Running a Demo

Last time, I talked about building an RPG game demo. This time, I want to talk about running it.

Now, the last post was pretty long and in-depth. That’s because you need a fair bit of prep work to put together a workable demo. Running a game is almost an afterthought once you’ve put in the work ahead of time, so this article is going to be shorter, just a list of tips and tricks and advice about running a demo game.

My basic assumption is that you’ve run games before. If you haven’t, then you probably want to get in some practice with a group of friends before you strut your stuff in public.

So, what’s my advice for running demo games?

  • Be prepared. Have all the notes and play aids you need ready ahead of time. This is sort of the whole point of my last post.
  • Get there early. Often times things come up at the last minute before the game start. If you’re there early, you’ve got some lead time on set-up.
  • Make an attractive table. Set out character sheets and figures, lay out battle mats, put up your screen, display the books, whatever. The goal here is to make people want to come over and see what’s going on. Then you can talk them into playing.
  • Be friendly and polite. Smile. Talk to people. Be inviting. Laugh and joke. Make the prospect of gaming with you attractive.
  • Answer questions. When people ask you something about the game, answer them. Let them know what they need to buy to start out. Answer rule questions. Recommend other games.
  • Invite people to play. They may not know you’re doing a demo, so invite them to sit in if they seem interested.
  • Take rejection graciously. It’s not personal. Some folks won’t be interested, and some folks won’t have time. If they say no, then it’s no. Don’t badger or hound. Thank them, and let them get on with their day.
  • Talk to the participants. Find out if they’re first-timers or old-timers. See if they have any other experience with this game.
  • Teach to the audience. Once you know their level of experience, teach to that. If they’re all veterans of the last three editions of the game, then you don’t need to explain about dice – just on the new rules. On the other hand, if they’ve never played before, you’re going to have to teach them how to read a d4.
  • Remember that you’re in public. If you’re in a game store, you are also seen as a representative of the store. Keep that in mind before graphicly describing the murder of a child or the content’s of the Mad Duke’s box of bedtime toys.
  • Remeber that this isn’t your regular group. Shorthand, in-jokes, and assumptions about play style are not necessarily going to pan out. Pay attention to what’s actually going on at the table.
  • Get into it. Let yourself go. Have fun. Use the funny voices and the colourful descriptions of combat. Make other people wish they were having as much fun as you are.
  • Watch the time. Make sure you get to your climax, even if you have to cut other stuff short. If the particpants are looking at their watches, you should be moving things along.
  • If you’re playing in a game store, shill. Point out the books the participants should buy to get started. Show them where the dice are. Show off new products. Be willing to talk about the game and get people enthused.
  • When the game’s done, thank the participants. Tell them you hope they had fun.
  • When the session is done and you’ve got another one starting, reset everything. Set the table up the way it was at the start of the day. This means you need to leave yourself a little time between sessions, but that’s not such a bad idea, anyway.
  • When the day’s demos are done, pack up quickly and clean up the area. Thank your host for his or her hospitality.

Yeah, a lot of this stuff isn’t new, is it? Be friendly and polite. Be a good representative of the hobby, the game, and the venue. Make sure everyone has a good time.

One last thing: sometimes things go south. Maybe you wind up with a really annoying participant, or with no participants. What do you do then?

Suck it up.

One of the downsides of running a demo is that you don’t get to pick who you play with. Others decide if they want to play with you. Don’t take it personally; a lot of folks don’t like to game with people they don’t know, because it’s outside their comfort zone. If no one shows, hang around anyway, and talk to people. Some may have questions, some may want to tell you war stories, and some may just want to pass the time. Relax. Enjoy. Interact.

And if you wind up with that annoying gamer stereotype sitting at the table? So what. Have fun. Play and enjoy. Just remember that you need to be as attentive, friendly, and helpful to the annoying ones as you do to the fun ones. If someone’s being a jerk, don’t be a jerk back. It never helps. Just remember that you get to walk away at the end of this, and go back to your regular players.

So, there you have it. Questions? Comments? Leave ’em below.

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