Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Lessons from Shane Hensley's Con Game: Table Setup

It was a great privilege that I was able to play in Shane Lacy Hensley’s East Texas University Savage Worlds game during ChupacabraCon 2 on January 10th, 2015 in Austin, Texas. I rate it as one of the top three con games I’ve ever played!

If anyone could be considered a ‘master of running a Savage Worlds game’ I think it would be Shane, given his role in authoring the game. Shane has a deep history in the roleplaying industry including doing work for or FASA, TSR, and West End, so I was very interesting in checking out his GM style.

I took copious notes during the game and snapped several pictures. This is the first of four articles documenting Shane’s GMing style as I observed it at this con game. I learned several techniques which I want to share with you! This article focuses on Shane’s table setup. In upcoming articles I’ll cover how Shane used miniatures, details on the way he managed initiative, and (perhaps of most interest) several specific GM techniques he used during the game.

First up: here’s how Shane set up the table and prepared props for the game.

There were several pre-gens from the East Texas University setting. Character sheets were full color and printed on very heavy paper (or perhaps cardstock). Each pregen was essentially an nameless archetype which he said could be played as either gender (regardless of the gender shown on the character sheet or in the miniature). I played the “Jock” and named him “Zeke”. Each pregen had a mini-bio which was just long enough to inspire our own ideas on how to play the character.

Pre-gens with short bio and miniature

Pre-gens with short bio and miniature

Shane used the ETU GM screen which is tri-fold and just the right size for a round con-game table. Books and bennies sat outside the screen (although he took some bennies behind the screen at some point I believe where he could easily toss them to players).

After all players had selected a character, Shane handed out 3×5 cards and each player folded them over and wrote our character’s name on the ‘name tent’.

ETU 3 Panel GM Screen

ETU 3 Panel GM Screen and player name tents

After character introductions, Shane read aloud some prepared “boxed text” which gave us a description of recent events and set up the adventure hook. Immediately after that Shane announced that we all knew each other from previous Scooby-gang type adventures. We then took turns introducing our character and calling out their majors in college, and adding something interesting about them such as their Hindrances or Edges.

During the game we had an area map from ETU on the table, but we ignored what was on the map and just used minis for general positioning and marching order. At the very end he lifted up the ETU map and revealed a poster map of the final ‘boss fight’ scene; this was the only scene where we used a specific map. For most of the game it was theater of the mind action using the miniatures only for relative positions; he didn’t pull out minis for the bad guys until the final scene.

Also during the game Shane would pass out handouts with messages of documents, text messages or emails that we encountered from NPCs. Shane kept these handouts behind his GM screen.

Up next: more on Shane’s use of miniatures. Hint: it was a little different than I expected!


  1. Robert

    It was a real joy to play in that game. I loved the campaign locale, and Shane did a terrific job. He improvised well.

  2. Jeff Messina

    Good writeup Stan! Look forward to the next one

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