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Situational Convention Games (or the Sit-Con)
So, having come to terms with the idea of sandbox gaming, the next question is, how do I get a similar style of play into my one-shot convention games? I've always assumed convention games had to be even more rail-roady then campaing play, simply because you couldn't get through a story from beginning to middle to end if the players could willy-nilly do whatever they liked. Now with my new attitude that story will emerge from whatever it is the players decide to do, I'm trying to find a way to present a mini-sandbox that the players can quickly jump into and build their own story out of in the incredibly short span of a four hour convention game.

My theory is this: create a situation with a few key NPCs that have well thought out goals (preferably goals that are somewhat antagonistic towards eachother). Create some pre-gen characters with some form of background or character sketch, that would icline them at least to be interested in the outcome of the situation or better yet manipulate it to their own ends. With an idea of how the story would unfold without any players present, and characters that are unlikely to allow that to happen, you have your setting for a mini-sandbox one-shot. Or as I've been thinking of it, the situational convention game.

In fact, I've already done this experiment, again without really thinking about it. Last HelgaCon I ran two games: one very traditional plot-driven game and one situational game. Let's start with the control:

I wanted to run a pulp Savage Worlds game, using a group of characters I had already created for a previous game. I was inspired by some of the Daring Tales of Adventure modules written by Wiggy over at Triple Ace Games. I went way overboard on the prep. Already having painted miniatures for the characters, I painted minis for all the bad guys as well. I wrote out the module to an almost publishable level (usually I have barely more than an outline to work from for my con games). I had appropriate diecast toy cars for the chase scene, and even created a huge terrain piece for the final scene on the cliff face. I ran a playtest of it once with a local group before going to the con. I think perhaps in the back of my head I intended to do a final edit of the module and release it to the internet. At this point I really have no interest in that, but I'll go ahead and share with you what I did create:

Axis of the Astrolabe

In practice, the game always ran too long for the 4-hour convention slot, even after I edited it down after the first playtest. The players would always 'waste' a bunch of time coming up with ideas that would completely de-rail the plot, and I had to work hard to get them to the big final scene. I won't say it wasn't a fun game, and I think everyone appreciated the visuals, but the fact is there really wasn't all that much role-playing to be done. Mostly the players were only to determine the very minute details of how they would push a scene to it's foregone conclusion.

OK, the second game. The other game I ran was to be a Warhammer RPG game, mostly because Jenn loves the setting and wouldn't forgive me if I didn't run one. I neglected this game in favor of doing more prep for the pulp game, and only really fleshed it out a week or so before the con. I had a vague idea in my head: wouldn't it be funny to have a game that starts with a Witch Hunter boarding a coach with the players, all who have something they'd rather hide from said Witchunter.

I made some characters, each with a clever detail of something to hide: a witch, a chaos worshipper, a concealable mutation, etc. I then out-lined a basic plot of what the Witch Hunter was up to. He was chasing a doctor who tried to help mutants by surgically removing their mutations (in the black and white view of a Witch Hunter, this is a real crime). In fact, his quarry was present at the next coaching inn the coach would stop at. If the players didn't interfere, he would arrest the man and lock him in a hold cell until the morning. During the night, some mutants would arrive to try and save their doctor, but I had no clue if they would succeed or not.

I wasn't really sure what the characters would do in all this. Some might try and save the doctor (especially the mutant character, who might want to hire his services). Some might want to help bring him to 'justice'. I had thought perhaps my chaos-worshipper might want to kill the Witch Hunter, but the player threw me a curve ball by playing as if he was on the Witch Hunter's side, merely so he could cause as much damage as possible but still have plausible deniability.

It went great. Except for a little rules bungling at the end that drew the final fight between the players out too long, I think everyone really enjoyed it. It made me nervous that the players were likely to turn on each other at some point, but I think in a convention game this is much more OK than in a campaign. In fact, I almost think it's a really good idea, if for no other reason than it gets the players playing with each other more and takes some burden off the GM to constantly supply the antagonism.

So there you have it, my simple situational based game with no pre-determined outcome went way better than my minutely planned plot-heavy game. I think for my next experiment, I'll try to write a situational adventure that encourages the players to work together more rather than simply making them fight each other. But I won't rule the latter out. I think that's the real key here, don't think of what the outcome might be, just create a situation that players can quickly dig into and come up with their own outcome.
June 14th, 2009 - 09:22 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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