We write visually. We’re normally looking to produce key visual moments that the plot runs through. When we’re writing plot we will be talking about the moment the players first see the alien queen, or a player having to reach into the chest of a corpse, remove the heart, and destroy it, and we will work to make it happen. These moments are way markers. They may vanish from the final draft of the plot, but they help shape and direct what’s going to happen over the course of a weekend. Most of our events have major plot contained within a weekend.
A lot of our events are stand alone. When we’re writing for larger systems the plot will flow over a longer time period and if the players don’t reach the set scene then we’re not going to force it.With the alien queen moment we wanted her to be seen by some players and then vanish. We had tried to keep her secret and she was a lot bigger than players had any right to expect. We wanted her to become mythical, to be something that people saw and other people doubted, before the whole group could encounter her. As a result, we pictured that moment as having 5-12 players seeing her and running. With the heart scene it was going to be very intense for a small group of players, but as you added more it would work less well, so we restricted it to 5 players.
I don’t believe that key scenes need to be seen by everyone. Each scene will have a number of people it works for, and to increase this is to dilute the effect. If you have more people than can immediately react to what is going on then there will be people stood around. With LRP often this is the point where you take the excitement and involvement that they have built up and let it drain away. It will result in a degree of disempowerment. The look of an awesome set will only occupy them for so long and then it will stop being game building.
Hearing about something awesome happening does make people feel they’ve missed out. I heard about a lot I wasn’t involved in at Slender, and as I missed most of the key moments it changed the pace of the event for me. However, I was always somewhere else doing something else. I have some awesome visual images of the events that were described, and I was never left bored, but watching with 40 other people. Hearing about things going on that you don’t see does help build up a game world a bit.
For each encounter I’m running I know how I want it to look. I know how many people will probably be present. I know which of those people are directly involved and hence get the full force and while are bystanders, and I hope to have an idea how long people will be bystanders for. We put a lot of effort into ensuring that if an encounter will only suit 5-6 people then only 5-6 people at a time get to experience it. We do expect players to share a bit, and we will have other things happening to occupy the rest of the players. We may not let players know limits before. This can lead to disappointment.
Bystanders aren’t bad. There’s a moment of panic when you realise that you’re stood watching something really dodgy going on and no one’s doing anything. The more bystanders you have the less likely they are to react to what you’re doing. This is one reason why when we write a plot that involves people stopping the evil guys doing the clearly bad ritual so often no one does. Conversely, There are people who prefer doing to watching. LRP has a lot of them. They won’t appreciate being asked to watch something happen for long periods of time. Whichever situation you plan for you’ll get the other.
Disappointment can be a game killer. However, the aim is to have enough going on at a game that each player gets to do things that other people don’t, and whilst someone might miss out on one thing, they should hopefully get to see other things. We do run some encounters more than once. Three lots of 5 people talking with the hag in the woods is better than 15 people talking to the hag in the woods. They’ll have different conversations and probably play into PVP stuff that needs encouraging. Plus it’s scarier being in the woods with 5 than with 15. You sneak rather than stomp and you don’t rely on numbers to save you. There’s a much higher chance that you’re the slowest runner.