Condensing Cthulhu for Cons

From the Mind of Keeper and Lurking Fears Impresario Matt McCloud

The first ChaosiumCon is a wrap and we look forward to even more gaming and fun at upcoming conventions this year! As the chief organizer for Lurking Fears, we’ve got plenty of work ahead of us as we register for badges, events, and hotel rooms, but, most importantly, we anticipate playing some fantastic scenarios with our friends old and new. For those of us running these upcoming con games, we face the added anxiety of deciding on an adventure, prepping it, and then actually running it for an audience, which includes both our friends and fellow convention-goers. We know what our friends love, but aiming to satisfy all-comers certainly raises the stakes. 

 All Game Masters have a different approach to planning their convention scenario. Some create scenarios out of whole cloth, constructing a great story, interesting characters, and smooth gameplay. Others opt for using a quick start or developed convention scenario that easily runs in the established 4-hour timeframe. Still others, like me, prefer to take popular, but longer scenarios, forgotten classics, or fragments of great adventures and shoehorn them into a tight game to give the players a fantastic and memorable ride.

 For ChaosiumCon, I picked a few games that would normally take at least two or three sessions to complete and boiled them down to their essential beats to bring a slightly abridged version of incredible scenarios like “A Mother’s Love” by Seth Skorkowsky, “The Scuttling” by Todd A. Woods and Kevin A. Ross, and finally “The Auction” by Randy McCall.

 Many have asked me how I can condense great adventures like this to a mere 4-hour con game, so I have put together some tips to do just such a thing:

Get them to the end of the line on time!

 Keep them on track. Many of you may read this and groan “oh man, he just railroads the players.” Not so! In many scenarios, there are great red herrings to deepen the investigations and prevent players from feeling like you’re just spoon-feeding them obvious clues. The trick is to do it, but do not dwell on it as long as you may normally do in a home game. Let them be aware of options, let them chase them around a bit, but keep them on a game clock and keep things moving. If they are at the wrong clue when the action hits, it’s ok to move the action to the investigators. Or move the investigators to the action. 

 Keep your NPCs vibrant, but brief. You want colorful NPCs in your game for the players to react to, but instead of going into long diatribes about their appearance or behavior, rely on pictures and tight roleplay to help set the mood quickly.

Some quick sketches of NPCs:

 Cut, cut, cut. As fantastic as all these scenarios are, there are usually some extra scenes in them that are not crucial to the story. In “The Auction” there are some scenes, such as those involving the police and an entertainment establishment, where more leisurely investigators potentially get a clearer picture of their quarry, but they are not vitally important. Seasoned con detectives often garner most of the same information without going to these other bonus locations as they realize they are on the clock. And don’t be afraid to cut superfluous scenes during the game for the sake of pace and excitement. It never hurts to hand over the clue with a bang and keep them moving!

Testing, Testing. Even if you’ve played the complete scenario before, a dry run of your con version goes a long way. Evaluate the pacing, and see how your changes accommodate the 4-hour time slot.  Look at the effects of your cuts, and identity areas where players require a bit of nudging to keep things on track. A little playtesting goes a long way for your confidence! 

Priority number one: have FUN! The game table is central to entertainment at the convention. Without your efforts, everyone would be missing out on the key aspect of our hobby—playing! We know the pressure to “bring it” to the table for convention-goers. Don’t forget you’re supposed to have fun, too! Make crazy props people will remember long after the games, make funny voices for your NPCs and gesticulate wildly when describing locations in your best theater presence. Don’t be that person that just reads from the text and asks for dice rolls. Amp it up and you and your players will be even more eager for the next game!

Everyone enjoys a great prop!

Lurking Fears Keeper Ed Mullavey showing how it’s done at ChaosiumCon with a full complement of props, maps, and NPC portraits.

1 thought on “Condensing Cthulhu for Cons

  1. Owen says:

    As someone whose own games often balloon in practice this is great advice. Shall be coming back to this page again soon I feel. Bookmarked!

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