So, there are pitfalls in trying to run good games. Some are obvious, Some not so much.
I had to take a break from running games because i needed to get back to playing. I was burning out and like normal i had loaded my plate with too many things. (A common problem for me at Golden Corral.)
So i throttled WAY back. Became more of a player in my larps, and refused to get into STing in my various chats. In some cases, this was unusually hard. My tendency to see what is missing in games can sometimes be a curse. Also i found my general permissive and improvisational attitude towards game mastering flies in the face of certain GMs with control issues.
But i am starting to feel the itch again. Maybe not to actually do a LOT of STing, but at least keep my hand in and keep the pot stirred.
Our last larp was a fairly quiet affair, bordering on dull. I'm not going to name any names, or point fingers or anything of that sort. Because these people are all my friends and i want things to stay that way. But lately, our membership has been in a slow slide and there are multiple causes.
This is a big one. When it's time to Larp, you need to get your energy up and you need to be loosey goosey. Whether that means pounding some Mountain Dew and a 5 hour energy shot, or a shot of whiskey in order to loosen up. Do what you need to do. And i recommend that you do what you can whether you are a player or an ST. Energy is contagious, especially in a larp. If you are literally falling asleep on your feet, you should stay home and rest. Seriously, not only are you not contributing, but you're sucking energy out of the larp without meaning to.
If you're like me, (...and you KNOW you're dying to be...) You may have blood-sugar issues and need to step out for a moment or two to snack. Don't be afraid to speak up and say so. Also, if there are two games back to back, like we have (Changeling and Vampire with a dinner break between) The tendency can be to eat a big heavy meal which will steal your energy for the back half. Not too many people realize this but the reason why you generally want a nap after a big meal is that the body needs energy to digest food. Sure it may mean you've got plenty of energy AFTER the larp, but that's hardly useful during is it?
Energy management is important stuff. You can go to larp with a lot of problems but if the energy is right it can still be engrossing and pull people kicking and screaming into its shoggoth-like depths. And whenever possible avoid scheduling anything else on larp day. And get some goddamn sleep!
When you hold your opening meeting, say what you need to say, and as quickly as possible At the top of the game, people are chomping at the bit to go, If you speak longer than ten minutes, you're stealing time and energy from your game. Use your opening meeting to ramp UP energy and get people excited for the game to come.
Additionally. Don't stand up there and ramble and hope things come to you while you are talking. In the past i have advocated having a checklist of what you MUST cover for the opening meetings of a con larp. More and more i am coming to the decision that it's equally necessary for the regular games.
if you've got pre-game stuff that must be handled before game starts, like blood draws, or ritual rolls, or any of a dozen other things, try to find means and methods to streamline these processes as much as possible. And if you can't streamline them, then farm them out to as many ST's and assistant ST's as possible. Make sure there is a standard policy for this and that it is written down for reference.
Moreoever, being an ST, means doing a lot of thinking about the game, away from the game itself. Be duly diligent. If you've got a piece of news for a certain subset of players, like everyone with Media influence, or everyone who's lived in the area longer than ten years or whatever, Put it on a 3x5 card. That way instead of having half a dozen small meetings to disseminate information, you can just hand them the card and they can pass it around amongst themselves. You might as create a list of the common influences as well as the ones unique to your venue. (For us: University influence, Horse industry influence, and Red Neck Mafia Influence.) and run them down prior to game time.
One of the things that i LOVE about our game, is that one of the players has taken to compiling the freaky things that happen in ALL of the venues and putting them into a "newspaper" along with a few real world freaky things. It adds flavor, and it gives MY character things to do for each game session. I want to see more of this. it also encourages a bit of cross venue stuff, and as always, Cross venue play usually does aggravated damage.
In most games, Court is deathly dull. It normally involves a long damn wait for the prince and courtiers to get their shit together and then it's usually sped through like the tiresome chore it is. Also: It's usually awkward, especially for the new players who often have to introduce themselves during formal court. Unless you walk in the door with some show business, you'll just be tripping over your tongue like everyone else. I personally, have given up on trying to learn anyone's name at court, simply because most people mush mouth their introduction.
Court, needs to be jazzed up. In fact, i've long been a believer that Court ought to be like a long running soap opera with plenty of twists and political turns. Characters ought to be scared to miss it.
With this in mind, i'd like to offer a list of things that nearly anyone can do to spice it up some.
1) Make a splash: If you're introducing yourself to the player-base for the first time, you honestly need to put some serious show business into it. If you stand up, mumble through your introduction, answer questions like you're having your teeth pulled, and then fade into the woodwork, then essentially you're sending the message that your character wants to immediately be forgotten and that you have no interest in making contact with anyone once court is over. Whereas it's a different message when the prince bids you rise and introduce yourself and you say in a clear strong voice. "I am Harrison Claymoore, Blood of the clan of Kings, and proud scion and knight of the first estate. I offer greetings to the Kindred of this city and I am willing to share news of my travels. I offer my service to the First Estate and I offer a minor boon to your grace for the privilege of settling in this fair city."
That is the way to get noticed on the first night. Step up. Bring your "A" game.
2) Fight over stuff:
If you have covenants that are at odds with one another it should be standard practice for those covenants to claim swaths of territory and hunting grounds. Hell. if you're feeling froggy start claiming turf in the enemies area and force them to contest your claims. This spurs some political horse-trading and might even spur a few IC arguments in court proper. If two players are staring at one another across a table and saying "HOW DARE YOU SIR!" then you're doing it right.
3) Bring news:
The gossip mill needs grist. It can't grind things unless people come to court with public announcements. Enemy movements, things going on in neighboring cities, public oaths (Especially for the assumption of court offices.) crazy shit that happened at the Nightclub last night, all these things are fair game. In fact, if you're a highly improvisational player, you can use this as a means of building things into your character as long as the events you describe aren't too far ranging. For instance, public thanks to a fellow kindred for being kind enough to handle body disposal because of a mistake that was made during hunting last night. Such a thing doesn't create huge plot and allows you to show certain sides of your character.
4) Make the rounds:
If your character is a social powerhouse, you're dumb if you sit on your butt and wait for players to come to you. You need to be up and around and meeting people. In fact, if you're seneschal or Harpy, that's your goddamn job. You need to be out shaking hands, writing down names, peeling the moody loner off the wall, finding out what he's interested in and connecting him up with other players who have similar interests. People are a resource and need to fought over like every other scarcity in a good Larp.
Who gets the Stick
I'm going to go out on limb here. If you are an established player or you've been in the game for a long time, The ST doesn't need to spend the bulk of his time with you. When you reach a certain level of play, you should be making your own plot rather than depending on an ST to make plot for you.
Moreover, If you're a power player, you don't need to be hogging up the plot that is out there. Plot needs to be built for people who walk in the door. New and fresh. Save your crazy high power plot for special occasions and for Cons.
Look. it's like this. If the bulk of the ST's are tied up running plot that new people would be instantly slain by, that's a choke point. If you NEED an ST for something specific for your character, you can always make an appointment, maybe even handle some things via chat session, email proxy or Google wave. But with game time so very finite, it is imperative that FUN is spread out to as many people as is possible.
It would seem that building plot for players you don't know would be hard. You'd be right. But it's also easy. There are lots of human level plots that can be used, abused, and even recycled over and over again. Human beings and their troubles and foibles aren't going away anytime soon. You can use this. In fact, it's less useful to have a player take on the part of some high level NPC than it is to have him take on the role of a particularly crafty drug pusher or gun dealer.
Now you might be saying at this point "Durr!" but i'm talking about thorough planning. Sitting down and seriously considering where you want to go with various plots and characters. Not only that but once the game is over for the month, you should be thinking and making notes for what you intend to do next month. You should be on the prod for plot elements that you can use to make each game interesting and engrossing. Once per quarter you ought to have some kind of kindred social engagement, hopefully something with music and possibly even dancing. This bumps up the tendency for players to "dress up" for those game sessions at least. Once a quarter you ought to have an evening where the various covenants have their meetings, which can spur some inter-covenant plot. This is perfectly acceptable for an evening where you have NO plans for combat, Have a night of meetings and then court at the end of the evening. That's a game right there and nobody has to get killed.
Planning lets your players know you're working hard on making things as fun for as many people as possible. The more planning you do, the less you have to come up with solutions on the spot.
which does not mean, "Bad guys turn up just as Elysium security miraculously fails....AGAIN!"
Look, i understand as well as the next ST that there are some players that just aren't going to be happy unless they get their claws wet. You invest a certain amount of points in being a combat gumby and you want to see a return on that investment. But just as there are people who are going to be annoyed if NO fight breaks out, there are going to be players that are going to be annoyed if a game is nothing but killbox after killbox.
So. There needs to be more than one kind of conflict. There needs to be conflicts that have little to no combat element. Puzzles and investigations and trials for mentally based players. Influence wars and other forms of social conflicts for more socially graced types. In fact, these sorts of conflicts are best when they involve mortals and in addition can be the sort of conflict where killing the target is an unmitigated disaster.