LARP Advice: How to be a Great NPC and the Benefits of joining the Dedicated NPC/Monster Crew

OthrimOthrim Posts: 131

Original written by Brandes Stoddard all credit to him, Adapted for Darken vale.

 This post is directed toward players in LARPs that have NPCs who are not full-time members of Staff (Elders). That includes both folks who are volunteering for the whole event and never play a PC (NPC/MONSTER CREW), and folks who are doing just an hour or 2 shift backstage (while their characters go off gathering resources).

The First Rule: Exemplify Good Sportsmanship.

All other rules are an outgrowth of this one. What that means for NPCing is, first and foremost, show up to NPC with a good attitude. If you walk into the backstage areas in a foul temper or bitching about any game – the one you’re attending or other games you’re involved with – you are bringing everyone else down. The essence of sportsmanship is valuing other people’s fun as much as your own, and if you have griping that you need to do, find the right time and right place. While you are NPCing is definitely not it.

The Second Rule: As an NPC, you are not here to win.

If you do win, that’s fine – the PCs are going to lose sometimes. But if you are emotionally invested in winning a battle or other conflict, that’s a bad problem. It’s hard to enjoy losing 100% of your fights (as will happen for some whole events – that’s emergent gameplay for you), but try to think as an entertainer: when the PCs have a good fight or a challenging scene or a belly laugh, that’s your victory. You’ve made the game better for other people, and that is a cool feeling. If you’re a player doing NPC time, just think about how other players have been doing the same for you, or will be.
I totally understand how hard this is. It’s a roleplaying game, and you’re called to embody and identify with the character you’re playing – even if it’s a monster that is there to provide an action interlude. Of course you feel competitive, because you’re fighting as if you’re trying to win. Nothing ruins the satisfaction of victory more than feeling like the fight was thrown in the PCs’ favour, so don’t make it obvious that you’re holding back (unless that is what’s appropriate to the character you are portraying).

The Third Rule: Do not gloat out-of-character, or reveal any Plot secret confided in you for a role. Did you win a fight or force the PCs to flee? Good for you, but gloating about it is not going to enrich their emotional experience of the scene, and now that they’re away from the game, they can’t go back and fix it or get revenge. (Gloating in-character can be correct in some cases. Out-of-character is always wrong.) Did the PCs miss some vital clue? What good is telling them about it now going to do? They were frustrated at the time, and now they’re frustrated again. Life sure is easy when you have all the answers, isn’t it?
I understand how it is – you did something exciting, and you want to talk about your experience of the game. But NPCs have all the power – no true attachment to their characters when they die, so they don’t risk as much; foreknowledge of the answers to mysteries, so they aren’t truly challenged; any badassery they possess, they did not have to earn. Anytime someone with power in a situation speaks to those without, they need to speak carefully. If you NPCed a scene and the PCs won, it’s cool to cheer for them afterward, praise brings good feelings, good feelings means enjoyment, enjoyment means the players will want to come back for more. 

If they lost, the right way to participate in conversation is to show some sympathy. It’s tough to take a bad beat and move on in a game – some would say it’s the game losing some of its escapism and becoming too much like life. So, you know, be cool about it, don’t rub it in.
I’m not saying you can’t tell war stories. If a subset of LARPers couldn’t tell stories about cool stuff that they did at a game, they probably wouldn’t stay in the hobby for long. The way you tell stories around a group of NPCs and Plot members needs to be different from the stories you tell when people who were PCs in that story are listening. Prepare yourself mentally for a certain amount of PC gloating in return – the game wants PCs to forget that whenever they win, it’s because Plot could have used bigger numbers and more deadly attacks, but didn’t.

The Fourth Rule: Trust PCs to know their stats.

If they’re surviving your hits and you really don’t think they should be, talk to an Elder about it – don’t take it up with the player. This is because neither you nor the player involved have the needed objectivity. The Elder’s job is to be an objective arbiter who can talk to the PC in question at an unobtrusive time. In just about any long-term game, though, PCs can earn elite skills or magic items that are outside the scope of the game’s base rules.
Sometimes PCs do fail to register hits; possibly they even do so knowingly. This makes the game worse for everyone, most of all the NPC, whose already-marginal sense of agency is further reduced. Even in these cases, enforcement isn’t the NPC’s job – that’s for the Elders. (If you are an Elder having this problem with a PC, get someone else to handle it, again for reasons of objectivity.)

The Fifth Rule: Deliver useful debriefings to Elders,

Ideally both in person and in writing afterward. This is where continuity comes from, especially if you were playing a talky role without an Elder in the scene. Obviously, Third Orc Grunt From The Left doesn’t exactly need a written debriefing in most cases – at the very least, Elders can get an aggregate sense of how things went based on other NPCs in the encounter and whether any PCs had to have resurrection spells cast on them.

I really hope that further rules, like “trust your briefing, because someone wrote it that way for a reason, even if you don’t know the reason” and “follow the rules of the game, they’re there to protect everyone’s fun” don’t need to be explored in detail. Ultimately, they’re all part of Rule One.


More Like Guidelines

The rules above are for everyone. What follows is more conditional, and is based on some assumptions about your goals as a volunteer. If you’re reading this in search of advice (as opposed to reading this looking for ways to improve on it, which I also welcome), then you’re probably interested in contributing more to your game of choice, and/or being asked to play juicier roles.

If you’re part of the NPC/Monster crew, the first best thing you can do to help the game is to really work on learning the rules. There are a lot of rules that don’t come up often, so only players with a strong expectation of interacting with them actually learn them. Essentially, you’re expanding the roles you can be cast in by tackling the learning curve sometime before you’re about to go in play. This is true even if you only expect to play combat roles. For a Rule of 3 example, learning the ins and outs of chaining Warrior skills or knowing the effects of different weapon masteries opens the door to more high-profile roles. Also, Elders will appreciate it.

The next best thing you can do, and for the same reason, is to spend some time soaking up the campaign’s lore. This is a lot more important if you’re focused on talky roles; while it’s generally good even if you’ve asked Elders to cast you only in combat roles (as some full-timers and players do), it’s a lot lower priority. Having context for players’ responses to you in encounters, especially when the conversation goes outside the bounds of your briefing, lends depth and credibility to the character – it’s another little element that improves the game for everyone around you. (For reasons of vanity, Elders also likes it when NPC Crew show investment in the setting and story.)

If you’re part of the NCP Crew, one of the best things you can do is to consistently let the Elders know if you’re volunteering for the next event. The majority of casting decisions are done before Friday night of an event – if they’re surprised (but happy, of course) to see you, they definitely haven’t written anything with you in mind.

Okay, my last bit of advice is awkward to deliver, and you’ve got to judge for yourself whether it might include you. High-profile combat roles (field battle bosses) and talky roles (the monarch, the archmage, whatever) are the kinds of roles where Elders wants/need someone with presence, confidence, and magnetism. If they don’t know you well, Elders probably can’t tell how awesome you would be in that role.

I want to stress that the converse is not inherently true. If you lack presence, Elders probably won’t cast you in whatever role; however, not getting cast in whatever role does not necessarily indicate a judgment that you lack presence. As I mentioned before, there are lots of considerations that go into casting; it is mostly not about you.

I’m not an actual self-help writer, and I don’t know One Weird Trick To Improve Your Charisma Score. What I do know is that if you show that you’re engaging with the game’s content and putting real energy into the roles that you do get cast, it makes a difference.

I include a brief explanation of why being in a full-time NPC Crew is fun, since from a certain perspective it lacks both the agency of a PC and the creative control of Elders.

1.    Let your villain side out for a spin without risking a character you’ve developed for months or years.

2.    Ham it up to your heart’s content. Actually, this should have been Rule Six.

3.    You don’t have to attend Elder meetings or shoulder any of the writing burden.

4.    If your character dies, no sweat! Elders will get you a new one at their earliest convenience. You’ll get to try out all of the different combat styles and power sets in the game as a combat NPC. Talky NPCs have, if anything, even more variety.

5.    It’s the least expensive way to be involved in the hobby. You don’t pay event fees, and you don’t need much in the way of costuming, weapons, armour… seriously, if you show up to an event with nothing but a few changes of basic black clothing (the universal foundation garment for NPCs), you’re golden. (If you do have the gear. Then let the Elders know and this can be taken into account when they are casting specific roles and plot)

6.       The camaraderie of the whole backstage team is fantastic. Staging an event is hard work, but when it’s done, you have a lot to feel good about, and players appreciate full-timers immensely. (Trust me, PCs love it when there are enough full-timers that Elders dont need players to fill bodies.)

If you think you would be interested in being part of the full time NPC/Monster Crew for Darken Vale then please contact Simon (Othrim, Chief Elder) or any of the other Elders to express your interest.

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