Friday, February 15, 2013

Lessons in Planning a Larp Game

I guess this last year I've made another ungenius realization. In short, planning plot and storyline for events is work. If I were reading this I'd think "duh" just like you are, but when you actually start doing it you see its more tricky than one might think. When my creative partner and I started doing this I'd never Game Mastered a table top campaign before. It always seemed overwhelmingly difficult to know everything before the players did, and anticipate and manipulate their actions. When things started rolling with our playtest group I learned quickly there were a lot of the same skills, but with many more limitations.
First, your adventuring party was a lot more than four or five people, and when everyone needs something from you it slows things down. Having two of us helped, but when one doesn't know what the other is doing that can cause more problems. I think one of the unexpected advantages of Mystic Crossroads has been that most interactions don't require GM intervention. The rules covered most player vs. player circumstances so calls for a ref are fewer than other games I've seen.
Second, since you need someone play every Non-Player Character you have to limit your NPCs to the bare minimum. You can pull player away from their own Characters to a degree, but that's not usually what they came to play, and you want everyone to have a good time and get what they came for. That generally means no invading armies of ogres or complex plots to work through, or does it? What we've tried to do is select from the PCs that are already in roles we'd use an NPC for and feed them information that is important for what we hope to transpire in the game. In the best circumstances you get the best of both worlds; all players can be PCs while those supporting NPC spots are filled.
Third, players will never NEVER do what you plan them to do. This is the case in table top, of course, but in larp you're herding a dozen or more cats instead of five. You can only give so many hints about plot hooks. Sometimes the fish just won't bite. We've planned out action packed linear hack and slash adventures with NPC monsters, puzzels and treasure to have players totally ignore it and go in a completely different direction. They hung around town and bartered and bantered with each other and none of our plans were ever seen. I left those games feeling like I'd totally failed, but all the players said they had a great time doing whatever the hell they were doing.
What I learned is not to overcommit to a storyline or single crawl. I can't own the story I think is going to happen, because it will never happen the way I expect. I can't leave NPCs in the woods waiting for PCs who won't show. Instead I have to start the ball rolling and just see what people do. NPCs have to be characters just like everyone, only I get to write their motives and objectives instead of a player. That's when they become "real", making their own decisions and interactions unscripted. There's a point where players write the story for me and I just have to pay attention to what happens and build from there. I have to be ready to change direction and keep a good plot going.
from Shards of Orn larp
This is all really hard to plan out alone. It's a big reason we pulled back from weekly games to monthly, and I was so burnt out by then I still didn't get it together. As this year has started up, I've started doing what I noticed another game group has done for years. On a week between their games their leaders, or plot development team meets just to discuss what happened in last game and where to take it in the next game. Everyone builds on each other's ideas and by game time they're all on the same page more or less. I'm sure other groups probably do this. It makes complete sense when you need many people directing plot, but I'd never seen it. We just had our first meet this month and I'm already more confident about the year than I was any time last year. I'm really excited and I hope things work well.

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