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Author Topic: 15 minute demos for conventions  (Read 5395 times)
Eero Tuovinen
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« on: August 23, 2005, 08:02:16 PM »

The only reason I write this now is that I'm really bad at remembering this stuff. So I'd probably forget later, when people actually have time to worry about this kind of thing.

I'm noting that the recent Gencon experiences seem to include a number of complaints about too long demos. This is interesting, because I demo these same games at Finnish conventions, and am very much able to get each of them down to 15 minutes. Perhaps we should compare notes with the respective designers? For your information, here's my recent list of demoable games: MLwM, Dust Devils, DiV, Fastlane, NPA, kpfs, octaNe. I've not particularly tried to extend the list since last spring on the account of having quite enough to demonstrate in those, but at this point I'm pretty confident about my ability to get most games to work in this regard.

On to the point: what we'd really need is a demo material database. I have, for example, perfectly usable, simple guidelines for the above demonstrations for cases where I have to teach somebody else to do the demo. Ready-made characters and accentuated GMing plan. If we made these kinds of notes easily available and public, I imagine that demo preparation and fine-tuning would become much easier, especially for those who do lots of conventions and/or have multiple people doing demos. And, of course, during Gencon it seems that the general Forge demo-fu is very near to proving insufficient, if the discussion is anything to go by. Too few people knowing too few demos, and those few are too long, if I may exaggerate.

After all, demo material, just like prepared adventures, never grows old. So it makes sense to preserve and share it.

Of course, this post falls into the ever-growing pile of "we really should have a database/web resource for this here nifty project". All well and good, if somebody did it. Well, let's throw in another point: if any of you, especially the younger designers, have a hard time distilling a genuine 15 minute demo (meaning one that goes in under 10 minutes under ideal conditions), consult with me. The chances are I might have some techniques for this kind of thing.
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Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2005, 02:14:55 AM »

Would you mind expanding a bit on how you go about prepping and running a 15-minute demo right here?

Cheers,
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2005, 04:38:58 AM »

My sense (having painfully, heart-breakingly, whittled my Capes demo down from 40 minutes to 10) is that there is one and only one factor that both makes and breaks these attempts:  Excitement.

Folks will testify, I am very excited about my game.  This is a good thing:  the transmission of that visceral excitement is what the demo needs to be about.  At the same time, that excitement is what gets me discussing pointless dreck like (say) the rules for Reactions.  So the trick to reducing demos (again, to my mind) is to figure out, for each demonstrator, what of the things they are excited about they can convey.

Which is why I look at the idea of a demo database and immediately get a bit leery.  Transmitting excitement over bits and bytes is a very dicey business.  Y'know?  And I'd almost... scratch that, I would definitely rather have no demo of my game presented than one that fails to either have excitement or convey it to customers.

So how do we make the demo database (not just for me... I'll somehow manage to write the excitement straight into the demo text) as good a way to convey this sense of the subtext as face-to-face transmission?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2005, 05:52:55 AM »

Peter: this is, of course, a complex topic. It's a little simpler than a whole session, mainly because you can and will cut away all actual interaction in favor of simplicity. But that's not much, it's still almost as complex as roleplaying in general. That's why there's no simply formula for it. Like novel vs. short story, almost.

However, the first step is to simply pick and choose what, exactly, it is you're going to demonstrate about the game. This is something people tend to skip altogether as far as I know, even if it's absolutely crucial. Consider: some games have tight, central conflict resolution mechanics, like Dust Devils. Some games have intricate setting, like Polaris. Some games have fun and illustrative character creation, like Sorcerer. You have to find the key elements of the game, and present them in ten minutes. (I always start from ten, because it can expand to fifteen easily with a duller audience or background distractions or just because you both are having a good time and interrupt the demo.)

Next, stage an easily controlled situation around the elements to be demonstrated. Make it interaction, but make it dead simple. If you expect the audience to do anything, as you should (this being a rpg), craft those interactions in the form of multiple choice questions. For each question, prepare a one-sentence explanation, to be used if you don't get any answer from the audience immediately. The most important element of choice is that you don't craft wrong choices. If you let the player choose, then it needs to not matter what he chooses.

Apart from interaction, there's probably material you have to explain directly. Decide in advance what this material is, and in what situation the audience needs to hear it. Leave most of this passive material out, with one exception: if there's rules material the players manipulate in the game, and it takes specific skill, you can show how it works. This happens by making the choices yourself and simultaneously telling the audience why you picked that particular choice. So if you were demoing D&D chargen, for example, you wouldn't mire yourself into interaction with the audience, but would rather show how you yourself make a character with skill and elegance.

Example time. This is the kernel of my Dust Devils demo for one participant. I have one for 2-7 as well, it's a little different. I write this in the form of dialogue to be short, you can see how it works. Note that the audience doesn't need to know anything about westerns or Dust Devils.

Me: Welcome. Do you want to be the sheriff or the outlaw? <put down two character sheets>
Audience: <picks one, let's say the sheriff>
Me: OK, you're Long-Tom Meredith, the sheriff of Last Oak. I'm "Gentleman" Jim Harris, a frightful dandy outlawed in three states. This is our showdown. High noon, the citizens of Last Oak have barred their doors, only one of us is getting out in one piece. The goal of Jim Harris is to shame you in front of your town and prove his own mettle. What's your goal?
Audience: <picks something, I validate, or I suggest a couple of options and he chooses>
Me: Good. Now, we are in conflict, and the cards will tell who walks out the victor. As you can see in the character sheet, you have four abilities that represent your power. Pick any two, which you feel are suitable for the situation at hand. Jim chooses Heart and Hand, because he plans to make you fear his shooting skill.
Audience: <the abilities and their definitions are in the character sheet; any pick's OK,>
Me: How do these abilities help you in reaching your goal?
Audience: <any justification goes>
Me: <deal cards> now, we both get as many cards as the sum of the two abilities we chose. How much is your sum?
Audience: <tells me, I deal>
Me: Take up your cards. The mission here is to form the best possible five card poker hand you can. Here's a list of the possible hands. The best hand wins the conflict and gains his goal, while the highest card decides who gets to narrate the situation. So if you can get both, all the better.
Audience: <let him arrange the cards>
Me: If you want to change any cards, you can do that with your skills: pick one skill that suits the situation, and you can exhange at most that many cards.
Audience: <exhanges or not; usually at this point the player asks about the character descriptors (sorry, I've been playing the Finnish version of the game so long I don't remember what these are called): if that happens, I just explain how they're used and give an additional card as a reward for being interested in the character sheet>
Me: When your hand is ready, give me the excess cards and leave yourself with only five. Then we show our hands.
<hands are shown; I've given myself a pretty bad hand on purpose, not trying any better than two pairs or such; let's assume audience wins and gets the high card>
Me: Oh, it seems that Long-Tom conquers again. And you got the narration rights as well. So, how's it gonna be? Do you arrest me violently, or do the citizens subdue me when I try to escape your wrath, or what?
Audience: <narrates the conflict>
Me: Good. Seems that Jim won't forget this in a short while. Our demo ends, but sheriff Meredith can certainly be content with a work well done.
<if the person's interested, I tell him about the Devil score on the character sheet, and the chip mechanics as well; neither are used in the demo to speed it up>

--

Tony: you might well be right, I don't know. Could require some thinking about it. How about the author of the demo, the baseline guy as it were, filmed his own act? That should capture the important aspects for study.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2005, 06:12:14 AM »

As a for-example:  Vincent talked about how he plays Kill Puppies, and he said that he was feeding people a lot of the perversity.  "So the kitty's in the blender... do you... EEEW!... push the button?"  "Yeah, YEAH!"  "You don't DRINK IT, do you?"  "Yeah, we drink it!"  "OH YOU'RE DISGUSTING!"

I've found this technique spikes short demos very substantially.  So you've written that it shouldn't matter what the customer chooses.  Which... yeah... the demo should continue either way.  But you have to be excited about what the customer is choosing, and that means that it has to matter to you, right?  Particularly, in the end of your Dust Devils demo, when the customer is narrating, I would be jumping in to show them that their narrative power can make me giddy as a school-boy.

You:  "So, does Harris end up flopping face first into the horse trough?  Or... not the MANURE PILE!  Tell me Fancy Jim doesn't end up face-down in some manure!" 
Them:  "Yeah, with a big mouth-ful of dung to spit out!"
You:  "NO!  What a terrible fall for Gentleman Jim.  He'll never be able to show his face in Last Oak again!"

My goal in a demo is always to show (not convince, not deceive, but show) my customers that they are already good at this game.  "Wow, I'd be bummed to see you walk away without this game.  You're such a natural."  But I can do that because the demo leads them to do the things that I, personally, sincerely love and admire in a player.  If someone else isn't impressed by the same things then they cannot sincerely deliver the same demo, even if they get it word-perfect.  Does that make sense?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2005, 06:28:08 AM »

Yeah, I can see what you're driving at. But then, surely that spark of excitement isn't the key issue for demo preparation? I'm talking about the structure and technique and pure scenario planning. The excitement has to come from somewhere else. Why would anybody even demo something he doesn't like? So if we constructed some semi-public, ready-to-run demo material, that doesn't have to mean that anybody has to use it if he doesn't like the game.

It is emblematic of the Forge that we all read the same stuff, and draw the same conclusions. I read the same Vincent piece, and use that technique very much. The nice thing is that because Finland is so small, I actually get quite realistically to play with all these folks who impress me with their demoing skills, sooner or later ;)
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2005, 06:40:11 AM »

Actually, I think the enthusiasm thing does impact demo-prep.  You created Gentleman Jim (with, I expect, an eye toward his being an engaging villain whose humiliation you would admire).  I wrote out "Goal:  Humiliate Major Victory."

Indeed, I'm working even now on making the other characters in the demo pre-gens into better tools for conveying excitement.  Right now, Major Victory pretty much holds the whole thing together, and that's just not right.
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Lisa Padol
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« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2005, 07:19:51 AM »

Here's another vote for a demo database. It should also include tips and the prep sheets I saw floating around the Forge booth.

Less critical, but still neat: A database of full length scenarios or scenario ideas, tips, and prep sheets. Useful for folks willing to run at conventions, but not willing to come up with their own ideas, and for folks wanting a bit of help introducing the game to friends outside of conventions.

-Lisa
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timfire
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« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2005, 07:27:01 AM »

The piece of advice that Michael Miller gave me was that you shouldn't explain any of the rules until they come up in play. That has helped me alot. I can get the players up and rolling in like 2 minutes, after I explain the basic premise of the game.
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2005, 07:47:22 AM »

Tim,

I'd go one better than that.  I'd say don't even bring up any rules that aren't absolutely neccessary for the game.  In Tony's demo he had us pick characters, then he threw out some Goals.  After that the players simply picked Abilities, narrated action and rolled a die.  He skipped Reactions, Drives, the numbers attached to the Abilities, and a whole host of other things that add to the Capes game.  However nothing he tossed out was central to the Capes game.  So, my advice is to not just forego explaining the rules until they come up.  Go further.  Don't even use most of the rules.  Just the central ones.

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timfire
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« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2005, 07:55:01 AM »

Andrew,

Yeah, I agree. I forget that not everyone has a system that's as tight as Them Mountain Witch. TMW is all muscle, there's no fat to cut.
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2005, 08:03:33 AM »

I noticed that my most successful demo of the few I did run at GenCon (what do you want, I'm lazy) worked because I directed the action and had them roll the dice for it.  And by direct it I set up the conflict and told them what their intent was.  Then they rolled the dice and spoke to each other accordingly.  It doesn't show off the system, but it left them smiling and garnered me a sale.  Of course the people have to be interested in the whole process and shit.  In another demo the fuckos didn't even want to be there and it was like pulling teeth (one of the reasons I don't like dealing with folks who have been roped into demos).

Keith
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TonyLB
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« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2005, 09:15:06 AM »

I don't remember whether it was Clinton or Ron who said "If they want to know the rules there's this beautiful book they can buy for that purpose."  My final demo (of which Andrew Cooper saw an early, yet-fat-laden version) makes no attempt to show people how they will actually play the game.  It shows them how it will feel once they learn how to play the game.
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2005, 09:18:04 AM »

forget that not everyone has a system that's as tight as Them Mountain Witch. TMW is all muscle, there's no fat to cut.

Bull. Take out the Fate cards and don't go into how Trust is generated, just used. Two of the most important mechanics, and one doesn't even need to be there (for a demo), and the other can be half-used.
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