Friday, June 21, 2013

Tricks of the Trade by Carrie "Tetch" Dolph

Articles designed to help Event Holders with common event pitfalls and problems.

Tricks of the Trade:
Dungeon Crawl tips: Making Scene Changes work for your event.

Unless you are fortunate enough to have both a really large dungeon, such as the Citadel, or a large mowed field of tall grass or corn, and a huge amount of NPC’s to staff such a large area full time, most Dungeon Crawls will involve scene changes as the next ‘room’ is set up.

What generally happens is the players have two types of ‘area’ to play in for these events – the Main Dungeon Room(s), and the ‘Holding Area(s)’. The ‘Holding Area’ is where the PC’s end up waiting for the scene change to occur, while the Main Dungeon Room is where the PC’s face whatever encounters the plot of the event is based on… 

Generally speaking, most EH’s fail to plan for anything occurring in the ‘Holding Area’ and due to poor time management, the players spend most of their time at the event there, rather than in the Main Dungeon Room!

Highly Recommended to Must Have in the “Holding Area”:
It is always a good idea to have food, water, and a Magic Marshal available to the PC’s during the ‘scene change’.  (Honestly, it’s a good idea to have a Magic Marshal available ALL the time!) This allows the players to learn about the plot in a ‘less hectic’ environment than the main combat floor (which is not the best environment to be casting divinations or Call Soul anyway), and allows them to rest and refresh while not in combat mode.

The Dangers of Down-Time:
One of the biggest challenges for an EH in most Dungeon Crawls is keeping the players occupied or entertained during scene changes. Generally speaking, any Down-Time in any event kills the momentum of the Event Flow, and usually leads to bored players.

Here are some tips to manage the Down-Time in a Dungeon Crawl Scene Change:

Keep the Down-Time brief:
An EH should do what they can to limit the amount of time it takes to set up the next scene and inform the NPC’s of their roles.
Making complete, descriptive handbooks for each planned room is a good way to do that. If you can do a complete description, and know who your Staff and NPC’s are going to be, get that information out to those key people well in advance of the actual event, so they have time to go over the information before arriving. On the day of the event, however, most NPC’s don’t have the time or inclination to read walls of text, so try to also have a ‘short form’ version: be succinct or use pictures/maps, and lists where you can. This allows the NPC’s to act autonomously without you needing to go over everything at every turn, saving huge amounts of time, and therefore, lessening downtime.
Another way to do cut down on time is to have at least one or two ‘rotating’ NPC’s that are sitting out of the current room to learn what is needed for the next room, and getting all the props, costumes and briefings ready for the next room while the current room is in progress. As NPC roles end in the current room, have those NPC’s filter back to the NPC staging area to get ready for their new roles.

Make the Holding Area part of the Event:
Since so much time can potentially be spent in the Holding Area, make it part of the Event! Don’t throw that time away.

Here are some of the things that I have seen used successfully to keep players doing things:
Puzzles to open the next level:
Whether its some sort of cerebral thing to get a few thinkers busy, or a co-operative challenge to get the whole questing party to work together, puzzles are a good way to allow a less combat oriented person time to shine while letting the (hopefully tired) combative types time to rest until the next battle.
Role play!:
We sometimes forget that this is also a role playing game. Allow role-play to happen by engaging the players with some sort of NPC to negotiate with to get to the next level, learn about the plot, or otherwise make the event more than just some kind of weird tactic-based practice.
 Travel Time:
While it’s not my favorite tactic, you can get the players to walk around the building, or something similar, in order to simulate ‘moving to somewhere else’ in a more realistic fashion. The common problem with this is that it gets boring if it is done too often, of if there isn’t any interesting scenery or interaction on the way.  So, if you choose this, make sure to throw at least one interesting something along the way: an easily solved puzzle or physical challenge (such as jumping over a ‘pit’ from stepping stone to stone, or getting through a ‘fence’), role-playing encounter, fun music, weird artwork… something to make it more than a useless walk around the building.

Make a ‘Rotating’ Main Dungeon Room:
If your Main Dungeon Room is large enough, split it in half. Instead of having a ‘Holding Room’, split your NPC crew as best you can and set up the second half of the Main Dungeon Room while the first half is in use. This allows the action to keep going all event long without long stretches of Down-Time.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about this recently myself, and Carrie offers some excellent advice. A few tips of my own:
    1) Don't overuse whatever device(s) you use for the Holding Area. The first time the PCs have to "march" somewhere, they'll be fine with it. But any activity is going to lose it's allure when it becomes clear to the PCs that it is solely designed to keep them "busy" without any real goal.
    2) Try and engage _most_ of the PCs with "Loading Screen" activities. If you have 30 PCs and 3 of them are interacting with an NPC, what are the other 27 doing? The answer is getting bored. And again, that doesn't mean hand out 30 puzzles that all need to be completed, some people just don't like puzzles.
    3) If at all possible, don't cram people into hallways or other confined spaces. It pulls people out of immersion completely and the cramped and usually hot quarters make the waiting seem longer.
    4) Be creative. To add onto Carrie's suggestion about making the Holding Area part of the event, one of the more creative tactics I've encountered was having us fight our way through tunnels to get through the next level. It did lose its creativity after the first few times, and it did limit the number of people who were most actively involved, but if it had been a one-room experience, it would have been awesome.

    Props to Carrie for bringing up the topic. Down time is the biggest problem for dungeon quests, and one that can be avoided with some creativity and planning ahead!