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Orccon 2011 Preview: Con Games!

illustration by Greg "Stork" Wilson

I’m running two games at Orccon and co-GMing one with Bill Roper. To date, I’ve play-tested my two games. The first was  a GURPS-Fantasy game and the other was a Hero System-Pulp game.

Both games went well, but the Hero game went especially well — the players definitely had a blast, as did I.

The game certainly had some problems — some of the pre-gens were out-of-balance, one of the combats was less than climactic. But that’s why you play-test.

Every time I prep and run (or playtest) a con game, I learn more about the art of creating a good con game, so I’d like to share some things I’ve learned this time around:

1. Play-testing is Important.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the system, it’s critical. Since I hadn’t run a Hero System game since 3rd Edition, I knew a play-test was mandatory.

First, I ran the combat encounters solo (that is, just me, some dice and the character sheets). I discovered that most of my combats were way under-powered, so I adjusted the encounters.

Second, I play-tested it with players. Once I had players doing the creative stuff they do, they started using their characters in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. I then discovered that at least one of the characters was too powerful. More adjustments.

If I hadn’t done any play-testing, every combat would have been a cake walk. Not good.

2. Linearity is Okay.

In the last year, I’ve taken to organizing my adventures into “scenes,” kind of like a screenplay. But I don’t use the term “scene” very strictly.

Each scene includes the following information:

  • Who is in the scene (PCs, NPCs).
  • Where I *think* the scene will take place.
  • What clues might be discovered during the scene.
  • How the scene might play out.

Let’s say the party discovers that a young man with a cane was seen leaving the scene of the crime. I figure the party’s going to try to track down the young man with a cane and at least question him, so I make up a scene for this encounter:.

I determine the young man with the cane (we’ll call him “Bob.”) will probably be alone. I also assume this scene will happen at his home. I determine what his role in the murder was (if any), and what additional information he may have.

So my players get a hold of this plot hook, and instead of trying to identify Bob, they decide to focus in on the fact that he’s young with a cane. They assume he must be a veteran and the cane is the result of a injury in the war. They decide to go to the local VFW.

No problem. Instead of this scene happening at Bob’s home, it happens at the VFW. All the better, maybe other members are there who take offense to one of their members being accused of murder…

illustration by Greg "Stork" Wilson

3. Give the PCs Reasons to Interact with Each Other.

Make the characters fun to play and fun to play in your particular party. Play up competitions, rivalries, racial distrust, etc.

In the Hero-Pulp game, I made 6 pre-gens. Three are American space heroes and three are British space heroes. Furthermore, the leader of each group has a rivalry with the other. This set up some fun moments when both player are competing to be the dashing hero.

I took a lesson from this game and re-examined my GURPS-Fantasy pre-gens. Mostly I looked at their disadvantages. Firstly, I questioned some of the stereotypes: does the thief have to be impulsive? What if he’s a consummate professional instead and obsessive planner?

Secondly, I looked at the mental disadvantages of the party as a whole and asked myself, “are there enough differences in the characters for there to be some tension? Maybe some conflict — or at least disagreement on how to proceed?”

Sometimes you can be walking a razor’s edge here — if you get the wrong type of players, they start drawing swords on each other. This can be okay, depending on the system. In the Hero-Pulp game, one of the PCs decked one other PC and shot another with a ray-gun. Neither attack was particularly dangerous in Hero, but could have been deadly in GURPS (and the player who initiated these two attacks knew the Hero system very well).

That’s all for now.

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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2 Responses to "Orccon 2011 Preview: Con Games!"

  1. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    Ok, two things. First of all great article Stu. Really looking forward to playing Blue Monkeys at OrcCon. Second, Stork those illustrations are totally awesome.


  2. MattNo Gravatar says:

    I agree, good dam article. I like the tips about having tension between the PC’s. I’ll be adjusting my games for the con to make that happen. (Or, at least, plan on it happening, as we all know how PC’s can be.)
    Stork – kick ass pictures! I envy your skillz.

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