When starting to plan an event you can work out how many players you want, work out how much you want the event to cost and work out the cost of what you want to do (This last one is hardest.). These numbers will change, but if you don’t know them at the start you can’t work out the impact of each change you make.
Most people running an event know their break even point. Typically I know the point at which we have paid for the site, the point at which we’ve paid for the site and the basic level or props, the point at which we’re running the event we want to and the point at which we have some money spare to invest in extras. This means that I’ve thought about the compromises I’m willing to make before I get to the point that I have to make them.
The budgeting isn’t the interesting point, but it is something that needs to be understood utterly. I will spend ages adjusting things to try and get more money without increasing the price point too much. I believe that we undercharge for events. Secret Cinema is £75 for one evenings entertainment. A film at the cinema can easily be £20, and yet with accommodation, and food we still only charge £80 for a whole weekend of far more personal entertainment. Putting prices up does mean some people can’t afford as many (or any) events; however expecting the people running the event to perform miracles to accommodate that isn’t really reasonable.
Expensive one off games can take advantage of more unique sites and more interesting locations. There are people out there who can afford £200 + for games, but you’re limiting your audience when you start pricing there. If you run 4 times a year then a lot of people will have to choose which of your games to attend because they simply won’t be able to attend them all.
The price of Alone events went from £75 to £125 and in that time the amount Mandala LRP were losing when running the games dropped from £3000 to £150. The second seems much more reasonable – certainly to us. We’ve always intended to reuse kit, run the same game twice on consecutive weekends etc, but in reality kit needs repairing, and booking the site for two weekends and the week between isn’t easy or cheap. We also don’t have enough holiday from work, and sometimes the players trash the stuff we build while coating the ceiling in fake blood.
A low budget limits the sites you can use (especially as we’re very midlands oriented). Consall feels like the most overused site in English LRP. It’s cheap and has a lot of accommodation, but no large hall and the building opens onto a car park. We have five or six different plans to make this matter less. We have ways of changing the space available to make it feel like a new location and to make it feel more IC and natural but that all requires planning and skill. It requires recognising the structure as imperfect, evaluating the flaws in the space (view of cars, road through the middle, the really OOC looking area immediately in front of the building), working out what we want to see there (for dark hearts it was a small village square with a defendable wall and gate) and then creating it. We had a lot of screening (hessian is amazing, although a touch ubiquitous), borrowed props from friends (thank you to the CP Lions for lending us their gate) and worked out how to light the space to include atmosphere.
It wasn’t horrendously expensive and it made it a much better space for the players. It did mean we had to carefully monitor car parking to keep them away, and we had to make sure we could open it for emergency vehicle access quickly. Drakelow tunnels, on the other hand, required very little dressing. Spare budget there could be directed towards props and electricity (£300 spent on fuel for the generator). Getting a site that looks good even if it’s more expensive up front can save you money, but only if you know the costs of making the site you plan to use look right.
We would rarely try financial planning without having a site in mind (or 2-3 different options) and knowing what that site is going to cost us. It just isn’t possible to plan in a meaningful way without the basics in place.
Some games can handle more players. There’s a very different balance with a 20 player game to a 50 player game, and the numbers in the middle also change things. A lot of the best encounters for players happen when in small numbers – especially if it’s a horror game. The more players you have the harder it can be to create intimate situations. The more players you have, the larger your budget, or the lower your ticket price.
Money dictates a huge amount with events. You want to spend your budget well, but you need to have something in reserve incase it all goes wrong. You want to be able to keep money aside to cover emergencies, and cleaners, and paying a nuisance player to go away. It would be irresponsible not to do that. We’re lucky to be in a place where if necessary we can afford to put money in to cover things like this. We often have a good idea what people could commit, and with ZapFest (where we ran with 17 players instead of 40) we had long talks about this before deciding not to cancel. We knew that it would be reliant on us spending our own money on the events, but we did it anyway.
Running a good event is a massive achievement. It’s good for you and it’s good for your players. We can’t afford to lose £3000 on each event, so we budget, really carefully to the extent that we talk for hours about it. We can tell you the cost of each thing we contribute to the game. We know the costs of transport, and storage, and the value of moments and glory.
We’ll keep running games, and they’ll always cost us money, but we’re really careful not to set ourselves up to spend more than we can afford to lose on games for other people.