GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week we talked about picking up long dead campaigns and this week we look ahead a few months at summer blockbusters (or comparably massive campaigns).
The long dead, cold, and ruthless winter shuts down many games (hint: it is cold where I live). Holiday seasons, budgets, and a relentless amount of new projects are other reasons for a little game slow down. Many conventions, blockbuster LARPs, and special events start in the spring and summer and now’s the time to get a head start. If you are attending a convention and running tables, planning an Adventurer’s League epic, or eyeing up a seasonal premier event you should get started now.
Being insanely far ahead of the game may seem foolhardy, and you’ll often tell yourself that you’ve got time to work it out. You might, but stress is a factor that runs through every GM and Player leading up to events and crafting a great storyline or event requires preparation. This article is serving as a reminder for all of us out there — myself included — to pause and take a look out at our year for the purposes of planning and the acquisition of loot. Ideally, you want to touch base at least six months out (so if you are planning a winter event like The Cursed Castle, you should’ve read this article last July, but since time travel isn’t viable yet, let’s focus on what is next.)
Work Out Logistics
Since Dragon Thrones is the blockbuster LARP I’m focusing on attending this summer, I’ve been working with their storytellers Chris and Evan from The Game Theater. Any event, even local D&D groups need logistics and now is the time to prep your venue. Renting a castle is reserved for the larger groups, but start making phone calls to local community halls, local historical buildings, and other places of interest in your town. Collecting a list of sites and sending out initial emails months in advance is the first step to ensuring that an event goes smoothly since that forms your budget baseline.
If you aren’t the event host and are hitting a major convention, logistics takes the form of hunting for lodging and transportation. Here’s the catch: you aren’t just searching for yourself. Look at this from the players’ standpoint and make it easy for them. Write up a small guide on how to get to the event, or send out reminders to everyone to block their calendars. Check your event times and ensure you aren’t cutting things close to when players are leaving or arriving. Far too many games and administrators fail at spending time on transportation. Take stock of your past events and see if there is anything you can do to make it easier.
According to the head storytellers of Dragon Thrones, planning for Out Of Game Time is as important as In-Game Time for logistics. A weekend event can be physically and emotionally taxing, so taking time to plan the logistics of safety and pacing of the weekend is essential. Accommodating needs and accessibility for the events or cons may require extra signage, dedicated staff, or even forethought into making sure your players are comfortable and confident for the event. The earlier you can start planning and accounting for these logistics, the more power and ability you’ll have to focus on gaming and being an awesome GM.
Props make the game! Bust open your storage and costume closet and take inventory of your outfits and stage-props. Now’s a good time to repair any tears and fix anything that may have broken. Costumes for characters tend to evolve year-after-year and adding a few tweaks now may even inspire stories for later. Get everything you need, organize it, and start packing it up now in ready-to-go bins. Those buckets may grow and change later, but they are at least organized, and you may want to head over to Dog Might Games for some epic quest items—particularly if you are doing more tabletop gaming.
Next, create a food plan. I’m serious, months out, take a post it and slap it on your costume or prop crates of food items for later. Thinking of the type of event you want, run a few internet searches to hunt for the perfectly themed drink and food. Mead’s work well for fantasy games and check into some awesome glowing drinks for a Shadowrun or Cyberpunk game. A box of Amaranth-O’s acquired early would be worth picking up as a prize for players if you are storytelling Vampire: The Masquerade.
Write Like The Wind!
There is a reason that writing is the third step in preparation for the main events—the other two reconnect you to past games. Every storyteller needs a little of this as you plan for what comes next. At this stage of campaign writing, you really want to focus on outlines that hit appropriate tempo for an event. Thing big picture with various factions in the game (rather than character focused) and showcase their victories from the prior chronicle and their defeats. Right now, it’s important to be realistic—if one group was walloped be honest. Placing all the groups at different tiers creates a waterfall effect for your writing as you get to objectives, which need to be staggered throughout the entire event.
Since players like to earn and quest, it’s okay if they start in a ditch or even have goals to merge or join others. Large events can get unwieldy with plot and moving bits rather quickly, so it’s best to have an overall narrative manager and continuity editor. If you don’t have one yet, congrats, it’s now you—so compile the list of every deed and failure (again, be brutally honest here), of past characters, or factions from past events. When you are writing your outlines, use the lists of deeds as a guide! Players who have victories should be written into events where they’re new-found powers bring new responsibilities. Meanwhile, others who lost or are outnumbered can look outward into the world setting for new possibilities of strength.
This last tip is a great thing to do for players as well as storytellers since it helps you frame objectives in a clear and concise matter. If it’s a brand new game you’re planning, then this step uses the fictional histories of the characters and actions you are planning. Regardless, this step sets the stage for the next few months: You’ll share your continuity with your GM’s, get edited, then start writing individual player backstory, and eventually, the game will start and everything explodes.
What blockbuster or major events are you looking forward this year? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below!
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Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.