Friday, January 05, 2018

Confessions of a Full Time Dungeon Master – Volume 2

Confessions of a Full Time Dungeon Master – Volume 2
by Joe Alfano

So in volume one of this series, I left you with a quote from a Nic Cage movie…

“Many hands make light work. My daddy taught me that.”

Which brings us to the start of the “How”. How do we manage to organize convention floors from 10-61 tables in size? How do we keep 60+ people showing up to events on a weekly or bi-weekly basis at our local store? And how do we do it and still maintain a regular job and home life?


In our area we have three people doing the organizing. One at each of our two venues, and me as the co-organizer at both. My west-side counterpart has one method of not letting it get in the way of his home life in that nearly every time he shows up, it is with his wife and two daughters – all of which are gamers. My east-side counterpart and I don’t have the same luxury.

For me, I make a point to spend time away from the game table every couple of weeks. It helps that we have Chateau de Zombie (a retirement home in Door County that makes a perfect vacation home until we retire), in that my wife plans for trips up there as often as possible. About 45 minutes to an hour away from the nearest game store. So, in short, identify when you are spending too much time at the table and know when to take a step back. I understand this takes a lot of will and self-reflection, so you can alternate this with, “Listen to your spouse when they tell you to be somewhere.”

Or generally, just… “Listen to your spouse.”

I put this first to emphasize the importance of family. Most of the time you only get one, so don’t squander it.


Next you should ask yourself a single question, and answer yourself honestly. You’re usually only making this contract with yourself, so you would only cheat yourself if not totally honest in your answer. “Is this important enough to warrant the amount of resources I am putting towards it?”

I had to do that this past November, because I was wearing myself to thin. Spreading myself out so much I was starting to snap. My charity events and Adventurers League community were trumping my NaNoWriMo community. They were more active, and I was with them every couple of weeks as opposed to once month a year. And they were more active. Not everyone is interested in the social aspect of NaNoWriMo – I get it. But to me that meant my time was better spent organizing the game tables. And I had two awesome folks ready to step in with the NaNo group.

There is a great feeling one gets when people look at you with a sense of wonder at how you can manage the load you are. Or maybe they are just wondering if they will have to testify at the hearing to have you committed. Either way, there is a sense of pride that comes with that. Best to identify when you have crossed the line and the intervention is coming.

Start a Crew

I kind of hate that it makes me sound like the Taylor Swift of tabletop gaming, but it is true. There is a lot you can accomplish with the appropriate crew. My path in AL started with me being a part of someone else’s crew. These are the players and dungeon masters that are willing to put forth just a little bit of extra effort. Each one that is added to your community and that circle of friends, that is just a bit more you can accomplish each month.

When I started with convention floors for AL, I was running 30-40 hours of games in a weekend. (There is more on surviving that coming later, for sure.) Once I stepped behind the Admin Desk – remember, get a crew – I left a gap. So Thomas, the guy who does the lion share of our convention floor organizing, needed a crew to help him organize and allow for him to step away once in a while. With me filling in there, my son took up the mantle of my crazy shift. He was already doing 20+ hours too, but he stepped up to fill in the rest of my shift.

There are a number of dungeon masters in our stable that I know we can count on to step up for what is needed. And if I wasn’t able to keep doing my admin duties, there are a number of people I know could step up and fill in without much of a skip. Local crew, convention crew, national crew… you decide what the parameters of the crew you need, but fill out the roster.


My final thought for this volume is to organize your life and your table. This is the part of dungeon mastering (or event organizing) that is not much fun. It involves cleaning, organizing, and it costs money. Our biggest convention (Remember when I said 61 tables?) is really good about covering our expenses, including office supplies. Which is good, because the more of these you have, the better chance you have of surviving the planning stages of your event.

I have two mobile files for local events. One has characters and player things in it. The other is filled with files for things like character sheets, log sheets, event records, and other paperwork and things needed at each and every local event. Inside of those is a collection of files, hanging folders and envelopes to organize the paperwork. And remember how I mentioned having a crew? A number of my crew keep similar files with paperwork in crates or backpacks of their own. A backup in case I forget to load my crate in the truck that morning.

I am currently working on a set of rolling file cabinets to go with us to the convention floor. We are to the point now where our setup includes a stage, a pair of tables, and usually a microphone. You need some way to get 500 people to hear you at the same time. The convention I mentioned above is covering the cost of that for us. Granted each one is only $15 to $20, but every little bit helps. Especially when we cover the costs of hanging folders and the like.

With actual files to work with, we will have space to store and organize things like the certificates we give out at the events. Not to mention there is the content that we always seem to need an extra copy or two of. We can get these done with our event print order, and now have a place to store and organize them for easy retrieval. Managing getting those copies back is another issue with a separate fix. Mine is a walnut and antler topped cane – and mild threats of violence. Your mileage may vary.

To take a step back to the local venue for a moment, there is a simple suggestion that can make a world of difference to you if you are setting up more than 2 or 3 tables at your venue. Our east side location has lockers – ones that nobody has used in years. Some day they may do a version of Storage Wars and bust them open. But for now, our AL group is the only ones using a locker. I have things in there like dice (I always forget to grab a set on my way out Thursday mornings), a DM screen (I have like 5 of them in various themes), the jug for our raffle tickets, the tickets themselves, and a binder with some modules that can be run on the fly. At the west side location, we have a tub that sits in the office of the store on a shelf. We can store what we need there, and break it out at our events.

Each person will handle this differently, but the more you organize, the more it will reflect in your events. At least I hope it reflects in our events – sometimes it is hard to tell.

Read Confessions of a Full Time Dungeon Master – Volume 1 here.


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