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Tips on Running a Successful Convention Game

DunDraCon thanks Keith Phemister for allowing us to excerpt his blog entry on “the Art of the One Shot,” advice to new GMs on running role-playing games at conventions.

I just returned from the DunDraCon gaming convention this past weekend. I had a delightful time (thanks for asking). Afterwards I had a thought or two that has blossomed into this blog for today. Specifically some advice for those of you who in the future might plan to run a game at a convention.

Rule Number Zero of DMing a convention game: Be Prepared!

It might sound like a no-brainer, but I've seen many, many convention games go down in flames because the DM simply wasn't prepared to run.

Have pre-generated characters ready to play even if you are allowing players to bring their own characters to the game. Ideally, the DM should have at the table enough pregenerated PCs to run the whole game with. Time is a huge factor at a convention game. Eight hours flashes by in a blink and creating characters, especially characters higher than first level takes time. Remember every minute your players are spending creating or finishing a character is one less minute you have to finish your Dungeon or Plot or Adventure.

Have the adventure ready. Again, it seems like this one should be obvious, but this point really goes towards addressing the time constraints at a convention. It is exponentially more complex and difficult to ad lib an entire eight hour adventure off the top of your head than to adjust a well-designed and prepared adventure. So, have a full adventure ready, and be completely familiar with it from beginning to end. Ideally, the whole adventure should be playtested a week or a month in advance of the convention. At the very least, the DM should have it internalized from front to back BEFORE the Convention Starts.

Finally, have your supplies ready to go. If you run D&D with miniatures and battlemats, have them ready for you. Bring all the rulebooks you will need for the game. If you're using a monster from Monster Manual 3, then you better have a copy at the table. Bring plenty of dice, enough so that your players can borrow a set to use if they neglected to bring their own. The rule here is very simple. It is easier for the DM to support the unprepared player than it is for a group of players to support an unprepared DM.

Once you're prepared, you're ready to go!

Once you're at the Convention, make sure you know WHEN and WHERE your game is scheduled to be played. Plan accordingly. If you are scheduled to DM a game on Sunday at 8 am, in Salon C, then be sure to show up at Salon C by 7:50. Be rested and ready. No one wants to deal with a hung-over DM on the verge of narcolepsy. So make sure that your body can handle the demands you put on it.

Many times, the list of players signed up for your game won't be the group sitting at your table when you show up to run. For courtesy's sake give any player a 15 minute window to arrive late. Conventions are notorious for having one session end at the precise time the new session starts. So be understanding and give your registered players the benefit of the doubt when it comes to starting your game. After the grace period, feel free to fill the slot with people who might want to crash. I usually give out seats to crashers on a first-come first-served basis. In addition, I often have a spare pre-gen character or two on hand. But please, when it comes to group size, limit yourself to the group you can manage. If six players are the most you can run a game with, then six is the limit for the game.

Timing

Convention games run on the clock, and pretty strictly so. Rooms are scheduled around blocks of time, so it is very difficult to start early or finish late. Keep that in mind when designing your game. Remember that it takes about 30 minutes to get everyone in the room and set up at the beginning and 30 minutes to wrap everything up at the end. So if the game is scheduled for eight hours, there is really only seven hours of playing time. If its scheduled for four hours... that's only three hours of playing time. USE THE TIME EFFICIENTLY!”