Advice on prepping for a convention game

My game Thornwood: School of Magics got accepted into the PAX Australia Collaboratory which is a cool initiative where they provide a space and some advertisement for playtesting your in development games and give you a couple of 3 day passes to the convention for the trouble.

So now I'm thinking about how best to present my game in a convention type environment. I've got two lots of four hours to run the game, and ideally i'd run two 2 hour sessions each day.

I know some general advice, but I feel like some of it conflicts a bit with my game. For example having premade characters for the players is often the way to go, but part of my character creation process is a way for the players to express what sorts of play they are interested in and what struggles they'd like their characters to face. I find this usually gives me a lot to latch onto when I'm running the game, and its a great way to get consent ahead of time for things that come up in the game. I'm thinking I might prep most of the characters beforehand (its a very simple process anyway) but still leave room for one or two of those choices.

Another thing I'm worried about is how on rails to make it. The game is designed to be a bit of a sandbox where you get to live out life at a magical school and learn spells / make friends etc. with an extended mystery running in the background that comes to a climax near the end of a school year if not solved before then. This kind of longterm sandboxy play might not be the best way to present the game? On the other hand, giving people a taste of the possibilities and making it kind of a taste test session rather than a full scenario with a beginning middle and end might be exciting and tantalising (I've run a few sessions that were like this and they went pretty well, nothing completely wild happened, there certainly wasn't a beginning middle and end, but there were lots of fun vignettes and the players really drove the experience with their choices)

Should I try to present a short contained mystery perhaps? I could probably make that work within the confines of the game. Or should I make the game essentially a teaser, playing the game how it would be played normally and showing how it works and how fun it can be without trying to make it one contained experience.

Am I just getting caught up in thinking my game is Super Special(tm) and need to just take the conventional (haha) convention game advice on board?

Do you have any advice for me for running a convention game? Especially one that might not be suited to a traditional oneshot experience?

P.S. Feel free to reach out if you're heading to PAX Aus as well!


  • I think it can be simpler if you decide what your primary goal between playtesting and advertising is.
    For the first, ask yourself what parts of the game needs more feedback and go with it.
    For the second, revert your approach and go with the most iconic and well-rounded parts.

    As for general advice:
    - Prefilled characters templates are a good idea if you can still give to your players plenty of choices. They are also good at showing your game without any verbal explanation.
    - If you are in doubt, ask your players witch part they want to try.
    - Make a 15-minute break in the middle of the slot and announce it before start playing, it can help your players focus on the game.

    Good luck for your demos!
  • Thank you! That's some good practical advice. Asking the players is something obvious and really helpful that I didn't think of because I was so focused on what I needed to do. I think I'll prep some different situations and ask the players whether they'd like to just jump into some action or play from the start of the school year like they would in a normal game.

    Good point about deciding on the primary goal too.
  • Is your vision for the complete game something which works well in 2hr slots? If so, this is the time you test whatever "speed run" adjustments are needed, but....

    ...if you aren't there yet - if there are substantial parts of the game you still need/want to test out with convention-goers - perhaps consider spending the full 4 hours with a single group, instead, and run them through the "full" experience?
  • My only worry with that is that it might be difficult finding people to commit to 4 hours in the middle of a big con like this? Not sure. In terms of playtesting, 4 hours would probably be more useful to me because the within scene mechanics that would be the focus of a "speed run" type game I'm already pretty happy with and know how they work. The game can also work in 2 hours while following the normal structure of play, but you won't have a full arc start middle and end all resolved it'll be more like an introduction and taste of what the game is like.
  • My only worry with that is that it might be difficult finding people to commit to 4 hours in the middle of a big con like this?
    Sure, that's a factor to consider. I have no idea how likely that is in your country/convention culture. Is there any sort of advance sign-up involved? Then you could plan for a 4hr slot as your plan A, but have a deadline (1 week before the convention, say) when - if not booked full yet - you jettison that for plan B which is breaking the session into 2 short ones (more casual-player friendly) and try to hook in passersby.
  • Unfortunately there is no advanced sign up, I've had a few people express interest already just to me personally after I posted about it on twitter so I've got at least one game but I already told them it would be 2 hours. Maybe on the second day I'll try to rope people into a 4 hour game.
  • Set up a game that's the very last session of a campaign. That is, all the beginning and middle have already happened, and you tell people that in the background exposition. Then play through the exciting climax.
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