Complication: I don’t like hitting the convention space unprepared. I find it tacky and, for lack of a better word, unprofessional, to not know what the fuck you’re doing if you’re asking a bunch of friendly acquaintances and total strangers to trust you for 4 hours. So I do try and run nearly everything that’s gonna show up at a con at home. I’m very grateful my home folks indulge me now and again when I roll out, say, Fall of Magic or Durance or whatever.

The thing is, it’s such a fraught process for me, introducing my home folks to my con games. It’s almost certainly self-inflicted! But familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

There is the entirely practical matter of the fact that our social rules typically require a thousand small compromises. If I’m going to be inflexible, well, that means nobody ever plays with me ever because not everyone is me. And like it or not, I still respect my friends even when they don’t behave how I’d like them to all the time. I’m sure I’m a constant low-level disappointment to them as well.

So, you know, rolling out something like Carolina Death Crawl once means steeling myself for how the racism is going to play out. In nearly every case, honestly, my home folks are absolutely fine with it. It’s not exciting or dramatic, it doesn’t fulfill the punch list of preferred characteristics, it’s always interesting (talking about more than CDC now), but I can honestly say that I’ve never had an “oh my god you disgusting troglodyte” moment with the folks I play with at home.

And yet. And yet.

Man…rolling out Night Witches spooled me up for a solid month before we actually played it. And it was good! In fact the folks at the table that night asked for more sessions, and that was cool. But you know, I don’t ever feel that kind of tension when I put it on the table at a convention. There are so many folks and they can opt in or out as they wish. I’m never going to see them again, mostly. I can be completely free to explore literally any subject matter. Awesome.

Meanwhile, my home game? I love that I can rely on my players to dig in and learn the game. They are so good at it, and that certainly indulges my own efforts to dig deep into these things. I can’t really rely on any kind of system mastery at any convention table for any game I run, so that requires I think about the event largely as a demo, rather than a collaboration. When I lucked into all-star tables at both New Mexicon and Dreamation for Sagas of the Icelanders, it took some effort to get out of demo mode!

There’s really no point or takeaway to this post. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I do love how both hobbies enrich each other, but of course that comes from my baseline assumption that these things can be enriched, that roleplaying is worthy of work and effort and improvement.

0 thoughts on “My Two Gaming Hobbies”

  1. It might not be!

    It remains an open question for me. I mean not practically; I spend a stupid amount of time on this. But I also wonder if it isn’t just a huge waste of personal resources.

    Lots of productivity=good baggage in there.

  2. Also fascinating because I have never considered my (ir)regular gaming and my con gaming to be separate hobbies, though they sure are distinct.

  3. I have the opposite experience! When I have a regular group, I look forward to seeing them and seeing what they make of whatever weird thing (and what I make of the weird things they bring). When I go to conventions, I’m a ball of anxiety. What if I screw up these strangers experience?

    I’m truly jealous of people who don’t have anxiety around their fun, tbqh.

  4. Nathan Paoletta oh yeah, I understand! It’s exactly the opposite: super high confidence that I’m awesome at a convention, crippling anxiety that I’m making my friends do things they don’t want at home.

  5. I’m kinda like Paul, here, but more twitchy.

    I care so much what my regular group/friends think that running is often super anxiety producing. At cons though, I’m pretty sure I can do well — and even if I fuck up Rachel E.S. Walton’s Mars game, so what, the other assholes at that table are never going to see me again.

    However, when I’m gaming with some people who are friends or I have a high opinion of at a convention, I can get anxiety. Like, I do sometimes get nervous playing with Rachel, because she’s so awesome. And the first time I played with Paul I was so nervous I spilled booze all over his character sheets.

  6. I’ve never really considered it. Perhaps because there’s a fairly large overlap between home games I run and games I run at cons.

    With friends I have the ‘if I screw up, they’ll forgive me and we’ll go forward.’ At cons, it’s ‘I have to make sure my players have fun because I might be their 1st gm’. Also note: I have been someone’s 1st GM for at least 5 people.

  7. I’m no hardboiled veteran of cons like J-Stav or someone, but I’ve run enough Gamedays, Forge, BurningCon, and GenCon events that my only anxiety is hoping I live up to my own expectations.

    Otherwise, I know that everyone has chosen to be in my event, so I’m not nervous about their participation.

  8. Paul Beakley But I also wonder if it isn’t just a huge waste of personal resources.

    “Why am I reading this game when I could be building a homeless shelter?!?!” That kind of thinking will kill you.

    RPGs (and boardgames, too, I guess) are a social activity. By doing them well, you’re enhancing your life and those of the people with whom you play.

  9. But I’m not bringing my rather formidable creative and analtyical powers to bear on something more productive, like investing.

    There should be scare quotes around some of those words.

  10. Hmmm. Since I never really run anything at home* just at cons I don’t get to see this dichotomy.

    *except for the D&D campaign I’m running for my 7 year old and he doesn’t know any better.

  11. I do both Brand and it isn’t pretty.

    Also really interesting article Paul. I have a similar dichotomy but I’ll have to think about what each means to me.

  12. My take is broadly similar to Arlene Medder’s. My home group cuts me a lot of slack, and I can always say “well, that didn’t go quite as planned. Let’s debrief and try to do better next week.” Meanwhile, if I screw up at a convention game, I may well have soured someone’s game/day/con/entire roleplaying experience.

  13. Adam D my locals do cut me slack. That’s true. And I guess I do have some hangups about not being totally locked and loaded when it’s convention time, which is why I go to my “wow are you sure this works this way” people.

    I may be thinking more about subject matter, here, than procedural mastery. I’m good at procedure.

  14. My local group(s) that are into the same kind of games I would play at cons, so my divides don’t feel as divided.

    I wish I was focused/energetic/practiced enough to pay attention to how other people play at cons, to learn. I’m sure there’s osmosis going on, but Still.

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