I covered the opening of Evermore (a LARP-focused theme park with no rides but lots of fully costumed actors playing out their roles) pretty extensively. My professional GMing business was just starting to take off during their opening season in Autumn 2018, and while my schedule was getting more and more tight, by pure coincidence I wound up with an evening open when Evermore was running, and Evermore was an enchanting new concept that I wanted to explore more of.
While Evermore opened strong, however, their Autumn 2018 season ended weak. It had two basic categories of problem. The first were the organizational issues: Actors would hand out hooks for quests that were no longer available because the season plot had moved past them and would give contradictory information as to whether a certain plot beat had been reached or even existed.
The second was pacing issues. You generally want a plot to move through setup, buildup, and climax, but Evermore’s first season (and several after) struggled with the climax. Evermore has the setup nailed down: You enter the park, interact with characters, and start to get an idea of what’s going on. Back in Autumn 2018, they assembled the buildup as they went along, figuring out faction quests for the monster-hunting Blackhearts and the Knightly defenders of Evermore that had you go through a brief haunted house and shoot some arrows at an archery range and such, with the idea that this would prepare you for a final confrontation with the evils of the dark blood plague.
That never happened. Evermore completely dropped the ball on climax, and generally had difficulty tying off its plot threads. There was an early quest line, for example, where you talked to vampires to see how they were immune to the dark blood curse. Turns out it’s something to do with their venom, but consuming it would turn the drinker into a vampire as well. As I said in 2018: “[T]heir vampire venom protects them, but would also turn anyone who drinks it into a vampire. Which, like, is immortality included in that deal? These are pretty ugly nosferatu vampires and I don’t know if it’s possible for them to sustain themselves without killing their victims, but I’m interested in subscribing to their newsletter.” But what 2018 Chamomile did not know is that this never goes anywhere. The vampires never appear in the story again, whether as a potential source of a cure or an antagonist or anything. By the end, it’s not even clear what their opinion on the Fey King is. Do they think of him as an ally? A rival? Are they apathetic? An actor might’ve been briefed with a response or improvised something if I’d asked, but it never comes up. Lots of setting elements are like this. The skeletal soldiers marching around are never relevant to anything, nor the goblins and their forge, despite some early indications that helping the goblins get to their forge and produce weapons would be a plot beat.
And worst of all, this lack of climax was scarcely better in the main plot. The season climax was carried out entirely in vignettes performed at various stages throughout the park over the course of the final few nights, without the quests completed by the worldwalkers contributing much of anything. The closest thing to a plot beat that seemed informed at all by the quests is when the audience was told that the little “gold” nuggets they’d been collecting were magical and would help close the portal to Scarytown, which would’ve been sloppy but adequate except that the importance of stockpiling the gold hadn’t been communicated for 95% of the season so it was totally possible to show up to that scene with no gold in hand because you spent it all on dollar store trinkets which allegedly have magical powers (which is a pretty cool goldsink in the typical situation where you actually want to sink gold – unfortunately, Evermore’s Autumn 2018 season was not the typical situation). No one’s counting up how much gold is there and altering the course of the scene in response, of course, but it’s possible that even if you meet the park halfway on the logistics and agree to pretend that the gold you carried to the scene contributed to the outcome, it’s still possible to show up without any gold because you weren’t told it was important until it was too late.
As much as Evermore had problems with keeping actors on the same page regarding what stage of the plot we’re supposed to be on, the biggest problem to solve going forward was easily going to be the lack of any climax to the player’s personal plotline. While obviously you cannot personally defeat the villain because there are like ten thousand other park guests who need to be served a satisfying plot and only one villain, you could have something like a haunted house with a Shiny Rock in the middle that you’re only allowed to enter if you’ve completed the quests to prove your worth and join the Blackheart Hunters/Knights of Evermore/Witches’ Coven/Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything/whatever, and then you give the Shiny Rock to a quest NPC, while behind the scenes as soon as someone leaves the room with the Shiny Rock one of the actors replaces it with an identical Shiny Rock, and the quest NPC who receives the Shiny Rock hands a sack full of them to someone to restock the haunted house every twenty minutes, but if you suspend your disbelief you just gave the NPC the Shiny Rock. When they’re confronting the big villain in the climactic performance and pull out the Shiny Rock and the villain is all “oh, no! The Shiny Rock! I am slain!” then you’ll feel like you were a key part of making this happen.
Autumn 2019 was pretty much entirely a retread of Autumn 2018, which had me seriously concerned about whether the park was even worth coming back to if each season was just going to be the same thing but with new actors and a slightly different park layout, and then everything changed when coronavirus attacked. I had a trip to New Orleans dropped in my lap for Halloween 2021, so any Evermore plans were canceled in favor of that, but now in 2022 I’m checking back in. How has Evermore’s Autumn season – their biggest and most popular – evolved since their 2018 opening?
My flippant suggestions about getting chased through the woods by a monster to accomplish some kind of Plot Objective was almost literally done, which I have chosen to interpret as Evermore’s writers and directors reading my blog and using it as a checklist. Still, while the construction of the haunt is perfect for the purposes of providing a climax (I, personally, would’ve preferred a bigger emphasis on building an atmosphere of dread and less on jumpscares, but jumpscares are an industry standard and you break from those at your peril), its placement in the plot is wrong for it. The haunt is something you pay extra to get into, and none of the other quests particularly point you towards it. I went around Evermore doing setup-y things asking about what was going on hereabouts and hearing that there were ghosts and vampires in town, and that the mayor was some kind of doctor fellow, then I went around doing faction quests and personal favors beating up on other park guests with foam swords and speaking with ghosts and spying on witches, and then I went and did the haunt. Logistically, everything for a proper setup, buildup, and climax was there.
The problem is that one didn’t actually lead to the other. I went through a haunt and pushed some buttons to drop some cages on specimens for the doctor, and it was by far the most intense haunt that Evermore’s ever put on (except maybe the 2021 season, a Halloween trip to New Orleans fell into my lap that year so I didn’t make it back to Evermore), but this didn’t come as the climax to the earlier buildup, nor for that matter did the buildup particularly follow on from the setup.
It’s possible that the problem here is with me: Prior experience with Evermore has taught me both that it’s very hard to squeeze everything I want to do into one night, so I should hurry, and also that there’s usually a couple of factions offering quests that give you a decent look at the plot of the current season, so I figured out what factions were around and went and talked to them. Maybe the faction quests have been demoted to side quests and that’s why the main plot leading up to the haunt was barely even referenced. Even in this case, though, when I first came into Evermore I introduced myself and my brother (who was visiting with me) to a plot relevant NPC and asked if there was anything quest-ly that needed doing, and I did not get any clear directions to an on-ramp to the main plot. The main plot, being main, should either be thrust upon you by just about any NPC you ask about it, or else it should have so many on-ramps that you’ll stumble across one by blind luck.
And it’s also possible that the buildup giving context to why the haunt is important is locked entirely in earlier nights of the season, in which case tying the pace of a player’s plot arc to the park’s in this way is bad for several reasons. Firstly, you don’t want a player walking from their regular boring life into instant climax because it’s the fifth time they’ve been to Evermore this season so the new last-week-of-October climax content is the only new stuff to see. Second, some people can only come one or two nights a season and still want a complete story.
Also worth noting that the haunt costs extra. Without seeing the park’s financial records personally, I couldn’t say for sure how necessary this is, but as a separate experience not particularly tied to the park’s main plot, that’s not really objectionable either way. There’s plenty to do in the park with a regular ticket, you won’t be going home early because the park has run out of content, nor are you going to be given a bunch of quests that build up to the haunt and then pumped for an extra $10 to get in. But if the haunt is going to be a separate premium experience with an additional cost and not your climax, then the park still needs a separate climax or else it has the same pacing problems as always.