Organized Roleplaying Events
by Alan Schwartz
Ongoing roleplaying is the raison d'etre of many muds, and for good reason.
Becoming immersed in a character who grows and changes over time through
her interactions with others, influencing the course of
far-reaching events, and collaboratively constructing an open-ended
story can be incredibly engaging. It also requires a lot of time.
One-shot roleplaying events are different. A one-shot is close-ended
in both time and characters - it lasts for a defined period and involves
a defined group of characters. It's run synchronously, with all the
characters present in real time, and often managed by a game master
(GM). If you've played a murder mystery party game or participated
in a live-action roleplaying game (LARP), you've done a one-shot.
Engraving of the Mary Celeste.
Why run a one-shot role playing event? An ongoing role playing mud can use a one-shot as a
special event -- a truly synchronous adjunct that impacts the ongoing
storyline. Or a one-shot can be a chance to blow off steam and mix it
up, letting players interact for a while using new characters in a new
genre. On muds that don't focus on role playing, a one-shot event can let the
players who enjoy role playing play together without all of the work that
an ongoing role playing mud requires.
As God of M*U*S*H, a social mud that until recently didn't include
any ongoing role playing, I've had the pleasure of serving as gamemaster for
two one-shot role playing events. Below I'll share some of the important issues
in running one.
Planning the Event
What's the Game?
First, of course, you must have a game to play. Many scenarios
can be written or adapted for muds: murder mystery games,
historical events, dungeon adventures, etc. I've joined the
Interactive Literature Foundation,
an organization devoted to LARPs, because I've found many similarities
between LARPs and mud role playing events, and the benefits of ILF membership
(an excellent quarterly magazine and access to their game bank of
free-for-non-commercial-use LARP events) are a steal at $15 a year.
I've recently run two games from the ILF Game Bank, both written
by James and Kelly MacDougal: The Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste,
and The Marin New Age Society Cocktail Party. The former
casts players as passengers and crew of the mysteriously ill-fated
Mary Celeste; the latter, as members and hangers-on of a kooky group
of California psychics who are gradually being killed off.
When, Where, and Who?
The next step in planning is to decide how much time the event should
take, where it will take place, and how many players and GMs you need.
One-shot role playing events always seem to take more time than you think,
but running an all-day event greatly limits the number of players who
can participate. The two games I ran were each scheduled for
about 4 hours on a week night (from 7 - 11 pm Central time); in retrospect,
a fifth hour would have been helpful. When considering time, remember
that your players will need some time to digest their character
material (emailing this a day ahead can really help), plenty of
time to play, and some time at the end for a post mortem of the
game and a chance to laugh at all the great quotes.
If your one-shot is an adjunct to an ongoing role playing mud, you've already got
a play area. Otherwise, you'll have to designate or build a
place for the game to occur. I've usually spent about a month
custom-building the game area (my mud didn't have a 19th century
ship or a California beach house locale) and filling it with
game items. In fact, I usually pre-create the characters themselves,
so I can equip them with their game items. This can be particularly
important if you need game mechanics -- a custom-written combat
system, a special set of locked containers (sea chests!), etc.
Murder mystery games are often designed for 6 or 8 players; LARPs
usually range from around 12 players to 60 or more. The size of
your mud will help determine how many players you can reasonably
expect. It's a very good idea to think about what you'll do
if a couple of players don't show up at game time (I've had good
luck quickly yelling out for volunteers.)
A small one-shot can probably be managed by a single GM. But when you
begin to have more players spread out over more locations, having
a second or third GM can really keep the game flowing. That means
those GMs need a way to communicate and keep track of each other.
During the Marin New Age game, I managed this by having every
room in game area monitored by a GM room, so the GMs could hear
everything and speak to one another privately. Or GMs could just mill
about with the characters, but 'page' or 'tell' to each other
Running the Event
Now you're just about ready to run the event - you need only assign
characters to players, and get them started.
If there's substantial material that the characters must know before
they begin to interact, you'll have to cast the characters ahead of
time. This can be a good thing: you provide the players with more
time to prepare, and you can see which characters still need to be filled.
But inevitably someone doesn't show up when the game starts, and you're
forced to do at least some of your casting 'on-the-fly'.
The most important considerations in casting are to give more important
characters to players who you can rely on to show up, and trying
to match character personality with player personality. Players don't
have to match their characters, but if you have to cast someone as
'the crazed President of the U.S. whose finger is poised on the button
because he loves to scare people, but who's just sane enough not to push it',
you'd better pick a player who you can trust to stay in character.
At game time, the GMs should gather the characters together, outline
any rules that haven't been provided ahead of time, and explain
how players can get GM help. Then the GMs can sit back and
watch the fun begin! If everyone's been well-prepared, these events
often run themselves, taking on lives of their own. The GMs may
get requests for help when players need to do something special
('I use my sense auras spell - what color is Doval's aura?'), but
players often do very well on their own. Some games, particularly
murder mysteries, are organized into rounds -- the GM must determine
when a round should end and another begin.
After the Game
When the game's over, it's nice to take a half hour and have each
character and their player introduce themselves, and reveal anything
that didn't come out during the game. If you've got a way to log
the whole event (and I recommend this highly), let the players
know how they can get copies of the logs for themselves.
(You can read the logs of Mary Celeste, if you don't mind spoilers,
from the M*U*S*H homepage.
February 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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