Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lesson Learned NorthCoast Halloween Event

So, Jenn, Noah, and I ran an event at NERO Northcoast last weekend, in case you didn't note the three other posts on the same subject. These are my musings on what went well, what went poorly, and what I can do better.

Lets start with what went well. We had an incredible plot team. Working with Jenn and Noah was a joy. Before the event started we had well over 50 pages of plot written, we had nailed down our entire schedule, and we knew what costuming we needed. Mike added to this stew further by getting us the best possible camp for our needs and providing the costuming and props necessary to add an additional wow factor. IN addition to an awesome plot team we had a great staff team, my fellow blog writer Bill Tobin and Noah's buddies from ARGO formed a solid core upon whom we could rely. Any mod that we needed run could be handled by any of the experienced staff people on hand, it was amazing. Along with all of these prerequisites we added an on the site whiteboard scheduling session with a few quick update sessions and constant communication amongst the plot and staff. All of these things came together to make an amazing event.

I have been asked to briefly describe the structure of the event, and to explain how it differed from normal events. A specialty event like this one is strange, it has no plot arcs to follow. It requires that all plots be introduced, ran, and concluded in a single weekend and that requires stellar timing. We began with the premise of a tomb opening and releasing some great evil thing into the world( Not particularly unique but horror appropriate), we then designed a number of preset, size limited mods which could directly effect the power level of the end fight. Preset in size because this allows for prescaling and also prevents the mosh pit that is generally involved in a town fight. Each of the plot people wrote 1/3 of these core modules all of which had 2 similar traits. 1. They were all fights that also involved a puzzle and 2. They all had a second level which allowed for deeper exploration into the tomb for the hard core adventurer. Using these mods and their completion as the foundation of the event, we scheduled randoms based on which module was running at any given time. We wrote up specific random charts to differentiate between the tombs and turned those charts over to the staff. Then we ran a field battle every Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday late to punctuate different events. That was the event structure all fully planned and executed. It differs from a normal event only in its tie ins to other plot arcs, meaning that our stuff needed to be done by Saturday at 3 am.

So what went wrong. Medical holds, oh man did we have medical holds. Two trips to the hospital and a LOOOONNGGG hold to get them off site made for a tough Saturday night. We had a hard time keeping everyone interested after a 2 and half hour hold, but somehow, everyone got back into it and we managed to finish with a bang. In addition my obsessive compulsive went a bit overboard. We had this staff member who was quite possibly the greatest modshack builder I have ever seen. The guy could make a tarp maze look like the Taj Mahal but I had a hard time using him to his fullest potential because I had a preset notion of a simple modshack, this was a failing on my part and hopefully I can correct it easily. I heard a few complaints about the scaling but honestly the level variance was huge so I felt pretty good about our fights. Generally speaking our failings were either me being hyper critical or uncontrollable incidents.

So we did not run a perfect event but I think we came as close as we could with the external circumstances. I had a great time and think most other people did too. Let me know what you thought, if you went, or what you think of this write up!


  1. What seems most impressive to me is the degree of coordination that this post seems to indicate. Kudos, as organizing LARPers is a huge pain the ass. :)

    A question though, how the hell did you guys end up with a 2.5 hour medical hold? Like, I am just amazed that something like that can happen. Is it simply that someone got hurt so you stopped the entire game until they were offsite? Or was it such a bad injury that too many people were shaken up to keep playing?

    Anyway, congrats on the event!

    Oh, you should consider a blog post about different ways staffs schedule an event. I've seen on the half-hour, on the hour, on the three hours, and by mod-space per staff member per quarter event and various hybrids.


  2. The length of the hold was until the players could be taken off of site, as dictated by the chapter owner. It also didn't help that the site literally has no cell signal within 2 miles of the site (for Verizon anyways), so contacting important parties was difficult.

    After a bit, they turned it into a travel hold so players could still be IG and interact, but the action stopped.

  3. From a planning and preparation standpoint, I think we pretty much did everything right. Our pre-event collaboration worked perfectly. Between email threads, phone conversations and the google docs share, everyone was constantly updating everyone else as to what they were working on. Plus, we all had a unified central theme in mind when we did our writing. By the time the event rolled around, we all had a very clear idea in our heads of how it was going to progress.

    I didn't finish my cast list of NPC non-combat roles like I usually prefer to do, but Bill covered that concept in his NPC speech. Normally, I like to have a folder/binder full of character profiles with RP notes for non-combat NPCs so we don't have "Joe the Farmer With No Story."

    As far as execution during the event, things went like clockwork. A big part of this was having enough NPCs do run multiple encounters simultaneously while allowing for rotation rest periods as well, but I'd attribute our coordination primarily to the fact that we had three fully-empowered writer/directors who could make executive decisions on the spot. So many delays are introduced to events by players asking NPC Camp something but being told, "Uh... wait here for a while, the only plot guy isn't here and none of us know the answer."

    There were a couple things I would've wanted to do better, but I'm going to hold off on that comment until I'm actually at home and not distracting myself from class.

  4. It also helped that the mechanic was a number of modules run out of a tomb, so the PCs didn't need hooking per-se. It was more like convincing them that they needed to go into the tomb over and over again in order to make the bad guy weaker.

    On the flip side, we had the underdark mod area which was focused for the lower level players. Essentially, they had to go in and plant harmonic crystals at the base of the pyramid, and that gave us a myriad of modules to run using classing underdark creatures.

    It really made the event more fluid. A lot of times, stuff will get slowed down because players will decide to follow the entirity of one person's plot at once, which causes a bottle neck. Here, if Noah was in town or running a module and the players went to a tomb, Jenn and Tim could easily run one of their tomb modules instead.

  5. One of the things that I would've liked to have done better was showcasing the end boss more. Apoph'ar, the evil blue mummy, was getting incrementally weaker throughout the event but since we only sent him out at the very beginning and very end, that didn't really get shown to the PCs.

    We also probably should've sent Ahmentet, the Pharoah into town a few more times, both to show him getting stronger and for some additional plot exposition. I had intended for him to at least go in again at the very end, but that wasn't possible due to the unfortunate medical issues requiring all of Mike's attention.

    The last thing that wasn't exactly perfect was the Kenku/crow-headed people and the Ghuls/hyena-headed people. We didn't get around to telling their story until the end of the event, and weren't able to finish the encounters where we detailed them since they were what was scheduled to run as soon as the big hold got called.

    In the overall scope of things, these are all really minor gripes, none of which overly detracted from the event. I was extremely happy with how everything went, and I couldn't ask for a better running crew.

  6. Yea all of those things are true, and our story was more awesome than people got to see. However, I am not sure if we lost any "fun" points because of this, perhaps some "cool" points.

  7. I wouldn't worry too much about it. One of the absolute hardest things to remember as a staff member is that the PCs don't know what you *didn't* run so they don't know what could have been. They only know the cool things that *were* done.

    I once ran a huge multi hour field battle with some 30 interspersed visions throughout it. All the PCs know are the cool scenes and information they got, they don't know what scenes we cut or altered or otherwise wished we had done. So, regardless of our plans not going 100%, it was a success.

  8. How did you prevent Apoph'ar, the evil blue mummy, from getting killed right away? Why couldn't the PCs just charge in and kill him, or perhaps captured and Obliterate, or capture and Imprison him? Thus ruining your end boss encounter or bringing the event to a close early?

    It seems like introducing the main villain periodically is a good idea but most PCs are going to want to just take him out right away.

    How do you indicate to the PCs that the underdark mods were for low level people and the main tomb mods were for higher level people?

  9. They couldn't have beaten him right away. He started off extremely powerful. Even if they had managed to crumble him, he'd reform at his sarcophagus.

    We didn't really explicitly tell the PCs that the tomb was higher and the underdark was lower. There were actually a few low-level tomb mods as well. We just indirectly did it through our hooks.