Tag Archives: RPGs

Tips for Running a Game at a Convention

Gabrielfe

This elf helped get people to play my game. Team work!

While I’ve been playing Roleplaying Games for a long time, it’s only been this year that I’ve started to run games at various conventions. I first got my feet wet last weekend at Ratha Con, a new convention in Athens, OH. My next experience will be running a game for Kobold Press at Gen Con.

So, with my vast wealth of experience (one game I’ve run at a convention), I thought that you might benefit from what I learned.

Before the Game

1.) Prepare

This goes without saying, but prepare for the game.  I didn’t have an already published adventure to run, so I created my own. I had a three-hour game, so I planned for three relatively short encounters battle encounters, with some investigation thrown in for good measure.

I figured that my players would consist of a lot of newbies (which is awesome! I love introducing new players to RPGs!), so I didn’t make the encounters too terribly complicated, and I made sure that there would be no character death. Since we were playing a superhero game, I wanted my players to feel mighty, so I threw some bad guys at them that were tough, but wouldn’t be overly hard so long that the players worked together.

2.) Advertise

Since I was at a small con, I should’ve gotten to the venue much earlier and talked up my game a little bit. Luckily, I had my wife with me (she was cosplaying an elf). She can really turn on the charm; so she was able to secure some players for me just by being awesome. If that isn’t what marriage is supposed to be, then I don’t know what is.

So talk the game up at the convention and on social media. Post it on forums. Be proactive in getting people to play your games.

Bring extra dice!!

Bring extra dice!!

3.) Set-up

Bring extra dice, a battle mat or maps (if you need them), tokens for tracking characters, pencils, and character sheets. I would generally recommend bringing your own pre-generated character sheets (I’m not a huge fan of power gaming), so that things are fair between players.

A note on character sheets: I knew that I would have a maximum of 6 players, so I brought 14 different characters for the players to choose from.  I really wanted everyone to be able to play the type of character they wanted, so I gave them plenty of choices.

4.) Right Before the Game Starts

Before the game started, I reviewed the rules of the game with the new players and let them look over their characters and character backgrounds. I was present if they had any questions for me. I let this go beyond the start time, because I think it is important that players get a good feel for who their character is and what they do.

During the Game:

1.) Be Nice!

I did my best to be welcoming and personable. I’m there to be the facilitator of the players having a good time. I try not to take the game too seriously, because it is, after all, a game. If you get a hardcore group of gamers at an adventure, it’s cool to go all serious, but for most convention situations, it’s probably best to smile and keep the game as light as possible. My wife, Gabrielle, suggested that I bring some candy to share; that seemed to make everyone happy (everyone likes Starbursts).

2.) Be Patient!

Sometimes your newbies just don’t know how to play the game. It’s okay to show them things on their character sheet that they might not have known, or to give them hints about the cool stuff their character could be doing. Stopping to explain a rule is fine, too. Go with your gut and remember that the goal is to have some fun.

3.) Be Ready!

Sometimes a character will throw a curve ball at you that could potentially “ruin” your game. That’s okay! I try to build games in optional modules that can be plugged in where needed. Maybe you need a little more time? Throw in a module with an extra encounter.

I also try to have a list of NPC and location names with general descriptions, that way I can easily put extra elements into a game.

In order to keep things from going off the rails too much, I started the game with an encounter: the governor was getting kidnapped! This set the tone for the mystery and immediately had the players ready for a fight.

After the Game:

1.) End the Game with a Bang

I ended my convention game with a big set piece (Brainiac had to be stopped and all the world leaders needed to be rescued!).  While I don’t know if I completely succeeded, I wanted to make the players feel like they were the heroes of the story. Defeating a bad guy and rescuing major political leaders was definitely a heroic thing to do.

2.) Thank Them for Playing

This is the time to say a big “thank you,” get some of the player’s contact information if you’d like to keep in touch with them, and get feedback on the game. If they aren’t in a hurry to get somewhere else, try to ask them what worked about the game and what didn’t. And take criticism with a smile. You’re only going to get better if you know what you need to work on.

3.) Pack Up

Just like it sounds. Get your things off the table as quickly as possible (there might be another group coming in after you), and, if you can, clean up. I generally try to leave things just as clean as I found them; it’s just common courtesy.

Running games at a convention, I found, is a really good time. You get to meet some new and interesting people, and really, any excuse to game is welcome.

(Hey, if you’re coming to Gen Con in August, I’m running this game for Kobold Press. You should come and say, hi!)

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Book Review: The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding

Kobold-GuideToWorldbuilding-Cover_450px-199x300World building is one of the most fun and complicated parts of the job for the GM or author. God created the Earth in six days, but world designers don’t have the luxury of omnipotence and omniscience. Luckily, we have the essays written by game and fiction industry professionals collected in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.

I won my copy of the book in a contest on the Midgard Campaign Setting Facebook page, but I was planning on buying this one, anyway. The book isn’t lengthy, but that’s certainly not a strike against it. The essays flow together well, and for the most part, build on each other as you read through the book. It starts with the basics in the essay What is Setting Design by Wolfgang Baur. It has some helpful tips including (surprise!) keeping your PCs in the center of the action. Don’t get bogged down with stuff that doesn’t effect the story.

I don’t want to get too terribly gushy with my praise (Though, this tome is certainly worth gushily praising.), so I’ll just hit some of my personal favorite essays that helped me as both a GM and a writer.

Apocalypso: Gaming After the Fall
by Jeff Grubb

This essay helped me justify an accusation I often get from my players: that my campaigns often turn into a crapsack world. As Grubb is quick to point out, most RPG tropes are true, because the world was once a better place. In many campaign settings, the characters are looking backward to a better time that will never come again. (Heck, in most fantasy fiction, it’s the same way.) That’s why dungeons have awesome magical treasures and why monsters run rampant. Thanks, Jeff Grubb!

Here Be Dragons: On Mapmaking
by Jonathan Roberts

I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but the practical tips in Here Be Dragons really clicked with me. Roberts has drawn out lots of fantasy maps for properties like A Song of Ice and Fire and the Midgard campaign setting. If you want to draw awesome maps, his essay is a must-read.

Designing a Pantheon
by Wolfgang Baur

Baur makes some great points in this essay about how unrealistic religion tends to be in games. He suggests some alternate ways to design a pantheon and goes in-depth into the design of the pantheon of his Midgard Campaign setting. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you think that religion should be a major part of your game, this is worth perusing.

How to Write a World Bible
by Scott Hungerford

Hungerford has some really practical advice for organizing and building a bible, which is basically a collection of all the pertinent information about the world you have built. I’ve tried designing one in the past, but have never gotten very far, since I tend to be disorganized. His tips really encouraged me, and I can’t wait to start over again utilizing his advice.

KoboldI’ve been a fan of the kobolds at Kobold Press/Open Design since I first discovered the Kobold Quarterly publication last year (I’m disappointed in myself that  it took me so long to find that magazine. I’m sad that it’s gone.). Their commitment to excellence in what they publish really shows. The Midgard Campaign Setting they published is truly a work of art, so it was interesting to see a few essays by Baur outlining some of the design decisions that went into building Midgard.

I would highly recommend this book to any DM that wants to create a rich, vibrant world for his players to inhabit and muck about in. You can find The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding at DrivethruRPG, the Kobold’s website, and Amazon.

 

 

 

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The Best Time to be a Dork

I’m pushing 30, and I can’t think of a better time than now to be a geek, a nerd, a dork, or whatever you want to call it.

Seriously, right now, the dorks are winning.

NERDS!!!

I remember a time, around 15 years ago, where I couldn’t really proclaim my love for Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, or comic books. Of course, I went to a Christian school where things like that (magic, wizards, etc.) were frowned upon. I actually got in trouble once for having the manual to Civilization II in my backpack.

But really, I only had a couple of friends that would admit that they were into geeky things.

Fast forward to today.

Batman and a collection of Marvel superheroes are sitting at the top of the box office.  The San Diego Comic Convention is bigger than ever. Gen Con drew in over 41,000 people. You can’t go out without seeing someone wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. Comic book characters on are TV. Major networks are taking chances of fantasy and sci-fi shows. Game of Thrones is one of the best shows on TV. Doctor Who is back and more popular than ever!

When I read a comic book in public, I RARELY get scoffed at. In fact, more often I get asked  if it is any good. People generally aren’t afraid to try roleplaying games. Video games are a booming medium. Everyone plays Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, or World of Warcraft.

This is a far cry from when I had to huddle in friends’ basements, rolling dice in the lonely, dreary shadows. Now, someone can put a good idea for a tabletop RPG on Kickstarter, and it can make 12 times its funding goal. There are so many cool geeky things out there, and there’s no way I have the disposable income to buy even a quarter of their awesome-ness. And that doesn’t even include the different geeky events around the country that I want to attend!

Viva la Dorka!

There are some even greater things that are coming out of this dork boom. People in general are getting more interested in science and math. Going to space is cool again. Comic book and video game art are inspiring younger  generations to create awesome things. Movie and video game music has never been better, and I bet you’ll see kids picking up instruments because of Halo, Skyrim, or Rock Band.

So, enjoy this geek boom while it lasts! It’s a good time to dork out.

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My Current Campaign — Superheroes

I love superheroes.

The fascination began when I was but a wee lad watching Batman: The Animated Series at my babysitter’s house. Movies, video games, and comic books soon followed. Since I’m also a big fan of role-playing games, it didn’t take me too long to find a couple of superhero RPGs to play.

That brings us my current campaign, a custom world for Mutants and Masterminds, 3rd edition.

My buddy John approached me with a scenario and an idea for a character he had: a sidekick apprenticed to an ultraparanoid superhero is left alone after his mentor is murdered. I loved the idea and started worldbuilding right away.

It’s a combination of all the tropes I love about the superhero genre. In fact, my main goal was to take characters from all over the various comic book publishers and combine them in interesting ways. I’ve also given them some fun, goofy names that either elicit laughter or groans from the players. They’re superheroes, so you can’t take them too seriously.

Here are some of the characters:

Big Brother – He’s the superhero who was murdered. He’s basically a combination of Batman and Big Daddy from Kick-Ass. He was brutal in his dealings with criminals, and he owned the private prison and insane asylum, so he was able to continually torture them in terrible ways. He didn’t really trust anyone, and that includes his sidekick, Kid Impulse (played by John), whom he just barely seemed to tolerate.

Prometheus – The world’s foremost superhero, Prometheus is a combination of Superman and Thor. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t have a secret identity, and he doesn’t care to. Nor does he try to understand humanity. His motivations for protecting the Earth are unclear.

The Blue Beast – TBB is a combination of Hulk and Nightcrawler. Not much is known about him except that he will randomly teleport from place to place, rampaging and destroying wherever he goes. In our first session, our player characters had to fight him off long enough for Prometheus to arrive and take him to superjail.

The Hedge Knight – She’s a combination of the classic knight archetype and Poison Ivy. She’s a swordswoman who controls plant life.

That’s just a few of the (so far) 60 super characters I’ve made for the campaign. It’s a lot of fun, and I love that basically anything can happen.

The player characters are as follows:

Impulse – Formerly Kid Impulse, Impulse was kicked out of the mansion by Big Brother’s mysterious oldest son after the superhero’s death. Impulse is a superb hand-to-hand combatant and hacker. If you hadn’t guessed, he’s based on Robin/Nightwing.

Lightspeed -A superfast superhero, he’s another sidekick trying to prove himself. He and Impulse are used to hanging out in the same circles, so it was obvious that they should team up.

The War Witch – A magic wielding warrioress and a  fixture in the Justice Gang, she is the sponsor of the other heroes. It is intimated that she once had an affair with Big Brother.

Crackshot – He’s a rich, ruthless, cocaine-addicted assassin. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him; he just likes to kill. He’s more of an antihero (obviously) and tends to show up whenever something major is going down in the city (which inevitably leads to him begrudgingly teaming up with the other heroes).

My campaign isn’t exactly groundbreaking in any way, but it is a ton of fun to play.

What is your favorite campaign setting?

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