Game of the Month: A How-To Guide

Running a successful game of the month involves several different factors that this guide won’t go into in great detail such as ensuring that your domain sees a return on your investment and ensuring your domain puts its best face forward for the region, and in some cases the nation, to see. What this guide focuses on is how to ensure that the players who attend your game find the event enjoyable and worthwhile.

We’ve all been to large games where combat dominated the event and entire groups of players were left sitting idle either waiting as patiently as possible for an ST to free themselves up or for the combat to end so they could engage in social roleplay. No one enjoys this. People do not drive one, two, or even ten  hours to play a character at an event where they simply sit around and talk OOCly through the entire event. Sure, a domain can help offset this by offering some OOC incentives such as silent auctions or raffles, but what these players really want is to feel engaged and to leave the event with some awesome new stories for their characters to tell. That’s what this guide is about. In fact, this is less a guide about running a successful Game of the Month (GotM) and more about how to engage all of your players and not just a few groups at once.

Step 1: Get Local Investment

Before you can hope to engage a large group of players from out of town, you have to be able to engage your local players and get them invested into the stories you, as the ST, are trying to direct. If the locals aren’t invested, they won’t help you get visitors engaged. So how do you accomplish this? I won’t lie, it can be a challenge. Different players have different goals, but advancements in online video games have provided us with some interesting insights into the minds of game players that translate fairly well to LARPers.  What we’ve learned from MMOs is that players like variety. If you constantly throw combat-based plots at your local players, the players who are more interested in social or mental roleplay will lose investment. Likewise, if you focus too much on social roleplay, the physical combat monsters will get antsy and lose investment.

Due to the design of the game systems we are working with in the MES, all characters can basically be summed up as either Physical, Social or Mental. This is true for all MES Genres. This means that, in order to ensure full investment from a majority of your local players, you must create plot that suits their play styles: Physical, Social or Mental. So take stock of the PCs in your venue. Are most of them Physical PCs? If so, create plot that relies heavily on their talents, but don’t neglect the Social or Mental characters. Ultimately you should throw all three character types a bone at every game session. This will draw the interest of your local players and help ensure that they want to help you engage visitors when it comes time for your GotM event.

Step 2: Recruit Storytelling Assistants

The importance of a helpful and knowledgeable staff cannot be overstated. In a perfect world, a VST would have five or more temporarily appointed narrators to help run scenes during the GotM event. That sounds like a lot of staff doesn’t it? A good rule of thumb is one narrator per ten players. This way someone is dealing with the players while the ST floats between groups and oversees the whole game, and can address any groups that seem to have their interest waning.

I know that taking time to think is contrary to the perceptions of a VST’s role during a game. Most VSTs want to be in control of the plot and they want their assistants to do the assisting, but if you stop and think about it, that’s not a practical way of handing the situation. As the VST, you’re the project manager. It’s your job to ensure that your assistants have everything they need to run the scenes they’ve been assigned and you need to be free to jump from scene to scene without bringing the game to a halt. So find some people you trust among the local players in your domain and ask them to step aside from their characters for a just a single event to run scenes as an assistant. If they’re invested (see step 1 above) in the success of the venue, answering “Yes” to your request will be that much easier for them.

Step 3: Be Organized

So your local players are invested and you’ve got a staff of at least five assistants to help you out during the GotM event. All of the work you’ve done so far will be for nothing if the event isn’t organized. I’m not talking about the Coordinator side of things either. Yes, logistics such as site fees and game locations are very important, but this is about the ST side of things. You need to sit down and figure out a series of events that you want your assistants to run for you to keep your GotM players engaged.  Here’s the process that I found works best:

  1. Develop a single pinpoint goal that the entire GotM event leads up to. This is the golden apple that the players are trying to reach. It can be simple or complex as long as it all boils down to this one thing.

  2. Create a variety of events (approximately 10) categorized for each character type:

    1. Social Events – Give social players a reason to be engaged. Don’t let them sit on the sidelines talking OOC. Ensure that there are enough social events such as negotiations or information brokering that will keep them engaged through the duration of the GotM event.

    2. Mental Events – Puzzles! Give the mental characters puzzles to solve. This will keep them engaged.

    3. Physical Events – Combat. This should be fairly straightforward and direct.

These events should have very specific goals (i.e. Defeat this enemy, solve X riddle, convince Y NPCs not to take action against the players)

Important Note: Don’t be afraid to mix and match just a little bit, but ensure that each event has a clear and labeled type associated with it. For example, feel free to include some combat in your social or mental events, but don’t make the combat a focus of the event.

  1. Ensure that each event has defined rewards and consequences. This is very important. Each event can either succeed or fail. If it succeeds, the characters should receive a reward that will help them achieve the overall goal of the GotM. If the event fails, then there should be a detriment to achieving that goal. The physical events are the easiest to figure out rewards and consequences for: If the player’s win, enemies are defeated and won’t make reappearances at the final confrontation. If the player’s lose, they’re probably dead and the NPCs they were fighting might show up at the final confrontation to make it that much harder for everyone else still alive.

Important Note: Do not overburden your staff with NPCs or other rewards that they will have to keep track of. Instead, think of rewards such as buffs for the various PCs or de-buffs to the antagonistic NPCs. Doing this will make keeping track of things much easier and passes the responsibility for tracking any power buffs PCs receive to their players and not your staff.

  1. Assign each event a difficulty level:

    1. Easy (approximately 4 events per category) – An event that can be accomplished with little effort or risk to the characters involved. This doesn’t mean it has to be quick or simple, but that the characters shouldn’t feel particularly challenged by the event to arrive at a solution.

    2. Moderate (approximately 4 events per category) – These events should represent some risk to the characters. Player’s should feel a sense of urgency to accomplish the goal of the event and should feel threatened in some way by the environment or NPCs during the event.

    3. Heroic (approximately 2 events per category) – Ultimately players want epic stories to tell when they go home. Heroic events should provide them with those stories. These events should come with significant risk to the characters involved. Player’s should fear for their character’s lives and feel outmatched by the event’s NPCs or environment.

  2. Assign events from each category and of varying difficulties to your assistants to run. Each assistant should have between 4 and 6 events to run. Use a bit of common sense when you assign these events to your staff. If you have a narrator you know isn’t particularly strong with the combat rules, don’t give him any of the heroic physical events. Instead, let them run the easy physical events and be sure to check in on that staff member to offer any assistance or help with those events.

    1. In an ideal scenario (i.e. you have  5 assistants) each assistant would be given 6 events, and would have a mix of varying categories and difficulties.

Important Note: Your assistants should not feel pressured to get through all six events they are handed. Instead, they should be encouraged to get through as many as time allows for without rushing through anything.

  1. Divide the players in attendance at your GotM among your assistants. Make each assistant responsible for a group of players. Once they’ve been assigned a group, that assistant stays with that group for the entire GotM event.

    1. In some cases it will work out well to allow the players to divide themselves into groups and then for you to assign assistants to those groups. In other cases, you may have to be more proactive and help the players form groups. Certain venues are more accommodating of this than others. For example, Werewolf venues have packs so players are already divided to a certain extent and aren’t going to want to split those groups.

    2. Other venues, like Requiem, won’t be as simple to figure out, but once again, you can leverage your local player’s investment into the venue and ask them to use their character’s local authorities to get the ball moving in the right direction.

Important Note: Make certain the players are aware that they will need a variety of multi-talented individuals in their groups to ensure success. If they create a group of nothing but social characters they’ll be very sorry when they walk into a room full of very angry NPC antagonists who only want to feast on their flesh.

  1. Remember, every event you’ve designed should be furthering the achievement of the GotM’s ultimate goal. Let your assistants run their events until there are approximately 2 hours of game time left. At that point, have your assistants wrap-up what they’re doing and launch the final encounter.

    1. The final encounter should be a massive effort to push for the ultimate goal of the GotM. (i.e.: defeat that evil NPC that’s been plaguing the city for months).

    2. The final encounter should have elements from all three categories so that all the various character types still feel engaged, but will probably ultimately be combat focused (although this doesn’t have to be true).

    3. This is when all the rewards and consequences from the previous events come into play. Don’t forget about them!

Step 4: Simplify, Simplify

Rules lawyers exist in every domain. You can’t get away from them and, to be honest, you wouldn’t want to. They keep STs honest and fight the good fight for fair play (most of the time). At a GotM you’re certain to encounter more than a fair share of rules lawyers, but trying to run every scene 100% by-the-book would take hours more time that you actually have to run a game. So, simplify as much as you possibly can.

  • Always ask if the players want to engage in mediation before most combat scenes (heroic scenes and the final encounter should be played out). The greater a sacrifice they’re willing to make, the greater their reward should be.

  • Reduce NPC allies and Proxied characters down to simple numbers that offer buffs or de-buffs to the groups to which they’re assigned.

  • Stick to core rules and avoid optional rules that over-complicate things as much as possible.

In the end, just remember: Keep it Simple, Stupid! (KISS). This will allow you to run a smooth and fluid game that can adjust to changes quickly and easily.

Step 5: HAVE FUN!

Remember,  everyone in attendance, including yourself and your staff, are at this event for one single reason: they all want to have a good time. By earning the investment of your local players and engaging your visitors with exciting, varying, and challenging roleplay events you can help ensure that everyone involved has a lot of fun and walk away from your GotM with stories they’ll tell for years to come. And ultimately, that’s why all of us play these games. We want to have fun and geek out with our friends about that time our elder vampire took on a demon while the sun was rising and our hair was on fire! But we still kicked that thing’s ass!

 Special thanks to Robert Rindone and Sascha Peil for writing and editing, respectively.