Though I’m the Gauntlet Community Manager, I didn't come up with this concept. When the pandemic and lockdown started many community members talked about a problem they saw coming. Lots of ttrpg players would be losing their face to face groups and either quitting or transitioning to online play. Several folks wanted us to come up with a way The Gauntlet could help.
After some discussion we settled on an event to help onboard folks to online play. We would build on the tools, experience, and resources we’d developed in running three yearly online conventions—Gauntlet Con. It would be much smaller scale, 2-3 dozen sessions, and totally free. Community members would limit their own play sign-ups in order to give new folks a chance to register. We also changed how we handle invitations to our Gauntlet Slack, where we talk about the games we play on our calendar. Now we would offer invites to anyone who has played with us once (in addition to joining via our Patreon).
This last week was our fourth GCOG and these events have come to replace Gauntlet Con in our community. Over the course of doing these we’ve learned several lessons. Some of this echoes our discussion on the Gauntlet Podcast episode How to Run an Online Convention but I wanted to have it in another format for those who prefer written to audio approaches.
I also want to stress this is the fruits of multiple people’s labor, not even significantly my own. This event runs well only because of the efforts, contributions, and insights of multiple people in the community.
SO YOU HAVE AN ONLINE CONVENTION
I can’t tell you how to market your con, we’re still trying to figure out the best strategies beyond Twitter, Facebook, our Forums, and generally asking folks to retweet. But there are some things you need to have ready and accessible.
Beyond the basics of time, date, etc you need to clear state your community guidelines and standards in your material and on your website. What kind of behavior’s prohibited? What kinds of safety tools do you expect games to use? And importantly how do people report problems? Ideally you should identify for people at least two clear channels to talk to someone. We have a community email for reporting issues (before, during, and after the con) as well as a Help Desk team on our Discord during the event. Make it clear you take that seriously.
The only people turned off by a solid code of conduct are folks you didn’t want. And if you don’t have policies in place, or they look like lip service, there are good players who won’t come. Last year we saw several online cons where folks in our community wanted to attend or help out at, but their site lacked any statement about behavior or a reporting system.
If you’re calling for game facilitators here's what you need to tell them at the start:
- Any restrictions on what they can run
- Any requirements for running (use of safety tools, membership, etc)
- Any limits on number of sessions run
- Slot times and dates
- How they post sessions
- How they fix issues with their postings
- How they can cancel their sessions
- Deadlines and registration dates
- How they’ll be contacted with their event info
CONTACTING YOUR GAME FACILITATORS
10-14 days out from the first day of the event I send an email to all the game facilitators. I send this BCC—it's important to openly send everyone’s address. Ten days out is the smallest window for this—you need to give game facilitators a reminder and give them time to get their shit together. This is especially true if you had event registrations further out. They may have forgotten what they signed up for and/or their schedule may have changed.
Thanks to everyone for putting events up for Gauntlet Community Open Gaming. We’ve had a good response; lots of games have filled and we still have seats in some. If you’re looking for players feel free to push and advertise in other places (Discords, RPGGeek, Facebook, etc).
Here are the basics for this event.
- Our handbook with all of this in more detail: https://sites.google.com/view/gcog
- The new Discord we will be using (INSERT LINK)
- Resources folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/11kvNX8LzFPLODGgnbXXGTOJ0bieDCfeF
You’ll find all the game facilitator procedures here, (https://sites.google.com/view/gcog/gming-games?). Please read over that. I’ll go over key things you should be doing right now.
Please send your players a set up & introduction email at least a week out from your session.
You can find the emails of persons in your game by going to your event page, clicking on Event Creator Controls, and choosing Show Emails. Make sure you BCC your players. Keep an eye on your event to watch for drops & folks moving up from the waitlist.
In that email:
- Give the premise of the game again.
- Say what meeting app you’re going to use (jitsi, Zoom, Hangouts/Meet, Skype, or something else.) Also say if you plan to ask the players to let you record the session.
- Share the link for whatever resources you have prepared: character sheets, references, etc.
- Give them the link for the handbook and discord (see above).
- Tell the players that you will send them a link for the meeting/session 15 minutes before the session. Alternately: if your meeting app supports scheduling a meeting and generating a link ahead of time, give that out now. If they have problems getting in, players can ping #mustering-point on Discord at the time of the event.
- If they have problems during the event, they can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or post on #helpdesk on the Discord.
- Ask them to review the Handbook site. Especially suggest they check out the Gauntlet Code of Conduct.
If you have questions before the event you can email me or email@example.com. If you have issues during the event you can check in with the help desk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If your game doesn't fill, you can cancel (or change time/game being run). I'd ask that you wait until the week of 6/21 to cancel a session. If you have any players signed up, make sure to tell them about the cancellation. Also give me a heads up. If you have to cancel after the start of the convention, make sure to tell the Help Desk on Discord. They can see about getting folks into other sessions.
- Checking in with the Help Desk before your session is useful-- it lets them confirm you're there and ready.
- You may have new players (to the Gauntlet, to online gaming, to the system). Make sure to check in with them about their knowledge and be ready to teach them.
- Anyone who plays with us is eligible to join our Slack. I encourage you to check in with your players to see if they're on there. If they aren't and want to be, get me their email and I'll add them.
- If any of your players might be interested in joining the Gauntlet but have barriers for entry (like financial hardship), point them to our Gauntlet Gameway program. https://www.gauntlet-rpg.com/gauntlet-gameway.html. It gives free priority RSVP access to members of marginalized communities (LGBTQ, PoC, women, etc) and those who can't afford the Patron sponsorship.
Thanks so much for pitching in on this event. We’ll be putting together a survey for you and attendees. I’ll send that out the week after the event.
If you have questions, please send them on!
As you can see, we have the game facilitators as the main point of contact to the players. Pushing them to send an email a week out from their event is hugely important. Player will have forgotten they signed up, or their schedule has changed, or they moved up from a waitlist, or they hadn’t heard anything and assumed the game wasn’t actually happening. The closer to the start date the facilitator sends the email, the more problems and chance for panic.
Note: this means that it’s super important whatever system you have lets facilitators quickly and easily get the contact info for their players—in real time if there are drops and adds. Automate this if at all possible so you aren’t fielding constant inquiries or having folks not get contacted.
The email above gives lots of information to players, but you also have to have another channel for contact—especially if a game facilitator has problems and doesn’t. On your website you need to repeat this information and tell players that they will be contacted—if they aren’t by X date, they should contact someone managing the event. If you have a website, like Discord, being used to arrange the event, make sure the information’s there so people can go there if they have issues. Have all this in a couple of places (on the main website and on a distinct manual page).
If you have folks on waitlists for events, you also need to tell them what to expect. For example, we don’t ask that the GM contacts players on the waitlist with their set up email. That’s a conscious choice. We suggest that waitlist folks keep an eye on that and if they get into an event, to drop from any other waitlists they have during the same slot.
PANELS AND GUESTS
The same necessary information should be sent to any panelists and guests at least a week out. Identify the format of the talk, what the topics will cover, when it's happening, how they will be given a link for the meeting, who their contact person is, if it will be recorded/streamed, and how they can best share publicity about the talk.
WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT GOOGLE
We had a new issue pop up with this weekend's Gauntlet Community Open Gaming. Lots of emails from the GMs to their players got sent to spam. This hadn’t happened in any of our previous events. That suggests something has changed with the algorithm or we managed to hit some arbitrary reporting limit. I’m unsure.
We’re going to try to figure that out. Is it because the emails are BCC, that they come from a previously unknown address, or that the email contains multiple links. I’m not sure exactly how we test that.
It does mean that for our next event, we’re going to try to set up more redundancies: a place on the site that says what to do if they haven’t gotten an email from the GM, a note in the confirmation email on sign up that tells them to check their spam filter, or something else. Regardless in your event planning you should consider what to do if that communication line breaks down.
DURING THE EVENT
- As I said above, during your event have both moderators and a clear process for folks to contact them with issues. Check in with your moderation and admin staff to check if they need anything. Ideally give them the information and access to make decisions. Be ready to help out and support their work.
- We use set time slots for our games. That has a couple of functions. First, we have a built-in break time between slots. That lets folks catch their breath and not have to worry about having back to back games without a break. It reduces burn out for players, GMs, and the support team. Second, it means that while there might be games running in the same slot, we don’t have overlap. Players don’t have to worry about a session running over into another one. Third, it offers structural clarity. It’s easy for players and GMs to see when things are happening.
- For the most part game facilitators email their players a link to the session just before it starts (within an hour). We back that up by having a “mustering point” in the Discord. In parallel with the email, the facilitator posts that they’re getting ready and may even post the event link as well. This has two purposes. First, it gives an opportunity for players who may have missed the email. Second, it’s a check-in with the support staff so they know the game facilitator’s there and where to direct questions.
- The biggest issue we have for the convention is cancellations. Player cancellations are usually a minor issue. These only impact a few games. But game facilitator cancellations require more management. This year we had more of those than normal. A couple came about due to not having enough players. The GMs knew to remove those from the schedule and contact the players they had signed up.
- But we also had cancellations due to weather and personal situations. You have to work that into your thinking about # of games on offer. It’s why two dozen sessions is a hard minimum for me. I expect 10-20% event cancellation rate. Even with that you want to have a good number of events going. One possibility is to have stand-by events ready, but we’ve never tried that. What’s most important is that game facilitators communicate their cancellations to the support staff ASAP. They may be able to shift players into other sessions.
- This time we borrowed an idea from Paul Beakley of the Indie Game Reading Club. They had done a Sunday evening debrief meeting at the end of their con to chill, take feedback, and talk about things everyone had dug. We did that and it was a strong success. We had about a dozen and a half folks there, players and game facilitators, new and old, and we talked for a little under an hour. We got great feedback and folks gave lots of shout outs to great play during the con.
If you have questions or suggestions about this, please drop them in the comments or message us at email@example.com. If you're working on an event, your welcome to use any of our materials as a model-- our handbook, contact email, policies, etc.