Tag Archives: Conventions

Class Is in Session: Running a Convention Teaching Game

No Gravatar

Game conventions are a great place to introduce new players to your favorite system. But running a game designed to teach a new system is a bit differently than running a game for experienced players. For one thing, you can’t assume that the new player knows anything about the system you’re running–even what type of die to use, if any. Also, you’ve somehow got to do a quick over-view of the rules without boring your players to tears and yet also manage to complete your scheduled adventure.

It’s a lot to juggle. Below are some steps to help you successfully pull off a teaching game. These steps don’t have to be limited to convention games; they’re also useful if you’re running a demo at a game shop or even trying to convince your regular group to try that new game you bought and are dying to run.

  1. Always use pre-generated characters. I’ve yet to see a successful teaching game which started with the players creating their characters. I’m sure someone’s done it, but it does make teaching the game much, much harder. With pre-gen characters, not only do you save valuable play time, but you can also plan your adventure around those specific characters.
  2. Create “iconic” characters. Teaching games aren’t the place for off-beat or unusual character ideas. If you use archetypal  (or even cliché) characters, players can spend less time figuring out their motives and more time learning the game itself.
  3. Don’t make your players add. The other good thing about using pre-generated characters is that you can do as much of  the math ahead of time as possible. You want to be able to tell a player to “roll a d20, then add your BAB [marked in large numbers on the character sheet] to it.” As much as possible, try to keep your players from having to add more than two or three numbers together at a time.
  4. Prepare “cheat sheets” or “quickstart” versions of the rules, if the game company doesn’t provide them. I always make a one to two page summary of a game’s basic rules so the players have something they can refer to while playing.
  5. Consider creating character packets. I create an information packet for each character that contains the character sheet, any relevant character background, written descriptions of the character’s powers, and a brief summary of the game’s setting and background. It seems like a lot, but if you limit the background information to its most crucial elements, your players will thank you for putting what they need to know right at their fingertips.
  6. Simplify the mechanics. Strip away anything not absolutely critical. You want new players to get a feel for the system, not bog them down with modifiers and exceptional cases.
  7. Plan to spend the first quarter of the session explaining the game and its basic concepts. Here you want to focus on the essence of the game, not the mechanics. Sure, do a real-quick mechanics run-down (I usually go through the cheat-sheet), but spend most of this time going over the character sheet and game background and answering player questions.
  8. Tell players to hold their questions until after your explanation. If you’ve done a good game introduction, you may find you’ve already answered the players’ questions. This also helps prevent you from getting bogged down in player questions and having time to finish your introduction.
  9. Begin with a bang. Start your adventure with the PCs in the middle of something: they’re in the car on the way to the haunted house; they’re trapped in a burning building; they’ve just been locked in a room with a group of people, one of whom is murderer. Unless you’re running Tales from the Floating Vagabond, try to avoid the “You’re sitting in a bar…” opening.
  10. Do the  math for them. Try to handle as much of the mechanics yourself as possible. You want to give players a feel for the game, not bog them down with situational modifiers. Let the players roll dice, but add the modifiers yourself and describe the results to the player in words, not numbers. Sometimes you need to give the player numbers, but try to serve them with some descriptions as well: “You’re knocked back against the wall as your opponent’s blade rips through your shirt, drawing blood and pinning your sleeve to the wall. Take 8 points of damage.”
  11. Be flexible. Keep an eye on the clock. If your game is running over time, try to bring it to a conclusion, even if it’s not the one you’d originally planned. You may need to improvise scenes or cut some out. Allow the players to ask questions about the game, but try to keep them focused to the adventure at hand.
  12. Get feedback. If you’ve got time after you finish the adventure, ask for player feedback. What did they need the most help with? What game concepts need to be made clearer? Is there anything that should’ve been covered in the introduction that wasn’t. That type of thing. Really listen to what the players say and, if need be, modify your introduction and information packets accordingly.

This steps should help you teach new game systems to players successfully, particularly when you have a short amount of time to do it in, such as at a game convention. Please feel free to leave comments letting me know if I’ve left anything out or need to improve something.

9 Tips for Running Your First Convention Game

No Gravatar

Game conventions can be a great way to stretch your GMing muscles, but running a convention game is very different from running even a one-shot at home with your regular gaming group. You never know who (or what) is going to end up at your table and you’re running within a limited time frame, frequently 4 hours. This can be intimidation to a first-time con GM. Here’s a list of tips that will (hopefully) make your game go more smoothly:rpg blog carnival logo

  1. Give the PC’s a clear, concrete goal. This may seem obvious, but I’ve played in convention games where the PCs had no clear idea of what they were supposed to accomplish. The ultimate one was an In Nomine game where the challenge was “Chicago. Trouble. Go fix.” Literally. That was our entire mission briefing.  It left me feeling frustrated and aimless through much of the game.
  2. If you don’t state the goal at the very beginning, make it clear as soon as possible. The classic con scenario is the “mission” scenario, where the PCs are given clear mission goals by a superior in whatever organization they belong to. This is a great way to begin a con game. If you don’t want to go that route, you can have the goal find the PCs, but make sure it happens within the first 30 mins of game time. An example of  the mission finding the PCs: I ran a Trinity game where the PCs were all traveling to new jobs on Luna. That was just a device to get the PCs on the same ship; the real game began when a group of NPCs hijacked the shuttle and the PCs had to capture them while protecting the shuttle’s crew and passengers.
  3. Consider running a “closed-room” scenario. A “closed-room” or “locked room” scenario is one what takes place inside a very limited area which the character, for some reason intrinisc to the plot, can’t leave until the goal has been accomplished. You see this most often in murder mysteries and, indeed, my first successful con games were murder mysteries. Yes, it’s contrived. Yes, it can be constricting. But it makes it much easier to run a scenario when you know the PCs aren’t going to suddenly take a train to Borneo.
  4. Give your game an intriguing title. That will help it stand out from the mass of other games in the con catalog. You want your title to intrigue players into finding out more about your game. Some titles I’ve used:
    • Things that Go Bump in the Night (an Everway game)
    • Crimes Against the State (an Amber Diceless game)
    • Every Now and Then (a Mage: Technocracy game)
    • (After)Life is a Caberat (a Wraith: the Oblivion game)
  5. Advertise your games, particularly if you’re a brand-new con GM. Frequently cons have boards where you can tack up game notices. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to put up posters in other places at the con venue, such as lobby pillars — always get permission to put these up first! I like to use 8 1/2 x 11 fliers with an eye-catching picture, the name of the scenario, the name of the rules system (including edition!), the time of the game, the location of the game (if you know), the name of the GM, and a brief description of the scenario designed to pique players’ interests.
  6. Take time to explain. Many, many players come to cons to try out games they’ve never played before. So you may have someone at your table who’s never played any RPGs or someone who’s been gaming since Chainmail was new. Take the first part of your time slot to do a quick run-down of the game, its mechanics, its background and the characters involved. For a four-hour game slot, I reserve the first hour for explanations
  7. Time your game. It’s extremely rude to run over. If you run too far over, your players will miss their next game. I usually aim my games to run one hour less than the available time. That gives me some leeway to deal with plot derailments, lost players, etc.
  8. Use pre-generated characters. Unless you’re running an extremely simple set of mechanics, you’re not going to have time to create characters and play the scenario. And if it’s a new game to a player, most likely they don’t know what they want to play. Also, having pre-generated characters means you can tie them to your plot and to each other. They’re known quantitites, you can plan the scenario around them.
  9. Consider creating player handouts. Along with a copy of the character sheet, I give out a character history/background, a one-page explanation of the game, another 1-2 pages of “cheat sheet” for mechanics, and brief summary of any important background information the player will need to know for the scenario. Don’t bog them down with details or mechanics that aren’t crucial for that session. Important: don’t photocopy the books unless you have specific permission! This is plagerism. I give my players “crib notes” — something they can refer to during the game, but is basically useless without the rest of the rules.

This post is part of the RPG Blogger‘s August Blog Carnival.