So You Want to Be a Game Master? Issue #3: Convention Characters

Convention season is one of my favorite times of the year. There’s something magical about stepping away from your real world responsibilities and sinking completely into the hobby for a few days. It’s nice to peel away the mask of obligation and take on whatever role you want for the weekend. I’ve played Superman, Mark Twain, and many other crazy characters in convention games. However, my favorite thing is running games at cons. It’s something I think every Game Master should do at least once.

There’s something very raw and genuine about running a convention game. You’re testing your craft in the wild. The players are usually strangers who paid money to sit at your table. You have a set time limit. There’s no expectation of carrying on after the game is over. This one game is your chance to showcase everything that makes you special as a GM. It’s challenging, but it’s also exhilarating.

If you’re going to be successful running a con game, it’s important to be prepared. Make sure you’ve taken the time to really know the adventure you’re running. Give yourself plenty of time to set up for the event. Be confident in yourself, and never apologize before a performance. One of the most crucial aspects (and the one this post will focus on most) is having the perfect pregenerated characters for the scenario.

Most of the time, convention games feature pre-gens as the heroes of the story. There are some living campaigns where players bring their own characters, but most of the time you will have to bring characters for your players to portray. Convention characters are different than characters you would typically have in your games at home. I’ve offered my best advice for creating your perfect pre-gens below:

  • Equality: It’s important to ensure that all of the characters are on an equal footing. Every game has a different way for tracking how powerful a character is, but essentially you want to make sure everyone is the same level. It’s no fun for the whole group if the party is a 20th level wizard, an 8th level ranger, and four 1st level commoners. The wizard might have a great time blowing through the adventure by themselves, but the other players are going to feel useless. Sometimes in a home game, you can have mixed power parties, but those players know each other and they trust you. A game with strangers doesn’t have that social safety net.

  • Specialization: Convention games are self-contained stories, so an important thing to keep in mind when designing a pre-gen is to think about what this character’s role is in the story. Usually when I’m picking the party of characters available, I’ll mark beside each entry their specialization. It looks like this in my notes:

    • The Batman: Leader

    • Catwoman: Stealth

    • Blue Beetle: Tech/Medic

    • Booster Gold: Tank

    • Green Arrow: Blaster  

    • Black Canary: Brawler

  • I keep that role in mind when I’m building the characters. This allows me to focus their skills, abilities, and powers a certain direction, rather than trying to build a jack-of-all-trades version. Having that specialty listed also makes it easier on the players in character selection and in gameplay.

  • Personality/Backstory: A little information about the character’s backstory and personality will go a long way to easing the players into characters that they didn’t create themselves. This step isn’t as important for iconic characters like Captain America or Harry Potter, but there will be times when you have to create unknowns. Another great idea is to include their opinions and relationships with the other characters. This will encourage roleplaying and help the players get into the mindsets of their characters.

  • Choice:  It’s important to consider exactly how many pre-gens you’re going to offer. I’ve approached this from a couple different angles. I have come to convention games with over seventy characters to choose from and I’ve come to games with six characters to choose from. With the seventy I wanted to make sure that people could play a DC character that they always wanted to, but never had available. I’ve found that less is easier for selection and for adventure design though.

I hope this helps any Game Masters finalizing their preparations for Gen Con or any other convention still to come as the season comes to an end. Great, memorable characters are the first step in ensuring your con game stands out to your players. Keep everyone on a level playing field, specialize your builds, give the players enough personal information about the characters, and keep the amount of characters to choose from limited and you’ll be well on your way!