Thursday, April 19, 2012

NPC Sign Ups

Getting NPCs has always been a problem with most LARPs. There have been all sorts of tips and tricks listed - improved rewards, creating an inviting atmosphere, enticing with interesting NPC roles, etc. However, there are some times and some games where this still doesn't get enough NPCs to give your PCs a good time. So then what do you do to get the NPCs you need?

A few games are more forceful in their recruiting. They ask or require PCs to put in some sort of NPC time, whether helping in the shack, with logistics, with the kitchen, or whatever else the staff team needs.

Obviously the push-back on this is that not everyone will be okay with paying for a game they also have to work at - and I can't really blame them. After all, I don't always want to spend my weekend working! :) So I've seen in some of the more commercial/business games a reluctance to request or require NPC time.

The down side of this then is that, when you're not getting the NPCs, your games don't have enough bodies to give everyone a quality time people pay for. It's a bit of a catch-22. In more community oriented games, I see more people willing to give time with the mentality that helping just a little will ensure that everyone has more fun.

There are still issues with the volunteer method. One is that if it's volunteer, you end up leaning on the people who come to help out, and the people who don't do the work get to enjoy the rewards. The second is that there tend to be more volunteers earlier in the event - when things start winding down people get tired, they want to fit in as much play time as possible, and no one wants to miss those climactic night-time mods! And arguably, those final mods are when you need help the most - your NPCs are tired too, and you need more bodies to make those end fights tough!

One thought I've had is to request NPC time or kitchen help via a sign up sheet. We haven't tried it fully yet, but the goal is to nicely ask for help, and provide slots people can sign up for. That would allow the bodies to get spread out over the event, and give us the volume we need when we need it. Obviously we can't predict all the times extra help will be needed, but at least we'd be better covered.

It doesn't help with the inequality if some people end up doing more volunteering than others. We can try to help with this by providing more rewards to those who do step up, but we hate to require people to NPC. Hopefully this would just be fill in for those events where we don't get the NPCs.

If your game was short on NPCs, how would you feel about signing up for a shift?

On the other end, there are the games that require NPC time. I've not been to one, but I've never heard anyone who plays in one hate on the idea either - when it's built into the community as part of the game experience, people aren't as reluctant I think. If you have played in this type of game, how does mandatory NPC time work?

Or does your game get volunteers another way?

When it comes down to it, NPCing is a dirty job. You are there to give someone else a good time, and you work your butt off doing it. It's just hard to sell that. If you've got good tips, please post them up!


  1. From my experience, one of the bigger reasons a lot of people don't like volunteering is that they don't want to miss something important to their character.

    One idea that I have repeatedly suggested to combat this, but I've never seen taken up on a large scale, is have staff suggest specific times for individuals or groups based on what those people are involved in and what is being run. I've seen it work well on small scales with individuals or small groups.

    The only downside is that it takes plot staff that is really in-touch with their players, and puts a little extra work on them in the process.

  2. I was about to say something really similar. If I agree to take a shift and the staff of a game run something I'd deeply invested in at the same time, I get really pissed off and that's just about it for volunteering for them while PCing.

    Or another classic example was when a chapter put out half the components for the weekend on a single module that only a small group of players went on. The NPCs for that module? Other PCs who would likely have been asked to come along on it had they not agreed to help out the owner on something he assured them wasn't a big deal.

    I've also had staff flat out refuse to tell me if a given time was a good time for me to NPC when I came to volunteer a shift. Not that they didn't know, but just refused to tell me. So i didn't bother doing it. I'm a helpful guy, but at the end of the day I did actually pay to be there and that matters.

    Speaking of which, this is why I often prefer to NPC field fights. When the whole town is doing something and you've been assured that that particular fight is not particularly relevant to you, then you also know that other stuff you migth be interested in is not running at the same time due to weird schedules. All hands ar eon deck for this one fight so it's "safe" to NPC it.

    1. It goes even beyond that, though. If you thought there was a good chance of something you were deeply invested in being run during an event, would you be inclined to NPC that whole event? Most likely, not (I know I wouldn't).

      On that level it definitely can't work for a large player base, but I know I've been happy to take an event off and NPC when Plot was willing to tell me "We've got some stuff we'd like you to help NPC, and don't worry, Plotline X you're involved in isn't on the schedule this event."

      The other big reason I hear from lots of people is that they come to events to RP with their friends as their characters. If they're NPCing, they don't have that opportunity. It's hard to offer something enticing enough to overcome that for a lot of people.

      I'll also throw out one of the biggest mistakes I've seen by games that have required time (which in this case, was magnified by the game trying to shift from a purely volunteer policy to a required one)... If you are going to require people to volunteer for NPC duty during the game, keep it to DURING THE GAME! The option of helping in the tavern (if there is one) is fine, IMO, because that's during the game, but letting people count site cleanup time does nothing to help with entertaining others during the event and will often foster resentment among players who either don't see those individuals doing anything but playing or who aren't fast enough to get those coveted spots.

  3. At NERO Atlanta they require a certain amount of NPC time from every player. There are a few ways to meet this requirement:
    1) NPC for 4 hours
    2) NPC for 2 hours in field battles
    3) Other various chores such as helping in the kitchen.

    They would then offer extra rewards if you volunteered more of your time. I had no problem performing my NPC time, and I even stuck around a bit longer to get some more rewards. I did see two downsides to this system.

    First, there were only about 4 full-time NPCs. I would bet that many of their players think it less necessary to be a full-time NPC when they know that everyone will volunteer some time as an NPC. However, most plot teams would prefer having a full-time NPC that can be trusted with more info about the story.

    Second, it seemed like there were better rewards for PCs who volunteered to NPC for 8-10 hours than there were for the people who NPC'ed an entire event.

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  5. I think there are three big parts to getting NPCs: Rewards, Respect, and Recruitment

    We reward both our temporary NPCs and our full-event NPCs. We also have 3 and 6 month Contract NPCs - they get slightly better rewards.

    Our rewards for part-time event NPCs are best (for the time donated) at the 4 hour mark.

    Full-time event NPCs get better rewards. Contract NPCs get the same rewards (and a $5 meal card), but at the end of their contract, they get (all at once) between half again and double those rewards.

    In addition to providing better rewards to Contract NPCs, we also mentor them and encourage them to improve their abilities. Good, recurring roles go to Contract NPCs in addition to plot members. And of course, we treat our NPCs with respect, with regard to what they want, making mistakes, and allowing them to suggest various ideas.

    We'll figure this out eventually. Right now, we recruit mostly via word-of-mouth and by suggesting that our PCs that are too poor to pay to PC instead NPC. Our max-out policy gets a decent number of PCs, but other than that we've had little luck bringing in tons of NPCs. This event sounds like we'll have more than we've ever had - 7 NPCs, 4 Plot members, and 1 Shack Mistress.

  6. Interesting points! So it sounds like people would be more receptive if the Staff teams recruited players to NPC for mods they wouldn't be involved in. There's still the issue of "whole town" mods, but I think that's really good feedback! Thanks.

    1. I think you could honestly sum it up like this.

      As long as staff is being passive and waiting for people to volunteer or come to you, you're going to have a harder time getting the #s you might like.

  7. One thing I've noticed with some amazement is this that works wonders with getting a motivated NPC group.

    Limit your NPC's roles. We see people sent out as a dozen different monsters in one six-hour shift, and most LARPs I've been to will have their NPC's out as a small bestiary's worth of creatures over one weekend.

    By comparison, give your NPC's longer-lasting roles and hence have it be worth more to make them be kitted out and made up better. If your average NPC only had one role for six hours, you'd not only get more use out of them, but they'd get more into the role in the process.