How to celebrate your RP events with activities & prizes

Happy 3rd Birthday to Before the Mast

This article was written by Elena Vasilescu.

My site, “Before the Mast”, has just turned three years old. In a world where many RPGs are created on a whim, going belly up before their half year anniversary, each new year a RPG is marking is a reason for celebration. Therefore, anniversary celebrations, events of all kind and prizes are the subject of my present article.

I had seen, on resource sites, several people asking “my site’s first anniversary is approaching. How should I celebrate it? What can I do?”

Each year, my celebrations sort of started two months before and ended one month after the actual anniversary, which is August.

Two months before, I launched contests with prizes:

  1. Activity contest, going two ways: the traditional “the character who makes 40 posts in this period wins a prize” and “the highest posters (a.- character and b.- player with several characters adding up) win an additional prize”.
    For this, I counted in a list the number of posts each character had at the beginning of the contest. At the end of the contest, a new statistic was posted, and the results were displayed in the site’s Monthly Chronicles.
  2. Creativity challenges contest, which is a mix of prompts for writing challenges, with points for each, and various community challenges, which make people earn points (such as answering surveys, being more active in discussion threads, posting an introduction, etc.) The writing challenges are flexible enough to be able to be incorporated in the ongoing plots.
  3. Art contest, for those who aren’t only good writers, but also good with drawing and/or photomanipulation. All the submitted artwork was turned into a youtube movie for the board’s anniversary, with the due credit to their authors. The art meant, in various years, “Happy anniversary Before the Mast!” banners which were displayed on the board, drawings or photomanipulations describing characters from “Before the Mast” or quotes/ scenes from favourite threads. Sometimes it was a sort of funny posters, paraphrasing famous movies, and this was funny too. In the first year, the well known taverns in our story got signs too, useful for their description.
  4. Recruiting contest – The idea is to recruit by word of mouth at least one new member to the site – one who will stay and post. (An advertising contest would count here too.) The winner will earn a prize and a mention in the site’s Monthly Chronicles.

Besides receiving public recognition in the monthly chronicles and a “contest winner” award in their signature, the winners receive concrete prizes too – e-books, CDs with custom cover and heartfelt dedication, graphics. The most cherished prize is a special anniversary CD (songs pertaining to the site theme, carefully chosen, and a custom cover with a dedication for each winner). Yes, we are at the third issue, and some friends of the site, like Onion, receive them too.

For those who had several characters winning prizes, other prizes involved themed e-books (ie swashbuckling adventures at sea, given that the site is Age of Sail themed – mostly Hornblower novels and Sabbatini’s) and graphics for their characters.

I recommend warmly to everyone these concrete and easy to make/ offer prizes which are cheap and can turn into cherished mementos. Other people would recommend mainly badges and coloured custom frills to display in the character’s profile, but… what to do with badges? How many people are fond of “shinies”? Besides, it contributes to slowing down the loading of the site. Having a concrete prize, to hold in your hand and to remain as a wonderful souvenir of the story you are writing together, counts a lot and it is more thoughtful.

BTM offers prizes to its most valued members
BTM offers prizes to its most valued members

You or any skilled member of your site can make the graphics used as a prize, or the YouTube movie with the graphics you have received as contest submissions.

For the e-books, Project Gutenberg is the best source, and you can find lots of free books there you haven’t heard of because they hadn’t been republished recently, but which are interesting and pertinent to the site’s theme.

And for the custom CD, it takes songs you have already, either in your computer or on CD’s, to copy in your computer and to give them a custom cover, then to email them to the winner. No money involved, just your patience and love. It takes 10-12 e-mails (each one with 2-3 songs) and the personalised CD cover the last. Then they burn the CD, print the cover and this is it. It is important that something remains to remind them of the achievements and of the community. The CDs comprised, during the years, the site’s two theme songs, some plot theme songs (Alestorm’s pirate-themed worked well, for example.), some of the characters theme songs and place-related songs (Sun of Jamaica, Haiti cherie, Springtime in Nassau, Kingston Town, etc.).

One month before, I launched the sitewide event, both used as a celebration party for the site birthday, as an opportunity for characters who wouldn’t interact otherwise to interact, and for some plots to go on. The first year’s was Saint John’s summer feast – during this holiday an engagement took place, the pirates saved their captain from prison, mercenaries reunited and found a new mission, etc. The second year’s was Michaelmas feast, with which opportunity pirates came a-spying, a mercenary learnt that his beloved had been executed for treason, a girl learnt her fiancé got lost at sea, another couple had an engagement, unlikely friendships started upon a drink… Now, the still ongoing third year’s sitewide event is the New Year Masquerade, which will have, ia, an assassination attempt. In parallel, a blockade on Cuba is also running (which, in the site’s calendar, happened before the New Year Masquerade, in November 1719, as we are writing in liquid time, and all the threads are listed in the proper chronology of the story in a board-wide calendar).

Other anniversary themed activities (some by me, some by other sites I know):

  • One year, I put also trivia contests about threads and characters.
  • Every year I have also a memories thread, where people to remember something from their first days on the board.
  • Every year I am also doing a birthday speech, writing a personal note for each member who has been around long enough to get involved into the story.
  • Even for sites who don’t have a regular monthly newsletter like us, I warmly recommend to do a special anniversary newsletter, comprising, ia, a few tops highlighting the achievements of the year:
    • Top 5 longest members
    • Top 5 high posting characters
    • Top 5 most viewed bios
    • Top 5 most viewed threads

Our members also voted for:

    • Thread of the year
    • Rumour of the year
    • NPC of the year
    • Love story of the year – And some funny awards too (most likely to be rescued by the damsel, most likely to kiss the wrong maiden, most likely to stab themselves with the sword, etc.)
  • Have a meet-up! Sometimes it works, and this year I had the chance to be visited by the first member of the site (she’s from USA, me from Eastern Europe), and we celebrated together – champagne and cake with a ship on it included.
  • Have a movie watching marathon! Find a week-end where the schedules might allow for it, a movie on youtube (so that it can be watched by people in different timezones at different hours) matching the site’s theme and watch it, then chat and share impressions. It helps with bonding the community.
  • Decorate your site for the holiday! A new skin, a new banner, new pips or thread markers would give it a holiday feeling. Some sites decorated the avatars with birthday hats, for example.
  • Make an anniversary gift to your site – a c-box or an in character c-box, if not having any yet, a new domain, a software upgrade, etc.
  • Have a kind of Secret Santa type birthday presents swap.
  • Uncover a new species, or a new territory to explore!
  • Update the plot and mark the achievements of the past year.
  • A scavenger hunt might be an IC or OOC celebration event as well.

I wish happy anniversary and many happy returns to all perennial games, and whose members and administrators are reading this article now!