I got into roleplaying while I was at school, though I hadn’t done much until 5 years ago. I had a break of 10 years. I got back into roleplaying when I move to London to connect with people who had similar interests and to make some new friends.
All that time I had never been a Games Master (GM); I always thought that it was too hard and that I didn’t have the skills to run a game.
I took some GM lessons at the Role Play Haven; they gave me some tips and tricks to lead me into to my first session, these will be cemented when you actually run your own game. It helped but I was still worried about how it would turn out. It was a disaster!
If that had been it, I don’t think that I would have ever GM ever again…..thankfully it wasn’t.
At my club we didn’t have enough GMs, so my friend basically bullied me in it doing another three months of GMing. I thank him to this day for doing that, it is one of the best things I have done in my life.
The game went on for six month, proof that the players enjoyed it so much! That game was Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.
Through that time I learnt a lot amount being a GM and being a player, so I thought that a good follow up to our podcast would to be to share some of that with you.
How does this turn in to the beginnings of a non-contact LARP?
During that time I was invited to play in a non-contact LARP in London, it was based on the Savage World’s setting Deadlands. Previously to this, in my younger days, I had played a number of other non-contact LARPs. The GM of this LARP however, Owen Lean, a writer and street performer, drew you in for the outset. His ability to keep a crowed enthralled with his enthusiasm drove a lot of the players to give the same back to the game.
The game ran on for three years (as intended from the start), overall it was a success, but in his own words the second and especially the third years were tough on him. He had spent ten years with a story idea in his head that he wanted to get out, which turn out to be the storyline of the first year. After that coming up with plot ideas for the game was harder, as he had to spend much more time putting them together. This isn’t uncommon and can best seen from music artists that release their first album, and are then not heard of again. They have spent they whole life up to that point pouring into that first one, it becomes a lot harder for the second.
Thankfully, his game ended beautifully.
Though it is a strong point to remember, every story should have a beginning, middle and an end. Keep that in your mind when putting pen to paper. It should have a time when it should end, stick to it. If at the end of it you think you have more to tell, save it for another story.
That is what Owen did, he now writes stories for the Savage World’s setting, getting paid to do so.
Horror For The Holidays is an adventure for the Savage Worlds setting East Texas University.
The adventure pits the heroes against the spirit of the last man to be publicly lynched in Texas. A man who in 1929 robbed a bank dressed as Santa Claus. Inspired by a true story, the adventure let’s the players get involved with the history both in and out of character as it leads to its nail biting climax on Christmas eve.
This is my first and most important point to remember, when doing any form of roleplaying or storytelling. You are only as good as your last piece of work; that is what you will be remembered for.
This LARP was a great amount of fun and it drew in a load of great people from half the county. A great bunch of people attended who I would miss, but more than that, a real sense of community grew from it. So much so that when the end was coming, we were thinking of ways to keeping people in touch. We were coming up with ideas to draw everyone together and socialise once a month again, whatever that may be. That’s where the idea of doing another LARP cropped up.
Moving on to the creation of my LARP and leading into advice for all of you; stick to that acronym ‘KISS’. – Keep It Simple Stupid!
Especially so when trying to convert an already established system. The less you have to do to the system to make it fit for LARP player the more it will work.
If you have to change too many rules to make it appropriate to your ideas, then there is more chance of it failing, as players need to know these rules and they must integrate with the rest of the system.
In the LARP that I run, so far I have changed one major rule, because I had to; it could not of worked with how it was. Although that change took four months of going over and running through with friends, play testing it to ensure that it worked before the game.
While I can give you an endless list of things that you need to watch out for, the follow are the main things that I believe will help you when you are building a game of your own.
Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (Six Ps)
It sounds simple but so many people don’t. You need to put the work it and have realistic time goals. Plan in breaks for yourself, both real and imagined; I am glad that I did as I was useless for a month, due to illness.
Most importantly make sure that you have given yourself enough time to do all that you need to do before you intend to start. A rule of thumb that worked well for me was working out how many hours work I thought I needed to do, then multiplying it by three. Scarily it worked out quite well. I would have had everything all done on time if it hadn’t been for that month which I was being ill.
Have your friends give their opinions on the work that you have created, especially if they are going to be the ones who are going to be playing your game. Listen to their points of view, but don’t feel that to have to placate to everything that they say. My friends offered no end of help when I put my ideas to them. I thought over all they said and I took on (included in the LARP) only about 20-30% of what they said.
That little amount that I actually included into my LARP, has actually saved me 80% of work that I needed to do as a GM.
Have a trial run and see if things work out. It doesn’t have to be a big one. Cut it down into manageable chunks, rules that need to be ironed out, setting changes and notes that need to be written to help players. I did all this when I was deciding on the rule change I mentioned about earlier. I had a number of combat encounters that I needed to try out. I had a few on personal scale, vehicle combat and space combat. I made notes while doing it and got feedback off the players as to what they thought of it; if it was balanced, if they felt that any particular person had too much power.
Plan for the worst, but expect the best.
Unfortunately this one isn’t as nice as you would think, when making your game especially a LARP you have to build the rules and world with the worst players in mind. The age old saying is so true (One bad apple will spoil the whole barrel).
You have to build your rules and world so that people don’t take advantage of any particular gaps in the rules or unhealthy combinations. Don’t forget that when building a LARP setting your goal is to make each player diverse and balanced in their own unique way; each player has the same level of ‘power’, albeit in different arenas.
Plan for the unexpected
This sounds silly but it is something that will save you.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds, when we are all working on a project we enjoy we all tend to get caught up in the excitement of it all and miss the finer things. So later down the line these things crop up and you are on the back foot and having to come up with something fast that you don’t have the time to do.
Take a step back, think about what it is you are doing, and take it through step by step.
At that point you will see that there steps or processes that you have have missed.
One of the main things that you must never forget is World Shaping. It is one of the most important parts of all of this. This is what draws your players into the game and is what can drive your story forward.
When I was creating my LARP I think that I spent four months world shaping. Some of it was reading up on what was going on in the universe, taking notes as pointers, but not using these as walls that limit my story, but guidance.
I wrote notes down as to what there was to remind me and to give the player a stepping off point for them to go exploring own their own.
Don’t think that you need to write everything down, otherwise your will be forever flicking through your notes. Most of the time I just thought through the reasons for everything being there; as you are building a living, breathing world. One that has built up over thousands of year and hasn’t just been plonked down.
If you have an NPC in the city/planet, why are they there, what do the currently want, did they move here or did they grow up here? Have these questions in the forefront of your mind.
You don’t need to have all the answer at the start, but you should have a feeling as to what to you want for each character and location. The details can come later, when the player asks the questions.
Think of it like a telescope – when you first place it to your eye you can only see colors and large shapes, the detail doesn’t come until you focus on it.
There is nothing more dissatisfying than spending time creating an NPC that your players completely skip past.
Though mostly I think I can sum up all of this in to a few simple points, which hopefully will turn you into a great GM.
- Know the System
- Knowing the rules and how it all works gives a sense of control of the players. By being able to make calls on rules and issues that arise places you in charge, but you must remember to remain consistent on your calls.
- Know your Setting
- This is your setting, not the one in the books, who are the NPC what do they want, how do they act, what’s over that hill in the distance?
- Be able to Control your Players
- This one is more subtle; never force your players to do something that they don’t want to do. Leave all the choices to them, but if a player wants a pile of gold, have one placed to lure them to where you want the player to go. That way you are controlling the player without them knowing.
If you can do all of these points you will be a Great GM, but don’t expect to be able to all of these all of the time. If you can do two of these, you will be a good GM.
To make the most of this, rely on the other two when you are caught short.
If at any time you are lacking in any particularly area then use the other two rely upon.
If a player want to go over a hill that you have no idea what should be over there, as long as you can control them and know the rules you can push through.
Lastly but no means least, remember all of this is primarily for the players enjoyment. When they are enjoying themselves then you will have a good time too.