Convention Games

The news about the 1st edition AD&D reprints has got me thinking once again about what system I use when running convention games.  For my home campaign, I run B/X D&D with 3 pages of house rules, several of which pull from OD&D and AD&D (race/class split, Paladins and Rangers, etc.)  I’m totally happy and comfortable running this system, however sometimes I wonder if it’s not a bit confusing or annoying looking to convention goers.  My convention descriptions often list the system as something kind of ham fisted, like:

B/X D&D with house rules including some AD&D-isms

The temptation is, at least for convention games, to switch to a more recognizable or at least by-the book appearing system, which would essentially be either OD&D or AD&D.  Ultimately this would have little effect on how I actually run the game, however in both there’s a chance that I overlook something unique to that system and get called on it during play.  There’s certainly something to be said for sticking with what I know.

OD&D has the benefit of being pretty close to what I want to play — I think B/X is closer to OD&D than AD&D.  Plus, given how open the text is, I’d say it’s pretty much expected that any DM of OD&D is going to have a fistful of house rules, so it’s probably not even worth mentioning that in the description.  The downside is that OD&D is probably the least recognizable version of D&D to your average convention attendee.  That said, I think there’s a certain glamor to a convention game that uses “the first ever printed rules.”

AD&D, on the other hand, is probably the most recognizable and used of the old school systems at conventions.  If I ran using AD&D, there’s a good chance several players would have a PHB in hand during play.  Plus, AD&D does have some expectation of house ruling, at least in as much as “we don’t use rule X” is a pretty common refrain, given AD&D’s tendency to define everything including the kitchen sink.  That said so much minutiae is included in these rules and so many players have devoted themselves to dissecting them, that there’s a good chance I get called on something during play.  Honestly I don’t mind being called on rulings during play, so long as the player respects my iron-fisted DMing style and my refusal to slow the game by pouring through the text.  Not every player is cool with that though, and what kind of players you get at a con game is definitely a crap shoot.  AD&D is especially attractive though when running old tournaments like the A-series, which were specifically written for that system.  There’s some cache I think in saying “we’re going to play this as it was played in 1979.”

Given that all this is so much logistical detail and will have little effect on how I actually run the game, the real question here is, what will attract the most players.  I’ve never really had a con game completely fill up, so butts in seats is what I’m after.  This sounds like a good excuse to use a poll.  So please let me know, if you were leafing through a convention brochure for a game to play, which system would most likely draw you to my game?

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.


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  1. Paul, if you are running at GenCon this year I definitely want to get in to any game that you are running. Those were some of the best games I had played at any con that I have been to so far.

  2. The AD&D 1st ed option is best because it gives the clearest picture of what the mechanics will be. Equally as good would be something you didn’t list an option for: Just plain B/X D&D.

    While it’s true that “AD&D 1st ed” is slightly unclear (due to the prevalence of typical house rule tweaks: init, weapon vs. AC, etc.), it’s still clearer than than the other options. “OD&D” is surprisingly broad, and “B/X D&D plus some AD&D-esque house rules” could be *any* weird subset of stuff from the PH and DMG.

    When I play in convention games, a 3-page house rule document is a real turn-off. (Though I’ve experienced worse!) When I sit down at the convention table, I want to get *playing*, not start reading.

    If you decide to run your B/X+AD&D hybrid at a convention game, you can easily chop your three-pager down to 1/2 page or less. Your current three-pager includes significant chunks of material that’s only significant for campaign play. Heck, I dare say that most of your house rules are fairly pedantic and only affect how characters feel & look *on the character* sheet, as opposed to in play. They “seem” smoother and “look” less idiosyncratic (compared to the default rules for those thigns), but except for a couple of tweaks that change the implied setting, the rest don’t materially change the play experience or game world.

    Of your house rules, the *only* one that give a real taste of what your home campaign is like (compared to the typical TSR-era A/D&D campaign) is that all spells get a saving throw except magic missile. That’s the *only* one I’d feel like I’d need to see on a house rule sheet if I sat down at your table at a convention.

    If you’re going to have convention players roll up PCs on the spot, then *maybe* the split race/class thing and the paladin & ranger thing are worthwhile to include. But only maybe. Would the feel of your convention game (as compared to your home game) *truly* suffer if you didn’t include those? Unlikely. (You can happily use them behind the screen for NPCs, but the players don’t even need to see/understand those details.)

  3. As much as it causes me a little pain, I chose the first option. For the specific question posed, if you’re running AD&D Module A1 anyway, then saying AD&D 1E causes the least cognitive dissonance, and the most immediate picture in my head of what it’ll be like for me to sit at that table.

    Any other circumstance and I’d choose one of the other options. Or maybe if someone was less familiar with the product line it would make such a difference.

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