A friend emailed me with some questions about running a convention game, and I thought the questions and answers were interesting enough to share here in my blog -- thanks, Tonya for allowing me to share our email!!
Tonya's email ...
In April, there is a new convention in Detroit called Midwest Media Expo. I will be running my very first pen n paper RPG. It is based off Steve Jackson's Toon system, because the game will be played with ponies. Anyway, I have a couple questions about writing an RPG.
1. How many players do you normally write the game for? Seeing as how it is my first game, should I limit it to like 6 or 8?
2. Are pre-gen characters better than having people take time from the game to create their own?
3. Is it better to write out how you want the game to go, or just write a basic outline, and see where the dice take you?
4. If it's a system most people haven't played before, should I make copies of pages they would need to know, or just let them read it from the book if needed?
My response ...
I have run a handful of games at conventions. I even ran a Toon game once (very long time ago.) These answers are of course just my opinions based upon my experiences, but I'll try not to steer you wrong.
1. I think planning for 6 players plus yourself is the most you should try to do. I know you are running the Toon system, but not sure if you also envision the Toon "style" of play ... which is most fun when it's kept very fast and furious. More players tend to create "lag" for everyone. I say no more than 6 at the very most.
2. Pre-gen characters are a must. I have seen players walk away from a game table because pre-gen characters weren't provided at the off-set. Most see character creation of any kind as a cumbersome process that steals time away from actual play. If you were running a brand new system that had an interesting character creation dynamic and you wanted to teach that, then you would run that kind of session as it's own special panel. "Creating Characters for System X" and people would come to see how characters are made and be expecting that. Otherwise treat character creation during convention play like the plague.
3. That's a matter of personal preference and play style. If I were running a game, I would have a few basic notes on key encounters and on what I wanted to accomplish as a "quest goal" in the allotted time, but I would keep things loose and have very little in way of detail ... because that's the way I play best. I prefer to have my face up, looking at and reacting to the players and I don't want a "scripted plot" to tie me down or pull my attention. But, that's my style. If it was my brother Chris, I would say that he would be much more likely to have very specific notes. Encounters that were very detailed, NPC stats. Specific information that he could reference each step of the way. That's how he works. That's what he is most comfortable with and this plays to his strengths. It really is a matter of preference and play style.
Now, that being said ... if you haven't GM'd a lot of games and you aren't sure which style is yours, then I recommend going the second route and preparing as much detail as you can ahead of time. It is going to be much easier if you have the material ready to decide you don't need it and ignore it, than it would be to not have the material ready and suddenly decide that you needed it after all.
4. Toon is a pretty simple system and can be summarized fairly easily. My advise is to desktop publish / layout your own custom character sheets for each pre-gen character making them look all slick and professional. It looks nicer than printed forms that have been filled in with pencil and if you are designing your own character sheets you can include a brief rules summary on each character sheet for each player. You can have a basic rules overview and then specific rules highlights for special exceptions or powers specific to each pre-gen character. It's a bit of extra work, but I think it would really be worth it.
Anyway ... those are my thoughts on the matter.