Monday, April 27, 2015

LARPs and Last Minute Changes

My Dark Before Dawn campaign LARP has a total membership of 15 with an average of 13 players per session.  We have a special plot involving certain relic stones that can be expended to unlock a door into a demi-plane OR provide five exceptional successes in anything that isn't PvP-based OR to abjure an area of incorporeal beings that's roughly the size of a city mall.  One of the players popped one such stone.

A couple months ago, one of the players decided his character would soon pop a stone.

I arranged for four players and five cast members to assist with the session.  In the end, I increased the Cast to six and a few days before Play Day one of the puzzles meant the Good+ Ending could only be netted if there were five players so I allowed the initiating player to pick an extra person.

The main premise?  There are six Riders on the Last Express and those who spend a stone may take one Rider home with them who can later be used to resurrect a recently dead mortal (no more than three days dead).  Only five Riders may be selected by the initiating stone user.  The sixth Rider may only be selected if all other Riders are released.  So as you can see, we needed five players.

Then on the game day, two of my cast were sick.  No problem.  One of the benefits of keeping your GM spot clear of NPCs is that you can always pick up the slack where it happens so I took on one of the roles.  When I went to draft an extra cast member, I realised that there were only three possible members of the game who weren't involved in this Special Scene at all.  So I allowed seven players and nabbed one of the previously excess three members to join the Cast.

This was helped a fair deal by having this Special Train LARP (7PM to 11PM) occur after the regular main day session (1PM to 5PM).  It was a long day so I made sure the Cast for the Train LARP went off to dinner with the rest of the players while I stayed back to readjust the venue from "Boozecan Pub" to "Train".  It involved masking tape rooms and shifted furniture, but looked pretty good in the end.

The cast returned half an hour before the players and we managed to kick it off at 7:10PM which was pretty epic all round.  The Train Players had to take a walk around the block as we weren't quite ready when they first arrived, but they were pretty happy about it.

Oh, I also managed to scoff down my burger so I'd made sure I ate.

Long story short, when you have a group of 15 players, sometimes it works all the better to find ways to include everyone rather than sending 1 - 2 people off home alone.  It certainly worked out for the best this time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

LARP Session Write Ups

For those who are interested in how to run an Adventure Style / Elysium Style hybrid, I thought I'd type up the various scenes and sessions to give people an idea of how I do it as well as to ensure that players can also have a running record of their experiences.  Naturally certain secrets won't be posted as my players can read them.  So far I have posted up the first three sessions and I'll likely have the next two up within the week.  Here's the link for Session #1.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LARP Advice: Quality NPCs A Bad Thing?

Think of your favourite television show.  Think about the character you adore as you watch them swanning around the television screen.  They entertain you thoroughly.  You can empathise with them and regardless of whether you like them, you like watching them so much they're a major draw for the show.  Now imagine there's fifteen other people who're also watching the same television show and, for varying reasons, any one of them can push a button and your favourite character dies right in front of you or is stolen away to another television show.

You, as the GM, are the director of this channel that is full of characters starring in other television shows and spin-off programs (as, let's face it, each player is the protagonist of their own story).  You use a handful of your best NPCs that have clear resonance with the players and you notice that the players are experiencing genuine feelings surrounding that character - joy, fear of loss, irritation, entertainment, sadness.  If you're lucky, you figure this out early on when folks rave about how much they love them.  If you're unlucky, you kill them off without knowing of their adoration and the players are gutted and frustrated at their inability to save what you thought was either a one-note character or a character that they didn't like.

HANDY HINT: Players can become attached to characters that their own characters don't like.

Imagine if Lister (from Red Dwarf) was shot in the third season by some first time character who felt insulted and considered themselves (rightfully) the protagonist of the show.  Imagine if Dean Winchester (from Supernatural) had almost decided to accept you as an awesome hunter but was convinced otherwise by some other character's mind magic.  Imagine if Daryl (The Walking Dead) ended up a zombie because of a random bite because there'd been too many complaints that he was *too awesome* by other PCs.  Imagine if Ellie (from the Last of Us) became the blood bound servant of a supernatural monster when you just wanted to keep her alive.

Sure, that might be awesome (especially for players seeking catharsis).

It could also well and truly suck.  It could even ruin the story for you.

 How often have people been turned off entire television series because of the events that affect a single character?  How often have people cried over dead characters?  Or raged at the ones who brutalised their favourites?

This tension, this conflict, makes for great plot but the emotional forces that drive them can cause emotional pain to those attached to them that makes it difficult to decide what to do with them.

NOTE: Beloved NPC means "Beloved to the Players AS Players."  This article isn't about the GM's feelings.

Check out the possible issues that can come up when a GM finds themselves with a Beloved NPC on their hands.
  • Beloved NPC suffers from a critical success on a gunshot wound.  Let them die or fudge the dice?
  • Beloved NPC has suffered enough and as a three-dimensional character (part of why they're loved), they should react poorly to an event or even reject the PC.  How realistically can you play the character before it becomes unfun?  If you fudge the NPC's motivations too often, will you damage what the player got out of them in the first place?
  • Beloved NPC enjoys a long behind-the-scenes relationship arc with one PC only to encounter another PC and due to plot or personal reasons causes a fracas large enough that the two PCs are put at loggerheads. 
  • The player with the attachment has some significant personal issues in the background but this is a LARP and their Beloved NPC is in contested territory.  Should the GM encourage everyone to let the NPC go for now until they're on steadier ground or come to a compromise?  Should it just be played out?
  • Beloved NPC is adored by some but other players see them as a needless spotlight hog and no amount of moving them away from the spotlight helps because their devotees keep dragging them back into the light.
  • Beloved NPC is an antagonist to the group and while half the players enjoy the slow and deliberate aspects of the take down, the others just want the NPC to die already.  Giving in to one will leave the other half feeling frustrated and irritable.  NOTE: Always survey the players before assuming that this is the case as there's a chance that everyone would like the plot to end soon.
  • Beloved NPC should logically be written out of the game - gone on holiday, returned to the kids, etc. - but the players keep trying to pull them back.  There's not much time to involve them in the situation.
  • Beloved NPC could be involved in a very logical and sensible action that seems the logical conclusion for their character arc - but it'd be messy and involve their death.  Go through with the action for a memorable conclusion or err on the side of caution and avoid the plot?
  • Beloved NPC has become so beloved that the player grows frustrated or despondent when anything bad happens to said NPC.  If the NPC isn't involved in any form of conflict, however, there's no reason for them to be on-screen except for rare Rest and Recreation scenes.
  • Beloved NPC is shared by two, or more, players who each have their own ideas for where that NPC should go and what experiences should be drawn from them.
What do you think?  Ever landed in this situation?  Naturally the examples above have no right or wrong answer (all depends on the variables), but do any variables and options immediately step out at you that might not be considered by all GMs?  Is it sometimes better to keep the NPCs that little bit less interesting so that players don't attach too strongly to them?  *Is* there a way to reduce attachment to an NPC, or prevent it from happening, without damaging the integrity of the game?  Should we even want to?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Masks of Nyarlathotep Murder Mystery Event

One of the many great things about Masks of Nyarlathotep is how it has so much fan-generated content, possibly more than any other roleplaying campaign ever made.  There's an entire Companion, plenty of prop downloads, and oodles of advice but how to expand on it or just plain old make it better.  So I wondered if I could use the New York chapter as the foundation for a Murder Mystery Event / Conspiracy LARP. 

Basically Erica Carlyle pulls together interested buyers in her brother's books *and* those involved or surrounding the mystery of Elias Jackson's death to a single great soiree to see the lunar eclipse and finally get to the bottom of Elias Jackson's claims.  Naturally there's a number of investigators, cultists, witnesses, conspiracy theorists, and hardened killers to sweeten the pot.

I've managed to grab a venue that has four main rooms and a foyer - one of which stands well as a library - and there are plenty of props and handouts to bring to hand, including Cryptocurium's excellent Bloody Tongue Avatar statuette that can be brought into game.  The rules will be very simple to keep it fun for all and the focus on the characters rather than the traits.

The main mystery I'm figuring out now is how to include all the various props without over complicating it and making it impossible to solve.  I'm figuring that I'll have the props around, as props, but ensure that you can solve it based on what people know (through their character kits) than the handouts they bring to game or which are already there.

You can read more about the advertising spiel of it over here and view the actual Eventbrite booking page over here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Romantic Arcs: Why They Get Dull

While many players and GMs really don't like romantic character arcs or are in it just for the comedic appeal of flirting around a gaming table full of buddies, there are some who through personal interest or a strong ability to suspend disbelief can really get a lot out of it.  This can be especially true in solo campaigns where there's more space and time to delve into a single character's personal interests.  Especially since romantic sub-plots tend to develop more readily and naturally between a PC and an NPC than between PCs - likely because players are closer to their avatars than a GM to one member of a giant cast.

However for those who have delved into romantic sub-plots, they may have noticed the same issue arise that does in television series world-wide.  Once the romance is consummated, either by marriage or in some cases sex, the interest in that interaction slowly starts to fizzle.

The reason for this is that Conflict = Story and thus the very conflicts that had driven the romantic angle, once resolved, pushes that interaction further and further into the dull downtime space of the tale.  After all, you don't play out the other elements of mundane existence or, if you do, they're treated as a prelude rather than the main event.

The fact remains that the clearest and most driving motivation of a romantic sub-plot (the "Will they?"  "Won't they?") angle can raise its head the moment two characters hit it off.  Once it has been resolved that "Yes, they will," you're stuck trying to figure out where to go from there.  So firstly I'd recommend that you play around with that tension for awhile.  You don't need to go to ridiculous lengths to keep the two separated (i.e. like many television shows) but if there are valid reasons for the two to dance around each other, do so.  The flirting can be half the fun.

Afterwards you can't rely on flirty tension to keep the story thrumming for very long.  Instead you need to find more character questions to ask.  The most obvious is the civilian / adventurer spousal conflict, but that can pale pretty quickly and make the civilian look like a jerk ("Sorry I missed your birthday but I just went through level drain to save a village from the undead that would have converted them all").  This could be improved if the civilian had to cover for the player character, as at least then they're an ally.  Sure this removes the tension from between the two characters, but that's fine.  All you need is to involve them in "a tension" or "question".  Mediation certainly works.

If they're an NPC Ally, there's also the temptation to have them kidnapped or put in jeopardy, which can work once or twice but afterwards gets old and staid.  Of course having them save themselves while the PCs are coming for them, or having their apparent kidnapping being staged while they're actually out shopping, can certainly make for a change of pace.

Finally if they're part of the adventuring party, consider using non-romantic tensions that can come up with any party dynamic.  What if one wants to take prisoners and the other doesn't?  What if one craves revenge and the other doesn't see the point?  What if someone flirts with one of them?  How does the other react?  Think about the kind of spice you might add if the player had selected a spouse as an NPC at the start of the campaign.  How would you keep them relevant?  What would you do to make them interesting?

Hope that helps!  If you've ever included a longer running romantic arc in your campaign, let me know how you kept it interesting in the comments box below.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sometimes The Greater Challenge Is A Weak Enemy

There is often the temptation for GMs to make enemies powerful.  After all, good conflict equals a strong story and a strong story holds interest.  Most players (and especially GMs) would quickly tire if there were no challenges in the story and everything could be click-whirred it's way to easy victory.  On the other hand, having *no* easy challenges means that the players can never feel powerful and impressive and, let's face it, most players are in the game for a bit of wish fulfilment.

Now most GMs know a pretty easy balance to strike with this.  You include some mooks and you have a big bad, every single time.  The trouble with this option is that it's simplistic and can be dull in its own right.  Now clearly it works well for action-oriented dungeon crawls but if you consider games like the World of Darkness where combat is rarer and with fewer numbers, the temptation to create powerful antagonists is high.

What we need to do is arrest that assumption.

Sometimes you don't need a powerful villain.  Sometimes a pathetic one is even better.

Let's say you have a group of highly powerful vampires, a few elders even, and they get dropped into a section of the Spirit World.  The obvious option is to have some badass spirits smack them down.  But you could look at it a little deeper.  One is the Prince.  One has a ritual that gives him honorary Spirit Rank.  One is the guy whose Alter-Ego did a great job of breaking everything and is now the Atoner.

Rather than having the spirits beat face and throw down, you could instead build up the creep factor.  Show everything off-kilter.  Reveal the spirits as both clear and unclear entities where one can't be sure where the architecture ends and the spirits begin.  Threaten them with spooky glimpses of nasty looking spirits.  And then during the first major confrontation, have the spirit cower before the Atoner, have it bow and scrape to the elders.

When they make their way to the Big Bad and the Elder buffs for all he's worth to tear the Bad Spirit apart, let it discorporate and have the other spirits cast Numina that banishes them back to their own reality.  Why?

Because the most interesting outcomes for such powerful PCs is What They Choose To Do.  Do they take the peaceful option?  Do they let their successes run to their head and jump out at a truly scary creature on the main road?  Also how does it feel as an Atoner to have the monsters fear you?  Do they attempt to forge the area into their own Dominion and what would be the ramifications of that?

In the end, the character's decisions are key.

Let them decide and see what happens.