Sharpening up your Con game

March 16, 2008

No, not that kind of con game.

I hit up Endgame’s mini-con today, and it struck me that while the mini-con idea works well, how wide the difference in skills of GMs in dealing with convention play were.  In some cases, folks made it a brilliant gaming experience, in others, it fell flat.

Convention games exist as the opposite of the traditional rpg experience in so many ways, it’s a wonder how well the con experience happens at all.   You have 2-4 hours to get a game going, teach new rules, or at least get a feel for a new group and have a satisfying chunk of play.

1.  Prepare well

Most people think this means knowing the rules and having lots of notes for the adventure you’re going to run.  What’s more important is preparing to get the players into playing as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Prepare by printing up cheatsheets that explain the basic rules and give one to each player.  Have an example conflict or something you can do really quickly and demonstrate to the players how the game works.

You’re not prepping to have all the rules memorized, you’re prepping to explain the basics quick enough that people are comfortable with it, and can make some informed decisions about it.   You don’t want more than 10 minutes of rules explaining, and, if you can, break it up by explaining a part just as the players are getting into it.

2.  Characters, done, or mostly done. 

If you can do pre-gen characters, do it.  If you want a little more modification, do something like 80-90% done characters, and the players can customize with a few points/powers, etc.  This prevents the players bogging down into building characters instead of playing, and, also from exploiting weird system aspects you might not be ready to handle.  Also tie the characters into the situation- you don’t want to sit there trying to push people into play.

Unlike a normal campaign where you will be playing with a character for 3 months or more, players have to be willing to come to con games and accept they’re going to lose a little individual customization for the sake of play.

3.  Cutting out bits

You might want to avoid using complicated parts of the game you’re running, especially if it involves weird subsystems, or things that would be slow for a new player to learn.  This would be stuff like deckrunning in Shadowrun, magic in many game systems, etc.  If you’re pre-genning the characters, you won’t have this problem.  Again, players have to accept they’re getting an abbreviated experience for most games.

4.  Scene framing is your bestest friend/go for blood

Since this is going to be a one-shot, don’t slow the pace- push it.  Go for the throat.  The only thing you don’t want to happen is to remove the players from play until the end, which in most games depends on character death.  Other than that, get to the interesting stuff NOW.   Players aren’t going to be as attached to their characters, and probably will be more excited and more interested in taking risks, as long as you’re willing to go there with them as well.

As the GM, you’re effectively the leader-by-example in this- people will be shy, and reticient- they’re trying to feel out what kind of game you’re going to run.  If you don’t hold back, they won’t either, and you’ll get that great con experience you’re looking for.

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