Tips on Convention GMing

Convention season is approaching quickly, which means it is time for those con games! Some of my favorite games I have ever run have been with a table full of complete strangers. While some see running games at cons daunting, or they don’t like the lack of control of who is at the table, the best thing to keep in mind is that everyone wants to be there. With that in mind, here are a few things I found to ease the way into running a con game.

1) Bring Pre-Built Characters

This is probably one of the most important things to take with you to your tables. If you create these characters for your game, you know the character’s capabilities, rolls they can make, and how they can best interact within situations you have constructed. In my past games, I’ve gotten a range of new players who have never picked up a set of dice in their life. Most of these players are brought by friends or have been taken by the recent flood of new RPG materials available. Being able to know how they can best use their characters will enhance their experience and bring them into our beautiful world. On the opposite spectrum, you will get a player that has 30+ years of a different system under their belt. It is good to be able to have the mental reference for situations like when they ask for a reflex and knowing it’s the equivalent of a dex save. Another type of player to accommodate, is the person who has been up straight for the last three days and can’t see straight, keep them rolling and keep them awake!

2) Start with a Reason to Work Together

Like the start of any campaign or one-shot game, you need to introduce the characters to each other. Within your home group, there is already the bond of your friends. At a convention each seat may contain a random person unknown from different walks of life, so get them talking. Creating an option, path, choice, issue right at the start forces the players and characters into a conversation. The group will naturally gravitate to a leader or a democratic type of party, making the rest of the game easier to carry on. This will also let you see how conversations of the next few hours can go, pointing out the quiet players and the outspoken.

3) Prepare for All Types of Players

Planning a game for an unknown audience will never be easy, so include a bit for everyone.
Have puzzles that can give a theme to your game, and can spice things up for you as well. Setting the tone and environment as a choice to the players always goes over well. Set traps, because what is a dungeon crawl without a good trap? Have at least one monster for the combat types out there too; make those dice work for the players. One of the top things that I do in my games is to set logical and illogical obstacles. Think Labyrinth’s two door riddle, but with a third door. Create spots that allow the players to think their way through and role play in scenes, but make sure your game can conclude within the allotted time.

4) Complete Your Story in Just Hours

Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your players deserve to have ups and downs within their stories, and something to talk out for the rest of the con. Don’t just make a hack and slash grind, include some fun role playing moments and some fantastic loot. Speaking of loot, remember this game is only going to last a few hours, and you’re probably never going to see these people again, so go all out!

Four main points that most DMs keep in mind for their games, that need a tad more emphasis while running convention games. Bring those new players up to speed faster by knowing the characters. Get the players talking quickly in-game, find those particular players and use them. Be sure to include something for everyone, because they deserve it. Make your story shine, create those special moments. Have fun, improvise, and roll your dice.

Published by

GM Leigh

I run homebrew Dungeons and Dragons 5e games for a local group that has been together for the past two years. Find me on twitter at @ShimmerwindIsle