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Codified "Soft shift"

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I brought this up during one of the zoom events a few months ago and was told to post it here but I kept forgetting.

So currently (as if it's not an eternal problem) we have a shift balance issue. This isn't meant to call anyone out (and there are definitely exceptions to the generalizations listed below), but to point out some trends and make a suggestion.

 Two of the major causes of the shift imbalance (because there are many varied reasons) is energy level, and interaction. Third and fourth shift have the most number of PCs vs NPC ratio, while first and second have the highest level of NPC enthusiasm as people are starting the game fresh. Most of the players PCing on 3/4 already gave a lot of energy on 1/2 being monsters and bandits and other physical NPC roles, and by 3/4 they just want to hang out with their friends around a campfire in character and RP the night away. This isn't to say the NPCs on 3/4 aren't tired, just that as NPCs we ask more continual expenditure of energy, whereas no one gives a PC the stink eye for sitting around their entire shift.

Everyone reading this knows the arguments for shift balance, but for a super basic rundown as I see it:

  • The more NPCs on a shift, the less roles per player per shift, meaning less burnout
  • The more PCs on a shift, the more plots that should go out to keep players entertained (combat and noncombat alike)
  • When these numbers are largely out of balance, you get burnt out NPCs and bored PCs, or overwhelmed PCs and a lot of NPCs getting missed.

So I'll go back to the causes above, energy level and interaction. By 3/4, a lot of us are physically tired, especially if we didn't pace ourselves and ran ragged Friday night, or stayed up after Shift 1 ended or got up early Saturday to RP in what has colloquially been called "soft shift." Soft shift is the time between shifts 1and 2 where you can RP with PCs you normally don't get a chance to see because you play opposite shifts. Merchant PCs hand off wares ordered between games, meta plot information gets passed between parties to better prepare for the changing of the guard, etc. By necessity soft shift happens in the early morning/late night margins of game, but what if it was codified into the game schedule, a 5th shift wedged in Saturday between shifts 2 and 3?

We already sort of do this every year with Harvest Festival, allowing players to PC for a third shift, but that specifically cuts out one of the game shifts for all-PC interactions, and It's second shift, when everyone is still mostly rested. If we were to shorten the existing shifts in some capacity to allow for an In-character break period early afternoon instead, it would:

  • Allow players who normally play 3/4 (for the social interactions), to see *everyone* for a few hours, making congregating on specific shifts less important.
  • Allow players who normally play 3/4 (for the chance to relax due to the large PC numbers) to relax sooner in the day, and recharge to maybe NPC or more actively pursue plots into the evening
  • PCs that have heavy makeup requirements aren't disadvantaged, because this new shift either bridges or bookends any of the back-to-back shifts they normally would play

I'm unsure whether this is merely treating a symptom or relieving an underlying cause, but it seems worth a consideration. Most likely it should be implemented along with some other shift-balancing measure, but I feel like this should make it easier to swallow whatever measure it's paired with.

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It's an interesting proposal, but I think it misses a few key points that explain why 3/4 are the biggest PC shifts:

  • Players don't want to change outfits multiple times. It's easier to get into gear Saturday afternoon and just play until you're done, then go to bed. There's no need to dress up as PC on Friday, then get all back into gear again (sometimes your gear can be nasty after rain or sweat is involved).
    • It's also why no one plays 1/3. At least 1/4 let's you NPC all in one go before getting back into PC garb.
  • People with makeup/prosthetics or other issues: it takes a while to get ready, losing gametime in the process each time you have to change from NPC to PC.

For that reason, a 5th shift might actually make this worse. The biggest lull in game is during change-over.

As someone who played 3/4 a lot in the past, I'm not at all about resting and RPing. I want just as much combat and chaos and energy as any other shift, so I can't agree with the points about chilling by the campfire all shift. However, I do agree that unbalance shifts lead to overworked NPCs and bored PCs. There is a little bit of onus on the GMs for that (having been one, I can speak to it); there are ways to have a single NPC keep an entire party occupied for hours. It's all in how you tailor the plot.

Going back to more "targeted PC group" plots can ensure there's at least something to do for everyone and doesn't require 10 NPCs to do it.

My personal opinion is that we should have caps on PCs per shift and give priority to folks with medical or costume reasons. But I'm sure there would be some pushback.

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