Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Running A Demo

I've had some editing dumped on me, so this week's post is a bit short.

A few weeks ago, I was teaching Dungeon Twister at SCARAB when Geoff paused by the table. He saw a move that was clearly better than the one I had chosen to take, and ask why I hadn't done it.

"First of all," I said, "I'm three actions away from winning the game - if I want to. But I don't want to, because then this gentleman" - and here I gestured to my opponent - "won't get the full experience of the game."

I've spoken before about teaching people to play games. As I've said: I don't necessarily believe in the "Let The Wookiee Win" philosophy of teaching. At the same time, you need to make sure that your opponent plays a full game so they can get the full feel of it.

Dungeon Twister is an excellent example of this - a good learning game will include all four of the basic character actions (revealing, moving, rotating, and combat), and ideally will show off a few of the more advanced bits (group combat, for example).  If I beat you five minutes in, you won't get an idea of how the game feels in play, and you won't be able to make an educated decision about the game.

It's okay if the game teacher wins.

Roleplaying games, however, are different. Most roleplaying games don't have a single winner. There are a few exceptions, but not many.  RPG demos are also structured differently - when I'm running a board game demo, I'll try to get two (or more) players to face one another. For an RPG demo, you need a gamemaster who is familiar with the game (and who has a scenario available for play).

A good demo scenario for an RPG covers the key parts of the system in play.  It'll show off the skill system and the part of the system used for combat and damage. The (pre-generated) characters should show off the types of characters available - they should also have the skills necessary to complete the adventure provided.

A small handout with a summary of mechanical options (in addition to the character sheet) would not be a bad idea, but it should be AT THE MOST half a page.  If you can fit it onto a 3x5 card, so much the better.

The adventure itself should be pretty straightforward.  Item retrieval is among the best choices.  There's a good reason early RPG design was filled with dungeon crawls. Deep games of political intrigue will not often work well in a demo environment.

You also need to learn to read your players quickly and be able to improvise on the fly. Even though players at a convention will be less likely to wander off in totally random directions, they will still pursue false leads and miss critical clues. Just like your group back home.

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