Friday, June 8, 2018

10 Questions with an EH

with Jason "Aeston" Rosa

1. What events have you previously thrown? (include years) 

Whew, that’s going to be a list. In brief, I’ve been throwing Feast of the Leviathan yearly since 1999. I’ve been running Queen of Hearts since the mid 2000’s. The What Lurks Beneath dungeon crawl series lasted from 2009-2013. The Echoes of Ragnarok series started in 2015 and has run at a couple events per year since, including the Gilded Lion Summer Festival and our yearly dungeon crawl. And of course a slew of other random events at a rate of one or two a year stretching back to the early 2000’s. I feel like it’s important to point out that throwing an event is not a task that anyone can undertake alone with any consistent success, so when I talk about events I have thrown, really I’ve just been a cog in the machine for the great majority of them. Of course for over a decade now that machine has been compromised of the men and women of Rhiassa, so I feel like I’ll be answering many of these questions simply as a representative of that eventholding team more than for myself.

In the kitchen at Feast of the Leviathan II

2.  What led you to start throwing events? 

I had a lot of great mentors when I started playing Realms and among them was Susan Dunphy, Lady Cassia of Chimeron, who I apprenticed to when I was a newbie. She was one of the most prominent feastocrats of the era and after working with her in the Realms kitchens for the greater part of a year, I really wanted to try my hand at throwing my own feast event. Thus, Leviathan was born back in ‘99. About a year later, Ian Pushee and I worked together to throw our first questing event, a one-shot dungeon crawl at the WPI gym called Tale Eternal, largely inspired by similar events thrown by Jared Buzby, McKrye of Chimeron. It’s just been a steady march since then.

3.  What would you like your events to be known for?

That very much depends on the type of event it is because, of course, what you expect out of a day at Leviathan is very much different than the goals of throwing a dungeon crawl. But ultimately, I want all of the patrons of Rhiassa events to know that our group spared no expense, be it cost, time, or effort, to try and make that event the best it could possibly be. Certainly I can’t claim that we always are correct about everything we try or that we don’t make mistakes that sometimes affect the outcomes of what we attempt, but it's important to me that everyone knows we are always trying our hardest to do right by the people who trust us to entertain them for the day or weekend.

The first appearance of the goblins and trolls at What Lurks Beneath.

4.  What aspects of event holding do you consider most challenging? 

At this point, I would say the need to always outdo ourselves from the previous years. I think there is a very powerful desire once you are successful at throwing events to fall back to repeating the same formula repeatedly because you know that it works. But I’ve found that you can only really get away with that for a couple of years before event-goers start to lose their desire to keep participating with the same fervor they might have originally. I’ve always pushed us as an event staff to think bigger than we did the previous year, to not be afraid to disregard or change things, even if they have been successful, and to push ourselves to continuously higher standards with what we present. My event throwing philosophy is “evolve or die” and the pressure to always pursue that can be a challenge.

5.  Tell us about an event moment you are particularly proud of? 

There are so many of them. What stands out in my mind right now is last year’s Queen of Hearts. I’ve spoken and written a lot about it since then but it was undoubtedly the most successful iteration of that event I have ever been a part of. I was just so incredibly proud of the community for coming together and working together to keep the right attitude all weekend, to focus on having fun with each other above all else, and happily embracing all of the strange and silly things we asked them to do. I think last year will always resonate with me as what the spirit of that event is supposed to be about.

Reading the rules at Queen of Hearts XXII.

6.  Tell us about something that went wrong and what you learned from it? 

I love this question because I think far too often younger players and starting eventholders look at successful events and believe that experienced groups just magically have the ability to make everything come together perfectly. And, unfortunately, people sometimes go to events that have some flaws and judge them very harshly, not even always giving appropriate leeway to new staffs. Every success you see in this community, and in life, is built on a mountain of failures, and the more experienced among us have gotten that experience primarily through learning how things went wrong.

For my own part I remember a huge failure of an event I attempted at Abe’s land back in the mid-2000s. It was a quest that was actually a thin veneer over a mechanic that was essentially a ongoing site-wide tournament between the PCs and the NPCs. I ended up having a group of NPCs that were not only amazing combatants but also quite proficient at strategy and exploiting flaws (of which there were certainly many) in my rules system. The concept failed almost as quickly as it did spectacularly and I was on my heels for the rest of the day just making things up to switch to a more traditional format. Since then I’ve still never shied away from experimental mechanics or thinking outside of the box, but I sure as heck learned to always be well prepared with back-up plans in case things don’t happen in reality the way they did in my head.

7.  What do you think makes an event site “good” and how have you gone about locating sites? 

Again, this is very dependant on the type of event that you want to throw because of course the needs of the event are going to dictate what makes a site adequate. If I had to pick something universal, I would say cost. I know that a lot of event staffs struggle with their budgets at times because really great sites that have everything you could ever need are routinely very very expensive, and they’ve only gotten more costly as our hobby has become more mainstream. The sites we employ most often as a community have continued to rise in price over time, largely because there is more and more demand for their use.

The panacea for this, something that I’ve always strived to do, is to not be afraid to reach out to new sites and to not be afraid to compromise a little in order to bring costs down. Back in the day I remember flipping through the yellow pages calling every Knights of Columbus and American Legion in a fifty mile radius and making a dozen site visits to find the right intersection between cost and needs. The first six Leviathans were on Sundays because the hall I found gave me a $200 discount for that less-rented day. More recently, when we wanted to launch the Gilded Lion Summer Festival, I called around to every site with a pavillion that I could find and happened to stumble upon one that was run by a municipality. This was very fortunate because that happened to make it less expensive than you would expect, and also particularly well maintained. Overall the point is this; if you’re willing to invest the time and effort into finding a site you’ll be able to find something that meets your needs and doesn’t cost a ton. And as an added bonus, new sites tend to draw people to an event based on interest in them, alone.

The Jomsvikings appear at the Gilded Lion Summer Festival

8.  Have you managed to maintain a balanced budget? Any advice for other event holders on doing that? 

The advice above about finding the right site is certainly a component of this. Honestly, though, this is somewhat a struggle for our staff. Because our missions involve always outdoing ourselves from previous years, we tend to run into the red, at least a little bit. There are, however, a lot of things that we do to mitigate this trend as much as we can, so I will dispense that as advice to others.

Making things rather than buying them is a time-honored strategy that we certainly make use of. The weeks before our events are frequently punctuated by crafting days where we are sewing or glueing together things that otherwise might cost quite a bit more if we were to buy them new.
Having built up a large cache of reusable supplies also brings the cost of our events down a lot and if you’re new to eventholding I encourage you to reach out to the community to ask what you can borrow before you start buying or making things yourselves. There are also a lot of places to get lower-cost event props and supplies than you might expect. Rather than buy fabric at expensive craft stores, ask around about discount fabric stores in your area that sell remnants for cheap. there are a couple in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Lots of local dumps and transfer stations have swap-shops where you can (if you’re a citizen of the town) just take things for free. Goodwill and Salvation Army stores also have a wealth of inexpensive treasures to root through. Finally, I cannot overestimate the utility of two chains, Restaurant Depot and Harbor Freight. If you have them local to you, make use of them.

9.  What staff positions do you feel are essential to running your events and what do you do to help empower and support them? 

Please see below.

10.  What advice do you have for other Event Holders? 

I’m going to answer these two questions together because they really amount to the same thing. I cannot overemphasize the importance of having a team of individuals who are each informed, coordinated, and empowered to make your event run properly. No matter what kind of event it is, in the end it can be dissected into a number of interwoven tasks, each of which can be delegated to someone who understands how they work into the larger picture.

Again this is something that is crucially dependant on the type of event it is, so I can only give a an example of how we’ve made it work for us.

Feast of the Leviathan is obviously a herculean task with it’s size and its many working parts. In order to manage it all, the event is split into tasks defined as “back of the house” and “front of the house”, respectively dealing with work in the kitchen or the entertainment that goes on throughout the day. Each half of the event has a different part of the team responsible for the tasks therein. The feastocrat, for example, is obviously managing the preparation of the food and overall running the kitchen but at the same time there is an individual responsible for coordinating the servants, an individual responsible for making sure dishes are returned and cleaned, a person who is making sure drinks stay full and available, just to name a few tasks. Each of these jobs is managed individually but they are also highly dependant on each other and constantly coordinate with one another to make sure everyone has what they need. At the same time the back of the house is constantly communicating with the front of the house. The entertainment side of the event has individuals responsible for running registration, the casino, the carnival, questing, tournaments, when announcements and court take place, and more, but all of that must be interwoven with when the food is ready to be served and when we’d like people to be able to sit and enjoy their meals.Again, people have their individual jobs but they are always dependant on one another and require constant communication and coordination so everyone can succeed.

Ultimately before you can start to build an event that is going to be successful, you need to build a team that can function in that manner. It’s vital to gather together like-minded individuals who have the ability to work together without conflict, trust one another, and all be invested in your mutual success. Even years before you throw your first event you can start finding these people, collaborating on ideas, and inspiring one another to create something new. I can’t think of a single thing that your success will depend on more than the friends you will surround yourself with.

Many Rhiassans of the past and present (drawing by Alexa Lecko)

11.  What can we look forward to seeing from you in the foreseeable future?

As long as the community allows us to, I can promise we will keep bringing our best efforts to Feast of the Leviathan and Queen of Hearts each year. Additionally, I know that the Echoes of Ragnarok series has a couple years left in it as we finish telling that story. Beyond that, I cannot guess what we will create but I can guarantee we will always be here and always commit ourselves to hosting things that the Realms will enjoy.

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