Archive for the ‘GM Advice’ Category

Treasure Chests: God’s Gifts To Downtime

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I have had to work with as few as 4 NPCs for an entire event before.  Because of this, I have had to adapt my events and behavior to be able to make those NPCs streach.  I want to write a series of articles about entertaining a LOT of PCs with VERY FEW NPCs.  So, without further ado, here is the first of my “Doing a lot with a little” articles.

Treasure Chests

I have to say, I LOVE putting treasure chests out for players to find in my game.  First thing on Saturday Morning, I send out the first NPC awake to set out treasure chests throughout the camp.

These are SO USEFUL to game-flow, and to breaking up the monotony of down-time.  If your players know that there are treasure chests out in the camp, they will be more likely to move away from your inn (tavern, main hang-out area, whatever) and adventure.  It also makes your players more able to entertain themselves, but still feel like they are interacting with the game world.

Get Them Out of Town

Often I hear complaints about PCs, and how they just congregate and don’t go out and look for adventure.  This shackles a GM, because you can’t really put out random encounter monsters, because there are no PCs to encounter!  If the PCs just hang out in town, you have two options for mod structure: attack town, or hook a mod.  You can’t just have players run into bandits, thieves, kidnappers or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the middle of the forest, because no one goes out to wander.

This is where treasure chests and randomly growing components come in handy.  If your players know that they will be rewarded when they leave town, then they are more likely to go wandering.

And because players are greedy, they will be more likely to go out in small groups, so that they don’t have to share treasure.  These groups are great to kidnap or just attack.

Make Them Entertain Themselves

You can get players out of town, and have them entertain themselves with this Easter Egg hunt.  It gives them something to do so that they are not bored!

You can also make the chests varying levels of difficulty.  Some can be trapped, some can be locked, and some can be enchanted.  You can make it so that it is a suspenseful crap-shoot when they open a chest!

Absolutely make use of the GM’s best friend in this case: Dominate.  Have one chest shoot out poison darts that drive the target mad with rage.  Now, now only are the players out in the woods on their own steam, but they are in the middle of a fight for their lives against one of their allies.

This keeps them entertained with ZERO NPC involvement.


I have seen games with really intricate ceremony components, a large portion of which were tagged flowers.  They used fake flowers with tags attached, and would put the flowers all over the camp first thing in the morning.  This was amazing to interact with, because you could go for a walk and come back with a bouquet of flowers that gave you power and earned you gold.

If your game cannot afford the fake flowers, or your staff does not have the time to attach tags to all of them, treasure chests are your friend.  You just put your item tags (printed ones are common) into the chests and hide them about the game.

Remember: you don’t want to make them too difficult to find for two reasons:

1: It is disappointing for players if they can’t find them.

2: You have to go find them at the end of the event.

If you don’t have the money to buy wooden treasure chests, I have a few tips about how to make really budget treasure chests. Sometimes when you look at your budget, seeing your expensive treasure boxes get destroyed by rain is disheartening.  Thus: look into alternate ways to make them that cost little to no money.

Having budget treasure chests is good, because they can get destroyed by weather and not set you back too much money.

And, as my last suggestion: give your players a place where they can drop off your treasure chests.  Make it REALLY easy for them, or else you will never see your boxes again!


Budget Treasure Chests

November 13, 2012 Leave a comment

I love seeing treasure chests in game.  Whether they are hidden out in the camp, or just sitting around someone’s in-game area, I love to see them.

Sadly, getting pretty, finished treasure chests can be expensive.  So, I have a few suggestions for making some on a budget.

Pre-Made Boxes

You can get un-stained boxes from stores like AC Moore or Michaels.  I LOVE these, because they are durable, and look really pretty.  If you get one of these (5-10 dollars a piece) and stain them yourself, you can get a lovely effect without breaking the bank.

If you are a GM, and are going to hide these chests in game, remember to not only stain the outside, but to get the bottom of the box, and the entirety of the inside.  You may want to also put a water-proof lacquer finish, so that your chests will hold up to the elements.

Cardboard Boxes

If you don’t have the money to spend, or if you are a GM, and are concerned about weather destroying your props (or players not returning your props), then you can use shoe boxes.

Or, really, any boxes.  Cardboard boxes from clothes, electronics, or really anything that comes in a box can be incredibly useful as treasure chests.  Especially the shoe boxes with the hinged lids.

In this case, simply take the shoe-box and some textured spray paint from Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, or any craft store.  Coat the entire outside of the box, and then the inside, in a layer of appropriately colored spray-paint.  Then you can take silver or gold paint and daub on dots where rivets might be, or paint the corners of the box in a metallic shade to make it appear as though there are metal edges.

These will look in-game enough that they will add to your game world, and are cheap enough that a light rain will not set you back 50 bucks.

Cigar Boxes

I like cigar boxes, but I don’t smoke.  However, every now and again, players come to game with cigar boxes as treasure boxes, and they always look amazing.

With these, obviously you have logos to worry about.  Sometimes they are ornate enough that they can add to the game feel of the box.  If not, sand them off and re-stain the box.  You can also paint over them with acrylic paint, spray them down with textured spray paint, or, if you are really pressed for time, glue parchment paper or tin-foil over it.

If you want to get a few of these, check out your local cigar store, and see if they will let you take away some of their empty cigar boxes from their display cigars.  It never hurts to ask!



There are plenty of ways to make little treasure boxes without having to spend a lot of money.  What other ways have you made treasure chests in your LARPing (or crafting) career?

Injuries and Gameplay

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Hey guys!  Sorry that we went a few days without posting! We just had an event this weekend over at Exile.  The event went well, but we had an injury during our main mod.

I chose this picture because the kitten’s expression is surprisingly close to our injured player’s.

The person in question is ok, but it made me think of how injuries are often handled at LARPs.  Thus, I would like to make a few recommendations.  (Note: this article is meant to discuss things like sprains, minor fractures, impact injuries, and the like.  If you have some sort of horrific injury, follow the first two suggestions, but use your judgment with the third.)

First of, and obviously, for big injuries, a Hold should be called.  Everyone knows this, and I have never seen a LARP ignore this one.

Next: if you are not qualified to assist: move.  My players did this amazingly well, with only two people crouched down next to the injured player. In the past I have seen a game’s medics called over only to find a crowd around the player, making it difficult to get close and assess the injury.  Usually people get out of the way, but you should not be there in the first place if you are unqualified.  One person can hang with the injured person to comfort them until help arrives: five people is unnecessary.

(It is also a little embarrassing, at least for me.  I feel weird with everyone paying attention to me because I am hurt.)

Finally: resume gameplay.  Stopping the entire game for an injury (barring life threatening injuries) is unnecessary, embarrassing, and sometimes annoying.

Unnecessary because it does not take an entire game to be sure that one person gets the medical attention that they need.  As soon as the medics get the injured party off of the field, you should feel free to resume gameplay.  It shouldn’t take ALL of your GMs to handle someone with an injury.  In fact, having ALL of your GMs there will only mess things up!  Too many people trying to assist or make decisions will only make medical assistance take longer.  One GM and one medic (or one GM if the GM is a medic) is all that is needed.

Embarrassing because then the injured person may feel guilty or uneasy because they have brought the game to a screeching halt.  No one likes to be the reason that their friends stopped having fun, and if you compound that with an injury, now they might feel really bad.  I know that I do.  I feel really weird when I know an entire mod has stopped because I rolled my ankle.  Even if no one is mad (and most of the time, no one is mad) it is still a little embarrassing.

Annoying because now you have a huge group of people, standing around, waiting for the game to continue.  This one feels a little heartless, but it is valid.  You have paid money to come play this game, and want to play and be involved.  If you have to stand around and be bored while all of the GMs run off to handle someone with an injury, you are going to get annoyed.  Especially since, as I just noted, it doesn’t take 10 people to handle one injury.

As soon as you get the injured party off of the field, call your Game On.  After the scene or fight is over, if people want to come check on their friend, they can.  This has the added benefit of not having 10 people hanging around getting in the way.  You have some time to assess the injury in peace, while the players finish their scene, and the injured person has time to calm down.  A lot of pain is exacerbated by stress, and having a lot of people hanging around panicking at you is going to make you start to panic as well, which is no good for an injury.

In conclusion: it is better for the game, and especially better for the injured party, for one or two people to help out, and for everyone else to go about the game.

Be A Thief, Not A Jerk

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

No, that’t not me.

I have played a rogue so often in games that, at this point, I refuse to take any rogue skills on my character sheet: I can hide and sneak and steal and beat-feet with the best of them.

I end up having to give a lesson on being a thief/rogue that people don’t hate A LOT.

The biggest problem with being a successful rogue is that you are doing things that are going to make people mad.  You are going to be thieving and lying on a regular basis.

Sadly, this tends to make you enemies.  Having enemies IN-GAME is a good thing.  Having enemies OUT-OF-GAME is a bad thing.

You want to avoid being a dick.  I am sorry for the frank language, but it is true.



You are going to lie as a rogue.  It just happens…

Don’t mistake being a rogue with HAVING TO LIE.  You CAN tell the truth and still be in-character.

Be smart.  Does it actually do anything for you to lie about where the main villain went?  Then don’t do it.

Unless you can actually make bank or have a real reason to have to lie, don’t do it habitually if you want to be a successful rogue.  People won’t ever believe you, and then how can you get them to look in the wrong place for the Treasure Of MasterGoldEnStien?

(Being a habitual liar for BAD reasons is an entirely different character concept.)



If you are going to steal, NEVER STEAL EVERYTHING.  This is a HUGE rule.  Yes, I know that your character would probably steal everything that is not nailed down, but then you are going to make out-of-game enemies.

There is psychology behind this that may make so called “role-play purists” mad, but if you think that no one is going to be mad at you for stealing their shit, you need to go home.  Understand that people spend a lot of time gathering up their money, components, items, etc.  If you take all of it, they will become disheartened, angry with you, and may even not want to play anymore.

You can still steal things!  But you have to use good judgment so that you can be a successful thief without making players mad, or being a jerk.

Here are some good rules of thumb:


Only ever steal  (at most) 10% of what people have.  If they have 10 gold, steal one.  This means you have more money, and they can’t really be too angry.  It’s only one gold!

Never Big

If you see a bunch of items that someone has, never steal their coolest, best item.  They probably spent a lot of time getting that, and it will dishearten them Out-of-Game if you take it.

Yes, I understand that your character would take it, and I know that you think that they are bad role-players if they get upset, but you are wrong.  You, not your character, are being mean if you take someone’s favorite toy.  Take something else!  If you see a Staff of Blasting, a Pendant of Dodge, and The High Gift Of The Gods To Magey McMageinstine: take the staff or the pendant.  Leave them their awesome toy, so that they don’t get mad at you out-of-game.


You want to be a rogue who can thieve and such, and you can!  Just make sure that you don’t alienate the other players at the game.  Get yourself a reputation as a good rogue, but also as an awesome player.

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!

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.

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

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?


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


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


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


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?


            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?


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


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