Prepping for a Convention Game, Pt 2

Yesterday, I wrote the first part of this article. I talked about the games and I prepped for KantCon, and what made them easier or hard to get ready. Today, I’m going to work those ideas down into some general tips for getting a convention game ready to go.

Be Aware of Your Time Budget

At most conventions, unless you’re running a side game for friends, you’ve got a time limit to worry about. Usually, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-4 hours. If you’re not used to running a game that last a specific amount of time, then you need to factor this into your planning. Take some time during your regular game session before the convention and see how long it takes your group to get through what you have planned.

If you’re right down to the wire, planning-wise (as anyone who is going to GenCon will be), I would break a four-hour game down like this:

Intro to Game System, setting, rules and characters – 30 minutes

Action/Story set-up – 30 minutes (I’m a fan of dropping the group right into some trouble; gets people focused)

Main Story – 2 1/2 hours

Wrap-up – 30 minutes

If you’re not sure how long your main story will last, well, just move on to my next point.

Overplan, but be Flexible

It is always a good idea to have too much ready to go than not enough. If you think your session might run on the short side, then plan a few extra encounters because combat almost always takes longer than you think it will. Be ready to add content, if necessary.

However, your biggest concern should be your ability to be flexible. Yes, you maybe should railroad a touch more than you usually would to keep things moving through your adventure. That said, some groups will completely move into left field, and it’s your job to keep up with them. Do your best to keep up with them and roll with the punches. If that means not using the elaborate, set-piece combat that you spent six hours building, then don’t use it. Check your ego at the door and remember that you’re all there to have fun.

If  Time is Short, Use Something Pre-made

There is nothing wrong with grabbing an adventure module from your favorite publisher and using it. I repeat: nothing. No matter what you end up running, you’re going to bring your own unique flair and your own twists to whatever it is that you run.

This goes for characters, as well. If you have a source for good, decently-optimized characters, it’s not a bad idea to use them. One thing that I found out about myself when I was getting my KantCon games ready is that I am not the best in the world at making good characters, especially those that are higher-level.  They characters weren’t bad, per se, but I really could have done a better job with them. Next time I am either going to take more care with their building, or find a set of pre-built characters to use.

Quick-start rules, like the ones for Savage Suzerain that I linked to yesterday, are a good source for that kind of thing. That’s one of the things that Savage Mojo did well; their characters were pretty well built, and that saved me a lot of extra work when I was getting that game ready.

I Mentioned it Already, but Be Flexible

With a convention game, you will have people showing up late, people with generic tickets who want to play, people who walk by, who stop and watch, ambient noise from other nearby game, and a whole host of other distractions. You may end up with half of the players that you expected to have, and your number may double.

Case in point: when I was ready to run The Haunted Mines at KantCon, I noticed that there was a lot of interest in the game. Given that it was the last gaming slot on the last day of the convention, I had totally forgotten how many players were supposed to be in the session, I just knew that I had brought 8 characters for people to choose from. Feeling generous (and a little loopy), I decided that adding two additional characters would be no problem, and I ended up running a scenario designed for 5 players with a total of… wait for it… 10 players. It wasn’t the way the scenario was designed, and I ended up having to improvise a lot more of it than I would normally be comfortable with. I think it ended up going well, but it likely would have been better if I had stuck to the original gameplan.

Double-Check Your Supplies

This one is self-explanatory, but super-important. Make a checklist of what you need to run your game properly, and don’t forget to bring all of it. Yes, it’s a convention, and yes you will likely have the ability to buy the things you need, but it is much easier if you just remember to bring what you need.

If you do happen to forget something important to the running of your game, remember what I said above: be flexible. The worst thing you can do is let the lack of something you feel to be crucial ruin the game session. You’re a GM, improvise, come up with something. If you can run the session, do so and never let the players know anything is wrong. If you pull it off, you could end up running a great game that will be talked about for a long time. Don’t let the lack of something derail your game completely.

Running a convention game can be a lot of fun, if you approach it properly. Keep your head about you, be ready to change your plans, and have a good time; that’s what it’s all about.
[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, preparation, GenCon, KantCon, Aruneus[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Prepping for a Convention Game, Pt 2

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  1. The first time that I ever ran at a con, I signed up to run three slots of the same game. I had planned to run the same adventure all three times. It was a little-known game and I wasn’t sure how many players I’d really get.

    I wrote my own adventure and PCs and I was so very, very proud of myself. When the players did something neat and unexpected, I threw something in to reward them (not that they knew that I made it up on the spot). We all had a great time.

    Then for the 2nd session, half the players from the 1st game showed up again. I couldn’t run the same adventure. Uh-oh, think fast. I ran the introductory adventure in the rulebook. Whew, saved.

    For the 3rd session, the same people showed. And brought friends. I had 9 players plus one player who generously offered to co-gm, since she’d played once already. Luckily, I remembered someone on the game’s yahoo group mentioning a plot. I didn’t remember the specifics but I remembered enough to run with it.

    Not once, but three times, those players had me on my knees, I was laughing so hard. When the spy and the slaver colluded to intercept the ransom note to steal the ransom for themselves, only to realize that neither one of them was literate? Comedy (& RP) gold!

    That first con showed me the benefits of being prepared (blank character sheets and extra pre-gens, plus extra dice and pencils for newcomers) and for being flexible.

    You’ve got some great advice. I wish I’d read this column before my first con.


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