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The Douchey DM » Adventure Design » Some Thoughts on Con Game Prep

Some Thoughts on Con Game Prep

I’m running three games at our next local convention, Gateway 2011.

  • Big Red Planet Hollywood — Savage Worlds. This adventure takes place in a highly unscientific setting in “Space!” The party plays a mixed crew (1/2 American, 1/2 British) aboard the Corazon del Oro in a pre-WWII alternate history.
  • Ghostbusters: Los Angeles — Savage Worlds. This is a sequel to a one-shot I ran a year or so ago. There’s a recording of the original session available (warning: it is unedited, very long and has many interruptions). The game takes place in modern day Southern California.
  • The Tulupian Avian: GURPS Traveller (4th ed.). A GURPS game set in the Traveller setting.
Because of scheduling, I won’t be able to playtest any of these games, so I’m relying on experience and extenders and delayers.
There are a few rules I follow when it comes to game prep in my home games — mostly because it’s not feasible to playtest your on-going game. These rules are especially useful for untested con games. I’ll let the players determine how well I apply these rules and how they translate to a convention game.
  1. Make combat encounters more difficult than you think they should be and nerf as needed.
    There’s a balance when making combats: you don’t want them too easy, and you don’t want to wipe the party. A plot-critical fight should be difficult and maybe desperate.
    When you don’t have a chance to playtest the combat, it’s best to start the fight out as tough as possible and adjust the bad guy’s stats and tactics to the point that the fight is winnable for the party, but victory shouldn’t be certain.
  2. Be ready with additional plot twists.
    We’ve all been there: you’ve got this great idea for a plot with an awesome twist, and the party solves it in the first five minutes of the game. Now you have to fill the next 3 hours and 55 minutes.
    If necessary, you can add a second or third plot twist.
  3. Keep your high-point/ending as generic as possible.
    Let’s say you’ve designed five scenes to your adventure. Several clues lead from each scene to the next in line until you get to the final battle with the bad guy.
    So what happens if the party gets stuck on Scene 2 for two hours?
    Perhaps you can move up your final conflict from Scene 5 to Scene 3. Maybe the bad guys’ plans aren’t as far along as the party thinks.
  4.  Be ready with additional fights.
    I’m not a big fan of combat for combat’s sake. I generally don’t like the idea of truly random encounters. I like it when combats make sense within the storyline.
    That being said, there are ways to weave more combat into a game.

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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One Response to "Some Thoughts on Con Game Prep"

  1. rabaliasNo Gravatar says:

    Oh man! I disagree with almost everything you’ve said 🙂

    I write more material than I need for a session, but I don’t drop extra in as needed. Rather, if the players do something quickere than expected, I end up finishing on time. If they take too long, or even manage to meet my expectations perfectly, that usually means taking more than one session per story line. In other words, I don’t force an episode to fit into a session.

    On combats, I use fate points so I can make the bad guys tough. If they turn out to be too tough, that’s fine – maybe the players lose. Thanks to the fate points, this needn’t mean they die.

    The above matters to me because I’m not a fan of secretly changing things behind the scenes – it feels like cheating to me. You might as well not bother rolling the dice and just narrate the combat going badly at first then the tide slowly turning. I also think players can tell when you’re fudging things. I like to be able to honestly say – phew, I wasn’t sure you would win that combat.

    Of course, this works less well for con games, so like you I adopt a more flexible approach there. It makes me feel dirty doing it, though.

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