This has run two out of its four sessions so far - here’s what’s working and what’s not at this point.
The 3-hour format is working really well - both sessions so far have come to a natural end point about two and a half hours in. I have a lot of tabletop players who are used to this format for tabletop campaigns, I’m not sure how natural it would feel to LARPers who don’t play much tabletop. It’s definitely working well enough that I think it’s worth writing up a framework for writing and running another mini-campaign in the second half of the year, and getting someone else keen to give running it a go.
The only part of the format that isn’t working is the two-week gap between sessions. If another one of these campaigns does run, I think it’ll work much better as a weekly game. Two weeks makes it feel somewhat bitsy for the players, plus it means the campaign runs for longer and can clash with players’ other commitments.
Weekly sessions would mean a bigger time commitment for GMs, but I think it’s worth it for a smoother campaign that players can commit to completely, and that feels more continuous than Contact does. Future mini-campaigns should almost certainly have multiple GMs as well, which would reduce the time pressure. Contact has a lot of puzzle-solving for the players, which means a bunch more writing for me - what I would have found really helpful for this campaign would’ve been a puzzle-writing GM, so that I could focus on writing plot. Future campaigns may not be as puzzle-heavy, but I think a split between plot writing and mechanics/puzzles/etc. writing would work well.
The biggest thing that’s gone wrong with Contact is the sudden death of a lot of characters at the end of session 2, to the point where I’m having to prod anyone who sounded vaguely interested in the game to get critical mass for session 3. The death toll was caused by a player who had a character arc about being desperate to find a cure, that player really committing to her arc, and a mechanic for high-risk medical procedures. Essentially a doctor lied to several patients about the riskids level of the tests she was performing, no one else reined her in, and she had some bad luck with the (semi-random) consequences of failure. It was compounded by a couple of players having requested to die in session 2 because other commitments were starting up and they couldn’t make future sessions.
Part of the problem with character deaths affecting the game’s viability will be solved by switching to weekly rather than fortnightly sessions to avoid clashing with other player commitments. Using a setting where players can drop out without their characters necessarily having to die would also work, or using a fantasy setting where dead characters could potentially be resurrected. I’d also like to get mini-campaigns like Contact going as regular events at the same time each year, so that enthusiastic players know well in advance when the campaign will be, and can work other commitments around the game.
In terms of mini-campaigns as viable future events in Christchurch, the biggest obstacle is maintaining momentum, both within the campaign and between campaigns. There was a lot of interest in Contact when it was first announced, and the first session filled pretty quickly, but getting new players for subsequent sessions has been much harder. Ongoing promotion from the Saga committee might help with that, and I’ll be prodding them about it once I’m home from Hydra, but I think what will really solve this is having the same four or five weeks each year or each semester where there’s always a mini-campaign.
The other momentum issue is whether I can find anyone to write and run a second Contact type game once I’ve moved to Wellington - I’ve been writing a lot of the plot based on what people are doing and talking about in-game, so I don’t think campaigns like this can be pre-written without significantly railroading the players (otherwise I’d write another one myself and send it down to Christchurch - I’m enjoying writing Contact a lot and I want to do another one). The other option would be a more player-driven game that runs more like a play-to-find-out Society of Dreamers type game. I feel like that would only work with a significant proportion of experienced players though, whereas Contact seems to be working well for the new players as well as the experienced LARPers.
I think that’s everything that has stuck out so far as working or not working - I will write up a debrief once the campaign finishes on 12 April as well.