So, yesterday was my big day -- running my first ever game at a con :)
All in all it was a very interesting and positive experience, and I'd definitely do it again. I thought I'd write a bit about a few of the points which stood out the most.
After some indecision, in the end I made the choice for fully random character creation (rather than getting the players to choose from a selection of pregens). Random chargen is such a big and (I find) fun feature of old-school D&D that it seemed a shame to not showcase it. To ease the process I'd created a few spell books for potential magic-users to choose from (see here), a very simplified list of cleric spells, and a quick-pick equipment selection.
I usually find that as a DM I can knock out Labyrinth Lord characters in 15 minutes or so, whereas generally players tend to take significantly longer, due to, I suppose, being a bit less familiar with the system, and probably thinking more about the various choices. So I was very relieved that yesterday it all went very smoothly, and, thankfully, quickly. The one point which threw me slightly was what to do if a player rolled up a character with really crap ability scores. This did happen (I think he didn't have anything above 10), and in the end I said he could have a 13 in a score of his choice, just to give him a +1 to something. I think perhaps it might have been better to just let him roll completely again, or maybe to get each player to roll two sets of attributes and choose their favourite. A minor point, anyway.
I made sure each of the PCs had a specific connection to one of the others, by getting them to roll on a random table ("you owe another PC lots of money", "you're a sibling or parent of another PC", etc). This was a tip which Samwise7 gave me in a comment to a previous post, and it was excellent advice.
In practice only one out of the three randomly generated connections actually had any impact on the game (that the thief character was a hired bodyguard of the magic-user), but it really helped to give the players something to riff off, so to speak, right from the beginning.
Playing with Strangers
This was one of the main things I was anxious about beforehand. I'm used to playing with a regular group, where we all get to know each other's tastes, personalities, sense of humour, and so on. I had fearful visions of sitting at a table with six strangers looking at me in a kind of stony silence, only broken by the occasional pitiful die roll. Haha. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. A friend and player in my regular game came along to the con and gave me moral support, which helped a lot (I'd definitely recommend that new con DMs try to drag a friend along!), and the other players were really friendly and enthusiastic, which was a huge relief. I mean, it's obvious to me now that, looking at it realistically, people go to a gaming con to play games and have a good time, so the vast majority of them are, I suppose, going to put something into the game they've signed up for!
This was a very good experience for me, anyway, to be able to run a game with strangers (albeit a small group), and feel confident that they were having a good time.
That brings me nicely to the next point -- the tone of the adventure. I tend to favour weird and wacky, bordering on the surreal and nonsensical at times. Much as I love this type of play, I am certainly aware that it's not everyone's cup of tea, and it's not necessarily what people are going to expect when they sign up for a game at a con. So, as I was writing my far-out sci-fi / fantasy dungeon crawl I was, at points, aware that some elements of it may be too much. The malfunctioning dimensional toilet and the sewage-elemental, for example. I personally found these kind of elements so beguiling that I just couldn't make myself remove them or tone them down, and just decided to go with it and see how the players took it!
In retrospect I think it was too much. If I'd clearly stated in the description that the game was going to have a far-out gonzo kind of vibe to it, then fair enough, but I didn't, and I think the players who didn't already know me were a bit taken aback at points. However in general the session went well, and the more nonsensical elements weren't on the whole too overwhelming.
This is another point which I'd seriously reconsider next time. The game I ran was a straight up dungeon crawl -- here's a dungeon, there's rumoured to be treasure inside, in you go. Again, I'm not sure if it was due to player expectations (though I did state in the session description "an old-school dungeon crawl"...), but I got the feeling that something a little bit more plot-based might have worked better, and kept them more engaged.
It's interesting, when I think of the big AD&D cons back in the day, I always imagine they were playing straight up dungeon crawls, so I guess that was where my inspiration came from. I have no idea if this is really how it was though.
Time ran out and we didn't finish the adventure. This is, of course, far from ideal! There were several possible endings (apart from a TPK), and unfortunately we didn't reach any of them. I guess there are a couple of factors here, one being the mission of the adventure, as discussed previously, and how easy it is to reach a conclusion, and of course another being just the actual real time restraint on the session as compared with the length of the adventure.
This was something I'd considered when I was writing the adventure, and had just kind of blindly hoped I'd got it about right and it'd work out. I mean, I think everyone had a good time, which is the main thing, but I guess a really memorable session needs a feeling of conclusion somehow. Definitely something I'd consider at greater length if I do it again...