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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: morgue on May 01, 2003, 01:04:04 AM

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 01, 2003, 01:04:04 AM
Hi all - I've been a lurker for a while, and I'm looking for advice - as good a motivation as any to register!  Here's why:

(below is a slight edit of my post on RPGnet, where I am a regular - I'm hoping to get a different perspective here)

Background - the Edinburgh branch of chain bookstore Ottakar's has an RPG noticeboard and display.

I've been in contact with the person who runs the section.  We've agreed that in about 3 weeks I'm going to have a table in the middle of the store all day (Saturday) to promote RPGs. Cool!

If it goes well, there are lots of other things we discussed (frex, I'm particularly keen on handholding new GMs through setting up a first game), but I want to focus this on getting people into the idea of RPGs.


* the biggest selling item they have is the D&D Adventure Game box, with its goodies and its low low price point.  So I'm gonna use that as my starting point. It's a good product, too.   (Their other biggie is Buffy, apparently, so maybe next time I'll use that.)

* we promote the day with flyers instore and at other local branches. How else??

* during the day I'll run short demos using the core characters from the adventure game box. The demos will be very very short, starting in media res - basically I envisage saying 'you're in a dungeon, and you come upon *this tricky situation* - what do you do?', and the demo is over when they get out the other side. Ten minutes? Twenty? Something in there.

* Prepare bits of paper for people to take away - a 'the world of RPGs' sheet talking about good products e.g. Buffy (the other big seller, apparently), a 'where to from here' sheet? Ideas?

* People who go through a demo will be given the 'scenario' sheet that shows what I was working from, a souvenir and also an educational tool as they see the bits I had prepared and the bits I made up on the spot.

* I trust my DMing ability to guide/cajole/enchant people, despite using D&D with its tactical bias... if we have the numbers and dice and counters to appeal to people who like that stuff, and me dancing around doing mad description/roleplay stuff to appeal to those who are into that end of it, then we get a good few bases covered.

I'm gonna need help coming up with/streamlining the demo scenarios - I'm thinking I'll try and come up with two or three and I can pull out different ones depending on my read of the 'mood' of the people that'd be playing it...

Um. What else. It's central, there'll be lots of browsers nearby so I'm anticipating an audience...

more as and when I think of it. The core of the idea is there.

PLEASE give me some comments - is this a sound plan? What am I missing? What should I do differently?

If it was you doing this at a chain store in your area, what ideas would *you* have?

This is a real opportunity and I don't want to mess it up. So help me out and sound off. Your hobby needs you!


And it does, too.  Any advice, 'sounds ok' included, would be gratefully received.


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Michael S. Miller on May 01, 2003, 02:47:09 AM
This is a cool idea and I'd love to take part in something like this sometime. (Pity I live thousands of miles and an ocean away).

Ron has some comments about Actual Play in the Stores ( that, while intended for a long-term thing, certainly have points applicable to a one-day promotion.

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 01, 2003, 04:41:20 AM
Thanks for the support and the link, Michael.  I've seen Ron's suggestions there before and they do strike a chord.  I hadn't connected them (or the ensuing discussion) to this project though, so it's been good to review that.

Has anyone out there done any demo work at all in a 'mainstream' space?

Some more specific questions:

* how do I handle the issue of spectators?  I am counting on there being some.  Is this even an issue?

* what demographic response do people expect I might get?  (I have in my head rough percentages of little-Jimmy-with-mom and teen-who-just-read-LOTR etc, but I want to check them with others, hence my not sharing them and biasing responses)


Title: How do you reach your market?
Post by: b_bankhead on May 01, 2003, 05:57:07 AM
The biggest problem I have found with the 'demo' model is publicity.  How are the people who might be interested in what  you are doing even going to find out about it?  How are you to advertise?  Any in-store advertising runs into the problem of the insularity of the hobby shop environment. Put simply the same little clot of people are going to see your advertising over and over.  Cycling of new 'eyeballs' through many hobby shops can be glacial.  How many of your target audience are going to even walk into Hole-in-the Wall Gameshop within 30 days?

   Advertising outiside of the shop environment runs into the problem of expense, and  creativity ;you have to create material compelling enough to make people come to your game who may have never even HEARD of a tabletop rpg. (think they don't exist?  I meet teenagers like this all the time in the Yahoo RPG chat room........they think rpg NECESSARILY means the computer version and have ***NO**** experience of 'our' kind...and digitally scratch their heads when I try to describe them...)

The Tundra games guy noted a certain 'hostility' on the Forge to the brick and mortar game shop.  This 'hostility' is mostly learning from hard experience that the classic FLGS is in fact quite poor at doing what it says it does......

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 01, 2003, 06:22:29 AM
Hey b_b,
these are exactly the issues that I have been grappling with for a long time.  Publicity is one of the immediate puzzles I'm confronted with now.  However, one crucial fact correction:

*the venue is a chain book store, not a hobby store*

It's like a Waterstones or a Barnes and Noble.  And it's going to be browser-heavy Saturday afternoon that I'm there.


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Valamir on May 01, 2003, 06:31:29 AM
Morgan, please continue to post updates on this project.  One of my pet theories is that increasing RPG exposure into exactly this sort of venue represents superior distribution route for the future than relying solely on traditional game/comics/hobby stores.

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 01, 2003, 07:40:54 AM
Hi there,

I suggest that the "new people" element of a project like this is (a) iffy, (b) very powerful if it happens, and (c) long-term. So the take-home is, leave the door open for it, encourage when possible, and don't expect much to happen fast.

What's the door, then? In my view, it's word-of-mouth, based on the people who do participate at first. That word-of-mouth is an interesting animal. Usually, it functions as you might expect ("That GM is great - he mixes fighting and interaction with NPCs really well!"). However, what's reported as potentially negative by a person who participated ("That DM sucked - he kept having the goblins talk to us!" when you did this only 25% of the time) might be interpreted very positively by the listener.

I think this whole project sounds like a wonderful idea and I also suggest that, if you do establish a mini-culture based on your GM rep, you can mix up the systems you're using to include stuff beyond the "big thing" in the store.


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Ian Charvill on May 01, 2003, 09:38:19 AM
You might try ringing your local newspaper, who may well be happy to run a small piece about the event.  I've never done this for roleplaying but I've certainly got free publicity for short film auditions this way.  You might mention this to your contact at Ottaker's who'll probably be happy for the publicity, and might want to add a comment.

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Malcolm Craig on May 01, 2003, 09:49:17 AM
As we're probably the games company who are physically closest to Edinburgh, feel free to email me if you'd like any help or advice. Not meaning in an "Oh, promote our stuff" way (the game isn't even out yet!), but if there's anything we can do in general terms, even if it's just to wander by during the day and have a friendly word, just ask.


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: jdagna on May 01, 2003, 10:31:56 AM
Lots of good advice from the others here.

One additional suggestion I'd offer is to avoid running demos that look like computer RPGs on paper.  Diablo does a great dungeon crawl and a book can't compete with it.  Instead, focus on situations that require moral and emotional decision-making.  Hostage situations are a great example that still focus on combat, which is easier for newbies to pick up than trying to speak and act in character.  In a D&D setting, maybe the characters come upon a goblin raid where several villagers have holed themselves up in a smoking house and are barely defending themselves while a family is being carted off as loot from the house next door.  When people realize they have meaningful choices, that's when they find out what Diablo can't give them.

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: b_bankhead on May 01, 2003, 11:11:53 AM
Quote from: morgue

*the venue is a chain book store, not a hobby store*

It's like a Waterstones or a Barnes and Noble.  And it's going to be browser-heavy Saturday afternoon that I'm there.

   Okay well that puts things in a different perspective!  i can't say that I have ever tried gaming in a venue like this one, however I think I can give some pertinent advice.

   In this evironments you are dealing with the mainstream.  I mean the REAL mainstream not the gaming mainstream.  Mainstream gamers already know about D&D and already like it.  But your audience isn't mainstream gamers.

 The next time you go to this place look around you. You will se a bunch of books.  You will see, Drama, and Action and spy novels  and mysteries, and science fiction and yes D&D fiction too....

 But only a small part of it is D&D fiction.  And D&D fiction is the kind of thing D&D does best.  This is how it has maintained it's stranglehold on the rpg hobby.  If you you aren't inclined to like D&D you won't stay because you aren't likely to be exposed to anything else.

But you aren't dealing with the gaming mainstream.  The REAL mainstream is very different, and you are going to need a different approach.  (and I strongly reccomend you read the thread Mainstream: a revision ( get a fuller picture of what I mean...)

   First you are going to need to present more that just D&D fiction.  You should try to present something from as many mainstream genres as possible, Drama,crime,spys,SF and yes fantasy (but not just D&D fantasy)and even more.
And since you want to make as much use of the space and time available as you can.   The game you use should have the following properties:

1. It should be learnable almost instantly (15 min.) tops
2. Sessions should be short so you can run several sessions and deal with as many players as possible.
3.It should be adaptable so it can deal with various genres
4. It should require minimal pre-prep on your part

(and If you haven't read my thread Rpg Structures and Issues of Recruitments (

  The game I would suggest  The game Soap.  Its ridiculously simple, very adaptable, and has an actual winner.  Plus, you can give the winner of each session a free copy of the game.  Soap can be purchased here:

Whatever you do I'd really like to hear about how this project goes, I am thinking of trying something like it myself...

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 02, 2003, 02:21:01 AM
Thanks for all this - when I find time here at work I'll reply more - right now there's one thing I want to respond to.

Quote from: jdagna
When people realize they have meaningful choices, that's when they find out what Diablo can't give them.

Yep, agreed - but I also feel strongly that another thing Diablo can't give is a sense of communal creativity, that lovely social vibe of generating something more than the sum of its parts; and I also think that this is both easier to sell and a more effective hook.

Of course, I'm going to do my best to pull of *both*.  So everyone wins, no-one loses.

However, I do really want to put in meaningful choices, which is going to be tricky given the limitations I've set myself/had set for me by circumstances:

* D&D adventure game, so fantasy adventurers (and ideally I want them in a dungeon for aesthetic reasons, so if I can get all the goodness in that setting so much the better)

* brevity - fifteen minutes or so, and no extensive character background to draw upon

and the crucial one:

* appropriate to a "PG" audience.  I don't want to be facing a 10 year old with a hostage dilemma that could work out nastily.

This last one is by no means insoluble - just a design challenge.  I want to craft a bunch of short micro-scenarios, each featuring:
* some action-adventure element
* some social interaction with an NPC
* some meaningful decision

What kinds of meaningul decisions are truly going to be 'kid friendly'?  (I know young people can be very sophisticated decision-makers, so I'm not too worried about making the decision too 'easy' for adults - I just don't want any content that will cause a worried mummy to complain to the manager.)

Thanks all for your comments!
morgue (oh, Malcolm, hey, we met briefly at Conpulsion - me the tall Kiwi chap helping run things - might take up your offer of support, thanks)

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 02, 2003, 11:18:34 AM
Quote from: morgue
What kinds of meaningul decisions are truly going to be 'kid friendly'?  (I know young people can be very sophisticated decision-makers, so I'm not too worried about making the decision too 'easy' for adults - I just don't want any content that will cause a worried mummy to complain to the manager.

These are pretty easy. Just lower the stakes a bit. Instead of it being life and death, it's a question of helping a friend or getting something else you want. That sort of decision. See "Sweet Valley High" and the like for low stakes stuff that can still pack that moral punch for kids.

I mean I find it ironic that parents don't object to the gore of a video or RPG, but as soon as a moral implication is put on it, look out!

So the adventure would look like, Hack your way to the end room of the dunjon, and then the character has a moment when he get's to choose one of two options. Two dohickey's fall from cages into the lava below (Batman, anyone?). One dohickey is a +12 Hackmaster. The other is the gem that the character's girlfiend sent him to get for their anniversary. Which does he choose to save!

That sort of thing. Make sure he suffers when he grabs the Hackmaster. :-)


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: deadpanbob on May 02, 2003, 11:26:06 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes

That sort of thing. Make sure he suffers when he grabs the Hackmaster. :-)

Hey, girlfriends are a dime a dozen my friend.  Heck in D&D I think you can even buy one as a henchman when you reach a high enough level.  But +12 Hackmasters are really hard to come by.

I say to make sure he suffers if he lamely chooses to grab the gem ;-0



Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: jdagna on May 02, 2003, 11:41:06 AM
Actually, you'd be kind of surprised the decisions kids are asked to make in school.  I know in CA, part of the third-grade curriculum is the life raft scenario - twenty people survive a plane crash and you only have room for seven, so a bunch of ten-year-olds decide who should drown and who should live.  I'm amazed people can complain about the pledge of allegiance and let that one slide.

Anyway... you're right - it's just a little tweaking for younger folks.

Since you want a dungeon setting, I had an idea... the characters are all convicts in a medieval dungeon (which means half of them are probably guilty of nothing more than offending a noble), when an earthquake strikes.  Part of the floor collapses, revealing a dark and vile-smelling cavern under the dungeon.  The guards are surely coming - the PCs need to get moving quickly, but there's a complication.  An NPC convict is old/injured and will have to be carried, slowing everyone down.  There's another NPC, but you're not sure you trust him.  He's been brown-nosing the guards from day one and there's a big reward for turning in escapees.  You'd have to restrain him if you don't want him to come with you.

If you encourage a little in-character dialogue here, you can really get people started on their acting roles before they start making rolls.  And a little internal group conflict can spice up any plotline.

Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 06, 2003, 02:54:06 AM
Again, thanks for all the comments, much appreciated, will try to squeeze time out to respond more... in the mean time, here's the poster I'm thinking of using - it'd just be a printed-on-coloured-paper deal, simple for the store or me to generate.  I think it actually communicates a heck of a lot, but I am very open to suggestions and feedback of the great or small variety.


[big font:] OUTWIT the Princess
[big font:] KISS the Dragon
[mid font:] (or any other way you want to play it.)
[small font:] In a role-playing game, YOU make the adventure.
[small font:] Find out more on SATURDAY 39th MAY
[small font:] Demonstrations and information ALL AFTERNOON
[small font:] at Ottakar’s George Street, Edinburgh


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on May 20, 2003, 03:23:14 AM
Hi all.  The event is this Saturday and it's coming along nicely.

I've just posted the first 'microscenario' to a thread on RPGnet, and others will follow, so if any of you are interested in helping out/having a look please jump across to:

RPGnet allows unregistered posting, if any of you are moved to comment.

You will see that I have gone for interesting colour and incident - putting in meaningful choices ended up being too hard for what I was wanting to do.  I'm hoping that the relative complexity of the situation here will show off one advantage of RPGs over computer games, namely 'I really can do anything I want'.


Title: Help needed for public event
Post by: morgue on June 09, 2003, 01:59:10 AM
[this is a cut and paste of my post to RPGnet - sorry about the duplication, but time is short - I want to give feedback to these boards for the great ideas and support they've given me - morgue]

Finally got around to writing up a followup email to the store I did an RPG demo day in. Here 'tis, for your collective information, because I don't have time to write a separate post about this, sorry.

Also don't have time to find links to previous threads where I talk about what it was, but in short:
* in Ottakar's, a chain bookstore in Edinburgh
* _primary_ goal: sell D&D Adventure Games
* I manned a desk for about four hours, armed with a couple of micro-scenarios I had written myself

Any comments and feedback and suggestions gratefully received.


sorry this followup has taken so long, I've just been through an incredibly busy couple of weeks at work.

First, thanks for the support and interest in the RPG demo day. Very much appreciated. I've heard a lot of goodwill from the local RPG community, too, they all think it's great that someone's doing something to try and bring in the 'next generation'.

The day itself was a very positive experience despite the relatively small turnout. Although the response was obviously not as large as I would have wanted, it wasn't too far off what I expected. In any case, the way RPGs work is by finding 'core people' who then involve their friendship group, so even a small number of hits can have ripple effects.

The people who turned up were about half new young people and half 'lapsed' gamers. The new young people were in their low teens, had heard something or other about gaming or seen the products on the wall at your store, and were curious and keen to find out more. Lord of the Rings, I think, helped. There were two of these guys that played in demos, another two I spoke to, and another one who wasn't there on the day but has since emailed me based on the brochure we made. In each case they'd like to be part of something but can't take it on themselves to organise things. Of the two who played in demos, one played with his father, and the pair of them seemed to have a great time. They bought the Adventure Game box before leaving. The other one who played in demos was very enthusiastic and has since emailed me to suggest ways of finding people to play with, and he has said he will buy another of the Adventure Boxes. I didn't have any extended contact with any of the others. These, by the way, were the people brought in by the advance publicity on the noticeboard and in the store.

The other half were 'lapsed' gamers who used to play, back in the day (there are three on your staff, including you!). I spoke to three non-staff 'lapsed' gamers across the day, two of whom played in a demo (with Craig from your store and my friend Morag.) They seemed all fired up and there was much conversation along the lines of 'I'd forgotten how much fun this is'. I made sure the two involved in the demo had my contact details but neither has contacted me so far. The lapsed gamers were the casual browsers who stuck around to see what was up.

In other words, we've got a pretty good sense of the demographic response: older people passing by who were reminded of their gaming history, and young teens who have heard about the event and came specifically to find out about it.

A peripheral outcome is the increased awareness of the presence of RPGs in Ottakars, due to my talking about the event to gamers in Edinburgh and also online (I know that several people on RPGnet have gone looking for nearby Ottakkars branches).

Another event of note - a mother wanting advice on a 'murder mystery' game for her young daughters for a birthday party. I've been in email contact with her since and she's sorted something out, so it was a nice thing to stumble upon. While it didn't directly relate to anything we were doing, there might be flow-on effects (her son, she says, has roleplayed in the past so he might be re-invigorated at prompting from mum) and she certainly ended up with a positive impression of Ottakars!

Anyway. What, if anything, to do next?

My feeling is that the instore worked, but the low response made it only marginally worthwhile. Much better publicity would be needed to make a repeat a sensible option. Publicity, of course, is not an easy thing to pull together. So, hmmm.

My instinct is that a continuing occasional presence instore would, however, bring a cumulative response - over time, more and more people would stumble upon it or hear about it and be able to come, and repeated encounters would make them more likely to get involved.

My current idea is to hold something regular, but smaller, specifically for the two young people who've emailed me looking for games. Perhaps something 12-2 every saturday or sunday for a couple of weeks? Perhaps using the second table instore, on the balcony, so we would be less disruptive to the store but still maintaining an Ottakars presence? This would be advertised on the noticeboard, and hopefully over the few weeks more people would turn up and at the end of the few weeks there'd be enough people that they could go off and found their own little group somewhere.

Additionally, the continued presence of games instore will click with the lapsed gamer crowd, and perhaps something else would emerge out of this (something outside Ottakar's hours and probably involving beer).

I think a good avenue for publicity to hit the 'young teens' demographic is to hit up secondary schools, maybe even writing letters specifically to english teachers or drama teachers. There are lots of good angles to take and lots of people who'd enjoy it if they only knew it existed!

Anyway, that's all the thoughts I have time for right now. Any and all feedback gratefully received (especially whether or not those Adventure Games sold).

(PS - I'm also a bit keen to organise something for any from your store who are brave/foolish enough to give it a go - there were lots of curious noises from all and sundry (including but not limited to the two guys who've done this before), and I'd love to run a game for a such a cool mix of people. I'm thinking a Jeeves-and-Wooster style escapade might be a good piece of fun... do think about it, anyway, if there's any enthusiasm I'm all for it.)