Some Un-Conventional Advice

Based on decades of professional game demo experience, and grad school teacher training, I would say that the best way to kill role-play enthusiasm for new players at a convention event is (a) pre-gen characters and; (b) rules info dump up front. Saddle players with those at the same time they’re supposed to be engaging with the unfolding story, and you’ve made role-play a chore.

Look, I get it. In most game systems pre-gen characters are a necessity, because there are so few hours in a convention demo slot. Which is why as a player myself, I quit going to those sorts of slots.

Conversely, the best way to engage players in a new RPG is:

  1. Let them create their own characters;
  2. Role-play until the first needed dice roll;
  3. Explain how dice work for actions;
  4. Role-play with that knowledge until combat breaks out;
  5. Explain how actions work in combat;
  6. Role-play to the adventure’s conclusion;
  7. Give players a memento of the session—the character they just created, to dream about playing its future adventures.

This is why D6xD6 and Bookmark HP RPG bookmark and biz card character sheets exist. First, to emphasize just how quickly and concisely you can design a character, and second, to fit the unique character you designed in your wallet or a book. I’ve seen countless 8½ x 11 inch character sheets in convention trash cans because they start to bulk out folders, or spill from the backs of books. (Even the D13 RPG is designed for generating characters quickly at the table.)

Running convention events, I’ve seen this approach succeed repeatedly, virtually inevitably. Some free advice from an old hand who just likes to see people succeed and have fun.

3 thoughts on “Some Un-Conventional Advice

  • May 30, 2022 at 2:11 pm


    Pre-Gen PCs are a necessary evil at conventions. I don’t think anyone would do the extreme as per Of Dice & Men, in which the author was thrilled to get to play with Ernie Gygax yet 90 minutes were pissed away making characters in the tiny 3.5 hour window. In a new game, you want to give the general idea via the tropes. In a convention game with a pre-determined scenario, often from something licensed, Pre-Gens are the best to go. I recently played a Savage Worlds situation with us being the Mystery Men from the underrated 1999 movie. I once went to a game with people making/bringing their own. UGH! It sucked since a couple players cheated.

  • May 25, 2022 at 12:25 am

    Thanks, Mike. I’ve added the term “brand-new players” in the first sentence, to emphasize that I’m talking about introducing players to game rules they’re not already familiar with.

    For old hands at an event with deep rules, pre-gen characters makes the most sense. And for people comfortable with getting a “rules dump” at the beginning, awesome! In effect, they’ve probably already seen so many iterations of role-playing rules that picking up a new set is no big deal. In other words, they already have a conceptual framework on which to hang new specifics.

    I appreciate your comment. It’s helping to refine my thinking on the subject.

  • May 24, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    This makes complete sense to me.

    I think certain personality types glory in complex rules for games like this. I’m one of them, I have fun reading all of the nitty gritty details in the rules from Shadowrun, Hackmaster, HARP, and so forth. So I wouldn’t mind a game with pre-gen characters and a rule dump.

    But I think people like me make up a small portion of people who play RPGs. I think we make up an even smaller portion of the people who might play RPGs, and complex rules with steep learning curves keep a lot of potential players out of the hobby.

    I’m a horrific storyteller. On the rare occasion I’ve gotten my wife and kids to game with me, we were using games with rules that could fit on two pages, printed. If I ever try again, I think I’ll use D6xD6 Dungeons.

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