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Old School Con Games
BJ's Halloween game represents only the second data point for me of one-shot old school style games. His game was I think even more steeped in the traditional old school style than my own, with no forced background elements of any kind for the players and a pretty pure sandbox layout to the adventure. I was impressed at how well our party still managed to come together, and extremely charmed by the climax of facing off against my rival. On the other hand, as pointed out previously, the game did suffer slightly from a pacing issue, having he climax arrive slightly too late when the energy of the players was flagging and thus cutting the game short.

Last night I re-read Jeff Wilcox's article Running a Great Con Game from Fight On! magazine, issue 3. He makes a couple points that I think ring quite true based on my still limited experiences:

...the second tradition must be ignored: the role-played 'meeting' of the characters. Nothing wastes more time than having the characters try to justify why they are hanging out with folks they would never actually hang out with.

This is where my own game flagged. My game started with the players arriving in town for various reasons, and discovering that one character's sister had gone missing. I also had a few other leads for other characters, but this was the strongest and most likely to be pursued. The players decided to pursue it, but the game was slowed by the players trying to find a reason to involve the other players in this who had more tennuous connections to the plot line.

On the other hand, BJ began simply with 'you all have been traveling together for some time after being forcibly ejected from the last town you were in, it is late at night and you are on the road, when you see a light emanating from a nearby hunting lodge.' Yes, there were other entry points to the adventure other than the hunting lodge (a graveyard and spooky castle were also nearby), so we didn't feel railroaded into examining the lodge. That was our choice. However, we never questioned why we were together, and in fact the vague reference to being kicked out of the last town was a nice element for us to latch onto if we wanted to come up with our own explanations. Brilliant.

Jeff Wilcox actually advises that you get the players into a first encounter quickly to get the group to gel. I think BJ absolutely did that, as it wasn't very long before we were battling werewolves in the hunting lodge. My own adventure lacked that, starting with a good amount of investigation.

The raw time-vs.-game-events calculation is easy: Prepare 3 major events for a 4-hour con game. Prepare 4 major events for a 6-hour con game. Prepare 6 major events for an 8-hour con game. An additional event should be on hand in case you get a fast group. You should be prepared to skip one of the major events with a group [that] is slower than expected.

On it's own, this quote can sound a bit railroaded and less sandboxy, but I think the nugget of it is correct. Both BJ and my games were 4 hours long. In mine, there were three major events (negotiation with the slavers, facing off against the slavers in their den, and raiding the necromancer's tower). In BJ's, there was the fight with the werewolves, raiding the spectre's tomb, and facing off against Morgus. Both games had some other minor encounters along the way, but each has three major tent-poles around which the rest of the game is draped. Planning around this kind of flow probably isn't a terrible idea.

So to wrap this up, here are my thoughts on what I will likely do to plan my next con game (probably HelgaCon, though perhaps sooner):

First, narrate quickly why the group is together and get them into an encounter as quickly as possible. Start with a bang and a situation that forces the party to quickly gel.

Second, fill out the area sandbox style with a large number of things. Try as best I can to make sure that initial encounter can lead in many different directions. By creating more content than can actually be used, the party should feel empowered to take the adventure where they want. Also, this should give me my 'extra event' should the party somehow tear through stuff very quickly.

Finally, watch carefully for what becomes the second major event, and be as prepared as possible to interpret the third event (with the second for context) into some kind of climax. This is probably the hardest part, as it requires creating content detailed enough to run but vague enough to be able to reinterpret during play. I think BJ did this very well when he turned a simple encounter of another adventuring party into our rivals, and even tied it in with the previous event in that they were searching for the treasure we had just missed.

Man, I've been struggling for a while now trying to come up with something to build an old school adventure for HelgaCon around. This may be exactly what I needed to get the old imagination sparked up again.
November 2nd, 2009 - 06:48 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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