ST 223: Reviewing and Updating a VSS

Taking an Accounting

The first and most crucial step for any Storyteller looking to update their Venue Style Sheet is to consider their player base and how it has changed since the VSS was originally written. Depending upon your local game, the makeup of your player base may have changed drastically – you have likely lost some players and, hopefully, have gained new ones! The NST Office strongly recommends that VSS reviews be conducted every 6 months.

New Players
In order to get an idea of what continues to drive your game, open a dialogue with the newest players. Regardless of whether these are brand new members of Mind’s Eye Society or returning players, it’s important to reach out to them and ask them what brought them to game – specifically, what made them decide to play in your venue.

A few questions to ask your new players:

  • What do you love about the venue?
  • What attracts you to the genre?
  • What sort of scenarios and conflicts most appeal to you?
  • What stories from the canon and setting do you like most?

The answers to these questions will give you critical information about the type of game your newest players are looking to enjoy. Often, however, the stories they are wishing to explore have little to do with the genre; thus, when you’re asking for new player input perhaps the most important single question you can ask is what they envisioned when they first created their character.

Most players tend to have surprisingly specific scenarios that helped them first form and define their concepts, which play out in their mind as ‘cut scenes’ or ‘clips.’ Often, these are considered the idealized representation of the characters; to the player, it’s these scenes that help give them a cool factor and motivate them to explore the concept. While these can range from wheeling and dealing in boons, kicking butt in combat, solving  mysteries as a master detective or uncovering arcane secrets, the player is revealing to you the sort of game and plots in which they most want to play.

Former Players
Potentially, the least pleasant part is finding out why players have left your game. Identifying the reasons why these players may have lost interest in the genre, your specific local venue, or LARP as a whole also plays an important role in crafting your Venue Style Sheet to attract and retain players.

If you have contact information available, try to touch base with the individuals who stopped playing because they weren’t having fun or simply burnt out. For those who weren’t enjoying themselves, ask them what they would have rather seen in the game – what plots, atmosphere and other game elements might have helped to keep their interest. Alternatively, for players who have stepped away due to burn out, try to find out what aspects of play frustrated them most. Knowing what issues can be resolved and what processes should be streamlined is just as important as discovering what enjoyable aspects should be added or emphasized.

As always, make sure you are polite and respectful; if they don’t respond to your attempts to get their feedback, make sure you don’t press them – that will only further sour the game for most and make it even less likely they will someday return. Naturally, not all players can be satisfied and the interconnected MES chronicle  isn’t for everyone; some players that have left your game may have had unrealistic expectations or made demands that simply can’t be met.

Lastly, there are bound to be players who stopped participating in your venue due to unavoidable real life priorities such as relocation, lack of time, or familial commitments – on the surface, these may seem like people you’d bypass when seeking feedback, it can often be helpful to politely inquire with them as well. Many people will avoid voicing their criticisms out of simple dislike for conflict, yet they will often have valuable advice and, in some cases, the advice your game needs most. Of course, do not accuse these players of making up an excuse to stop participating in the local game; instead, ask them what they think could be improved to better retain player interest and excitement.

Regular Players
Finally, you must take an accounting of your consistent, loyal players! After all, the two primary goals of a Venue Storyteller are player retention and enjoyment; the Venue Style Sheet is one of your most powerful tools in crafting a game that accomplishes both within the bounds of chronicle settings.

Utilize the methods already described in this document to explore all three sections of feedback with your existing players:

  • What keeps you coming back?
  • What would you like to see more of?
  • What plots and game aspects do you like least?

Incorporating Feedback

At this point, you should have quite a bit of information. Don’t get overwhelmed!

As the storyteller, it’s your task to pick out the patterns that have emerged in all the feedback you’ve received from new, former and current players. By comparing the perspectives of these three groups of players, you should be able to identify the parts of your game that most appeal to its player base and entice prospective players into giving it a try.

Next, pretend you’re starting a brand new game – in some senses, you are. Ask yourself, based on the information provided, what sort of game would you run? What stories should be told? Which plots run? Designing the game from the ground up can seem daunting to imagine but, as an exercise, it will give you a unique outlook on the sort of game you should be running.

Now, compare that game to the current Venue Style Sheet. Many storytellers, upon the creation of a Venue Style Sheet, utilize categories for various aspects of the game, such as danger, pacing, and the like. How is the mood different between these two? How would the games look if you attended both?

Highlighting these differences will help you conclude which changes will be most beneficial to your game and, ultimately, how you should revise your Venue Style Sheet to match.

Protecting Your Venue

The storyteller also has a duty to protect their venue. In many cases, when you’ve obtained any significant amount of feedback, you’re likely to have run into conflicting points of view. As an elected official, it is your responsibility to make the executive decisions on what, ultimately, is the best course of action.

Although you should take your players’ suggestions to heart, bear in mind that some of the suggestions and advice you’ve received may not be what’s best for the game. Some ideas look better on paper but don’t work out nearly as well in practice due to unforeseen complications. Use discretion and trust in yourself to know what’s best.

It may be a noble goal to satisfy each individual player to the fullest, your ultimate responsibility is to the local players as a whole. As such, beyond considering the direction in which you wish to guide the style and mood of the local game, you should consider adding provisions into your Venue Style Sheet regarding appropriate concepts – remember, this will apply not only to new PCs seeking to enter your game but to visitors as well. Don’t be afraid of receiving a little pushback here; you should be considerate and open to player requests but it is important to keep in mind that while they may seek to play in the same venue, their concepts may be suited only to a completely different style of game.

Housekeeping

Since the VSS was created or last updated, a local culture and customs will have been established. Even if these aren’t collected in one place, most local players can reliably answer how downtime actions are handled, how XP is awarded, how pre-casts or feeding are performed and the like. Regardless of whether you have held the office before your current term or if you’re brand new, you’ve probably also determined how you handle visitors, proxies, and other common storyteller tasks.

Integrating these into your VSS can not only spare the game conflict and confusion down the road but also provides the players, both local and visiting, with very clear operating procedures in one centralized location. Although many venues keep a number of documents to facilitate their game, visitors often don’t have access to these prior to their arrival; further, any future storytellers who come into the office will have a considerably easier time transitioning into the position, which directly adds to the continued health of the game and preserves all the hard work you’ve invested during your term.

Game Information
Perhaps the easiest update is of the OOC information! Make sure you update the storyteller contact information, typical game dates and the hosting location of your game sessions.

Continuity Updates
Local settings are rarely as immutable as we like to believe – you’ve likely discovered this already in practice! It’s very common for the city history to have been updated since the VSS was last published, especially if you or previous storytellers incorporated new PCs, both local and elsewhere, have sought to take part in past events. Additionally, regularly appearing NPCs and important locations may no longer be relevant or completely new ones may need to be added. If your work identifying the driving forces of your venue was successful, hopefully, you’ll bring in new players and encourage visitors! Having up to date venue settings thus becomes an exceedingly useful guide for PCs hoping to navigate the local game and get involved as seamlessly as possible.

Rules Updates
You should also consider adding a section containing any standing rules calls and clarifications. Although every venue should follow their member club’s national addenda, there are many items left to Storyteller discretion – for example, you might decide in your Requiem game that called shots to the head only inflict lethal damage if the shot is fired in melee range, thereby granting the target their Defense. To ensure consistency of rules calls and clarity for the venue’s players, creating an appropriate section within your VSS can be extraordinarily helpful, in addition to giving visitors a clear expectation of crucial differences between local games. Further, it is highly encouraged that you state which source material is typically available and those players should have on hand.

Finalizing VSS Changes

Once you have decided on all the appropriate updates and changes to your Venue Style Sheet, it’s time to make it official! Unfortunately, it can be somewhat confusing on exactly how you update the VSS itself and the information is not readily available. There are two possibilities:

  • If you’ve authored the original Venue Style Sheet application on the Approvals Database:

  1. Log into the MES Portal
  2. Go to Legacy Tools > Approvals to take you to the Approvals Database
  3. Go to My Applications from the menu on the left
  4. Click on the original VSS to open it
  5. Edit the Application and make your VSS changes
  6. Change the Approval level at the top (which one doesn’t matter)
  7. Click Enter New Information at the bottom
  8. Edit the Application again
  9. Set the Approval level to the correct one (usually High)
  • If you do not have access to the original VSS application, you’ll be forced to enter a brand new application. Make sure to set it under VSS or Plotline instead of one of your characters, as well as verifying you’ve selected the VSS category and appropriate approval level!

While you are in the Approvals Database, this is a fantastic time to update the instructions to your players for all approvals they request in the database. You can find this under Storyteller Instructions from the menu on the left.

Once the updated VSS has final approval, go back into the Approvals Database and make sure your local player characters are all appropriately assigned. You can verify by clicking on VSS/Org Character list from the Storyteller menu. Here, you’ll be able to see the full roster of PCs assigned to your VSS.

Be advised that if you had to create a brand new application to update the VSS, your local players may have to assign their characters to the new VSS to be legal – but it’s also a great opportunity to make sure all local players have read it. This is a great time to check for any PCs that are requesting to join your VSS, too!

Supplement Review/Update VSS Checklist:

ST name:

Date:

Venue:

Questions

Comments

Section to change

New Players

(List people asked)

What do you love about the venue?

What attracts you to the genre?

What sort of scenarios and conflicts most appeal to you?

What stories from the canon and setting do you like most?

Former Players

(List people asked)

Why did they leave?

What would they have rather seen in the game- what plots, atmosphere and other game elements might have keep their interest?

What aspects of play frustrated them most?

Regular Players

(List people asked)

What keeps you coming back?

What would you like to see more of?

What plots and game aspects do you like least?

Housekeeping

How is XP awarded locally?

How are pre-casts and supernatural resources handled?

Are there specific methods PCs should use to submit downtime actions or access backgrounds?

Game Information

Is the ST contact information up to date?

Have the visiting or proxy requirements changed?

Continuity Updates

Updates from Plotkits

Updates regarding NPCs and Locations

Revisions to city history and travel risks

Rules Updates

Has a new Addendum for your venue come out? Are there any changes?

What are your standing VST discretion rules calls?

What source material are players expected to have on hand?