This is our second guest post by Dr. Nik on running convention games. His first guest post was Convention GMing on the Mind: Linear or Loose?.
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Convention GMs who run rules-light RPGs may opt to do character generation at the table, but most con GMs pre-generate characters for their scenarios. There are several excellent reasons to use pre-gen characters.

Reasons to Use Pre-Gen PCs

For starters, think of character driven board games or multi-character video games. The characters have various skills and abilities that allow them to complete the game successfully. Pre-generated characters will allow you to ensure that the PCs’ skills, abilities and equipment can get the job done (or at least have a reasonable chance of success).

The second biggest reason is efficiency. If an player who isn’t familiar with the system cannot build a character in less than 15 minutes, you should not consider allowing players to make characters at the table. Spending more than 15 minutes on character generation typically does not get you into the action quickly enough.

The following scenario is a good example of a rules light system session where characters are allowed to be generated at the table: The PCs are all campers at a campground when everyone else in the world turns into zombies and begins to attack.

For this simple scenario, you could use a character sheet like this one:







      3 Things you do really well:


      1 Thing you are really bad at:


      1 Positive character trait:


      1 Negative characer trait:


      Two things you never leave home without:


    How you appear to others:

Most of the time, though, you are going to find that pre-generated characters a better option for your convention games. By choosing pre-generated characters, a GM can develop more potent involvement of the characters in the action.

Building Cohesion

You can also set up exciting roleplaying opportunities by developing backgrounds and characters that have reasons to love and hate each other. Characters with backgrounds and beliefs that interact encourage players to develop amazing roleplaying experiences. This can really set your game apart.

Some simple ways to build cohesion amongst the pre-gen PCs are:

  • Blood (relative)
  • Money (employee/bodyguard/assistant)
  • Affiliation (professional/service/oath)
  • Passion (love/hate)

Depending upon the players’ familiarity with the system and the tone of the game, swapping a few skills or pieces of equipment, or fleshing out various things (“Can I have an umbrella and a top hat to round out my dance skill?”) is a good thing to do. It helps the players get into their roles and have more fun with the game.

A note about characters and abilities: Not every character will be central to every moment of the game, but when developing a list of encounters, try to make sure that there is something in the session aimed at every character.

If you are playing a flexible, non-linear game, be sure to target restless or bored characters for involvement in the next encounter. This development of balance is important for helping players get involved and enjoy the convention game.

Casting a Cohesive Beginning: More on Connecting the Party

If you use one or a combination of the suggested four connections mentioned above, you will set up your game scenario for a better start. There should be reasons for the PCs to be taking part in the scenario, and there should be a reason to put them into action quickly.

Here is the game blurb of one of my convention games, “Cult of Tiamat,” a D&D scenario set on Earth in ancient times:

In ancient Mesopotamia, King Sargon’s battle of conquest finally defeated King Lugalzaggisi of Sumeria. The former prince of Ur wishes to ally with Assur. To seal the alliance the Princess Shyani must go to Assur. Since the bounty on your heads for fighting the Akkadians raised, The Prince thinks it best if you leave town and escort the Princess to Assur. You will be well supplied and well rewarded. What adventure awaits as you travel north along the Tigris river?

The PCs were all 9th level characters that had been together for quite a while. They each had a brief character background describing what they had accomplished together and what their roles were in the party.

After the players were familiar with their characters, they were immediately thrown into a formal dinner for the princess as they traveled to Assur. There the princess performed by singing, playing and dancing. They got to interact in-character with a few NPCs, and then they were on the road to action.

With just a little extra effort you can get a very solid group dynamic built from the beginning.

In another game I ran, I focused on creating tension among the 8 players. There were several key themes central to the game. When you choose key themes for your event, you can build a suggested stance into the pre-generated PC backgrounds.

At another convention, I ran a 4-part game. Each session was playable on its own, but there were themes and connections that ran throughout the four games. Since the PCs’ family lines were well developed, intraparty conflicts were built into all of their character backgrounds.

Sources of conflict ranged from religious, racial and gender issues to their attitudes towards violence. By beginning each game with encouragement to roleplay those conflicts without combat actions, the sessions had amazing impact and featured lots of character-related plot development.

Creating a cohesive beginning does not have to be rocket science, and you don’t have to do it alone. Get together with your regular players in a brainstorming session to come up with the characters, backgrounds and connections.

If you’ve used character questionnaires (“Where were you born? Are your parents still alive?”) before, they can be an excellent tool for developing pre-gen PCs. Filling them out for each PC can provide a convention player with a stronger connection to enjoy roleplaying in your game — and that will make sure they come back next year!
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Thanks, Dr. Nik!

Nike knows his stuff, and I hope you enjoyed his post. What tricks have you used to create more interaction between pre-gen characters? Have you ever run a con game without using pre-gens?