All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
I spent more than 3 years making a project that went nowhere. Today I'm cancelling it, and I'm the happiest I've ever been. - by Dan Aronas
This week's highlights include an overview of a very odd old Mac game, Keita Takahashi on making games in tough times, and a close look at Life Is Strange 2. ...
The more conventions I attend the harder it is to decide how to allocate my limited time among the many amazing people that I want to play with and exciting games I want to try. I typically sign up for convention games months in advance, and I tend to forget what I signed up for until I pick up my tickets. However, each one had something special in the description that put it on the top of my list.
At its core, the art of writing a convention game description is all about establishing expectations. They say brevity is the soul of wit, but it is also a necessity when it comes to writing convention descriptions where the word (or even character) count is extremely limited.Why it Matters
Convention descriptions are less about the setting, rules system, or story that will be told and more about getting the right players to your table. Convention descriptions are less about the setting, rules system, or story that will be told and more about getting the right players to your table. If you have players show up who are a good stylistic fit to the kind of game you run, it will be less work as a facilitator, and everyone is more likely to have a fun experience.
For example; I love the Warhammer 40,000 setting, but there are lots of games one can play in 40k. I gravitate towards intense political intrigue games filled with treachery and social manipulation. Other people may gravitate towards playing a game rooted in tactical combat. Those and other options are available in a Warhammer 40,000 game, hence a convention game description focusing simply on the setting or rules system is not inherently descriptive of the style of play. That’s why writing a convention description is so important.Keywords
One of the easiest and quickest ways to convey the expectation and tone of the game is through keywords, key phrases, or tags in the description. While I typically begin the convention description with 1-2 sentences that are descriptive of the goal or mission the characters will undertake, the keywords are the meat of the convention description.
I use keywords to convey not only the type of game I want to run, but also the style of players I think will thrive in a session I am running. The trick to an exceptional convention game is not about having the best plot, it is about having players that will respond to and embrace the experience the session provides. In short, the purpose of the convention description it to attract people who will have the most enjoyment, satisfaction, and fun during the game session.
Here are some examples of keywords and phrases that I have used.
- The core experience: Roleplay heavy, rules light. Tactical combat. Puzzle game. Learn to play.
- Tone of the game: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Pulp Adventure, Sci Fi, Four Color Superheroes, Space Opera.
- System and Setting: Warhammer 40,000 RPG Wrath & Glory/Dark Imperium, Savage Worlds Deluxe/Deadlands Noir, AD&D 2nd Edition/Dragonlance, Gumshoe/Harlem Unbound etc.
- Player familiarity: Rules taught/characters provided, beginners welcome. System experience preferred. System expertise required.
- Maturity of the players: All ages welcome, teen 13+, mature players 18+
- Important callouts: Play with the designer! Role Playing or creative writing experience preferred. Organized play/bring a character level 4-6. Emotionally intense/heavy subject matter.
It is most important to relay the core experience, but after that prioritize the keyword categories that are most descriptive of what you are trying to communicate. Skip any categories that aren’t useful to you or your specific game event.
For example, if your game is like Whose Line Is It Anyway where everything is made up and the points don’t matter, it may not be meaningful to spend your valuable word count on describing the rules system or setting. Ask yourself what kind of signals your are sending when you highlight certain features of your game and who will focus on those signals. If the game session uses a popular rules system like Pathfinder but your game won’t be the typical Pathfinder experience I don’t think it is helpful to call out the system. There are people who are going to see that system and sign up immediately regardless of what else the description might say, and that does not set the player or the GM up for success.Establishing Appropriate Expectations
For me, the mark of a good convention game is much like an end of year review; did the game meet or exceed my expectations? Perhaps it’s my analytical nature, but a significant amount of my “fun” relates to whether or not the game facilitator clearly defined what the game’s core experience will be and whether or not they deliver on that promise.
I think this is true of nearly every form of entertainment and media. When a movie trailer sets my expectations, they have set the bar they must overcome for me to fully enjoy it. When advertisements or word of mouth recommendations oversell or misalign my expectations to what the core experience is, I often feel dissatisfied. When a facilitator sets expectations and delivers on them the players are more likely to feel the “payoff” when the story arc is completed. (Give the people what they want!)The Bait and Switch
A convention description is a promise to the players about the experience they are buying. Players have allocated their very limited time to play in a game as advertised. Always deliver on what was promised. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailHere’s a story; years ago a friend signed up for a convention game based on a description because they were a huge fan of the specific pop culture setting that was referenced. That description generated interest and excitement from people in that fandom who registered for the game. However, just minutes into the game the GM revealed an unexpected twist: they cleverly plucked the game from the advertised setting and dropped it into a completely unrelated setting. Even the overarching tone was different jumping from Exploration Sci Fi to Epic High Fantasy.
Don’t do this.
A convention description is a promise to the players about the experience they are buying (reminder: conventions aren’t free). Players have allocated their very limited time to play in a game as advertised. Especially when referencing a specific intellectual property setting or world, know that you will likely attract fans of that setting and they expect you to deliver. If a player starts out disappointed the GM is going to have a much harder time keeping engaged and having fun. If the game you intend to “switch” to is so good, then use that as the advertised game! Simple.Introduction at the Event
This is your opportunity to remind players exactly what they signed up for. When the event starts, give an introduction that re-establishes the goal for the session. There are only a few hours to play, so aligning the group’s expectations up front will make the event run more smoothly.
First, I give a brief description wherein I may even read the convention description blurb to the players verbatim. I’ll include the system, the tone, content warnings, and review the safety tools we’ll use in the session.
Additionally, I set the players expectations about the purpose of the game. When I run a Protocol RPG I tell my players that we’re here to have fun and collaboratively tell a story. I specifically call out that there are no dice, no stats, and that “Winning is telling a great story.” In these games I facilitate the rules, but the system is there to support the core experience: the story.
This is in contrast to my purpose while running Wrath & Glory at conventions this summer. I want everyone to have a fun and satisfying roleplaying experience, but as a game designer and GM the story is there to support the core experience: learning the system. Since Wrath & Glory is brand new, my goal is to showcase the game system and teach the players the rules. Hence, my introduction focuses on setting a time expectation for learning the rules before we get into roleplaying.
These are two very different goals. By reiterating the core experience to the players up front I’m setting myself up for success. Since these goals tie back to the convention description this should seem familiar to the players and should help them to remember that this is the experience they signed up for.Final Thoughts
When certain features are important to the game experience prioritize and highlight those in the convention description. Make it clear what the core experience of the game is and it will help to attract the players who will enjoy your game the most. Finally, follow it up during the introduction to the session to ensure you are setting the players expectations about the experience they signed up for.
What features are most important to you when writing or reading convention game descriptions? Do you have any other helpful tools for creating convention descriptions? What are other pitfalls you have encountered?
Aurican's Lair's "The Great Big Random d100 Table of Interesting NPC's (5e)" isn't exactly random, and can be used for more than D and D. The free supplement is a table of 100 NPCs. Each NPC has the expected description and stats, but also a relevant *plot hook* and carried equipment, as well as a link to a picture of the NPC. (I haven't checked if all the pictures work.) Entries were made by individual redditors. Most of the NPCs are better in villages and urban environments, rather than as adventurers on the road.
Facebook has learned of a security vulnerability that has opened up millions of its users to account theft over the past year, though the company notes it is still investigating any impact the exploit has had to date. ...
Mix tapes, horror movies on VHS, magnetrine ships, and robots; it must be time to talk more about Tales From the Loop. You are totally right. So, get some fresh batteries for your Walkman, grab your Members Only jacket and let’s talk about the Tales from the Loop adventure supplement: Our Friends The Machines & Other Mysteries.Previously On Phil Reviews Things…
Back in May, I did a review for Tales from the Loop, where I spent some time gushing about how much I enjoyed the game, and how I liked using their published material. So when I had the chance to play some of the material from Our Friends The Machines & Other Mysteries, I could not resist.Disclaimer
I was provided a copy of Our Friends The Machines & Other Mysteries from the publisher.Claimer (it totally is a word now)
I ran some of the content from this book in my Tales From the Loop campaign. My review will lean more heavily on the things I ran because I have more experience with those.
So let’s get on with the review…The Big Mysteries
The book starts with three full-sized adventures that are on par in size with the adventures that were included in the Tales From The Loop book. This means that they have a fully developed mystery, a scene map that outlines the flow of the adventure, and a showdown which brings the adventure to a conclusion. These adventures will easily fill a session or more, depending on the pace at which you run your games.
I ran one of these, the adventure that shares the name from the book…Our Friends the Machines
Spoiler: They are Transformers!
Thinly veiled Transformers. But trust me you won’t care.
This is the mystery you have wanted since you were a kid — an adventure about toy robots that are self-aware and being controlled by a pair of AI’s. There are two warring factions: the Convoy and the Deceivers. The kids get wrapped up in the middle of this war, as they try to solve the mystery and figure out how to save the day.This mystery plays upon every kid’s fantasy of their Transformers coming to life, mixed with the weirdness you love about Tales From the Loop. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
This mystery plays upon every kid’s fantasy of their Transformers coming to life, mixed with the weirdness you love about Tales From the Loop. The plot drives towards an abandoned factory full of danger that eventually leads to the final showdown. The adventure is open-ended, in that there is not a single way for the adventure to end. The GM will need to do a bit of work in-game to convey some options for the players of how the adventure can end, otherwise there can be some analysis paralysis. The nice part is that the ending is designed for a solution that can be violent or not. I appreciated this option in the game, since my own campaign was one with a low level of violence, and more about problem solving.
My players loved this adventure and the nostalgia it invoked. In terms of running this mystery, I found this one had a lot going on with the plot and subplots. I actually cut this adventure down a bit, and customized it to my gaming group. My story was more focused on the kids helping the Convoy work to defeat the Deceivers. That was easily done with the material provided.Mixtape of Mysteries
The next section of the book is a series of small mystery plots (8 in total) that are all based on 80’s songs. Again, the authors totally get where this game fits, and there is a cool blend of nostalgia mixed with the weirdness of the Loop. These plots run the range from fitting closely to the other Tales mysteries to being much darker. In fact, I found a few of these to be too dark for use in my campaign, which tended to be a bit more innocent.
These plots are not fully formed adventures. They have a plot, some hooks to get the game going, and a countdown of bad stuff that is going to happen. You will have to do a little prep on these, especially if you are working them into an existing campaign. Based on the size of the plots, these are good for single-session adventures.
I prepped the Nightrain mystery; a mystery about a Pied Piper kind of character who has a weird amplifier for his guitar that lures children who come from troubled families. Prepping the plot was pretty easy. I used the mystery templates and techniques that were in the Tales From the Loop core book.Machine Blueprints
The next section contains some blueprints for some of the iconic machines in the Loop. These are also complemented with additional illustrations from Stalenhag’s work. Each one of these comes with a description about the machine and a few suggested mysteries. That last part is what makes this section great; more plot material.
What I really liked about the blueprints is the nostalgic call back to two things I loved from the 80’s: the Knight Rider blueprints, detailing KITT, and the blueprints included with all the GI Joe vehicles. I was a collector of all of those, and having just a few of these included in the book was a nice touch.Hometown Hack
The last section is one that I think a lot of people were hoping to see. It is a set of guidelines for how to create the Loop in your hometown. Remember that in Tales From The Loop there is the default Swedish setting and an alternative Nevada setting. This chapter allows you to take all the tropes that are key to the Loop setting and overlay them onto the town of your choosing, like your hometown.
The chapter takes you through, step by step, how to make this happen, and uses an example to illustrate each section, including a map for a British setting. The sections do a good job of ensuring that all the tropes you will need for making a new Loop town that will work with the other published material will be included.
I did not make my own town. We are using the Swedish setting for our game. But I have thought of doing one for a 1980’s Buffalo, NY (where I live now).Be Kind Rewind
Our Friends The Machines & Other Mysteries is a solid adventure book for Tales From The Loop. It provides you a large number of mysteries in various levels of detail from the fully written adventures in the front of the book, the summarized mysteries in the Mixtape section, to the mystery seeds in the Blueprints section. You won’t be lacking for something to do in your game.
In addition, the book continues to build upon the setting material of the game. The machine blueprints, more Stalenhag artwork, and deconstruction of how the setting works all build toward making the Loop a richer location.
If you are running Tales from the Loop either in one-shots or campaigns, this book is a good resource and worth having in your library.
Sony routinely ends online support forÂ older or oft-played PlayStation games, with several PlayStation 3, Vita, and even some PlayStation 4 games getting the ax over the past several years. ...