Next month I’ll be running several events at GenCon (primarily Victoriana, which is near and dear to my roleplaying heart!). Whenever I run events, I have several goals in mind, including 1) ensuring everyone that plays has a good time, 2) an adventure is completed, 3) the players get the ‘experience’ of playing the game, and 4) I never have to crack open a book at the table.
This last point usually consumes a lot of my prep time. I try to make my character sheets as friendly as possible, putting everything the players need to know on them. I also make a one or two page ‘cheat sheet’ of the main rules so that everyone, including me, can reference them during play.
In an effort to keep things moving I also tend to simplify the rules. I stick to the main mechanic and fudge modifiers as necessary; I pencil whip the ends of combats when the outcome is fairly certain; and I tend to ignore ‘fiddly’ rules that would slow down play.
While I’d say my efforts are largely successful, there is a part of me that wonders if I’m stepping on my Rule 3 in order to accommodate Rule 4. After all, players tend to play games at cons because they are fans of the game or they want to “test run” a game. In either case it’s easy to slip on either player’s shoes to see how my rules-simplification may rub the player the wrong way (in my defense I do mention my simplifications up-front at the session, but I also realize that can still be “too late” for some players).
On the flip side, I’ve heard anecdotes from players about GMs that adhered so strictly to the rules that combats lasted too long or the GM spent much of the event flipping through rule books to ensure that a rule was implemented correctly. Most of these players wished the GM would have made a judgment call and moved on.
I have my con file open as I write this, so this question is very pertinent to me as I focus on the rules. So I ask you this, fair or foul? At what point (if any) would you feel cheated if you signed up for a con game and the GM deviated a bit from the rules?
Bonus Questions: Have you ever felt cheated by a simplification at your table? Have you ever appreciated one? Have there been times when you wished the GM would have simplified the rules at your table? Conversely, did you appreciate when a GM stuck to the rules when most of the players favored simplification?
I have been running the Legend of the Five Rings RPG at GenCon for the last two years (and again this year). For my introductory scenarios, my goals match yours, keep it clean and simple, have fun and complete the adventure. Teaching the core mechanics, without getting bogged town in narrow rules questions, and having fun is the purpose of an introductory game.
As a player, I want a taste of a new system, how it works in general. A good overview of the setting and what the system does well should be showcased at a convention.
Some of this is player dependent. Some folks really focus on the rules. If you are running a game they are familiar with, they may call you on some rules fudging. You may want to just state up front that you are trying to provide a fun game in the time provided, so you may have to make some calls as you GM.
However, I think this is a small subset of players. Most players I’ve had at con games really appreciate when you complete the adventure. They like that sense of closure for their four hour time commitment.
In fact, Walt, I’d rather run a little lighter and faster every week anyway. An acquaintance just told me about a THREE HOUR combat using the Star Wars Saga rules. If you have to fudge a bit to avoid that at a con, you are doing your players a favor.
I would have to say I like your Con style. When playing at a Con I much prefer a faster, smoother and well flowing game in which the party accomplishes (or dies trying) a mission of some sort over playing RAW. If I haven’t played the game and the GM is competent, I’ll never know the rule is missing/altered. I do appreciate the GM telling me such things as “the full rules are more detailed” or some such just to clue me in, but I don’t mind one bit that in our limited time we just have fun and keep the core game intact.
If I see “no experience needed” in the Con program for said game, I almost expect there to be some simplifications, as most games are not going to be mastered in 4 hours if you have no experience with them. Trying to grasp every nuance of said game will only bog down the action and take away from the fun, in my opinion.
I do tend to do the same at my own table though, so perhaps I am biased. As our gaming group is only able to play once a month at best, half my players don’t have the time or commitment to learning all the “fiddly” rules. As a result, if those rules come up I will usually simplify and move on. We don’t let the rules get in the way of fun.
I have yet to experience a GM at a Con who insists on sticking full bore to the rule book, but I have only been doing Cons for two years now and have limited experience. I think it comes back to player experience with the game. Players new to the game won’t be stuck on simplified rules if the GM is prepared and keeps the game flowing. Players experienced with the game will have their own set of house rules (I have yet to play in a gaming group that did not) that they normally play by, so a simplified set of rules probably makes it more harmonious when you start mixing players from different gaming circles.
In summary, I am looking for the same thing at a Con game that Knight is, “a taste of a new system, how it works in general. A good overview of the setting and what the system does well..” If I have fun and want more detail I will chat with you after the game of do more heavy lifting when I get home.
When I am joining a game on a convention I know there is not a lot of time, and I expect the game master to take some shortcuts, for example play with pregenerated characters and leaving out the more complex rules.
What I want is getting an idea what the new system or setting ist like. And of course I want to have fun. For that I don’t need a full set of rules.
Gaming conventions should list “Experience Required.” If you’re keen on running a more complex game closer to RAW, set it at “Expert” or whatever your convention calls it. And players wanting that experience can look for such games. If you’d like to welcome new players to a more complex game, yeah, make compromises to get a good, representative game in.
All that said, even in an “Expert” game, a fast GM ruling is usually better than digging out the rules to check. Make your time count!
To an extent, be sure to plan for what is realistic in a con slot. A “4 hour” slot is often really only 3 and half hours when you account for late arrivals, a quick restroom break, and ending early enough for people to get to their next game. Run a local playtest if you can, and remember that your friends are probably going to move more quickly than a table of strangers. Cheat sheets can help. Prepare references for things likely to come up during play, maybe print out a sheet with the full text for all of the spells the PCs or NPCs have, or at least use Post-it notes to mark those pages in the book.
All good points, Alan!
The only areas where I’d differ, based on my con GMing:
1. Factor in an extra half hour gone if you have to teach the rules.
2. In my experience, playtests with friends tend to run longer because of the camaraderie. Six strangers tend to rely on the GM for more guidance. I’d say if you’re running a 4-hour playtest and it takes 4 hours with your friends, then you’ll definitely hit that 3.5 sweet spot with 6 strangers.
Simplifying the rules is fair for any game setting. That’s especially true for a con where 1) you’re trying to tell a complete story within a short timeframe, 2) you generally have at least some players who aren’t familiar with the crunchier rules of the system, and 3) your players are looking to have fun immediately with your game rather than invest hours in figuring out complex rules or rule optimizations that are beneficial primarily over the long haul. Just be clear at the outset– including in your game blurb in the program– that you’re simplifying some rules.
Like RonG and Blackjack, I’d prefer a simplified but complete adventure that fits in the time alotted. I also appreciate the idea of mentioning, “In the full rules, you have more options to use and keep track of in chases; we used a simple test for time.” Though, again, limited time means that if your “full rules are more complicated here” descriptions get cut for time, I’d understand.
As long as the game I played it was fun and we got to finish the adventure I wouldn’t feel cheated at all if the GM had to deviate from the rules in order to fit the adventure into the allotted time slot.
There were many times way back in the day when playing D&D 3.5 and Rifts, (Especially Rifts!)that I deeply wished the Gm would deviate from the rules enough to keep combat from dragging on even longer. (90 mins for a single combat encounter in Rifts was pushing the tolerance limit.)
The rules help add structure, but when they get int eh way of the story, or slow down the pacing of the adventure to a crawl, changing them generally makes everyone much happier.
Generally Fair, but some parts are more fair than others. Ending combats when they’re essentially decided is an EXCELLENT tactic (that, frankly, should be used in most games most of the time). Making judgements without looking things up is also good. Deliberately “stripping down” rules wanders into more of a grey area, where some folks may appreciate it and others may not.
My suggestions are the following:
A) Design your pregens to keep it simple. If I’m running Tenra Bansho Zero, the “build your own shikigami” style of casting does not appear in any character sheets, because it’s complicated to use during play. Restrict your wizard spell lists or your combat maneuvers or whatever to the straightforward ones.
B) Excise rules rather than “dumbing them down”; “There is no spontaneous casting in this game.” or whatever the needlessly complex rule is. I think playing with “only some of the rules” ‘feels’ more true to the game than changing them. Everything is relative though.
C) Announce rules excisions at the start. Sounds like you’re already trying to do this.
I prefer ‘fast and loose,’ even if I’m there to test drive the ruleset. Why?
The flavor of the game will come through. I don’t need the minutiae of a complex subset of the rules in order to see what the basics look like.
If you can run a good game with a bit of blurring the lines, then so can I.
Caveat: Running a game for someone else, or for “living” campaigns might require more rules-fidelity.