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”.