Greetings from the rocking chair of the Gnome retirement home!

I know that it’s been less than a month since I’ve officially retired, but I thought that my birthday (my 44th! Where does the time go?) would be a great time to make good on my promise to occasionally contribute.

Last month I had the pleasure of being a guest at the (Re)Generation Who convention for my work on the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. Part of my duties involved running games in the game room and I’d brought along a couple of adventures that were designed to be run at conventions.

I quickly discovered that my adventures were designed to be played at gaming conventions and thus were ill-suited for a Doctor Who convention, where players are looking to kill an hour, not three or four. If I couldn’t give them a complete gaming experience in an hour, then they weren’t interested; they didn’t come to a Doctor Who convention to spend 4 hours in the game room! What they were looking for was more akin to a “demo.”

Pondering this made me think about my home games and how I pitched new games. Normally this involved talking to them about the game and following it up with a “pilot” that lasted one or two sessions, with an additional character generation session before or after the pilot. That’s a lot of time investment for a game that the group may ultimately decide not to play.

It occurred to me that it might be more effective to give my players a quick pitch followed by a one hour ‘demo’ of the game. This demo would serve the same function as a pilot – giving my players a taste of the setting/tone and how a typical scene/encounter would be run – without having them play through a whole adventure (it also doesn’t saddle them with characters that they aren’t invested in). This way, if the players enjoy themselves and want to continue, we could spend the rest of the same session making characters for the real campaign (or, if it was a bust, doing something else).

For this to work keep the following points in mind:

  • The pregenerated characters for the demo should reflect your preferences for the party composition in a campaign based on the number of players you have at the table. For example, if you have three players in a typical fantasy game and you present a cleric/priest, rogue/thief, and wizard as pregens, then you’re projecting that fighter/warrior types aren’t necessary. Similarly, if your cyberpunk game has an NPC decker/hacker, then you’re telling the players that computer hacking is something that’s going to be handled off-camera. If, on the other hand, your pregen selection is not important, then offer your players more choices to reflect that (i.e. “sure, I can work decking/hacking stuff into the campaign, but if no one wants to play one then we’ll handle it with an NPC).
  • The demo should be a resolvable mini-plot within the scope of a larger adventure. This mini-plot should be typical of the kinds of plots the players could reasonably expect in the regular campaign. A possible scenario for an espionage game that involves lots of social interaction could be trying to intercept a courier at a social ball held by a master villain. On the other hand, if you expect your players to play rough-and-ready cargo-haulers in space, run them through a gauntlet in a pirate-infested asteroid belt.
  • Make sure the mini-plot highlights any unique or interesting rules in the setting. If your fantasy campaign takes a horrific approach to magic, then that should be evident in the demo. If your espionage game has an intricate subsystem for social interaction, then the players should be using it while at the aforementioned ball (in other words, don’t hand wave important rules during the demo if you’re going to enforce them on the characters in campaign). The reverse is also true; if you’re neglecting certain rules in the demo, then the players should expect those rules to be hand waved or downplayed in the actual campaign.

While I’ve only used this approach so far when introducing new people into the hobby, I think this approach might work well with even seasoned groups. Have any of you tried this approach in your home games? Is an hour enough or do you really need to run longer pilot/demos?

Well, that’s all for now! If you’ll excuse me, I need to ease myself out of this rocking chair to go shout at some kobolds to get off my lawn!