This post took a while for me to write. Mostly because of life, work, and I'm working on a blog about lightsabers so I can stop crossing the streams too much.
Most of my time at GenCon was spent running around the floor of the convention doing errands and purchasing a metric crap ton of books to research and pick through and play. I only got to take part in two or three games that entire weekend. Some things happened during two of them that I need to share.
In one game, a new player made the choice to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the game. Actually, let me rephrase that. Using the powers of his faith in Heavy Metal, a modern day battlebard marched to oncoming doom, flanked on all sides by soldiers of Valhalla (and I don't mean the town in Upstate New York) while playing Immigrant Song by Led Zepplin. The player, completely cool with this, figured that as long as this was a one shot, what did they have to lose?
In another game, a player makes the decision to have his character be that guy, the one who is the firebrand, the instigator. John Adams with a bottle of mescaline in one hand a fireball in the next. He gets himself and two players in to the hands of a horrible entity. He figured that, as long as this was a one shot, what did they have to lose?
The problem with this was that these games were not One Shots. They were not meant to standalone by themselves and were in fact a part of a larger narrative that had been taking place for years both at GenCon and at other locations. In the first scenario, the outcome ended with a player making a decision that ended up effectively ending the threat to the players. However, in the second, the firebrand player realized that one of the characters he had dragged with had been in play for the better part of five years. Quite a few of the players at both games had been playing these particular characters for years.
The firebrand player immediately toned down his attitude, now realizing that there were consequences to his actions that would last beyond the day. And I think that says a lot about how people view One Shot games as opposed to Campaigns games. That level of fearlessness that comes with knowing that you may never see these players again, nor have to deal with the in game consequences that would come if the setting didn't end at the call of game, left to waver in the great 'what if' as all cliffhangers do.
That fearlessness is refreshing, but it is not without its problems. Both of these people took their characters to self destruction. Because what is a life free of consequences if you can't take it to its ultimate conclusion? You don't get to see that much in Campaigns/Chronicles because for some of us, creating and playing a character is an investment in time and resources. You need to bang together a character's background, even a skeleton, make sure you can costume as them, and maybe make some ties to other characters. Depending on the game you're playing and the person you are, you have to make that decision as to whether or not you want to play a character who has that level of fear.
Also, by playing a Chronicle game, you're essentially buying in to the larger plot. Are you prepared to throw your PC or other players' characters away on something daring? That last one is the situation that caught our firebrand friend, but I've seen it used to great affect in other situations. I helped build a character for a (now) friend who wanted to build a character who used magic that would be seen as pushing the border of grey magic. I explained that some players/NPCs might see that as a killing offense. He went for it, and it was a blast to see him play off of others. He wasn't playing it to the level of "well, if this is the only game we're all playing, what do we have to lose?" I think the difference is there.
I think there is something to say against playing campaign games at conventions like GenCon, especially if your base of operations is nowhere near the Indianapolis area as most of the game runners weren't and most people expect one offs anyway. In one game, several of us spent a good chunk of time explaining the setting to the new players, which is fine in of itself but when there isn't time to do that then people can get lost in a hurry. Campaign games will, with very few exceptions, always favor those who have played in it before with the new players needing to get over the learning curve provided by the setting and mechanics. When you're only playing a game that lasts maybe four or five hours and you never know if you'll ever play again, that can be supremely overwhelming.
I think when doing conventions or games outside of your sphere of influence, you need to bang the point home that the game you're working on is part of an overarching chronicle, and that the players decisions stand to influence what happens next. Last year at GenCon, the players in the Dresden Game unleashed what I can only refer to as a Ghost Storm that nearly consumed the continental United States. That storm was not resolved until later that February, which the STs had declared potentially chronicle ending. That's an amazing example to give to players and should be used as an example.
Another thing to consider: Find ways to plug your players in to the overarching plot. Not just the plot of the game, but the world game you're building. If the plot you're using is only going to really affect the the people you're used to playing, or requires someone from your usual pool to help, then you may want to consider tweaking things around. I've spent a lot of game sessions being sequestered to the kiddie's table while the more clued in characters/players got to do shit. We as storytellers need to make these first time/few time players feel like they spent their money wisely and not just as people holding up the set while others are around. I'm not saying to guide them by the hand, but to give them something and see what happens from it.