Hunting Vampires: 5 Things I learned about running live games

On Sunday, I ran a livegame to tie in with the release of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter on DVD. Here's what I learned. It might be of use to you!

All pics by Lynsey Smyth. Full gallery available here.

ONE. No plan survives contact with the players. It’s an old adage that I’m paraphrasing here, but it bears repeating. My plans involved groups of 8 players being escorted out into the darkness of the club to achieve specific missions; what happened was mad groups of thirty, bristling with weapons, barging their way through the complex. We managed to adapt, and we managed to make sure that people had a good time. (Not everyone, according to this tweet. But one complaint out of 100 players can’t be too bad – I overheard a lot of “fucking AWESOME”s standing by the doors as we kicked out)

Whilst having a gameplan is useful, it’s often only useful as a sort of idealised dream and the actual experience is very much shadows cast from it onto the wall of the cave. A good set of radios and an experienced ref team can cover up the worst plan.*

Pics by Lynsey Smyth

TWO. Information can be pushed together in interesting ways. When players weren’t going out into the dark to hunt monsters, they congregated in the bar downstairs and looked over plenty of research materials in an attempt to find out what was going on. Thanks to the head interrogator (Lynch) and one of the vampire leaders (Lockeheart) having the same initial, some researchers added two and two together and ended up with five.

They also ended up pushing Lynch into a chair at gunpoint and interrogating him, using the techniques he’d taught them minutes earlier. Keeping things ambiguous, deliberately or not, gives you free drama.

Pics by Lynsey Smyth

THREE. Explosions are excellent. I picked up some thermobaric grenades for this game – they’re essentially underpowered flashbangs that still make a hell of a noise and flash but aren’t powerful enough to damage the human ear. They’re only around 3 quid a pop, too. Throwing them around at the end of the game to signify a bomb going off was excellent and gave players something to shout about.

Throwing one outside the doors of the player room before a squad of vampires rushed in to attack the occupants spooked them so much they built a defensive line that we couldn’t actually breach.

Pic by Lynsey Smyth

FOUR. Keep your assets flexible. In game one, the players formed big groups and ran around looking for blood. In game two, the players built a defensive perimeter and spent every spare second surrounding the entrance door with axemen, occasionally sending out groups to collect valuable items. We had to adapt to offer them what they were after – so the first game saw them have massive, casualty-heavy brawls with vampires across multiple dance floors, and the second saw an increase in player-room attacks because they’d gone to the trouble of defending it.

Work out what your players want and give them so much of it that it becomes a problem to manage.

FIVE. Let your players plan how they’re going to die. Towards the end of the game, we turned control of the game over to the players. They were instructed to plant a bomb on the top floor of the building that would spread silver all around the area and Kill All Vampires. We also gave them some toys to play with – a fully-automatic machine gun, a strobe array (built by the excellent Tim Burrell-Saward) which stunned vampires, and a few other pieces of kit which never really saw their full use realised.

The players were asked to plan out their attack; where the defensive assets would go, who would lead the distraction against the vampire hordes, and how the mission would progress. Game one saw lots of shouting and plenty of murder. Game two saw some leaders emerge, and a complicated plan that actually almost went off without a hitch. But it brought the players together – they planted the bomb, they lead distractions, they planned out a mission and their plan worked.

I love it when a plan comes together. So do players, as it turns out.

Pic by Lynsey Smyth

* Not that I made the worst plan, I should note, if any potential employers happen to be reading this