Enjoying Gen Con as a Cypher System Fan

This is a guest post by Scott Robinson. Scott is a member of the MCG Asset Team.

Gen Con 2015 is coming up quickly. I thought I would provide some practical advice for fans of the Cypher System if they have the opportunity to attend Gen Con. I have attended a few Gen Cons, and I think I can humbly offer at least a few useful suggestions.

I want to note that this isn’t a post about how to prepare for Gen Con as a practical matter. Hydrate well. Eat properly. Prepare for lots of walking. By all means, please shower every day. Also, google advice for first time Gen Con attendees. There are some excellent blog posts out there on the subject.

Instead, I want to talk about how someone who is a fan of the Cypher System can get a lot out of Gen Con. The short version is: Attend Monte Cook Games events—but not only those events.

Gen Con can be an intimidating endeavor. There are tens of thousands of people. There are hundreds of different RPGs (not to even consider the card and board games also present). This can very easily leave a new attendee dumbfounded. I have some modest recommendations for people interested in the Cypher System.

1. Attend and participate in Monte Cook Games seminars

There are several such events and they are, obviously, a good place to start. These events have become more popular in recent years. Even five years ago, large seminars did not really require tickets. Attendance was low enough that everyone who wanted to could get into just about any seminar. This was true at last years’ MCG event. However, it’s increasingly the case that if you want to get into a seminar, you’ll likely need a ticket. Just in case, you should sign up for the events in advance and get the tickets—they’re free. I suspect that there will be at least one MCG seminar—and likely many other non-MCG seminars—that will have to turn people away if they do not have tickets this year.

MCG puts on a good show. It is always worthwhile to attend their seminars.

MCG Gen Con 2014 2

2. Find an MCG game

This may sound like unhelpful advice. All of the MCG games are currently listed as sold out. Don’t lose hope, though. Of the four games I ran at Gen Con last year, one of them had room for people who wanted to play without signing up (using generic tickets). Other GMs also had open slots. The number of open slots increases as the convention runs on—your best shots are late Saturday or Sunday morning. So grab yourself some generic tickets and just show up—maybe you’ll get lucky. MCG has games starting every hour on the hour, and they’re all in one place (the Marriott Indiana Ballroom F).

Joining one of these games is a great idea. It goes without saying that the games are fun. Last year I ran The Eschatology Code for The Strange, and much fun was had. This year the official game for The Strange is Mastadon, which I have strong reason to believe will also be fun. The most important advantage, for me, is not in playing the adventure. (It will be released as a fractal after Gen Con, so you’ll be able to play it at home.) The biggest advantage is seeing how other people are playing the game.

I learned a lot from seeing other people play The Strange last year. The biggest lesson for me was in seeing how people used the rules. For example, most people stated difficulty levels and established target numbers for rolls from the outset—though this approach is controversial. I was happy to see that many others used the same approach—even if mostly to speed up play. It was good to know that my fast-and-loose approach to setting difficulty levels and being the players’ biggest fan was not unusual.

3. Learn about other games and (particularly) other settings

One of the great strengths of the Cypher System is its flexibility—likely to be an even greater strength with the release of the Cypher System Rulebook. In The Strange, you can visit a large number of worlds. This means that many, many games become relevant to your campaign. With many games it may be difficulty to see something interesting (a location, a monster, etc.) and pull it into your game, and this leads many people to only play or attend seminars related to their own game systems. I recommend against this type of thinking for Cypher System fans. You can pull material from other games so easily that other games and systems become quite valuable—maybe most valuable when far removed thematically from Numenera and The Strange.

I plan to attend seminars on fantasy writing (on narrating combat) along with games of Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green, Iron Kingdoms, and Night’s Black Agents. I have every intention of pulling material form these games directly into my home campaign of The Strange. If you have any interests in other games or campaigns (say Glorantha, Stars without Number, and Part-time Gods of Fate), I strongly encourage you follow your instinct and attend these other games or seminars—even if you plan to stick with a Cypher System game.

4. Say hello to your favorite creators

There is a real risk of being awestruck by the many familiar writers at Gen Con. I remember being really impressed at my first Gen Con that I could attend a small seminar and hear from Monte Cook. I was telling my brother that as we walked between buildings. The person walking in front of us turned around as if to say “my ears are burning.” Of course, it was Monte Cook himself! You may well bump into creators between or at seminars, panels, or receptions. I ended up hanging out with a good chunk of the WotC DnD team at a bar one night, more-or-less on accident. Take the opportunity to say hello, tell people you like their work, and ask any (small, simple) questions you may have.

MCG Gen Con 2014 1

That being said, also respect that Gen Con should be fun for creators too. Don’t monopolize the time of the creators who are likely quite busy. Be understanding if they can’t talk because they have to leave for another event (or even just need a break from the crowds). Remember that while they enjoy hearing that you like their games, and might enjoy a specific comment or two, they probably don’t need to hear 10 minutes about your home campaign. That is more interesting to you than them.

If there are scheduled times to meet them (listed seminars, signings, and appearances), or places where they are clearly in a greeting mode (say, the creative staff hanging out at the MCG booth), use those times to meet your favorite creators.

That is all that comes to mind now. If people want to hear more about specific, practical recommendations for attending, touch base on Twitter (I’m at @drscottrobinson). For now, I hope this provides some help to Cypher System fans wondering how to navigate a crowded but fascinating convention.

Scott_RobinsonScott Robinson is a strange professor who dabbles. He has been gaming since playing Dungeons & Dragons (or some approximation thereof) on the playground at elementary school in the early 1980s. He has experience playing systems such as Dungeons and Dragons (all editions since ADnD), World of Darkness, Palladium, and the Marvel Super Heroes RPG (FASERIP). In his day job, Scott is the Bellmon Chair of Public Service and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma.

Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Charles M. Ryan has written or contributed to titles in nearly every class of tabletop game—board games, card games, trading card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games—over a 25-year career in the game industry. He has also served as the global brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and headed up the marketing department at the UK’s Esdevium Games, one of the world’s largest game distributors. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Monte Cook Games.