Ever since I got involved in role-playing way back in Ye Olden Tymes, I've enjoyed running games more than playing. At the neighborhood FLGS, I was the guy running demos, and at the local cons, I was the one who inevitably GMed most of the events. But running a one-shot game at a con is a much different animal than an on-going campaign for your pals. You have a limited amount of time to introduce, set up, and run the game; you want to make sure everyone gets his (or her) chance to shine during the event; and you want to ensure you're able to reach The Big Finish before time is up.
Con games are all about timing and planning, while still making sure everyone has fun.
About two years ago, I was looking for some advice on how best to pace a con one-shot. In four hours, how much combat should you plan for? What kind of scenario works best and how involved should the plot be? While looking for some answers, I stumbled across the best advice on writing and running con games I've ever read. Gar Hanrahan of Figures of Text (a sub-blog of That's Not My Squid) had a five-part series in 2009 on How To Run Con Scenarios The Gar Hanrahan Way. Each of these posts addresses and explains the best approach when designing and running con one-shots:
1. Getting Started: Establishing the task for the players, forming a game outline, and writing your program/flyer "blurb."
2. Characters: Designing the pre-gens, establishing the group dynamic, and giving everyone a hook.
3. The Opening Scene: Engaging the players from the beginning, setting the tone of the game, and getting them pointed in the right direction.
4. Core Scenes: Timing the encounters, transitioning from scene to scene, and planning for your timed/triggered events.
5. The Finale: Drawing the players to the finish, providing an appropriate end challenge, and wrapping up with a dramatic conclusion.
The information and tips provided by Gar in these posts has been invaluable to me over the years. I suggest that anyone who plans to write and/or run a convention scenario read through these posts as the advice within is spot-on and crazy-useful. (It's also good advice for anyone wanting to run an evening one-shot game for their own players!) For my own use, I grabbed all of Gar's posts, formatted them into a PDF, printed them out, and put them in a binder for future reference. I've placed the PDF for download at Google Docs. Grab it here.
Not sure if you'll ever see this, Gar, but many thanks for your good advice. My con games have improved because of your help.