Fantasy Basel, running games at a Convention

By The Literate Programmer, Fri 12 May 2017, in category Nerdery

Fantasy Basel, Fun, GURPS, Volunteering

Fantasy Basel 2017

Fantasy Basel is a local convention catering to all fans of fantasy, science-fiction, anime, manga, board games and more. This year is the third year only and at just under fifty thousand visitors it's already a decently sized con, certainly the biggest in Switzerland.

The audience is varied, ranging from local teens over families with kids to old-school Magic: The Gathering players and from cosplayers over gamers to artists. I have gone both previous years, and enjoyed it quite a bit, seeing all the new things and all the people having fun.

I got to try new games, VR equipment, LARP weapons and more. However, I felt that Pen and Paper games were missing.

Our idea

So, together with one of my players and fellow GMs, I came up with the idea of running games at Fantasy Basel, to show off the hobby and to promote GURPS, which we felt would benefit from an expanded fanbase.

We would rent a table, advertise and run two sessions per day. We'd run a very simple game, with the story idea being a Zombie outbreak at the Con on Day 1 and then evolving the scenario over the three days, to keep it fresh for us.

Of course, we also created characters and simple char-sheets so that people would be able to just come in, pick a character and play. To make the characters easy to grok, we gave them only two Advantages and one Disadvantage, as well as 4 Skills. Two of these skills were wildcard skills, allowing them to do as much as possible without penalties, hopefully making the game more fun for them. Inspired by GURPS Ultra-Lite we gave them one good skill, two okay skills and one skill which they weren't so great at.

How we actually ran it

After we got settled in, we realised we really sucked at the advertising and improvised a little label for our table.

Improvised Label

We realised that we would have to keep the sessions much shorter to attract people. They were there, after all, to see the entire con, not just us, and we couldn't take up all their time. So we immediately changed that around and ran roughly one hour long sessions.

That turned out to be a good length and the outbreak at the Con scenario, where the first goal would be to escape or otherwise get to safety turned out to work really well with that. I proveeded to run only that scenario, while my friend ran a few sessions with the progressed story.

It was actually a lot of fun to see how nine different groups and sets of players ran the same scenario, so I found that it didn't get stale to run at all.

Two groups in particular stand out to me. One was the steampunk group that another player from my regular group brought with her. They were so many that we had to occupy the table next to ours and run two games at the same time!

Me running for the Steampunk group

They were a very entertaining group to run for, because they did stuff and actually worked together quite well. They ended up locking themselves into a safe space and waiting for rescue. Of course, they didn't just want to wait, they wanted to somehow communicate to the outside where they were. So they cut one characters finger berry off and painted on the window in blood.

Rather than, say, using cellphones.1

My friend running for the other Steampunk group

The other stand-out also involved friends of friends, this time two of them along with a new companion we met at the event. These three got so into the characters the cosplayed2, I figured, why not let them be awesome? Through the power of believing in their cosplay, they gained essentially magic powers and rocked the Zs hard. They were the only group to end the game with a boss fight, but they deserved being badasses.

Character sketch of one of the in-character group. Quote on top is "I'm in character right now!"

Ultimately, we learned a lot and will do it even better next time. There will also definitely be a next time, as it was a lot of fun, even though it was quite exhausting too.

One of the things we want to focus on is to either build our own community page, perhaps growing Swiss-Sided Dice to become a general community, with more German and maybe even Swiss-German content or to enter a partnership with an existing community. The goal of this would be to generate long-term effects, where people actually join the hobby permanently rather than just trying it out and then never actually playing it ever again.

We'll see what exactly we can do in this respect.

Other stuff that happened

The booth next to us was filled with lovely people who were there to playtest and promote their own, in-development boardgame. I got to play that a few times and found it a lot of fun and I hope to see them again next year.

I always like to hear about game design and to understand what makes a game tick, so that was really a nice bonus for me.

Otherwise, I didn't really do a lot at Fantasy Basel. I walked around and saw everything I wanted to, I got to try out a few more games I was curious about and I got myself a nice t-shirt.

Oh and I met a lot of friends and made a few new ones, apart from the people in the neighbouring booth. Special shout-outs go to the Naomi Nagata cosplayer who had to endure playing with a couple of teenies where "playing with a rock would've been more productive" and still enjoyed role-playing and was nice enough to at least pretend we did a good job3. The other special shout-out has to go to a podcaster / livestreamer I like4 and got the "first person to spot them IRL" trophy for, which is awesome, even if it only exists in their and my heads. With my group deciding to try out online gaming in shorter, more frequent sessions, perhaps we can get her to join us. She has certainly indicated interest in joining my friend's group once he gets around to spinning that up properly.

All in all, I had a lot of fun and I got to meet a lot of nice people and help show people what Pen and Paper roleplaying games are really like. I think that's a good thing, and look forward to doing that again, but better.


  1. On asking afterwards, a response was "sure, but it was in character for my steampunk cosplay!" which shows true dedication ;) 

  2. It was also already getting later... 

  3. I think she was sincere, but that game really was a mess. 

  4. Méline Sieber, works at the national radio broadcaster and does livestreams for them. 

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