Locally, September is when the two primary gaming conventions in the area happen. It’s a great time to get together with friends (well you know…when it’s not 2020) and play some games with people who all share the same love of the hobby.
Running an RPG at a convention though is not the same as running your home game. Just as running your game online is not the same as running your home game. There are some key elements to keep in mind to ensure everyone has a great time.
Be True to the Game
When you run a game at a convention you’re an ambassador for that game. You’re running it because you love the game and want to share it and with that comes a responsibility to present the game that others will get if they buy it. If you’re running Star Trek then don’t have space wizards and laser swords, for example. Take the elements of the game that make it special and double down on those. Play up the tropes the game is built on. Use that dragon, power up the power armor, run the shadows. Whatever it is that cements your love for the game – bring that to the forefront.
Generally speaking, don’t. If you feel you must then it needs to be short and concise. If your house rules takes more than a single, short sentence to explain then it has no business in a Convention game. Odds are you’re going to need to explain the actual game to some (if not all) of the players and confusing them with your own take on things isn’t a good option. Personally I’d sooner not include rules to streamline things that to house-rule something.
You have a limited window of time. You don’t want to spend a good portion of it on character generation. Make your characters ahead of time. Make sure you have more than you expect. If you have 6 slots, make 8-10 characters as it gives players more choices. Give each character a very broad description the players can latch onto. Give them an agenda to tie them to the story. Give them ties to each other and to the adventure you’re running. Most importantly if you’re running the adventure and you’re creating the characters then everyone should be able to be a part of the story. If your adventure has no combat and you create a battle maddened barbarian then that’s on you to fix.
During a convention you only have a certain window of time. You will not start on time. That’s a universal constant at every con I’ve been to. You will be expected to finish on time. Players have other events and your table may be needed. So your pacing needs to be absolutely on point. Playtest the adventure if you’ve never run it before. Know what you can cut if you need to for time. Count on having about 30 minutes less play time than you’re scheduled for between late start and explaining things. Make sure that things build to a suitable climax. If the goal is to slay an evil necromancer, then the party needs to confront (and hopefully slay) the evil necromancer. Do not realize at the last moment that you need to just hand-wave the final confrontation that things have built to.
Aim for a Pg-13 game rating unless you are in an area designated as adults only. If you are in the general convention space you may be overheard by younger people or others who aren’t impressed with your rated R or M game. If you are running a more adult game, even keeping it to PG-13, be aware of your surroundings.
Even if your game is rated Mature and you’re in a separated area be very, very clear as to what that rating means.
Respect your Players
Of the various games at the con, the people at the table chose yours. Be respectful of their time. Be respectful of their boundaries. If you don’t know the players ask them if there are things that they prefer not to have in the game. If your game may be something that contains triggering elements look towards toolkits like the X-card. It all comes down to respecting your fellow players and making them feel welcome.
Know the Game
You’re going to be starting late, you’re going to have limited time. Do you want to spend more time looking up a rule? Checking the duration of an effect, figuring out initiative? Use your time effectively, focus on rulings not rules if you need to, but do not spend 5 minutes double checking a rule.
There’s a sea of tables and ideally you want to stand out. Minis, dice, maps, GM screens, props, etc. The trick is to make your table pop without being too cluttered to play. If you’re lucky enough that your game has a box (and I love that some companies are bring back the Boxed Set) then bring that to set up like a display. If you have a large world map (or can print one) then bring that. It’s even better if you have a frame you can use for it. You want people to see your game and say “what is that?” and then ask questions and perhaps play.