Archive for the category “game design”

Forced Character Retirement in LARP

Forced character retirement is the normative in Socal larps.  For those unfamiliar, there’s two parts to this concept:

  1. You may not have a character over X points.
  2. When you reach X points, you get a retirement story arc that makes your character go bye-bye.

I come from a non-retirement larp tradition myself, with characters being “eternal”, so I have some insight into the contrast.

Retirement is marketed that it accomplishes two goals.

  1. Forced retirement mitigates the power disparity between old-timers and newbies.
  2. Forced retirement makes sure that the story screen time doesn’t center around the old-timers.

Both of these marketing bylines are lies.


In the first case, smoothing the power disparity is not accomplished, at least not here in the 5+ LARPs resident in Socal.  Characters that are half-way to retirement are absurdly more powerful than starting characters, both vertically and horizontally.   As a result, content that isn’t silo’d (i.e. most of the content) is a cakewalk for the folks past the halfway point.  The resulting “mishmash” of content is error-corrected on the backend, by making death nearly painless.    Even worse, forced retirement systems often give insane “retirement benefits” to characters, giving access to powers unattainable on the first playthrough.

In the second case, every LARP will always have cliques, and the Socal LARPs are no exception.  Forced character retirement has no real effect on this.  Storytellers will cater to their friends, giving them more content, regardless of their character’s power level.  People make their post-retirement characters often even more connected to existing characters that are their friends.  We’re all baboons, we’re just baboons that dress up like elves and wack each other with foam-sticks.

Nevertheless, I believe character retirement does accomplish non-marketed goals that have immense value.

The “meme” of a Character Arc 


The benefit of forced retirement is the introduction of the concept of a character arc early to people.  The game I came from resultingly had no concept of character arc, and players needed to discover it on organically.  Many never discovered it, defining their characters, but defining them without the meta-agency to say “this is where the character is going”.    Forced character retirement should be marketed as “forced character arc”, since this is the real benefit of the mechanic.

But Scotty, should forced retirement or forced character arc really exist?

No, but there should be a point cap, and there should be a voluntary option to retire when you want to start a new story.  Perhaps, depending on logistics, alt characters could co-exist with capped characters.  However, if somebody wants to play their character another five years at the point cap, let them.

I make this point, because I believe that the value of LARP to a lot of people is that it is a place where they can feel powerful.  I believe that many nerds go through life feeling powerless in so many places.  They feel powerless to find a good job, a lover, a boyfriend, friends that aren’t shits, etc.  However, folks can come to LARP and feel an amazing amount of agency and power.

Making people feel powerful in a LARP shouldn’t be “turned off” without good reason.  I don’t believe there are good reasons (see above), ergo, it should not be turned off.











6 Scene Beat Sheet for extended LARP mods (Scene #6 and Overview)

goal(s): wrap up details, foreshadow further events
element(s):  roleplay, paperwork

Resolve the Conflict
In this last scene, we clean up any niggling details.

  • Your Mr. Johnson hands out the promised rewards.
  • Mysteries that were unresolved get clarified.
  • The players divvy up loot.

The key to making this scene work is having an NPC present, nominally your Mr. Johnson.  This can be logically difficult (why is the helpless diseased villager who hired us in the middle of the Forest of Death?”).  This can also have a production cost (i.e. the villager is needed in Scene 1 as well, and in a multi-team format, might be problematic).

The other tool here for “tying up everything” is a scroll or letter.  This puts something physical in your player’s hands, which is always welcome.  You can combine a letter with the “hand-wave” travel back to civilization, and resolve all your loose-ends.

Allude to a conflict in the future.  If you villain escaped, give your players a hint about the villain.  Where or how did the villain escape?  What is the villain’s next step?  This kind of information will get your players champing at the bit for the next episode.

RECAP of the 6-Scene Beat Sheet

Scene 0 Introduce the Conflict
Scene 1 Warm-Up Bandits
Scene 2 Complicate that Shit
Scene 3 Ambush them in the Dick
Scene 4 Jack of All Trades
Scene 5 Final Fight with EBG
Scene 6 Resolution

6 Scene Beat Sheet for extended LARP mods (Scene #2)

Scene 2 – Complicate That Shit

goal(s): establish the villain, up the stakes horizontally severely
element(s):  role-play, puzzle, physical challenge

This is a non-combat encounter, and it’s goal is to up the stakes horizontally.  The best way to describe this is to give you the typical scene early in a novel or movie.

The hero has what appears to be a simple problem.  

“This mayor hired me to check out that graveyard where scary sounds are being heard from.”

The hero appears to solve the problem.

“I arrived at the graveyard, and sword-punched a bunch of zombies in the head.  Problem solved!”

The hero breaks something along the way, or discovers that the problem is way more complicated than previously supposed.

“All of the zombies went down easily. We could clearly see their eerie green soul juice float away towards that creepy tower up the hill.”


Overlap with Scene #1

This scene can use the same site as scene #1, it just occurs sequentially afterwards.  In the above example, the fight with the zombies is scene #1.  Scene #2 would be something mysterious about the zombies (strange tattoos, glowing gems, , possessive spirits, scroll fragments) for the players to interact with.  It can be obvious the PCs screwed up and made things worse, or left ambiguous for them to argue over.

Introduce the Villain

If there is not a singular villain (the EBG) established yet, now is the time.   The existence of “evil bad guy” is a ring in the nose of PCs they will rarely ignore.  Putting a name to the “face” is just that important.  It’s hard to hate something you cannot name, or a nebulous organization.

example: the Necromancer Evilbadgai possesses the fallen zombie corpses from a distance, and warns that players of their certain doom if they try to disrupt his plan.  The players have to wack-a-mole (err.. zombie) to shut him up, perhaps with other players arguing with them to stop chopping up the zombies because they want to talk to Evilbadgai.

Make this Scene Have Flesh

You will want this scene to take up screen time.  I’ll say this over and over, but treking everybody out into the woods (after hours of driving, costume prep, etc.) for a grand total of 20 minutes of content is not cool.  The same goes for having a scene where only one PC interacts, and the rest play swap the but thumb.  Yes, those other larps you play in do it all the time.  Slavery isn’t cool either, and everybody used to do it.  


The best way to increase screen time is to adhere to Rule #2 from the first post of this series (i.e. make sure every PC is involved).

Whatever your non-combat macguffin is here, make it involve the efforts and interactions of as many PCs as possible.  The resulting complication and coordination will become a content creation machine.

example:  Evilbadgai is able to speak with the dead relatives and ancestors of the PCs.  He has seen them coming for days from his interrogations of the spirits of the dead.  As a result, he is prepared, and will torment and vex them with the status of their loved ones (or enemies) in the afterlife.

Transition to Scene #3

As always, you must have a clean transition to Scene #3.  You very likely need Scene #3 to be in a different site than Scene #2.

sidetopic:  communication channels

Whenever you increase the stakes, you are performing an information transfer from you to the PCs.   You’ll want to figure out how to best do this transfer.  You can just drop a “forsooth, you hear drums in the distance.  It sounds like the ritual has begun.”  In some cases, that’s the right thing™.  How you convey the stakes is just as important as what the stakes are.  

  • Forsooth from the Storyteller (or an ST-enabled NPC)
  • Lore from a NPC
  • a written document

Each of these information channels has strengths and weaknesses, which I’ll wax about here.

Forsooth from the Storyteller
The Storyteller does an info dump.

pros cons
cheapest production cost Usually too fast, so it isn’t content
highest consistency
you guarantee that the PCs get the info
Usually boring, as it is an info dump
Breaks the “show don’t tell” rule

Lore from a NPC
An NPC does an info dump, or is available to be questioned.  The typical here is either the Mr. Johnson, or a captive NPC.

pros cons
This is slow, so it’s content. Medium production cost – you must prepare the script and info for the NPC
 Best role-playing interaction. Worst consistency
The NPC could be killed, the PCs could not ask, the NPC can screw up the important points of information, the PCs can miss it easily
 Can act as your non-combat macguffin itself, rather than the result of the macguffin  Requires a reliable NPC

Written document
You have a written document to be recovered by the PCs.  This is a scroll on an NPC, or a book on a table.

Almost as consistent as a Storyteller Forsooth.
It can be missed if the PCs don’t search the appropriate location.
 This has the highest production cost
 This is take-away content, to be referred to later by the PCs.
Ergo, the ST doesn’t need to repeat themselves.
 Best method for complex information
 Best method for foreshadowing
(i.e. the most likely to be remembered by the PCs)

6 Scene Beat Sheet for extended LARP mods (Scene 0)

I’ve been working on a 12 scene beat sheet for line-course LARP games.  As part of the process, I decided I wanted to have a 6 scene version, since that is likely to be a lot more appropriate for 99% of the LARPs out there, and I’ll likely use it as well.

For a quick reference, this is a very meta outline for a mod, describing what happens in each scene in broad strokes.  It provides a skeleton, and it’s the detail that adds the meat to it.

There’s a few rules I’m adhering to here.

Rule #1 — Any scene must be a full scene.  It must include one (or more) of the following:

  • Provide a place for PC development
    • confront or challenge a PC’s goal/belief
    • introduce new world canon related to a PC
  • Establish or increase the stakes
    • horizontally increase the stakes with complexity
    • vertically increase the stakes with severity
    • z-axis increase the stakes by involving more PC, or making it more personal to a PC
  • Playground elements (i.e. simple fun)
    • There’s something “live-action” related to the encounter, which is something for everybody to interact with physically.  This is commonly a combat, but can be physical challenge/puzzle.  These elements are like sugary foods, they are great in moderation, but you need something in-between them to cleanse the palate.

Rule #2 — Always try to involve the entire subset of players with every scene

I can best describe this rule by the classic violations of the rule.

  • The role-playing scene with a single NPC, which will probably be dominated by just a few PCs.
  • The puzzle scene that can only be interacted with by a single player at a time.

Without further ado, here’s the first “beat”, Scene #0.

Scene (0) – Pre-Game Conflict Intro

goal(s):  introduce the conflict, identify the characters involved.
element(s):  role-play, exposition


This doesn’t necessarily need to be a scene.  This is the introduction of the conflict.  Ideally this is pre-game with email based “lore” about the conflict, and identifying the players that will be involved.

However, without pre-game lore, this becomes an additional scene by necessity.   In the common parlance of a world course game, this is the hook scene.

In the context of hook scene, this is usually the single NPC that comes to the camp, has a problem and asks for help with that problem.  This does accomplish the minimal goals, but it breaks both rules #1 and #2.

All too often, the NPC is somebody the players have never met, and the conflict is something the players don’t care about.  The players play along, since it’s the content, and they want the content.  However, kicking it up into a full scene takes just a simple detail.  Simply include something from one character’s background.

There is a simple twist to really kick it up a notch, and it has several side benefits.  It does require a kick-ass NPC that can adlib.

(1)  The conflict of the mod should relate directly to a PC.  The low-hanging fruit here is to have the bad guys be the bad guys for a certain PC.

(2)  The “Mr. Johnson” NPC enters the camp, and starts talking to people.  The NPC does NOT approach to the target PC.  When he talks to people, Mr. Johnson may or may not discuss the conflict.  Just as importantly, the Mr. Johnson asks about the PC he is talking to, and relationships the PC has with others.    Let them infodump a bit, as everybody loves to talk about their character.

(3)  Eventually, the conflict leaks back the the “PC that cares”.  If not, the Mr. Johnson can prempt the action by approaching that PC.  It’s there that the “hire offer” comes.  At this point, the Mr. Johnson has hopefully talked to a small subset of players.  Assuming you are not targeting the mod for the entire playerbase, this can be conveniently is about the number of players you intend for the mod, as well as the power level of PCs.

(4)  The Mr. Johnson should not immediately say “ok, let’s go”.  Instead, they should be trepidatious about the motives, virtues and/or skills of the PCs.  Mr. Johnson should do an in-game version of the Circle.   Ask each character how they know each other.  It’s possible (if your game culture allows it) that the Mr. Johnson could take an ST role here and tell folks OOC that it is appropriate to make up something new here.

(5)  The Mr. Johnson, now appeased that the players are virtuous and/or skilled enough to tackle the conflict, presents the offer.  This is a great place to confront a PC’s goals and beliefs.  Are they in it for the gold, the glory, or the good?

(6)  Conveniently, this process takes 15-30 min, which gives time to set up the rest of the mod.  It’s also a pretty good chunk of content all on it’s own.


Whatever your conflict is, it’s important that it’s small to start with.  Not every adventure is about saving the universe from certain doom.  If your conflict starts at the top, it has nowhere to go but down.

GNS Theory for LARP – part 4 – Realist

My previous posts have talked about the segmentation of LARP players, and placing their desires into neat little boxes based on the venerable GNS theory for RPGs.

I think that light-combat LARP needs to add R to the GNS. R is for Realist. LARP isn’t like other games (either table-top (TT) or CRPG). A TT game that is heavy Narrative is great.  Gamist players will either move away from it, pull it in gamist directions, or take it over. A computer game can be low narrative (Diablo) or high narrative (Mass Effect) and still have heavy gamist elements.  In other words, in other gaming mediums, it is easy to pick a corner of the GNS triangle and still be awesome.

Light-combat LARP cannot adjust to do this, because it needs a large group of people to work.  That’s the Realist part of the story. You can’t have those amazing Gamist or Narrativist moments without a large enough player-base to support it.

Because you need a large group there will always be members of the group that are coming in with different desires. Some of those desires are Gamist and some are Narrativist. A lot of people want the Social aspects of LARP, which doesn’t fit in a neat box. A lot of people want the combat, which can overlap with Gamist, but really can be it’s own thing of physical enjoyment. A lot of people differentiate their Narrativist desires. Some want to emphasize their internal narratives, some want to build small stories with just their RL friends, and others want to be at the center of all the plots they can wrangle for themselves.

As a result, I think everybody, players, plot and NPCs should be a Realist.  More importantly, they should proselytize the Realist attitude. The attitude shift should be “I recognize your desire to have X as valid, and will try to accommodate you. Help a bro out and give me Y when you can.” No more of powergamers looking at “rp’ers” as lesser creatures, and vice-versa. I believe that it’s this credo that can act as a coherent social contract of light-combat LARPers.

“The only wrong way to LARP is when your enjoyment is at the expense of the enjoyment of others.”

The Circle – a pre-game “ritual” for LARP players

I’ve adapted this OOG ritual from a “new campaign” mechanic that worked very well for me in table-top.

As will be obvious shortly, this is something best suited for small groups of players.  For world-course players, I believe this will be a great tool for small in-game groups, especially those that are adding new members.

Everybody forms up a circle facing inward.  It’s probably best to have people sit, since this might take awhile.  Determine one person to start.


On each person’s turn, they look to the person on their left.  Then they state one of the following “THE PAST” or “THE FUTURE”:

The active player describes an event that occurred between the active player’s character, and the character of the player on the left. This event becomes canon if the person on the left agrees, but they are welcome to veto it, with a “no, but”. In other words, this is a collaborative experience, and both players need to be on board.  Once there is agreement, the event becomes canon.

Active Player <Ragga>:   Ragga met Thorna on the road, and flirted with her.  It didn’t turn out well.

Left-hand Player <Thorna>:  Hrmm… I think Thorna would have flirted with Ragga first, but it was lost in translation.  Perhaps they both are into each other, but the culture shock is in the way?  And when I say culture shock, they are too busy trying to one-up each other.

Active Player <Ragga>:  Awesome!  That totally happened!

The active player describes an interaction they would like to happen in this game.  This has the same rules as the “past” above, requiring consensus from both players.

Active Player <Ragga>:  That last game we never got around to resolving our attraction.  I would like us to start flirting this game, but nothing more.

Left-hand Player <Thorna>:  Yep, shy flirting with threats of violence sounds perfect.

During the circle, it’s okay for the players and the GM to make suggestions.  However, do this only if it is somebody’s turn and they are drawing a blank on what to suggest.  The GM, being privy to the plot, has a lot of power here to suggest some very telling interactions.

GNS Theory for LARP – part 3 – Simulationist

The core goal of simulationist play is for the game to feel “real”.  Understandably, very few LARPers in light-combat games view themselves as simulationist.  It’s a much more common view in the medium-combat games (Amt/Bel/Dag), and those games address the simulationist view more directly systemically.  Nevertheless, there is a simulationist satisfaction provided by the verisimilitude of LARP in contrast to table-top and CRPGs.  The senses of accomplishment and immersion are one of the core strengths of all kinds LARP.  Much like Gamist and Narrativist, every LARPer wants a bit of simulation in their game, and most will claim they want immersion when they express that.

Immersion is Collective Illusion
Immersion is usually defined as “there’s no shit pulling me out of character.” Most immersion snobs (and you know them) have this correct. It’s hard to be immersed with OOC talk and elements of the modern world in plain sight. However, the snobs only have part of the answer. True immersion happens when everybody buys into the illusion, drinks the Kool-Aid, and loses themselves. It’s a collective effort, and worth making OOC efforts to get people into character. I’ll write more about that in a future post.

If it can be done safely and cheaply, it should be done “live-action” rather than with a call or tag.

The failure to abide by this edict is the biggest pain point I have with LARPs, or the decisions made by LARP designers.  I think they are missing the value of simulation in so many cases.  The power of an actual phys. rep. instead of a tag is underestimated.  The satisfaction of overcoming a physical or fighting challenge is miniscule if you simply use a verbal instead.  My best war stories involve “and I ran across the field and did X”.  This is primarily why I don’t have a great appeal for “nordic” style larps, and posit that they aren’t very “live-action” as they are missing the “action”.  LARP is strongest when it has live-action and role-playing.  There’s plenty of other venues that do those activities alone, and do them better.

Have enough verisimilitude to not broach credibility, and not much more

Now, the other aspects simulation can vary within the rules of each LARP.  Medium and Heavy combat LARPs are definitely very Simulationist.  The light-combat LARPs I prefer tend to be minimally Simulationist.  Light-combat LARP needs just enough verisimilitude to not broach credibility, and often they do not want more than that.  In order to accomplish the narrative and gamist goals of light-combat LARP, the simulation needs to decline.  We want a guy that can throw fireballs, and those fireballs don’t light clothes on fire, but they do kill orcs.  We want a gal that can get hit with a spear in the chest twenty times and still keep fighting. We want the blows to be light, the weapons to be light, and the combats to last a long time.  These are non-purist Simulationist desires.

The Simulation is decided by rules, not Plot

The amount of simulation, by necessity, is decided on a holistic scale by the rules design, not by the plot/storytellers.  Yes, plot can breach the underlying logic of the world, but in general, they do not, and the simulation level stays static.  This is an important observation, since it means that as storyteller, you have only two levers to play with on the macro scale, the gamist and narrativist features of your game.

GNS Theory for LARP – part 2 – Narrativist


Much like Gamist, Narrativist play has a lot of facets.  The core premise of narrativist play is the application of theme to the game.  It’s the theme that varies.  Some narrativists wish to express their internal character themes, and others desire external themes to express themselves onto their characters.  

Theme is about requesting the future

The entire goal of theme is to foreshadow desired changes to a character, or desired events for the character to encounter.  A character may attack orcs on sight and viciously mutilate them.  This may seem to be simply fulfilling the requirement made by their character background of “village was massacred by orcs”.  However, it should be viewed as a request from the narrativist player.  That request is “please give me something about orcs that takes this character somewhere else.”  

Oftentimes, the storyteller needs to meet the player in the middle, as the narrativist player has an idea where that “somewhere else” is.  Some players may want to reconcile their hatred of orcs in some fashion.  Other players will just want more and bigger orcs, and the opportunity to kill every orc everywhere.  On the macro scale (across several games), it’s best to ask the player where they want to go with it.  On the micro scale (in a single scene), emergent gameplay must be relied upon.

Narrativist play is about decisions

Just like gamist play, you cannot have narrativist play without presenting a player with decisions.  There’s some key observations to be made here.

First, these decisions are often the primary conflict with gamist play.  If you present a decision that has a clear gamist choice versus a narrativist choice, you are going to have conflict that is meta in origin.  Nobody is going to like that, and the gamist and narrativists will most likely resort to name-calling, or at least claiming that the other group is “playing wrong”.  An example would be a huge group of injured peasants.  The gamist knows that expending magical resources will do nothing to “win” the game or the encounter.  The narrativist might have a thematic reason to help the peasants.  

Second, just like gamist decisions, the narrativist decisions must be validated.  The validation, however, is very different.  The validation to a narrativist is additional information and/or screen time.  If a narrativist makes a decision (i.e. healing the peasants), but then nothing of note happens, the decision feels empty.  If later on the narrativist learns that the peasants were able to home safely and rebuild their village, the narrativist is validated.  In some cases, a negative validation works as well. The healing of the peasants could mean that they were later captured and enslaved by the slavers that have cropped up before.  

Narrativist play can be poisonous

Narrativist play can be just as poisonous as gamist play, but it’s not commonly viewed as such.   This poisonous play has the same requirements as it’s gamist cousin, in that the enjoyment comes at the expense of the enjoyment of others.  The most common version of this would be the narrativist that refuses to compromise their character’s theme, halting gameplay until other players concede their own narratives.  Another example is the narrativist claim of “but my character would act this way”.  This is just as poisonous as the gamist claim of “but this is the best way to win.”  Another poisonous play is the narrativist cornering an NPC, usually a captive, and dragging out content that isn’t there.  This is commonly the PC saying the same thing over and over, until the NPC concedes the point in boredom/frustration.  Some NPCs love this, but some NPCs just stand there and take the abuse.

Narrativist play is cooperative between Plot and PC

The story that a narrativist craves is part created by plot, but part created by the player.  The amount of each can vary widely, with the story being almost entirely created by one party.  However, the key is that at least some of the story is created by the other party.  This is an important observation, as it dictates that narrativist play requires cooperation between storyteller and player.   

Design for the Narrativist

Here’s some tips and tricks.

  • Present plenty of rumors and lore before game.  These give the narrativist ideas on the kinds of thematic moments coming up in game.  
  • Present a list of quests to choose from before the game.  These give the narrativist a goal (and coincidentally the gamists as well).  These quests need not give any concrete reward, but instead something that gives that character a unique reason to be on that adventure.  Both the quests and the rumors help the player to meet the storyteller in the middle when it comes to story.
  • Have a mirror-moment in every game, preferably in the middle.   The goal here is to have a player reflect upon the nature of their character.  Most players will need to do this with meta-thought (i.e. what would my character do here?)  In general, this is a place where the character is further defined.  The mirror moment can be any of the following:
    • A moral quandary, preferably one with no “right answer”.  It might be important to make sure there isn’t a gamist angle to this quandary (see above), or make the decision something that an individual makes rather than the group.  
    • A softer version of the moral quandary is presenting the quandary in theory, but not in practice.  An NPC can discuss what they are going to do in a situation, with the intent being that the PC can reflect their approval or disapproval.
    • Another “soft” moment is a “shrine meditation” scene.  A magical location requires a specific ritual to get an effect.  That ritual entails reciting some story/lesson/philosophy (think Stations of the Cross or the Sith Code).  An even better version of this is that the character has to reflect back their interpretation, or answer questions like “What is best in life?
    • An actual mirror in a fantasy game could have magical properties (and a mind-altering device in sci-fi can work as well).  The mirror could show an exaggerated version of the character, or an opposite version of the character.  The mirror could impose a temporary or permanent change to the character’s personality (like a Mirror of Opposition).tumblr_mrmdeg6kzK1rv231do1_1280
  • Have the opportunity for a heroic moment.  Many players deeply desire a heroic theme to their narrative.  Think about heroic moments in fiction.  They almost always involve one of two elements, both related to the movement of the hero.
    • The hero stands in place.  This is the classic “holding against impossible odds” moment.  Create a chokepoint for somebody to hold.  Throw goons at checkpoint.  Put something important behind the hero.
      • A macguffin for the other players to deal with.
      • An escape route that takes a bit of time to use.6940159-gandalf-balrog
    • The hero travels alone across a hazardous area to accomplish something.  There’s three elements here.
      • Put something that one person can accomplish at a distance.
        • A ritual to stop.
        • A damsel to save.
        • A villain to stab.
      • The hazardous area to cross.  This is usually just bad guys.  This should be controlled to let one person through, but nobody else.  The example I can think of were the bullshit force-fields in The Phantom Menace that held Obi-Wan back.  From a viewer’s perspective, these were a bucket of fail.  From a player’s perspective, the hero won’t notice that they somehow got through the all the bad guys really easily.  However, your NPCs would have instructions to “let the first player through, but make it look like you tried to stop her”.AMb9j
      • Make sure that the decision is easy for the hero to charge into peril.  Make the goal something important to a specific player.  So important that they don’t think twice about trying to charge through six NPCs. You can do this with quests (see above) and other foreshadowing.

GNS [Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist] Theory for LARP – part 1 – Gamist

GNS theory is a pretty good starting point for a lot of RPG discussions.  Below are two links that go into it in detail, but largely in the context of table-tops.

The core of this concepts is that you can box a person’s RPG desires into three boxes, either Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist.  Most folks don’t fit neatly into a box, but they can often point at one box as their favorite box.


I’m going to address this theory from a LARP Plot/Storyteller aspect.  As usual for me, this is for light-combat, large group fantasy LARP.


There is a core philosophy to gamist play.  It’s the philosophy that games can be “won” and that “winning” is the goal of the game.  There’s a lot of ways to win the game, and that is an internal construct brought by the gamist LARPer.  Some might want to establish their LARP-peen, either in fighting ability and/or the power of their character.  An other gamist attitude sees the game as a challenge to be overcome, and success is measured in the defeat of the villains, the recovery of the lootz, and the survival of the players.

Gamist play is about decisions


The core pleasure of gamist play is having decisions validated by winning.  There’s a lot to talk about here as a designer.  

First, you must present valid decisions to the players.  Without a decision, the gamist feels no agency (the narrativist will gripe as well).  In a combat situation, present opponents that are clearly different in appearance and abilities (i.e. a guy in the back with long-range attacks).  The gamist is validated by choosing who to attack, but cannot do this if all the NPCs are clearly the same “thing”.  This is stupid easy to do in almost every combat by adding one dangerous spell-caster.  In a puzzle challenge, present/allow multiple paths to success instead of just the one you thought of.  In a role-playing encounter, make sure there are multiple NPCs to talk to so there’s decision for each person what who to talk to and what to say.

Second, you must give the validation.  There is a temptation to kick players in the nuts for a less than perfect decision.  There is no upside for anybody in making a player feel defeated.  There’s certainly a place for defeat dramatically (see the next post on Narrativist play).  However, go out of your way to let players feel like winners against gamist challenges.  The emphasis is on “feel”.  You might eat up a lot of mana/resources as a result of a challenge, which could be regarded by some as a loss.

An example I can think of was a game I played in where there were archers physically hidden in the brush, and they would pop up and hit us with a single very high damage arrow before we could reach them.  It wasn’t fun, because there was nothing we could do to stop the arrow, and after they got the shot off, we mowed the single archer down.  We didn’t feel any agency as a result.  If we still took that damage, but there was a decision we could make (i.e. interrogating the archers, having some agency in keeping them from shooting us, or keeping them from fleeing) that made us feel like winners, it would have been resolved much better.

Gamist play can be poisonous


Yes, some gamist attitudes are bad.  When a gamist seeks to have enjoyment (i.e. winning) at the sake of the somebody else’s enjoyment, that’s a poisonous attitude.  However, there is also a very important point to make.  A lot of people, as a result of bad experiences with gamists doing this, they label all gamist play as bad.  They will use terms like powergamer, min-maxer and munchkin as derogatory.  As a storyteller, this is not an attitude you should have.  Gamist entertainment sources are very valid, but you should not enable the zero-sum entertainment angle.  Don’t make NPCs that can be popped instantly and don’t respawn.  Don’t put your NPCs in horrible tactical situations so that they get destroyed instantly.

NPCs need gamist joy as well

How can an NPC have a gamist attitude, when they are supposed to lose, and the deck is stacked against them?  Certainly the most poisonous of gamist attitudes is the one by noob NPCs wanting to “kill PCs”.  However, you can give NPCs an alternate win condition that doesn’t involve the defeat of the players.  This can be as vague as “give the PCs a good fight”, and frankly, that’s often enough for me.  I usually try to add “and try to enable a cool event/story as well”.  If I feel like I had enough screen time as an NPC, and I put in some good hits, then I feel like I won as an NPC.  Communicating this to NPCs is difficult, because it’s a tricky concept.  

Educate your Gamists to be Bros

Whenever you see a zero-sum gamist moment, regardless of your role in the game, make sure to point it out afterwards.  “Yes, what you did was correct tactically, but it was really unfun for that NPC”.  Promote the idea that “hard mode” for a gamist isn’t just winning, but winning in a way that doesn’t sap the fun from others.  Challenge their larp-peen as a result, saying “the best players I’ve ever seen managed to pull that off, and I think you can to”.

Design for the Gamist

In LARP, it’s usually fine to present a combat and present no other win condition outside of “kill the NPCs and survive the process”.  This is the default wincon and still presents plenty of gamist enjoyment.

Some Socal LARPs have a variant default wincon which is “talk the fight away”.  I originally thought it was because the player base was heavy narrativist.  However, I found that any encounter that begins with NPCs that talk seems to communicate to the players “you should talk this one out”.  I’ve been amazed at how far the NPCs can take it and the players will simply not start hostilities if the NPCs made a minimal effort to start with talking.  This is because the decision to talk it out is rewarded often enough, and the win condition of “talk it out” has been presented.  They want to “win” the encounter as a result.  I was just missing the cue, since my experience was that the cue of “we have foam weapons in our hands” means that it’s a fight.
The key here is communication.  As the designer, you must clearly communicate an alternate win condition(s) to your gamists.  This is not railroading, or at least it shouldn’t be.  Without that communication, your gamists are going to default to what they know.  

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