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NPCs: How to Handle Downtime

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

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A few days ago, I posted something about PCs handling downtime.  Since then, I have gotten a few remarks about how NPCs should be responsible for the handling of downtime.  “That is what they are supposed to do, right?”

Well, yes… NPCs and GMs are there to entertain you.  It is why you paid to go to an event.  However, they aren’t supermen, and can’t be with you at all times.  Sometimes NPCs have to all go away to set something up.  Some of the onus of responsibility for entertaining the players MUST go to the players.

Having said that, there are a few ways you can deal with downtime at your game without using too many NPCs.

Take-Home Puzzles

Give your players a puzzle that will take them a while to solve.  It is nice to have these sitting around and ready for if you need to distract your players for a while.  These puzzles can include long cyphers, or physical puzzles that they need to put together.  I had my players work with two separate puzzles that I had spray painted white with a message on each.  It took them a while, and kept a number of players busy and chatting.

You have to make sure that you don’t do these too often, and be sure that they aren’t too hard or annoying, because then your players get bored and frustrated.

Angry Ex-Boyfriend (Or angry anything)

Send in an NPC, just one, with great fighting stats.  Have them there to challenge the lover of his ex, or the person who stole his bread… It doesn’t matter WHY he is challenging the players, just so long as he is loud and distracting for some of the downtime.  The players will have a good time dealing with the angry person, and you will have avoided some downtime.

Competition Loving Noble

Send out a noble character, who wants to find the best (fighter, singer, crafter, whatever) and have them arrange an impromptu competition, with prizes!  This can be put together quickly, and gets the players to compete amongst themselves.

Back Story Relevant Folks

Lots of characters have a “long lost” something.  Send an NPC out to fulfill that role.  But put in a twist.  Long lost love staggers into town, but with no memory!  Long lost father comes back, and wants you to help him somehow!

Whatever it is, it may take two people, but you are involving people’s backstories in the game, and it makes them feel involved.  Not ONLY are you involving them, but you are doing it with the least amount of effort on your part.  Heck, a backstory relevant mod can be handed to someone who you are currently testing out as a GM.  If they mess up, it doesn’t effect the entire game, and is only relevant to that one story-line.  Really, it tests them out on their ability to run serious, thoughtful mods, and makes a player feel like they are loved!

Treasure Hunt

This one can be set up in minutes and doesn’t require a lot of planning.  Have an NPC draw a map, and make it TERRIBLE.  Then give that NPC a treasure chest with some loot in it, and have him/her go out and get the players to help him/her find it.  Depending on how bad the map is, the NPC can have the players wandering around the property for ages, bumbling and hilarious.  Get one of your more inventive and entertaining NPCs to be the bumbling treasure hunter.

Gamblers, Drunks, Merchants, Trainers

These are things that you can give to ANYONE and then turn around and ignore them.  The players can interact with them, and if you give them free-reign to do what they want within their skill-set, then Huzzuah!  You have new blood out there, making your game interesting and odd.

In conclusion: having a few NPCs out to distract people while you set up or tear down mods (or just nap… I love naps) is a really good idea.  It tricks the players into thinking that you are clever and had more things planned, and keeps them out of your hair while you set things up and get things done!

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A, E, I, O, U: Why the Vowels are your Friends

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Let’s face it, PCing at a LARP can be one of the most liberating and therapeutic experiences a person can have. We’ve all felt it – the nervous anxiety that builds up as an event weekend gets close… the fun-filled anticipation of something that you just know is going to be awesome. You go to an event and you let loose. You don this fantastical persona and participate in what feels like an infinitely complete alternate universe; and what’s more is that you genuinely feel unique and heroic in this alternate universe. When the event ends, you go back home with a grin on your face, barely able to contain your excitement for the next time you can come back. This is why we all LARP. This is how many of us will remember our first PCing experiences.

But what does it take to actually create these universes? What does it take to create such a rich and complete set of plotlines and rules? What does it take to create not just the fantastical in-game awesomeness of LARPing, but the out-of-game foundation to ensure a successful game that will indeed leave people wanting more? In short, what does it take to run a successful LARP?

Well, first, we need to define what a “successful LARP” really is. For the purposes of this blog article, we will keep it simple. What I define a “successful LARP” to be is a LARP where all the players of the game generally feel that the game treats them fairly and equally and also feel that the LARP’s main focus is on the players’ fun and enjoyability of the game.

So, with that definition in place, now we can talk about how to structure a LARP as a whole or the constituents thereof in order to make the awesomeness happen… and to do that, we’ve invited a few friends: A, E, I, O, and U. We left “Y” at home because, well, the other vowels hate Y. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nvHzwyzpoM

Anyway, these vowels can make or break a LARP, game department, or, hell, even a business! They stand for: Assiduity, Efficiency, Innovation, Organization, and Universality. You like how I did that? There’s even an “I”nnovative “O”rganization to this blog. So let’s break it down… and these vowels come in no particular order.

Assiduity – the “never quit” attitude. The greater the amount of effort, time, and dedication that you or your staff members dedicate to the success of the LARP, the more successful it will be. Vigilance cultivates success. It’s actually quantifiable! And it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding to see the success of a game based on the effort put into the game to keep it successful. This is a quality that every single member of a LARP staff needs to possess. Assiduity is what makes all other qualities and goals a tangible possibility.

Efficiency – Do you want one person to run 100 miles or a hundred people to run 1 mile each? Actually, it’s probably best to have 10 people run 10 miles each when it comes to this analogy, but I’m sure you get the point. Efficiency is clutch. You need to be as efficient as possible and utilize as many resources as you have available. Do not overburden or overtax your resources, make sure to always cut “dead weight” (that is, anything at all that could be making something less efficient than it should be), but, at the same time, do not spread things too thin.

Innovation – Let’s think outside the box! I cannot stress enough how important this is. Go against the grain. Be willing to adapt and change. Do not be a source of inhibition, but always champion growth. Do not be the same candy bar that every other game out there is, that anyone can buy at any store. Of course, this is not to say that you intentionally go out of your way to change or be different when change or difference is not needed, but it is simply to say that unique creativity breeds success. The more innovative you are with everything from the out-of-game business model, to marketing, to the in-game world you create, the more successful your LARP or game will be.

Organization – Lawful Neutral Alignment = Very Yes. Having a solid structure in place for how you do everything is key. Come up with standard operating procedures. Create and utilize templates. Create instructions and rules for how you develop everything. Leverage technology and everything you can to ensure this level of organization. Be meticulous with your documentation of said templates and procedures. The more organized you are, the better.

Universality – Be as versatile as possible in all that you do. Be flexible. When you create, create models as opposed to specifics. Models allow an inherent level of flexibility. It also makes creating things in the future much easier. If you ever want to design new rules, a new plotline, or even a new game or another LARP even, the more universal or all-encompassing you made your original models, the easier it will be for you to do that.

***

Remember, though, taking these vowels individually is only having a small piece of the puzzle. Using these vowels collectively is what it takes for a LARP to be truly successful. When you combine all of those vowels, you create a well of limitless potential. Every successful component of a game and all other things needed to run a successful LARP can be categorized and filed under one of them. So now you have the recipe for how to make a magical pie. For my next blogging subject: Why two bakers in the same neighborhood should view each other as friends rather than enemies. To all my fellow LARP runners out there – live long and prosper!

Categories: GM Advice, Managing People