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From Con to Con: Playtest Notes

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On August 5, 2008 @ 10:03 am In Gaming Conventions,GMing Advice | 4 Comments

I finally got a chance to playtest “Dead Man’s Hand,” the Victoriana game I’m running at GenCon. The adventure was designed as a sequel to last year’s “Lost Luggage,” using the same characters and background. Since the 2nd Edition of Victoriana is only now getting a full print run, I decided to run this adventure as an “introductory scenario” (which saved me from having to update the characters).

Since “Dead Man’s Hand” is the result of a combination of ideas from Andy Peregrine, the Victoriana line developer, and myself, I had a pretty good feel for the adventure going into playtest. My largest concern was time. While I’d been trying to run a single adventure within an evening, this was the first time that I had to watch the clock and note the time each Act (of three) took.

While I learned a lot from this session (and was very happy with the results), I wanted to focus on a few things that stood out:

1. Optional encounters should be backloaded. It’s impossible to judge at the beginning of a session whether you have time for optional encounters. Get the plot moving first and then decide whether there’s time for extra encounters.

2. Keep your combats short and manageable. The players should either be able to overcome the opposition in a handful of rounds or realize that they’re overwhelmed early enough to get away (and healthy enough to continue).

3. Don’t reference the book. Cheat sheets are fine, but it’s better to have an understanding of the core mechanics and make reasonable difficulty checks than to bring the game to a halt so you can flip through a rulebook. Keep notes on magical effects and such in the adventure notes.

4. Make sure that ALL of the characters have something meaningful to do at all times. In the playtest, one character got sidelined at the climax, which wasn’t very fun for her. A simple change fixed this problem.

5. Don’t let the players spin their wheels. The adventure should flow easily from one scene to the next, based on logical clues and leads. Such clues and leads should never depend on a dice roll.

Whew! In another week, I’ll be heading to Gen Con and actually running this thing! I’ll have a post-con report soon afterwards, and that should wrap up this column! Hope to see some of you there!

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "From Con to Con: Playtest Notes"

#1 Comment By LesInk On August 5, 2008 @ 10:41 am

Your notes are good. From doing a few RPGA sanctioned Living Greyhawk sessions, your tips are spot on. You don’t have alot of time to embellish, so the game has focus on the main points. Timing is everything — if things are going slow, move on.

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On August 5, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

Points 4 and 5 are important; I’m glad you figured out the problems before it went live in front of strangers. Sometimes players sideline themselves, but I don’t think there’s a good [or at least non-intrusive] way to let them play as they wish and never get off course.

#3 Comment By Hella Tellah On August 6, 2008 @ 8:43 am

Victoriana is awesome. Good on you for representin’ at Gen Con.

#4 Comment By nblade On August 11, 2008 @ 9:02 am

Actually, I feel these are good suggestions for any game session be it at a con, some other live event, or simply your normal gaming session. I agree with Scott, that #4 and #5 are very important.

#3 is a real killer in any game. Sometimes its unavoidable, but every GM should do his prep work. For that matter Players should do their prep work, I don’t know how many times that a summon monster spell in D&D caused a lag while the monster’s stats in questioned were looked up.


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