My husband and I co-DM'd two games at DunDraCon (DDC) 37. This was, by the way, the first time either of us ran a convention game – ever. John has had the experience of running games for strangers before, but I have to admit I've barely played with gamers outside of our rather stable, well-adjusted, and highly social gaming groups, and that mostly at DDC or over a decade past.
All in all, this has been an excellent experience, and we're planning on running convention games again. That's not to say we didn't have a bit to learn about running games for strangers. I would love to get together ideas from both other game masters and players about what makes for a good convention game, from a more general perspective.
To kick that off, here's a list of things John & I learned. I'll be editing this page as I get more tips together, and feel free to add to the conversation at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DunDraCon or http://www.facebook.com/dundracon, or by using the Contact form.
Steve S. suggests that "if you have a mystery/puzzle ... have a large number of extra clues -- ranging from subtle to glaringly obvious -- that you can give out as-needed if [the players] seem stumped or going off-track; ALSO have a large number of red-herrings, extra combats, and/or other distractions, to keep them from delivering a coup-de-grace to your mystery-scenario in the first half of your timeslot."
Jim P. suggests, "Prepare, but don't force the players to follow one track. If they come up with alternatives that you hadn't thought of, your scenario should be flexible enough to accommodate it."
Mona S. suggests, "1. Know the game you are running. Hopefully this will have included actually playing or running the game and not just reading the instructions."
Astrid E. suggests, "Always prepare twice as much
material as you can use, modularize it, and prepare to either drop sections or
add at a moment's notice.
Mark S. suggests, "My tip: prepare, prepare, prepare. The GM can use any rules, any setting, pre-gen the characters or create them at the table, or even allow a player's character, but the GM provides the foundation for everything that happens in the game, and if that foundation is unsound, there will be problems. You need not know the story, but you must know the bounds within which it will fall; you need not know every rule in the book, but you can look up the rare one you don't, and your *sense* of the rules should be impeccable; you need not know who your players are, but you must be prepared to offer every player an opportunity to excel in their play, no matter their rules knowledge, personality or RP skill. On this last, aim for a mix of characters--simple to play and complex; straightforward and manic; with diverse motivations but a common goal, and then try to match the characters to those that come to the table. Because if you are prepared, there will be many hooks everywhere to get everyone involved naturally. It takes time to prepare like that, but it works really well."
Astrid E. suggests, "Get lots of sleep before your game, it helps you remember things and be more patient."
Astrid E. suggests, "Don't hesitate to eject a player
if they are ruining the game for your players, or you as a GM.
Patrick R. (www.sinisterthings.com) suggests, "Have good table control. Make sure everyone gets a turn and don't allow yourself to be focused on a subset of the players. Some players are sticks in the mud, more audience than participant. Some players always have something to contribute, even if they're not in the scene. It's not about who's the loudest, quickest, prettiest, or most creative--it's about everybody. Every scene, go around the table and make sure each player is involved."
Richard C. advised as a follow on that giving more manic players some kind of task or objective available only thru working with the other players or within the scenario can often help them settle into the spirit of the game.
Gil T. (gtrevizo.blogspot.com) suggests, "1) Hydrate.
Your throat will thank you afterwards.
proudgeek159 suggests, "regarding rules disputes: If both parties have rational arguments for their interpretation of the rules and it won't break the scenario, have the player pick odds or evens, then roll a D6. That way the player can't complain because the gods of the dice actually made the decision. This will speed up play, and keep peace around the table."
Jeff H. suggests, "Project. Get your voice and words out there. Show confidence and a little swagger. The Players are there to be in your game, don't let them down!"
As a player, I view DDC as a chance to try out new game systems, therefore I look for games in the "Beginners Welcome" and "Characters provided by GM" categories. I don't think I've been in a single game with those two categories that hasn't had crashers lined up.
Something I picked up from my critical writing group: when receiving feedback, keep the source and the context in mind. That's neither a blessing to disregard a criticism nor to blow it up all out of proportion.