Running Convention Games

Photo: Jorge Leal (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Photo: Jorge Leal (Flickr/Creative Commons).

US game designer and activist John Stavropoulos has game mastered hundreds of games at conventions over the years. In this text, he boils his experience down into 5 basic points. Originally published on G+, shared here with the author’s kind permission. For more about John’s projects, please see the end of the article. 

When I think about the games I enjoyed vs. times where I’ve had less fun, it often comes down to a few super basic obvious things that most people say «of course» and then in practice is gets muddy…

1. Set expectations
2. Time management
3. Spotlight management
4. Character vs. Player consent
5. Direct: Focus, Edit, Ask, Review, Teach as you go, Delegate

What does the above mean?

1. Set expectations

Don’t assume. Be explicit but brief. Maybe the players didn’t read the event description or they did but didn’t understand it. Why are we here? What do you want us to do? What do you want us not to do?

Is this a cooperative game? Competitive? Are we aiming for a certain tone or theme? Should we stick together? Should we split up? Should we stay serious? Make jokes? Attack each other? Wait till the last 30 minutes before PvP? Always work as a team?

It doesn’t matter. Just say what it is you want. Or be clear you are flexible and then let the group decide. Give enough info so people can opt out if they aren’t interested or buy in so you can all get on the same page and maximize the fun factor!

2. Time management

We have 4 hours to play which is actually probably 3 considering late starts and breaks. Then it is helpful to note how much time is left. When are we half way done? When do we have 30 minutes left? 5?

John is not, as far as Imagonem's editors are aware, a Revolutionary Icon from the 60's. However, he *is* an accomplished convention GM and organizer, and has graciously agreed to share some of his insights with our readers.

John is not, as far as Imagonem’s editors are aware, a Revolutionary Icon from the 60’s. However, he *is* an accomplished convention GM and organizer, and has graciously agreed to share some of his insights with our readers.

I know many great GMs like to limit new information after the halfway point to keep the game manageable. After that we reuse what we can, twist it, redefine it, combine it, destroy it, explore it but limit the amount of information.

Then once we hit that 30 minutes left point, start wrapping things up. Close loose ends. Resolve conflicts. Answer questions. Fulfill promises.

Then once we have 5 minutes left wrap up, epilogue, clean the table, and be respectful that players need to go to the next thing and new people may be playing at this same table next.

3. Spotlight management

One of the biggest convention game problems I see (depends on the game, there are exceptions). We make characters and the world for an hour. We play individual solo scenes for another hour. It can end up where players spent about 15 minutes talking and 100+ minutes being really quiet before the game feels like it really started and then you run out of time before you get any pay off for all the stuff you built up.

And if that is the point of the game… that is great! See «Set Expectations». Tell us so people can make an informed decision about opting in or out.

Maybe instead of solo scenes do scenes that start with 2 people at a time with a 3rd person coming in towards the end of the scene. Mix it up. If someone has been quiet a while, maybe they want to be quiet, maybe they are bored and anxious they haven’t done anything, not everyone wants equal participation but give everyone an equal opportunity to participate.

And make sure that spotlight is meaningful. Waiting 20 minutes to say or do anything and then stating 6 words, rolling, failing, having the GM describe how you fail, and then waiting another 20 minutes for maybe doing something engaging can kill many people’s interest real fast (or real slow so they can savor the agony). Stick with someone long enough so it feels meaningful. Context matters. Maybe that is 1 roll, maybe that is 3 rolls, maybe that is no rolls. They waited a long time, lets get some payoff!

4. Character vs. Player consent

This is a tricky topic that I should expand elsewhere. My opinion is the people playing a game are more important than the game itself. It should not matter if I win or fail at something, it is all still roleplaying. In an RPG ideally I could fail every single roll and still have a great time. Part of this is spotlight above. Part of this is that I am ok with the results of a roll. That even of it is the worst thing for my character, that I as the player am on board with it.

Part of this is simply the 3Cs. Communicate, Consent, Confirm.

Communicate the stakes of the situation, «if you fail X may happen, if you succeed Y may happen».  Get consent from those involved, «is this cool with you either way or would you like something else?» And then confirm, «to review, this is what we are doing, cool?»

It doesn’t have to be that formal. Or maybe it can be. Either way it is easier and faster than it sound above and with practice it solves many problems before they happen.

5. Direct: Focus, Edit, Ask, Review, Teach as you go, Delegate

As the facilitator (GM or GM-less), don’t be afraid to act like a director. Keep the above points in mind. Set expectations. Manage the game. Focus people when focus is useful. Get out of the way when people need time to process or slowness or uncertainty is a benefit to the game. Don’t let people talk over each other or interrupt people who haven’t had a fair chance to talk. Edit scenes by making suggestions. What if this scene happened here? What if we play the next few scenes as a montage? Lets cut the scene here or ask, «any last lines?» Ask for input, «what do we want more if in the next 2 hours? less of?» Review what we know, where we are headed, make sure the flow of information is manageable, understandable, and not full of misinformed assumptions. Don’t overwhelm people, teach rules as you go. And finally delegate!

While «directing» sounds like the GM’s job is to be a «dancing monkey» and «provide the fun» this doesn’t have to be the case. Delegate.

Have players frame scenes, play NPCs, suggest conflicts, answer questions directed at you, teach the rules. You would be amazed how much you can delegate. Hell, I’ve sometimes delegated entire games, then handed the players my phone number to text me if there were problems, got a coffee, came back, and asked, «how am I doing so far?»


It always depends. Context matters. There are many exceptions. And ultimately the needs of a specific game override some of the above. Just like the needs of specific people override the needs of specific games (in my personal opinion influenced by my own social context, cultural lens, privileges, experiences).

And while this may be 101 level material, sometimes we assume we have a solid foundation but lack the basics that help us have a great time. Take a step back and ask, «am I really doing all these things and where can I improve and practice.»


About the author: 
John Stavropoulos. 

Brief gaming bio:
– organized 26 conventions in NYC;
– co-run Gen Con’s Games On Demand;
– designed convention game scenarios including MvsM, The Yearbook, CyberNoia, Demons at the Door, Monsterhearts LARP, Monekydome, and the5;
– playtested 100s of games;
– run numerous gaming industry panels;
– designed games for the History Channel played by 100,000s of people;
– co-created games in Ethiopia for the Nike Foundation to help hundreds of adolescent girls learn teamwork, financial literacy, and to speak out against gender based violence.
John has written: 
– How to Run Convention Games,;
– How to Run Safer, Accessible, and Inclusive Conventions,;
– How to Write Game Instructions,
Find out more here:

Stjernene er i posisjon. De Eldste har vendt tilbake.


De som har fulgt Chaosium de siste årene vet at selskapet har problemer. De har hatt suksess med Kickstarterne sine men har hatt problemer med å levere alt som har blitt lovet. Horror on the Orient Express hadde en god del tilleggsmateriale som aldri ble levert. Papirversjonen av 7. utgaven av Call of Cthulhu har latt vente på seg fordi pengene til Kickstarteren dekket ikke fult ut trykkerikostnadene.

Går vi litt lenger tilbake i tid så hadde Chaosium allerede problemer på begynnelsen av 2000-tallet med kollapset til deres distributør Wizard’s Attic (vel dokumentert i Shannon Appelcines rollespillhistoriske bok Designers & Dragons). Chaosium har hatt hodet i vannskorpa lenge men dette ser kanskje ut til å snu?

Tidligere i dag postet Greg Stafford på sitt forum at han tok over som daglig leder hos last nedChaosium. Samtidig annonserte han også at Sandy Petersen er tilbake på laget.

Greg Stafford er en av grunnleggerne til Chaosium og står bak Gloranthaverdenen som ble brukt som spillverden i rollespillet RuneQuest.

Sandy Petersen lagde Call of Cthulhu sammen med Lynn Willis så her kan vi snakke om at Chaosium har gått tilbake til røttene.

Pressemeldingen i sin helhet:

«Weimages have pressed the reset button…

In 1975 Chaosium started out as a quirky boutique game company. We were all about creativity, artistry and craftsmanship. With every game we provided you with new realms of imagination and entertainment. Over the last few years we forgot that, and lost our way.

The Great Old Ones have Returned…
Greg Stafford, founder of Chaosium and creative force during its heyday, is now President. Sandy Petersen, world renowned game designer who brought Cthulhu into the light three decades ago, has rejoined the team as well.

Greg says: «Chaosium is part of my legacy. My intent is to restore it to its rightful place in the world of gaming. Something we can all take pride in, and something that fans will look forward to.Where ‘what’s next?’ is answered with ‘I can’t wait’.»

The Stars are Right…
Sandy says: «I am excited to return to active participation in the Call of Cthulhu line, and I’m eagerly looking forward to working directly with Greg again. We are Chaosium’s original team from the 1980s. My first focus is going to be the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter campaign.»

Our main plan is simple (but will be a lot of work):

Quickly sift and sort through the current company problems
Immediately ship the remaining Horror on the Orient Express backer rewards
Focus on the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter backer rewards
Return to regularly making awesome new games.

We offer new hope, and ask only for your patience.»

Please visit for regular news and updates. Contact us with questions, kudos, curses, or kindness. We are listening, and we will respond.

Greg Stafford, President and CEO of Chaosium Inc.
I’m puttin’ the band back together.»

Welcome to Nørway


Ole Peder har trålet gjennom 8 års utgytelser på Nørwegian Style-bloggen, og sammenstilt noen anbefalinger om hvor i all verden man skal starte.

Originally posted on Nørwegian Style:

Photo: Snarglebarf Photo: Snarglebarf

On this site, you’ve found an eclectic sample of Norwegian role-playing games, game poems and blog post in English since 2007.

Over the years, a lot of posts have accumulated. It can be a bit confusing: where to begin?

Here are some suggestions.

Reader favorites

These are some of the most popular games on the site, simply based on all-time clicks recorded:

Archipelago III, and predecessors
A popular GM-less game of collaborative story-telling, utilizing some innovative mechanics. Layout and everything!

Zombie Porn
Zombie Porn is a GM-less role-playing game that asks the question: “How far are you willing to go to survive in the undead entertainment industry?”

Until We Sink
An instant classic in the tiny Norwegian indie developer’s community. A surreal murder-mystery, GM-less, cards directing play and giving some instructions.

Blog posts

Photo: Snarglebarf Photo: Snarglebarf

Role-playing poems
A brief text introducing the concept of role-playing poems, 15 minute games anyone can…

View original 248 more words

Tons of free role-playing games online!

blackbox_dungeonI had the thought today that there’s just sooo much cool stuff floating around out there for free, and I don’t even know where to begin start looking, so I started looking and this is some of what I came up with.

This is not an attempt at making a comprehensive list, and the quality control is mostly based on “what have I actually played”, “what have I heard about” and “what do I like”. There is some overlap between games at some of the sites (the Jeep-site, Our Many Games and Stockholm Scenario Festival, for instance). That being said, I hope it will serve as a useful starting point for some of you, and aid you in the exploration of the rich and wonderful world of Stuff Out There.

A lot of it is in the “freeform” or “indie” vein, whatever that means.

Thanks to people on both G+ and the Facebook group for input!

Stockholm Scenario Festival have put up a lot of freeforms/short-larps from the past couple of years. See the «Archive» section on the homepage: (These are curated in the sense that they’ve been picked out especially for the festival by a committee). Some games I’ve played and enjoyed:  Robin’s Friends (a short, tightly focused scenario about friendship, often used as an introduction to “Jeepform”), 600 (loosely based on Chuck Palahniuk’s “Snuff”, about “the world’s biggest gang-bang).

I’m hearing good things about: The Journey (post-apo inspired by “The Road”), Under My Skin (a game about the challenges of love and relationships in a tight-knit circle of friends), and many, many of the others. Lots of high quality stuff here, folks (albeit a bit bleak, some of it).

The Jeepform webpage doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2009, but there are lots of high-quality freeform/shortlarp scripts. Many of them are somewhat in the same vein as the Stockholm stuff, often dealing with various (serious) real-life issues. It’s an acquired taste, I guess.

Chamber Games was an early (2007-2008) collection of Scandinavian short larps (in English). Various themes, free for download. Some overlap with games at aforementioned sites.

Bergen, Norway. This picture was taken from the periodical Le Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1840. Commons.

Bergen, Norway. This picture was taken from the periodical Le Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1840. Commons.

Nørwegian Style has tons of short-games, RPG poems, playsets, and «meditations over role-playing games», all in English.

Unfortunately, it’s all chronological and has little in the way of an index, so you either have to scroll through or know what you’re looking for. Some recommendations: Archipelago III (GM-less storytelling game with some innovative mechanics), Fiction – A flexible freeform framework (what it says on the tin), Until We Sink (a collaborative GM-less storytelling game aided by cards, fairly innovative in its day), A Trip to the Moon (a very nice game that’s a bit like a good-night fairytale. I remember it as a very pleasant experience, but haven’t played it in 12 years).

This blogpost by American author Lizzie Stark gives an introduction to the label «American Freeform», and a selection of games, all given a brief introduction. Ten of them are labeled as «free downloads».

There has recently been a 200 Word RPG challenge, the final results will not be announced until Thursday, as this is being written. But there are lots and lots of interesting games there, and this address, currently, lists the finalists:

Howling Tower has a list of OSR games. I’m not familiar with these (I tend to just play D&D if I want to play D&D). The list is organized alphabetically, but there’s a short but fairly thorough review of each game. The aim seems more to have been to include the games that have some kind of merit, rather than every single OSR game ever put online for free. Which I think is a good choice, when making such compilations.

There are about 50 (?)downloadable freeforms on the Golden Cobra contest page, but it requires some patience to navigate. Besides the «honorable mentions» page, there doesn’t seem to be much of an overview/presentation on the page proper:

Our Many Games is an interesting, ongoing initiative to showcase games from game designers of a great variety of backgrounds. There’s already quite an impressive collection of links, in separate categories (table top, “freeform larp” and family friendly). Some games are free downloads, others you have to pay for.
Game Chef is an annual competition where you try to make a complete, short role-playing game in about a week. It’s been running for several years. There’s a history section over on the site. There’s probably a lot of interesting stuff to learn about the trends and developments of games and individual designers in the indie community. However, it looks to me as it will require some patience to navigate. Some links are dead, some will lead you to a forum, sometimes you’ll find the finalists entry but not the runners-up, etc.

I have no idea what this fish is doing here. Commons.

I have no idea what this fish is doing here. Commons.

Onesevendesign seems to have about seven free, short RPGs for download. I’ve heard a lot of good things about “Lady Blackbird”, but haven’t played it myself.

Shifting Forest has about ten games, short larps and story-games, available for download. None of the scripts are familiar to me, but it looks interesting.

Jason Pitre has put together a nice, at the time of writing fairly short, list where  he’s hand-picked six games he recommends (a good variation of genres and formats).

The FOSsil Bank has a long, long, list of free RPGs and larps (and other games). It’s sort of exactly what I wasn’t looking for: organized alphabetically, probably quite comprehensive, but no recommendation lists, real reviews or anything telling me what is good and what is just… old.

Similarly, DriveThru has a whole section with Pay-What-You want RPG products, but I have absolutely no clue where to begin, what is good and what is… less so.

… aaand 700 more games to choose from over here: (seem to be organized chronologically).

If you want to jump in the time machine, John H. Kim’s list of free RPGs was valiantly updated for years. This page hasn’t been since 2003, though, mercifully for him (organized by category/subject, and with a helpful intro page highlighting some favorites).

When update their English-section, I’ll give that a much more prominent spot. I’m amazed by what the Danes have accomplished with their scenario database over the past several years. The presentation “leaves something to be desired” (I think it’s fair to say that goes for many of the entries. And this list, too, probably).

I considered including the sites of individual creators/companies like Bully Pulpit, Lumpley, Jackson Tegu, Buried Without Ceremony (seems to be down at the time of writing) and others, but then I would probably be sitting here well past my bedtime, so I’ll leave the rest of the hunt to you. Best of luck!


(Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments. I might edit in some stuff later if I feel I’ve missed something important).

Nørwegian Surreal

Analog Game Studies intervjuer Ole Peder om Itras by, Nørwegian Style og (kanskje) deg!

Foto: Johannes Axner.

Foto: Johannes Axner.

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