Saturday, 1 November 2014

You Monsters!

Most events involve crew of some sort. They play the parts the players don't cover. They're often npcs and sometimes also monsters. In our games we tend to have a mix of both. The majority of crew are distinctly humanoid and this does limit the variety of roles that they can play. They can't fly, they haven't got 8 functional limbs and they're typically between 4 and 7ft tall.What's even worse than this, frankly inexcusable, is that most of them can't walk on stilts.

However, if they were a varied bunch who could play an assortment of inhuman beings and possessed the skills to make our special effects unnecessary that would also be a pain. We'd have to know exactly who was crewing an event before making costume for it, and buying morph suits to suit a range of limb quantities is bound to push the price up.
A pen drawing of dots, lines and some form of control panel. Annotated.

Because of what we do in the workshop, and that we like to think we run cinematic events, we tend to try and provide high quality monsters and something that goes a bit further than at your average event. It's one of the reasons we run so much in the dark (another being that a lot of our costumes get incredibly warm if warn in the sun for too long). For Alone we had the aliens. Wookie made about 7 for the first event, and they were on paper suits. Over time we moved them onto black morph suits, built more and made other changes. We ended up with about 12 suits, and each one used £90 of materials. I spent weeks gluing the things together before Alone 2. Given the resources we have we were still right at our limit to produce these things, and yet what really made them was the crew. 

We specifically wanted tall crew with a chest size larger than their waist size. This last point was important. The costumes looked wrong on people with a belly. When someone puts on an alien costume they typically look like a man in an alien costume. As such they're about as scary as a man in an alien costume, that is, for most LRPers they're just not scary at all. 

With the original alien costumes they took very tall actors and made them taller. The actor looked out through the neck, the shoulders were built up and the heads were several feet long. They wouldn't work for what we were asking our crew to do. Those of you that aliened for us over the years will know that you had very small spaces to see through, and effectively had to breath through a straw. Thank you for your awesome work.

So we asked our crew to act differently. Simply changing their stance made them look utterly different. This went through several iterations. We needed interactions that produced fear in the players, and a lot of the time having just a few aliens around and them staying in the tree line, being half seen was good. We typically wanted to build the aliens from a distance, and have them as a suggestion initially and then have more impact later. We wanted the players to feel surrounded especially when they had holed up and were refusing to come out of the buildings. 

That actually caused some of our more difficult situations. The players had gone to ground and wouldn't come out. We dropped off the pressure to try and get them exploring (this was a mistake I think. We got both negative and positive feedback for it) When we couldn't bring them out and had pulled out the entire crew for hours we sent the crew into the building. Which meant a full scale assault and blowing a few doors away. We should have found other ways to split the players up. We shouldn't have let them all go to ground together. We gave them an option that meant they were shut up in a small space and wouldn't leave it, so they took it.

Building non humanoid monsters is possible. Lizzie - our alien queen - was a puppet that was mounted on a back pack. She was a bit too heavy for a single puppeteer to use (especially given that Mandala staff all have back problems) and became a static installation. We now have better ideas on how to build this sort of thing. Those of you that were at Empire may have seen the war rhino, which was the work of Bill Thomas. It took several people to carry, but bought a new dimension to the battlefield and required a totally different set of techniques to deal with it. 
Alien queen threatening blood soaked man on the floor.

For monsters that are large, especially if they're being used to fight in, they tend to bring their own issues. They typically need ref supervision. The person wearing the costume often can't see or move properly and hence needs someone to monitor them, make sure they're coping, tell them when they've been hit, and in the case of the war rhino ensure they don't trample dying heroes. Building costumes that can stand up to a fight and be LRP safe is a different design challenge than building costumes that the players only have to talk to. 

Large, inhuman monsters can add a nice dimension to an event. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we use them. Typically we use them in the dark, we limit the time the players can see the monsters clearly, we make sure the crew are briefed with the atmosphere we want to create, and we only use them for the appropriate number of players. Things have more atmosphere if you're alone.