Calling a Hold ruins the moment like your grandparents walking in on you having sex

Guest article by LIAM

This past weekend I ran the last major encounter in my stint writing plot for NERO Hartford. It was essentially the final fight against the first end boss of the campaign. It was a relatively elaborate encounter, involving a split field (based on level), and four self marshaled tasks for the PCs set around the field which dramatically affected the dynamics of the battle. The battle lasted for over an hour of straight combat, and the villain was defeated….without one single hold being called!

Now, I’m not going to say it went perfectly, but I did put a lot of preparation in to make sure it went as smoothly as possible. The players involved in tasks around the field were briefed before the encounter, and knew exactly what they had to do and what would happen (meaning no marshal standing over them). All OOG mechanics were reinforced in a notes section on the IG scrolls they were using to perform their tasks. An air-horn was used to signal the field effects making it unnecessary to call a hold to explain the change.

The most important preparation happened just a few hours before the fight though. During a moment of downtime I had an opportunity to sit down with a good chunk of the players. My exact words to them were “If any of you call a Hold, there had better be a compound fracture involved”. While this is obviously hyperbole, they knew my expectation. I have little to no tolerance for superfluous holds. I personally think they should be limited to medical situations ONLY. It should become the goal of all staff and players to run a game with no holds (which also means trying to run a safer game with less injuries).

Holds destroy immersion. You are wrenched right out of the game and brought back to the real world. Staff can do many things to avoid these situations. NERO in its first year always included a guy in an orange headband marked “MARSHAL” carrying a clipboard following the party and narrating huge chunks of the encounter. It was like playing half table top/half LARP. I have really grown to dislike this style of play.

My friends and I ran a NERO sub campaign in the mid-90’s called Kyrandal. One of our major principles was to never include anything in the game that we couldn’t rep in a reasonably realistic way. We had really grown to hate the phrase “What do I see?”, and wanted to run a game where this was never heard. (Cue to an old Ravenholt event where a kid who wasn’t more than 5’6” came running through the trees as a “9 foot tall T-Rex”).

I can’t stand hearing, “Hold, marshal, do I recognize this guy from the October event in blah, blah, blah?” or “Hold, marshal, I have 10 levels of Kobold Lore, do these look like Kobold droppings?” I have learned a great deal from Dan’s entries and the LARP Ohio blog how to create encounters with as little of an OOG component as possible, how to get in front of these problems and brief the party ahead of the encounter, or have envelopes prepared if an applicable skill would provide key information.

One of my favorite ideas of Dan’s is to include a marshal who is in fact an IG confederate traveling with the party, and explaining OOG mechanics or answering questions in a IG way. I don’t want to digress too far into a discussion of what helps or hinders immersion, but the two topics do go hand in hand. Many of the principles which help create immersion, and remove the need for an OOG marshal, help prevent that most offensive of all four letter words, “HOLD”.

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  1. #1 by Bill on July 8, 2011 - 1:19 pm

    I love talking about this topic. I never really understood how bad holds hurt immersion (and how good it could be) until talking with Mickey about a year or so ago. Since then, I’ve been doing my best to keep things from going OOG.

    We recently ran a module that reminds me of your final fight. Lots of self marshaled puzzles, PCs sneaking around trying to avoid patrols, NPCs honestly having no idea where the PCs are at any given time. And it was magical.

    Oh, and thanks for the shoutout!

  2. #2 by Matt on July 9, 2011 - 4:11 pm

    I agree very much, but how do you stop your players from breaking play to ask questions?

    • #3 by mummerscat on July 9, 2011 - 5:11 pm

      @Matt, I’m sure Liam will have his own answer to this, but here’s my 2 cents:

      Talk to your players about it before the game, and remind them at opening ceremonies. Explain that you’re trying to create a more IG environment, and that part of that means that holds are now only for real-life emergencies, like serious injuries. Talk to them about how to phrase these OOG questions IG. Rather than “What do I see?” you can ask the NPC “Who are you?” or a confederate ‘What manner of creature is this?” Asking about game mechanics or other OOG stuff in a subtle, IG fashion is a learned skill, so the more examples you can give your players, the better. Tell them that if they can’t find a way to ask the question IG, they should quietly pull a staff member off to the side when it can be done unobtrusively.

      Set the example– if you don’t want them to break game to ask, don’t break game to answer (see Dan’s entry on Narration). Prepare the PCs for this. Instead of a marshal saying “If you step off the road, you’ll take 20 points of damage,” you’ll be telling them “Be careful, adventurers! if you stray from the path, you will be struck with a flamebolt!” Let them know ahead of time that it should be considered the same as an OOG briefing, so they will react accordingly.

      Confederates! Especially when you are first transitioning, players might feel nervous about this IG all the time thing. You can reassure them by always having confederate NPCs available to them, and briefing those NPCs well so that they can answer any questions players may have. Eventually, you can reduce the presence of confederates, but it’s still a good idea to have them present just before any complex encounter, so that PCs can ask questions before the encounter begins.

      Once all of this has been explained to them, PCs may still need some nudging. If they do break game at inappropriate times, try respond in a way to address their concern, but bring them back IG:
      “I have craftsman other: Librarian, do I know anything about this book?”
      “What’s that you say? You have studied the Librarian’s art? Ah, then surely you have noticed that the illumination is in the Quentari tradition, in a style that reached it’s height of popularity some 500 years ago! Most intriguing, is it not?”

      • #4 by mummerscat on July 9, 2011 - 8:51 pm

        Forgot to mention, but Dan’s post on maintaining an IG atmosphere also addresses this question in a clearer way than I do, probably.

  3. #5 by rasputin75 on July 9, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    I think it’s impossible to have this discussion without touching on the methods of maintaining immersion and keeping things in game. But, my inspiration for writing this was specifically that jolting feeling that comes from someone yelling “Hold”! It needs to be the culture of the game to not be tolerant of this practice from either players or staff. In my opinion, it needs to be completely unacceptable to hear “Hold” followed by any of the following phrases:
    I need to grab packets.
    Hey guy, did you get that Confine?
    Are you a gnoll? I have a sword that is 3 vs gnolls.
    Everyone takes 20 points of massive damage from falling rocks.
    It takes time and effort to build immersion into the game, but just one syllable to ruin it.

    • #6 by Daniel Burke on July 10, 2011 - 1:22 pm

      Most of those points I agree with, and are actually adressed in the rulebook, as unacceptable reasons to call a hold.

      The only one I would question is “Hey guy, did you get that Confine?” as sometimes, notably with packets, effects are not taken. Usually this is just due to the recipient not knowing they’d been affected.

      • #7 by mummerscat on July 10, 2011 - 3:54 pm

        @Daniel,
        I think the point is that you can catch someone’s eye and whisper “Hey, did ya get my confine?” and he can say “yeah” or “no, take it back” without calling a hold that affects the 80 people around you. If you do it right, the people around you don’t need to know the conversation took place.

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