Contact: A mini-campaign

Stolen from Facebook:

A mysterious and deadly plague has struck New Zealand. No one knows what’s causing the illness, or how it’s spreading. Quarantine zones have been set up in every major city. The sick, and those suspected to be sick, are being locked away. For whatever reason, you’re trapped in the Christchurch quarantine zone – maybe you’re sick; maybe you’re caring for the sick; maybe you want the outside world to know exactly what’s going on behind the government cordons.

Whatever your reason for entering the quarantine zone, you’ll be dealing with the consequences of your decision to enter, and your decisions once you’re inside, for the rest of your life.

Look on the bright side, though – you’re in an active quarantine zone. The rest of your life probably won’t be too long.

CONTACT is a LARP about hard decisions and facing mortality. It will run over 4 fortnightly Thursday sessions, from 2nd March to 13th April. Each session will be approximately 3 hours long.

Sign-up and character creation for Session 1 is here:

Sign-ups for Session 2 will go live on March 3rd.

Wow, that’s an amazing premise for a game. <3

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This has now been moved to Wednesdays (so March 1 - April 12). Which means you have less than 10 days to register!

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.


End of campaign write-up time!

The 3-hour format continued to work, and the last two sessions ran closer to 3 hours than two and a half. I’m on the same page as I was two sessions in with regard to the gap between sessions - the next one definitely needs to be weekly rather than fortnightly. The players spending 20-30 minutes getting back into character and back into the tone of the game would drop if the sessions were closer together. A second GM is definitely necessary though - I wouldn’t have had anywhere near enough time to write each session with only a week in between.

Player drop-outs were a problem with Contact, both because characters died in-game and because a couple of players didn’t show up and didn’t let me know they couldn’t make it (their characters were killed off and then experimented on). Giving one character enough leeway to kill half the cast was a mistake, and that was completely my fault, but it was compounded by players either dropping out due to other commitments or just not showing up. For a second mini-campaign, I’d want players to specify which sessions they’re showing up for at sign-up, rather than signing up the week before their first session. That might lead to people signing up for only session 4 and then forgetting to turn up, but reminders could be sent out, and it would make the game in general easier to organise.

In terms of set design, Contact had a $20 budget which I spent on index cards and coloured stones. Props were designated by index cards with things like “blood sample” and “blood pressure medication” written on them, and puzzles were solved by using playing cards and coloured stones to represent various medical equipment. The players got into this, and used the index cards to indicate when they’d changed the environment somehow - writing “smashed” on an index card and placing it on the desk representing an isolation ward, etc. (Contact was held in a classroom at uni, so the room was divided up using desks; the players smashed up the isolation wards during the first session.) This is something I want to reuse in Christchurch games - we usually have a very small or nonexistent set-dressing budget, and all of the Contact players, including those completely new to LARP, got into the spirit of minimal props representing entire laboratories and hospital wards.

I’ve talked about the problems with Contact a lot here, so I also want to say that the campaign went really well - the players enjoyed themselves, the moral dilemma I threw at them in the final session caused a fair amount of guilt and hand-wringing, and the first question I was asked once the final session ended was when the next campaign was happening. This is definitely a format that works well in Christchurch - we often have trouble getting numbers together for one-off LARPs, and we don’t have the numbers for weekend-long campaign games, but we can get 10-12 people enthusiastic about a mini-campaign.

I’ll be putting a framework together for writing another mini-campaign for the next Out of Character (Saga’s newsletter), so hopefully that will push a few potential GMs into running something in the second semester, or putting something together to run next year.


I’m looking forward to reading that OOC article.

That was really interesting, @lesbiancobra. Thanks for writing up your thoughts.

I agree this is a really good modal for smaller audiences. Probably something we could try up here at some point*. Greater Waikato might be interested in this format too.

  • Small, regular, games is a niche we haven’t filled. And there are people in the community with schedules that don’t often line up with our other offerings.
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Just noticed that OOC is up, and Lee’s article is in it, on p21 - 22. Read it here:

There’s a good emphasis on building on the seeds the players put in their backgrounds or generate in play (see also: The World That Is, which used Dungeon World-style questions about each character to generate material).

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