Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Core Elements of Eventholding: The Gardener and the Architect

 Event holding is a complex art. It has a lot of moving parts, and capturing all of them in a single article would be pretty daunting. So I would rather break it down into smaller chunks and parse it out a little better. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about writing. 

I’ve spent a good amount of the time of my eventholding career writing plot for Blackwood events. Invariably standing in front of the whiteboard at the Blackwood crafting studio, muttering to myself as I try to untangle my thoughts in a way that would be functional for the rest of the team. When really, I’m just trying to outline the course of the event for them. 

So for me, my instinct says I should be writing like an architect for events. Architects, or planners, plotters, or outliners; are people that lay out the course of the event in detailed outlines before getting into the gritty details of what’s happening. Some people fall into this category very comfortably. They can outline with finite detail, and allow themselves to map out an event, and it makes sense for them. 

Personally, I have a harder time with architecture, as I said.

The reason that it can be a challenge for me is because I am more comfortable writing in a way that might be described as “gardening” or “pantsing”. Gardening, coined by George R. R. Martin, refers to a writer who writes the bulk of their work as they go. Letting it sort of blossom into the piece that it’s meant to be, and then painstakingly editing it after. 

The problem with that idea is that you cannot edit after a LARP event. Not in a way that feels good for a story for anyone anyway. People lived the experience you provided for them, and changing it after the fact generally doesn’t feel good. Another problem is that to execute a gardening style of eventholding within the Realms, is that you’d basically be winging it from encounter to encounter. 

Which is why when I stand in front of the whiteboard, I might just be  there muttering to myself. To me it feels inorganic. I want to garden. The organic, or gardening portion of the event comes from the player’s actions themselves. A novelist controls the actions of their characters, an event holder has to compensate for that lack of control with more planning, in order to achieve the same level of storytelling. 

I think that this is actually a spectrum, and people can probably lean in either direction and be effective. At the same time I think it might be helpful to take a second to recognize the benefits of both, so that if you come across a gardener or architect in the eventholding wilds, you can work with them to your mutual benefit, rather than your ultimate frustration. 

Gardeners, they have a reactionary style towards storytelling. They are really great at taking the pieces they have in front of them, and working them together and making a story mesh. I would say a gardener would be good, with no advance notice, taking a first event newbie’s backstory and sliding it seamlessly into the plot. 

How do you help a gardener with their eventholding? Check in with them frequently. Tell them about the parts of the plot they didn’t have eyes on. Tell them what you think the players need more of, or what  to adjust to make the event more fun. A gardener leans into the real time changes more easily. 

What are the dangers of leaning too far into gardening? If you’re lazy it might be tempting to consider yourself a gardener. To just sort of leave massive holes in your plot and make it up as you go along. That’s not writing. That’s the lack of writing. Even someone that leans completely in the direction of gardening should have some islands of plot where they know where the adventure is going. Some background kernels of information that gives their characters rich intentions and personalities. For me, I often know what the goals of my NPCs are, so I can adjust their course as  player actions change what some of those goals look like. To have no intent, no background, no overarching idea, no goals at all is to be a true improviser, and results may vary but are more likely to have poor results. 

Architects are the other side. They plan everything out. They know what they want the entrance to a room of a dungeon to look like. They have detailed stats for their monsters and puzzles. They have prop lists. You know, all the things that make you feel organized. An architect is really good at making every player’s role have a purpose mechanically within the game. 

How can you help an architect with their eventholding? Read their plan. Ask the questions you need to in advance, to help them clarify their plan. Keep things neat and organized. And resolve the surprises that come up in a way that keeps things flowing within the context of the plan, independently where possible. 

What are the dangers of leaning into architecture too far? Well if you plan everything out, you might feel inclined to rigidly expect things to play out in a certain way. It can be very natural to have an expectation for how an encounter should end, and when someone does something to alter that, that might be pretty frustrating. Architects might come off as too controlling, and almost sort of forget that LARPing in its very nature is a communal storytelling exercise. It’s collaborative. If there is no collaboration, then you’re not really holding a larp any more. 

Recognizing what kind of writer you are is important. You can lean into your strengths, while also incorporating the strengths of other writers around you to shore up your weaknesses. 

So what kind of writer are you? Are you a gardener? An architect? Or somewhere in between?

I look forward to your answers,

and when I can see you on the field,

Keith “Saegan” Cronyn