Convention and One-Shot Play

One of the things we’ve been struggling with is how to make ACKS awesome the first time you play it. It’s clear to us that having these late-campaign rules is awesome in a years-long campaign, but people are excited about the promise of domain management and want it right away.
The Gen Con demo worked out part of the answer. You have multiple characters - a King, a Conqueror, and an Adventurer - and all of them take part in a sandbox that’s moving toward some consequential event. Even if you’re just playing one of these levels, the awareness of what’s happening on the others makes it exciting - the dungeoncrawl of the low-level characters is significant because it’s part of this ongoing meta-narrative.
That was successful for a four-day event (or at least it was successful for us who were judging it). The remaining problem - for example, at the four-hour event I did today at the Compleat Strategist - is how to make all these levels playable in a short time.
Playable means:

  1. understandable; I spent the first half hour of the game just getting everyone on board with the situation at its most basic levels: “you guys are retainers of these powerful characters who disappeared, they went off to stop the Awakening and never returned.”
  2. actionable; the players were excited by the idea that the Kings had vanished and left the kids running the store, but in four hours we didn’t get to actually roll domain-level events or otherwise engage with the promise of having to manage a realm in chaos when its leaders vanish.
    Here’s my proposal for how to do shorter format events:
    All players have domains with similar economic status (maybe some have more income potential, others have more in their treasury). The goal of the one-shot is to increase the economic status of the players’s domains. Perhaps this is a within-session competition, perhaps it’s competing against other groups (in NYC, they were able to increase five domains by an average of 128,520 gp each in four hours, can you top that?)
    The key idea here is that all the activities players might engage in, from domain management to dungeon-crawling, are potential ways to increase one’s economic status. Roleplaying out the process of going into a dungeon is a high-risk, high-reward activity. You might come out ahead taking the same amount of time to play out domain events, but then again using the same time to send one of each available level of party into a dungeon might reap rewards greater than domain management could offer.
    A related thought: what if the Peter Principle mechanism that restricts characters from gaining XP from the routine activities of a domain too small for their level also applies to dungeoneering? One of the questions that’s come up in convention-style play is “why not play the King characters all the time”; a potential answer is “doing so earns those PCs no XP and deprives lower-level characters of the chance to benefit from the dungeon the Kings have depopulated.” (Note that in OD&D, XP gained is meant to be divided by the ratio of character level to dungeon level.)
    If having the Adventurers make a big score helps the domain raise its economy, that’s a reason to play at this level in one-shot games; if the Kings gain a cut of the XP earned by the Adventurers, that’s a reason to play lower-level PCs in a campaign.

I am digging the idea of if there are two parallel gaming groups playing ACKs (like the Redbox and Whitebox groups) that each group plays out the King level for the other group. So in low level play while dungeon delving, the party has to deal with army pillaging their ‘save place’ where they convert their loot into XP, all because of some conflict happening with the Thursday night group of Kings.
I like the idea that the whim of kings can be devastating for the common folk, so separation that information out so my low level character is at risk of being at the wrong place in a royal game of chess that I have limited information about adds an extra layer of tension to the game.