In a few years of planning and hosting Dargarth (and Darkon, and similar) events, and collaborating with others in the same, I’ve come up with a few best practices that I think help make our events go a bit more smoothly – at least for me. Every event is different of course, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my own experience at Dargarth.
(For readers not acquainted with Dargarth, we’re a medieval fantasy boffer group based in Seattle, and our events are all member-organized – groups of club members take turns hosting events that adhere to a loose structure.)
Being a Good Host
“Hosting” the event is a really accurate term – you’re inviting the club to come participate in an experience you’re going to create. The best events are made with this sense of the word in mind. It’s really important to show everyone where the bathrooms are, know your guests dietary restrictions, and make sure that everyone understands what is taking place in the event is linked to the experience in a functionally similar way. Here are some ways to do that:
- If there’s a backstory or setting that means anything, make sure everyone gets it. It could be circulating a brief and readable summary before the event, a narration or reenactment at the event (with everyone present) or props like a scroll or book that ‘fill in’ the reader. It’s also possible to tell the backstory through the mouthpiece of NPCs, to some extent.
- If there are special rules or effects in play, these also should be posted clearly beforehand. This goes double for props. I really prefer self-documenting props (see below); a player that finds a wand in the woods with its rules attached is in a lot better position to play the game correctly than someone who hears from another player their version of what the wand does. I like to imagine an elder will hardly ever be in the right place at the right time to explain anything, and work from that premise.
- If there are logistical details players need to know (where the restrooms are, where they are allowed to camp, what time weapons check is expected) these should also be made clear in advance. No need to mix IC and OOC on this one.
Writing a Solid Adventure
- We come to Dargarth to kill each other with swords and stuff – adventures and other hosted events are a good opportunity to give us new and exciting reasons to fight each other. I strongly recommend that events be framed not as “Dargarth vs. the NPCs/monsters”, which is a recipe for bored players and bruised NPCs, but as “Dargarth, uncooperatively, participated in X” with monsters for flavor. It’s very time and energy consuming to try to fight the entire realm, and players genuinely want to interact with each other. Creating good reasons and interesting situations for them to do that is a bit of an art.
- There’s a maxim in theater to “show, don’t tell” and this is true in larping as well. If your event is about two brothers who hate each other, it’s fine to declare that at the onset, but it’s effective to show it in their interactions with each other or in the way they speak about each other rather than to posit it and stand victorious. There aren’t a lot of mediums where two people can kill each other multiple times in a day for effect.
- If there are events predetermined to occur in the adventure, make it easy enough to work around them in case things get derailed. Larp is closer to a choose your own adventure than a novel, and there should always be room for the story to unfold in its own way.
- Since players experience a larp through live action in the real world rather than by reading it from a page, leave the theme only implied of the writeup and place it instead in the props, costumes, and dialog of the NPCs.
You can’t be everywhere
- As mentioned above, I think the props that work best are self-documenting. You could create a potion prop and attach a label that says ‘drink me’ and hope that an elder is around to determine the effects, or, for example, you could write the effect in a small envelope, seal it, and write ‘after drinking, open this for effect’. As an example, our stock magic spell scrolls are written in such a way that the actual incantation is also a reading of the effects of the spell, as well as the requirements to use it.
- Manage your NPCs, pick players you trust, and delegate to them. Make them elders (referees, to the non-Dargarthians) if possible. One memorable and well-costumed NPC played by a good actor is worth 10 generic monsters in half-costume. Likewise a good prop with obvious effort put into it can really contribute to the experience. I recommend going for quality over quantity in both of these. Optimally your NPCs can act as wandering elders and clear up rule and story issues on the fly, it’s a good reason to have people you trust, well versed in the adventure.
Other random thoughts
- Our rulebook, with its adventure rules, lets us drive stories that many other boffer games can’t come close to in a lot of ways. Consider “I was a prisoner, tied up in the enemy’s keep, and I knew the mage wanted to kill me and animate me, so I appealed to the Baron to cast truthspeak on me so that I could prove my innocence and escape, with a sanctuary spell on me just in case…” is a small fragment of a story that can’t happen at a standard boffer game. I think our rules have hundreds of useful tools in them to make for dynamic and interesting scenarios, and placing just a few elements into an adventure opens up a lot of possibilities for good roleplaying.
- Our system is also crafted for a wide array of combat scenarios. I’ve written a lot about roleplaying and story, but if you write an adventure that keeps everyone fighting each other all day, it’s going to be very foldly remembered. Having MacGuffins to fight over is a pretty standard approach that does usually give groups a reason to fight each other, but it’s been done quite a lot.
- Other situations that are resource-limited and zero-sum, which give players good reasons to each other, are totally possible. Our Kingmaker and Checkpoint adventures are good examples. These scenarios set up an ongoing reason for players to want to fight, constantly.
- NPCs can try to influence players to split to factions and fight over objectives, or can buddy up with players and then provoke them into a fight. One useful skill NPCs have (other than explaining the situation, answering questions, nudging the plot, and giving context) is to just help keeping the fighting going.
- Never ever rely on secret linchpin/puzzle events to wrap up the story. If the final scene of the adventure is for someone to cast Last Rites on the Demon Prince, honestly, just make that common knowledge (e.g. through the voice of the inquisitor NPC) rather than leaving players to try to figure it out for themselves. Puzzles/riddles are great, but they don’t fit well as clutch events into the event-driven plot style – so include them if you like but I recommend not forcing the plot to hinge on their solution.
One last note – and this might only happen after you’ve been running events for a while – one of the great joys of our hobby is when a truly dramatic, palm-sweating moment happens because everyone present collaborates in a perfect symphony of motivation, intrigue, dialogue, and imagery. Try to make opportunities for this to happen, it will keep you and everyone present coming back. Hopefully everything above this note helps!