Saturday, September 7, 2013

Demos For You and Me - Part 1 - The Setup

With the noises of interest coming off of the whole Convention RPG Selling (Found here in Part 1, 2, and 3) articles that I posted. Not to mention Lilian Cohen-Moore's article talking about a frustrating demo experience at PAX, and Ryan Macklin's following up with his own list of things not to do when doing a demo. With that in mind, I had this sitting in my drafts folder for a while so maybe it's time to come down and talk about what to do when running a demo game.

Why do this?

Well, I think running a demo for a game is one of those skills that people just kind of assume they have, and that they can do it just like running any other game. I seem to get that vibe when talking about it with other people. I've seen it in demo kits from larger publishers, and from being in demos for other games. Most of what I'm saying is applicable to RPG demos, but some of this stuff works for board game demos too, I'll try to point out when that's the case.

What's the most important thing to remember?

A game demo is another place where you will be selling your game. It's a sales moment.

In Part 1 of Selling RPGs I talked about how selling RPGs is the Used Car Salesmanship of the game industry. I'm going to use that metaphor again, because this is the test drive. This is where they take the system out for a spin, try it out, see if they like it. This means that it's another point where you have to make a good impression.

This is the same thing with boardgames. You're at the part where they want to see it before the buy. If you make a bad impression here, you've just discouraged them from buying your game and you both walk away disappointed. The player is disappointed because they were interested and the game didn't live up to their expectations, and you're disappointed because you lost a sale.

The Setup

If you are going to run a demo, the first thing you need to do is be prepared. Being prepared means a couple of things. It means that you're prepared to run the game right away. It means that you're prepared to talk about what makes the game awesome.

What Makes Your Game Awesome
This is all about knowing your product. Really, this should come first because if you know this then your demo adventure will be amazing. You should know how to run the game without referring to the book every few minutes. You need to know what makes your game amazing, and how to bring that into the adventure and how you run it. This leads into the next section which is ...

Be Prepared
This means that you have to have an adventure scenario set up. Now before you grab one off the shelf, or just come up with something you need to remember that this is a sales moment. You want a very specific adventure. You want one that's going to highlight what makes the game awesome, and showcase it right off the bat.

When I run Critical!: Go Westerly as a demo, we start with You All Meet in a Tavern. Why? Because the adventure is funny right from the get go, and that's what we're trying to show. Critical can be funny without getting in the way of doing stuff, in fact it's more funny when you're doing stuff. Having an adventurer's night where local adventurer's can meet and then have them go off on an adventure gets the people in the right framework for what's going to happen next.

This also means that you have to set things up so that the players have to interact with the system right away. Remember, this is the test drive, you need to show the players the awesome stuff about the system and why they're going to have fun playing your game. Roleplaying is great, and fun, but they don't need your system to sit around and talk in character for an hour. Have them do things! Have them do awesome things! Quickly!

More example time! When we run YAMIAT the first thing that happens is that we make them figure out what's going on, and then roll on the stairs so they get an idea of how the system works out. Then, usually something funny happens. If not, then we go straight into another encounter to make sure the few other parts of the system that aren't immediately covered by them walking down the stairs happen.

What else does this mean? It means you're going to need pre-generated characters. Unless character/setting creation is such an integral part of your game (think Fiasco, or Geasa) you're going to want to have characters waiting for your players to pick up and run with. This also means you're going to want to leave out a little bit on the character sheet so that the players have some choice. The easiest way is to come up with quick backgrounds and let the players decide on the name, looks, and gender of their character. If you have characters with genders, make sure that you've got an even number of them so that everyone at the table has a choice. Nothing is worse than when you feel like you're stuck with one or two options. 

Make your pregens diverse and interesting, and because you have control over what the characters are you can also make sure that there is something cool for them do to in the adventure. Nothing is worse than feeling like you're sitting on the sidelines doing nothing because you have a character that "doesn't fit" the scenario. If you have a "doesn't fit" pre-gen then that's a problem with your prep that you're going to need to fix.

Next, I'll talk about what to do during a demo. If you have any questions that you'd like to see answered about running a demo, then you can leave a comment or drop me a line and I'll try to include that in the next section.

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