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Demo Games and demonstrations of RPGs

It’s no secret that I’ve been running a lot of demo (demonstration) games over the year.  Over at ORC Edinburgh we’re planning to try out a “Games Day” of demo games to allow those new to RPGs to have a shot at them.

So what makes for a good demo? I’ve written some basic stuff here on how to run a good demo game.

Pre-generated characters

Pretty much a given: you want your players to pick up the game quickly, but don’t need them to spend an age building their characters. Have 4-6 characters ready for demo game: they needn’t all be the same, but it should be a well-rounded group of PCs.

Business Cards

I always hand out a business card with my email and social media details to my players at the start of the demo. You may not need your address or mobile on it, but someone knowing your name is useful at least.

Be on time for your demo games

If you’re running in a pre-booked time slot, be there for the players when they arrive. There’s nothing worse than not having a GM turn up. Also, try to avoid over-running into someone else’s slot.

Accessible system

Try to keep the game mechanics as simple as possible – your players should be able to get a feel for the system, without being overwhelmed by rules or jargon.

Buckets of Dice

Make sure you’ve enough dice for the players – preferably several sets (especially if they are customised like FFG’s Age of Rebellion dice). Having just one set for both GMs and players is an utter pain, plus one player always bogarts them.

Paper and Pencils

Scrap paper and pencils is a must – doesn’t matter if they’re using it on a character sheet, mapping, or just doodling. Always required.

Plenty of action

There’s a good chance that your players don’t know each other, so dropping them straight into the action is a great way to get them to work together.

Teamwork

There’s a temptation for GMs to ignore quieter players. The GM needs to make sure everyone has their chance – not just the one player with the loudest voice.

Keep it short

Depending on the length of game slots available, assume a three-hour session is best. That should have enough time for a few encounters. It’s worth a practice run of the game with a regular group just in case.

Demo Games Rulebook

Have a physical copy of the book(s) available for players to look at and read – as GM,  don’t hang on to it all the time.

Know the system

There’s nothing worse than a GM who runs a demo game, but hasn’t learned the system. The idea of a demo game is to demonstrate how a system works.

Looking back at RPG Convention Season 2015

So I’ve been following the “Grand Tour” of RPG convention season this year. I started off with Dragonmeet 2014 in December, a one-day con in London at Earls Court.

I followed this up with Conpulsion. The review of this here on this blog has apparently lead to some changes, and I’ve been interrogated quite thoroughly about it at an ORC Edinburgh pub meet:).

I took myself down to the UK Games Expo, and managed to miss being in every Modiphius Entertainment pic as detailed by Marc Langworthy at in his Post Expo Debrief over at http://kplangers.com/. I was elsewhere running games in the building for about half the time, including Mutant: Year 0 when it won Best RPG. I also helped flog some stuff on the stall and ran some demo games there.

Most recently I went to Q-CON. It felt less like a RPG Convention this year. I didn’t enjoy it quite as might as I could have thanks to my insomnia, so that’s on me. The accommodation was pretty basic and I didn’t get much sleep thanks to the noise. I also lost my voice on the Saturday night!

Things I’ve learned – although I covered some of this before in my Surviving the UK Games Expo post, it works for any Convention (plus I’ve updated some of the things):

  • If you’re staying in a hotel, find somewhere cheap (the Hilton was brutally expensive), and there’s often cheaper accommodation to be found nearby online. Find somewhere close though.
  • At the Games Expo, get breakfast early! You’ll not be able to enter the main trade/event halls before 9am but at least you won’t be hungry.
  • If you’re planning on buying stuff, make sure you’ve some ready cash – in case the cash machine(s) on site run out.
  • Don’t bank on eating healthily – food trucks are popular now, but some venues will have a pub. Hotel restaurants are often pricey too. Leave yourself some time though. They get busy and are usually not prepared to deal with the numbers! Or find a place to eat nearby. Take business/contact cards with you. I gave them to nearly all my players – and all were happy to take them (bar one). See below!
  • While running a game one of my players was almost constantly playing some game on his phone, and wasn’t paying attention (to me or the players). At the end of it, not only did he discard my card but he said he found the game “confusing”. The rest of the players had enjoyed themselves immensely. Bloody ignorant. He’d done it in another GMs game too. GMs should call a player out on this kind of thing if the rest of the group are becoming exasperated with it.
  • By respectful of other GMs, it’s not a shouting match where the loudest group have the most fun. Unless they’re playing a WH40K Ork game called Waargh Trek.
  • On the other hand, speak up as a GM. Many shared games rooms are loud.
  • Be on time (players and GMs!), and be ready to move to another location if there’s an accessibility problem for players.
  • Have a chillout place available if it gets crowded, and take an hour to “decompress”.
  • If you’re staying in student halls, expect basic facilities and noise. They’re cheap for a reason.
  • Bathe daily. You’ll need to: it gets very warm and everyone sweats.
  • Get a convention T-shirt or two. Not only is it a reminder, but you can use as a standby if you’re short of shirts (see above)!
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if you’re running a game.
  • If you’re planning on collecting Kickstarter rewards or buying games, take a big case or drive (beware of parking costs). Alternatively post your games back separately from a nearby Post Office (cheaper than £20 for an extra Easyjet baggage allowance).
  • Don’t schedule yourself to run games the entire con. Take some time to walk around, play, and network.
  • Be enthusiastic about a demo game, but don’t be offended if someone criticizes it or isn’t interested in it.
  • Venue staff, not just stewards, need to be polite and respectful – you’re still customers.
  • Cosplay is not consent (I’ve never seen harassment but it does exist).
  • Don’t badger gaming personalities in the bar if they’re in there for a quiet drink.
  • If you’re an organiser of a convention, expect and act upon criticism.

I’m not sure how many conventions I’ll get to next year: the accommodation and travel cost does mount up. Plus I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to attend and prepare for them. Still, I may get some time away. I’ve been offered a press pass for Conpulsion, and I’ll be at Dragonmeet this year though. I think I’ve covered everything and everywhere in individual reviews and posts elsewhere under Conventions.

Feel free to make any suggestions for other “Survival Tips”in the Comments!

Edinburgh Geekdom Web Portal

Edinburgh Geekdom is an idea I’ve had but will probably never implement. There’s a huge amount of work required and to keep on top of things requires more time and resources than I can deal with. I already maintain the Edinburgh Gaming page, and for now it’s a project placed on the back-burner.

What is/was the idea of “Edinburgh Geekdom”?

Edinburgh Geekdom was originally inspired by the fact that Edinburgh has a huge population, but each gaming community largely does their own thing. There’s very little communication between them which is a bit of a shame, as a “cross-pollination” works for the entire community. It’d be nice to have everything in one place. It was a germ of an idea when we started planning the Bleak Midwinter campaign a few years back (see the Archive and Ideas Dumpster).

Ideally, Edinburgh Geekdom would be a web front-end (or even App) allowing the parsing of RSS feeds, submission of events and postings of news relating to every aspect of everything geeky in Edinburgh. It would appear in a form of a searchable calendar that would be a one-stop shop for anyone considering themselves a geek in Edinburgh to find out what’s happening. A bit like the List, but with dice. Much like the late RPG Bloggers Alliance and combined with Geek Native as it were, but purely for Edinburgh and the Lothians. In fact, a very Edinburgh-specific version of something similar to the UK Gaming Media Network.

It’d consist of the following:

  • Wargames: posts of club nights, events, reviews, tournaments etc. from the Edinburgh clubs (SESWC, ELG etc.), including University societies. Also news from 6s2Hit or the Games Hub.
  • Shops: listings – and possibly adverts – for book shops, comic shops, games shops, model shops, book shops etc. Also art/handicraft shops and shops that may be useful for cosplay/LARP.
  • Boardgames & CCG: boardgame launches/meet-ups/events and CCG tournaments. Plus news from EGH, Black Lion, Edinburgh Board Game Geek Guild, etc.
  • RPGs. News of games from ORC, GEAS, Watt gamers, etc.
  • Crowdfunding – local Kickstarter, IndieGoG, Patreon campaigns etc. relating to Edinburgh.
  • Mega games. Edinburgh has hosted a few of these over the years – Portal of Geekdom would link to the event (see http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/)
  • Sci-fi/fantasy/horror news of events from sites like 2.8 Hours later, e.g. zombie walks, casting calls, plays, filming, stand-up comedy.
  • Local authors & writers, book signings, publications, readings etc.
  • Movies. News of special screenings, talks, filming.
  • News from fan groups or related clubs like the Dawn Duellists, Edinburgh Fortean Society, and Edinburgh Browncoats.
  • News of Edinburgh LARP events from Camarilla UK, Embraced, No Rest for the Wicked, and others.
  • Pokemon league events and news.
  • Cosplay events, news links to useful suppliers/stores.
  • Comics – news and reviews from Deadhead and Forbidden Planet, plus also news of Edinburgh ComicCon.
  • Historical event news like renaissance fairs, jousting, enactments, etc.
  • Retro gamers and online gaming – news of the retro gamers events, such as charity events or tournaments.
  • Software & technologies – news of developing local technology research and development, including computer games.
  • Local convention news and reviews e.g. Conpulsion, Claymore, Edinburgh Comicon, etc.
  • Lectures & Tours – news of events that may be of interest to the Geek community, including “open door” events.
  • Companies and careers. Adverts for proof-reading services, beta testers, artwork, call for submissions etc.

Quite a list really. So, how to go about implementing such a thing?

Implementation

I’m no programmer, so a bespoke solution was pretty much a non-starter. If anything, I’d also learned from the problems of RPG Bloggers Alliance: multiple hacking attacks, constant rewriting of code needed due to social media APIs changing, etc. Plus the time involved would be costly for me, not to mention possible stress. Unfortunately it’d be the way forward.

Edinburgh Geekdom would need to be largely automated – perhaps pulling RSS feeds from a site, two-factor authentication etc. There’d still need to be the option to manually submit an entry to Edinburgh Geekdom though. Both feeds and user submissions would need to be validated and checked. Perhaps registered users could submit events without moderation – although checks and balances would need to be in place to prevent excessive over-use/self-promotion. Event Submitters without a login would need to either subscribe to the site or be moderated. Either way, there’s a minimal time overhead from that.

So, why not use Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. as a solution? Easy: not everyone has access to these. Nor are they automated enough. Software like Twitter is best used to share links due to the character limit. Facebook and Google+ are notorious for clunky interfaces. Warhorn.net is more for organising games, and not really a news delivery medium. What about paper.li? Well, it works, but not for manual submissions. They all have their uses, though. “The ability to access social media is insignificant to… the power of the Force”. Um. Sorry. The ability to publish to social media is far superior, and a much better way of reaching multiple target audiences across multiple media.

Risks

Basically, what would be the risks of Edinburgh Geekdom?

Lack of engagement is the biggest one. Edinburgh Geekdom would rely on a lot of community input early on, plus regular updates. The site would need to establish itself very swiftly, with no margin for error. If there’s no ability to set up recurring events, submitters will become swiftly disassociated, for example. Many of the communities already have their own internal communications and ways of informing members. What’s in it for them?

Funding is also another consideration. How do you keep a free website up and running? What happens when you’ve gone from three events a hour to three events a month? With ads. Banner ads. You sell space to Google Adsense (and possibly, indirectly, that toxic Evony crap) or try and get local businesses to advertise, which is something that could mess up everything you’ve worked for if it goes bad. Or you back it out of someone’s pocket – cf. Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Ken Whitman (no, not really! I feel for those that got swindled!), or a venture capitalist… You’d have to shut it down, as soon as legally possible if things go wrong.

There’s also no real demand for a portal of this kind. It’d require a constant stream of information from all aspects and contributors to the Edinburgh Geekdom site. If there’s no actual reward involved you’re relying on a lot of goodwill and volunteers. As soon as that goodwill dries up, there’s nothing you can do apart from add the information yourself. That can take some considerable time, if you have to chase down news items.

Conclusion

Ultimately Edinburgh Geekdom was/is a nice idea – a fantastic resource that all aspects of the various hobbies could use. The main reasons I’ve never acted upon it is simply the time involved and money. I don’t have the time to develop the software, or the financial resources to keep it going. There’s also a serious amount of diplomacy required to keep the various “factions” of the hobby interested.

For me, that’s the biggest stumbling block – getting enough folk interested in Edinburgh Geekdom for it to be a useful resource. The investiture of time and money is a big issue too. My Edinburgh Gaming page remains popular, so that’s the closest I’ll get to creating an Edinburgh Geekdom site in the meantime.

Convention Games and Demos

Some of you may already know that I’m making the convention rounds this year! So far I’m appearing at Conpulsion, UK Games Expo, Q-CON, and hopefully Dragonmeet.

As I’m a Modiphius Silvershield I’ll be running a few demo games – with the exception of a Prayer for St. Nazaire and Cliché  they are actually games recommended for first time play. I may change these later but so far there’s a nice bit of variety:

  • Mutant: Year 0: For a mouthful of water. In a post apocalyptic future, a group of mutant PCs search for fresh water in the ruins of the Ancients., vital to their survival and those within the Ark.
  • The Mutant Chronicles (3rd Ed): Straffar Gatan 39, a rundown tenement in the Nines – a particularly nasty part of the Perimeters. Dispatch has received multiple calls from residents reporting screaming on the third floor. Dispatch receives calls like this all the time and they mostly go unanswered, but after the sixth call a Patrol unit was dispatched….
  • Achtung! Cthulhu (Savage Worlds): A Prayer for St Nazaire. March 1942: A small commando force are dropped behind enemy lines to silence a Nazi listening post in the Loire valley.
  • Cliché: The Game of Making Movies. An as yet untitled adventure…

So I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about convention games in general as a result. As the games above are going to be demos, I thought I’d put some thoughts down, if only to clear my head.

Time: Convention games are usually allocated time slots. At Dragonmeet, these were one-hour slots. At Q-CON three-hour slots. If you’re running a demo make sure it’ll keep to the time slot and not overrun.

Playability: Keep it simple. Complicated rules, where both players and GMs keep having to look stuff up, isn’t going to help “sell” the game. Quick-start “lite” rules and pre-gnerated characters are a great place to start. Having a physical copy of the game rulebook(s) also helps (see below).

Setting: Try and keep the setting simple for new players – keep the background fluff for the plot. Let the game speak for itself and don’t bombard the players with a lot of information. Also relevant: consider where you are actually playing the game. If it’s going to be loud game – and players can get raucous! – consider the people nearby!

Potential Audience: Kids are often accompanying their parents to conventions these days, and often play too. Bear that in mind when you’re writing adventures – if the subject matter is potentially dark, be prepared to tone it down. Likewise any “adult” situations.

Organisation: Check the sign-up sheets beforehand. Make sure you’ve time to get food. Be prepared to keep to the time slot available – don’t be late. Don’t get stressed with the players either if they are late or don’t turn up. It happens.

Props: The more maps, play aids, flyers, handout’s and other possible swag the better. Make sure you’ve got physical product if you’re doing a demo. At the very least the players can leaf through the rulebook.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen – Part 1 – Preparation

Prepping and running “Hoard of the Dragon Queen,”, the first part of Tyranny of Dragons took a bit of work on my part. The campaign itself has been reviewed elsewhere on the web, so I’m not really going to comment on the actual module itself, just what I did to make things workable for me, broken across a few parts by book chapter.

Character creation

Whew, D&D 5e character creation is far more straightforward than, say, Pathfinder. However as GM you still have to do a bit of work. As the PCs are unlikely to be in Greenest (but see the Hoard of the Dragon Queen Backgrounds below) it’s a good idea to work out why a group of 1st level characters may be travelling together. For this reason the first session was pure character generation and getting the group to interface (we were in a pub so it helped!). I decided to use the 4d6 (drop the lowest) method as the points-buy system just leads to “cookie-cutter” PCs.

I created a bunch of character sheet templates in form-fillable PDF format, based on the Wizards official sheet. They’re very useful for pulling a character down for a quick build if needed. You can download them here. This helped us get started pretty quickly and brainstorming into the why and wherefores of the characters.

Factions in Hoard of the Dragon Queen

The various factions mentioned in Hoard of the Dragon Queen are initially little more than a character back story tool, if you’re not planning an D&D Adventurers League game. They do provide some interesting colour though and possible plot hooks later. You can find out more at the D&D factions page. I left it up to the players to declare their allegiances or not.

Backgrounds

There’s quite a few ideas for why the PCs may be in Greenest given at the back of the book. I gave them to my PCs as a “lucky dip”, but you may want to allocate them to specific characters if so inclined. They’re worth a look as some are very interesting as back story, as well as some of the traits.

I also decided against running an D&D AL (“Adventurers League”) game, as I’d like to have a bit more freedom and so did the players. I also created some variant backgrounds for the PCs, as did one on my players, Alex. Here’s the variants we came up with:

Courtier, Variant Noble

You were either born to power or have risen to a position of small political power at the court or political arena of your choice. You may not have the ear of the rich and powerful but you aspire to it. Instead of the Skill Proficiencies for Noble you instead choose to replace History with either Intimidation or Insight.

Failed Paladin, Variant Soldier Rank

From an early age, you always wanted to be a Paladin. You trained hard, were properly respectful of the Gods and when the time came, you were found wanting. For whatever reason you were not elevated to the status of a Paladin. Since then you try and make up for it by training harder than the others, and retaining your Faith (or not!). You are able to access Temple Precincts where your holy symbol is recognised. Possession: You carry a holy symbol and/or prayer book as well as the basic soldier kit.

Expelled Acolyte, Variant Acolyte

You were never that attentive during lessons at the Temple and if there was any trouble you were always the prime suspect. It was a matter of time until you got kicked out or ran away. Instead of the Skill Proficiencies for Acolyte you can choose to replace Insight with Deception.

Radical, Variant Sage

The Truth is out there. Everyone’s hides it but secret organisations run everything – the Harpers, Zhentarim, you name it.. You’re convinced they’re behind everything. Instead of the Arcana Skill Proficiency, you can replace it with that of Investigation

Inventor (created by Alex)

You always were handy with tools and you liked taking things apart and putting them back together. You made a living as a tinkerer, but always spent your time on thinking of and creating new ideas.

Skill Proficiency: Intelligence (Investigation); Wisdom (Perception)

Tool Proficiency: Tinker’s Tools, Jeweler’s Tools

Equipment: Abacus, Backpack, Bedroll, Traveller’s Clothes, Iron Pot, Various bits of metal (bearings, small gears, etc)

Feature: You have a tiny animal companion that you have constructed. It is in all ways like a normal animal, except you built it from gears, pipes, steam, and fabric. Occasionally it works.

Suggested Characteristics: There was always something more to understand about the world and how it worked. Inventors love taking things apart and putting them back together again. They have a natural curiosity and exuberance about the world.

d8 Personality
  1. I want to know what that is over there! And how this works! And how that happened!
  2. I know many secrets that I mustn’t tell, but I talk about them all the time, I just can’t tell them.
  3. I know that if I present myself in the latest fashions and present myself as a modern avant garde personality, people will take my inventions seriously.
  4. There’s no point to going out if you’re not having fun. Other people never seem to appreciate my jokes as much as I do.
  5. I don’t have a screw loose, but I might lose a screw. For my toast. I understand and they don’t.
  6. I’ll be rich, independently wealthy! Someday. I just need some investors.
  7. There’s only one way to test an invention, and that’s in the field during live fire. There’s nothing more invigorating than that!
  8. I don’t say much, ideas I keep to myself can’t be taken.
d6 Ideal
  1. Empowerment: I want to make the world a better place with my inventions. (Good)
  2. Order: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. (Lawful)
  3. Change: I want to change the world with my inventions. (Chaos)
  4. Stingy: I don’t want to share my secrets with anyone. My inventions are for me. (Unaligned)
  5. Tyrant: Once I’m powerful, I’ll be able to rule everyone who wronged me. (Evil)
  6. Liar: Well, if it helps you get the job done, you’ll say what needs saying. (Evil/Unaligned)
d6 Bond
  1. I know of a famous inventor out there that I’ll find someday.
  2. I once made an invention I carry, but I don’t know how to do it again. I’m afraid if I take it apart I won’t be able to figure out how to put it together again (Work with your DM to invent the device).
  3. I know that those people want their money, but they just don’t understand the difficulties with getting things done on time.
  4. One of my companions is your sibling or relative who’s looking out for me.
  5. I have a small child or baby in your charge.
  6. I’ve got an idea for the kind of laboratory I’m going to need, and so I’m travelling around looking for all the most important kinds of equipment. I’ve heard there’s a Forge of some kind near Phandelver. . .
d6 Flaw
  1. Only the results are important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
  2. You just borrowed all that money/that energy source/that device. I’m going to return it when I’m done with it.
  3. I’ll betray my closest friends for success and fame.
  4. I’m actually really lazy and don’t like doing the work required to be a successful inventor, instead I exploit people at every turn.
  5. I have deviant and illegal tendencies.
  6. Someone stole one of your inventions and has been using it in the commission of crimes. And now they are hunting you for it.

Common & Local Knowledge

It’s not mentioned anywhere in the book but as GM, you need a little bit of background in the Forgotten Realms to bring them to life – fortunately, http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/ is a great resource for the GM and players. If it helps, there’s a map I scanned on the ORC Wiki here. I’d also make sure that your players have a working knowledge of the other factions – be they the Harpers, the Zhentarim or Red Wizards of Thay. Remember that the Sword Coast is also where the Baldur’s Gate series of PC games was set. Also, the year is 1489DR – your players will ask about this, and you’ll have to hunt around for it!

Ultimately, if your players aren’t all Realms aficionados, don’t go overboard. Keep a light touch – don’t bombard new players with too much setting information. Let them find things out for themselves.

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