I’m going to be running a few convention games at Origins this year. Mostly demo games for a new system, so they will be structured with all the elements layed out before I go. However, a few of the games will be games that are fairly standard but very short. 2 hours for the full game.  I’m a little nervous that I can get a good enough game out of that little amount of time. My thoughts on making it work so far?

Focus On The Cool
The concepts for the games are pretty interesting. Movie style zombie hordes overrun a fantasy town and characters sneak into an evil cleric’s mansion and steal his phylactery.  I plan to focus on the intersting elements of each. Since we are going to have very little time to game in, I hope to bypass a lot of the mundane elements. I plan to only have one major combat, or have the characters blow through minor combats.

Hook The Players Outside Of The Game
Since I’m planning to skip past more mundane moments of the game, but still maintain a nice flow of the story, I have to hook the players into their concepts and the story before they start gaming. That means a lot of Out Of Character knowledge is going to pass between players, and I am fine with that. I hope to bring a lot of their meta knowledge into the flow of the game. Shoring up the walls so to speak.

Uncomplicate The New Gaming System
The system that these games will be run in is unpublished as of yet, so it will be unfamiliar to most of the players. I’m hoping to make things as easy for the players to pick up on. I plan to make my own cheat sheets and make sure that the players have access to cheat sheets of how their pregen characters work.  If I have some contention over how a specific rule should work, I’m going to bend it so far that it could be used as a catapult. I want the players to have fun with the limited time, not worry about innaccurracy.

These are the lines that I’m thinking along right now, but I’m a person who likes outside opinions.  So how do you make a short game intriguing to the players? As players, what do you want to see when you sit down to play a new game in a condensed session?  And if you are at origins, I hope you stop by to see how well I actually do with the super short games.

9 replies
  1. Ish
    Ish says:

    Make certain that the PreGen characters are very easily accessible and easily recognizable archeytypes. Heck, I’d go so far as to say make them flat-out ripoffs of characters from other mediums. This makes it very easy for the player(s) to grok how they work and what they are expected to do.

    One of the most memorable (and Cool) games that I ever played at GenCon was for Hollow Earth Expeditions. A game that I had only heard of by name before, and that the other players hadn’t even had that much knowledge.

    Our characters – once you got past the names – were essentially the cast of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Our set up was similar (you’ve gone to Haiti to film your zombie movie) and the scenario was easy enough to grasp (run from zombies, punch the nazis).

    The GM’s fast, funny, and boundlessly enthusiastic style helped too. The universal truth of gaming, of course, being that a good GM can make anything into a good game.

  2. Martin Ralya
    Martin Ralya says:

    As a player at one of these events, I’d want to see:

    1. One or two meaty encounters. Seriously, that’s it — there isn’t time for an actual adventure, especially not with a system everyone at the table is guaranteed to have zero prior experience with. A short lead-in, two good encounters/scenes and an outro. That’s it.

    2. Those two encounters should highlight the absolute best core parts of what makes the game fun. When you describe the stuff about the game that’s awesome to a stranger, it should sound like what’s in your two encounters.

    3. Streamlined pregens. You can simplify rules, although that might not be ideal for a first look at a new system (up to you), or you can make sure that the characters only use the simplest rules.

    4. Great character sheets. Slek, sexy and very easy to use.

    I agree with Ish about simple, archetypal characters. That goes a long way, and I think it’s a must.

    @Ish: Was that at last year’s con? My regular GenCon group played a HEX event run by the game’s creator with that premise, and his style sounds like what you described. It was one of the best events of the con.

    Heck, I wonder if we might have been at the same table — how weird would that be?

  3. Ish
    Ish says:

    It was indeed at GenCon `07, and was the major highlight of my gaming during the week. If you can recall the player of the Director character, who as we made our way into the hidden cavern/underground enmey lair first spotted the great big red flag with his flashlight and announced: “Oh s**t; Communists!” in the split second before we noticed the swastica…. that was my table.

    Comic gold… and completely in character and in period.

  4. Omnus
    Omnus says:

    Streamlining and highlighting are the buzzwords to run an ultra-short game for strangers. By streamlining, I mean weeding out all unnecessary details – all-too-complete character sheets, charts or tables, references to some of the less-essential rules of the game (really, do we NEED to worry about encumberance?), or encounters that are not of absolute necessity (often needing role-playing, puzzle-solving, or lengthy skill checks). Highlighting is your sales pitch – it’s your chance to show what makes this game different from other games. If you’re playing Call of Cthulu, for instance, and you don’t get to show off those Insanity rules or bring in something truly supernaturally horrible, you’re disservicing the game, in my own humble opinion.

    Regarding those character sheets, I advise using laminated character sheets and dry-erase markers if you’re running multiple times. Keeping everything basic and accounted for means less headaches for you (did I print of enough of Earl the Fighter?)

    Ultimately, also, the players have a lot to say about your pacing. It is of the utmost importance that you keep them moving; perhaps keeping a small minute-glass for combat turns to hustle players, or posing questions in a rapid-fire manner that lets the players know they do not have ample time to consider their next action. These are just a few things I’ve used myself.

    So sayeth Omnus.

  5. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    @ish: I definitely get where you are coming with that, but the system we are using tries to break the molds on characters, so unfortunately they are not as cookie cutter. However, for the pregens I made, I tried to fit them into known archetypes. Thiefy type character, fightery, etc, and then I put on the unique elements of the system.

    @martin: Yeah, we got the games down to the bare bones and are definitely going to fast forward past the mundane elements in order to get to the juicy encounters.

    @omnus: I keep looking at your name and thinking Omnius, where is erasmus? We are definitely going with the laminated sheets for ease of tracking/preservation. Controlling the player’s pace wasn’t something I’d thought about, but that isn’t a bad idea. I might look for some kind of resettable timer that can gently enforce move quick. I was definitely planning on playing fast and loose with enemies pacing and difficulty in order to keep combats and encounters in appropriate doses.

    All the suggestions are great, and I’m definitely a lot better off for running the games thanks to them. Gnome Stew, like Treasure Tables, is going to be great because of the community behind it!

  6. Kurt "Telas" Schneider
    Kurt "Telas" Schneider says:

    Small group size. A table of six total strangers is difficult to run efficiently. I’d say 5 players at most.

    Another option is a co-GM, who can assist individuals as needed.

    Explain at the beginning that this is going to be a fast-and-loose session. Ask the table to run with it, so that you can get as much fun:minute as possible.

    Finally, follow the journalists “inverted triangle” or whatever technique they use to put the meat at the beginning. Save 5 minutes or however long for the “Throne Room and End Titles”, and cut your encounters from the back end as needed.

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