Preparing to Run a Convention RPG

U-Con is a convention with quite a bit of variety in roleplaying games. If you are interested in gamemastering an RPG for U-Con, here are a few things to consider.

Consider your audience.  Your game will run a lot differently depending on who you think will show up to your game.  Use the recommended age, experience and complexity rating, and the description fields to attract the type of players you can have fun with.

Plan an appropriate story.  Sometimes players will come up with their adventure all on their own, and sometimes they need a little extra help.  Plan for both occasions.  When I run cinematic games, I like to have 3 combats where the first one is introductory.  Obviously, you need more if your adventure is a dungeon crawl.  You could also have non-combat encounters prepared, like skill challenges, negotiations, or puzzles.  It’s much easier to drop an encounter to end your game on time then it is to add encounters to fill it out.

Set expectations early.  Use your event description to set your players expectations.  Is this a dungeon crawl or a personality exercise?  Is this game cinematic or dialog heavy?  If your roleplaying game will be player vs. player, this should be apparent.

Engage the players right away.  If the selling point of game system is combat, then jump into an introductory combat immediately.  If story or emotion is key, create a starting event to draw them in.  Use the starting event to tell your players the exposition, rather than using exposition to get your players to a starting event.

Select a game system you know well.  Or learn one very well before the convention.  You don’t want to have to look up rules during your event – it’s BORING and a waste of time.  Pick a system you are comfortable with and have a good handle on the rules.  When in doubt, use the simplest system that serves your needs.

Use cheat sheets.  Remembering the order of combat or what your character’s special powers are can be tricky.  Give the players a one-page guide to help smooth any part of the game system that might be confusing.

When the rules get in the way, ditch them.  If the players want to do something outrageous, let them.  The rules are there to support the enjoyment of you and your players.  They’re more like guidelines.  And if you run fast and loose, you might want to let your players know at the start of the game or in the event description, so that they have the right expectations.

When in doubt, do what feels fun.  I think this is obvious.  We go to gaming conventions for the fun of it.  Your mission as a gamemaster is to make sure the players have a good time, and also to have a good time yourself.

Ask the players for feedback.  After your game, ask the players to tell you what they liked and what they didn’t.  Their insights may surprise you.

What other tips do you have for convention RPGs?



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2 Comments on “Preparing to Run a Convention RPG

  1. Use sheet protectors (like those you would use to for a presentation in a 3-ring binder) and dry erase markers.

    I discovered this trick while watching people play Hordes and keeping track of health on penny sleeves. I thought “Why not do that for RPGs?” It is a great way to keep track of health and other stats. And if you’re running the event multiple times, you don’t have to make multiple copies of characters.

  2. Regarding that feedback? Please have feedback forms made up, and remember to bring them. I’d had voting sheets made up for my game last year, but somehow they didn’t make it into my packing. How it looks isn’t important, it’s easier to get feedback from multiple people in writing then to remember what everybody said out loud.