Running indie games at traditional RPG conventions


I’m a relatively recent convert to indie RPGs from decades in traditional gaming (mostly D&D, Pathfinder, GURPS, and CoC).

I will be attending PaizoCon in May, and have signed up to run some non-trad games at a Pathfinder-dominated convention: Dungeon World, Spirit of '77 and the still-in-beta Swords of the Serpentine (a new sword & sorcery GUMSHOE variant from Pelgrane Press).

I imagine that the majority of my players will have little (if any) exposure to non-trad games, and I want to make the experience as smooth as possible.

Does anyone have any tips or tricks to ease in a curious gamer from the math/rules-focused RPG world into narrative-focused games like PbtA?


My suggestions:

  1. Ask yourself why you are offering something at odds with both the goals and the zeitgeist of the event. Make sure your answer is a positive one.

  2. Be very clear in the event description about what you are offering. People won’t sign up if they aren’t interested, and that’s good for everybody.

  3. Assume people are smart, competent and want to have a good time. If there are specific things they need to know about how the game diverges from what they might be used to, definitely tell them, but for the most part tabletop roleplaying is tabletop roleplaying. I’ve had very successful sessions of Fiasco with people whose only roleplaying exposure was D&D, for example. You don’t need to treat them with kid gloves or carefully tuned guard rails, just assume they are cool and there to have fun.


The above it great advice. I will say that if you go for it, find the folks who are curious to try something new, who want to have a less tactical experience, etc. Don’t try to trick or force folks into new modes of play.


This series of blog posts about teaching PbtA to folks more familiar with D&D was very interesting to me. Might be worth a read to think about how pitch and frame your PbtA games to a traditional gaming audience:


To clarify: The game write-ups are clearly labeled, and the game system is marked. The games require pre-registration. Nobody who signs up is going to think that they are going to be playing a Pathfinder Society scenario. Unless something very weird happens, only the cuious will be there!

Alexi: Thanks for the link to those blog posts! I’ll check them out!


I’d support the idea that trad-oriented players can do fine with indie stuff - just recently I was in an Apocalypse World game with a bunch of people who hadn’t done indie before, and it went fine. Fundamentally, PBTA and GUMSHOE aren’t that far removed from trad games: they have a recognisably similar structure, and from a player perspective the experience is the same - I roll dice, the rules and/or the GM tell me what happens.

Also I think actually a lot of trad gamers do the stuff we associate with indie, but through unofficial cultural conventions rather than it being explicitly permitted by the system?

What I would say might be helpful is to be ready to ask questions. Questions are the gateway to indie-style play in my opinion, since they enable you the GM to actively and explicitly give permission to get involved in stuff that’s normally off-limits to players. Start with something non-threatening and not too challenging, in a situation where nobody will suspect that you’re secretly out to screw them. Keep doing it. Start bringing them in outside of those entirely non-threatening situations. They’ll get the idea.

The other thought from the recent Apocalypse World game was that one player was quite… how can I put this. Task oriented? He pretty much took a tense situation and turned it into murder hoboing. I don’t think he had a bad time, and it didn’t spoil the game for anyone else, but it was a thing. Depending on how much that matters to you, you might want to think about / elicit through questions some personal connections and try to leverage them in play, to try and draw players away from chugging their way through threats and problems. On the other hand, you could just let them do what they enjoy!


I remember that when I first started playing more story oriented games (from a long trad rpg background) I found that I was intimidated by the spontaneous creativity it seemed to require. I don’t know whether you may have noticed this when you came over to the storygame side - typically there is a lot more room for players to ‘make stuff up’ and add to the collaborative fiction.

If the particular games you are running involve that kind of additional creativity, it might be worth considering how to ease people into getting used to that element of the style of the game, and encouraging people as they get to grips with it.

Apologies if that all seems obvious, but I remember that was a hurdle to me when I got started in this style of games :slight_smile:


I also wouldn’t presume out of the gate that you’ll get players unfamiliar to Indie stuff. There may be plenty of folks who play Pathfinder because they can’t find groups to play other games with, and will be grateful for a little palette-cleanser at such an event.

Given that you’ll be seating 3-5 people at an event with thousands, it’s very conceivable and maybe even likely that what you’ll get are the 4 people there who would play Monsterhearts every week if they could find the players to do it. Prep for a range of experience levels, and be ready to skip the intro stuff and jump right to play if you get that table.


Yeah, what Jim said.

My town has a local con, one that’s been running for over four decades. It is dominated almost entirely by war gaming, D&D 5e, and Pathfinder. Beyond that, most of the rest is board games (typically the ones that take hours to play) and a little old-school stuff (often running actual early editions of D&D rather than newer OSR takes). Attendees are mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle-aged or older, and mostly straight and cis. I started attending about a decade ago, not because I loved any of the games, but simply because I didn’t have a group and wanted to play something with somebody.

But for the past few years, it’s slowly gotten to the point where there’s been one or two indie or story games in most slots. I’ve run Lady Blackbird, Dungeon World, and Fiasco; another guy runs Monster of the Week and three or four other PbtA games every year; a very cool lady facilitates things like Polaris, Fall of Magic, and Taste for Murder. We and a few others now often end up playing in each other’s games, because there is a small subgroup of us who prefer those kinds of games (or who like a mix of trad and indie). It just needed somebody taking the risk of organizing Polaris or whatever at a very grognardy con for some other people to realize, “Oh, there’s other people here who want to play the games I want to play!” and get in on that too.

I will also agree that trad gamers coming over to story games has mostly gone very smoothly, in my experience, as long as they are well-informed before signing up that it’s a more narrative-focused game without a lot of mechanical weight. (Though I have had a couple of disastrous Fiasco games and have sworn off facilitating that with a group of strangers, so it doesn’t always go perfectly.)


I just realized one big difference to be aware of … many indie games don’t play well with a particular player type: the player who is just there to experience the action and doesn’t hold an opinion on their own character’s agency.

In a lot of trad games that player can skate by and focus on the combat rules, but many fiction first games require the player DO something in order to operate effectively.


Just wanted to add: PaizoCon game registration is complete: I have a full slate of 5 players registered for each of these games!


Hope it goes well! In my (somewhat limited) experience the people who sign up for indie games at these things are curious about them and open to different ways of playing.

They also “get” how to play in them well and quickly, especially if the GM is confident and competent, which I’m sure you are.