Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pacing: How often should we try to kill our friends?

As a forward to this article it is important to note one assumption. This article assumes that your larp team consists of : One or multiple plot people or storytellers who plan the event, and Two or more staff people who execute the plans of the plans of the plot people and NPCs who play the individual roles associated with your event. There are other ways to organize a larp plot team but this is the one that I am most familiar with.

Pacing is an ill understood concept. To often I have heard comments like, " We should not send any random encounters in, I want people to roleplay". Or my all time favorite, " We are trying to conserve people's skills so they can do more later." I am going to come out and say that the attitude displayed in these statements is less than correct. It is not wrong, wrong would imply that there was some formula which will make everyone have fun. The best that we as plot people can accomplish is to hit the average, to make an educated guess at what most people will enjoy and then give them as close to that as we can. There are three elements that go into the pacing of an event, random encounters, simple hooked modules and major town modules. I will look at all three and give you my opinions on how they fit into the schedule.

Let us start with random encounters, this includes both role play and wandering monsters. An important note about roleplay encounters however, a roleplay encounter will generally entertain a smaller group of individuals than a combat encounter, this does not make it less valuable. The reason that this is true is quite simple, monsters force a reaction from all players in their vicinity, roleplaying only suggests interaction. Roleplay encounters are incredibly important, they help make the world feel more real. The number of resources that you devote to roleplay encounters should always be calculated after NPCs have been set aside to act as random monsters. It is possible to run a good event with no roleplay encounters, in my opinion it is not possible to run a good event with no monster encounters. The general rule for random monsters is that there should never be more than 20 minutes with no random monsters in town. This is a grueling pace to keep up, NPCs should be rotated through the random monster rotation, some being allowed to run modules at the shack and some being put to use as roleplay encounters until their rotation comes up again. Roleplay encounters have a less stringent schedule, any time that there is a free NPC or an NPC who needs to eat, they should be sent in as a roleplay encounter. Random monsters are a key to making an event great, scaling should be set between the APL and the high end of the range of player levels. This scaling allows for random monsters to live for a few minutes before being killed. Random monsters should rarely have takedown effects, these should be limited to modules and planned wave battles. The proper implementation of random monsters involves everyone in whatever plot is occurring for the weekend, the theme of the randoms should fit the plot.

Simple hooked modules play a different role in the hierarchy of event pacing. They appear, at first blush, to be the least important but that is not true. A simple hooked module is the staple of entertaining the out of chapter player who, when push comes to shove, are the goal audience of all larps( The explanation for this is simple, your players are already involved in the story). Simple hooked modules include both preset modules, dungeon crawls and fish bowl mods(Think,"Help! Someone is stealing my cows") These modules, should be worked liberally into the event schedule, a preset team of one staff person and several NPCs should be set aside to deal with hooked modules as they come into the shack. NPCs should be rotated from the random group into the hooked module group to give them breaks. Each plot person, if you have multiple, should be responsible for writing and hooking a specific number of modules which can then be easily handed off to the staff to run. The exception to the hooked module group and the random monster group is when a whole town encounter needs to be run, for these, all personnel are needed. Hooked modules are important, every team must run them, and their success depends upon the level of training that you give your staff. The number of hooked modules is relatively fixed, foan a standard 2 day event there should be between 12 and 20 hooked modules, readily available dungeon crawls count once for each time a party goes through them.

Large scale modules are where most of the story is told at an event. The dissemination of information via larp players is a lot like playing a game of telephone, if you tell one person everyone else will get the wrong message so it is best to give the information to as many people as possible. The most important thing about large scale modules is that they should be scheduled before the event even starts. The plot team should decide when they are going to run their plot modules, who is going to be involved and how many NPC resources they require. The resource requirement should be flexible to deal with the possibility that less NPCs may show up then you actually need. NPCs should never be diverted from the random or hooked module groups unless there are not enough NPCs to split up. It should be noted here that this whole pacing model depends upon at least 10 total personnel in the plotgroup. 2-3 plot people 2-3 staff people and 4-6 NPCs. The large scale, scheduled modules are the framework around which you base the rest of the event. If the module includes the entire town then the random and hooked groups can be folded into the NPCs on the module and then split again after he modules completion. These are the modules on which great costuming, makeup and special effects should be used to maximize the players exposure. The number of large scale modules run depends upon the plot team, and the player base. Generally 3 is a good number if they include the entire town or 5-7 if they include only portions of the town. Maximizing the plot exposure and the special effects exposure will insure that all players have stories to tell.

A quick recap to finish off. Randoms every 20 minutes, roleplay randoms mixed in if NPCs allow. Hooked modules entertain players who are not involved in the main plot, 12 should be written on the low end 20 if your main plot is very targeted(Specific to certain players). Large scaled modules are pre planned, pre scaled encounters which advance the story, there should be 3 if they include the whole town or 5-7 if they are targeted at smaller groups. Large scale encounters can take the form of wave battles or group battles in town, if so they remove the need for randoms at that time.

This is how I pace my events, I work with my fellow plot team members to make sure that all of the above happen. Everyone slips up, but if you try to keep it as close to this as possible and make sure that your whole plot and staff team know the goal, this formula can help you run a great event. Let me know what you think about this, please!


  1. One thing I would add about random roleplay NPCs is that they should have some sort of goal. Too many times I've seen plot members tell NPCs to go in and roleplay, and while some people can pull it off, that's simply not enough direction for many NPCs.

    The goal could be as little as getting a signature from a noble for a permit, finding someone who wants to purchase their prized milk cow, or finding out who makes the best hooch. This direction gives the NPC a target to seek out, which guides and pushes them to roleplay more than a farmer going in to eat.

  2. I like to write a dozen or so character profiles for the commoners and other roleplaying roles for my events, which I put in a folder that sits in monster camp. When I sit down to write these roles, I make sure they're interconnected, and that most of them also have at least one link into a module, encounter, or plotline during the weekend. I also try to incorporate at least one character of every major racial/cultural group that has strong representation by PCs.

    Here's an example of what I mean: One character, Leeroy Jethro is the town drunk. Another character, Winston Vino is the local wine maker. Winston recently cut off Leeroy and won't sell him any more wine. So when 2 NPCs need a break and want to go into town to roleplay, I hand them these character profiles and tell them to go have fun. This is much better than saying, "I dunno, throw on a poofy shirt or brown tabard or something, and go be a turnip farmer." Generic "farmers" with no particular story or connections don't really add anything, and to most players its blatantly obvious that these characters are inconsequential and ignorable.

    This is a great way to disguise your "hooks." If a human merchant comes in and immediately recruits the PCs for an adventure, its obvious this NPC is a module hook. If that merchant has already been in town 3 times, and on the FOURTH he needs some help - that's a recurring, dynamic character.

  3. Hi Tim!

    You mentioned there are three major elements that go in to pacing an event, and I agree with all the ones you have. However, I think there is a fourth category, too. Self-directed plot.

    This category can take up a lot or a little amount of time in game and is great if you have few NPC's.

    An example of this was with Beth Jurns. Ran a small hooked mod, which required no npc's but myself. However, they then spent a significant amount of time ingame designing a Harmonics Vision, as well as investigating the bottles. It entertained several people for a good portion of time.

    This can be done through a number of ways, such as riddle books to solve to get to the next step. Things that take up time in game, give pc's a good time, further the pace of the event, but don't necessarily require npc's.


  4. How do you space out your randoms every 20 minutes? I know at my chapter when I go out as a random monster I might be out there for an hour or two. I'm usually given several pops (lives) and PCs aren't always out and about all the time.

    If none of the PCs are out and about, what do you want your randoms to be doing? Just wander around? Come back to monster camp? Try to attrach the PCs attention? Accomplish some other goal?

  5. There should never be more than 20 minutes with something not in town, meaning that once a group comes back there are 20 minutes until the next group goes out.

    Any of the above? If there is no one in town I would not reccomend sending in randoms, keep your NPCs and use them on whatever is attracting the whole towns attention.

  6. I may be in the minority here, but I am the polar opposite of Tim on the necessity of RP/combat. I think an event with plenty of combat and no roleplaying would suck pretty hard, although I wouldn't mind an event with loads of RP and zero combat.

    This is not to say that I mind some combat here and there, or that I don't think the PCs should be under threat of death periodically (on the contrary, the possibility of failure/death is what makes the game exciting). When I am engaged in combat, however, I want there to be a reason. Is there a troll/orc war going on in the vicinity? It makes sense for trolls to come into town spoiling for a fight. On the other hand, ff it isn't connected to the story somehow, then I really don't care about it.

    I think Jenn makes an excellent point. One good NPC can entertain a large-ish group of players for a significant period of time, if they have the option of a good role-play hook. For example:
    NPCs required to fight everyone in, let's say, the Gypsy circle: 4-6 (I'd guess)
    NPCs required to entertain everyone in the Gypsy circle with fun role-play: 1

    Randoms are critially important, and there are loads of people who want monsters to kill every 20 minutes. It's just not everyone.