Sunday, 1 July 2018

Running Convention Games

I am relatively new to running convention games, although I have run games in public venues going back to the 80s. My conventions are, thus far, limited to OSRCon in Toronto, Gary Con (two years now), Odyssey Con in 2017, and Nexus Game Fair in 2016. There are many folks with more experience in convention games than I have, but if you are looking for a relative newbie’s insights, read on.

Choose Your Own Adventure

When planning convention slots, choose adventures that you know well. Obviously, you also want something that will fit into your time slot(s). If you run an adventure that normally takes six four-hour sessions to run, and plan to run it in a three-hour slot, you’ll have to prune ruthlessly. You might consider another adventure. Or a longer slot. Or both.

The adventure should be one with a sense of completeness as a short story. It might also be useful as a chapter of a larger tale, but if it doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion you’ve missed the mark. That conclusion need not be fun. It can be horrifying. Entire worlds can be saved or lost. It just has to be a definite end, that shows some motion from where the session started.

There are a lot of great Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures to choose from. But I am going to suggest that you branch out – convert your favorite non-DCC adventure. Write your own! One of the best things about Appendix N fiction is the wide range of authorial voices – add your own authorial voice to the games you run!

(And if you don't want to do that, anything written by Daniel J. Bishop should be given

The Play’s the Thing

It doesn’t matter if you flub a rule. It doesn’t matter if you forget that there was something the PCs should have encountered, or a condition that would have made it easier or tougher for them. If you forget a rule, you can ask the table. Maybe someone knows. If not, just make a ruling and keep the game moving. If it takes more than a minute of flipping through the book, don’t.

There are four things that can help you here:
  • The Dice Chain: Use it. If you need to give a bonus or a penalty, and you don’t have time to look the “by the book” modifier up, just use the Dice Chain.
  • Luck: If you aren’t certain, use a Luck check. You can modify it with the Dice Chain, where smaller dice are more likely to succeed and larger dice are less likely. Can’t decide which target the monster attacks? Ask who has a lower Luck.
  • Purple Sorcerer Free Tools: Make PCs easily. Print out their spells. Print out your NPC’s spells. It will save you time in the game, and keep the action flowing. At the start of the game, don’t make the players pay for what they want to carry. Just tell them: If you want specific equipment, write it on your sheet now. Unless they are zero-levels, they can probably afford it. If they are zero-levels, skip this step.

Setting up the Table

The first year I ran games at Gary Con, my son accompanied me but did not preregister for games. He noted that there were many games seeking players, but no way to guess what was being played without going up and talking to anyone. Because of this, I now print out cardstock signs that identify game and system. I have picked up a metal table stand, not unlike those used for the “Table Full”/”Players Needed” signs for this purpose.

For my second Gary Con, I had a scale version of the DCCTournament Gong arch 3D printed. I assembled it at each game, to help make it seem more like an event. Whatever you can do to stand out is a good thing.

I have also picked up a bag of plastic "gold" coins to use as Fleeting Luck tokens.

My dice bag includes black d20s of various sizes, including one which is fist-sized. I use it for dramatic effects.

During the Game

I like to walk around the table, in part to give people a chance to hear me, and in part for effect.

Reward player creativity, but don’t assume that every crazy idea will work. If every crazy idea works, all you end up with is a collection of crazy ideas. Select the crazy ideas that seem possible to you, rather than the crazy ideas that seem unlikely methods to bypass engagement with the game. When in doubt, call for Luck checks.

Reward engagement. Help the quieter players engage by addressing them directly.

Your style of running games? When in doubt, that’s what you should do.

Disagree with anything I wrote here? You should include your own ideas in the comments, for others to benefit from. And you should do whatever you think best. I'm just some guy with my own ideas.

A Few Other Important Considerations

Make sure that, when you schedule your games, you give yourself time to hang out with others and enjoy the convention.

If the opportunity arises to play in a game run by Doug Kovacs, do it.

The odds are good that, sooner or later, you will get a chance to play in a game run by Brendan LaSalle. Do it. If you can buy Brendan LaSalle an after-game beer and just shoot the breeze, do it!

I have yet to get into a Brinkman, Stroh, or Curtis game. Pity me…but, if you get the chance, make sure you take it. At the very least, you can rub my face in your good fortune!

Finally, when you are a player, jump into the weirdness. Play your character(s) with gusto. Have fun, and help to make if fun for everyone. Encourage others to do the same. You aren’t playing with gusto to dominate the table, but to draw everyone else out.

If you happen to be at a convention where I am running games (most likely Gary Con), please stop by and say Hello! 


  1. The best convention games generally have a win condition - we rescue the princess, retrieve the Mask of Ooolomaorgangun, get the message to the Orynx of Aceebo, etc - that is known at the start of the game (although it may be revealed in the prologue if you want to start in media res). You only have a limited time to play the game at a con, so you need the players running from the start with an objective in their sights, and one which lets them know whether they have succeeded or not when they are the end of the session.

    Having a hard play time limit that echoes the real time limit helps. If players don't manage to complete the objective in the time available then they have failed. This helps keep the sense of urgency going in both worlds. So for example the endof session might be the prophesied Dawn of Evil, the closing of the dungeon entrance/transport portal, the volcano erupts, or Bimboolagog makes his sesquicentennial appearance and expects to meet his high priest in full regalia.

  2. Thanks for the Canada Day wisdom Daniel. This is all great advice.