|Re-Inventing Events: Reflections on The G.A.M.E.
(This article was originally submitted in July 2010. Due to the scope of the article, it has been broken into sections that will be posted over the course of several days. Part one of the article is available here and part two is available here. -- Randall)
G. Activity Development and Implementation
The are several standard items you definitely want to place prominently in your schedule, including a series of fighting events, a few cultural events, meals for staff and attendees, and defined set-up and take down periods. In addition, there are a series of mistakes we are certainly trying to avoid. In this section, we'll spend some time looking at the basics of these scheduled items and in the next section, we'll think a bit about how to creatively avoid snafus.
We'll start with the item which should be central to your schedule: fighting events. This is an action game, a sport more than anything else; however, Amtgard is unique in that we have a huge range of games we can play within the confines of the general rules. And indeed, for special occasions, we are encouraged to not only expand on the existing sport, but also to make rules and player types that fit specific scenarios. Rather than running a series of large-scale battles, the Autocrat of the G.A.M.E. chose to limit the number of long-running, exhausting group mash-ups, and instead substituted tournaments, contests of skill in various Amtgard-related athletics, and a variety of demonstrations and easy pick-up games to fill the time. All of the contests, large games, and tournaments had prizes offered to the winners. Some contests (mechanically-assisted spell-ball throwing, for instance) had specified rules in advance so participants could prepare their domination ahead of time. You could add role-playing activities (short monster raids, class-based contests), ongoing event-long games ('assassin'; action-scavenger hunts, etc.), or even a wandering duelist to challenge your fighters. However, and this is an absolute, do not put ditch battle time on your schedule. Anyone can ditch in their home park, and even if you don't schedule it, it will happen in the mornings and evenings, so set aside a special area for your dedicated ditchers. As for scheduling, save the daytime for your activities and the nighttime for social interaction!
Unless you are in charge of a focused, fighting-only event, the rest of your event schedule can be filled in with cultural items. If you can include at least one item from the Arts-and-Science genre, one item pertaining to leadership, and one role-play focused item, your event will be well rounded. If you have several small things from each of these categories, you may be an event virtuoso! Remember that folks are more likely to be interested if there is an incentive to attend. There are some activities that lend themselves to include rewards and prizes, and there are other activities that you can provide small treats simply for attendance. Consider at least two of the following: an Arts-and-Sciences tournament (maybe DragonMaster if it's properly timed), a construction demonstration or class by an expert, a bardic, a raffle or auction, a costume contest or fashion show, an on-site craft competition, a Nobles and Knights scavenger hunt, a cook-off, a role-play only area, a public podium where announcements can be made "in character", etc.
Feast and Court should be considered separately from all the rest of your activities. Since a feast/court event is held at least every three months in most lands, you should definitely have some practice at this before you jump into running an event. Once you have done it a few times, it is really easy to take those arrangements on the road. The major thing to be cognizant of and make arrangements for is your facilities. If the campsite you've chosen has few kitchen type areas, then some items may have to be prepared ahead of time. Keep in mind that campfire cooking is hit-or-miss due to temperature fluctuations, so plan your menu accordingly, and start your preparations for on-site meals well in advance of when you want to start serving. If fact, you may want to consider an activity-specific schedule to distribute to feast and court staff so food is properly prepared and punctually served. Ideally, your meal will be served in a sheltered area, so plan for a hall or pavilion onsite. Picnics are all well and good, but not very focused, and definitely lacking in pomp and circumstance, so do your best to contain your audience, preferably with something entertaining like a game or a minstrel. Since it is essentially a public forum, some of the most embarrassing problems can crop up during this time; we'll address these in the last section.
Last but not least, arrangements must be made for clean-up of your site. This is of great importance, since the way you leave an event site determines how friendly the hosts are to your group (or any other youth group) in the future. Ideally, Amtgarders will always leave a site cleaner than they found it. Plan to have certain people from your staff stay behind after everyone else has left, to pack up the group supplies and to clean public areas. Your clean-up crew could be the same as your set-up crew, too, especially if there were no additional duties assigned to those workers. Don't simply assume that everyone will police their own camping spot, patrol each location picking up trash and putting out campfires. Outstanding camp cleanliness should be noted locally and perhaps awarded. For example, as an incentive for the clean-up crew, the autocrat of the G.A.M.E. arranged a send-off dinner where everyone reminisced and compared stories after the site was vacated.
H. Less Whining, More Winning!
Let's look at the major stumbling blocks an event planner will face. Scheduling errors, the worst of which include dead time or the opposite, over-scheduling, can be addressed in the initial phases. Be conscientious of the allotted time for individual activities, as well as the set-up and clean up time for each activity. You or your staff may want to participate in an activity scheduled before or after the one you are responsible for running; or one person may be involved in running a certain activity when another item they are responsible for is waiting to begin. Equally frustrating are those moments when everyone is simply sitting around waiting for the next thing to begin. These moments are easily avoided by placing short 'filler' items in between major activities. These fillers should be run by someone who is not involved directly in the previous or following activities. The fillers should be enjoyable, easy to explain and accomplish, with minimal props, and if there are prizes offered, they should be tokens only. For instance, at the G.A.M.E., contests of skill were scheduled alternating with the few major battles. During the interim, contestants would throw spell balls or hurl them using mechanical means, run races of various sorts, and play mini-games, with small snacks served to contestants as prizes. I would suggest going a step further: practice your filler items at your park in the weeks previous to the event, to see how quickly they run and how easy they are to start or abandon.
A second issue most Amtgarders have faced is that of players with bad attitudes. While each scenario is different, there are a lot of things you can do which can help avoid those situations which spawn strife in the first place. First of all, plan plenty of available housing space, so camping sites won't be uncomfortably close; if someone wants to avoid someone else, there is lots of room for both to be contented. Second, make sure that in between high-adrenaline activities, there are less competitive items or even a short, intentional break to cool folks down. Address tense situations immediately if possible, and provide a calm atmosphere to escape to when tempers get hot. Set up pavilions and sitting areas to shelter under during rain or hot times, especially if there is little shade at your site. Designate water-bearers to offer refreshments constantly, and always during stressful encounters, particularly if an individual begins getting angry; ask them to sit down and have a cool bottle of water before they get explosive.
Keeping everybody hydrated and cool can also help address something that was an issue at the G.A.M.E.: heat exhaustion. In this case, heat, humidity, and lack of onsite water-bearers caused at least one attendee to pass out shortly after a battlegame. In a case like this, make sure you have plenty of cold packs or wet towels available to cool down anyone suffering: a cooler-full of cold water and soaked towels might be just the thing everyone needs in the heat of a battle. Finally, to address both of the previous issues, monitor alcohol use. Daytime drunks are the most likely to both overheat and cause drama amongst players. Be aware of these miscreants and make sure they can't take the field in standard games.
Next: The Worst of the Worst
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