Archive for category Behind the Scenes
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”.
One of my current quests is to learn more about the logic behind how NERO monsters are currently built. (I’m currently working on a monster build guide and a scaling guide which may facilitate a revision of the monster database.) I was interested to see some of the data about our monsters displayed visually. So I got a hold of the NERO National Monster database in excel format. Here are some charts I made to examine the relationships between level, body points, and weapon damage.
As a bit of background: the National Monster Database is a set of 319 monster stat cards which are distributed to all chapters of NERO. Chapters don’t have to use these monster’s stats, but it’s encouraged that they do so that there’s continuity in the creatures you encounter all over the country. During the game, the stats are often tweaked and tailored (this is called “scaling”) to adjust for players they’ll be facing – as well as other concerns of the LARP weekend.
So let’s take a look at some of the most important data: hit points, damage, and APL. All monster cards have an APL, or “approximate player level”. This is theoretically supposed to tell us which experience level players this monster is a good match against. When these monsters were created, there was probably some formula to calculate the monster’s APL, but I suspect this equation is lost to the mists of time. APL is a good method of ballparking a monster’s power, but shouldn’t be interpreted too literally.
This first chart displays the relationship between body points and approximate player level.
Based on this chart, a few things seem to pop out:
- The majority of the content in the database is designed to fight characters of level 15 and under.
- Past level 15, there is less fine differentiation between levels of monster power. Monsters are clustered around APL 15, 20, 25, 30, 35.
- Before level 20, it’s very rare for a monster to have over 100 body points
The second chart displays the relationship between approximate player level and long/short weapon damage. This may be a bit misleading because many monster’s weapon attacks are dangerous because of their carrier attack, not their damage number. And monsters with two handed weapons often have much higher damage than long/short weapon users due to the monster’s strength bonus. That being said, we can still get a rough idea of how monster’s damage input is related to their approximate player level.
This chart shows us:
- Before level 15, most monsters swing 5s to 10s.
- Not many monsters swing 20s before adding PC skills and other buffs. So if you’re fighting a creature that swings 20s, it’s probably been scaled up.
Here’s the relationship between weapon damage and body points. I thought this might be useful because in my experience, directors tend to scale based on body points rather than player level anyway. Level is a rather abstract way of evaluating a monster’s power – body points and weapon damage are generally a more reliable measure of what it’ll be capable of and how long it will last.
The rule of thumb I’ve seen in many NPC camps is to stat monsters with about 1 weapon damage per 10 body. For example, you tend to see monsters with 40 body swinging 4s, 50 body swinging 5s, 60 body swinging 6s, et cetera. This usually gets tweaked after adding abilities and other scaling factors, but that’s the template. On this chart we can see that this is more or less in line with the monster database up until monsters have over 80 body. It’s rare for a basic monster to swing over 10s.
And in summary, here are the averages for each level bracket:
|Level 1-10||Level 11-20||Level 21-30|
Based on this, we can say:
- A mid level monster has about 3x as many hit points as a low level monster
- A high level monster has about 2x as many hit points as a mid level monster
- Weapon damage increases by about 1 point per five levels
Keep in mind that these numbers do not account for armor, carrier attacks, threshold, magic, player character levels, and other abilities which many monsters possess. But as a very rough thumbnail of the monster database, I thought this was very interesting.
Did you learn anything about our monsters from these data? Let us know in the comments.
One of my ongoing quests has been to help make the Tyrran setting more coherent and tangible. NERO’s main advantage over other games is that we have a gigantic collaborative fantasy setting with over 40 dramatic locations in the world that you can visit.
But in reality, it doesn’t feel like we’re all playing in the same world, does it? You play in one or more chapters in your region, and the rest of the world is kind of irrelevant. Think about it: are you worried about undead taking over the chapter on the other side of the country? You don’t care — it has no impact on the game you play. You rarely hear news from chapters outside your region.
One of the ways that I want to combat this is to establish a real setting guide. I want to capture all the information about our setting in one place so you can see how your chapter fits into the world context.
In 2006, I wrote a manuscript for the Guide to Tyrra, a big book about the Tyrran setting. Part of the goal was to compile and index the hundreds of pages of history, race packets, and other documents hosted on nerolarp.com. I also wanted to document the setting as it exists now and chronicle recent Tyrran history. A lot of drama and real-life chaos has happened in the interim, but the book is slowly inching towards publication. (quick side note: biggest factor delaying this publication? lack of budget) I gotta tell you – it was really challenging to write! In part because it’s hard to find all that info and put it in context, and in part because of a weird philosophical problem: When we’re talking about an imaginary world, what makes something true? The source documents for our setting contain numerous contradictions. Whenever you declare something as true, you end up alienating the people who believe it is false. For example, does anybody know anything about the NPC Kingdom Dar Khabad? Is it one of the “three sister kingdoms” or has it joined the kingdom of Evendarr? Is it ruled by mages? mercenaries? A king? Even basic information about Dar Khabad varies dramatically by where you’re playing.
Originally, I had intended on including a lot of chapter-specific information in the Guide to Tyrra. I wanted to have two to five encyclopedia-style pages about each chapter. That would really bring the setting to life, wouldn’t it? This proved to be a very daunting task. Some people were amazingly helpful, others went out of their way to be counterproductive. Seriously, people actually worked to make sure I’d fail at this task even though I was basically trying to publish a commercial for their game. There’s also this catch 22 that some people want me to prove that I’m trustworthy before they participate, thereby hamstringing cooperative projects and ensuring their failure. Long story short, the Guide is now focused on general setting info, including material on races and world history, but does not include much geography or chapter specific setting info.
One of the things I realized is that there are more efficient ways of capturing that chapter-level creative output than relying on a single contact point to index all of it. Luckily for us, technology exists for exactly this purpose: The Wiki.
There used to be a NERO setting wiki called Tyrrapedia. It eventually shut down for a variety of reasons, but it did succeed as a proof of concept of how this medium could be utilized.
I am creating a NERO setting wiki, another Tyrrapedia, and I want to go about it in a slightly different way. You won’t be posting as your character, you’ll be posting as a scholar who is studying the region you’re writing about. That scholar has visited the region, and he knows most of the stuff that you know out-of-game — except secrets and information you should really find out when you’re actually playing the LARP.
Why not just post as our characters? Lots of reasons. My character has an agenda and he is biased in certain ways which counter the goal of an information wiki. And by making Tyrrapedia a theater for politics and personal character goals, we would be setting the stage for edit wars. That strikes me as incredibly lame… an edit war is something that exists squarely in the 21st century – if I engage in one, what exactly is my character doing? When I tell people about this, do I say I traveled thousands of miles to a scholarly institute where I spent a few hours crossing out information that other people had written and plugging in my own notes? It’s a stretch.
The scholars who are writing the Guide are NPCs. Therefore we shouldn’t have to worry too much about player-characters who will be disruptive, wikiturf, editorialize, or portray events in a personally favorable way. And if they do, we can always moderate it.
I want Tyrrapedia (and the setting it describes) to be a true product of the NERO community. Chapter staff members will be able to moderate their own pages and make sure that their setting is presented how they’d like. We’ll also be open to players writing about the setting and filling in all those little details which make it come to life.
Part of this will involve coming up with policies which will settle the inevitable disputes. Here’s an example of the types of inconsistencies that will occur: a few weeks ago at Ravenholt, I was walking around my manuscript for the Guide to Tyrra. I showed it to Jade Marston, a veteran NERO player who wrote the bulk of the NERO Sarr Race Packet. I thought she’d be thrilled because the section in the Guide on Sarr is very closely based on the published race packet. But she was actually quite frustrated. She said that when she wrote the packet, she decided that Sarr have the same lifespan as a human. But at some point, somebody who was editing the packet decided that each clan of Sarr has a different life span. Some clans have long lives, others only live to age 10.
I’m not sure who made this change. My best guess is that the original race packet was modified to jive with information that had been established somewhere else in the country. Jade was really frustrated by this – she’s been playing her NERO character for longer than many Sarr’s lifespan. She feels responsible for this data and asked me to change it to the “correct” lifespan.
This is the really frustrating thing about standardizing conflicting information. If I were to modify this piece of information to match Jade’s intent, it will alienate the hundreds of NERO players who have Sarr characters and have been roleplaying a short lifespan. But if I don’t change it, I’ll have stepped on the toes of an author who cares greatly about that information. There’s really no way to satisfy everybody, so the best I can do is to satisfy the most people. This is par for the course when collaborating with this many people – no concept survives untouched.
And this is why wiki is the perfect format to collect information on a collaborative setting. If there’s incorrect information on the wiki, you can correct it yourself. If the community is working together on the setting, we can establish consensus and work towards a coherent description.
Assuming everything goes fine on the technical end, the new incarnation of Tyrrapedia should be launched in the next few weeks. We will be accepting applications for moderators. I would like to get as many NERO members involves as possible — so long as they are interested in cooperating and can roll with the daunting challenges of this project.
And in the end, if we succeed, we will have made our giant 40+ chapter setting much more tangible and accessible. It will feel like you’re playing in one corner of a large fascinating world ripe for exploration. We will have captured a lot of data which currently exists only as an oral tradition. And we will be standing atop the largest and richest setting guide of any existing LARP.
- Produce and release the rulebook. We have the best looking rulebook of any larp in the country. Additionally, every Nero member gets a free download of the current book. For professional quality production and design we need to pay real money. For 9th Edition Joe had to pay for all of this out-of-pocket. They want to continue to develop and revise the rulebook and publish additional supplements and source books over time, but they can not do that without additional revenue. If you want nice books like this, you need to pay for membership so National can pay its staff.
- Advertising in magazines and on the web. While each local chapter does their own marketing as well, the National marketing initiatives attract new players at other chapters which we all get to meet and play with both when they travel to our game and when we travel to theirs.
- Marketing at conventions. This is something that National traditionally had done every year but was forced to cancel when they stopped collecting membership fees. National traveled to several conventions each year and inevitably recruited a dozen or two new players at each. These players became customers of each local chapter. It costs thousands of dollars to attend any given convention, but National receives negligible income in return since they are just generating customers for other people’s companies (the chapters.) The 7% royalty they get from each new customer’s event fees doesn’t come anywhere close to covering this cost. Like #2, we as players benefit from all the new players National recruits by having more people to play with when we travel and when they come to our games.
- National adjudication and review. If you have a dispute with your local chapter, there is a higher authority you can appeal to. Many players have taken advantage of this service over the years.
- Answering Questions, and Issuing Errata. The level of responsiveness from National has waxed and waned over the years, ranging from daily updates to months of radio silence. Obviously the goal is to respond to questions and concerns timely and affirmatively. Official changes to the live game rules have to be done very carefully, but also need to be done quickly enough so that if a major issue is discovered it can be rectified before too much damage is caused. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this effort also goes towards defending the organization from toxic members who misrepresent National or make outright false and inflammatory statements. This takes valuable time and effort away from all the productive endeavors listed here.
- National plotlines. Dan Comstock, Mickey Golosovker, Dave Epstien, Kevin Sterbakov and Joe Valenti ran national plotlines at various chapters consistently over the last ten years or so. Joe and Kevin ran some stuff at ARGO several years ago and I had a lot of fun with it.
- National source material. All the racial handbooks, the Evendarr history, the maps of Tyrra and Avalon, and all the other free source material on the National web site had to be created by someone. One of National’s major initiatives right now is a complete overhaul of the web site, and they can not afford professional quality work without at least the base level of revenue required by any organization of this scale, which annual dues provides.
- National member and character database. National provides a central store for all Nero members and their characters that can be accessed and updated online, with integrated support for Goblin Stamps.
- National Game Forge logistics database. The new treasure and production item tag database has been updated and is currently being released, replacing the old Filemaker Pro databases.
On the subject of the database, there is tremendous value in having all the chapters comply with it. On average, National catches about six build cheaters per year. Most of us have groaned and rolled our eyes about players who miraculously explode in levels all at once, but there’s nothing we can do since their characters are tracked at a different chapter. Likewise with the people who get bazillions of Goblin Stamps for having daily “plot meetings” at the pub with their buddies on staff. If you don’t want build cheaters to have an unfair advantage against you, it is most certainly in your best interest to encourage universal compliance with the National character database. Furthermore, if there is a major change in ownership or staff, or if your chapter closes completely, you know your character will persist and be available no mater what. There is no awkward transition between owners with the potential to lose your sheet or somehow be missing dozens of events, as has happened to far too many players in the past.So those are the things that National already has in place and has traditionally done in the past. Here’s a sneak peek at some upcoming projects from Nero National:
- Web site overhaul. We will be completely overhauling the layout and design of the web site, as well as adding a slew of new features. This is something that players have been asking about for quite some time. The primary goal is for Nero to provide the best online experience of any larp. In my opinion, this the most exciting development National has on the horizon.
- Newly reorganized Plot, Rules and Infrastructure teams. National is currently revising the structure of all the various staff positions that make the company work, while integrating the new projects into the organization. Overall they are adding dozens of brand new positions and are drastically expanding their operations.
- Expanded and more responsive National plot services. Both traditional services such as Plot Submissions and Role-Play Sessions will be available for players to directly interact with the National plotlines between events. They will also be releasing “a la carte” adventure modules.
- New Publications. The Formal Magic and Cantrip Handbook will be released later this year, with a series of other official publications following it including fully illustrated Race and Culture Source Books as well as a quarterly newsletter.
Most of these tasks can be done through the magical power of Goblin Stamps, but certain things require professional quality work which can only be acquired with real money. Writers, graphic designers, web developers, and advertising all cost money. Membership dues have been a necessary revenue stream for Nero National for most of its existence. This is not a revolutionary concept. Organizations ranging from the SCA to community softball leagues charge dues to cover the management’s operating costs and expand their groups, and truthfully the majority of them charge more than National is currently asking for.
The Threefold Model, also known as GNS Theory, describes some of the core elements which motivate people to play RPGs. The theory says that there are three basic components of an RPG: Game, Narrative, and Simulation. People play RPGs for different reasons – some people like the thrill of problem solving, some begin a part of an ongoing story, others like experiencing the game world from their character’s point of view. A good game includes something for all three camps and is therefore enjoyable no matter what your creative agenda might be. In reality, nobody belongs to one specific camp, everybody probably likes a mix of all three elements.
(or “challenge”) – Gamist RPG design emphasizes the “gamey” parts of the RPG experience. Gamists like the sensation of winning, or being effective. They like risks, rewards, and overcoming challenges. Many gamists thrive on teamwork, cooperation, and competition.
American RPGs put a large emphasis on gamism. Good gamist design emphasizes things like strategy and tactics and rewards players for planning in advance. Combat is the most obvious way to scratch the gamist itch, but gamists tend to like any situation which they can “win”. A popular bromide suggests that RPGs are “not about winning or losing,” but for many people this is simply untrue – victory is one of the most tangible ways to reward participation.
(or “story”) – Narrativist RPG design is all about the story. You can think of story in two ways: it’s the game’s “plot”, and it’s also the player’s experience of their character’s personal narrative. If you want to look at the game from a narrativist point of view, take a look at the characters in the story in terms of their motivations. Drama takes place when their motivations come into mutual conflict. Character change and develop over time based on how they address these tests of their motivation. A good narrative plotline tests the character’s motivation at increasing levels of intensity over time.
Narrativists often describe their games in terms of the underlying emotional themes. If you can understand why the characters in your game do what they do, you can plug them into just about anything.
One tip for writing a narratively strong game is to make sure each “scene” has a role in the greater story. People want to feel like they’re participating in something like a living novel. For this to take place, both the characters and setting must develop over time. One mistake that many plot writers make is focusing the plot on returning things to the status quo. ie – the kingdom is peaceful, then monsters show up. The adventurers slay the monsters and things return to to normal. This isn’t a good story because nothing in it has changed. Slaying the monsters should change the heroes and/or the kingdom they’re saving.
(or “immersion”) – Simulationist RPG design focuses on the player’s internal experience of the game world. In an immersive game, you can get lost in your character’s head space; the world you’re in feels real. There are two components of this: things should work like they do in the real world, and the game environment should look real.
It’s important that the RPG world functions like the real world. Sure, our games feature fantastic elements like magic and monsters, but the people in the story are still people. When somebody dies, others will mourn. When the kingdom is at war, the NPCs will reference it in their dialogue and behavior. Actions have consequences, and the villains are real people with real motivations, not nefarious caricatures designed to “do evil”.
The simulationist attitude is extremely important for larpwrights. Your players should be able to look around and see the game world with as few distractions as possible. NPCs should be in proper costume and makeup. Things which are clearly from the “real world”, such as computers or soda machines, should be removed from sight. RPGs require imagination, but we should strive to make them require as little imagination as possible.
Three of the primary offenders to an immersive game are people who are out-of-game, holds and other breaches in the game’s atmosphere, and narration. The players have been instructed to ignore people who are out-of-game, such as game marshals. But they do still see the guy, and this reminds them that they’re in a game. Like stage hands, marshals and observers should remain out of sight and out of mind. Like holds, they momentarily interrupt the player’s experience of the world. Marshals should avoid narrating what’s happening, instead they should strive to create that experience.
Laprwrights should also be careful to focus on experiences they can actually create. All your NPCs are humans, and this suggests that their roles should be more or less humanoid. Merely narrating “You see a giant snake” does not create the experience of fighting a giant snake. If you want to give the players the experience of fighting a giant, put your NPCs on stilts. Effects like flying, burrowing, and invisibility should be avoided because these are experiences we cannot actually create, they require too much suspension of disbelief. They draw your player’s attention towards an imaginary image of the world which contrasts with the experience they’re really having.
The RPG experience isn’t just about the game. I argue that there is a fourth component, Social reasons for playing. LARP groups are a form of community which has its own pull and reward mechanisms. Essentially, a lot of people go to LARPs to meet new people and hang out with their friends. As a director, you can encourage this by creating opportunities for your players to hang out between games (ie, fighter practices, workshops, parties, monthly movie nights, etc), and by fighting the community’s cliquey or exclusive tendencies. The directors should be warm and welcoming, always working to keep people included and plugged in.
Putting It All Together
Each part of the threefold model is a lens through which you can view your game. To create a game with broad appeal, examine each scene and plotline though all three lenses.
For example, a combat encounter should have three components:
- Tactics and Strategy. The players should have an edge if they are organized, or think about how to approach it. It should be challenging, but fair.
- Role in the story. When somebody asks the characters “What did you do last night?” they should be able to say something more than “we killed some orcs”. The encounter should be part of a narrative, like, “The lich king sent orcs into our village and we stopped them from poisoning the well.”
- Atmosphere. The NPCs should look and act like monsters. It’s not enough to put a guy in black makeup and have him say “You see a spider” to people that encounter him — he should really look like a spider. The NPCs should be act appropriately, chanting or threatening or running away as somebody in the game universe would really act.
Scaling for Spells
By mid level, column size is not a good factor for scaling. If a caster with a 4 column fights a caster with a 12 column, it’s still anybody’s game – the first caster to land two consecutive spells before the opponent can cast a protective will win.
Keep celestial casters in mind when building monsters. Their class is most effective when the monsters have lower amounts of body and are vulnerable to a certain element. If your monsters seem to be getting constantly spelled down by take-outs, it is better to grant specific defenses such as return vs mystic force or return vs imprison than general purpose return magics or <effect> shields.
Use return magic instead of resist magic wherever possible. Because casters can actually run out of things they can do, it’s very frustrating to have your limited resources consumed by spell resistance. Returns, like lesser parries (described under Scaling for Melee) increase the individual monster’s difficulty without severely draining the player’s resources.
NPCs should only throw take-out spells when fighting mid or higher level groups. Death and Imprison spells should be very limited in use, generally only used by elite monsters or in “high danger” situations.
Reduced Damage: Monsters which take half damage from melee attacks are best targeted by spell casters.
The rate at which opponents respawn impacts the difficulty of the encounter.
- Player Triggered Respawn: (easiest) the opponents respawn when the players decide to “move forward”. This is the easiest way to encounter opponents, as the party has as much time as it needs to organize and prepare for the next encounter.
- Interval Respawn: (easy to medium) the opponents respawn as a group at certain intervals. Usually there is a bit of downtime between each wave, allowing players time to refit armor and resolve status effects. Monsters will be able to make effective use of teamwork, healing, and coordinated attacks, potentially increasing the difficulty of the encounter.
- Popcorn Respawn: (medium to hard) opponents respawn instantly after they’ve died. Each NPC is usually given a time limit or finite number of lives. These types of encounters result in constant pressure on the party, making it challenging to heal the wounded or refit armor. Due to the staggered respawning, monsters will tend to be in smaller groups when they engage the players.
see also:Status Effects
Carrier attacks will only work if they pierce the target’s armor. As such, monsters with carrier attacks do not need to deal as high melee damage as other monsters.
Monsters can be equipped with carrier attacks at three different levels of intensity:
- Unlimited Use – A creature with unlimited use of a carrier attack may choose to call it on every weapon swing.
- Critical Use – A creature with critical use of a carrier attack may call it against one opponent per battle, in the manner of a critical attack
- Single Use – A creature with a single use carrier attack may choose to call the effect on one swing only.
Resolution: Because it takes spell power to resolve wounds from a monster with a carrier attack, this ability can drain player resources very quickly. As such, they should be used sparingly. After an encounter involving carrier attacks, players will need to resolve status effects, refit armor, and recast protectives. As such, carrier attacks are easier to resolve if the monsters attack in waves, (rather than a continuous trickle).
Weak Carrier Attacks: Weak carrier attacks can be resolved by a 4th level or lower spell, or will go away on their own. This includes disease, pin, fear, and bind.
Strong Carrier Attacks: Greater carrier attacks include take-out effects and effects which are resolved by 5th or higher level spells. This includes wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep.
Non-Spell Packet Attacks
Other than takedowns, there are plenty of things that NPCs can do with Packets. These might be minor effects like fear, pin, and disarm, or they could simply be elemental damage. The strength of packet delivered attacks is the fact that they cannot be stopped, and almost every point of damage will be delivered to a player (except for misses).
While these things are perfectly fine for use in controlled situations, modules with a large amount of resets for lesser NPCs with packet attacks can quickly go south, even if the rest of the module was scaled appropriately.
As a rule of thumb, lesser NPCs should be given the same amount of packet attacks as the average player level. The level of a packet attack is either the level of the spell effect or the damage divided by 10 (10 elemental <element> is level 1, etc). The lower the level of the PCs, the better it is to lean on effects rather than pure damage.
If you plan on having the NPCs continue to reset until a boss is killed, consider giving them a pool of packet attacks that they can access for the entire module, as well as a limit on how many they can throw per respawn. That way, bad NPCs won’t suicide themselves after they throw their packets, so they can respawn and do it again.
Example: A group of low level adventurers (APL 10) stumble into a spider cave. They decide to engage the queen that’s sleeping on a pile of treasure, and when they do, hundreds of spiders decend from the ceiling. Lesser spiders will continue to respawn until the queen is dead.
Since the APL is 10, each spider has a pool of 10 levels of packet attack they can access, but they are only allowed to throw a single packet per spawn. They can choose to use Physical Entangle your leg (level 2), Physical Entangle your body (level 5), or 10 physical acid (level 1). Once they’ve depleted their pool of attacks, they’re stuck meleeing the group, possibly with a lesser carrier attack.
Scaling For a Low Level Group
For purposes of this document, low level is defined as anything below level 10. A low level party may have access to a very limited number of life spells, and cannot use cantrips.
In low level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 8 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 3s and 5s. Characters will have a maximum of 25 body points, though most will have 10 or less.
Carrier attacks: A low level group has difficulty resolving carrier attacks. If carrier attacks are used, stick to lesser effects, and single use or critical use attacks.
Scaling For a Mid Level Group
For purposes of this document, mid level is defined as levels 11-25. A mid level party may have access to multiple life spells, and can spend resources to get more power via cantrips or formal magic.
In mid level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 4s and 7s. Characters will have a maximum of 50 body points, though most will have 20-30.
Carrier attacks: A mid level group can handle a few creatures having unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks (such as pin, bind, fear & disease). Greater carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be deployed in single-use or as a critical attack.
Scaling for a High Level Group
For purposes of this document, high level is defined as levels 25+. A high level party has access to many ways to resolve status any status effect including death. Fighters will often swing 15s or 20s. A well positioned rouge will be capable of unleashing hundreds of points of damage in a few backstabs.
In high level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15-20 damage. Templars will usually swing between 5s and 10s. Characters could have 60 or 80 body, but most will have less than 30.
Carrier attacks: A high level group can handle unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks. Dangerous carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be used more commonly.
Scaling for Mixed Level Groups
Mixed level groups are the hardest to scale for, especially if there is a large level disparity. The goal is to make sure every player has something to do in the fight.
In a dynamic battle, there are multiple tasks or objectives. These are often simultaneous. Players performance towards these objectives affects the completion of other tasks. Here are some examples of dynamic challenges:
- high and low level monsters are respawning from opposite sides of the encounter area
a puzzle must be solved while monsters attack. (some characters must focus on the puzzle while others focus on the battle)
- the boss is only vulnerable while somebody is playing the drum of sundering, brandishing a light spell, or doing some other activity
- the players must use one or more items which are delimited to only be used by characters in a certain level range
- a group of players is outside, dealing with monsters trying to get into the building, while another group faces the challenges inside the building
There are also a few abilities which lend themselves for groups of mixed level:
Damage Cap: Damage caps are a good tool for mixed level groups as they put fighters and templars of disparate levels on the same footing. If a monster has cap 5 and 25 body, you can be sure it will take 5 swings to kill it whether the players are swinging 5s or 20s.
Threshold / Immune to <damage type>: Monsters with a damage threshold, or monsters which are silver/magic to hit are best targeted by characters who can beat that threshold or immunity. These abilies are best used to create monsters which must be targeted by spell casters or higher level fighters. Whenever abilities like these are used, you must also include creatures who can be affected by the remaining characters. Avoid situations where certain characters have nothing to do in a given fight. For example, never stat every single monster on a module to be magic-to-hit.
Scaling for Large Groups
Large groups have a wide variety of resources at their disposal. The advice for scaling for mixed level groups also applies. Dynamic encounters may be slightly be more complex, but be sure to explain the encounter’s objectives to everybody in advance.
When creating encounters for large groups, use a variety of different monster types. The majority of the monsters should be melee types, but also be sure to include ranged and rogue opponents. Large groups may have to contend with occasional boss-type monsters as well.
A boss fight is a dramatic encounter, often the climax of an adventure or battle. As such, they should be memorable and exciting. This is the time to bust out the best props, costume, lighting, music or sound effects you have available.
Generally, it is better to use a group of bosses than an single tough opponent. This maximizes the number of players who can feel heroic for defeating a boss.
Bosses are generally are what players save their really powerful skills for, so boss types should have multiple resistances to take-out effects. They should have take-out or escape effects of their own which they use to avoid being surrounded or overwhelmed. Bosses are most effective when fighting in concert with a complimentary class such as a healer (for melee bosses) or a fighter (for packet slinging bosses).
Boss fights are great opportunities for dynamic encounters. Perhaps the boss can only be slain under certain conditions, or must be defeated multiple times. Perhaps he splits into several aspects which must be defeated in different places or by different groups.
“Is this going to be fun?” is the most important litmus test for anything you run at a LARP.
Your plot, encounter, or NPC may be pretty epic and cool in your head, but it’s possible that you are ignoring how players will experience it.
Keep in mind that players come to the game with a spectrum of motivations. Some love story, some love overcoming challenges, some love treasure, some just love being in their character’s headspace. As such, your content needs to include rewards for numerous play styles.
For example, you may be writing an encounter in which the players finally meet the NPC they’ve been looking for, and he imparts a wealth of knowledge onto them. In the script, you’ve blocked out two hours for roleplay with this NPC.
In practice, a few of the players will want to interact with the NPC, and the rest will probably hang out and wait for something more their speed. Is this two hour long dialogue going to be any fun for them? But if wandering monsters attack the area while the dialogue is going on, you’ve introduced a tactical element to the encounter which will entertain those seeking more visceral rewards.
If your encounter isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter that your plot is engaging, the monsters are well costumed, or that the rewards are glorious. The players will react with boredom or frustration.
Too much of any one thing is not fun. A weekend packed with mindless battles can be as boring as a weekend with no battles at all. Being kidnapped, stricken by disease, or trapped somewhere can rapidly become monotonous. If your script includes the words “the players do X for Y hours”, go back to the drawing board.
LARP is both a form of gaming and theater. As such, it’s about experiencing something (as opposed to hearing a narration about it). Focus your efforts on making the players’ experience as fun, memorable, and interesting as possible. The best way to do this is to hold each plotline under a magnifying glass to see how fun its parts are.