Drifter’s March Preparations

DSC_0130Over the past month we’ve gone over the plot overview for Drifter’s March and the kind of events that went down over the course of the game.  Now we’re going to talk about the preparations I made for it in the first place.

Firstly, the rules.  The rules were something I’d been working on for over a year.  I literally read dozens of different LARP rule books before finally coming up with my own and I slowly amended mine over time as I thought up different scenarios or realised their flaws.  My rules needed to be fairly independent of the Game Master and to be based around accessing information or objects rather than new combat techniques.

I ran a playtest to stress test the bad guys and tinker with the combat / healing rules a little but unfortunately the playtest couldn’t really test most of the rules since most of the rules were based around things like lock picking and reading people.  Not exactly easy to do in a separate playtest.  We also did a workshop to help reinforce character ties and help people better understand the rules.  We had a pretty good turnout to both.

As for the rest of what I needed, I can say that I spent quite a lot of time spray painting.  I tried making up some modern foam weapons out of foam mats but they turned out to be too hard to safely swing.  I used the off-cuts to make a collection of foam surgical tools and engineering tools which were light enough to throw.  I also worked with my husband to make some fake leg traps out of foam.  I found a set of squeaky toys at K-Mart which was amazing as it meant if you stepped on the trap you’d hear a squeak!  Except they reacted poorly to the spraypaint and are still tacky to the touch to this day — three months later.  So my foot traps went without squeakiness.

I purchased 10 1GB USB sticks so I could give them to the robot NPCs and have people loot them off of them — and 7 didn’t work.  Such a shame.  10 USB sticks all in the same colour would have been amazing!  I made up for it with a few donated USB sticks and decided that the robots would have 1 per life.

I created “password-protected” folders on the USB stick that were represented by a gold padlock with a little number-based mini-game in a separate file beside it that people had to complete in order to access the folder.  I put clues to the location to some of the handbags on the USB sticks.  (Unfortunately there was no general computer people could use to read the USB sticks so they went largely unused).

I had a collection of those plastic balls people put in ball pits and I used blue tac to make a c on them inside a circle to give them a bit of detailing (referring to them as Care Packages in-game) and then spray painted them in silver and brass.  Silver meant they were electronic scrap.  Brass meant they were mechanical scrap.  Unfortunately the plastic rejected the paint and despite putting a protective top coat on them, they slowly chipped off.  Still good for one use but I had to toss it all out in the end.

Even the players brought some of their gear along!

I purchased several airsoft masks for the robots and a Tron costume as, let’s face it, there aren’t many forms of robot costume that look good.  I also received a bunch of donated items of clothing that I could rip up for use by the Zed-Synth NPCs.   And I bought 1000 NERF darts … that ended up being hard-tipped rather than the soft-tipped ones I’d been expecting.  They’d worked for this session but we’re going to have to replace them next time.  Luckily they only cost us $90.

I also bought a bunch of little cardboard boxes, tiny medicine bottles and little metal tins that could be used to make base chems (that could be mixed to make meds) and drugs and medication.  I printed off drug and medication labels to affix to them so people had ready access to the rules behind them.  I then put jelly crystals in the base chem bottles (colour coded for ease of use so Strawberry jelly crystals for Red Chems) and tic tacs of various colour sets into the drug and medication bottles.

I also had to print everyone’s character information and their character cards containing their skill and equipment lists.  In this game everyone only had 150 chits worth of equipment they could bring into game so lists had to be put together.  I also set up some boxes of equipment for the merchants to be able to sell in-game, as well as a document full of secrets for the Secrets Merchant to be able to sell.

I made up some poison gas and radiation indicators (just buttons of specific colours with the word RAD Indicator or Poison Gas Detector written on them).  I then bought green and red tinsel that could be used as poison gas and radiation representations out in the field so people knew when to take damage or when their indicators would start chirping.

I chose a mask out of my stash for Varus Draconis in his final form.  I also bought a few masks for NPC animals and insects that people could tame or attack but I didn’t end up having enough cast members to portray enough NPCs to make them necessary.  Also no one bought the Calm Animals skill.  So those masks remained in the stash.

I had a very helpful cast member, Tamara, sort out a hot lunch.  She cooked up some spaghetti sauce at home, then reheated it and cooked the sticks during the game.  I purchased and set up a bunch of morning tea materials so people could snack throughout the day.

I bought walkie talkies for the Rules Marshalls who were players who had received an extra two hours training in the rules so that they could help give people advise during the game.  They had these black arm bands (sewn by my husband) with these cool silver badges ironed on.  That way people could see who was a rules marshall at a glance without it ruining their costume.  We used Velcro to hold the bands but they were only glued on rather than sewn on so the Velcro didn’t work.  People tied them on instead.

The players brought laptops to decorate the journalist’s news room.

I used reflective tape to write GM on my upper arms and back of my weathered black pleather jacket.  That way people could tell who I was without me needing to wear something that completely broke immersion like a hi-vis jacket or street clothes.

I won’t go deeply into the set up on the day but I can say that I rocked up the night before with a few helpers who had car loads of gear.  We sectioned off the little foyer into an NPC area using old wooden voting booths and then set it up with all the NPC gear.  The NPC players (our cast) set up the lootables outside that very morning.  I directed the set-up of the internal rooms and nooks.  I had a bunch of cushions that were used for an out of character chill out area over by a large log outside.  We also put up a 10-person tent near the hall for the shuttle’s nose cone.

It was a 7 hour game and the set up and pack up alone would have equated to about 5 hours and the pre-game preparation to about 70 hours, all told.  Plus side is I can re-use many of the props, gear and even characters in the upcoming Triway Peak weekend LARP and the Multiverse Chronicle itself after that so we’ll certainly be getting enough bang for our buck.

Besides, I really did enjoy the preparation so it didn’t really feel like work at all.  I learned a lot about spray paint and about cobbling together neat story item out of random things I had lying about the house so that was fun.

While I did have some assistance here and there, I was silly enough to do it primarily by myself and run the thing as a solitary Game Master though Tom did stand in as NPC Wrangler as well as rules marshall which was amazing.

Would I do it all again?
Hell yeah!  In fact, I’m doing two four-hour “Drifters’ March LARPs” designed for brand new players as part of the Fringe Festival.  Stay tuned!

Drifters March Lessons Learned

DSC_0085Drifter’s March was the biggest LARP I’ve ever run with 40 players and 11 cast members portraying NPCs.  We’ve gone over an overview, some events that occurred during the game and the kind of effort that went into preparing for it.  Now I can talk about the various lessons that I learned from the event.

  1. Never assume that even simple technology will work. I have a little laptop that’s not very good but I figured it could run a HTML file “Choose Your Own Adventure” which is what I was using for the drug & medication mini-game. People would select the two choices in chemicals mixed and then could be surprised by the result *after* they had given it to someone to try.  The laptop worked really slowly and in the most fiddly way possible so I couldn’t let the players just handle it themselves.
  2. The walkie talkies we bought cheaply from the USA don’t actually talk to Australian walkie talkies. They use different bandwidths. We only figured this out toward the end of the game when it was learned that someone pleading over the walkie talkie just wasn’t heard by anyone else who had one.  Since we’ve bought eight of them … this is kind of problematic.  On the plus side, no one can eavesdrop on what the Rules Marshalls and Game Masters are talking about and there’s a chance that there’s at least one shared channel between them all.
  3. The area was far too large to be used properly. I should have cut it in half to ensure that people bumped into each other more and were more likely to run across gear and equipment … not to mention the bad guys. I’ll do so next time.
  4. The character sheets were too complicated. There were far too many goals per person, which typically meant that they only remembered one of them. This meant that most players didn’t feel like there was enough to do until I drew their attention to parts of their histories and goal lists that they’d forgotten.  One member of a faction requested more political gameplay in future … their faction actually did have a major political goal but it was overlooked.  Next time I will streamline the character sheets so that the mini-goals all support two or three larger ones to make them all more memorable.
  5. There wasn’t a general use computer and none of the players brought their laptops with them. There was only one computer in play and it was with the journalists in their locked room. Plus there were no speakers and one of the items had a video on it.  Oops.  At least we can use it again next time.
  6. I gave a merchant a plot-sensitive item and didn’t tell him how important it was so it spent half the game in his suitcase.
  7. There needed to be far more clues regarding Varus Draconis. New rule of thumb is at least one major findable clue for every five to ten players as otherwise it’s too easy for it to disappear into a backpack and only revealed to a few people who might not mention it to others.
  8. Out of my 11 cast members, only 7 were able to play enemy combatants. Although it was never meant to be a high combat LARP, it was still too low a player to fighter ratio and there were too many bullets in play to really be able to be much of a threat. Until people got cocky and started splitting up.  When the end boss battle occurred and they started respawing in waves, players were overwhelmed quite quickly as they didn’t have melee weapons and hadn’t had any real practice against those kinds of battles before.
  9. My cast members were quite at self-managing themselves and setting up a variety of encounters. I can definitely trust in my cast to be able to put together their own ideas and put them into play.
  10. There were a few rules miscommunications and basic logistical issues. When respawning waves, I need to create a clear “respawn point” that cast need to return to before charging forward. I also need to have better pre-game workshops so people have a better understanding of what kind of play is rewarded and what is available.  More clarification on our lack of a crafting system and the limitations of the repair system.  Something physical for the scientific researchers to do so that they feel like they’re doing something when researching new scientific matters.  Things like that.
  11. The skills were too specific so some of them didn’t come up often enough for people to find them. I’m going to condense my skill system to ensure that uncommon skills are combined into one more useful skill and to enhance the core abilities to ensure that everyone remains useful. Of course, there’s always the risk in one day games that someone’s skill spread won’t happen to match what they personally encounter but minimising that is always a good idea.
  12. I’m also wondering if perhaps 51 people was too ambitious for one game master to handle! Even with all the Rules Marshalls and Tom’s NPC wrangling, things were pretty tight. I’ll try and keep it to around 40 people in future for Triway Peak.

So there we are.  I learned twelve big lessons from that event and a whole bunch more besides.

Moments at the Drifter’s March LARP

DSC_0003So last fortnight we discussed a basic overview of the Drifter’s March LARP event we ran back in August, covering off on the different factions and meta-plots included.  Of course it’s all well and good to know about the basic set up of a game, but what actually happened during it?  What did the players actually *do*?

When the game began, a few of the rangers were injured in a firefight with the robots and their leader was badly wounded.  One of their lead scouts (an NPC or Non Player Character who was doomed to die) managed to open the door to the inn and call for help before being shot in the back of the head from the robot on the other side of the river and dying with a walkie talkie held in her hand.

Those in the hall leapt into action and a bunch of them headed out to find the rangers and provide support.  They could also hear a pair of reporters pleading for help.  One had her leg caught in a trap and needed someone who could disarm it.  (Each character had five skills which could include the ability to disarm traps, pick locks, or shoot guns, among other things).  They managed to get around the robot and move into position but they didn’t have much time to evac the ranger captain before they were attacked.

A combined effort saw the robot taken down, and the others rushed off back to the inn.  The dying ranger captain was literally carried part of the way.  We used a hall for the game and repurposed one of the side nooks into a little medibay complete with two camping cots and a whole lot of fake surgical equipment, blood bags, etc.  The ranger captain was brought in here for immediate surgical attention.  The inn’s physician roleplayed the surgery, using a local anaesthetic and trying to keep the captain relaxed while he kept trying to bark orders to his subordinates.

The local biochemist could also produce meds that could heal people.

Over the course of the day, a multitude of people ended up lying on those hospital cots or getting first aid from one of the merchants and the ranger medic.  Where there’s gunfire, there’s casualties!

The Drifter’s Inn was a reasonable sized hall with a counter in front of the kitchen (for the wait staff and the service of a hot lunch of spaghetti) and four little side nooks that were normally open on one side.  We covered the opening on one nook to make a *locked* area for the reporters to set up their computer (complete with secret information in a hackable file) and their printer (so they could make up quick newspapers as the game progressed).

Unfortunately for them, the Artificer’s Union was very suspicious on them, picked the lock and got inside.  A journalist spotted them just as a rapid hacking Artificer saw they had compiled data on the union, and before he could figure out that they were on the same side.  When the journalist commanded him to get out, he sent a surge of kinetic energy into the computer — frying it permanently.  Since one of the inn staff was casually lounging in their room when it happened, the journalists weren’t very pleased at all and it took some major diplomatic wrangling to get everyone on the same page again.

One of the independent salvagers was a wanted man in New Yuvon — one of the journalist propagandists who had fled and couldn’t recognise his brethren because they’d all had plastic surgery.  The merchant of secrets and information tried to blackmail him, and when he refused, she tried to kill him in a panic but was taken out by his allies in a gunfight outside the inn.

They had to talk down both the PTSD struck person and convince the police bot to stand down.

Some artificers and rangers found the Policebot.  Policebots are a pre-incident robot that had enough processing power to tell the difference between wastelanders and Zed-Synths unlike the murderbots that were churned out post-incident that just don’t have that capacity.  Unfortunately it had been affected by the same “Kill All” programming so they had to struggle to capture it.

Once they had managed to capture it, one of the rangers who’d had PTSD due to an incident with a robot in his back story kept attacking it.  His fellow rangers, and the artificers present, had to keep talking the robot down to prevent it from attacking the man in turn.  Eventually the poor ranger fell to his knees in defeat, pleading with them to understand that the robot will eventually turn on them and kill them all.

The grounds themselves were littered with a variety of things to find.  There were balls of scrap that could be used to repair equipment.  There were little trapped tins with notes on the outside from one of the cultists.  There was a little campsite with Varus Draconis’ diary and some specimens of infected flesh.  There were even handbags with various gear in them from those who had succumbed to robot or Zed-Synth attacks in the past.

At the very end, a psychic sensed the approach of a horde of Zed-Synths.  As they assembled on the lawn, ready for the attack, the lead cultist who had hidden among them stepped forward, declared the superiority of Zed-Synths, and injected himself with the improved serum.  Random Zed-Synths attacked people as did Varus Draconis, and to begin with they held their own but each wave of Zed-Synths depleted their ammunition.

Varus Draconis hit the ground, but then mutated and rose again (I gave him a mask and a spear — the latter represented a bony protrusion).  He infected those who had been downed (one of whom was dragged away by her sister) and continued to attack. The infected wastelanders rose as well and begged those hiding inside the inn to let them inside.

Varus Draconis infected several people before he died.

Varus was defeated a second time and as he underwent his final mutation, those who were infected but psychic in some way managed to throw off his control and slowly battered him down to death while others hid inside the inn and the shuttle, hearing the horrors that occurred outside.

In the very end, all of those infected by Varus himself found themselves as a sort of half-Strain … affected by the Zed-Synth infection and yet still somehow themselves.  The devastation was terrible but in the end the shuttle launched into space — ready to find its way home to Earth — and a treatment for those infected-but-not-yet-turned was found using cloning technology and the need for a replacement wastelander gland.

So as you can see there was a lot to see and do in this particular game.  This is only scratching the surface of what went down that day.  Next fortnight we’ll discuss how I prepared for such a big and prop-heavy LARP and the fortnight after that I’ll detail the lessons I learned from running my first BIG event, and certainly my first event with live combat rules (i.e. NERF guns and foam swords).