This year at Origins Game Fair, I experienced one of the best convention one-shot RPG sessions I’d ever played in—as well as the worst—back to back. This gave me a unique opportunity to compare and contrast what went well in the first session and what went awry in the second, especially in light of my experience as a tabletop RPG professional responsible for developing one-shots as well as demoing RPGs for convention play. Over the last ten years, I’ve run open and VIP tables at large flagship conventions like GenCon and Origins, regional cons such as AcadeCon and Con of the North, and local mini-cons on college campuses and at my own home. Over the years, I’ve also made my fair share of mistakes that I hope you can learn from.
Although there are many aspects to consider when planning and running an RPG one-shot at a convention, I think that focusing on three elements of the session will give you a solid foundation and yield the best payoff per hour of prep spent. These three essential ingredients are: 1) exciting and accessible pre-generated character sheets, 2) a scenario that is optimized for one-off play, and 3) excellent player management at the table. In this first part of the three-part series, let’s take a deep dive into the first ingredient: pre-gens.