There’s probably a really useful post out there on the internet somewhere about how to be the best player you can be in a one shot this con-season, and I know there’s some solid advice on how to craft a con game your players will love (in fact, I mentioned at least one absolutely excellent set of advice in this very column a few weeks ago). But as my grandfather used to say, you never really learn a lesson until you’ve seen something done wrong.
Sleep is Your Friend
A few years ago, I signed up for a Sci-Fi themed Savage Worlds game at DC Gameday run by a GM with a solid reputation who was also a close friend: we’ll call him John.* I was looking for an introduction to a system that was (then) new to me, and just eager to play a Sci-Fi scenario: at the time, my gaming time was still pretty dominated by D&D (which is not necessarily a bad thing!).
However, when I arrived at the gameday, our GM was looking…well, a little rough. It didn’t take long to learn that he had been up a little later than normal the night before. In fact, he hadn’t slept at all. As a result, he wasn’t really firing on all cylinders.
The Last Minute is Not Necessarily the Best Minute
I should probably interject at this point that one of the reasons John had (and, despite this incident, still has) such a great reputation as a GM is that he’s great at thinking on his feet. If there’s anybody who can spin adventuring gold out of 3 minutes of preparation and a couple of key phrases jotted down on the back of a napkin, it’s him. But this kind of quick-thinking flexibility takes an active mind. And an active mind needs sleep. Which he didn’t get.
To make matters worse, John had planned to finish (read: start) most of the prep for his game on the flight from his home to DC. A series of delays and other travel difficulties had made that impossible, and then a night of celebratory food and drink (which, incidentally, lasted well into the morning) had cut that time down to essentially nothing.
Even all this could be overcome by a GM with the right kind of skills, but just like even a master mason needs a few bricks to build a bridge, John needed character sheets to run his game.
But he didn’t have those either.
I think it’s a genuine credit to the system underlying Savage Worlds that it only took him an hour (on zero sleep) to jot the stats for 4 completely different Sci Fi characters onto notebook paper for us, but we still spent the first hour (of a four hour session) chatting while an otherwise excellent somnambulistic GM tried to throw together the only thing you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE for most con games: characters.
Not the Smoothest Operation
The first encounter was pretty rough, and was largely dominated by an argument between John and one of the players over whether we were supposed to be chasing the Space Gangsters who had kidnapped our boss’s daughter. I later learned that John, a little muddled, was trying to get us to chase on foot. However, the only thing he actually successfully communicated was that the hover-bikes he had briefly described as set dressing “wouldn’t work.”
After the shouting match died down, and we gave half-hearted (and frustrated) chase, the Space Gangsters got away, and set up the final encounter. Or something. John was really tired and we were really confused.
Things Get Weird
Recognizing that things are not going as well as he had hoped, John called a 10 minute break with about an hour and fifteen minutes left in the session, and tried to pull things together for a final encounter in which we would rescue the space princess and generally salvage a satisfactory gaming experience from the morning.
So he pulls out a battle map and starts drawing what (again, I only learned this later) were supposed to be a maze of teleport platforms suspended in space which the villains could use to keep the Space Princess away from us in a kind of whimsical science fiction running gun battle death trap. But what he actually drew looked like…something else.
It became clear to us after about the second “teleport platform” that our GM was drawing penises all over the battle mat. What made all this even stranger is that he didn’t seem to be aware that he was, in fact, drawing penises all over the battle mat. And here’s the thing: he drew a LOT of them. More than a dozen.
“John,” one of my fellow players asked, “what are you doing?”
“So yeah,” he answered, “these are in space.”
“But what are they?”
“You know — they’re teleport platforms. You guys will start at one of the platforms here,” John said, pointing at what appeared to be the balls, ” and then you can move along these platforms to the pads at the other end which will teleport you somewhere else.”
“And the girl is on one of these things?”
“Oh yeah. Before this is over, she’ll probably have been on each of them at least once.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you try to prepare at least *some* of your adventures ahead of time. You never know when things are going to go wrong, so — unless you’re running a game designed for play on zero prep — make sure you have your essential notes and materials on hand.
And go to bed early. Because in space, no one can hear you laughing at all the dicks.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.