Convention Games: Part 2- Challenges

Running role-playing games at a convention or a one shot at a game shop for Free RPG Day is a different animal from running campaigns. There are some things you need to consider before you begin writing your adventure.

You have no control over who sits down at the table. Generally speaking, GM’s at conventions can mark down in their game descriptions whether the game is for adults or minors and the level degree of player experience desired. My experience is that you will get someone outside of that range at your table. If you mark down “advanced” players, someone will bring a friend whose never played before. If you mark “mature audience” they’ll bring their 14 year old.

I’ve had good experience with running games that are easy for new players to jump into and with content that’s not too “adult” in nature. My home campaign is full of character death,  body horror and murder hobos but I tone it down a lot for conventions.

You have limited time. Every convention has a different scheduling system. My experience is that most conventions have RPG’s set in 4 hour blocks. When you are putting your game together, plan for 4 hours. I like to make sure I have more material than I think we can get through in 4 hours but will cut something out if it looks like we aren’t going to get through most of the adventure. Convention organizers, and the next GM at the table you are using, want you to get off the table when your time slot is over so try to be like the show case show down on The Price is Right. Get as close as you can to the mark without going over.

I have been to conventions where GM’s can choose 8 hour or even 12 hour blocks but often you won’t get a group of players who are willing to spend an entire day only playing your game.

Play conditions will not be ideal. Typically, you will be in a room with a bunch of other games going on simultaneously. It will be loud, because there will be that guy who insists on shouting, in a funny voice, and will drown out anything going on at your table. There will be distractions from a variety of sources. The table will probably be a cheap, folding table 3″x6″, it might be round. Your seat will almost certain be uncomfortable. The light will probably be glaring fluorescent industrial bulbs. If you have accessibility issues, take into account that getting, to/from your game may be difficult.

There may not be much you can do about any of these issues but roll with the punches. My basic advice for GM’s who have never run a convention game is to be flexible and have as simple a game and set up as possible. Once you’ve run some games at cons, then you can get the feel for how ambitious you want to be with terrain, experimental rule sets, or challenging adventure formats.


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