Advice for Gamemastering at Conpulsion

So you would like to run a game at Conpulsion Underworld but you are not sure where to start. Hopefully this guide will help you in your quest to run an awesome and stress free convention game which you and your players will remember fondly. To help us we are going to use an example GM called Sam.

Preparation before Conpulsion.

  • Pick a setting and system – Ensure you pick something you are psyched about so that you enjoy preparing it and can pass that enthusiasm on to your players. Do bear in mind that your players may not be familiar with the setting or system though and be prepared for this (more hints later). If it fits with our underworld theme great but don’t worry if it does not.

Sam decides to run a cyberpunk style game set in 2030’s London using GURPS, to fit with the underworld theme Sam decides the players will be tasked with rescuing an executive’s child who has been kidnapped by members of the criminal underworld. Sam names the game “Underworld Child” to shamelessly riff off the year’s theme

  • Write a killer description and ensure you submit your game before the programme deadline on 17/3/16. You don’t have to tell players everything, think of the description as the “trailer for the film”, flavour and a good hook are more important than a blow by blow description. You don’t even necessarily need to have the whole game written before you do this!

Sam writes the description for the game styled as a job advert “Immediate Contract: 6 team members required for urgent corporate personnel retrieval mission. Knowledge of 2030s London including geography, cyberculture and underworld contacts required. The successful team will combine combat, driving and technical skills with excellent squad cohesion and will be appropriately rewarded.”

  • Prepare your scenario ensuring it is an appropriate length – As a rule of thumb each encounter needs 5 minutes minimum per player so with 6 players you can probably only fit 6 major encounters or scenes into a 3 hour game. If they are rules and combat heavy, you may only be able to fit in half as many so beware having too many combat encounters in a convention game. Due to available time most Convention plots have to be quite simple with a clear beginning, middle and end and a well-defined goal.

Sam looks at published scenarios but cannot find any which fit and decides to write one. Sam decides to cater for 6 players with the following scenarios: mission briefing (30 minutes), ambush on the way to London (brief combat – 30 minutes), investigation at victim’s home (30 minutes), chase from suspect’s home (30 minutes), stake out at night club (30 minutes), Final showdown (30 minutes – possible brief combat) for a total run time of 3 hours.

  • No matter whether you are writing a scenario or running a published one, prepare or read it fully and identify a few scenes which can easily be added or removed to ensure you run to time as your players may not be able to stay if your game over-runs. If there is vital plot in a scene work out how you will deliver it if the scene is cut. Ensure you know how you will get the players back on track if they get lost.

Sam has worked out that the local police will catch the suspect if the suspect gets away to keep the party on track so this scene can be cut if needed.

  • Pregenerate character sheets! Convention slots are generally too short to get players to generate characters. Also pregenerating characters allows you to ensure party cohesion by giving characters interpersonal friendships and also ensures that characters have a useful spread of skills and relevant backgrounds and weaknesses. Aim to have a couple more character sheets than players to allow some choice. Keep the sheets gender neutral. Let players choose the names if you like or pick them yourself.

Sam writes up a couple of bodyguards, a couple of investigators, an IT specialist, a drone pilot and a couple of drivers as available characters.

  • Work out a few allies who can aid the players if they are struggling, likewise think where you can add extra adversaries or complications if the party start to breeze through you plot.

Sam decides the main sources of assistance will be the characters not chosen as PCs who will be available in London as friendly NPCs if the players get stuck. Sam also writes up a couple of crooked cops who can complicate relations with local law enforcement if required.

  • Remember that some players may not know the system or background. It is helpful to have the rule books on hand but a one page scenario background primer is also useful. Also be prepared to simplify the system if required, there won’t be time for players to read 250 pages of rules.

Sam decides to write a mission brief that can double as a handout during the first “mission briefing” encounter giving some facts about the scenario and 2030’s London. Sam also decides to run with GURPS lite if it appears most players are unfamiliar with GURPS.

  • Handouts can work wonders at involving you players in the plot providing puzzles and clues to solve and ensuring players have the correct information at their fingertips. Maps, letters, building plans, tickets, photos and props are all good.

Sam decides to include the following handouts, mission briefing, map and building floor plans.

  • Playtesting your game can help check that it will work as expected. This can be especially helpful for less experienced GMs.

Sam playtests the game and finds that the ambush derails players from the main plot. Sam decides to move the ambush so that it occurs in the victim’s home to make it feel more integrated into the plot

  • Make a checklist of everything you will need to run the game and collect it together well before Conpulsion. Also check when and where your game is due to run.

Sam’s checklist includes – GURPS core, GURPS lite, GURPS cyberpunk, character sheets, GMs notes, GMs screen, 21 D6, pencils, a map of London, mission briefings, some building floor plans, a timer to ensure they run to time and a bag to keep it all in.

At Conpulsion

  • Arrive well before your game is de to start, go to the signup desk in the trade hall and check your signup sheet. Make sure you know when and where you will be running your game. If you need some more players don’t be shy of asking people at the signup desk if they would like to play or asking a blueshirt helper to try to drum up a couple of extra players. Ensure you are well fed and watered and have been to the toilet prior to your start time.

Sam goes to the signup desk early on Saturday and confirms that “Underworld Child” is fully booked and scheduled to run at 3pm on Saturday in the Potterow Ground floor hall

  • Collect your players from the sign-up desk a few minutes before play is due to start, don’t worry if they are not there, they may have gone direct to the room you are due to play in. If you need help locating people, ask a blueshirt to help.

At 2.55 Sam collects 4 players from the signup desk and heads for Potterow, asking a blueshirt to find their other 2 players and escort them over to Potterow

  • Remember that you are in charge of your game, set the tone early by asking players to switch phones to silent and put them away, complete name cards and select character sheets. Then set the scene for the scenario including any ground rules you have for the game.

Sam asks people to turn off their phones and hands out character sheets and name labels. Sam checks for familiarity with GURPs and sites 2 players unfamiliar with the system closest to the GM so they can get help with the mechanics of the system. Then Sam gives an overview of the setting and the scenario before launching into the first scene.

  • Engage all the senses in your descriptions to draw people into the game, but remember that your world and the NPCs are not the focus of the action, your players are. Ensure they all get a chance to contribute.

Sam describes the briefing room. The harsh glare of the lights in the conference room where the meeting is held, the whisper of fans and the cool breeze of air conditioning. The smell of cologne from the shaven headed security manager running through the slim threads of information the corp has to go on as he runs his 2D powerpoint presentation, a clear sign of the urgency in the lack of 3D holographic visuals. After saying the manager’s piece, Sam asks each player in turn what questions or suggestions they have for the security manager or the rest of the team.

  • You only have limited time so be sure to keep the players on track, both in and out of character.

Sam notices that players are spending too long on the initial briefing and so abruptly announces that a secretary steps in to the conference room. The group’s transport is ready to leave, other questions will have to wait. Just as the ambush scene begins, one of the players wants to head to bar, Sam asks if they could please wait until after the current scene ends announcing there will be a quick 2 minute break for refreshments at that point.

  • Don’t be afraid to change things on the fly to improve the game, but keep notes so that you can maintain continuity. Listen to your players both in and out of character and watch their body language. Are they engaged? Would they like more combat… or less? Is everyone getting a chance to shine.

The players are struggling with their investigations at the victim’s home so Sam has a couple of police investigators turn up while they are there to impart some clues from the official investigation in return for a healthy bribe. Sam gets the cops to approach the IT specialist who has not had much to do yet to ensure the player stays involved. Sam notes the NPC cops as crooked in case it is relevant later.

  • Most drama in stories comes from conflict, but this does not have to be combat, mix things up a little and vary the pace to keep things interesting.

The investigation at the house has been slow and methodical then Sam announces that a couple of characters notice that there are people watching the house from a car across the street. When the characters go outside to investigate the car screeched away in a squeel of tire smoke, suddenly the tempo rises as the player characters dive into their cars and give chase.

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff, the main thing is that you and your players are having fun. If the players go about things in an unexpected way roll with it. You can always get them back on plot later. If there is an unexpected rules question either make a quick GM ruling or get a player to look it up while you concentrate on keeping the game entertaining.

Having caught the suspects the investigation leads to a nightclub. Sam is expecting this to be a stakeout but the players decide to infiltrate the club. Sam grins, deciding that the club has a range of unusual security features, this could get interesting. Sam decides the IT specialist’s skills can extend to hacking security systems to help the players a little.

  • Make sure you run to time and end on a bang. Players may have events straight after your game. It can be handy to have a timepiece on the table to help with this but if it is a phone switch it to flight mode to prevent distractions.

Sam glances at the time early in the final showdown and notices time is short. Sam says the players can smell smoke, the desperate kidnappers have set the building on fire and are trying to flee in the confusion. The players have just minutes to rescue the child and capture the kidnappers. Will they have time to do both?

  • Don’t be afraid to kill characters in a convention game if they do something dumb. Players are not so invested in the characters and if you wrote up a couple of extra character sheets as suggested you can always get the player back into the game in the next scene.

One of the players announces they are going back into the burning building to find the last couple of henchmen. With time running out Sam suggests that the building looks like it might collapse at any second, why not leave them to their fate. The player states their character runs back into the building anyway so Sam lets them fight a round of combat wounding one of the bad guys before the building collapses killing them both!

  • Once the scenario is finished, wrap up any loose ends and answer any questions the players might have to round off their experience. You may also want to ask for feedback so that your next game can be even better.

The child has been rescued and the kidnappers caught. In the debrief Sam reveals that The ransom was actually 10 times what the characters had been told and that they could have negotiated much better pay. However their reputation as a retrieval team is now cemented and the company will likely have more work for the survivors soon. The feedback from players is very positive, Sam goes home happy with a job well done