aka the Games of Summer (a riff on Boys of Summer, you get the idea)
Over the last three weeks I have run three convention sessions for three different RPGs. Preparing for a convention game can be a challenge. All three games are from big publishers (Chaosium and Fri Ligan), which helped with players being familiar with or having played the games in question. All three sessions were fun, the players enjoyed themselves, and there was a minimum of table issues. In only one case did I use a VTT, because I felt like the visuals enhanced the game. I did set up all three games in Roll20 though, to hold information and the maps for myself.
What are the pitfalls of running a game at a convention? There are a few, though I dare say the rewards (mostly) outweigh the downside for me. An online convention is cheaper to be a GM for even though we were responsible for figuring out how to run the adventures ourselves. Both Gen Con and Nerdburger Con offered some advice in that regard. (note: the link to Nerdburger Con has been taken down)
For me there is an emotional element to running at a convention. I am anxious before the game starts but there is an energy to convention stranger danger that I look forward to. Who are these players? What kind of characters will they be? Often you are surprised. But when a game does not go off, I do feel let down or that I failed. If it is one of my own games, this really sucks. No one wants to be the GM sitting with an empty table because players are not interested in your fantasy heartbreaker.
Another issue I run into is how much “stuff” to bring. Not an issue for an online convention, but I realized had these been in person, I would have needed a lot of material on hand to get through the adventures. I have witnessed (more than once) a GM bring their entire home campaign with them to a convention to let new folks play in it. This seems like too much, even if everyone involved appears to be having a good time. I was grateful I could use the PDF version of everything. One downside of many of the big publisher games is how much stuff you need to run them. Most of the small press games do not require quite as much “stuff” to run them at a convention; in fact, this is one of the draws of such games. I think there is always a danger of over-preparing hand outs and gadgets and extraneous material instead of focusing on the mechanics and the content. I found myself being more efficient with prepping for an online convention than I would have had it been in person.
Two of the games were for GenCon Online and the third was for a friend’s small publisher convention, Nerdburger. In all cases there were pre-generated characters for the players to use. Each convention also had a Discord for GMs and for players. I am going to talk about each game in brief but am happy to expand on any of them as desired.
HeroQuest Glorantha: Wyrmghost Ruins (GCO)
It had been a minute since I had run a game of Heroquest and frankly, it showed. I have been working on a genre pack for the new Questworlds and contributing to that discussion on occasion. But running HQ; well it had been a few years. I refreshed myself on the rules and familiarized myself with the adventure, which was not really written to fit into a four-hour convention slot. I had to curate that content a bit. The players were either not familiar or barely familiar with the game and some time was spent going over the dice, mastery, and conflicts. I chose not to do any extended conflicts during the session because of the time constraints.
Heroquest is a fun game to run and it creates a different dynamic at the table with a single roll resolving a given conflict. The negotiations with the players provided a lot of fun, but also shaped the direction of the game. The scenario provided a lot of options and directions for the players to go to reach their goal. Although I did have to shorten some content and made a few mistakes, I felt that everything went smoothly. One place I could have improved is making the conflicts more difficult, which I had the tools for, but my rust was showing and I was focused on keeping the content flowing at a good pace.
Runequest Glorantha: Trouble at Day’s Rest (GCO)
This adventure was designed to be run at a convention and did not need any shortening. I have run Runequest: Glorantha a little but this was my first time running it at a convention of any kind. One of the players from the Heroquest game was in this one as well and they wanted to check out RQ because they had not played it in many years. This was a theme of this table: for most it had been ten or thirty years since they had played RQ. There others were mostly new to it, with one player having some experience with the RQG rules. A fun table to run.
And I have to say, the system ran exactly as it should have. I reminded them to use their runes and augmentations to help with rolls. Combat went quick as all the numbers needed were right there in front of us. I do not think I did the strike ranks for missile fire exactly right nor for spellcasting. The players found their own way to the plot coupons without me needing to dangle them seductively. The adventure was well written and made this possible.
Coriolis: Message of Profit (NBC)
This is a Coriolis adventure I have been working on for a bit. I may even turn it into something I sell on the Fria Ligun Workshop. While I had some friends look it over, this was the first real playtest of the adventure. Fortune favored me with a good group of players. The adventure was designed to touch lightly on religious and political issues, always with an eye towards minimizing orientalist issues inherent in the setting of the game. Player feedback suggested I had done alright, but I want a few more playtests to be sure.
The adventure was designed to drop the characters into the action almost immediately. There was a small info dump but no long “person in black trench coat hires you” negotiation; the characters had agreed to the job before the game begins. I did not make the pilot roll for docking and I have mixed thoughts on it. Docking is routine, no need for a roll. However, a pilot does not have much to do otherwise in the adventure and perhaps I could have built more tension by making the approach to docking not routine? Maybe give someone with pilot skills something to do later on?
There were avenues the players could have taken that lay outside of their main mission, but they decided to stick with what they were hired to do, extrapolating things that did not exist in the adventure. I thought that was funny and enjoy watching players over think, though I will occasionally step in and say, “you are over thinking it”. Players enthusiastically prayed to the icons, giving me darkness points (DP) to work with. I used them but was not mean about it and think I should have been meaner; that is what the points are there for. One of the changes I am going to make is give specific uses of darkness points that are specific to this adventure and not just generic ones from the book or things I come up with out of the blue.
Using your own material can be great and is necessary to run some games in a convention setting. Quickstarts are not always great for doing that and tend to act is if I am allergic to quickstarts anyway. I should have formally playtested it at least once, though.
Coming up in the next few months it looks like I am running more RQG at PAX online and a session of Aquelarre there as well. I will run the same adventure of Aquellarre at GROGMeetish 2020.