Shotgun approach to LARP encounter design
I have a philosophy I’m applying to writing LARP encounters that I’ve taken from my tabletop games. This method is what I call the “shotgun approach”. I throw a lot of hook and opportunities at my table, more than they could ever deal with. These hooks are not fleshed-out significantly beforehand, since I already know that the effort to do so will be wasted more often than not.
The players will choose which ones they think are important, and then I develop those on the fly. As a result, there’s almost always something that this “tyranny of numbers”* manages to entertain with. This method requires a pretty good grasp of the “bones” of the system, being able to stat out monsters instantly and make up adhoc rulings on mechanics.
The LARP application of this method is dramatically different. The GM isn’t running things, the NPCs are. The NPCs need to be scripted out, boths stats and personality. You need to make NPC roles purposeful and fun to play, and cannot simply discard them after a few moments of effort if the players have no interaction.
The application is to have LOTs of different NPCs in an encounter. All too often there is the “head man” and the “cardboard standups”. The entire troupe of NPCs in an encounter are really just one NPC when it comes to role-playing. They are from the same group and have the same goals. As a result, only one or two NPCs ends up talking, and they end up talking to only one or two PCs. The conversation is often short, since everybody quickly figures out either (a) we disagree or (b) we agree.
The shotgun approach is to put several different NPCs in an encounter, and instruct them to specifically single out different PCs for conversations. All of a sudden, you’ve got chaos, and it’s beautiful. The best part of this approach is that you are forced to flesh out the goals of each NPC, and make them divergent or unrelated to the goals of the NPCs. The merchant wants to hire the players to kill goblins. The guard wants to protect the merchant, but also is looking for his lost sister. The merchant’s niece is attempting to sabotage the players, since she wants to take over from her uncle.
There’s a huge upside to this approach.
(1) Each player does not see the entire “story”. As a result, misinformation can breed, leading to fun stories. I do take into account that there’s going to be a lot of information missed, so I’d never use this for a critical piece of lore. When the team really should know that vampyrs are vulnerable to silver blessed by a druid, I make sure that information is either deus ex machina handed to them, or at least has 2-3 methods for that information to be imparted.
(2) Each NPC has something to do, and it will end up being something different for each team (I write in a line-course/multi-team environment.) Even in a single-team “mod”, this means that there’s no NPC just standing there doing nothing. NPCs came out to have fun, not slave away.
(3) This method helps give screen time to players that are not the most outgoing OOC. In the “head man” model of encounters, it ends up being just the loudest PC that gets all the screen time.
*I wiki’d this and found out I’ve been using the saying wrong since forever, including here.