Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Problem Everyone Wants to Have

Generally, in larps, the problem of too few npcs plagues weekends: despite heartfelt recruitment efforts and promises from potential monsters, the fates conspire against you, and you find yourself, at 11pm on Friday night, with no npcs. Most people have probably felt the ramifications of a low-npc weekend-- mods are cut or downsized, pc-to-npc ratios are bad, and npc fatigue hits all-time highs. Accordingly, a lot of effort has been put into bolstering npc numbers, and helping people drive up monster camp attendance.

However, "too many npcs" can also be a problem, albeit one of the champagne problems of the larp world. Recently, probably because of the increased popularity of larping in my area, I've been on the staff side of massive influxes of npcs-- seemingly out of the woodwork, I've seen monster camps filled with 30+ non-staff npcs, of whom about half are new to, if not larping, at least the Accelerant system.

This is, in many ways, a wonderful problem. However, it's still a problem: with that many people, it can be hard to find meaningful things for everyone to do-- especially if the new npcs really want to do RP parts. The combination of lack of preparation, and potential lack of comfort with brand-new npcs (especially if they arrive unexpected), can make it difficult to fully plan for npcs. Accordingly, in an over-staffed monster camp, it becomes harder to give volunteers as good an experience as possible-- this is really detrimental to the game as a whole. If people have a negative experience, not only will they be less likely to come back, but they'll be more likely to encourage friends to npc. An over-abundance of npcs, handled poorly, can quickly turn into npc shortage.

How do you deal with huge influxes of npcs (especially if those npcs include non-combat/rp-preferred people)? What are good ways to combat boredom, while simultaneously making sure that everyone is as well-briefed and prepared as possible?


  1. In my experience, the big onus is on the staff to be logistically organized. Bottlenecks in monster camp combined with an empty game space are exacerbated by this.

    What I've seen for good solutions: Delegation. For people who want to fight or are new to it...repeater mod. Make up a repeater mod with 1 plot member/upper staff and 1 experienced fighter. Add new NPCs. This lets you entertain as many PCs you can grab and get new NPCs plenty of experience, and it also keeps people out of camp between mods which minimizes bottlenecks and wasted travel time. The experienced fighter is good to teach the new NPCs between mods, and the plot/upper staff member can make tweaks and adjust stats as needed and control the PC party sizes.

    That last bit is why repeater mods are better than wandering monsters for new NPC practice. Wandering monsters on many game sites will get mobbed by superior numbers pretty quickly, and while being on the receiving end of a 4 on 1 is part of NPCing it shouldn't be the introduction to NPCing wave after wave after wave. It wears on people who don't expect it and is demoralizing - you don't feel like you're learning anything and you don't feel like you are doing well.

    For the new people who want RP, staff logistics are even more important. You need to have some kind of quickly readable primer on the game world. It is plain embarrassing for a new NPC to get out there and not know basic things like "X country exists, their national religion is Y and they hate Z". It also helps plot keep things from going off the rails because a new NPC got thrown in and didn't know that saying "X monster is critically vulnerable to fire!" would alter the course of the game world if it wasn't damage controlled immediately (yes, that happened).

    For new NPCs who are worried, contriving a way in-game for them to carry briefing notes or primers out into game or onto the mod in a way that is in character or is easily concealable is helpful too.

    1. And it won't let me edit. I should clarify: Delegation matters most because when sending out a plot staff member with the new npcs means they can make any necessary adjustments to stay out as long as possible without coming back to camp. In games with extremely centralized decisionmaking, NPCs pile up in monster camp waiting for ONLY So and So to come back from whatever they are doing. Monster camp quickly gets cramped and bored while this happens, and wandering monsters are also less desirable in this context because they spend their lives, walk back to camp, and wait around again until they're noticed or someone capable of making decisions is present.

    2. Sam's comments are great. I've spent a bit of time in a monster camp that definitely could have been improved by these. The delegation is definitely the keystone.

      Every NPC needs authority to do what they need to do. Even the lowliest wandering thug has authority: they're authorized to fight PCs, to leave them bleeding out and possibly dead if things go sufficiently poorly for the PCs. The authority they don't have is pretty clear: no deathstriking, no making up your own stats, etc., but the authority they do have is equally important. You don't want your wandering monsters afraid to win, if it happens by some miracle.

      If you send someone out without the authority to do what they need to do, they'll usually end up breaking character.

      Send out a NPC who doesn't know the lore and isn't authorized to make it up? You're going to get a lot of "uh..." that's totally out of character for an NPC who should know this stuff.

      Send out some wandering bandits without someone authorized to change the plan when the whole town is having a meeting? You're going to see some suicidal bandits who keep throwing themselves into 3-vs-50 fights for no good reason.

      If you have a ton of NPCs and few people with broad authority like plot staff, you need to spread the authority around, both by spreading the plot staff around and by giving more authority to NPCs.

      One safe way of giving regular NPCs more authority is just to be super clear about what authority you think they should have. That way, they don't shy away from things you'd be totally fine with them doing. Tell them "it's ok to go up to 3 health if you're getting crushed" or "your family isn't plot-important, so feel free to make up innocuous details."