The final analysis I want to do on my GenCon experience is to look at the game I ran and the games I played, and see what lessons I can learn for future convention games I run. GenCon has made me even more excited to attend more local conventions. My own gaming group’s mini-con will be coming up next April, and before that is TotalCon 25, for which apparently I’ve become the old school cheerleader. So, lessons learned:
Simplify. The two games I enjoyed most were the AD&D tournament in which the objective was simply map out a cavern and the LL game in which the objective was simply to invade a crypt and steal some treasure. My own game was most successful when the party assaulted the tower. Sure, some players had a good time talking to NPCs in the tavern, but with 8 players and only 1 GM, at least half the players are going to be sitting passively during such encounters, and possibly getting bored. Even worse was the games that tried to be a “murder mystery” style game, where the entire thing was like that.
I’m not saying a convention game needs to be a dungeon crawl to be successful. However a clear starting objective and a focus on a concise area to explore I think will only help make the game better. The most interesting parts of the games will be the tactical decision points. Do we go left or right? Do we talk to the dragon or attack it? Try to include lots of choices, but make sure the choices are presented in a clear way.
Don’t Be Too Soft. A TPK in a convention game is not nearly as bad as a TPK in a campaign. In fact, many players will likely appreciate the challenge. The LL game I played in was a TPK, but it felt like it was on a razor’s edge. If the dice had bounced another direction it could have been a glorious success. On the flip side, having a way to keep the killed players involved isn’t a bad idea. Henchmen seem the obvious route for this.
Have a Win Condition. Scored tournament games, even if the scoring is completely irrelevant, is an excellent motivator. Or simply having a discrete goal other than kill them and take their stuff is great too. In fact, I think it’s extremely interesting to have a standard dungeon crawl where the goal is something completely tangential to killing stuff and finding treasure. Players are already motivated to do that anyway. It’s much more interesting for the players to have to weigh their greed for treasure or desire to fight against another objective, like mapping out an area or saving a hostage.
Add Detail. Square rooms are boring. Giant chasms with rope bridges or caverns with exits high up the side of the wall are exciting. An undead queen is OK, but an undead bandit queen is awesome. Even though it never really came up in the game what the heck it meant to be a bandit queen or why a bandit queen would be raised as undead, it still instilled much more character into the enemy than simply having a wight or ghoul or whatever at the end. Also, the fact that she was essentially a spell casting ghoul was great. Custom monsters rock. Everyone knows fire kills trolls, but how the heck do you deal with mud men?
I have so many ideas now. I can’t wait for the next con.