Blog posts and advice articles I’ve written about roleplaying games (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- I want to know what that is over there! And how this works! And how that happened!
- I know many secrets that I mustn’t tell, but I talk about them all the time, I just can’t tell them.
- 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.
- 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.
- I don’t have a screw loose, but I might lose a screw. For my toast. I understand and they don’t.
- I’ll be rich, independently wealthy! Someday. I just need some investors.
- 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!
- I don’t say much, ideas I keep to myself can’t be taken.
- Empowerment: I want to make the world a better place with my inventions. (Good)
- Order: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. (Lawful)
- Change: I want to change the world with my inventions. (Chaos)
- Stingy: I don’t want to share my secrets with anyone. My inventions are for me. (Unaligned)
- Tyrant: Once I’m powerful, I’ll be able to rule everyone who wronged me. (Evil)
- Liar: Well, if it helps you get the job done, you’ll say what needs saying. (Evil/Unaligned)
- I know of a famous inventor out there that I’ll find someday.
- 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).
- I know that those people want their money, but they just don’t understand the difficulties with getting things done on time.
- One of my companions is your sibling or relative who’s looking out for me.
- I have a small child or baby in your charge.
- 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. . .
- Only the results are important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
- You just borrowed all that money/that energy source/that device. I’m going to return it when I’m done with it.
- I’ll betray my closest friends for success and fame.
- 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.
- I have deviant and illegal tendencies.
- 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.
(Revised January 2015)
I’ve been gaming in various venues as part of ORC Edinburgh, and what follows maybe something of personal observations. It’s basically about the places I’ve gamed and some of my experiences at these places, and what I’d prefer to have in a venue. I’m pretty certain that some folk will empathise with what I’m talking about. If you run a venue and want to get a society or group in, then you might want to think about what I mention here (not just gamers).
Having a gaming group play in a venue makes financial sense, considering that you have six or more people clustered around a table (in the case of RPG groups). They’re likely to be there for a few hours, often during quiet times if a venue serves food or drink. There’s a better-than-average chance they’ll buy a lot of food and drink too – playing RPGs (and running them) is hungry and thirsty work! A game in session also gives the place a busier vibe than just a few folk sitting around.
This is not exactly a “code of conduct”, but could be construed as a foundation for a “best practice” agreement between a group and a venue.
Space. Space to play is essential. It is all very well getting large tables (wargamers and board gamers especially need these) but if there’s very little space between each group it can become impossible to hear what folk are saying, and can become a shouting match with the other group(s) – not ideal if you’re running an RPG. The seats need to be comfortable, and not hard wooden benches, as they will be used for a long period. Being able to rearrange the furniture shouldn’t be a problem. There should also be enough tables to play on and still have non-gamer customers too. Ideally, RPG sessions need their own space away from loud music or live sport (worth bearing in mind for pubs).
Cleanliness. If you want folk to feel comfortable in a venue, make sure it is clean. Seriously. I shouldn’t have to say this. At the very least the toilets should be cleaned regularly (both Male and Female) and be functional – at least one Edinburgh venue didn’t do this, and it turned into a manky hole. If food is served, the serving area should be spotless, or at least the area that prepares/serves food. At the very least some ventilation is necessary, especially in the summer. It’d be nice if gamers also made sure they bathed regularly and used deodorant, but sadly there’s often one who doesn’t.
Food. Gamers traditionally don’t eat healthily, but that’s no reason to feed them poor quality food. Yes, they do eat chips and burgers, not “fine dining”. Gamers have a preference for certain kinds of food – soup, nachos, chilli fries, gourmet burgers, pizza. Desserts like cheesecake or hot puddings are popular too. Make them good quality; you’ll sell more – and word gets around. As gamers often tend to order food at the same time it is worth having some kind of numbering system for orders (e.g. a number-on-a-stick or plastic number you sometimes see in pubs). A venue that sells hot food needs to be meticulous about hygiene, and need to make sure food is heated properly (see Cleanliness above). At least two venues I know of in the past have given folk food poisoning (one of those suffering was myself), possibly because all they did was reheat the food. Not eating there again, and I make a point of telling folk why. It’s also a good idea to make clear the policy on cleanup. I always ask my groups to clean up after themselves (including empty wrappers and plates etc.), but it helps to make it clear from the outset.
Drink. If you’re serving alcohol, it’s always a good idea to check if any of the gaming group are under 18 (or 21 in some places). Try and set some clear guidelines for a group in these cases (e.g. under-18s cannot sit in the bar area, but can order food). Will bar staff come and collect empty glasses, or should the group themselves do it? As with Food above, it’s usually best if groups clean up after themselves but it is a good idea to make this clear. Also, many gamers have a liking for cask beers or similar other than the usual brewery fare so it may be worth a a thought (and may get other custom such as real-ale drinkers). Cocktails are pretty much a no-no, but soft drinks are also good (many gamers will drink these rather than alcohol).
Communication. Vital on both sides. Make sure the venue and group have a Group Contact. Someone the venue can deal with personally, either by phone, email, or PM (or all the above). It’s IMMENSELY frustrating for a group to turn up to find that they can’t use a venue. If a venue has an event going that might impact a group’s attendance (e.g. use of a function room), make sure you let the Group Contact know well in advance. It’s also worth pointing out that if gamers are in another part of the building, some event managers may not like to share a venue they may have paid to use. It never hurts to let the venue staff know, and be aware of any potential problems (e.g. room use, music concert, etc.). If the venue is likely to be unavailable (such as during the Edinburgh Festival, for a wedding, or corporate event), let the Group Contact know – likewise if a room is needed earlier/later than normal.
Customer relations. Customers are customers, and there’s no reason to treat gamers any different. All too often gamers are treated as second-class citizens. We’re paying customers – often regular paying customers -and should be treated accordingly. I’ve had staff be openly rude to us in one venue – bang out of order, particularly since we had to pay to play. The fact that gaming groups can get loud and boisterous should be seen as adding character to the place: if it’s too loud, let the group know. If gamers have a block booking, honour it and let them get on with it, rather than badgering folk during the time they’ve booked. If you’re selling food make it clear to the groups that they can’t bring in food (or drink) from outside. Gamers can make for the best customers in smaller venues, and there’s no reason to treat them like crap. We may get the venue for free, but that’s no reason to run roughshod over gamers if there’s something else on.
One final thought: it’s a bad idea to rely purely on gamers for business, especially as they can be fickle at the best times. All too often groups are kicked out because they’re not buying food or drink in a venue. There’s a simple answer to this: flag this up with the Group Contact.
Ultimately, getting gamers in is no different to any other special crowd – real ale drinkers, live music, etc. – all it needs is a bit of forethought, and possibly some ground rules.