Archive

Archive for November, 2012

NPCs: How to Handle Downtime

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Click picture for source page.

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!

Advertisements

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

Immersion Therapy: Keeping the In-Game Atmosphere

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Hey there, friends. This is JoeFro, with a little friendly advice on gaming in an immersive environment. I have been to my fair share of games, run by all manner of people, in a variety of settings, and with a multitude of rules. And if there is one thing I have noticed, one beast that can turn any game sour like milk under a heat lamp, it is the creature known as immersion.

To explain a little more, Immersion, in a game setting, is going through the motions to make a game feel less like nerds in costumes, and more like a world where Elves, magic, and knights are real. It is the ambiance of a setting, the little touches that make the world seem to come alive, that make some people truly enjoy they experience of crawling through a tunnel to the heart of a dragon’s lair. And this can all be ruined by the person in back, wearing a pair of Adidas and making “That’s what she said,” jokes.

There are some more egregious examples of breaking immersion, like the above example. These are usually offences made by people who either don’t care about the environment, who are only there to swing a boffer and call numbers, or by people who might not know better. First time LARPers may slip up, and make some statements that can break immersion, or might not have the proper costuming or phys-reps for the character or environment. Other times, stress or environmental factors can cause people to begin to lose their character, immersion, or motivation.

He could just be writing at a table, drinking Redbull and talking about football… But that defeats the purpose of LARPing, now, doesn’t it?

It is important, when dealing with situations where somebody is severely breaking the game’s environment, to assess the situation before deciding on a course of action. Is this a first time LARPer, who might only need a little guidance, advice, or a simple push in the right direction? If so, setting the example is the most important step you can take; make your resurrection ceremony have a little extra flair, or  break out the full tool-kit when engineering up some guns. Let the players see you going the extra mile, or take a minute out of your time to tell them where they can get an awesome pair of boots for an affordable price.

Now, let’s say that the person has been coming to the game for a few months, yet is constantly guilty of breaking the game environment. I know, from personal experience, how frustrating it can be when your character is having a great scene, and somebody stumbles up to you and says something as shattering as, “Whaddup, brah?” It’s enough to make you want to scream, and you are completely justified in feeling this. However, it is important that you handle the situation in a civil manner. And if the player still doesn’t get it, approach a member of your game’s staff. They are there to help.

Before I wrap this up, there is one more thing I would like to touch on regarding immersion. It might not seem big, but there are little things that can help make a huge difference. Seeing an empty Red Bull can sitting on a table of the Inn, people making a pop-culture reference to a scene or character, or somebody singing a modern song, while all innocent infractions, are just as removing as the other examples given. Little steps like putting your drink in a cup, or putting duct-tape around the can will help keep an environment just as much as somebody in $300 worth of garb.

Take some time, at your next event, to look around your game, and see if you notice anything that might help immerse your game even more. Something as simple as turning the bic pens floating around the Inn into feather quills with costume feathers and yarn, just helps the game that much more. And the better your game’s environment is, the more likely everyone is to enjoy themselves.

Until next time, friends,

JoeFro

Categories: Player Advice

When to Clarify, When to Let It Go

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Sometimes things go wrong on a mod.  Sometimes, people use the wrong ability to block something, or hit too hard, or call the wrong casting line, whatever.  Sometimes a mod calls for a clarify.

When you are compelled to correct someone on a mod, you have to take into account EVERYONE on the mod.  If it is as simple as saying, “Clarify, only Dodge blocks ranged attacks” and moving on, then sure.

However, if you have to bring the entire mod to a halt to clarify something, you may want to consider whether or not it is worth it.  If someone calls a Dodge when they should have said Parry, but you would stop the entire mod to inform them: let it slide.

You have to remember that you are playing a game where first and foremost people are trying to have fun.  Stopping a mod every couple of minute to clarify rules is not fun.  As an NPC, it shouldn’t matter so much to you if someone uses the wrong ability to block what you have, since you are an NPC, and probably a throw-away character.

People are also in a confrontational mood in the middle of a mod.  They are often fighting, or at least competing in some way.  Trying to correct someone when you are playing their adversary is going to be TOUGH!  Granted, everyone knows that it is a game, but they are still in a certain mindset, and it is hard to switch up.  If you try and correct them more than once a mod, you run the risk of getting into an argument with them in the middle of a mod, and then you have a shouting match between you and one player, while the rest stand around, embarrassed and bored.

After the mod is over, pull the person aside and clarify the rules with them when tempers aren’t high and action is not flowing.  Or you can pull them aside in between action.  Say, after you have died, but before you Respawn, pull them aside quietly and let them know about the rules issue.  This way, you aren’t in combat, and you aren’t slowing everyone else down.

Mods are no fun if they are stopped constantly.  You should attempt to NEVER do something that brings a mod or a scene to a crashing stand-still.  If you think you have ability, but aren’t sure, error on the side of the players, and assume that you don’t have it.  If a player hits you for a lot of damage, you may as well take it: you are an NPC, you have lots of HP, and players have not a lot of abilities.  Let them get the hit in and feel good about it.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself is “Will this be fun for the players?”  For example:

            This guy started a debate about rules in the middle of a mod.  I could just let it go and deal later.  Do I continuing arguing?  Will this be fun for the players?

No

I forgot some skills I had, can I stop the mod to check my character sheet, will it be fun for the players?

No

            I’ve lost track of my hit points, will dying in a loud way now be fun for the players?

Yes

This guy hit me for holy, but I think he meant lightning… Should I correct him?  Will the pause be fun for the players?

No

That last example brings up the second rule to remember: Does this really matter right now?

For example:

This guy hit me for holy, but I think he meant lightning… Should I correct him?  Does it really matter right now?

No

            I called dodge a second ago, but I meant evade… Dodge is better than evade… I wanted to save it.  Do I bring it up?  Does this really matter right now?

No

This guy should be taking double damage from my swings.  I think he is unaware of this… Does this really matter right now?

Yes

These two questions will help you decide when to correct people and when to just let things slide until you can correct them quietly.  Remember: while you may want to correct someone so things are perfectly right, it slows down play for everyone else.  Sometimes you have to let little things go, so that everyone can have more fun.

Categories: GM Advice, NPC Advice

PCs: How to Handle Down Time

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

So, the necessary evil of every game is Down Time.  Every game has it, and some events are worse than others.

Don’t blame your GMs for downtime: revel in it!  Sometimes things take a long time to put together, and you have to find something to do in the meantime.  I find that I use downtime for crafting in most games that I attend, and sometimes I don’t even have enough!  At the game I run, when I PC, I feel like I barely have enough time to craft items before I am whisked away to something else.  Even if I have two hours, I like to put so much into my crafting that it takes a while to set up.

I bring tools to make my scrolls, pre-write them, and then spend my downtime lighting candles and incense, and painting pretty pictures on my scrolls, before sealing them with wax.

I know a player who takes his downtime to write in his journal.  Note, his journal is written in a language that he made up, and no one knows what it says, but it keeps him busy.

When you make your character, make sure that it has some depth, and does more than just smack someone.  Pick up a hobby that you can do in between mods, and try to make it something interactive, if you can.  A woman I know draws pictures of other players during downtime, and it leads to great conversations!

Fetch firewood and make a game of it.  Draw maps!  I used to love drawing and painting maps during downtime.

If you find something to both keep you busy, and involve others, you will never notice the downtime.  One girl used to wish that downtime was LONGER, because she kept a record of what happened at events, and liked to interview PCs in-game, but found that she ran out of time quickly.

Heck, even bringing crafting that you need to do OUT of game is useful.  Did you want to paint your armor between events?  Do it at the event!  Make spell-packets at the event, work on your spell-book.  All of these things are useful to do DURING game-play, and will keep you busy and happy while the NPCs scramble to put the next mod together.

Remember, you are the one at fault for being bored!  Sure, the GMs could get things out faster, but maybe one of them fell off a cliff.  Maybe they all fell asleep.  No matter what, you should be able to find ways, in-game, to still have fun!  All around you are friends and people who share your hobbies.  Interact and get stuff done.  Go make a friend… Well, really, you are better off going and making an enemy.

Enemies make downtime disappear.  Just use it to try and kill each other!

Categories: Player Advice

NPCs: It’s Hard When They Aren’t All You

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

In a tabletop, the NPCs are all you.  They do exactly what you want them to do, drop hints exactly when you want them to, and never do anything that surprises you, (unless you have multiple personalities, in which case, I want to game with you).

Obviously, with a LARP, this is not the case.  Your NPCs are 5-20 different people, and they only know as much as you tell them.  If you have experienced NPCs that you can trust, you can send them off to do complicated mods on their own.  If you have a bunch of new kids, you have to watch them a little more closely.

My biggest piece of advice here is to trust your NPCs.  If you try to micro-manage with your NPCs you are going to go crazy.  Nothing is ever going to go the way you want it to, and the sooner you come to accept that, the more fun you will have.  You have to be ready to adapt to surprises when running a LARP.  There will be times where your NPCs will get a line wrong, or tell people the wrong thing, and you have to be ready to change your story to fit it.

But Red, what if my NPCs tell the players that a main character is evil, or dead, or just tell the PCs something wrong?

 

Simple!  Have a more trustworthy NPC character come out and say it was all a lie!  Or a mistake!  Just because your NPCs have said something, does not mean it is cannon.  Slips like this are easy to deal with.

But Red, my NPCs were supposed to die in a battle, but the players ran away!

Well, it looks like your PCs just gave you MORE to work with!  Rather than worry about possibly running out of entertainment for the players, they have just given you an easy 2 hours.  Simply attack them again!  Or in a different way!

MY NPCs have blatantly ignored my instructions and did whatever they wanted!

Are the PCs having fun with it?

YES!

Go take a nap.  Your NPCs are obviously doing a good job.  Just because it is not what you planned doesn’t make it bad.  Take a break.  Frankly, I have never met a LARP GM who was not overly stressed.  The nap should do you good.

But what if the PCs weren’t having fun?

I find that the players often forget something un-fun or boring if you just assault the town with something crazy.  Or send them on an insane treasure hunt led by a goofy NPC.  Remember, if you end big, they will remember your event fondly.  Follow up something disastrous with an NPC called Billy the Bomber, or Dynamite Pete, and make the PCs dodge explosions for an hour or so.  They will be fine.

You have to give your NPCs some leeway, and let them add their own ideas and character to the parts that they play.  If you are too controlling, your NPCs will become bored or resentful, and that bleeds into how they interact with the players.  Give them some ground to be inventive, and you won’t be disappointed.

The best mod ideas I have ever seen have come out of my NPCs sitting around, waiting for the next assignment.  (Except bubble-gum elementals.  I will never forgive you for that, Courtney.)

Also, remember, while mindless NPC villains can be fun (wolves, zombies, Halo Players) they can get dull after a while.  These get dull for both the players and the NPCs.  Give your NPCs, even your BRAND new ones, speaking roles.

Even if you don’t know if you can trust a new NPC, or how well they will perform, give them a part to go out and have fun with.  Cast them as an annoying fairy, or a bumbling farmer.  Let them be the hook for a mod that is not too important, or let them go out and gamble with your players.  This makes them feel included, and it gives your players someone new and different to play with.

The more responsibility and freedom you are able to give your NPCs, the less likely you are to have a nervous breakdown mid event and run out of the camp with a trail of bodies behind you.

Good luck!

Categories: Managing People

Bobbin, Spool, Needle and Thread

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Costumes made for Halloween.

“So ya wanna make a costume? ANNNNND ya wanna do it for cheap… AND you want it to look good. GOOD GOLLY, ya must be crazy.”

OR SO ONE WOULD THINK!

Hi, I’m Baylee and I am a costume addict. (Hi, Baylee.)
I’ve been LARPing for half of my life (10? 11? years). A LOOOOOOOOONG time. In that amount of time, I have always tried to find ways to get the most bang for my buck when it comes to costuming. (Especially when I was younger – $2 allowance does not get you much in the way of rogue clothes.) There are many tricks of the trade that I have picked up over time and I hope to share them with you. As much as I’d like to push my little business wagon around, I like to help my friends and fellow LARPers out a little BEFORE taking their hard earned cash. This means pointing you in the best directions for non-custom costumes. Things like coats and vests and pants and not Entropy Purple and Obnoxious Yellow, burlap and 16 yards of tulle, Assassin’s Creed-esc, fitted battle skirts and fancy ball gowns with 4 patches that you want done in a week for which will pay me in four weeks… I could go on…  😛

Anyway. So my posts are gonna be about costuming and, heck, prop stuff if you want. I am open to questions and would love to tell you of the stories of my costuming. Things like how 3 triangles of cloth sewn to your underwear 2 days before your 18th birthday is a BAD idea. And so on.

I am always open to help a LARPer in need of a good looking costume. ‘Cause let’s face it: Nike sneakers and basketball shorts are not good costume pieces unless you’re running modern day scenarios.

ASK ME STUFF.

All my love,
Baylee

P.S. Maybe I’ll post something helpful tomorrow. 😀

Categories: Costuming