Convention Gaming Part III: Design

I like to write adventures just for convention play. These are games that I am probably not going to run as part of my campaign. Every now and again I throw a convention game into a campaign but for the most part these are unique events. Part of the fun of a convention, for me, is running and playing games I don’t get to enjoy around home at all or very often. When I am brainstorming ideas for a convention game, I try to think of something unusual.


  • All dwarf party sent to find out why the ale delivery didn’t make it
  • A party sent on a mission but each have their own secondary objective which might endanger the primary mission
  • Suicide mission that culminates in a big end of session battle (Dirty Dozen, 13 Assassins, 7 Samurai, Inglorius Bastards )
  • Characters from TV or Movies (Call of Cthulu on Sesame Street, Star Frontiers on Lost in Space) 
  • Iconic monsters or villains that I don’t use often in campaign games
  • Borrow a mechanic or concept from a another game
  • Something you that would wreck a campaign but would be great for a convention like a PvP game


Once I have the high concept in mind, the rest of the adventure becomes clear and its just a matter of hitting the genre conventions and throwing in a twist here and there.

I try to hit four different types of encounter throughout the game session.

  1. Combat
  2. Social interaction with NPCs
  3. Exploration/Investigation
  4. Non-combat problem solving

Depending on the game you are running and the adventure concept you will get more of one than another. Call of Cthulu is going to have more investigation than combat and D&D might have more combat. You may have a situation where you eliminate one of these categories. Generally, you want to include all four types of encounters. Different people like different things and since you have no control over who is going to be playing at your game, appealing to the broadest set of preferences possible will give better results.

Be clear about objectives from the start. Players should know what their characters want as soon as the game starts. The sooner they are able to direct their characters toward a goal, the more engaged they will be. Right after it’s clear what the characters want to achieve start throwing obstacles in their path. That can be an NPC, a monster, a trap, physical barrier or mystery. It doesn’t matter what you throw at them, just make problems for them. The problems should then begin to escalate.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t give them a problem that is going to be a TPK in the first 15 minutes of the session.
  • Do give them a problem that they have to make a significant choice and has consequences to the achievement of the objective.
  • Each successive challenge should be a little harder until the end goal is in sight and at that point total failure is a possibility.

What you want to do is keep building the difficulty and stakes as the session progresses to the point where the final conflict resolves and the players either achieve their objective or they don’t.

I’ll have one more post in this series about the actual experience at the convention and some things you might want to do to make it a positive experience for both you and the players.

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