JP On Gaming

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing Con Games (One-Shots)

When I say con games, I mean an adventure that is a one-shot, pay-to-play event. Usually an author/DM gets a following of people who attend the con to play his events if his stuff is of good quality. During this article, the terms GM/DM and authors are interchangeable.

When in 2000, I was involved in the Helios Games Convention in Paris, I approached the event apprehensively. I had attended a single con before. That was the first con where I was involved in some of the game planning/ play-testing.

The adventure was for Vampire set in Paris using the setting published in the short-lived Chaotic magazine. The Author was my buddy D-S (Petit-Bibi) who had created a pretty interesting adventure where Werewolves, Anarchs and politics all joined together in a tight mesh. As the play-test turned out, we ended in a deadlock. The Prince of Paris played the part of a weakling yet he was extremely powerful. The Players knew this, the DM knew this and in the end some player could not separate their own knowledge from their PCs’.

I remember arguing with the player who kept saying "have the prince do it, he’s powerful enough". It got to the point where D-S asked the gang for a way to "fix his adventure" thus I started editing things...

Over the course of the next few years, I wrote, co-wrote and edited a number of adventures that eventually landed me into the RPGA.

In this article I wish share a little wisdom about what I learned writing adventures for those one-shot con games.

You are not writing a Campaign

This one I cannot stress enough. Too many times the Gm puts together a game to recruit players for his own campaign. While a con is a great place to recruit players, there is nothing I hate more than "if you want to know more play in my home game". Do that to me and you are forever marked with the "never again" label. I also will make sure everyone knows not to attend your events.

Tie loose ends

The game needs to stand alone. Once the adventure is over answer truthfully any question the players may have about the adventure.

If you want to write a sequel at a later con, that’s fine. But your adventure needs to be independent and not rely on people having played a previous adventure.

PCs are central to the action

This one is mentioned over and over, yet it often seems to be the one that is most overlooked. GMs write adventures to showcase NPCs or monsters and the PCs are incidental in the whole thing. Whether the PCs are there or not, the events unfold the same way.

The PCs need to feel that their actions have consequences and that they matter in the grand scheme of things and the decision you force upon them influence the world in some way. There is nothing worse than to sit down and watch a movie unfold.

TPKs are usually no fun

TPK= Total Party Kill, no survivors

In a home game dying sucks.

In a con game, unless you are playing a game like Call of Cthulhu or Slasher Movie, dying is no fun. I generally prefer to avoid this situation.

Dying with a purpose is fine. "I jump into Mount Doom to destroy the Ring!" is a great end. "We got jumped by random Goblins in the forest" is not.

Keep an open mind

You have carefully thought about your story.

You placed interesting monsters.

You created a pantheon of NPCs and locales.

You have planned every step the PCs can make.

Then the Players sit at the table and come up with something out of left field. Now you force the PCs to follow the one path you thought of.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

Game play over game rules

Here I mean that keeping the story and action going is more important that a dice roll. Here I mean that keeping the story and action going is more important that a dice roll. If you need the PCs to succeed at something, do not ask for dice rolls. Make them succeed and get them to the fun part...


In a one-shot setting, finishing a story is something I like. It brings closure and a sense of accomplishment. If need be, trim down the adventure.

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