Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Important Tips For Running Good Convention Games

Convention games are a different experience from a home game. First the players probably don’t know you. Second the players probably don’t know each other. Finally and most importantly there is a finite amount of time the game has to fit in. These aren’t the only differences but by being aware of these differences you can set yourself up to ensure the game runs smoothly and your players have fun. 

What does it mean if the players don’t know you? It largely means that the trust in you, the DM, isn’t as strong as it would be with a group of friends. One way to mitigate this is to tell your players a little about you and what you like most about DMing. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on this, but it can help break the ice when setting things up at the table. To take it a step further, discuss what options are available in case a player is uncomfortable.  One of the easiest and most common choices is the X-card.  Now, there is no need to dwell on it,  just explain “if there is a problem with the game or anything that bothers you, tap this and I’ll do my best to change the subject.” On the other hand, if things are going well and they’d like more of that style of play then they can raise the O-card. If you are playing online, a player could privately message you an X or an O and provide additional details to help keep things moving and keep everyone happy.

The second hurdle that a convention DM has that most home games don’t have, or don’t have for long, is the players don’t know each other. To go along with the players not knowing each other in many organized play events the players may not have the characters available to make a balanced party. An unbalanced party or a balanced party that doesn’t know how to synergize and work together means that you, the DM, need to balance encounters as you learn the player’s skill. You will also need to ensure that an encounter doesn’t stall and take up the entire adventure, preventing the players from seeing the whole story. It is also important to not take combat too far and actively try to kill the PCs, instead give them the illusion of potential failure.   The resources and GM course correction available in a home game are not readily available in organized play and joining a random game should be fun not life threatening to a PC that has taken many hours to level and may still have adventures to play at the convention that are level specific. The best advice for avoiding these pitfalls is to have experience. But to get experience you have to try and learn what works for you.  Lacking experience it is critically important you read the adventure and think about what a group of players might have trouble with if they don’t have the right kinds of spell casters, don’t have enough high damage output, or charismatic or sneaky characters. These are just a few examples to keep in mind but when you read an encounter ask yourself what is the story here and what can be done to make experiencing that story flexible? Especially since going back to town regrouping and hiring some locals might not be available for the party or something the players have been taught to consider.

The third and most pressing problem that a convention DM has to deal with is that there is a time limit the adventure has to fit in. In a home game if the adventure runs long you can pick up again in the same place next week. Or have the party return to town heal up, gather new supplies, and try to conquer the dungeon again. At a convention this is the players’ only chance to experience this chapter in what may be a larger story; don’t rob them of that and make them confused for the next DM to have to fix. Staying within your time limit is also important because the convention has scheduled durations for events and often players will have another game starting just after yours is set to finish or the space you are using is booked for another game after yours.  Be respectful and end on time. Just remember to tell a complete adventure during that time. The players are at your event to play D&D which means they expect a story of daring adventure that is “complete” and fulfilling. Keep the game moving and decide what encounters may need to be cut short or omitted to to help the players get through the adventure in the allotted time. The best advice I can offer is read the adventure and understand what is important. Make sure you understand the structure of the story and where important details are so if there is fat to trim or combats to abbreviate you’ve given them the clues and experience to understand how things advance and reach fruition at the end.  That may mean narrating the resolution of a scene that is running too long, allowing alternative methods of advancing the plot with creative descriptions of skill use, or even just asking the players what they plan is and allowing it to work as far as the next part of the adventure. The idea with this is to ensure the players see and understand the plot beats and know the story they are playing in and helping to create. This allows everyone to experience the adventure and get the rewards they deserve. 

With these differences in mind the game should warm up faster and help everyone enjoy themselves. Remember the golden rule that as the Dungeon Master it is your job to provide a safe environment and help everyone have fun. These players are at your table to experience an adventure. There is no reason to hide that adventure or story nor make it so difficult, complex, or deadly that they can’t experience the story in the allotted time. Everyone should have fun and be able to tell a great story at the end. Which is a good rule of thumb for every game session at a convention and at home.  Pax Ludos!

If you have your own experience, additional advice, or questions leave a comment below.

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