4 Tips For Whipping Up Scenarios For Conventions
From Nik Palmer
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #222
- Picking A Gaming System
- What’s It Going To Be About?
- Ok, So Now What Happens?
- Use Pre-Gen Characters
- Seeking Volunteer Excel Afficionado
- Yahoo! Mail Delivery Problems
- Interview At Neverwinter Vault
- File Space Needed
- Horror GMing Tip
- Great Greek Monsters Resource
- Cater To Player Motivations
- Interesting Historical Web Sites
- RPG Manager Micro Review
- Why Make Your Own GM Screen?
This article deals with ways of writing an effective game for the Convention Scene. There were several contributors to this article from the Northern New England Gamers Yahoo! group with the initial impetus coming from Gaylord Newcastle of Carnage Gaming. Carnage 21
Original thread at (Yahoo! group membership required):http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NNEG/message/275
Picking A Gaming System
By default, pick a game system that you know well enough to Game Master. In general, there are two approaches for picking a game system to run at a Convention.
- Mass Appeal
Run a game system that people are familiar with, such as D&D. This lets players focus on the game experience instead of the mechanics. My opinion is that the system one plays is far less important than the game story itself. A good game master should be able to run the story he wants despite the system.
- Open New Horizons
Try something different and introduce gamers to new games. This can be especially good for genre games and classic games. A popular trend noticed at conventions recently has been the return of many “original” rules games. Playing TOON or Paranoia will offer a great time. Running a classic MERP Rolemaster game could prove popular as well. Gaming conventions are prime opportunities to try new games, systems, or genres that you may not be familiar with.[J4: A friend recommended this game to me. Anybody tried it? It looks like an awesome convention game: My Life with Master ]
What’s It Going To Be About?
Your choice of game content can help players better immerse themselves in the game. For modern era games, select a setting that the players would be familiar with through the news or physical location. If you are GMing at a Midwestern convention, for example, running a horror game in cornfields and rural back roads can help draw players in. Playing a popularized location or metropolitan area, such as the Hindu Kush Mountains or New York City, can be an effective setting tool as well.
National parks, natural formations, and weird or mysterious historical locales can also provide a more complete roleplaying experience.When working in fantasy settings, the generic fantasy world is one of the best routes to go. This means that player success is not conditional on world history or specialized genre knowledge.For on-going games, it is requisite to have a fleshed out world and campaign details developed for an ongoing campaign.
Convention games, however, are run in 4-5 hours:
- Straight forward missions, clear objectives, and “dungeon crawl” types of adventures are best.
- Cull ideas or concepts from news, history books, or your usual sources of inspiration.
- While intrigue is great, it is easy to get convoluted in mystery and have a less enjoyable experience for both the GM and players.
- Stick to straight forward. KISS.
Ok, So Now What Happens?
Plots, motives, people, monsters; things are being sorted to maybe, yup and no way….This is the best part of the whole process.” -G.N.The straight forward approach to con games is good because it allows you to focus in the limited time possible. There are many different ways to have straight forward adventures, such as diplomacy, delivery, rescue, and exploration/dungeon crawl. Any major plot theme can be used, but it is wiser to stick to a select few plot points than to incorporate a robust and detailed story line.
- Create An Outline
I start my process with outlines. Outline the basic story, the basic characters, the basic enemies. From this a structure will begin to form. In addition, read support material related to the game to have a better understanding of characters, events, and motivations. For example, if you are running a special forces military mission in Columbia, you should have an understanding of the factions, goals, and players in that country.
- Stay Focused On Scale
During this process your story may take turns and develop in different directions. Go with it. Enjoy the process of creation. However, stay focused on the fact you are writing for a short convention game and not an epic year-long for you and your best role playing buddies.
- Minor And Major Events
For roleplaying, mystery, or horror games, focus on multiple minor events. In hack and slash or combat games, focus on major conflicts. Regardless of the type, keep an extra minor side plot event in the wings to throw into the game should there be enough time or group interest, or if the players get lucky or move through the adventure too quickly.A minor event should take the players between 15 minutes and 45 minutes to complete. These are basic group challenges, such as puzzles, NPC interactions, or a secret area. I typically orient these encounters around good flavor text, role immersion, and skills that the characters have.
A major event should take the players between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours to complete. These are major conflicts, investigations, and region-affecting situations.
Be sure to include enough original ideas and twists to keep the challenge fresh for experienced players. One should choose events that will challenge the party in a variety of ways, such as diplomacy, puzzles, combat, and expression. Develop encounters so they drive to keep the story moving while being flexible enough to let the characters have impact on the ending of the game.
Example Process Outlined Here’s a good method for developing a straightforward and flexible con game:
- Make the maps for the game
- Create an outline of the major/minor events
- Develop the challenges, NPCs, and goals
- Develop “endgame” possibilities
This series of steps affords a non-linear approach to the scenario. If you are new to convention games, you may prefer to have a more linear structure of Event 1, Event 2, Event 3, Event 4, Final Encounter. This style is effective for exploration/dungeon crawl adventure types.
Use Pre-Gen Characters
With only 4 hours to play it seems a shame to waste a half an hour making the players build characters at the table. If a game system affords quick and simple character generation, it may be possible to do this at a convention game. As a whole, however, it will be far more rewarding for the players if they have characters with the skills, backgrounds, and interests that will help further the story line.By pre-generating characters, the GM can insure that PCs have the mettle to complete the adventure.
One method for balancing character selection is to have characters each with a high number in a different statistic. For d20, this means building at least 6 characters, with a collective 15+ in each of the stats.By using pre-generated characters, a GM can develop more potent involvement of the characters. Having characters with backgrounds and beliefs that interact, PCs can develop trust and conflicts among themselves that lead to amazing roleplaying experiences for the convention attendees.
Not every character will be central to every moment of the game, but when developing a list of encounters, try to make sure that there is something in the session aimed at every character. If you are playing a flexible, non-linear game, be sure to target restless or bored characters for involvement in the next encounter. This development of balance is important for helping players to get involved and enjoy the convention game.
Some simple ways to build cohesion amongst the pregen PCs are:
- Blood (relative)
- Money (employee/bodyguard/assistant)
- Affiliation (professional/service)
- Passion (love/hate)
Depending upon the familiarity of the players and tone at the table, swapping a few skills, pieces of equipment, or fleshing out various things (can I have an umbrella and a top hat to round out my dance skill?) is a _good_ thing to do. It helps the players get into their roles and have more fun with the game.
Running an RPG at a convention is about players having a good time. Sometimes, that means fudging rules and playing fast and furious without rules that slow down play. As a GM, you have to gauge your audience to try and determine if they are long-time system players, or if it’s the first time they have played an RPG.
Never stop a PC action that will kill an entire party, although you may wish to prohibit PCs fighting against each other. If a player wants to do something so incredibly stupid that it kills everyone, then so be it. The players are the ones who need to make that choice. It is your job as a convention GM to describe the scenario and let the players react. It is the players that make the game.
In my history of gaming at conventions, I have only been involved with a TPK (Total Party Kill) once. So long as the game lasts, even a TPK can be fun. Many convention veterans claim that how much fun they have in a con-game is largely dependent on the personalities and calibre of the other players involved. If it was a close encounter with opponents who seemed animated and interested, then most likely it was a good game.
A Brief Word From Johnn
Seeking Volunteer Excel Afficionado
If you’re a whiz with Excel and have some free time, I’d like to chat with you about whipping up a campaign calender tool. Thanks!
Yahoo! Mail Delivery Problems
Yahoo! is pretty consistent about _not_ delivering the ezine to subscribers. If you’re finding delivery inconsistent, check out this link about filters for a possible remedy: Help for Yahoo Account
Interview At Neverwinter Vault
Maximus at the Neverwinter Vault interviewed me awhile back and posted the file at NWVault. If you are desperate to kill some time at work and there’s no wet paint or growing grass anywhere to monitor, then swing by for a quick skim: Neverwinter Nights Wiki Guide
File Space Needed
I have a file or two, plus more in the future, that I’d like to post and share with the tips community. My disc space with my current host is nearly full though, and I’m loathe to take down previous downloads or to start removing some of the 221 archived html issues to make room. So, does anyone have space or know of a good solution? I want to avoid the freebie services that force pop-ups or brutal ads on you. And before you offer space on your server, be warned that the traffic hit might be considerable and I don’t want to cost you any extra expense.
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CHECK OUT DWARVEN FORGE’S NEW WEBSITE
- GREAT On-line GM Tools * Previews of New Sets!
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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Horror GMing Tip
From Gareth Hodges
Your recent issue on horror reminded me of a little trick I’ve used to good effect. This works best if you game where you have plenty of space to walk around the entire group.
When describing major scenes, start out by standing up and walking slowly around the group in a clockwise direction. Walk around them a good three or four times as you describe a normal, non-horrific scene. Keep it casual; make it look like walking around gives you room to be expressive, and even use it to give them a physical impression of their surroundings.
Then, when you describe your first horrific scene, do the same thing, only walk around them counter-clockwise.
Repeat this process for a few games; clockwise for ‘normal’ scenes, counter-clockwise for horror scenes.
Now you have them trained and the fun can begin!
When you reach a ‘normal’ scene that you want to be sinister, or when you want to convey a sense of growing dread, stand up and walk counter-clockwise. Do everything else the same. Subconsciously, the players will *expect* something horrible, and start crawling out of their skins! They’ll be *sure* that something was going on, without ever consciously knowing why.
Try not to over-use this effect. It is subtle and won’t work if you crank it out for every mundane scene. The less often you break the pattern, the more effective it is.
Great Greek Monsters Resource
I found a website listing many Greek and classical mythological creatures. While there are many such resources, this one stands out by being comprehensive and well- researched. Aside from common-knowledge creatures, such as pegasi and centaurs, it has information on obscure things, such as the kampe, scolopendra, and ophiotauros, all with direct relevant quotes from the original sources. I intend to adapt some of these to my campaign–I much prefer using creatures from actual folklore sources for the flavor; but it is difficult to find a good authentic monster nowadays!
Cater To Player Motivations
From I.C. Ericksonre
“I used to get the complaint (always from the same people) ‘there is nothing for my character to do.’ Eventually, I had the epiphany that this was code for, ‘I’m not constantly the center of attention.’”
I believe these are cries for help from your players that, if left unanswered, will result in player dissatisfaction and ultimately the end of even the best game. When the players get bored they stop playing. While I do not cater every encounter to the players’ whims, I do try to find a way for all players to shine every session.
If you break down the motivations of the players you can get a basic understanding of what is fun for the player, and what they want to get from a session, to ensure they will be motivated to attend the next one.
In my group:
Player 1: is a scout at heart. He wants to discover something new each session. He will try to scout ahead, or peer around the next corner, with the hope of finding out something before the rest of the group does. Once he achieves this, he is content and gets to shine by going back to the group and warning them.
Player 2: is the figurehead of the group. He needs to be able to try and talk the group out of a situation. Even if this fails, the fact that he tried to do so is more than enough to ensure he is happy with the game.
Player 3: is the builder. He wants to create a legacy. If he can do something to build his empire (small as it is, and mostly in his own head) he is happy.
Player 4: is a healer. She needs to come to someone’s aid, help another, or otherwise feel like her character has made some change in the world due solely to her being there.
And so on. Note that these motivations supersede the character the player is playing. They supersede the game world. These are the motivations of the player themselves. I am sure you all have the player that will be a “Ranger” or “Healer” in any game system: Fantasy, Modern, or Science Fiction.
Once I started to see this pattern in my games, and started to allow the players to “have the moment”, their own unique moments, they all became more intent and focused on the story. Roleplaying, to me, is a cooperative narration.
Interesting Historical Web Sites
From Guillaume T. Boily
A great site on the medieval heraldry of Spain, England, Germany, and France. It has great details and pictures.
A huge list of links to help world-building.Contains info on anything from ancient recipes to warfare and literature.
A great site on the Persian Empire from 675 B.C. to 331 B.C.
Information on ancient and medieval weapons. This site can be slightly confusing because there are few pictures.
A site made by weapons and armor collectors. Has incredible info on weapons of all kinds. Check out the weapon comparison!
RPG Manager Micro Review
From Michael Thould
I love your newsletter by the way and I just thought I would email you to tell you of a great program called RPG Manager. It can be used for any genre of RPG, not just fantasy. There are a few minor bugs the developer is working out, but it is still very good at managing your campaigns. It allows you to make random encounters maps, skills, feats, etc. that you make yourself. The only generators in it that I know of are the dice rollers.
Why Make Your Own GM Screen?
From David Pakalnis
Whether it’s because the system I play does not have one, is a version out of date, or I just haven’t purchased the official one, I often make my own screen.
Here are some of the reasons:
- I don’t use those rules!
Many times, a commercially produced screen might contain rules that you don’t use in your game. If you don’t need them there then they are just cluttering things up!
- I can’t read that!
Tired of squinting at your screen, or having to pick it up to read it, spilling dice and exposing your maps? Make your own and it will be as big and easy to read as you need.[J4: So David, reading between the lines, are you saying I’m getting old? ? ]
- My favorite chart is missing!
When the designers made the screen, sure, they made some good guesses, but you need some of the charts they left off, so, put them on your own screen!
- Where did they put that?
When you make your own screen, you can place the charts and tables in relation to how _you_ use them and to where they make sense to you.
- This edition is out of date!
Often, when new supplements or editions come out, some of the rules may supersede those on your screen. If you make your own, you can stay up to date.
- The cool stuff I made is not on there!
If your game has house rules, or new equipment and weapons (and whose does not?), then you may want them on your screen. From errata to house rules to new damage tables, make your own screen and they will be there.
Some folks just paste new screens over old, or put them on cardboard, poster board, old binders, or whatever. There are even some cool screen accessories on the net for sale; just do a search for them.
By making your own screen you get the data you need, in the format you want, as accessible as you like it, and without the stuff you don’t need for your game.