As I’ve noted before, I see role-playing as a kind of performance. It’s less group storytelling (the standard definition) and more a weird circular theatre, in which everyone is performing for everyone else. Nowhere is this more evident in the open role-play event; a scenario created by either a player or (commonly) a role-play guild for the benefit of anyone who wishes to attend. (As a side-note, these hints also mostly apply to the closed role-play event, wherein an event is held purely for the guild or for a small group of players.) Because these events are constructed by one group of players for the benefit of a second group of players, they are nearly always dominated by formal performance that may even be scripted and (in rare cases) rehearsed. In these events, the standard circular form is not exactly discarded, but it does become more oval-shaped, with certain groups taking up a larger share of everyone’s time.
Since they are far more formal in style than your average runaround role-playing, certain roles, tropes and occurrences tend to appear over and over. These are simply because they are effective.
- A Host (or two): Someone needs to direct the traffic, and this is the job of the host. Someone will usually be selected to act as the “head” of the event, drawing attention to themselves and using that attention to keep people moving along with the action rather than obstructing it. In a lot of events, this person really is the host of the event, but they can be anyone who seizes the spotlight for themselves.
- Introduction: Something dramatic will occur to indicate the beginning of the role-play event. At the most mundane and simple, this will be someone greeting the assembled. In more creative endeavours, it could be a duel breaking out, a character being introduced to the assembled masses to fireworks and applause, a screaming match, or anything else that gets everyone to pay attention and realise the event has begun.
- Lengths of Open play intermixed with Lengths of Closed Play: Because this is role-playing and not just theatre, the people running the event are keen for all players to have a chance to interact. However, because this open interaction could disrupt some of the planned scenarios, there will also be moments that are somehow ‘locked’ and closed off to the player not running the event. The most common way to do this is have someone (usually the host) give a speech. While there may be some shouting out at this, it usually throws most people into silence. The speaker may or may not, of course, finish their speech, since most good role-playing events also have a …
Disruption: Something will occur to break up the flow of the event at some point, in order to keep people interested and prevent predictability. This is not usually a sudden attack by the Horde or Alliance (although sadly, this is always a possibility; damn griefers) but instead may be an angry rival suddenly arriving on the scene to angrily denounce the host, a body being discovered somewhere, or even something as simple as changing the venue of the event unexpectedly.
Real Life Example: In one role-play event I hosted, a class on Forsaken biology, my character effectively shifted the play by taking his whole class on an impromptu ‘field trip’ from the Tirisfal Glades town hall into the fields, and letting one of the random mobs attack him. While the zombie chewed on his arm furiously, my character calmly asked the class to identify differences in the Scourge and Forsaken biology. This not only surprised and (I hope) delighted the class, but firmly established my character as completely loco.
- Conclusion: Somehow the event has to be closed. Much like the introduction, the most boring way to do this is for someone to just announce it, but more creative ways can be found. Scream at the disruptor and throw all the guests out from your house! A messenger arrives dramatically to announce the host must flee at once, for the horde approaches! (This works doubly well if you can actually plan an opposition raid.) If all else fails, make like Monty Python and have the police just arrest the event organisers; the ‘police’ being other players in guard’s armor.
Naturally, all of these guidelines are really just common sense. An introduction, disruption, conclusion chain of events is standard plotting, and the host/play style tropes are really just ways for the organizers to control the action. But it’s worth being aware of them, so that you can think of what they should be when you’re planning your event. Speaking of which, what is your event? Here are a few examples, including some classics and a few less common ideas.
- A wedding: Probably the MMORPG classic. Two characters are going to be wed, and the world has been invited to the wedding! The Host is the priest marrying the characters. The event is kicked off by the bride’s introduction, usually after a length of social mingling (ie. open play). A common disruption would be a spurned suitor trying to stop the proceedings – Seriously, the words “speak now or forever hold your peace” are just designed for drama. Alternatively, a shocking revelation may occur as the disruption, putting serious doubt as to whether the wedding will actually happen. The event is concluded by the lovely couple exiting. (Were that all events so easily introduced and concluded as a wedding.)
- A class: This is one Jess and I used to specialise in, as our guild was a school. The class was begun by the teacher announcing themselves (so becoming the host) and leading the class in a lecture (closed play) along with group work or discussions (open play). Disruptions were a tricky thing to pull off, but included the aforementioned field trip or the lecturer just going completely off the deep end. (This seriously happened once, and was in fact so disruptive that it completely ended the class in the process; which wasn’t the intended result!)
- A club meet: A large group of people meeting to discuss/partake in a shared interest. Not always a closed, guild only event! The best of these have some wider interest or activity One of the best examples of a ‘club’ in World of Warcraft I’ve ever seen was a boxing club set up at Fray Island. Somewhat similar to Fight Club, the events were opened by the charismatic ‘leader’ of the group pointing at individual players and declaring them the first fighters. This kind of event actually ran very heavily to the social/open end of the play spectrum, but closed sections and disruptions were possible with grudge matches, “special” matches and the like being introduced near the end of sessions. (A really great one was always the two vs. one higher-level fighter. ) A lot of fun, with surprisingly low drama.
- Storytelling circle: Really, just another club meet scenario, but centered around the art of spinning yarns. Similar to the dueling club, but with less brawling and more bullshitting. (Both were prone to boozing, though.) Mostly an open/social style, with few formal dynamics.
- Protest Meeting: The Alliance are taking over our territories and the “warchief” is letting it happen! The Scourge are getting restless and nobody is paying attention! Our children are being lead all over Stormwind by strange teachers who could be doing Light knows what with them! Whatever the moral crisis, you can always organise a protest meeting about it! Unlike the club meeting, these ones are heavily formal, with a very strong figurehead leading the chants. Disruptions are easy to handle too – have another player dress up as an authority figure of any sort and come down to negotiate/tell the protestors off.
These are only a few I can think of, and surely there are more. They’re great fun, and do a good job of increasing the total role-play, because they introduce role-players to other role-players. Get ’em happening!