Quick Starts, Demonstration Games and Lite Rules.

I’ve just had (another) epiphany.

This is where I was before:

1) My sets of rules have AMAZING character creation rules. They are one of the USPs of my work and I want to showcase them. I always try to build in character creation as part of the games at conventions and the like.

2) I don’t like games with pregenerated characters.

3) Up until I wrote “The Comics Code” recently, I believed a convention slot needed to be 4 hours long and used to moan if conventions only gave me a 3 hour slot.

4) For various reasons, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole Pathfinder thing.

5) Because of what I got from GURPS LITE all those years ago, the “loss leader” I chose to put out for my game was a complete “basic” set of of the rules ie, the full rules without any padding.

I was recently asked to go to a convention, to demonstrate RPGs to non-RPG players (video gamers to be precise). Realising we needed a range of genres I prepared my two current games – including some pregens for Squadron UK – and downloaded some (free) Quick starts from RPGNOW.

I’ll admit I was impressed by these. A quick summary of the basic rules, a set of pregens and and introductory adventure. All of these were proper adventures which, with rushing, would easily fill and evening’s play or convention slot and – with laid back skilful Refereeing – would last much longer.

Though I’ve been running my own systems for years, I could have easily run any one of these at the convention. In fact, I did rush through one – the classic Call of Cthulu quick start – for couple of computer Geeks. They seemed to like it and I enjoyed it.

I’m now a quick start convert. You could download a load of these freebies and play them all one after the other for months of adventuring before settling down and choosing the system you wanted to buy.

There’s something else I’ve realised. If you want to explain your rules quickly, where are most of them summarised? What’s the best prop to use? The character sheet! Pregens are actually a very quick way for people to access the rule system.

So I could probably do with creating a Quick Start for Squadron UK. My free basic rules might allow an experienced roleplayer to run my game, but it’s not going to suck any newbies in. There’s an awful lot of reading to do before you can play SqUK.

That wasn’t all I learnt at the convention, though. You see, none of the games I or the other GM at the convention had brought along were actually on sale at the convention. The only thing there was the Pathfinder starter set so we were asked to run the demonstration adventures out of that.

Pathfinder! Urgh!

Despite our lack of recent experience, and lack of rules – we were loaned pregens, figures and the scenarios but no rulebooks – we felt able to busk it. It’s only d20 after all and all the players were newbies.

But there was something else….

These demonstration scenarios are designed to last 45mins to an hour. ONE hour! Basically they were a bit of background followed by one room/encounter. A puzzle and a clutch of monsters. Upon reading them I was pretty dismissive, I’ll admit.

But then we ran them. For the most part players totally new to the game (with an average age of below 20 I’d estimate) with, it must be said, two pretty bloody good, experienced, referees determined to wring the best out of the scenarios. The way we ran them they were closer to an hour to 75 mins but everyone enjoyed them and they were great fun!

Hats off to Paizo. They’ve got this really nicely judged. The Pathfinder starter set is a very superior product at a very reasonable price. If I was recommending people into the Pathfinder hobby (which I won’t) I’d have no hesitation in suggesting they start by buying it.

But now I think of conventions where you’ve got a trade stand and people want a quick demo of the game. I’m almost certainly going to have to have a one hour Quick Start for both my games ready for Dragonmeet.

So my attitudes have changed. If you’re writing a game for publication and sale, I’d now recommend:

1) DON’T give away your whole game. I never bought a single GURPS product after picking up GURPS LITE for free.

2) DO give away a Quick Start. Download some free ones from RPGNOW to see how it’s done. (I found Dragon Age to be particularly accessible.)

3) DO prepare a one hour (or less) quick demo for when you’re selling the game at conventions. I don’t know if you can download the Pathfinder ones from their web-site. If not, I don’t know where to point you for an example. When I write mine, I’ll post it here.

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5 thoughts on “Quick Starts, Demonstration Games and Lite Rules.

  1. One further thought, if your game has a particularly exciting and engaging character generation system (eg Mongoose Traveller) you could try that process as your quickstart demo game. (Idea lovingly ripped off from Mongoose Publications.)

    • Thanks. Good suggestion.

      However, the character generation process is detailed, takes an hour and leaves you with a Hero you’re desperate to play. You also have to fill in ALL the numbers on the character sheet.

      On the table action, however, is fast paced and each of you will only use a few numbers from the character sheet.

      So for Squadron UK I’m best off with pregens for the one hour demo.

  2. For Squadron UK con games I would must certainly go with pregens. I understand your dilemma as you obviously want to show off Squadrin UK character generation system but not only is creating characters time consuming and hard work, with supers you risk not getting a good spread of powers across the different players (especially with random character generation).

    Pregens also give you the opportunity to tailor the villains in your scenario to the abilities of the characters on the character sheets. I can see the case for either though it has to be said the visual element is really important for supers.

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  4. Simon
    Late to the comments but happy to hear that you’re thinking of releasing a quick start for SQUK. I think you’ve nailed all of the reasons why these are a good idea. One that i’d also recommend is the quick start for the Battlestar Galactica RPG if it’s still available. Great jumping off point for a game but with characters and basic resolution rules only included.

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