Keep the Players Busy! I can’t say this enough, keep the players busy! No one wants to go to an event and have nothing to do, or worse, be excluded from what is happening. The goal of every Eventholder is to have enough content going on, so if a player chooses not to participate in something it is their choice. It is unrealistic to have content going the entire time, there are always transitions of scene or NPC, but that is the goal.
Here are a few tips to help you move things along…
Start on the next part. If you know what the next encounter is going to be, take a person and start setting it up while the current encounter is still going one. It is best if you can always keep one step ahead of the players. If you have enough NPCs split them up and have some of them already at the next scene; when the current set of NPCs are done with their encounter move them to the scene after the next scene.
Make small set changes. If you are running an indoor dungeon crawl, try and set up the encounters so you only have to change half the room instead of the entire room. Set changes do not always have to include a 100% change. Leave some sections alone and only change the parts that need to be changed.
Be prepared. If you can not set up the next scene ahead of time (due to site constraints), at least know what it will be next and have a plan in place to make the change as swift as possible. Delegate someone to be in charge of the next scene change so there is no question as to what everyone will be doing.
Don’t change anything. Often times it does not matter what the set looks like; especially if real change in the next scene are the NPCs the players will be involved with. Do not change sets simply to make them different. Players would rather prefer a quicker down-time than a new set.
Make an NPC Stat Board. Often explaining to your NPCs what their stats and goals are can take up a considerable amount of time, especially if you have to explain it multiple times to multiple NPCs. Grab a large piece of construction paper and write out the name, stats and any special notes, such as costuming, for your NPC roles. Then all you have to do is let an NPC know what his role is and they can look it up themselves.
Prepare too much. Sometimes players can burn through your tourneys or quest encounters and you’ll find yourself scrambling to fill time. Or you may find you can not run what you had prepared next for a variety of reasons and need something to fill in the time until you are ready (such as if the rope for the bridge battle showed up to the event four hours late). If while you were writing up the event, you created extra tourneys or encounters you will be ready for such an occurrence.
Player involvement is the key here. However, there are a few pitfalls when it comes to player involvement. I call this the “rollercoaster syndrome”. If you’ve been on a rollercoaster or seen anyone on a rollercoaster they are moving around a lot. They go up and down and all around, but if you look close at the actual people on the ride they are really just sitting there. Everything is moving around them and they are stationary in their seat. This can happen at events. It may look like the players are involved and participating but they are not.
Here are some examples of what to watch out for…
Bottleneck: This is where the group of players are in a position where only a few can participate. Examples of this are bridge battles, doorway fights and other similar constrained sites. Only the fighters up front, and the casters healing them, are actually doing anything; everyone else is standing around the back waiting for their turn…and getting bored.Solutions: Avoid these types of fights. Or allow for those not at the door to fight; perhaps it is possible to fight over the length of a wall but the only way forward is through the smaller opening.
No Effect: If your monsters are only affected by certain types of weapons (magic, silver, mace, bone, etc) then by extension, it means the players without those weapons are now excluded from participating.Solutions: Avoid these types of monsters. Or allow for those special weapons to have a greater affect on the monsters but “normal” weapons still have some minimal effect.
Special Challenges: These are encounters or special events that only a few people can or desire to do. A perfect example of this is translating runes. Only those people interested in such runes will participate and the rest will be bored. While you could argue that everyone is able to participate, in reality you have created a challenge only of interest to a select few.Solutions: Make sure something else is going on for everyone else.
Not Enough NPCs: You may have monsters effectible by anything and a wide open field but if there are not enough monsters on that field then you still have a problem. Your monsters will be dead before the majority of the PCs can get to them.Solutions: Get more NPCs. Give the monsters greater survivability (without resorting to the No Effect problem). [I’ll cover this topic in more depth in a future article.]
NPCs fighting NPCs: While there may be some cool scenes of NPCs fighting NPCs, if the players can not participate then it quickly loses its luster. It also means you have less NPCs to throw against the players leading to Not Enough NPCs.Solution: Don’t do it. Use it very sparingly.
The Uber Helper: This is when you have a friendly NPC who is so powerful the players are no longer needed. He will clear the gate all by himself and the players are there just to tag along.Solution: If you need a friendly NPC to tag along with the players keep his power diminished; do not let him overshadow the players.
The trick here is to remember that not only do you want the players to be participating, but also able to affect and change the environment around them. Like a rollercoaster ride, you do not want the players to be along for the ride but rather to affect and change it.