Advice for Running Con Games


A friend recently asked if I had any advice for running a game at a con. I went on at some length, and shared the whole thing on my blog.

Here are the key points:

1. You don't always get a full table.

2. Get a sense of the players familiarity with the RPG you are running (and RPGs in general).

3. Be excited about the game you run! (Excitement is contagious)

4. Pacing and timing. (Probably the hardest part, you don't want to finish early or late, both are dissatisfying for the players)

5. Bring Dice, sheets, minis, pencils etc.

What else would you say to someone running there first Convention Game?
I tried to keep things fairly convention specific.

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Hand of Evil

  • Know the game - rules but also table manners / rules, this things like, sidebar or out-of-character raise your hand, letting one person speak at a time, dice rolls on in the open, etc...
  • Know the adventure - read the material a few times before running it, make note
  • Expect the unexpected - too few gamers, early leavers, cell phone users -
  • Have and make it FUN FUN FUN
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First Post
I drafted this a while back as something I was going to submit to [MENTION=1]Morrus[/MENTION] as part of a regular column. Hope it's useful:

I love convention games. You get a chance to meet new people, try new systems and not worry about the long-term consequences of your actions.
But sometimes a convention game goes bad. You’re stuck running four hours of tedious grind. In this article and in the following weeks we are going to discuss three ways of helping both GM’s and players have four hours of fun you won’t forget.
We will cover both convention games with a group of players you’ve never met before and one-shot “let’s try this out” sessions with your regular group.
Tip#1: Tell the players, explicitly, the sort of game you’re running and the tropes you’re working with.
These Are Not The Game Tropes You’re Looking For
It was a one-shot Star Wars game. The GM offered my choice of two Jedi characters, a Master or a Padawan. I ran my eye over the mechanics and with his approval picked the Master.
I could see myself in the game as a Jedi Master. It was a game of
• force duelling and deflecting laser bolts
• swashbuckling and quipping fun
• uncovering a Sith plot or two
• standing for all that is noble and true in the Galaxy
But the GM had a different game in mind. To him the mix of characters at the table clearly signposted a game of diplomacy. He would oversee us carefully negotiating our way through the tricky details of an independent planet in a post-Empire galaxy.
Clue in hand my Padawan and I hunted down a pair of Sith. Our duel was epic and ended with the bodies of the Sith neatly bisected and scattered on the floor.
At which point the GM declared a planet-wide all-points alert went off and my character became Public Enemy #1.
I was a Jedi. They were Sith. Surely my only option was to find them and eliminate them? That’s what Jedi do, right? And without being accused of murder! Right?
The GM and I spoke afterwards. Neither of us was happy with how the game had gone. He thought we’d use diplomacy. I reminded him that I had given them a chance to surrender before I chopped them in half.
We were playing the same game but with wildly different assumptions.
Zen and the Art of Setting Expectations
At the start of the session make sure you and the players have the same set of expectations.
It’s not enough to merely talk about the setting, mix of characters, or even the plot. If you want your players to engage in high-spirited kung-fu action don’t just hand them a bunch of characters and assume they’ll get on with it. Clue them in!
Let them know right from the start what level of kung-fu you’re talking about. Jackie Chan comedy and death-defying stunts? The studied seriousness of Bruce Lee? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s melancholy and grace? Or the uber-cool near-future impossibilities of the Matrix?
They all sound like great games to me but importantly quite different ones.
The same goes for “political” games, dungeon crawls, or anything else you can invent. If you make clear to the players what tropes you’re working with it’ll make sure everyone’s on the same wavelength. Players on the same wavelength are going to have a good time.
To many of you this will sound perfectly obvious. Of course you make it clear to your players what they’ll be playing! But in my experience of Con game and one-shots you can’t make it too obvious.
Whatever preparations you’ve done on the adventure remember to do some on the players.
The Secret Blend of Herbs and Spices
I think this is also the reason why “taster” sessions of a new game can often be disappointing. You as a GM spend hours reading a new rulebook, looking at the trial adventure and working out how to run it. You become familiar with the materials and the kinds of assumptions the game makes about likely player actions.
Then the players come along and stagger along with the plot, desperately trying to work out whether they’re going the right way. It’s much harder your players to get a grasp of the implied rules of a setting (rules like “getting captured is a good idea; it’ll get you to the villain much quicker!”) without a few clues from you the GM. Once your players get those early hints on which way to go they’ll pick up the idea quickly and you’ll find the whole session goes with a bang.
The GM of a game I played in at GenCon 2010 showed me how to make this work. It was a fantasy setting I wasn’t familiar with. Jody gave us some important hints whilst we were picking characters. He clearly explained to us our power levels and the kind of actions we would be expected to undertake. He provided background on magic and it’s place in the world. He also ran us through a simple-but-interesting early combat which I found gave us all a good picture of how the system worked.
All of Jody’s preparation lead to a session which ran smoothly. Our characters snapped into place easily and came to life as we played them. Our GM handled the mechanics well and helped us to clearly understand. His descriptions and the way he played NPCs strongly reinforced the conventions of the setting and the adventure.
The game was a blast to play. I’d be happy to play in another of Jody’s Con games. I hope that any other GM I game with would be willing to put a similar amount of prep work into their games.


Registered Ninja
In addition to what everybody else has said.
  • Write down everybody's name (character and player) and/or bring index cards to make folding name tents.
  • Get to the action quickly.
  • Brains slow down as the Con goes on. The further into the con you are the less subtle your hints should be.

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