Everything is Dolphins, Part 2

In Part One I talked about the Everything is Dolphins, what a fun and adorable role-playing game it is. Today I’m going to look at how I created a convention scenario just to undercut that cuteness, giving my players a unique dolphin experience.

A little background: IntrigueCon is a wonderful local TTRPG convention that has been running for five years. I’ve made it out to three of those five years, and it is always a good time. All the game masters put on great sessions. It’s a point of pride for me to make sure my players have an awesome time, especially as I usually run some oddball games and players are taking a bit of chance by not sticking to the usual d20 fantasy. The con organizers set a horror theme for the scenarios this year, which made coming up with a scenario for my cute little dolphin game a little more challenging.

But I loved the challenge! I thought about all the different horror tropes I could utilize. Zombie outbreak, a haunted house, vampire dolphins…my mind whirled with the possibilities. But nothing really jumped out as perfect, and I was ready to just throw something together when I came across this map of Innsmouth. For those not in the know, Innsmouth is a coastal town in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe, already home to a nasty aquatic horror. How much more terrible would it be if I submerged the town, and confronted my delightful dolphins with the horrors of Dagon worshipping Deep Ones?

Once I had that central idea, following the rest of my steps for con scenario preparation was pretty straightforward. When I prepare adventures for a con setting, I have three main rules I follow:

  1. Keep it Focused – When you run a game at a convention you have definite limits. Your game needs to start on time and end on time because your players likely have other games to get to. So you don’t have time for lengthy exposition or an hour of setting description. In this case, I had four hours to explain the game to the players, get them familiar with the system and their characters, and then get them to the good stuff. For my adventure, the dolphins were members of an organization dedicated to protecting dolphinkind and exploring the flooded ruins left behind by the Humans. If I was running this with a group at home, we could have taken time to roleplay out encounters at the training centre, discussions and briefings with their superiors, and the journey to Innsmouth. But at the con I didn’t have time for any of that, and so the scenario started with the brave dolphins arriving at the edge of the ruins of Innsmouth (though they didn’t know that was the name of the town).
  1. Keep it Moving – Even though it’s a convention you are still running a role-playing game, and you want there to be role-playing. In a home game you have time to indulge the players in whatever role-playing tangents they want to take. At a con, however, you need to keep the role-play in line with the action of the scenario. You can give the players a little bit of leeway, but you never want to create a situation where one player is hogging the spotlight while the rest of the table just watches. Craft the scenario to try and give each character a focus moment which is part of the action. If you’re using a published scenario, cut out any non-player character that isn’t tied directly into the plot, to minimize tangents. The best strategy is to try and keep the role-playing among the player characters, instead of between PCs and NPCs. That way, even in slower moments, the PCs are still involved in what is going on, and no one is sitting bored.
  1. Give the Players Everything They Need – Unless character generation is part of the game, you should provide pre-generated characters for your players. Especially with a virtually unknown RPG like Everything is Dolphins you don’t want to waste time at the table explaining the character creation process. Supplying pre-gens allows you to do two things. First, you can craft characters that work well with your scenario, so there will always be a PC that can keep the action moving forward. Second, you can make sure that every character has something awesome, something for the player to get excited about and anticipate using in the game. The added benefit of giving characters something awesome to do, is they are likely to take risks in order to use the awesome thing, which can be fun and exciting.

Besides the pre-gens, you should also supply everything else the players need, such as dice, pencils, scrap paper, reference cards, name cards, and so on. If miniatures are needed, you should supply them. If there are any other play aides which you think will enhance the game, make sure they are on the table and ready to go. Even if you suspect the players will bring their own dice, it’s better to make sure you have some on hand and never use, than have to scramble for a player who forgot.

With these three steps, I was able to craft an action-packed Cthulhu-themed horror scenario for my dolphin characters, bringing the terrors of Lovecraft Country to the ocean depths. My players began play as happy, silly dolphins, and ended the evening horrified at the otherworldly dangers they had discovered. And my players loved every second! They really got into the role of their dolphins, they role-played easily with each other, and took to the spirit of the game. And I was able to adjust the scenario on the fly when action dragged, or the players weren’t sure what to do next. Best of all, I added those details to my written scenario to make sure the scenario runs better the next time.

In a future article, I’ll talk more about the specifics of scenario design for conventions. In the meantime, what have you run at a convention, and what worked for you? Drop your experiences in the comments below.