Category Archives: GM Advice

Writing Highs and Lows for Events

Writing highs and lows after an event is often a fun after-event activity that lets you reminisce about the event and let everyone know how much fun you had. However, post-event reviews (highs and lows) are fundamentally about making sure that the game knows what you liked and what you didn’t about an event. There are things that you can do and things that you can avoid when writing these to be sure that your voice is heard, and that your game grows and improves.

Writing Constructive “Lows”

book-twoFirst of all, I try to ALWAYS start with “Lows” when reviewing an event. Partly because I want to be sure they are read, partly because I want to end on a high note, so that both myself and my readers come away from the post having the last thing they encountered being nice.

You want to be sure that you actually LIST your LOWS! It is not bad for the game that you tell them what you don’t like, exactly the opposite. If the owners don’t know that you didn’t like something, they can never change it. While listing that you loved everything makes GMs smile, if you didn’t really like everything, they will never know, and it doesn’t help.

Next, you want to be sure that your lows are actually helpful and constructive. There are things that you really want to avoid, and I will tell you why.

Avoid Personal Attacks

When listing something you didn’t like, try to make your point as non-personal as possible. Saying, “I was not fond of the troll mod” is better than saying, “Tom’s troll mod wasn’t fun.” When you add a personal element, people feel like they are being attacked, and they are less likely to listen. Yes, in a perfect world, people would take the criticism and deal with it, but we are human and have emotions. If you want your criticism to effect change: try not to piss people off.

If you have a complaint about a specific person, like: “Billy was being a dick and hitting people in the face” you should always send that into the game in a private message. You want to avoid appearing to have personal vendettas, or embarrassing someone on a public forum. Embarrassment like this can just make a person surly and angry, and if you want them to change for the better, it may be best to handle it privately.

Be Specific

General dislike of something does not actually help a GM know what to change. In the above example, “I was not fond of the troll mod”, you should add a LOT more detail. Why were you not fond of it? What would you liked to have seen instead? Simply saying that you didn’t like a thing doesn’t necessarily tell owners what they should change. Try, instead: “I didn’t like that ALL the trolls had five uses of Sever Limb. It made the mod overly difficult and much less fun.” You can even add recommendations here, though try not do add too many. “Maybe some of them can have Knockback instead!”

Avoid JUST Things the Game Can’t Change

So, a lot of people will post things in the lows like, “The weather” and “I lost/broke my prop” or “I couldn’t be there the entire bad-weather-lighteningevent.” While these seem like nice things to list, because they are “lows” but not anything that the game did wrong, they don’t actually help much. You can list them, if you like! It can make the GMs smile to know that their event went so well that you are DIGGING for things to list in your lows. However, if you ONLY list these kinds of things, it doesn’t give the owners much to change.

Sometimes, with things like the weather, it can even be frustrating for the GMs. “I can’t change that! GOD! Why is everyone listing that!?” Yes, game owners should plan for poor weather, and have alternate things for players to do instead of making them stand in a blizzard/hurricane. If your GMs had a lot to do that avoided the weather, though, maybe avoid listing that one.

I am not saying DON’T list these little things. Again: it could make the owners smile. I am saying, however, that you should also include things that the game owners and GMs can change and have control over, so that the game grows and improves!

Praise AND Criticize for Good Results

Say you want to criticize something that you normally would really like; food for example. The kitchen puts out an amazing breakfast and dinner, but lunch was just burnt and yucky. You may not want to mention lunch, because generally the kitchen does a great job and you don’t want to make them sad. However, they really do need to know that something was not liked, so they can avoid it in the future. In this example, you may want to both praise and criticize in the same breath.

You may want to go with a statement like, “Breakfast was wonderful, I loved the fruit salad, I though that lunch was over-seasoned and way too spicy, but dinner was so tasty, the chicken was seasoned perfectly!” It lets the cooks know that you liked and appreciated their work and food, but there was one thing that you were “Meh” on. Remember, everyone working on these games are HUMAN and have feelings, even if you want to say, “This mod sucked” and just leave it at that, you are probably just going to upset people, and the criticism is not going to help.

Writing Constructive “Highs”

Believe it or not, there are ways to write “highs” for an event that are not super helpful! Also, I assume that you want people to read all your highs, and sometimes people will just skim if the posts are not interesting to them. The following should be useful in making sure that not only are your thoughts read, but that they are useful and constructive to the health of the game and all of its players!

Encourage Specific Players

For Low Low Prices

You will want to make sure that your “highs” help make the game and all the players grow and improve. When writing your reviews, your “highs” can encourage players who were not entirely sure of themselves, helping them want to come back to the game and letting them know that they were appreciated.  This is where you want to mention specific names and actions. You don’t have to write a book, but mentioning, briefly, a lot of the people with whom you had a good time will make them smile, and make them want to read more.

Say a player’s costume looked great!  Or someone did an awesome fight, and so on.

Through these actions, you can help in the growth of your game! If people think they were ignored, or no one liked them that much, they may not come back. A pat on the back from a bunch of players really encourages new players, or even older players, to keep doing the amazing things they are doing!

Talk About Other People

Talk about awesome things that other people did, not just things that you did. I know this seems a lot like the above entry, but it has a purpose. If you are constantly writing about the things that YOU did that were awesome, and never also mentioning other people, you look like a braggart, and people are less likely to read your entire entry. Everyone wants to hear about themselves more than anything, it is human nature! So, while you, as a human, will want to talk and hear about yourself, other people ALSO want to talk and hear about themselves. Mentioning them is a great way to get them to read more about you! 😀   It will also encourage other players to write more about people who aren’t themselves, and then you may get to see what people liked that you did, helping you grow as a role-player.

Reward Good Behavior with Kind Words

You can also encourage the game to alter its behavior through your “highs”. If you see something new that the game did, and you liked it, make a fuss! They will know that the players liked the new thing, and use it again. Was there a thing that you liked that the game always does? Mention it every other month or so. “I still love that the game puts out random treasure chests! So much fun!” Yes, you probably have mentioned it before, but letting the game know that you still like it will encourage the owners and GMs to continue that behavior.

Be Specific

Again, you want to shout out about very specific things that you liked. “I loved the event!” is great! GMs LOVE to hear that! But after you say that, be sure to include details that you liked, so that the owners and GMs can repeat them in the future! GMs might think that you liked the event because of the troll mod, but that was the ONLY mod you hated! So be sure to tell them what exactly you liked.

And Now, A Note To GMs and Owners

I am human, just like anyone else… I do not like hearing that I did something wrong, or that someone didn’t like a thing I did.

Just like most people, I get upset when people tell me I did a bad job, or forgot something. For those of you who do not know, I sometimes perform weddings! Yeap! I have married 6 couples so far! In one wedding, I legitimately forgot to ask the couple to exchange rings. In the biggest wedding I have performed to date, I left the congregation standing for half of the ceremony (I forgot to tell them to sit down.) When I said, “You may kiss the bride” I didn’t MOVE out of the way, and therefore was in all of the photos of the happy couple.as152447

BOY was I embarrassed! God, it was humiliating and upsetting to know that on one of the biggest days of these peoples lives, I screwed up.

However, I am glad that they told me. I am glad that it was mentioned. No matter how embarrassing or upsetting it was: I never forgot the rings again. I moved before announcing that they may kiss the bride. I haven’t done a wedding since I left the congregation standing: but I sure as hell will not do it again.

The point is: it sucks to be told that you did something wrong, or that these people, for whom you have put out a LOT OF EFFORT, didn’t like/appreciate something. However, we have to listen, and we have to try to not get mad! If someone’s lows make me mad, I will wait before I send them a message, so that I am not responding angry. I can’t!! They are only trying to help, and I NEED to know when my players are upset, or do not like anything. If I shoot them down, I will only encourage my player base to never complain again: and that is not healthy for my game.

So I make every effort to remember that my players aren’t complaining because they hate me, or the game. If they hated me or the game, they would simply never speak up. Writing Highs and Lows is an act of love, born out of wanting to make the game better. Sometimes we forget that, but both GMs and players should always think about WHY people write these reviews, and the reason boils down to: we want a better game, and we have to work together to make it better!

Thanks for reading! This was a long one!

Remember:

T-0001-LU-LAYON-Red

Jess the Red

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Mad Lib Mods

MadLibsI haven’t done an article in a while, and having spoken to some folks about mod design, I think I have a good one! I am calling this style of mod a Mad Lib mod, and I would love to hear what you guys think.

Often times when you come to a new LARP, you can be made to feel very left out. Many games like to focus a lot if not all of their attention on the regular players, and new or occasional players (called NOCs for the purpose of this article) feel brushed aside or left out of the activity.

It is hard to allow for NOCs when you are planning an event. You never know if they are going to show, or if they are going to ever come back. You, as an event planner, want to be sure that your regulars are enjoying their time at the event. They are the source the majority of your income, and they are constantly there to support the plot. Your loyal players deserve as much of the limelight and attention that you can give them, and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, if you want new blood to be hooked on your game, you do have to divert some attention to them as well. Sometimes you have as few as one event to get new players to love it and want to come to your game forever. Sometimes the occasional players are looking for a new game, and are coming back to test the waters. If they do not feel wowed, they may just shrug the weekend off and go elsewhere.

But how to do that with no planning?! I mean, a lot of work goes into modules and setup, and how can you be expected to run things specifically aimed at special NOC players? How can you even predict them! THIS IS MADNESS!

Nope! With Mad Lib Mods, you can make any player feel like the center of attention with little to no effort on your part. What you do is write a pretty generic mod, that any of your younger, newer, or whatever, NPCs can run with little to no supervision, and you make it easy to fill in the blanks for whomever shows up at the event. Have a packet of five of these at any event, and if you get new folks, or occasional folks, send your NPCs out to do these mods, aimed directly at them. If the players come back, you can turn these one-shots into longer plot lines, but if they don’t, no big deal.

For example:

Mad Lib 1: Princess is in This Castle.

__(Hook)__ comes into town crying that has gone missing.

He/she needs the help of __(devout/loyal/extreme/famous)__

followers of __(god/order that this particular group/person follows)__

to help him/her rescue __(priest/princess/merchant/whatever)__ .

Sadly, the stronghold is guarded by loyal __(noted enemy, maybe of this newbie PC/Group, maybe just the same as the event, to make them feel included)_, so it will be a fight.

Mod needs 3 – 5 NPCs.

1-3 _(BadGuys)_

1     _(Damsel/Damsdude)_ who can do double duty as a _(BADGUY)_ until it is time to rescue him/her)

1     _(Hook)_

You then quickly fill in the blanks, hand your NPCs some character cards and send them on their way. Hopefully your Mad Lib Mod has a little more detail, but it shouldn’t be too hard to make some pretty detailed mods that, nonetheless, can be targeted at anyone, and tweaked to be sure that you make it look like it was for them.

Easy things to tweak are things like the race of the players (make the hook the same race as them!), the god of the bad guys (opposite whatever god the players worship), and the type of enemies (whichever the players are best equipped to beat, making them feel powerful.) This will make them feel special and like you planned this all just for them!

This includes the new guys without you having to do much work, and it looks REALLY good on your plot team. How could you have prepared this so quickly! This is amazing! Thank you so much for going out of your way to put in a mod specifically tailored to us! How cool is that?

All of the above will be what you hear from your now happy NOCs, while you cackle silently to yourself about how easy it truly was!

I hope this was useful! Here’s to great LARPing for everyone!

Keep Calm 

And

LAY ON!

~Jess “The Red” C

Injuries and Gameplay

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 the BEST NPC EVER!

zombieSome games require that you NPC, some games do not.  No matter where you are, though, there is no excuse for not putting your heart and soul into NPCing.

People will occasionally complain about mandatory NPC shifts.  But even if you don’t like it, you have to think: what about all the people who NPC for me?

When it is your turn to PC, you want the people being your monsters and villains to be entertaining and awesome, don’t you?

Well, they aren’t getting paid.  They, like you, came to the game to enjoy themselves and have a good time.  If you want them to be awesome, energetic NPCs, you have to return the favor.

No matter how much you don’t want to NPC (sometimes, I would rather shoot myself in the foot than play a cookie-cutter monster), you have to remember that the effort you put into it HAS the be equal to or better than what you want to receive!

It is all in the way you look at things.  Sure, there is not much to interact with if you are a mindless creature, but ham it up!  Have a good time making people stare at you in horror as you creep out from under their bed.  Wait until they have made eye contact and slowly drool fake blood.  Sneak up behind them and screech like a creature just let free from hell.  Really get into your parts, and you will find that your NPC shift goes by quickly, and that you had a lot of fun, too.  Then you get to smile later when people come up to you and thank you for making them wet their pants!

I will play a brainless flesh monster with as much gusto as I play a crazy fairy or a badass necromancer.  I HATE being a cookie cutter, but since cookie cutters are a necessary part of the game, I will not be a half-assed cookie cutter.  I will be the most terrifying brainless nightmare beast you have ever SEEN.

And I can only hope that the favor is returned when it is my turn to PC, and someone else’s’ turn to take their turn at being a creepy shadow monster.

Get It In Writing

Get It In Writing

My mother used to say this all the time: “Get it in writing.”

Whether it was agreeing on chore schedules, or future rewards for good grades, I was told to always get it in writing. Since it was my mother, it was not because of mistrust, it was to stave off misunderstanding.

But the lesson has stuck ever since.

In business (I own a screen printing business) you have to get all transactions in writing, so that you know who-done-f***ed-up if something goes wrong. In legal issues (to include marriage) everything is hammered out at the beginning of an arrangement, to avoid lawsuits and arguments in the future. Getting things in writing insures that, when the tables turn, or things just mess up, everyone knows what is going to happen and no one is surprised.

I feel that we, as LARPers, need to take this lesson to heart. We build these games with our friends, trusting that our friends will always be there for us, that we will never argue, and that no one will ever mess up.

We have to understand that we are all human, and as much as you love your friends, as much as you trust them, as much as you SCREAM “BUT RED! MY FRIENDS ARE DIFFERENT AND IT WILL BE ALL ROSES, DAMNIT!” I am sad to say that we are all going to make mistakes and piss someone off.

So, when doing things with your game, be sure everything is in writing and everything has a paper trail. Did you promise someone a bonus for service? Write it down and e-mail it to them, so they cannot claim you offered something more, and so that you do not forget. When you take on staff members, make them sign some sort of guidelines, so that if something goes wrong you can point to where they messed up and institute a proper punishment. When someone pays or donates, give them a receipt and mark it in your books, so everyone is clear.

This works for players, too. Make sure there is some textual evidence of anything that you receive, so that if something goes wrong, even if it is as innocent as a server crash, everything is written someplace else and you can clear up the problem quickly and with the fewest arguments possible.

I feel like so many of us have falling outs over things that could have been avoided if the initial arrangement was clear and documented. Take the time in the LARPing world, and in your day to day life, to be CERTAIN of the arrangements into which you enter.

That way we can all find new and exciting ways to argue. It is the human condition, afterall!

All my love!

Red

NPCs: How to Handle Downtime

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!

Treasure Chests: God’s Gifts To Downtime

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!