Tips for running one-shot and convention RPGs

So you're running a game at a con, or at the local store, or for a G+ hangout.  It's only going to be one session, and at least some of the people may not have played (or even heard of) the system before.  What can you do to make the game run more smoothly and be more fun and satisfying for the players?  Here are some good ideas:

Sell the game - don't assume everyone knows what the game is about. Give people the elevator pitch at the beginning, so they know why they should be interested.  (An elevator pitch is a sales pitch that can be delivered on an elevator ride down to the first floor of a decent-sized office building; half a minute or so.)  Also give them an idea of what they'll be expected to do as players.  For example, if you're playing Monsterhearts, tell them that they're teenage monsters in high school, that they're going to be horrible to each other, that they're going to have sex with each other, and that they should aim themselves at each other's characters as aggressively as possible.

Start with character concepts - tell the players the types of characters they'll need to create and walk them through the process.  Focus on themes and archetypes instead of rules or mechanics.  For example, InSpectres says to create "normal people" who used to do other jobs before they became monster hunters.  If a game has playbooks, point them to the one- or two-paragraph summaries of each to see which speaks to them.  In most of the Apocalypse Engine games these are on the playbooks themselves, so it's easy; in Dungeon World there are about four pages of one-paragraph blurbs on each class early in the book.

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The engineering vs. the sales mindset, or "how to avoid impostor syndrome"

One time at a place I worked our CEO brought together all of the software developers and gave us a presentation to help us better understand the other side of the business.

"Engineers," he said, "care about the truth.  Engineers want to know their product is perfect; they want to know it's better than the competition's; that it's bug-free and feature-rich.  Engineers are perfectionists - they're willing to put in extra hours to fix a bug that only they know about and that will never affect a customer, or to complete a feature that will never actually land us a sale.

"Salespeople," he continued, "don't give a damn about the truth.  Don't get me wrong - they don't want to lie. Lying to customers is bad for business. It's just that facts aren't interesting. Stories sell. Value sells. Relationships sell. Salespeople want the story; the angle that will get our product in the door and get us a contract.

"Salespeople don't care about perfection. They're selling imperfect, buggy software, because all software is imperfect and buggy, and they've got no control over that. Most of their leads are dead-ends. Verbal agreements and offers fall through all the time. Salespeople are coin-operated. They want to know what the return on their investment of time and energy is. They'll work overtime - they work a ton of overtime - but only if they think there's something in it for them. And when a sale falls through, they don't take it personally - they get up the next morning and do it again."

I'm not telling you this story because I think you should think like a salesperson all the time. Not everyone is cut out for it - I'm certainly not!  But there is certainly something to learn from the sales mindset, especially for us creative types who tend to be self-critical and constantly question our own success.

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