In the wake of our success with Coalescence 2017, we look forward to future events in 2018 and beyond. Bearing that in mind, we would like to share some experiences of some Narrative Event Organizers. So for today’s post, we’ve asked NEO Jake Castro in Orlando, Florida to touch on the differences between planning an event and running one. Hopefully, it’ll be helpful to all you first time NEOs out there. Take it away, Jake!
Salutations, my fellow NEOs, and a special welcome to you newbies out there getting ready to run your first event this year! I have a hard time articulating how fun it can be to run a narrative event, and it is definitely an experience I’d recommend to anybody with a solid command of the game’s rules. With a little effort and a bit of careful planning, your event will be a fun and memorable time for you and your players! I myself just ran my first event in June of last year (Coalescence 2017), and I had a blast.
That said, it was definitely a learning experience, and nothing teaches better than making mistakes. I learned very quickly that there is a significant difference between planning for an event and running one, and to forget that is to let things get quickly out of hand. So, if you’re willing to give me your ear, I’ve got some advice for you.
It all comes down to 3 major points:
- Consider Your Limitations
- You Have to Crawl Before You Can Run
- Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes on the Fly
If these seem a little vague, don’t worry, I’ll touch on them in greater depth shortly. But before I do, I hope you’ll indulge me in…
A Little Backstory.
2017 was an interesting year for me for many reasons, but one of the most defining experiences for me, after over a decade of being a wargamer content with playing the game, was deciding to give narrative event organization a go. Like many wargamers, I had seen incredibly cool events run in my local game stores, and while they were often competitive events like tournaments and leagues, the ones that really piqued my interest were the narrative events.
It’s always seemed something of an inevitability to me that if we spend a multitude of money and hours on assembling and customizing a characterful army of our own design, that we will want to explore their world and focus on more than simply how high up the tournament circuit we can get. I hit that point early on in my gaming career, and after seeing one of my childhood friends in a map-based Warhammer Fantasy Battles campaign and participating in a narrative-focused apocalypse Warhammer 40000 battle myself, I was hooked. I realized then, nearly 7 years ago, that I wanted to run such an event one day. And now that I was out of college, married and looking at the next chapter of my life, it seemed 2017 was as good as any year to try something I’d always wanted to do in this hobby.
So I became a NEO last year, and gleefully set to the task of organizing an event with the wargaming-equivalent of sugarplum dreams dancing in my head. And while I supremely enjoyed myself, I’m pretty sure I made every mistake a rookie NEO is going to make. So, in the interest of learning from the past, let’s get to it.
- CONSIDER YOUR LIMITATIONS.
When you first sign up as a local NEO and get your organizer’s copy of the basic event pack, it’s easy to get hyped up and start pouring through the packet to get ideas. Trust me, those things are full of cool ideas and really exciting hobby inspiration; you’d have to be dead inside to not to get at least a hair excited. That’s great! Enjoy that rush! Get some cool ideas, but before you get too invested in any of those awesome possibilities, take stock of your resources honestly, and consider how it could impact your ability to organize and participate in the event. Things like store availability, time restraints on you and your players, available tables, the size of the local wargaming community, even things like your work schedule can either limit or change your plans before you even get started.
As an example, I had hoped to host my event all on one day, and quickly realized that would be something of an impossibility, as I had signed on as a COALESCENCE 2017 Organizer a little later in the event cycle, and by the time I managed to speak with the manager of my local Warhammer store, they had already booked events for the 10th of June (2017 Coalescence Event Day, the day I was banking on running it). Compounding this issue was the fact that there had been a surprisingly strong response to the event, and table space in our store was severely limited (about 4 tables for the entire venue, and by the time that signups were complete I had nearly 16 players!).
My first mistake was not reaching out to the manager before I started planning an event schedule: if I had done that, he would’ve told me about being double booked and also about the limited table space, and I could’ve planned around it. Perhaps I could’ve searched for a different venue, brought a few of my own tables or planned around running a far smaller event by limiting my player count more substantially.
All these things can easily be mitigated and compensated for; just make sure you take stock of any limiting factors, and be honest with yourself about them. Trust me, it’ll help you in the long run. Speaking of being honest with yourself, that brings us nicely into our next point…
- YOU HAVE TO CRAWL BEFORE YOU CAN RUN.
I’m sure you’ve heard this tired phrase before, but that’s because there’s some serious truth to it. When most folks start planning their first event, the usual first impulse is to build on events they may have participated in before and run something particularly ambitious but potentially awesome. While it’s relatively easy to conceive of awesome scenarios and epic scale events, if this is one of your first times running an event, you should seriously consider keeping the scope simple and complexity minimal.
Would it be cool to have some sort of thematic mechanic in place that give individual players perks for thematic play? Sure! How about an XP system for each player’s General so they grow over the course of the campaign? That’s awesome! Is it wise to try such stuff if you don’t really have a solid, practical grasp on the basics of running an event? Maybe it would be better to write it down and save it for next time you run an event. Ambition isn’t itself a bad thing, but it’s a quick path to recklessness if you’re not careful.
Yet again, this was a place where I fumbled last year. Early on in my initial planning period, I had conceived of a cool series of awards to give out to individual players after the event: awards like “Headhunter” for the General who felled the most characters personally, “Strategist” for the person with the most won matches, and “Master Commander” for the person who scored the most overall VPs across the entire event, among others. However, due to limited space and time at my local store, I had to run my event like a campaign over the course of a few weeks instead of all on one day, assigning one mission a week and allowing the store managers to record the results for me so players could play at their convenience. This more hands off approach, coupled with some players failing to report their results accurately every week, made it effectively impossible to keep track of these metrics with any real accuracy and properly assign the awards, and in the end I made the decision to cut them for fairness sake.
So don’t be afraid to scale back some of your more ambitious plans for your first event. Honestly, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of heartache by having to cut cool things, and instead you can recycle some of those cool ideas into future events, and trust me, there will be future events. Heck, I’m planning on using those awards this year in the 2018 Coalescence event, and now that I’ve got a better grasp of what it will take to implement them, I’m far more confident somebody is gonna walk away with that wreath of skulls I’ve made for the Headhunter!
Seeing as how I’ve mentioned more than once that last minute changes to my event format had thrown a wrench into the works of my initial plans, a few of you readers out there may then think that the lesson to be learned is to make avoid taking risks and run the simplest event so as to avoid dealing with these sort of emergency course changes. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but if you plan on running an event…
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE CHANGES ON THE FLY
Ok, Ok, I know I’ve spent most of this article talking about how my initial planning phase led to sudden course corrections that may have impacted the overall quality of my event. I can also hear many of you new NEOs thinking, “Well, that shouldn’t be a problem for me. My plan is rock solid.” But if you’re a wargamer, then you already know that Murphy’s Law (‘anything that can happen will happen’) is less of a phrase and more of a universal law. Call it pessimism, but pessimists are what optimists call pragmatists (Ok, I’ll stop with the phrases now).
The truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect plan, and no matter how carefully crafted your itinerary or well play-tested your scenarios, something is bound to go wrong. That’s perfectly ok, and to be expected. Instead, learn to be comfortable with making those moment-to-moment judgement calls, and be at peace with the fact that sometimes there is no “right” answer to a problem. Sometimes you have to throw ballast overboard to keep your ship from sinking, even if it’s treasure.
Again, to tie it back to my experience, all of those concessions I made to circumstance and my own poorly conceived plans did serve a very important purpose; they allowed me to run my event to completion. And while it wasn’t what I’d envisioned and I’d had to cut things I was really looking forward to doing, what was more important was running an event that my players could enjoy and participate in. And they did enjoy it. And when I turned in the final results to NEON, I felt an immense satisfaction in knowing that I had not only managed to wrangle people together to play, but that on the whole, they seemed to enjoy themselves.
And that is an incredible feeling.
Some Parting Words.
So there you go, folks. That’s all the advice I can fit in this article without turning it into a novel. In summary, take an honest account of your limits into your planning, be willing to learn the ropes before you start working on all the bells and whistles, and don’t be afraid to make judgement calls and compromise in the face of sudden and unexpected changes. If you’re willing to do those things, it should make your first experience as an organizer a lot easier.
In the end, all I can say to all of you newbie NEOs out there is that you’ve already got everything you need to run your event: you’ve got the want to make something of your own, to bring people together to play and have fun. Honestly, that will be more important to your success than any advice I could give you.
See you out there, NEO. I look forwards to seeing what you can do!