Running a LARP game with no NPCs

user-unknown | 29th August 2017
Firefly crew with crate

For my game in the LOTNA 'Invasion: Colony' 2017 event, I decided to try running a game that was slightly different in style to the others we have done in the LOTNA club so far - this game would have no NPCs, with everyone out there being a player with their own character background and objectives.

I had a few constraints with this game:

  • No complicated props - I wasn't originally going to run a game due to other commitments, but eventually agreed to run one only a few weeks before the game, leaving no time for arranging or building anything.
  • Unknown players - the attendance for the weekend was still very much in flux and I didn't know who exactly was going to turn up, meaning that I couldn't arrange characters with players before the game.

The theme of this year's invasion event was 'Colony', so after some thought I decided to run a game about a settlement somewhere in the Firefly universe which was encountering some form of problem.  I knew that I wanted multiple teams of players with various objectives which would put them in conflict with each other, but didn't want to effectively force one group to be 'NPCs-by-proxy'.  Eventually, I settled on the following player teams, each of whom had a different background and set of objectives for the game:

  • The inhabitants of the colony - they had to keep the colony together and survive
  • A smuggling spaceship crew - contracted to deliver a package of smuggled supplies to the colony, but also needing to repair their ship before being able to take off.
  • A group of bandits raiding the local area - wanted the supply package themselves
  • A pair of bounty hunters - hunting a character with a large bounty on them
  • An Alliance survey team - surveying the local area

The time pressure for the game was an incoming Reaver attack, which only the Bounty Hunters were aware of at the start of the game. The Colonists would have to repair a sensor array damaged by the bandits before they could receive the message and work out a way to survive.

 

While making the characters for the game I tried to follow a set of rough guidelines:

 

Simple briefing handouts

Given that I wasn't going to be giving the characters their sheets (or really any information beyond 'Sunday morning is a Firefly game') in advance, they would have very little time to read through their briefings and work out what they were doing.  Hugely complicated multi-character plots were therefore out as I thought it unlikely anyone would remember that sort of information.

For each character, I produced a one page (or two in some cases) briefing sheet to be given out at the start of the game, including:

  • their role in the game (e.g. 'Ship's Mechanic', 'The Mayor', 'Bounty Hunter' etc.)
  • their name
  • their faction/group (e.g. Smugglers, Survey Team, etc.)
  • their hitpoints
  • The game background covering where they are and what the basic situation is - this was a single four line paragraph that was the same for everyone.
  • A paragraph covering their faction's background and specific knowledge
  • Their specific objectives for the game
  • Their character's special abilities and a description of how they could be used
  • The very basic medical system to be used in game
  • The very basic 'called out actions' rules so that everyone knew how some abilities worked

Force the groups to interact

If the game consists of just each faction walking around the site on their own for two to three hours, it's going to be a bit boring.  There should be a reason for the different groups to want to encounter each other.  Interaction here can be either social or combat, and players should be able to achieve goals through either one.

  • The Smugglers needed to deliver their cargo to the Colonists, but also needed parts to repair their ship from the Colonists.
  • The Bandits wanted the cargo from either the Colonists or the Smugglers (depending on when encountered), but some also had objectives requiring non combat interaction with the Colony.
  • The Bounty Hunters needed someone from the village, but all they had was a name - to find out who their target was, they would have to talk to people first.  They also needed to encounter the Smugglers to arrange transport off planet.
  • The Colonists had personal objectives split between needing to talk to the Smugglers and Bandits
  • The Survey team needed to visit various areas, and also get information from the locals (Either Bandits or Colonists)
  • With the incoming Reaver attack, all the teams would (I expected) want to be on the ship to escape from them - at the end, everyone should be heading for the ship and competing for space.  In game it didn't quite turn out like this but worked out well anyway!

During the game, I actually made a mistake and forgot to give all the spaceship parts to the Colonists.  However, this actually turned out great - rather than go back and give it to the Colonists, I gave the missing part to the Bandits as loot from a previous raid.  During the game, the Bandits also took the opportunity to loot the props I had setup for the damaged'sensor array site' and removed a number of parts from it making it impossible to be fixed until the parts had been found - while I hadn't planned this, I was thrilled when I found out, as it was another reason for the groups needing to talk to each other!

Assign appropriate names

People are generally not great at coming up with suitable names under pressure.  As this was a Firefly game, I went on to a 'Western name generator' (e.g. http://www.mithrilandmages.com/utilities/Western.php) and pulled off Male and Female names for each character.  I think this added to the feel of the game and helped everyone get into character.

Allow for non-combat interaction

One of the things I was worried about beforehand was that the bandits (being despicable criminals) could just run around and murder everyone.  To that end, I added a rule called 'Parley', allowing for some characters (the Mayor and Captain for example) to try and arrange a truce between different parties during the game - all it allowed was that they could call this in a fight and the other side should allow them to try and talk things out.  If things went badly, combt could resume, but it gave the chance for fights to end without leaving all of one faction dead and effectively out of the game.  This also hinted to the players that they could try and resolve situations diplomatically in general.

I'm really happy with how this ability turned out in the final game, as it led to several great scenes between the different groups that wouldn't have happened if the fighting had continued.

I also gave each character an amount of Firefly money which they could use for things in game. There were no rules associated with this, and no set prices - everything was at the discretion of the players.  This gave another way for the players to interact with each other.

Allow for missing characters

I wouldn't really know how many players were going to be joining until the morning briefing on the day, so had to allow for some players not being there.  After coming up with the ideas for 20 different characters I then categorised each character with A, B or C depending on how important they were to the game.  'A class' characters were those that the game just wouldn't work without, for example, if there was no the Pilot for the Smugglers, there would be no way for the players to escape the Reavers.  If there was no Mechanic in the village, there would be no way for the array to be fixed, and the warning about the Reavers would never be heard.  'B class' characters were those who were useful, but not mandatory - the Bounty Hunters and their quarry fell into this category as that sub-plot could be left out if I was very lacking on players.  The ship mechanic was also B class, as it made sense for the ship to have one, but the village mechanic could be contracted to hire the ship if needed.  The 'C class' characters were those who could be left out with no real impact to the overall plot - the Alliance survey team was a tertiary plot that didn't really impact the others at all, so could be entirely dropped without issue.

The character sheets were then labelled with A, B or C and ordered - at the start of the game briefing I then just gave them out in order ensuring that the right roles were present.

In the end, I had 17 players of the 20 characters I had prepared - conveniently, this meant I could just drop the 3 survey team members with no impact on the rest of the game.

Try to prevent teams from being wiped out

If an entire team gets killed off, that can cause real problems.  I tried to prevent this by making sure each faction had a way to recover partially from firefights with the First Aid skill, and the Enduring ability which allowed the Bounty Hunters to recover from critical wounds more easily (as they were a much smaller team).  I deliberately did not however give each team a doctor capable of healing everything as I wanted this to be another thing that would cause the teams to seek each other out - originally only the Colony had a doctor, but in the end I added one to the Bandits as well, as I expected it would be unlikely for the villagers to heal up the people trying to steal from them (how wrong I was). 

Don't have single characters out on their own

Very basic one, but for real-life safety in game, everyone should go around in groups of at least two so there's someone to raise the alarm if there's an accident.  In game, this also means that the there are opportunities for role-play within each team as well.

 

 

In the end, I was extremely happy with how well the game went - everyone got really into character and seemed to have a good time!  The game didn't really follow anything like the rough outline I expected but I think it went great.  I've attached the character sheet to this article so that you can see all the characters and their details.  I liked the way the system worked for this one, and definitely plan on using it again for a different game in the future.