Friday, 31 October 2014

Boundaries - The edge of the game

LRP events tend to happen within a set space. Often this is a scout site or other campsite. The space has edges and beyond those edges is the real world. Even within this space there are places people shouldn’t be.

There are different approaches to edges. They can be ignored (either with signposts or verbally or using common sense) or they can be obscured (either with reason or physically). Ideally you don’t even want the players to encounter them. In drakelow we literally walled in the edges, they were contained in tunnels, and we built walls blocking the crew area from the player area. With earlier Alone events, at John Lees Wood they needed to wear space suits to go outside and the air tanks didn’t last long enough to reach the site edge. They shouldn’t have been able to get there. Having said that, they couldn’t see too well in the space suits and did manage to break into a crew area because it had an ooc notice on the door, but they couldn’t read it.  

Fields, with a wall, looking over sea to the horizon.

With the Alone games we ran into a regular issue in that we wanted the players to be alone. They were marooned in an area with no way in and no way out and as stated above couldn’t reach the edge of site due to some game mechanic. Overnight they were attacked by Aliens (they mostly come at night, mostly) and during saturday…. ummm…. We couldn’t have people visit, because if people can get in then we need to get them out before night, and if people can get out then so can players. It was a major problem for us, that we had to solve each time we ran, and after four games we’d reached the limit with that particular issue and decided to retire the series and run something new (for Alone 4, there was no daylight so it wasn’t the same issue, but it was still there).

That’s also a boundary issue. There is a limit we have, that is vital to the atmosphere of the game, and we need to consider the implications of breaking it. The limits that affect our players also affect our npcs. The players should be able to do as much or more than an npc can, otherwise the npcs might as well do it, and the players become observers.

For our games we like to have fairly complete control of the situation. In theory we know who has gone in, and what equipment they’ve taken, down to the photos of their family back home. Keeping control of the movement of stuff in and out is important, and because it’s sci fi we can use technology as a reason for things to be able to appear without offering a way out for the players. We also use networks and communications to enable ourselves to expand the world beyond the immediate. We will have AIs on computers and people who can be emailed or chatted to. In these last cases we can again maintain control. we often decide it’s only possible when satellites are aligned meaning the players have to make things work in up time.
Communicating offscreen is an awkward boundary, because if you give the players a way to breach it, for example with messages, then you need to have a system whereby these can be received, read and responded to. In our example above, we had an it team that were constantly online replying to players. It took a lot of manpower, but it was an important way to stay in touch with the players.

Slenderlrp (which I keep coming back to, as it has a different way of working, mostly due to being modern world) removes the barriers. It’s one of those games where players can move into the real world. This means that trips to tea houses work, that we can cater events by going to a pub down the road, and that characters can use the internet to solve issues they have. It also means that characters can have an independent internet presence. (It all got a little bit nerdy. Katy is my Slenderlarp character. I wanted to claim she was an author)

So boundaries can be ignored, with players expected to ignore them as well. They can be explained away by rules. They can be hidden by keeping players from them or they can be removed, which is an expansion of the first one. You ignore the boundaries and let the players cross them. As with ‘show, tell, do’ we tend to use a mix. The values of each change depending on what it is you want to achieve.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

How Many Players

Different numbers of players lead to different set ups. This can be pretty fundamental. If you’re playing on a site that only allows a certain number of people, then beyond balancing the number of crew/organisers you really don’t get a whole lot of choice.
On some sites, it’s a balance between reducing the cost per person and choosing a number of people that suits the game you want to run.

The more players you have, the more interactions they provide. In a smaller group, each player has a bigger impact. If you've got fewer players then outside events have more influence. The events we run typically have outside events for players to react to. We normally run one shot events where the characters don’t recur. The main driver for the players interaction are those outside events.
Small path through woods in sunshine.

We’ve been involved in running banquets and weddings which are much more groups of players choosing to take a character from an ongoing campaign and interact with other characters from this system. Is this situation we provide food and the setting, and the players do the rest. In that case the situation determines who you invite ic.

Typically, half the people who tell you that they absolutely will be going to your event will actually pay. You need to be making enough money to run the event at about this level. Not having enough places for everyone isn't usually the end of the world. Pricing is also important. You need to cover the site cost and food at a minimum, and we typically need to include a van, set dressing, and props.

Mandala have a pile of resources from previous events that covers tentage, field kitchen, catering, set dressing, costumes and monsters, lighting, effects, computers, phones, electricity etc. If we’re using these typically we put them in the budget at a ‘maintenance’ cost - to ensure we can repair damage and improve on the kit we already have.

So, back to how many players. I like to have fewer, a lot of mandala like to have more. I tend to thing 20-30 is good. Everyone becomes essential. Your skill mix is such that there’s not too many of any particular role, and they’ll often work together. Our largest events tend to be about 55 people. In these we tend to put people into teams, and set them against each other a bit. It works fairly well, although with the dramatic hits system it does require everyone to play to the spirit of the game.

Our latest event was designed to have 35-40 players, and ran with 17. I personally think it ran better this way. It was a game for heroes and it gave everyone a chance to be a hero. Everyone was essential in a way they wouldn't have been otherwise. We had 9 different skill sets, and there were some that were unrepresented from the beginning, but people did get chances to change part way through.
With more people we’d need to split people up more, get the party to be in two places at once sometimes, because some of the encounters we run don’t work with the number of people present.

Running events where not everyone gets to see every set piece is also controversial. Players may feel they didn’t get what they paid for. If they miss something that people say was awesome, have we let them down? If everyone has to be part of everything doesn't that feel a bit like railroading? Small events that run as part of fest system worlds allow players to have experiences they couldn't have in uptime due to scale. As part of that we include experiences that are only for small numbers of players because they look good, feel good, carry the story well, and make awesome stories. It’s much easier to be scared if you’re alone. When watching a film, you know things have gone wrong when people start splitting up. It brings in new emotions.

This comes back to encounter balancing, and ‘Show, tell, do’. an encounter may be do for some players, show for others, and tell for the rest.

So, how many players? Enough that everyone is occupied and has enough to do. You can always split them up to maintain atmosphere. I mostly want fewer as it makes the admin side easier.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pre Game

We don’t run a lot pre game. We give a setting, ask people to create characters, and then expect them to turn up at the game. They will get a briefing before they go ic. That’s about it. That’s how we like it.

Stone steps surrounded by wild plants under a deep blue sky

We tried running an ic forum, a lot of our players weren’t interested, and neither were the organisers. As a result it didn’t work, and we left it. We have a lot of players that don’t like this. They’re Our players. They play our games, and they would like us to do something we’re not currently doing. We’re not that likely to start either. The months immediately before an event tend to be consumed by attempts to get the kit that bit closer to finished and the ridiculous thing a bit more built. We’re typically making masks, corralling crew and programming up to (and beyond) time in. It’s not that we’re disorganised, it’s that there’s always something else we can do to make the game better, and for us that isn’t running an ic board.

It either adds something to the game, in which case it’s a problem for the people that aren’t interested in being part of it, or it doesn’t, in which case you can roleplay among yourselves without our assistance.

I participate in stuff on the slenderlrp boards. That’s something of a special case for me. It’s very much based in the real world, and the character I play isn’t too much removed from myself. I will typically come back from an event still thinking about it, and processing things. So I do talk on the forums, update the wiki and write another pamphlet. That’s a reaction to an event, not prep for an event. We don’t encourage continuity of characters. Especially with Alone. Wookie holds out that if you survived you were probably doing it wrong. For him the aim was a cinematic death in the last 3 hours. For me, I didn’t really care as long as I had the same number of monsters at the end as at the beginning (It haunted me for days that we’d failed to count everyone out of the tunnels and could easily have left someone behind. We think we left a computer in there, and it’s almost definitely full of slides and little plastic key cards).

I get forums. I can see why people would like them, and people are welcome to roleplay online before our games if they want to. We’re just not going to get involved in it. We’ll answer questions (the answer may be ‘I don’t know, make it up’). It’s not something that adds to the game we want to run. It’s something that adds to the game you want to play.

For us, the game starts on site. We try and tell you enough that you can decide how you got there. The rest is up to you.

Monday, 27 October 2014


I am a coward. I’m scared of the dark, of small places, of heights, of strange noises, of people.
I thought for years that I wouldn’t be able to cope with horror events, so I tried them, and I love them. Due to actually being terrified it’s vastly easier to accept the sense of fear that the organiser is trying to instill. It added a huge amount of atmosphere and works well. Although I spend a lot of time hiding in woodland, dropping things and running away and regarding everything with suspicion, and here we run into the problem.
LRP gives you a chance to try things. It lets you try reactions you wouldn’t normally have. It lets you be in situations you could never be in in the real world. It lets me try the things that scare me and as a result I’m vastly less scared of them. I have to work harder to convince myself that the thing behind me is actually something bad that I can’t deal with. I have dealt with angry, threatening people and they… still make flinch and look terrified.

A table with wine bottles, cups and writing on it.

A horror event needs a combination of things. It needs a buildup of tension. It needs moments of panic. It needs a deep sense of foreboding, and it needs to make people stop thinking and run.
Some of the Alone events ended up more action. There were 40 people walled up in a building. The temptation was just to throw aliens at them, but that isn’t the key signature of a horror event. Horror is being stalked in the dark. Horror is not being able to do anything about it. Horror is watching doom walking towards you and being helpless as it takes people around you and sucks the life out of them.

Get it right and you can get 15 players all hiding in the toilets, 5 to a cubicle in the dark, too scared to come out. Get it wrong and you have an action game. Which may be okay, but it isn’t horror.

Looking at Aliens, Alien had one alien that stalked them, that was horror. In alone 2 there were far more aliens, and hence a few could die. Our heroes could fight back. With Alone 4 we split the players into groups of ten. We needed 50 players to make the event work, and we spent a long time trying to balance the groups so that they would play against each other not with each other. This was to give them moments of horror. There would be moments when things were stalking them in the dark. We settled for moments of horror in an action game.

Horror can also come from making the players act in ways they don’t want to. We’ve given them bodies to cut open, and made them kill the ones that look most innocent. We’ve put them into positions where they have to do horrible things to survive. Do it will, make it an individuals decision and there’s horror there as well.

We’ve discussed Saw type horror, and concluded that we’d probably have to cut the game length down. I suspect there would be a moment where the brain would say it was only a game and you’d want to stop and have a cup of tea. Playing through the full 30 hours of a weekend wouldn’t work so well.

Horror works well for smaller events. They happen a lot in winter, and darkness brings shadows and unseen things to events. Fewer people is just scarier. You can’t get lost in the crowd if there isn’t one, and you can more easily run 24 hour time in. We tend to run friday night through to early sunday morning. Typically it’s a 30 hour game. It gives two nights, one to begin and one to end. It means set pieces are run in the dark taking full advantage of the emotions gained from that. It also means people can sleep and recover before driving home on sunday afternoon.

We will continue playing with horror. It’s a lovely emotion to play with. It’s something that comes to a lot of people naturally, and once it’s gone the euphoria that follows moves the game on nicely. T-Rexes can’t see you unless you move. This could be used in Jurassic LRP to bring in terror. Unfortunately it seems that the dinosaurs are the players.

Catering Events

I have catered a range of events and banquets. The right food adds to the atmosphere of a game. If you’re trying to evoke 1950s America then hotdogs and burgers are part of that. They’re much less part of a group who’re mainly influenced by oriental themes.

I walked around Empire as a NPC and for several camps you could tell who they were by the smell of cooking food. Daily life taking place in camps adds huge amounts of atmosphere. Mealtime rituals also help to tie a group together and add to a coherent flavor. It’s not just getting the right flavours that adds to a game, but the way you prepare and the way you eat the food.

I enjoy catering events for the same reason I like running them. The challenge of getting large amounts of food prepared and fed to a large group of people really pays off in terms of that feeling of accomplishment. Creating that situation for people is important. It gives them another way to expand on their character, and as it’s a much more controlled environment you can usually create a much more ic atmosphere with it.

Man in a tea room. Candles and tea things behind.

Tell your players what food you’re providing.
With the SciFi events we often wanted an army feel. We wanted players to have ration packs. These are expensive and divisive. We’ve tried making food packs that similar, which people didn’t like, and buying some ration packs but getting the players to supplement (we told them what we’d got and let them bring other stuff). If we were doing this again we’d just tell them to bring their own ration packs. As this was for the drakelow tunnels event we didn’t want them using flame based heaters (our monsters wouldn’t see them). We got them heating packs so that they could use these and it would be a bit safer. This worked quite well. It meant those with coffee issues could control their own problem.
We did state this in the information we gave the players.

We always have a separate catering team. Following feedback they tend to have npc characters and at times are a key part of plot. Their main focus is food. They are responsible for getting food cooked and to players. They are in charge of the kitchen area, and potentially also the dining space. We don’t always expect them to cook in an ic space. Usually they have a scout hut style catering kitchen.

As for shopping, we’ve found that tescos ends up a similar price to costco, although both is the cheapest option, and that butchers aren’t always more expensive. Game makes for interesting, ic and different meals and is often inexpensive, and that people never have enough room for pudding. We always over cater custard, but it’s a nice flexible foodstuff and is hilarious when you’re exhausted because you’ve been cooking all day.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Finding Sites

Sites can make or break a game. Many people have sites that they vow they will never return to (consall and it’s hills, Bispham Hall in Wigan or Tournament Stud for mud for example).
Most of the sites we use are scout sites, and they all look a little bit disappointing.

There are other sites. Huntley Wood is a dedicated LRP site. The Grange in Balsall Common is an airsoft site. Hostels have been used, as have private houses, public access land, and other sites that people have found through various contacts. Next month I’m attending an event at a site in wigan. It’s in the town centre, and there are businesses operating out of the building we’ll be hunting for ghosts in.

As an organiser I’m looking for a memorable location that fits the plot, and ideally that we don’t need to dress to the nines. We’re prepared to dress the building if we have to, but we struggle to make the outside look right, and it adds an extra day onto our hire costs.
The best site we’ve used is Drakelow Tunnels. These are 2nd World War tunnels that have also been used as a cold war base through the 1970s-1990s.

Booking sites in the midlands that are affordable has got a lot harder recently. Next year I’m running the first event where we haven’t had bunks for the players. They’re going to camp. Normally bunks is a requirement as we want the players ic 24 hours in a sci fi world and we’ve yet to perfect our modular building design to make that work. We want to control what a player experiences at our games and that means not letting them slope off to a space that is ‘theirs’.

Generally we aim to spend £800-1000. Usually we end up spending £1000-1250 We like our sites to be within about an hour of coventry.
I have a list of places we try. If we’ve got a game in mind we’ll be looking for a site that matches that. We’re camping this time because the site is right for the game. 

Two men in sci fi costume in a room decorated in a vaguely sci fi style using egg boxes and fairy lights.

John Lees Wood fits our requirements but will only allow LRPers to use the site one weekend a month over the off season.
Ullesthorpe would get used more but it’s limited to three events a year.
Consall gets used a lot because it’s more open, but a lot of players don’t like it.
Drakelow tunnels is slowly being turned into a museum, and while it offers beautiful settings for certain events at the moment it may end up being too much of a compromise.

More worrying are the sites that won’t allow LRPers at all. The quarries near Milton Keynes and Rough Close near Coventry both fall into this category. Some of them have decided that LRPers were getting in the way of scouts using it, which is fair enough. Although Coventry scouts expressed an interest in having LRPers return, only to reject that when we tried to get a price from them.

When we found drakelow, it was the perfect site. Now we’ve run there we need something different again. It’s a constant search.

We would like to hire an office block. It’s another enclosed environment that has power, lights, toilets and water. It could offer us something new to run in. A move away from the fields and scout hut aesthetic that we tend to revert to. Dedicated LRP sites allow resource buildings, but are currently fantasy based.

Someone find me a space ship.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Being a good player.

There are things players can do to help make events go more easily. I've put some of mine below. You pay us to attend our events, and as such you are our customers, but the following would make things easier for me. Most of our players do do most of the things from the following list. I am grateful to each and every one of them. 

There are a few things we expect from our players.

  1. Fill in the booking form - especially the dietary and medical needs sections. This helps us with catering and enables us to identify potential issues when we’re planning the game. Also, if you’ve got a dietary need tell the chefs. We will have catered for it, we just can’t remember who you are. While we would ideally hand the right meal to the right person, that’s just not going to happen without prompting.
  2. Don’t turn up too early unless we’ve said it’s okay.
    We quite often don’t want players on site until time in. We try and send them to a pub down the road. This is because we don’t want them to know what we’re doing until they encounter it ic. It does also mean that if you turn up early you’re a pain because you need to do things like changing and going to the toilet and we’ve not taken those things into account. So, warn us if you’ll be early. Ideally talk to other players to arrange to get to the pub, and work out what time we’ve asked your to be on site at.
  3. Help us with take down.
    This isn’t compulsory, it just makes you the best person ever. Carry bin bags, take down wall hangings, pack boxes, do the washing up. Helping is good. It's especially useful if you can clear your things to a car fairly quickly. We can start cleaning and shutting down areas a lot faster and hopefully get off site quickly. 
    I would also like to say a special thank you to anyone who after an event does the sweeping, vacuumning or mopping. I really appreciate you. (Also washing up).
    Standing around talking is bad. When I’m trying to clear a room and you’re stood around chatting with your mates you’re a bad person. Go outside if you have to talk. Remove yourself from site if it’s not 3am. If it is 3am go and burn the things we don’t want and drink with friends by the fire, go to bed, or go to somewhere that doesn’t require repainting because someone somehow got fake blood on a 20ft high ceiling.
  4. Don’t get blood on a 20ft high ceiling. Actually do. It’s funny. Just expect us to look a little pained when we find out and make sure we know you’ve done it.  Then stand around and make amusing suggestions as we go through 9 different types of white paint trying to find the one that matches the ceiling.
  5. Buy in to the game.
    This makes you have more fun and improves the experience for everyone. Go you! :)
    We had a wonderful game a few weeks ago that hinged on how well the players bought into it. It was amazing because they were amazing. They ran around in the dark with spaceships on sticks and it was hilarious but it was awesome.
    They were stage fighting with lrp weapons because they weren’t breaking character and it was amazing because of them. They bought in utterly and it made it so much better.
  6. Give feedback.
    Good honest feedback helps us work out what was bad and what was good and where to go next.
  7. Bring me lego - this won’t make you a good player, but it will mean I have more lego.

I should probably also mention that small events often can’t offer refunds and lifts from the station that some fest systems can. We balance budgets very carefully and a refund a week before will come out of the organisers pockets. However, we normally find that other players are happy to help with the first, and we’re more than happy for players to sell their tickets on.

Photography at (My) events

I take photographs. There weren’t many so photos taken of events when I started playing and I turned up with my first waterproof digital camera and took a lot, mostly portraits, from a CP event in 2004. People liked them and I got a bit of a kick out of watching people using them as avatars and looking at them. They were hosted on an old pc in my parents dining room for a while and when I returned from an event we would eat to the noise of it whirring away as people looked at the photos I had taken. Now there are a lot more people competing to take photos and mine weren’t professional quality and I got distracted doing other things, so while I often bring a camera I rarely actually use it.

There aren’t many photos of our events. We got a few of Alone 2, but I don’t think I’ve seen any of Alone 4, and there’s very few of Alone 1 and 3 around. THere were 3-4 of Dark Hearts. There are more of the old Mandala/CP events when either Iain or I turned up with a camera. 

Jhereg spring event 2005

Then there’s Zap fest. There’re lots of photos of zapfest.  They’re lots of very good photos as well, and the players are using them to produce the follow up material from the event.

The photographers were a fundamental part of the game. They were the press, the studio photographers and the photographers from the awards people. They were the camera men. As such we gave them free reign. With Alone and Dark Hearts we stuck to WYSYWYG (What you see is what you get). We fundamentally believed that ooc photographers would damage the game, and it’s hard to get good photos ic. Also, we were using light effects all the way through and there could be no flash without damaging that.

Most of the photos that do exist from the Alone games are from outside. The problem here is the players were only outside wearing masks and helmets with coloured gels etc. We couldn’t change the entire world outside so we changed the way the players  looked at it. This only works so far, and tbh the site just looks like a scout site.

The game always comes before photography. Especially when we only have space for 12 crew and we need the crew to be being aliens for most of the day. We sometimes have queues for beds and have been known to ration our crew to 4 hours sleep each night.
A bunk for a photographer limits the number of crew we can have.

I will acknowledge that the event with photography has caused a far greater stir in its immediate aftermath than any of the Alone events. Without good quality photos Alone never went as far as the photos of ZapFest appear to have. People talked about Alone and people still hear about it and wish they had been part of it, but it was less fed by images they had seen and more by what they had heard, and I actually prefer that. An image is vastly less representative of an event than the conversation of the players, and the only true measure is having been there.

I would like there to be a photographer at Jurassic LRP, some photos would be nice. However, they’ll need to talk to us first and they’ll probably have to be aware that enthusiastic dinosaurs might eat their kit.

NB. (I was only crew for Alone 1, and pretty rubbish crew at that. My major contribution was passing out in the middle of take down. Alone 2 and 3 were good, but they weren’t groundbreaking. I feel Alone 4 was the first of the ones I was more directly involved in to be significantly special).

Why do I run events?

I started running events because it’s what the people around me did. I continued because I enjoy it. It’s not necessarily fun. Or at least, it’s not constantly fun. The things that keep me going back are a mix of curiosity, a desire to achieve more and run something better, and the feeling of having achieved something. The last one is a big deal. Even during the event you get to watch the players interacting with the tasks you’ve given them. You know that you’re the one making them think, fight and interact with whatever you’ve put in front of them. 
A sunset through trees. It's not like I don't have a pile of LRP photos...

We like to run immersive and engaging events. Enabling people to experience that is a massive achievement. It helps tie you together with the other attendees.

We don’t run events to explore complex emotions. We run events to have fun and achieve something. If that fun is achieved by the constant tension of knowing you’re locked underground and being stalked by aliens, then so be it.  We also run the events we want to run. Quite often we run the events we would like to play. There are some things that aren’t that important to us with regards to our events. Whilst we are more than happy to have players there, and they are as important a part of the event as any other, we’re not running our events specifically for them. I like to think we’re fairly upfront about this.

We are aware that we do need players to run events and we collect their feedback to ensure that we know what they think. When it’s appropriate we act on it (most of our events use sleep deprivation, lighting effects and other techniques to add to the atmosphere and to the stress that players feel. We get feedback saying that the events would be better without it, but that’s typically not the event we’re interested in running and so it’s not something we’re going to change). We do quite like our players. We just also like putting them into unpleasant situations. 

I like being part of something awesome, and I like that when running events we get to build things and make things that I could never do on my own. I run events because it’s interesting. It’s a great sense of achievement, and I enjoy the company of the people I spend time with because I am running events.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


So... I want to run events that players talk about. I enjoy hearing people say things about events I've run and thinking 'I was part of that.' I'm often not sure exactly what I've done, but I know I've had ideas and made things, and talked to people and made decisions that have made the event what it was, and it's amazing to share that with people. The key thing here is that people talk about what they've done. That's the thing that people find amazing.

 Common Seal

Actually, one of our key moments was entirely show. We showed the players an Alien queen. We call her Lizzie, and she's fairly tall. I was walking along keeping level with the players. Up ahead was Lizzie surrounded by her alien minions. The players went behind a building, and never appeared out the other side. As soon as they saw her they ran. That's my story though. It's not the story the players tell of that event. 

Showing and telling players things is awesome and lets you build an immersive world around them.The key things for me are what you let the players do. 

We've been discussing ways to phys rep scouting. It's something that tends to have huge compromises made to make it work. For a true scouting mission you'd need a large number of monsters sat around doing whatever monsters do in order that the players could sneak up and guess at numbers. It's not a resource most people have access to. We still want to send people on scouting missions and let them do something that is dangerous, feels like scouting and uses those skills, and where the results of what they do impacts on the main game world (or feels like it does). 

We could send in scouts to deliver a message. It does away with a need to phys rep such a resource intensive thing, and gives us much more control over the accuracy of the delivered message. However, it changes a nice moment of glory for a player into a briefed npc bringing something in. It also removes someones chance to be out in the woods afraid to move or breath as an enemy patrol passes by their hiding place after they've just heard the big bad discussing troop movements. It stops some really intensive moments of fear, and removes hard skills from the game. In this case if you can find a way to run an encounter you can upgrade a tell to a do.
If this does eat almost all the crew at a huge game for one players awesome moment it may not be worth it. It's worth noting that you may have things that a large number of players will never get the chance to do, and that the same players end up doing time and again, and this isn't always a bad thing. Special moments make happy players. Smaller groups are more easily frightened.

Why Dinosaurs

The obvious next step would be to talk about do encounters. I'm not going to do that. First of all we get elevator music (I should all it lift music because I'm english, but it doesn't sound right).
Enjoy the interlude.

People who know me will most likely be aware of Jurassic LRP. This is an event I am running in September 2015. It will involve dinosaurs. 

Face Hugger in a jar 
I quite like dinosaurs, but why run an event with them?

Firstly because dinosaurs are awesome. They eat people and stomp around all 'I'm a dinosaur!'. Which is cool. Secondly, because I want to. Some other people also want to. 
We ran into a few issues. We couldn't afford to build the dinosaur costumes required to make this event run to the required standard. We solved this by making the players play the dinosaur. I was presented with two further objections (No one wants to be a dinosaur for a weekend, and we can't write engaging plot for dinosaurs). I found a lot of people who wanted to be a dinosaur for the weekend and I wrote some plot that has me caring deeply about the fate of dinosaur kind. 

The number of people is still an issue. As a rule, the number of people that will book for an event is half the number who say they absolutely will after knowing the ticket price. For Zap fest it was more like a quarter, and this surprised us. With Jurassic LRP we're aware that when it comes down to it people might choose to spend their money elsewhere and we'll be in the same situation. As of yet we haven't told people what we're doing or opened for booking yet so it could go the same way. 

Engaging plot for dinosaurs was actually easy. The more difficult problem is ensuring that people are comfortable and happy while pretending to be dinosaurs. Writing a coherent world where people are being things that don't need to go to a toilet block and don't drink coffee and yet leaving space for the fact that you're all civilised coffee addicts is a bit of a tall order. We're learning from Zap Fest and will be looking at ways to shift between worlds. 

In Zap Fest people played two characters. They played the actors that were playing their sci fi heroes, and they played their sci fi heroes. It worked surprisingly well, but in reality they were always playing the actors. We need to find a similar balance for dinosaurs. I think we could run an event about anything. We could probably make most things fun. Somethings we wouldn't want to. Dinosaurs are not one of those things. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Predictably, 'Show' is when you show the players something.

You show them that they are in a village. You could create something that resembles the frontage of cottages and put a well in the middle.

You show them that they are being attacked by aliens - by having things that look like aliens attack them.

Showing guides the players in a more natural way than a clumsy tell. You could combine a tell and a show by having a filthy, half starved wounded child show up to tell them about the village being attacked (you still have to find a village for them to go to). It helps with the flow of the game. 

Show has a lot more subtly. 
You can 'Show' the players that the monsters attacking them here are the same as the monsters that attacked them last night by having the same tattoos on their faces. You could show that the noble who visits offering peace is somehow linked by having that symbol appear on the hilt of his dagger, which he plays with at the war meeting to discuss how to approach the threat. 
You can also show players that they are in a cold barren area by putting them somewhere with cold blue light and smoke. 

There are degrees of physrep. If you want to show the players that they are in a cave, but you only have a tent and some grass you'll need to work hard to make it look right. Do they need to see the outside of the tent? If so you probably want to obscure it's shape. Inside, can you hide the grass? Is there anywhere with a more cavelike floor? Is it a cave that's lived in? if so, could you use rugs to cover it, and again, drape cave coloured fabric from the walls. 

If you need a river, you can have anything from a couple of ropes to show the boundaries (which may require you to tell them it's a river) to an actual river (via blue fabric, shiny blue fabric, and some high end fake river type effort).

A castle

You need to set the production values for your own game. We set our budget according to what we need. With SciFi games this was mostly a time sacrifice. We use scout camp sites a lot, and have dressed the entire inside of the buildings, and ended up accepting that the outsides of the buildings were much harder to dress. We've been known to build rooms inside of buildings to make them work for what we need. For one site we did absolutely minimal dressing. We rented a set of second world war tunnels and they didn't need it. We have events planned that we won't run until we find the right site. 

If you haven't got it, and you can't build it, then there's no achievement in using it. If there is no cave, and you can't make a cave, then telling them it's a cave is probably not a win. Work out if you need a cave at all. It's not necessarily a cheap option, but if you're running several games and have storage, then you can reuse stuff in future games.

Having said that, I really want to run a game where everything is just identified by a label. People wear t-shirts with their character on the front. Tables have "control panel" stickers and a wall is labelled 'view screen'. Minimum phys repping and everything is a tell. I suspect it may not end up being the cheapest event we've ever run. 

We're lucky here. We have the tools to phys rep a lot of stuff. We make things. This is where our skill sets really come into their own.


Tell Show Do is a classification system. I'm going to start by looking at 'Tell' encounters, then I'm going to go and eat some pizza.

I had been to an event and had found it a bit frustrating. I knew what was going on. The plot was accessible, but it hadn't felt like as good an event as I had anticipated. After several hours of discussion regarding the event and what had happened I concluded that I had been told what was going on, but I hadn't had to do anything to get there. 

Tell encounters have value. 

 They can range from a ref or lammie telling you what you see or feel ('You're scared of him', 'it's cold in here' or 'you're in a small town') to an npc talking to you about something they've seen. 
Personally I typically find the first group annoying. It distracts from the game and if you can't phys rep it you shouldn't do it. If you want the players to be scared of someone, make them look scary (disconcerting grins, malevolent looming presence, disconcerting innocence). If you want the players to feel cold then put them somewhere bare, lit by a pale blue light, possibly with some mist. If you want the players to think they're in a village put them in a village. If you haven't got one, rewrite your plot or build one. 
A yellow flower

Sometimes these are used by other players. For example they'll have a skill that enables them to mentally influence another player. Again, this results in them stopping the game to tell you what they can do. It's jarring and uncomfortable. Especially when I then have to find the most inoffensive gentle person terrifying for the duration of the encounter. I will do my best to move away from these situations as I don't like the effect they have on my game. 

However, there are places for tell encounters. 
For example, at a large fest LRP a tell encounter can used when one player tells the rest of their group what's happening in the game, being careful not to destroy things that people have been working hard for. This should always be based on the work of players and not an NPC coming in to solve everything. If you need that village encounter but can't phys rep it you can have it happen off scene and send a villager to tell the players that it's happened ic (although here you need to be careful that the players don't decide to go to the village to fix it). 

I consider Tell encounters to be the lowest value. I acknowledge that they have a place, but they should be carefully used. This may be because I have a short attention span and don't listen well. Other people are fine with them. It's important to identify tell situations and make sure that they're used appropriately and not in a distracting way. They can be the only option. 

A good 'tell' encounter would be the scene in serenity when they are told what happened on Miranda. They have done a lot to get there and are rewarded by information delivered in an ic and contiguous way.

Moments and Arcs.

I'm beginning to get to the point here. LRP theory is a big topic of discussion at the workshop.

I've said that we like to think we write immersive games. This is reflected in the writing style. We generally choose a game that we can picture. We run the things we imagine to be cool  (Who doesn't?). We will be looking for visual moments. 

We ran an event called Dark Hearts last year. It was a player event set in the PD Empire game world. We wanted the players to be in a small enclosed village. We wanted them to know the outside was bad. The event was written around a series of images from fairy tales. We wanted a little ghost girl in a red cloak walking around the village. We wanted an old hag. We also wanted moments. We wanted them to be out in the dark doing rituals and summoning an eternal. We wanted them to have to cut a body open. We took those elements (and more, which didn't make the final cut) and wrote an event around them. 

Moments lead to Story Arcs. Every event has them. They can be short things that last an hour or so, or, in campaign systems, they can last for years. Over time each arc (or thread) will involve a varying number of people. We combine several arcs into each event, with some picking up before others drop off to keep people involved in things. 


Knowing how many players we have helps here. We want to be able to occupy our players throughout. We know roughly how many players can be involved in each arc at any one time. The total across all the arcs should add up to the right number of players (allowing a bit of leeway for eating and sleeping times - but really - who goes to a Mandala event expecting to sleep?). 

 Moments and arcs build the initial structure of our events. We do also use them when writing plots to run at larger games. Moments really come into play there. Moments are something we're always exploring. We hear them from everyone. People constantly talk about what they want to see at an event, and often that involves moments, be it the players arguing about where to send an army, a wave of heavily armed organised monsters charging down the a slope towards a battle line or players sparring in the middle of camp while children play around them.

What to run

We start with something we want to run. 

There're at least 20 people who get involved in running/writing mandala games at various points. A game can be written and run by any of those people or by other interested people who join in. 
 We’ve been looking at running another Sci Fi LRP for a while now, but haven’t reached ‘critical mass’ for any particular sci fi project. That is, we've got a lot of ideas, but need the right people to get involved in order for us to actually start running something. 

The original idea and the final game often have only superficial resemblance, but without people buying into the original idea the final game will never happen. Having said that, a lot can be done by one person saying 'I am running this!' and booking a site or writing a plot. 

For years we ran high end sci fi and I suspect we will go back to this. We like an immersive environment and a dramatic rules system. That is, the players do what is dramatically appropriate. We’ve rarely strayed from these two points. We like writing for the look and the atmospheric moment rather than writing a game that is played to win. It's all about the emotions.  

As we’re costume and props makers we tend to aim to have high quality props and costumes at our events. This is probably also cheaper and easier for us that it is for other event organisers and we have the resources to be able to do it. We already run a mask making workshop so making a few masks isn’t a major problem. 

We're trying to write events that come in on budget. We have a spreadsheet that tells us what to charge. For Sci Fi we can charge what we need to. Whilst we have a large pile of stuff we've bought from previous events we've generally concluded that each event has to pay for things to add to this. 

Our last event was a low budget game called ZapFest. We wanted to run something 1950s b movie sci fi style. We ended up running actor LRP. It went down quite well. Next year we're running Jurassic LRP. Hopefully we'll shortly find the right site to run something more in keeping with our roots. A well propped, well written, 24 hour time in plot rich game in an immersive setting with elements of terror.
For now I'm just enjoying writing for something a bit lighter. :)

Writing Plot for LRP

I spend a lot of time writing plot for LRP events. Either for my own small (40-80 people) events or as part of a larger system.

I also spend a lot of time talking about writing plot and commenting on other peoples plot. As such, I’ve decided to pop some of the things we talk about somewhere that other people can read them (here). 

I’m interested in what you write and how. We’re a bit elitist at Mandala. We like to believe that we’re running the best games possible. That’s clearly subjective. So what do you set out to do, how do you do it, and what would you like to do better?

I'd also like to look at why people run events. What do you get out of it? And if you run events, do you also play them? I stopped playing events. It wasn't something I set out to do, however, despite running or assisting with 3-4 different systems I managed to go three years without playing anything. I fixed that fairly quickly and now play a fest game and a smaller modern horror game with a few other bits and pieces on the side.  We played the horror game 3-4 months before running one of our own, and wrote a comprehensive feedback document covering what we'd learnt about horror and what we wanted to achieve with our own game. 

So, I want to look at how we write games, how we learn about games, and what we set out to achieve when we're running games.