Sunday, 28 December 2014

Plot and Choice

It's very easy to write a story for an event. It's vastly harder to write plot. It's even less likely to write plot that makes sense after the players get to it, and you'll need to have some mechanics to enable the players to make an utter mess of the plot you've carefully created for them.

At the start of an event the players have a situation. They have a reason to be where they are, and some stuff they know about how they got there. For Dark Hearts the players were Heros who had answered the Empires call and gone to save resources/villagers from an approaching orc force. For Alone often the players were an engineering crew or soldiers who were being sent to a suspect location by some corporation.  For Slender events we're paranormal investigators going to somewhere where paranormal activity has been reported. With a 'Saw' themed event you might wake up in a small room with no idea how you got there and possibly minimal information about who you are.

I like to start my events with very little background. I know why I believe I'm there, and I know what I think I'm trying to do, but usually this is the extent of my knowledge (other than how my char fits in with the wider world). We do get players who want more. I can understand that that's their style of play, but given the way we write games and the way I think about the games I'm writing it's hard to work out what extra information our players are after. Briefings are given in game, often by the commanders the players have picked themselves, or packs are handed over at the pub in the hours before time in, and the players are dropped in running.

I tend to find people who run events have patterns they tend to follow regarding pacing. Some of this is dictated by timings they run to, but event those are often chosen and stuck to by organisers. For example, at Mandala 24 hour time in means 24 hour things happening at all hours and if we think too many people are sleeping we'll find ways to wake some of them up. At other games often much less happens from 2-3am until 10am. We benefit from having refs who are early risers and others who sleep late. We have shift systems for monsters to ensure people are awake through the night and time out between midnight and 3 on the sunday morning to give people a chance to sleep.

We also like to time out at a dramatic moment. We will build up to a shuttle launch, or final large battle and rarely play through the effects of it for long. Players can make that bit happen without us.

We've had to ban individual 'thank you' speeches. Too many people were getting missed because having run on almost no sleep for the last few days and built up to running around with flares in the dark to make that ending special for the players is not conducive to remembering who you have to thank. People always get missed and they're inevitably tired enough that it's not as easy to ignore as it should be.


Events normally involve things happening for us. These can be the result of things we do, the result of things the players do or things that are entirely unexpected and no one ever works out quite how they happened. Usually there are things that players can't stop. Some of these are things that've happened before the players got there. We like to give players choices and have things that happen as a result of the choices the players make. If the players feel they were responsible for the choice they're more likely to feel personal responsibility for the effects of that choice.

We aim to give the appearance of choice. We cannot guarantee what the players will do, and we aim to have options for as many of their actions as we can predict. You can often give the illusion that the players actions are having an effect whereas both of the two most likely choices had the same outcome. We will ignore entire sections of game if the players don't take the hook even if it means they don't get to see a lovingly prepared set piece. The set piece doesn't add value if it's forced in to a plot where it doesn't belong. There have to be coherent reasons for each happening even if the players can't work out what they are. 

We have people who spend most of their time at our events writing and rewriting plot to respond to the players actions. Finding out what the players are planning and working out how we respond to things are major uses of our resources. We've had one game where the plot was being rewritten constantly and had five major rewrites with new endings and new story lines over the course of the weekend. They did end up with an ending very similar to the one we'd originally written, but that was by no means a sure thing and they took an entirely different route than planned to get there. For that event we had a few people comment to us that the plot had seemed a bit linear.

Thursday, 25 December 2014


In 2013 I failed to play Empire (bought a ticket, had a character and accidentally crewed) and realised I hadn't played a LRP game for about three years. 
In 2014 I played all four Curious Pastimes games, three SlenderLARP (LRP) games, Red Letter Day, Gunfest, and went to Phoenix LRP, as well as crewing Empire.

It's been a really good year (from a LRP point of view, I'm aware the year isn't yet over but I'm not attending games for the next few days so it'll be next year before anything amazingly LRP based happens again). 

Curious Pastimes:

Curious Pastimes is the first large system I was part of. From 2003 until 2009 I went to most of their main events and several faction and winter events (Including ones run by Mandala). I stopped enjoying it and stopped attending. I only went to renewal in 2011 and left that feeling a bit meh. 

This year there was a chance to be part of a 'monster' faction for new players and those who'd been out of the game for a while. I figured I'd try it. It was really good. They've ironed out a lot of the reasons it wasn't working for me, and it's now a really nice system with a lot of atmosphere and strong national identities for the players. I played one event with the Tuareg and then moved back to the Lions who've been amazing. They're welcoming, inclusive and lovely people. It's been really great to see so many people I know and the CP style of game really suits me. 


I seem to have turned into something of a SlenderLRP fan girl (even if they do insist on putting the 'A' in LRP). I've been to three of their events this year. They're always felt utterly disconcerting in the best possible way and each one is better than the last. I love what these people do. These events have also made me think about the way that we run events and are one of the reasons I started the blog. There's normally utter terror at some point mixed in with a huge amount of clue solving and piles of information, paperwork, real world references, visits to other locations and a good deal of paranoia relating to other players. 
The attention to detail is amazing. 

I'm really looking forward to their next event, just a bit worried it might be at the point I'm intending to be in another country, so hopefully they'll release the date soon... 


This blog isn't really about the workshop. Hence I normally don't really talk about what I'm doing there. However, it seems appropriate for this entry. We make weapons, armour, costume, jewellery, leather work as well as the masks and prosthetics we started with. Mandala has a wide range of people working there, and it's developed nicely over the last year. We're going to be trading at the LRP Awareness Party in Leicester in February (and some of our stock will be at 'What's Your Game' with Whiterose Apparel.) Our new armour range will be unveiled at these events. I'm really looking forward to that. 

We've got a laser cutter. This expands the range of things we can make in house nicely. There should be more photos appearing on the Mandala Facebook Page to show some of the things we've been working on. 

Mandala's Christmas Krampus

Red Letter Day:

This was a brilliant event. I've posted a review of this only recently so won't go into too much detail. It's run by a very good time and builds on many of the elements I enjoy most about SlenderLRP. I'm really looking forward to their next game, which Dave has assured me they are writing as I type :-p. 

I also played a Gunfest event. I'll probably just leave it at Gunfest - Fuck yeah.


Empire is not the event I want to play. I do really enjoy crewing it. I seem to be tending towards smaller games when I am playing and, with the exception of CP, I'm tending towards modern day events. 

Phoenix LRP

This was delightfully old school. A group of us went for an afternoons adventuring and it was great. We will be returning. 


I intend to continue in the same vein as I have been. I'm looking for more of the present day stuff and would like to run a horror event or two. We've got a site booked for Jurassic LRP in September. The list of things I want to do is far longer than I can possibly accommodate in the time I have available. I suspect that's true for most LRPers. If there's anything you'd particularly recommend let me know.

Sunday, 21 December 2014


Good feedback is really hard to come by. Typically if you run an event you'll get too see the comments and photos of some of the players afterwards. If there was a real issue they'll drop you an email or chat to you one facebook. If you're planning on running more events in the future you should probably talk to them and find out what they actually thought. There is a version of the form we send out here.  Editable version is here

Once we're home from an event we send out forms asking for feedback to all participants (players and crew). We ask them to rate a range of elements from the event, from the NPCs to the site and catering. We also ask them to provide an overall rating of the event. We use an adjusted version of the overall rating to give us a 'score' for the event. We've been doing this with every event since Mandala were running winter events in the CP system, and the score means we have one figure that we can compare for each event we run. This is nice for us, but overall not a particularly significant figure. 

Lego man sitting next to a broccoli tree with egg and bread hills behind. All under a red light.

The real value for us is being able to review some of the planning decisions we made and the effect they had on the players. One of the big things with the Alone series was food. We really value ic style food.  Unfortunately our players would like food that is actually edible (so picky). Reaching a balance between space food and edible food that actually keeps them happy took most of the Alone series. By Alone 4 we were telling them exactly what they were getting, letting them bring their own additions if it was appropriate, and making them carry supplies of bottles water with them. We got much improved ratings for the catering. People were happy because they'd prepared for self heating meals. A few people would have preferred hot cooked food, but that wasn't appropriate for the event that we chose to run. 

We've discovered that the people who love your game the most are often the most critical. If they're spending a lot of time telling us about things they would change it's often been because they loved most of the rest of it, and these differences are the things that would take it to perfect. We analyse events we play at. Partially it's an interesting exercise in why certain decisions have been made, and things that were really jarring for me. It's also about looking at our own events and learning how we can change them and what we'd run differently. 

With some of our SciFi games we don't really see the players from timein to timeout. All their communication is through AIs and it means it's very easy to miss things if we've not been told their happening. The feedback can fill in some of the gaps by prompting people to tell us what was amazing and what didn't quite work for them.

 There are a lot of things that people don't like about our games that we wouldn't change. We set out to run games were things happen around the clock, and where sleep is a privilege. We time out in the early hours of the Sunday which gives drivers a chance to sleep before driving home. We've had people say that they couldn't play our events again because they don't get to sleep over Saturday night. We don't want to stop the action or even give people a safe area to sleep in. It's not part of the game we want to run. We appreciate the feedback and that that's been said, but we'll normally let that person know that we won't be changing that element of the game. 

With ZapFest we had several people feedback issues that we hadn't even been aware of on site. Knowing about it means we've got a chance to spot the same things if they happen at future events. We review feedback in a fair amount of detail, and discuss whether it's something we want to act on or whether there's a reason we've done things the way we have. It also gives our player base a chance to tell us what they want to see us do. Given we're currently playing with a series of more experimental games this is quite important to us. 

Most event teams ask for feedback in one form or another. For us, the Google Forms work. They give people a way to tell us if they're not happy, which gives us a fighting chance to resolve the problems with future games (people choose whether to leave their name or not) - or to make it clearer that this is what we intended with future advertising.  


Friday, 19 December 2014


Death in LRP divides people. I’m a proponent of doing what feels right, and think that giving people control over when they die allows for greater glory and making things feel right. Trusting players is important. LRP is collaborative. We’re working together to make the game.

I like low rules systems. There are places this doesn’t work. For example - you need an agreement about how firearms are going to work, and you may need some agreement about certain skills in order that players can use them.

There are a few main things you need to consider when running an event that relate to character death:
  • Do players get a new character if they die?
  • Does that change depending on when they die?
  • Is the new character disadvantaged at all
  • How are you feeding new characters in? We used to have two slots we could use to feed people into Alone games. People would have to wait for those.
  • Do you need to outline a way to handle death ic? With most of our games it gets briefly roleplayed over and then ignored.
  • Do you have kit to send players back in with?

Death of a character is a big thing. Sometimes it’s the end of the game for someone, and at other times it’s a change in direction. Other characters will quickly move on from it. It’s the nature of LRP. Dead friends are people you talk about around the campfire with a drink a few times a year. They’re a reason to keep fighting, part of the story and some background atmosphere. For a lot of systems there are a significant number of dead characters and the majority of them won’t be individually significant in the game anymore.

For me the best deaths are those with meaning. To die gloriously holding the enemy back while your friends escape or complete setup or to die because someone has put a lot of thought into killing both feel good. That characters death had relevance. It always feels a bit rubbish to lose a character to a random skirmish, because you fell into a shadow or similar. it’s a sudden and abrupt ending that doesn’t really feel like you had any choice in it. Which is realistic, but not glorious. These deaths are also important. I can see their value, but I don’t really like them. They discourage effort spent on making kit that can’t be reused, and for me they make me move on when I may not have got bored of playing something. I don’t like going back to the same thing twice in a row. It devalues death to play the same character twice.

I don’t see LRP as a competitive thing and so I believe people can be trusted to decide when they die. It can still come as a shock. That realisation that someone has put thought and effort into killing you can be a bit of a surprise. For me, this normally happens once the character is dead. Letting you make that choice also allows you to choose to roleplay your injuries appropriately. It makes for far more immersive situations.

With any character death, it’s no longer about you. You’re not the one who gets to decide what is remembered about a character or how people react. In long term campaigns there are often lists of the dead, ways of remembering who has gone before. They add a sense of continuity and ritual to a situation that often has more death than would be fun in the real world.

In most cases it’s important that death is acknowledged. There could be groups that refuse to discuss death or to participate in any form of memorial or funeral rite. That should really be a significant thing about that group though. For the most part how a society deals with its dead is a significant part of making it feel real, especially in a violent situation.

I like death. It’s a nice underlining of the end of a life. It gives solid stops and leaves no ‘after’ for someone to worry about. As someone who runs games it makes it a lot easier to track survivors. If only 6 characters are still alive and I know where they are then I know there’s very little chance of someone showing up with knowledge I don’t expect them to have at future games.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Winter Events

In the UK there is a LRP season. This is at least partially because in winter it's a bit too cold to camp. When I started LRPing it pretty much ran from April/May to September. This year it doesn't seem to exist. 

Planning when to run an event is a bit of nightmare. You want a weekend that's likely to be warm and dry enough that you don't have to run everything in buildings (as long as you've got a site with buildings) and you don't want to clash with anything else. 

Finding sites is a nightmare. We usually want something that's less than £1200, has a kitchen and enough shelter for the people we have attending as well as somewhere to put the crew and is in the midlands. It loses points for every minute further from Coventry we have to drive. If we're running with 50 players we're hoping for 60-70 bunks. 

The site we have booked for our next event has no bunks. People can sleep in tents. However, the event is in September so this should be reasonable.
Road and trees with snow. Blue sky.

There are several large fest systems in the UK running with up to 4 events over summer. Off the top of my head I can think of Fools and Heroes, Lorien Trust, Curious Pastimes, Profound Decisions have both Empire and Odyssey and the Vale fitting events into the summer months. Unless we really knew our audience we wouldn't want to clash with these or run the weekend before or after. Dark Hearts, which we ran in November 2013, was based on the Empire system. We were aiming to draw players from there. 

When considering what the event clashes with, in addition to considering where your players come from, you also need to consider where your crew come from. We have some crew who're utterly insane, and will follow a brief through the night, returning every few hours to let their wrangler know they're alive and to eat/drink something. We try to ensure they're available for the dates we want to run our events on (especially with Alone events).

Having established when we can run an event we begin the thoroughly miserable business of contacting scout sites, LRP sites, and Youth Hostels collecting prices and dates and locations, while trawling the internet for something a bit special. Drakelow tunnels is one fine that was outstanding for us. SlenderLRP and Red LRP seem to do this considerably better than us. They have found several really interesting locations and they use them brilliantly. They invest a huge amount of work in setting their event in the location of the site and making it utterly relevant. I really rate them for it. 

We typically have an idea what we're after. There's a particular type of location we've been after for years and we may have found it. If we have, we should have a really nice Sci Fi event lined up for next year. :)
 Typically we have to compromise massively somewhere. There are sites we contact event though we know they only have three LRP slots a year and we haven't a hope of getting them as they're booked up by a 40k club as soon as they become available. I'd also love to run something on Bardsey Island, but we've yet to find a whole team that are keen enough to make that work (Any volunteers?). It does seem to suit 1930s Cthulhu style LRP and that's not actually something on our list to run. Also it doesn't have electricity and everything has to be ferried out by boat so we'll be limited in what we can take for set dressing and effects kit. 

The last three weekends I've been at events. I played two brilliant events and catered the CP Lions faction banquet. This last one was at the Court Hill Centre, which has amazing views. The main hall has wooden beams and was amazingly decorated by the Lions (although it was a little dark, the servers kept tripping over shields people had left in the tiny gaps between the tables). We had between 50 and 60 attending and fed them 12 courses over 4-5 hours. They did some of the washing up. Everyone seemed content.

I've previously really enjoyed catering banquets. I really enjoyed the weekend and seeing people, but apparently we've got too good at catering and it's too organised and no longer appeals to my sense of chaos.
I'm really glad we had bunks for this one. I'd been sleeping outside only a fortnight before and it was snowing at a couple of points over the weekend. 

Still, this year the season has finished. It's probably about time. I need to make some new kit before next years season starts on the 24th January... What happened to time for projects?


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Resonance 2

I like LRPing in a group. If you have a group of people you can agree a common look. This helps with establishing an identity. You don’t need a personal identity if people can work out your place from the kit you’re wearing.

You can use it to add resonance. When we played tree worshipping cultists we all wore generic kit underneath and hoods and robes over the top. The look hinted slightly at a religious order which was mirrored by the way we spoke about our selves. The bulking up and furs often worn by beastkinmakes the people wearing it more likely to lounge around on a hot day, and also improves their ability to both hide and loom, which are important ways of separating your behaviour from that of other people.

In the star wars films they used very different clothing styles for the imperials and the rebels. If they are wearing black and have a mandarin collar then they are imperial. The clothes were very fitted, military and ordered. The rebels tended to have layers, v necks and clothing that was loose but belted. We used the same styles through Alone (although this rarely came up). It does mean that if you use those styles anywhere then people will see them in the same way.

I like things to have a coherent look. Anything that looks good does, and things with a coherent look invariably look better. One poly cotton tabard invariable looks quite cheap - a group of them in the same colours look like something meaningful. 

For fantasy LRP I would expect anyone who has been to a couple of events to have IC trousers (appropriately coloured, not jeans or combats) and an ic top (not a t-shirt or something with a modern cut). I have advantage that I generally know what look I am going for and have both money and time to make the items I am after. I’m also of the opinion that in the same way that you couldn’t play cricket without the appropriate gear (the less gear you have the less like cricket it is and if you take this too far we end up arguing about whether throwing a turnip at a spade is cricket), you can’t LRP without the appropriate costume.
LRP is a luxury hobby. You can get appropriate kit for most things for less than the cost of one event.

Most people apply resonance automatically. If they’re playing the groups religious leader then their costume will be taken from their view of what a religious leader will look like. There are numerous interpretations of the phrase ‘Space Cowboys’ but if you use it currently most people will start to look to firefly for inspiration and you’ll get themes that come from there.

If you have an established world you’ll probably want players to be able to identify things from within that world. For example, if you have a particular military unit then you may want players to be able to identify that people are from that particular military unit. Military uniforms create a military look and badges, insignia and hats can be used to tie a group of soldiers into something the players recognise. We’re often tempted to create a set of police-ish uniforms, a set of paramedic gear and similar. We already have a decent set of military gear. A lot of people have a set of military gear, as it’s cheap and easy to buy. A lot of modern or post apocalyptic games are flooded with it when there’s a lot of alternatives that could be used.

We also consider whether it’s a one off event or a series of events. One offs require players to buy in very quickly. They only have 30-40 hours of game time and spending a lot of that working out the setting can really limit things. If it’s a series of events then you have more time to play with and can spend more time establishing something as a setting. You need to work out how much your players will happily read and at what point you’re being so constraining that you’re not leaving them room to make the world their own.

Finally, on another topic, we’re planning on running Jurassic LRP on 25th-27th September 2015.
The facebook group is here. Let us know if it’s something you’re interested in. More details after Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Make them pay

With small events typically no one is making a profit. If you’re lucky you’ll come close to breaking even.

We have a few rules that make this work for us.

  • No one has a place without having paid a deposit.
  • Once the deposit has been paid payments must be made each month to keep the place, and the full cost should be paid at least a month before the event.
  • No refunds (we use discretion on this, but we typically can’t refund and don’t have time to resell tickets if there’s less than a month before the event)
  • Typically half the number of people that say they will definitely show up will. Some of those will crew. If there are 80 people on your facebook group saying they will definitely be there then your player/crew/ref base is probably about 40. Usually a lot of them have said they’ll crew and you’ll find you’ve got a player base of about 17. If it’s only 17 before you’ve announced dates and prices then you may find you struggle.
  • Get dates and prices out early. Setting people expectations enables them to confirm they can make your event.

Because we typically run events for our friends these can seem harsh, but it’s utterly worth it. Having to hassle our friends for money is no fun, and having rules in place from the start makes it easier. It also means you know what you’re doing and how much you’re spending and that you have the money in your hand at a point when you can actually spend it (before the event) and it can go to making the event better. 
Krampus Hugging Box in Van

The 50% rule is really important. It actually applies after you’ve told people the date and price.
Zapfest caught us out because it was closer to 30% actually booked, but because we had the figures we could make decisions based on the actual costs of running the event and knew what we were committing to.

There are a lot of people who have access to kit that can be used for running events. We will sometimes lend kit to people (and also rent out some monsters) and we have catering equipment. Some of the larger event organisers have kit that they can lend to groups running smaller events. We teamed up with Rockets and Rayguns to rebuild our drop pod so that it could be used for both their game and ours. If there is something aspirational you want it’s worth talking to other people who run games to see if it can be shared between groups. 

Link to previous post on Money
An example of our finance spreadsheet

Monday, 8 December 2014


This weekend I attended an event run by Red LRP. Red Letter Day was based in 1994, and we were playing people who were attending a Red Letter Day event in Leicester. It was a close to modern day horror event run by people who have a style I like. So I booked. 

Friday was good. We timed in at the pub (The Fieldhead in Markfield) who decided we were loud and gave us a conference room to stay in so that we could be loud and not scare the other customers. This was good. 
I approve of starting in pubs as it keeps players away from site and, especially for modern day events such as this, lets them time in naturally and drink and eat as they want to whilst the site gets sorted and people arrive who've been stuck on the hell that is Britain's motorways on a Friday night. 
People in smoke with people on the floor

We had a band (Flying Kangaroo Alliance) which was also amazing. Midnight hit and I was stood just outside of the main room and the screaming and applause were less applause and more screaming. We had dead people, a doctor who wasn't a doctor and then refused to go to bed for several hours whilst we started working out what was going on, talked to the police, found the flayed remains of a body in the woods etc.

We found books with secret codes in them and information about us.
I think at some point we managed to get into a building with a darkroom which had photos of several of the characters in it.
Nothing blatently paranormal had happened. 

Paperwork and photos on a table
I got to bed about 3.40ish, and was woken by a phone call at 6.37 (they had phones, these were used to communicate with the refs, to call in game emergency services, to book in game taxis, to call family members and other contacts etc) I can't remember exactly what the call was about. 

Candles and flayed skin in a tree

Flayed skin

During the course of the next morning we were making trips to locations we found out about from the books, and also chose to visit the head office of the company that had set this up. The later trip involved breaking into someones house and stealing their computer, a lot of files, a skull and some books. We also said hello to the cat. 

The main room was now flooded with information and some of us were left chasing people around the woods whilst others went on an extended linear in the real world that involved phone calls at abandoned service stations, breaking into hotel rooms, and into cars in public car parks as well as visiting a shrine to a dead character in the middle of Leicester. 

We gained some more dead bodies at this point. A religious order that had been trying to help us, but were pretty rubbish. 
People with paper

By this point we'd worked out that we were meant to be being sacrificed for the sake of our families and that we'd been sent here to die. From midnight people scattered, there was a lot of hiding and panic and then we stood in a well lit hut while a thing walked in to suck out our insides and hang our skins on a tree to die. We can't leave site because there are armed police keeping us there. We somehow managed to kill her whilst only losing one more of ours and the survivors gathered in the main hut to work out what to do now. After a while we concluded that sleeping was the answer.

The next morning we tried to leave site, and couldn't. That was disconcerting. We were planning to happily walk to Nottingham and we were stuck, unable to leave. I managed to get stuck in a building with 6-7 surviving players (others were outside) whilst Baal tried to convince us to complete the deal and unfortunately got to close to a man with an axe. My character left this world being deafened by a god who I suspect eventually got his way. 

People looking agressive
It was a brilliant weekend and I'm still a wee bit shattered. 

Things I really liked:

Skills - we had one each, and all of them could be used. Mine was photography, someone else could shoot guns (one player could use a gun effectively) another could research, another could pick locks etc. They all worked quite well. I loved having the darkroom so I could do the things I should be able to do. 

Futility - I couldn't work out what to do so I hid in a bush. I was scared and useless enough that it seemed like the best option. It worked. 

Atmosphere - None of us trusted people (until I got to close to a man with an axe). They concluded someone was  bad because he ran off into the dark at the same time as me and I wasn't there when he returned. They thought he'd killed me. 

The real world - The linears were amazing. Breaking into cars, and houses and hotels. Going to local locations and actually using them added so much to the game. It was really good.

There are many others - these are the main 4.

There were some bits of plot that felt less finished than they could have done. It made it a really good game instead of an outstanding one. However, I would like to sign up for the next game now. I'm really glad I played this one. :)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


How much you choose to be influenced by the real world, or by other stories is important to you, but all options are equally valid here.

With Alone we used resonance. We were using strong visual themes from the Alien and Aliens films. People knew how to react when hit by a facehugger because they knew what a facehugger was and how it had worked in the films. The stories were our own. The plots, characters and backgrounds were things we had created. The reason for things being where they were was all ours. By borrowing the way that the aliens worked, we didn’t need to brief the players on how to react to aliens. We could leave them to work that out purely because they knew what they did.

We may have robbed them of the true terror of being stalked through the dark by a completely unknown thing. I think this was the right decision though. They knew roughly what they were up against, but it was still pretty scary. We usually had the odd unknown in there as well, and it meant that we could stick to the low briefing style of play we love. There was a game in spending hours working out the life cycle of the monster attacking them but it wasn’t the game we were running.

The sun setting, reflected in a lake.

We sometimes use this the opposite way. Young children are generally seen as being in need of protecting, and as being sweet and innocent. They can be used to hook people into a plot as they’re something that a nominally ‘good’ character will want to save. It’s something to fight for. If the thing that is causing the problems appears childlike, then it creates conflict because killing it is a lot harder than if it appears evil. We can also use the increased likelihood that they will trust that thing to harm the players. If they make that decision it can hurt them.

For Dark Hearts we used a lot of fairy tale themes. We were looking at the older, less friendly, version of fairy tales and bringing that into the setting we were presenting. Telling the story was a big part of Dark Hearts. A lot of the village was set up to get people to the place where they could find out what had happened and draw their own conclusions.
We also rigged the entire game to suggest that they were up against werewolves. Everything we produced had wolf references scattered through it. It was a way of establishing a subtle tension, without any actual background to it.

A lot of games are based on books, tv series and films that people have seen. People want to be there and do that and that’s part of what LRP is about. The stories are new, but the setting is something that’s easy to grasp if you’ve watched the material it’s based on. Coming up with something entirely new means that you need to give the players more to know what they should know when they get there - what everyone in that world would know. With the modern day games it’s how to balance those with limited real life knowledge playing experts, especially when they may encounter real life experts in that field in game.


This is a short entry that outlines a few points we need to consider before each event.

  • We use LRP Alliance for insurance.
  • At our events we always have a named person responsible for medic stuff. They are responsible for keeping the first aid box up to date and appropriate to the event we’re running.
  • When we are using guns we call the police first, and we tell them that we’ll be running an event that uses replica weapons. We also give them the site location and a contact phone number of the contact phone on site.
  • We have a letter from the police that outlines why we are exempt from the vcr bill. This is useful as it makes the Police less likely to arrest us. There is a copy of it here.
  • We own our own radios. We have a licence to use them and stick to the terms. 
    EDIT: We need this because while most people use PMR446 radios we use 'better' ones which have to be licenced. Most events won't need this.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


For Alone 2 we built an alien queen. The event ran in February. We spent about 5 months building her, and working out the frame she was based on took weeks. We also spent several hundred pounds on materials. She was amazingly effective for that event. She was totally worth the investment. She was used at Alone 3 and Alone 4, but is not mostly static. We could make her walk again, but I suspect we'd rather put the work into something new.

We usually start with an idea, some things we want to see, and then move onto a 6 word story. You can create a 6 word story for most events. They're just a way of getting it clear what everyone involved in writing thinks is important. It probably doesn't matter if you're working from different viewpoints, as long as you know you are. We use Google Docs for most things. We take a colour each and have a single plot document that we all add to. Separately we'll start working out what we have to spend, and how we plan to spend it. We'll look at 3-4 different ticket prices and often a couple of sets of player to crew ratios to work out what we need to run the event, and where we can afford to compromise. 

Baby ducks

We have previously run events that have gone over budget by several thousand pounds. We can't afford to do that now, so we need to have a realistic idea on costs and have managed to come in on budget on a couple of occasions. This does mean that we need every player to pay before the event. We normally can't accept cash on the gate because we've spent the money by then. It also means that for our events we don't offer refunds.

We've got a quite varied audience. We charge a lot (£150 a weekend for Alone) but we feel we charge about the right amount. We're aware some people can't afford to pay that for tickets. That's okay. They don't have to. 

We typically work with a spreadsheet ( version of the Dark Hearts one) Huge amounts of useful information goes into this. It gives us a central place to look at budgets, prop lists, player lists, crew lists, dietary information etc. We'll also have a plot document. I also want to share an Alone 4 summary document. It bears little resemblence to the event we ran. Plot documents never do. I can't show you Dark Hearts as that is ongoing. We have piles of other documents that detail each character, or each scene and what we need to set it. Once we've written everything we show the plot doc to Humpo who declares it 'rubbish' and rewrites it as something that will work. 

It's a short post today, but those two documents add a fair amount of extra reading. We need to know what we're willing to spend, and it's hard to break even whilst still pulling off the best event we can achieve. We're often hit by last minute costs that are hard to account for (fuel for the generator at Drakelow was a lot more than we anticipated).

Saturday, 22 November 2014


We trust our players. We trust them not to take the piss, not to be dicks. We trust them not to book when they're not going to enjoy our game. We trust them not to make the game miserable for other players, and to help build and support the game environment. 

We also trust them to break the rules. To do what's best for the game even if it's not what we've said they should do. 

Any rule should be there to make the game better. To enable players to do something they could not otherwise do. Doing away with rules about death and dying doesn't stop death happening. If it did I would expect Alone games to have had a lot more survivors even if they were still stuck on alien strewn moons. Instead it makes death occur as and when the players decide. 

LRP is odd in that it's often without long term injury (ic). It takes a certain type of person to pretend to have a debilitating injury and enjoy it. It's unfair to hoist that on someone who isn't willing. If you give people the chance to be miserable they often will. Different groups of players enjoy role playing the effects of injury for different amounts of time. With ours, they've signed up for an action game, so I suspect they're not that likely to expect us to subject them to spending 40-50 minutes injured. 

Two metal herons outside a building

We've used games to represent the medic skill. Computer games where doctors had to balance how much of various drugs they were giving a patient in order to keep them alive. It was possible for the patient to die, but the patient had by this point decided they were seriously wounded, and it did lead to nice levels of panic. 

Trust is good. Systems that allow players to decide what's happening encourage mature roleplaying and makes it more about the game and less about 'winning'. LRP is collaborative. We're all working together to create a game. When you pay us for a ticket you're not paying for entry into a competition, you're paying for your share of the costs of running that game. It's the same as paying for your round at the pub. 

Winning is about the stories. My winning is hearing people tell other people about games I've been involved in. I love knowing that things that I've made happen, plot that I've written or discussions about rules that I've had have given people stories that they're telling to their friends years after they happened, or even that people are passing on as something they've heard about. We aim to do things that are considered beyond normal. LRP is good, but it can be better. I love the traditional games, but I want to run something different. I want to see if we can improve things.

I need to convince Matt P to let me rig his new site with gimbals. So I'm going to finish this here. I've got events for the next three weekends (Gunfest, Red Letter day and the lions banquet) and then I'll be working on Jurassic LRP over Christmas, so get building your dinosaurs. I expect you all to be there.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Augmented Reality

I quite like games that extend beyond the period that people are together, but I appreciate that that is a lot of effort for the people organising the game. 

We don't run those games. The games we run are nicely contained, with minimum preamble and nothing after because usually everyone is dead. I like the idea that the games start with a bang and usually that bang is the point where people find out what's happening (at least for the first part of the game). We'll give them enough information to write a character, and find some stats, and that's pretty much it until they turn up. 

Footprints in the sand

It takes an immense amount of work to do anything personalised before an event. It will take longer than you think. if you only spend 10 minutes a player and have 20 players then you're already looking at over three hours, and you've just about read their backgrounds. You've not included them in anything you're writing. You've not looked at ways to link them together with other players. That's all extra. We normally run with 40-60 players (for Alone). 

I've been thinking about augmented reality today. My day job involves training people to use software, and I'm fairly certain we can improve take up and accessibility using technology. We can use the same technology to blur the lines between LRP and events, and the real world. Games like Ingress are a form of LRP. You're pretending to be in a situation and playing with that to achieve targets. For some events these same technologies can be used to get information to players, either before the event, or during time in.

With Alone we wanted to be able to give the players a way that they could see the Aliens approaching them on a scanner. This is probably something we could do now. We'd need to build units into the costumes that the players could detect using smart phones or computers. If you're running a modern day event that requires players to travel to sites to gather information you can share that information with devices such as Gimbals.

LRP has fuzzy boundaries. A lot of the definition is based on experience. I would really love to see a sci-fi fest event. Now Matt has announced his permanent site we can begin looking into running one again. If he does run one then we'll need to investigate how these technologies can be used to improve our games in order that we can make sure we've got the best chance of making things work. 

It feels like there's a huge amount we now can do. We're still trying to make it actually happen.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Typically with LRP you’re putting your players into a situation they have to react to. Whether they’re playing good, bad or (most often) some kind of grey, there will be a circumstance (or circumstances) that they will want to change as part of the game. Ideally you'll have players with different ideas as to what should be done. Some of them may be of the opinion that they should be stopping other players changing things. There will be conflict. 

In Empire they have to fight off a threat to the Empire. They’re defending the lands they see as theirs. That’s the main threat. There’s also the internal politics. People compete for control of the political situation. The compete to make decisions go their way. There are other threads, but each is a situation that requires players to influence it in order to achieve their goals.

In modern LRP there are fewer true monsters. We are starting to include the idea of causes and effects. We can see what created a behavior or a problem. Sometimes you want something to just be bad. Other times there's a little more flexibility there. You want your players to doubt themselves. We often play with emotions. Using small delicate people as something evil tends to play with peoples expectations. Making someone who is generally pretty together appear vulnerable also makes people have to think about what they’re doing.

A lot of good plots ask players to balance several sensitive areas. By giving them several conflicting wants and needs, and not enough resources to make everyone happy you make them make choices. These are typically good choices because your players aren't trying to guess what the ref wants. They're trying to work out what they're willing to sacrifice, or what they live without. Whether they'd rather steal something in order to get what they need or if they're happier leaving the poor children hungry. Which of these is less of a moral compromise. Obviously this doesn't work if they're playing shades of grey characters, but with a mixed party it can lead to interesting turning a blind eye situations.

It’s a general rule that players will talk to the things you want them to hit and hit the things you expect them to talk to, and that this will happen whether or not you take this rule into consideration. It’s also true that the thing you absolutely do not want is your players going to interact with something and pausing to think “did they mean me to hit this or talk to it?” and you will get that. What you really are aiming for is players that will react naturally to whatever situation is thrown at them, and just as in real life that can be a wee bit surprising. 

Bunny looking evil

Any creature the players encounter should make sense. Even if the players never find out why there should be a reason for every alien to be where it is, for each villager to be where it is, and if it is something the players can talk to the person playing it should know what that  reason  is if it makes sense that they would do so. 

My favourite games are balances. With Alone games we typically built in an escape route for about 6-8 players. Most players were going to die. There was no way out. Alone was set up to finish with a victorious death. This got very interesting in the tunnels. To keep the atmosphere we'd said they couldn't have clocks and hand crank torches only. It kept low light and meant they didn't know what the time was. One group concluded they were getting close to midnight on saturday night and that they would have to complete their objectives. They had a beautiful suicide scene. It was glorious. Unfortunately it was only about 4pm. They seemed happy with it. They knew they were very unlikely to survive and did something epic. They also felt they'd had their game.  (I only know this one from other people telling me, so accuracy is down to my notoriously dodgy memory). 

With the Alone games we didn't give everyone enough stuff to complete the survival objective. The joy was in the game, and everyone surviving wasn't  ever that high on our list of important things. It was about putting them in an environment and letting them interact. We had a few ways they could get the things they needed and a whole lot of choices about who to trust, who to shoot and who to secretly plant alien embryos in in order that you can sneak them back to your parent corp and sell them for money. It didn't matter what they spoke to and what they shot (although shooting the AI and talking to the alien was a fast route to a confusing death).  

The world you are creating needs to have some form of back story, and to hang together. It gives everyone the common threads to explain why the Montagues hate the Capulets, and helps players to see the effect their having on the world. After all, they're the god damn heroes, whether or not they all end up dead.