View Full Version : Holding games at conventions

2018-09-16, 01:38 PM
I'm interested in hearing how many other people here hold games at conventions. How has it worked for you? What kind of games you've held? What have you learned?

I started convention GMing in 2011. I jury-rigged Lamentations of the Flame Princess to work for an urban fantasy game where all the player characters were ghosts. Worked better than you'd think. Since then it's become a twice or thrice a year activity, with average of two-and-half games per convention, with average playtime of three hours.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been my main platform for convention games. I've also served as a contest GM for scenario design contests and ran those scenarios as part of games-on-demand routine. The name's a bit misleading; "scenario" in this context basically means a mini-RPG meant to run in 1 hour or so. These games have covered a dizzying array of styles both content-wise and mechanically.

The standouts have been:

- a short LotFP campaign based on artefact retrieval from a megadungeon (4 conventions, 11 games, 60+ players)

- a still on-going LotFP campaign, wide-open sandbox (7 conventions so far, 15+ games, 70+ players). Two of the sessions have also been streamed on the net.

- LotFP horror one shots (Death Love Doom 6 times, **** for Satan 2 times, Joop Van Ooms 2 times)

A lot of my players have been complete beginners (approx. 40% of the total) , so I find my activity to be important when it comes to introducing new people to the hobby. I know at least two play groups have their origins at my game table.LotFP is also pretty rare, though OSR in general is quite well represented. So when I find myself wondering, "is it worth to run gory horror games?", the answer I keep drifting to is "well who else is running these sorts of games?"

I keep rough player statistics for my campaigns. So far, roughly 25% of players have been female. The proportion rises to roughly one third if the one shots are included. Gory horror is bizarrely popular with cosplay girls.

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback for open-endedness and amount of player agency in my games. Specifically, my games have been compared favorably to adventure paths ran by Pathfinder Society.

On the flipside, I've been told my games are hard to start with, often lacking an obvious hook (or having too many) and requiring greater player initiative than usual.

The structure for my campaigns is tailor-made for conventions. The main idea is that each player group makes and leaves their notes for the next, so even if there are no returning players and characters in the next session, there is still continuity, with every group's efforts building on the last. This borders on unique in the local convention scene, I know exactly one GM who does things roughly the same.

The campaigns have turned into an interesting study in group psychology and emergent storytelling. Starting out, I did not quite expect the level of deliberate misinformation, trolling etc. that players would inject into the games. Many mysteries and red herrings are a result of nothing but frustrated players trying to one-up each other, but this has largely enhanced actual game play, as it greatly reduces the burden on me to come up with new events.

2018-09-16, 02:54 PM
Okay so I've played games at conventions

The one that comes to mind is I was in a game where I was a neutral evil second level mage. The rest of the party was 5th or 6th.

A paladin with a war horse obvious magical mount comes up with his squire. After scanning the party for good and evil he looks at me and says stand down there is no reason for you to be with these evil people.

Paladin goes onto can say you can all come to my Lord and face Justice. Or my Squire and I can just dispense it here.

You can imagine how well this one over with the group. The Paladin rides in to the main body of the group. Commences to attack. The Squier calls out a warning you better stand down on my word will kill you on the spot where you stand. The Squire then proceeds to another member of the party that is near me about 25 feet away and attacks.

Round 3 The Squire goes down. Wanting to keep my cover I walk over to the Squire and the perform heal check. The player gets mad and says it took me alot to put him down.
You should not be helping him you should be helping the party. I reply alive prisoners better than a dead prisoner.

The party is getting beat on by the mount and the Paladin they're losing. I call out to the Paladin and say my Lord I have a spell that will change the course of this battle however any resistance will cause it to fail I must touch you for it to be effective are you willing to let the spell have the effect?

Paladin replies cast your spell in touch me. I icast a 0 level spell. Mind fog the spell ceases the action of any under 5th level opponent.

Game comes to an immediate halt. The players say hey we don't accept Homebrew here. The DM says yeah that wasn't fair. I hand them the player's handbook let him read the spell.

After reading spell description the DM goes yeah I did say he would accept the spell. The spell effect goes in the Paladin does not move for one round. The party precedes to butcher the Paladin.

After that I got tired of playing at conventions

2018-09-18, 10:09 PM
I'm a full time professional artist alley goon, and for some years my typical evening would look like this:
-Get out of artist alley at 6 or 7 o'clock
-Head straight to the game room to run RPG's for the evening
-Do not eat dinner. Just continue eating trail mix and drinking milk like I was while running my table.

Regarding player hooks, are you using pregenerated characters? Because if not, I would definitely suggest that. It's an easy way to tie the character into the session; this character is searching for the man who killed his father (who happens to be the villain), this one is a detective sent to investigate a murder (in the scenario location), and so on and so forth.

2018-09-19, 06:35 AM
I love cons.

New games, new play styles, new players to be with. New, different.

Yes, there are always clunkers (players and games). But you take the bad with the good.

As per the OP, I use cons to tell the types of stories I don't otherwise tell in home group.

As GM I:
1) Try scenarios that I hadn't tried
2) Do tried and true scenarios and see how other players react
3) Entertain myself with new player shenanigans
4) test my chops as improv reactor, because you never know what curve balls a random player is going to throw at you
5) if I'm feeling super full of myself, I do a choose your own adventure scenario: players write down a specific beat they want to see in a setting, and it's my job to bring it all together in a way that's fun and coherent.

I love to introduce players to different types and concepts of role-play. I like introducing different games to folks. That might be the teacher in me. It also feeds into why I love GMing - I love bringing fun to the masses. If it's different than what they're used to, even better.

I like new energy, different perspectives, and seeing people who often never played together come together in meaningful ways to tell a story that until I started speaking they knew nothing about.

As for a con-style, I do have a formula I engage in.
1) introduce myself and the game
2) go over what I expect from the table in terms of respect (me and other players)
3) go over setting, rules
4) and based on the game, do a thing that immediately engages the game. Generally, combat (social or physical). Something to literally makes me shut up and get the players interacting with the mechanics and their character sheets. I keep it quick and dirty, something that lets the characters really shine, minimal threat. (And depending on setting, false sense of hope).
5) segue into actual plot and story...

I run almost exclusively indie games, which often equates to "you now have a new game to play" for most of my players.

As a player, new games to try! Games I never get to play at home! What's not to like about cons?!?!?!?!

2018-09-19, 06:39 AM
Regarding player hooks, are you using pregenerated characters? Because if not, I would definitely suggest that. It's an easy way to tie the character into the session; this character is searching for the man who killed his father (who happens to be the villain), this one is a detective sent to investigate a murder (in the scenario location), and so on and so forth.

This! Everytime. Because unless building characters is part of the journey of gameplay (several pbta games are like this), then it's a waste of time. Just play the game! And you get to figure out how players will shine, fail, work together, chafe, etc. It allows you, the GM, to more easily curate story, narrative experience, and coherence for a group of players that often know nothing about each other.

2018-09-19, 08:03 AM
Pregenerated characters are definitely the way to go - not only can character creation on the spot be a drag, but B.Y.O.PC can lead to some horribly lopsided mishaps that have no connection to the setting or plot. It's just better to cut straight to the chase and get playing with something predictable.

That being said, take all of this advice with a pinch of salt and be prepared to consider every Con as practice for the next one based on your own experiences.
I have only ever played at Cons, and my keenest memory was in a game run by a GM who dragged us along a tepid and frustrating rail-road with exactly ONE obscure solution for 4 hours, and then gleefully announced at the end of it that we were the best group he had ever had, because we had actually gotten to the end of the plot and not just (IC) given up and walked away after a couple of hours like the other 4 groups that came before us.

It was torture throughout and by the end of it we were glad to leave, wishing more than a little that we had lynched the guy on our way out.

Please - Don't be that guy. Ask for feedback after the game and be prepared to act upon it, because that way you'll get more players NEXT time and they will be only too happy to pitch in, and all of you will have more fun "next time" no matter how well you feel it went. :smalltongue:

2018-09-24, 02:33 PM
Regarding player hooks, are you using pregenerated characters?

I offer each player a chance to built their own character, but I also store pre-filled and half-filled sheets as well as handed down characters, so by now I have folders of ready-to-play characters. The actual issue is that a traditional OSR character sheet is chiefly focused on recording mechanical data and doesn't include or have much room for personality, background or motives. I've been thinking of adopting a card-based system for helping people with those. (Draw four cards from a deck, these represent your motives. House of diamonds is wealth, hearts is romance, spades is violence, clubs is stability etc.)

Many of the short scenarios I've held had similar "lottery draw" character creation and they've generally worked well to communicate a role to players.

2018-09-27, 12:51 PM
I have to say, the idea of using pregenerated characters seems strange to me. Possibly a difference in how convention games work here? In the 13 years of attending pretty much every convention in this country, the only games I've seen that didn't use pregens were adventurers league and Pathfinder Society games. Pretty much every writer here creates characters to fit with the story they're telling in the scenario they've written.

I've GM'd and written a lot of games for conventions in that time, mostly along the lines of 'this could be a fun story to tell', occasionally with the odd gimmick thrown in. My favourites we're an introspective horror game where the players had to think deeply about what it means to sacrifice that which you care for, and a silly lovecraftian romp in a Mallory Towers-esque girls' school.

2018-10-01, 10:04 AM
Aidan, I suspect it's simply because most convention GMs aim for one-shots. That and reducing time spent in the set-up stage of a game strongly favor pregenerated characters.

I'm comfortable letting players create their own characters because getting a completely new player through LotFP character creation doesn't take much longer than just explaining what's on a prefilled sheet.