Brian Nisbet | 2 Apr 13:49 2009

Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

Ireland, for those of you that are unaware, runs a very different
system of scenario running to most other countries.  Here one person
writes a scenario then it is run by multiple GMs across a number of
tables.  There are many benefits to this system.  It allows a large
number of people to play a popular game with a requirement for only
one scenario.  It allows people to run games without having to write
them and it allows a shared experience amongst players that has fed
many a post-con conversation.  There are a bunch of fringe benefits as
well and I have been a staunch defender of the system (primarily
against sign-up sheets and single table games) for many years.

However I now feel that the system has broken down to the point where
it is hampering enjoyment for all concerned, the con organisers, the
GMs and the players.  There are also considerations relating to
reduced tabletop RPG player numbers.  My feeling at this point is that
we either need to change the system, or simply change system, to
reflect modern realities.

I suspect this discussion is easiest to consider under a few headings,
so that's what I'll do:

1) Scenarios and Deadlines

Way back when (there'll be a lot of this), scenario deadlines were
something that most people adhered to, roughly, anyway.  Yes, there
were always last minute people, but more stuff came in on time than
didn't.  This meant that scenarios could be reviewed, possibly even
suggestions made, photocopied and distributed weeks before the con.
The Irish system relies on this and recently this has been happening
less and less, even with the more organised events such as Gaelcon.
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Shane | 2 Apr 15:46 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

 I'm afraid I'm in complete agreement with Brian here.  This past
weekend at Conpulsion was my first experience with the single-table
system, and the standard was universally excellent.  Typically I'll
count myself lucky these days if I play two great RPG sessions at an
Irish con.

 I've only been going to cons since the mid-to-late '90s so I don't
remember the days of 15 tables and briefing and debriefing sessions,
but to hear of them here certainly fits the pattern of slippage.  At a
recent con I was in several games that started late, at least
partially because the scenarios were being printed right then (and
this was announced to us like it was understandable).  It's long been
the case for the savvy con-goer that the table to try to get onto is
the writer's, which is a strong case for the single-table system.

 That said, I don't see the need to throw the baby out with the
bathwater.  There are writers who will have their stuff done well in
advance, playtest it, have GMs ready and briefed and familiar with the
system, provide rule-books and basically provide an equal experience
for all tables, and if a writer does that there's no problem with
running multiple tables.  Just not as a requirement for every game.

 The only real argument I've heard against it is the difficulty
getting writers, with which I'm not convinced - I know plenty of
people who'd be willing to jot notes and run a table of a scenario
they have in their heads, but are not inclined to write it as a
scenario book.  The organisers of Conpulsion told me they're turning
away writers.

 Most definitely worth considering.  The system is failing, sticking
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donhoban | 2 Apr 16:26 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

--- In igaming@..., Brian Nisbet <lir <at> ...> wrote:

> When I started going to cons in 1990 you could expect fifteen or more
> tables of the big games at Gaelcon.  By the mid-90s the numbers were
> still high at Gaelcon and Warpcon for Vampire, Cthulhu and AD&D with
> the smaller events still pulling in decent table numbers.

Old Man Rambling Follows:
As ever showing your youth - I recall (vaguely) up to 28 tables of AD&D but that was then, when you came to a con
you played figure games or RPGs. And there were very few RPGs at that. 

Now people have the choice of LARPs, card games etc as well as a much broader range of RPGs and figures.

There was a much tighter community back then because most people at a con were involved in the same event, and
a lot more discussion and interaction after.


Padraic Barrett | 2 Apr 17:18 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

I recently got a haircut. I mention this to explain how I heard the phrase "A barber is only as good as his last
haircut". My barber elaborated by asking "Well if I butchered your hair today would you come back?" It was a
good point.
Con games are like going to a new barber. You don't know what your going to get until you sit down. Some Cons
have better reputations for games than others. The same is true of Writers and GMs. However you still don't
know what your going to get until your in that chair. 
I don't care what system we use to organise Con games. I care about the quality of the games that are being run
and that refers to both the game and the GM. I see this as an issue that the RPG coordinator must address for
their Con. How he does it is irrelevant if it produces the best result for the Con's attendees.         


Gareth Hanrahan | 2 Apr 19:25 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

Interesting stuff. A few caveats:
1) The sign-up sheet system has its own drawbacks. There's more choice of
game, but far less chance that you actually get to play all the games you
want. There's usually either an unsightly scrum when the sign-up sheets are
put out, and at some bigger cons there's a confusing lack of central

2) It's not a guarantee of a good game, either. I remember one game at
Conpulsion a few years ago where we signed up for a game, the GM shows
up...and then stalls for thirty minutes until he admits that he doesn't
actually have any character sheets or any game at all. I think a
well-written scenario can help a poor GM, just as a good GM can rescue a
poor scenario.

That said, I'd be broadly supportive of a switch to a hybrid model. I know
when I write games for the smaller cons, I generally assume that I'll be the
only GM for that game; ditto for more esoteric games at a larger con.
However, I don't think cons should move away from the one scenario/many
tables approach entirely - games like Cthulhu, D&D and so on can still
reliably get six tables at Warpcon, for example. If I were running a con,
then I'd probably go for a two-tier approach. You've got a few big
'tournament-style' games with multiple tables running, and then a lot of
smaller games using sign-up sheets.


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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Baz Nugent | 2 Apr 20:00 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.


I think the problem of con scenarios isn't how the cons organise them.
Its, simply, that we're volunteers. Every last one of us
jack-a-monkeys. Your RPG co-ordinator is doing it cause he's part of a
group organising the con or he's been picked by the con director. The
GMs are anywhere from staffers who aren't illiterate all the way up to
Iron GMs. And your scenario writers are sometimes dilligent and lucid,
and sometimes people pestered by RPG co-ordinators desperate for
numbers. I've been a staff GM, i've been a writer, like most of us,
and i've had clear and well written scenarios in on time, and then
I've handed 16 pages of chaotic sprawl to an RPG co-ordinator a few
hours before it was supposed to run and then hid somewhere (sorry

Blessed are those who volunteer their time; they're the lifeblood of
cons. In theory, a goon lifting truss at a trade show in the RDS gets
€80 for up to 4 hours work, whereas we do 10 - 30 hours of minionry
for free. And are expected to run 2 - 3 games back to back, often
without knowing the system or even being able to understand the
scenario, which reads like a Junior Cert essay.

But...that does mean its difficult to start waving deadlines and
insisting on rewrites from game writers. Writers do it for the fun of
writing, or because they want to get in free. And when you're not a
student any more, paying into cons isn't quite so daunting as before.
If a writer feels he's getting dicked about, he can just walk, or not
write any more. Plus, a lot of people writing are somebodies mate.

End result? The amount of pressure an RPG co-ordinator can put on his
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Fergal O'Brien | 2 Apr 21:41 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

Gotta disagree with you there, for a number of reasons.  Let's start with 
the basic assumption.

You asked why the system has failed.  The answer is laziness.  Really, it's 
that simple.  People are being lazy.  The system itself isn't necessarily 
flawed, people are just being crap.  While, as gothwalk pointed out, the 
fault may not entirely lie with the writer at times, as sometimes 
information on deadlines hasn't been passed on (which is another form of 
laziness, as people assume everyone knows), there are numerous examples I 
could cite off the top of my head of people who should know better just not 
bothering their asses.  This is an argument that's come up several times 
before, whereby people say "but I'm a volunteer; I should'nt have people 
making demands of me", and my response has invariably been "either you 
volunteer, or you don't."  Now, maybe I'm unreasonably hard-nosed about 
these things, but I don't believe in changing systems because people are 
dragging their heels.  If we changed everything that people are too lazy to 
do properly, we'd have nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

The only good reason for changing a system like this comes from evaluating 
the aims of your system and what you are trying to deliver.  Personally, I 
like the Irish system, both from the point of view of a player and a writer. 
I like what it provides.  The UK and US systems really don't float my boat. 
I'll go through why below.

1.  Shared experience
You mentioned this one above, but it's worth reiterating again.  Some of the 
most fun conversations I've had down the years have drawn off the shared 
experience of scenario X that two or more people in a group have played or 
run at different tables.  It draws people together.  For me, this is the 
cornerstone of the irish gaming experience.  Take that away, and you'll find 
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omentide | 3 Apr 00:26 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

Chipping in, briefly on the professional vs. amateur argument....

In summary:  Fergal 'Me too!'

Yes we are all volunteers.

But the people who put their bottoms on the chairs are paying.  They 
are not paying the writers or the GMs.  But they're paying their money.

Any move away from scenarios written to a high standard (and yes, 
that does mean 'so that any competent GM can run them' because, if 
you are prevented by some horrible cause from attending at the 
appointed time and running your scenario at the appointed time and no 
one else can do it, you're going to have disappointed people who have 
booked that scenario) is, in my opinion, a bad thing.  For the 
writers, for the Con and for the punters.  And probably for the GMs as well.

I would, oddly, suggest a return to pre-bookable games.  I really 
don't like this new-fangled 'you can't book into a game until about 
five minutes before it's due to start' idea.

Yes, I am pretty obsessive-compulsive.  As a writer I like to get my 
scenarios out to the people who will run them weeks ahead of time so 
that they can ask me questions and get me to rewrite the bits where 
buses can be driven through plot holes.  I actually quite like to get 
character sheets out to players ahead of time (so that they can be 
tweaked and customised).

Why can't we aim for the highest possible standards?

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Brian Nisbet | 3 Apr 00:36 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

2009/4/2 omentide <omentide@...>:

> Why can't we aim for the highest possible standards?

I don't think I'm suggesting we lower our standards.  The scenarios
for the con would still be expected to be very good.  This is a change
of format, not quality.



Padraic Barrett | 3 Apr 01:06 2009

Re: Why the Irish Con Scenario System Has Failed.

"Bear in mind that I talk here has someone who has, in the past, removed writers from the line-up for not
producing the goods on time, brought in ringers to replace them and tossed out scenarios for being
rubbish. Sometimes, you just have to do that."

My kind of RPG Coordinator