Teaching the game: how do you sell players on the system while running a demo or convention game?
While I don't run games online, I do run them at conventions, as you followers of this blog well know. Even before starting Cold Steel Wardens, I demoed WEGS and Pittsburgh 68, to say nothing of my numerous convention games at Origins and the many local conventions here in the Miami Valley.
|Everyone has a different schtick!|
Keep your PCs unique!
However, this emphasis shouldn't just extend to your pre-generated PCs. Rather, you should ensure that your adventure itself emphasizes the core themes of the setting. One of my most successful convention games--the Deadlands one-shot included over in my free gaming materials: "Westbound on the San Juan Express"--played this angle up with emphasis. "Westbound..." emphasized the alternate history angle of the setting, as the PCs were hired to escort Samuel Clemens to Denver to deliver a speech, but also touched on the occult/horror theme, as the game also featured a mysterious Harrowed and a batch of walkin' dead, hidden away in the cargo cars.
I also try to ensure that PCs all have interesting, unique things to do and don't step on one another's toes. In my "Reno Six-Pack" of Hell on Earth adventurers, I do include three 'spellcasters', but all three use different powers: the Templar focuses on healing and self-buff powers, the Doomsayer blasts things with radioactive energy, and the Junker has Tesla-based gadgetry. Even though the mechanics of their spellcasting is nominally the same, their form and function differ greatly, providing niche protection and covering unique bases. Further, the non-caster characters cover numerous unique skills. The Road Warrior, obviously, is the best at driving and piloting checks, but is also a terror in melee, wielding a mini-chainsaw. The Harrowed gunslinger makes for an expert marksman, but is also a capable tracker and scout.
Taking the pain out of the system's learning curve also helps aid play. After players pick characters in a CSW one-shot, I walk them through the character sheet, using one of the non-chosen characters. In doing so, I also demonstrate what certain rolls look like, particularly showing how certain modifiers (for CSW, mainly Skill Specialties) fit into a given roll. This tends to speed things up, though I often start each one-shot with an 'easy' encounter, where the players can get their feet wet in an environment that isn't going to harm them drastically.
Lastly? Remember it's just a game. For a one-shot--especially at a convention--it's a much better idea to fudge some rules for the sake of the game moving forward and players having fun. Getting hung up in minutia, particularly with new players, isn't worth the hassle. Make sure everyone's having a good time and that they leave the table satisfied.