I’ve been following the development of KristaCon with interest, and finally decided to ask some questions directly from the founder of the concept: Krista White.
Krista, you have a whole convention named after you!
Haha! It’s kind of embarrassing. But also really flattering. And fun. And, now that it’s growing, there are leadership responsibilities. It’s like being a parent. Luckily, I have a whole bunch of really talented partners along for the ride helping to make it great.
When/Why/How did KristaCon start?
It all started when I wrote a post on Google+ about why I don’t go to gaming conventions. Brennan and I have a lot of friends in the indie gaming community. I was feeling left out, but I didn’t see any remedy for it, because one-shot gaming cannot, in most cases, provide the kind of gaming experience that I want.
John Stavropoulos read the post and got together with Brennan to have a gaming birthday party for me in October 2012. They invited a bunch of folks to come and spend the weekend gaming at our house and called it KristaCon. They decided to run Marvel Heroic RPG because I am a huge Spider Woman fan. We all had so much fun that we decided to do it again at Dreamation in February 2013, with M.P. O’Sullivan organizing a Marvel game and Brennan organizing a Bulldogs! game. More people got to play during that KristaCon-within-a-con, and they loved it so much that folks wanted to do another one.
How do games (selection and sign-ups) work at KristaCon?
There are two answers to that; how we’ve been doing it, and recommendations I can make for folks who want to run their own LongCon.
For us, game selection in our events have depended on what folks want to run and what we wanted to play. We ran games Powered by the Apocalypse (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and Monsterhearts) at KristaCoNYC as a test to see if games other than Marvel Heroic RPG would work. It was absolutely brilliant and proved that, with the right kind of preparation, any game can be run at a LongCon.
Our sign up process has depended on the kind of event we were running. There are 3 types of LongCon events: House events take place at somebody’s house and are kind of a personal convention with fewer than 20 people. That’s what the first KristaCon was, and we simply used a Facebook Event to set up sign-ups.
A LongCon within a con is what we did at Dreamation – it’s a series of LongCon events that are run within another, larger convention. For those, the regular game convention sign-up process works just fine.
A standalone LongCon is a small convention (approximately 60 people, including GMs), that is dedicated to running LongCon games. For KristaCoNYC, we used Kickstarter to raise funds and that was the registration process. Folks backed the kickstarter at the player level and they were guaranteed a seat.
Your sign up situation will depend on what kind of event you’re having and what kind of costs you’ll have. We rented the space for KristaCoNYC, which was expensive and necessitated raising money and having a sign up mechanism that allowed us to collect money attached to names. Joe Beason will be running a LongCon in Chicago this summer, and they are debating how they will manage sign up. So far, it sounds like they won’t have the same costs as renting a NYC studio space, so they may be able to simply use a Google+ or Facebook Event to sign folks up. They are still working out that particular administrative detail.
Which games have been played most?
We’ve played Marvel Heroic RPG (MHRPG) the most. There has been a Marvel track at every iteration of KristaCon so far. MHRPG isn’t necessarily the perfect game for KristaCon/LongCon play, because, though there is room in the game mechanic made for pure, freeform roleplay in the Transition Scene, there aren’t any real mechanics to support what goes on INSIDE a transition scene. I’m developing a set of guiding questions to use in a transition scene to have more structured support for the pc-to-pc talk and interactions that happen in Transition Scenes. I also want to quantify some of the things that John, Brennan, M.P. O’Sullivan, Mark Diaz-Truman and other Marvel GMs have been doing that aren’t necessarily obvious as techniques for facilitating that part of play.
I’d love to see those guidelines!
As soon as I’ve written them and gotten some feedback from the other folks in the KristaCon development community I’ll be sure to send them to you. I’ll also post them online.
What games would you LOVE to see done there?
I want to see people play ALL kinds of games they love at KristaCon and LongCon. I want to see multi-GM games and single-GM games. I got my heart’s desire at KristaCoNYC in May when Rachel Walton, Melissa Spangenberg and Sara Williamson ran Monsterhearts. It was the first time I’d played, though I’d been wanting to try it for a while.
Best. Game. Ever.
There are games that I think are made for a KristaCon setting. “PrimeTime Adventures” springs immediately to mind. I’d also love to see some folks a FATE track where we have a Dresden Files game, a Bulldogs! game and a Spirit of the Century Game. “How We Came to Live Here” would sing at a KristaCon. Someone pitched LARPing at KristaCon to me at the NYC event, and I think this is a fantastic idea. Shoshana Kessock has a rocking Dresden Files LARP that I would love to see have a self-contained story arc at a KristaCon. I think Nordic LARP could get some space to really breathe and thrive in a Krista/LongCon setting. Of course, the big Monitor Celestera LARP that happened recently – that is a LongCon LARP dream come true, though they didn’t call it a LongCon.
How has KristaCon changed from the first one?
After Dreamation, I started a developer’s community so that we could talk about techniques. There are a lot more people involved in the Developer’s community now. And there are folks spinning off and doing their own LongCon activities, which I think is awesome. We’ve had iterations of each type of KristaCon/LongCon. Folks in the Dev community pushed me to start thinking about how we wanted to move things forward. Did we want every event to be called KristaCon? Did we want people to be able to keep characters and advance them like the RPGA? Did we want to let folks who weren’t part of the two original events run KristaCons? It was actually Mark Diaz-Truman and Marissa Kelly who organized the May KristaCon in NYC as a last hurrah before they move back to The Land of Enchantment.
Ultimately, after thinking out loud for a few months in the development community, I decided that I wanted folks to be able to do their own KristaCons, but I didn’t want them to be called KristaCon unless I was there and part of the planning process. We minted the term LongCon to describe the kind of long form games that we run. The premise of any LongCon, including KristaCons, is to break the traditional convention mold and have a game that runs for multiple sessions, ideally with the same characters. Player character interactions and choices should be the driving force of the plot of the game. GMs do a lot of prep and planning, but are prepared to let go of their preconceived notions of what should or might happen.
As long as you have those elements – multiple sessions of a single story arc with the same characters and plot driven by player character interactions and choices, then you’re running a KristaCon/LongCon.
What do you want to see in future versions?
I would love to have a KristaCon cruise as a vacation during which we’d have gaming sessions on the at-sea travel days. I’d also like to see a good mix of single-GM and multi-GM games at all LongCons.
I would also like to see immersive tracks that hearken back to the original KristaCon in a con-within-a-con or standalone environment. At the original KristaCon we played the same game with the same characters Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and from Sunday morning until early Sunday afternoon. We didn’t do it that way for a number of reasons at Dreamation and KristaCoNYC. That’s really what a house event is meant to be, but it could be scaled up to a convention level. Of course, that’s exhausting for the GMs, and they wouldn’t have a chance to play. Unless you had tag-team GMing. Oooh! There’s another innovation we could test out.
What do you feel you are getting from KristaCon that is different from other conventions you might attend?
I love the pc-to-pc conversations that happen as freeform roleplaying between actions sequences, and the relationships that the characters develop over time with one another through that roleplay. THAT is the stuff I love about gaming; The things that, in traditional RPGs, happen in the in-between spaces. In a four hour, plot-driven session there really isn’t time for that. Many indie games like “Monsterhearts” and “How We Came to Live Here” focus on pc relationships, but I am conservative about trying new games because I really hate learning new game mechanics. Most of my energy in con games is spent trying to learn the new rules system. So, even in games that are designed to provide the specific kind of play I like, I still don’t get what I want out of the game in four hours.
It was a frustrating dilemma for me, especially since I really wanted to hang with all the great folks we know at conventions, but when people are there, they’re there to game, not to spend the day hanging out with someone who isn’t gaming.
KristaCon concentrates on those pc-to-pc interactions and freeform roleplay. When GMs run a KristaCon game, they try to build on the actions your characters take in-game in the same way that a home rpg does over the course of using the same characters for months or years. Of course, it’s impossible to completely simulate the kind of character depth and pc-to-pc relationship building that takes place over the course of years in a home campaign. But you can get much closer when you use the same pcs and the same story line over the course of multiple sessions in a convention game. That’s really what KristaCon/LongCon is about.
What are your own most and least favorite things about this type of con?
My most favorite thing is seeing how excited folks get at a really good, long roleplaying session where they can dig into their characters and forge connections with other people’s characters. And getting to play with fantastic roleplayers is a joy all the time.
My least favorite thing is the stress that comes out of preparing for an event. Even when I’m not the main organizer, there are stressful things about planning and organizing that I really, really dislike. But that’s more about con planning/organizing than it is about the KristaCon concept. I guess the thing I dislike the most is when something happens that makes someone feel dissatisfied with what we’re doing. There have been a couple of instances of that, and I’m always saddened by it, because I feel like I’m the hostess at a KristaCon, and it’s my job to make sure that everyone is having a good time.
What’s your dream version of it look like, if money/time/people were no obstacle?
Oh, a KristaCon the size of one of the Double Exposure events would be fantastic. We’d need a really big crew of people and lots of money. I’d love to have the events catered, and make sure that people had time to hang around and socialize for a few hours between sessions. And if money is no obstacle, we would pay for the hotel rooms, pay for people’s travel and if they have to take unpaid time off of work to attend, pay them a stipend. All kinds of games, going for four days.
What are the logistics of KristaCon? How many days/people/games/tracks? Where and when is it held?
You can have as many games and tracks as you have GMs to run games, and you can run a KristaCon/LongCon for as many days as you have time and the stamina to run it. I like the small size of the events we’ve had so far. As an example of the flexibility of the KristaCon model, I’ll talk about the three different events we’ve run.
The original KristaCon had about 16 people, including John Stavropoulos, Brennan Taylor and M.P. O’Sullivan GMing. Folks stayed at or near our house on a Friday afternoon and played through to early Sunday afternoon, with breaks for breakfast, lunch, dinner and sleep. It was structured like a very long, very large tabletop game you’d have at your house. That’s where multi-gm techniques, the Sandbox or “Wall of Doom” and Mandates were pioneered.
The first KristaCon within-a-con at Dreamation 2013 had 2 tracks – MHRPG and Bulldogs!. Each of those games had 4 GMs and 4 tables. By the end of the Marvel event, there were about 20 players (5 per table) and 4 GMs. Organizing these games necessitated the creation of the GMstorming (pronouced “gemstorming”) technique – pioneered by M.P. O’Sullivan. In GMstorming, the GMs of a multi-GM game get together at a break during each session, as well as meeting before and after sessions to go over what’s happened and plan what they will do next based on the players’ actions from the previous sessions.
At the standalone KristaCoNYC in May 2013, we had 3 MHRPG tracks and 3 tracks for Powered by the Apocalypse games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and Monsterhearts). All told, with drop-ins and drop-outs, I’d estimate that we had a little over 30 players for the Marvel games and about the same number for the Powered by the Apocalypse games. There were 24 people who volunteered to GM; GMs from one track actually played in the other, so there were about 25 people who ultimately only played games and then 15 people who GMed in one game or another. That made for an event with about 40 players, which is nicely intimate. This con is where we put the KristaCon model to the test with the first single-GM game (Dungeon World), and it worked just fine.
I’m sure you’re asking, “What’s with this multi-GM/single-GM game thing?” This is yet another way to talk about “how games work,” at KristaCon, because there are two different ways we’ve played games. The first is the more traditional, single-GM game with 4-5 players, run over multiple sessions using one story line and the same characters. A big concern with this type of play, of course, is running the single-GM Krista/LongCon event in a con-within-a-con and in a standalone con. If you have players dropping in/out, how much will that disrupt the narrative and the relationships that the characters are developing with one another? In the original KristaCon, a house event, we had only had one person drop out, and everyone knew it ahead of time, so, no one got too attached to him. Plus, he was playing the Silver Surfer, who is an emotionally remote individual anyway. That made it easier for the other GMs to pick him up as an NPC.
At KristaCoNYC in May, we did have some drop in/drop out players. In my table in the Monsterhearts game, we had a player drop in on the last day and, because he was playing the mortal, I felt it actually focused and gelled our group more thoroughly. It didn’t hurt that the player is an awesome roleplayer. The Dungeon World game was a single-GM game, and it had a player drop out after the first session. The GM, Brendan Conway, reported that this really wasn’t disruptive, and that they were able to roll the player’s absence into the narrative to create a dramatic moment (crushed by a giant!).
The second way games work is one of the major innovations to come out of KristaCon: The multi-table, multi-GM game. With multi-GM play, there can be 4 tables with 4-5 players, each table with its own GM. The story line for all 4 tables is essentially the same, and players have the opportunity to switch tables and move their characters around to mix it up with players at other tables if they want to pursue a plot line that’s going on at another table. It creates a really rich, almost LARP-like gaming experience. Multi-GM play is at the heart of KristaCon/LongCon play for a lot of folks. People are very excited about this technique, and rightly so. It’s lots of fun. Rachel Walton, Melissa Spangenberg and Sara Williamson were actually able to create a multi-GM game of Monsterhearts using a hard move that resulted in time travel for characters, which sen them from the timeline at their original table to the timeline at another table. It was freakin’ brilliant.
Can you explain a bit about what “Wall of Doom” and mandates are? Is there other terminology that’s specific to KristaCon?
M. P. O’Sullivan and I recently wrote out this lexicon of terms, which will help with that.
KristaCon – KristaCon was the first LongCon. KristaCon is any LongCon convention run by Krista or her proxies and attended by Krista White and/or Brennan Taylor. There have been 3 KristaCon events since October, 2012.
LongCon – a convention that concentrates on creating character-driven, tabletop RPG sessions with a single story arc over multiple sessions in the compressed time frame of a convention. Player character interaction and player choices are the focus of the story arc and shape the plot of the game. Games at a LongCon can be single or multi-GM games. Time is made for character interaction within and between plot scenes. GM plots are guideposts, but should be abandoned in favor of consequences and events triggered by player choices and actions in character. Canon/plot is absolutely fluid and changeable.
Single GM Play – small game using a unified story arc over multiple sessions with only one GM running the game. Can have between 4 and 7 players.
Multi-GM Play – A large game using a unified story arc over multiple sessions with many players, requiring multiple tables and multiple GMs. The recommended ratio of players to GMs is 4:1
Editor’s Mandates – Thematic elements and play “signposts” to guide players and to help create a unified vision for a particular game. Editor’s mandates are a bit of social contract, a bit of genre discussion. Mandates can be strong statements about content that will definitely be included in the game, just as it can be a way to avoid upsetting or unwelcome content.
Trigger Mandates – Mandates that indicate particular content which players and/or GMs have specifically asked to be excluded from play because the content is distressing or unwelcome.
Toys – Big plot points, themes, events and referents in the game world. Stuff that the players can mess with, break, fix, or poke with a stick. Toys can be created by both the GMs and the players. GMs should have at least one or two toys in play before the game kicks off.
Sandbox AKA the “Wall of Doom” – a space – on a dedicated board or on an available wall, where all of the editor’s mandates and toys are posted during the course of a LongCon event.
GMstorming (pronounced “gemstorming”) – the practice of GM teams getting together to discuss the games they are GMing and planning the toys for the sandbox and editor’s mandates. This happens before a LongCon takes place and also during breaks within play and between play sessions.
House Event – a LongCon event not held in a convention environment, usually at someone’s home.
LongCon within a Con – A LongCon event held inside of a larger convention. Heavy on the orchestrational skills.
Standalone LongCon – a convention that is dedicated solely to the running of LongCon games. It is not run inside a larger convention.
How can people help the most if they wanted to?
People can run LongCon events! Folks can talk about KristaCon. I’m always happy to consult with people who want to run their own LongCon events, or, if I’m unavailable, I can recommend people who can help them from the Development Community.
Why might someone follow this style of con, and do you have any advice on setting up cons in a similar style?
If people want really in-depth roleplaying experiences, a Krista/LongCon is the way to go. If you want to set up your own, start small with a house event or a con-within-a-con.
Other items to consider:
- Hand-pick your GMs. This can go a long way to insuring that your event will be enjoyable for folks in your local game community. People will sign up for games with a GM they know or whose reputation they trust.
- Choose your games wisely. Not all games have mechanics that support intense, freeform roleplay. Talk to me and other folks in the Development Community about how we choose games and how we tweak them to get more roleplaying out of systems that are not necessarily built for that style of play.
- Play what you love. Think about what it is about gaming that you love and focus on making that happen at your own event. Unlike a regular convention, KristaCon/LongCon is not designed for hopping around to try a bunch of different things, it’s about getting more of what you already know you like out of gaming. Plan your games and tracks accordingly.
- Have a harassment policy. I know many people are opposed to this, but I encourage organizers to think about it not as a set of rules that assumes that male gamers are going to harass women, but as an explicit statement that you want to make a space in which people feel safe to game. You also must be prepared to back up the policies you set forth, which can be unpleasant. We have yet to have ANY problems at a KristaCon, but, if there were problems, I would be prepared to follow with the consequences I set out in the harassment policy.
Is there anything more you would like everyone to know about KristaCon, or you, or your take on gaming?
Ultimately, one of the things I decided was that, once a KristaCon/LongCon was over, that was the end of the story line for those characters; even in a MHRPG game, if someone plays the same character in another game, it’s a complete reset for the character. We thought about doing an RPGA style system where players could keep their characters and the improvements they experienced during the game and carry them over to a new game. I did not want the administrative hassles that would go along with keeping track of people’s characters and their progress. I also believe that it is better to let people end on a high note and remember the fun they had and create completely new fun at the next LongCon.
On the political side, I want to promote women’s activities and the activities of other minority groups in the gaming community. The last few years have really highlighted the problems we have with sexism and exclusionary behavior. KristaCon is a chance for us to really make a difference, to model the kind of community and gaming spaces we want to have. Having male allies for women’s issues, straight allies for LGBTQ issues, fully able allies for people with disabilities and white allies for issues experienced by people of color are all important. I want KristaCon to be that kind of supportive community.
In many ways, KristaCon is about breaking the traditional convention model. Why should games only run for 4 hours and then stop altogether? Why should there only be one GM? Why should convention gaming be focused on roll-playing rather than on roleplaying? I want to keep pushing those boundaries because, in doing so, we not only open the door to game innovation, but we also pave the way for changing game culture so that there is space for everyone.
I heard a second-hand report of someone at KristaCoNYC saying that she really liked the event because she didn’t get the kind of roleplaying out of convention games that she likes. As a result, she doesn’t go to conventions. The takeaway there is that there are other folks who feel the same way I do, and that a KristaCon/LongCon event can be a way to get together with those folks outside their home roleplaying circles. I hope the movement spreads and that we see more people who might not otherwise meet coming together to play games and have the kind of fun they find most satisfying.
Thanks Krista, this is really cool! Last question; is there a website or g+ group or some place folks could follow further KristaCon developments, like that bit about handling Transition Scenes?
We have a Google+ community called KristaCon and LongCon. For now, any innovations we make will be posted there. I am planning to start a wiki where we will define terms, share techniques, and have a calendar for LongCon events. That will be coming in the next few months. I am also proposing a KristaCon/LongCon 101 panel for Metatopia. Folks interested in learning more who can make that con should definitely check it out.