Archive for the category “mechanics”

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.










I read this recently

I immediately pocketed it in a folder for “there’s so much LARP commentary here”.  I ended up play Dead of Winter at a party this weekend, and some of what he was talking about finally grokked.

ROLL-MOVE or MOVE-ROLL when it comes to LARP

Most tabletop games (i.e. the root of most LARP design) are Move-Then-Roll systems.  You declare “I attack the orc” then roll to see if that attack was awesome or failboat.

LARP doesn’t have the space for a die roll.  However, I’ll posit that it’s the opposite, and it is effectively a Roll-Then-Move system in feel.  In a LARP, you have so many choices, but you almost always half the information on what is possible.  You know that you can swing that nerf-sword.  Often you have a pretty good idea if that attack will connect.  That’s the half you have.  You are almost always missing the other half, which is what the effect of that sword attack will really be.  The information flow isn’t there until you hit the guy enough for them to drop.

I think that’s a very important observation, the lack of information on “the other guy”.  Any measures that can fill in that gap are a Good Thing™.


Again, this was interesting in the context that dice don’t create the illusion, but the GM.  In most cases for my table-top GMing, I scare the players with meta-knowledge.  The fact that I as a GM detailed something makes them pay attention.  If it appears dangerous, they notice.  It isn’t the information itself, but how it is delivered.

In a LARP context, most people are scared by the meta knowledge.  In this case, folks will very often pay attention to the NPCs in a combat.  If an NPC has a custom costume, they know effort went into that guy, and he’s probably a problem.  If the NPC is played by a notorious stick jock, and it’s the final battle, that guy isn’t going to be a pushover stats-wise.

There’s some LARPs out there that convey this information overtly with armbands.  I think this is great, and it’s great for story.  Yes, the immersionists will claim that a “red/pink/+52 headband doesn’t scare me.”  I get that.  However, they need to realize that it’s LARP.  They need to add the details in their imagination that that isn’t a goblin, it’s a huge giant with a 10′ club.

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.

Any Hit v. Any Block in LARP boffer mechanics

There’s two basic hit mechanics for boffer LARPs.  They do not have any set name that I’ve come across, so I’ve named them “Any Hit” and “Any Block” for ease of use.

Any Hit

Simply put, this means that a hit it legal if the weapon makes contact with the body.  A partial block doesn’t count.  

This seems to be the normative for medium combat LARPs (Amt/Bel/Dag), with those games having the caveat that the hit needs to be “hard” enough. These game tend to promote “blow through”.  This was also the rule in IFGS back in the day, with some caveats (mostly dealing with machine-gunning behavior, and frowning on blow through in a vague way).

Any Block

This system says that any amount of a block makes the hit invalid.  I was happy to see this spelled out recently at a Twin Mask event.  I suspect it’s the unspoken normative here in Socal light-touch games.

The Biggest Problem

There’s quite a few LARPs out there that don’t nail this down in their rulebooks.  This is egregiously wrong.  It’s probably the most core mechanic to boffer larp, and leaving it ill-defined just sucks.

What do I think is best?

For the longest time I was an “any hit” advocate.   I felt it was cleaner.  In retrospect, I think it was something I wanted to exist as a stick-jock with a fast wrist, since the rule benefited me more than most.

Nowadays, I believe in “any block”.  I believe that is is cleaner (there’s less argument about a “block” if any block works), and it also deals with slide-downs and bounce-offs.  I believe it is also better for the game in general.  If more hits are blocked, then the fight lasts longer.  Everybody getting more screen time is better for the game.

Acknowledging hits

There’s also variation in the systems out there on how to acknowledge hits.  I think this can be broken down into three broad categories.

No Acknowledgement

There’s no requirement, social or otherwise, to indicate that you were hit with foam.

This method is definitely quieter, but that’s not a huge benefit, since it allows people to flurry at you with more numbers.


This is usually a fuzzy requirement that you are supposed to indicate you were hit by roleplaying the pain.  There’s problems with this, namely that when I see you RP pain, I will almost always pause to see if you are RL hurt.

Explicit Counter

Every single blow needs to be answered mechanically.  This is the ideal, but is problematic in any system that allows (or needs) more than one hit in a short amount of time.

What do I think is best?

I love explicit counter, but it just doesn’t work if you allow more than 1 hit per second.  That kind of slow combat is only really applicable to very low-powered games, with everybody only able to take a small handful of blows.

My suggestion — Implicit Hit

If something doesn’t hit you, you need to say why, otherwise the attacker can assume the hit was legal.  For example, call “blow through”, “cloth”, “hand”, “flurry”, etc. to indicate that it wasn’t a legal hit.  Otherwise, it should be assumed by the attacker that if you don’t call a block or a mechanical counter, then the attack landed.

Infravision variant for 5th edition D&D

Back in the day (at least the day when 3rd edition premiered) one of the many many major changes was the switch of infravision to darkvision.

In general, this was a welcome change.  The old-school infravision has more cons than pros compared to darkvision.

pros of infravision

Flavor.  Anybody who has read the Drizzt books knows that Salvatore did a fantastic job using infravision descriptively, as well as including the use of infravision into everyday drow society.

cons of infravision

That same flavor started way too many arguments about what somebody could see and not see.  Could you see the footprints from somebody that walked by 20 minutes ago.  Modern thermal imaging can do that, so why not infravision?  Could you even see the walls of a deep cold cavern, where the very air and walls were the same temperature?  Again, modern thermal imaging has a problem here.

As a result, old school infravision created more problems than it solved on what was an element of almost every game starting from level 1.  Darkvision just hand-waved it, took away the science, and said “you can see in the dark”.  This was good for ease of play, but darkvision is flavorless.

Darkvision variant

I propose a variant on Darkvision that has the old-school flavor, but the table-cost of new-school darkvision.

Darkvision still works like the rules says they do.  However, it also includes an inferior version of the previous infravision.  This infravision is only able to see major differences in temperature.  If you need a guideline, it needs to be a differential of 30 degrees fahrenheit, and it needs to be strong (the heat left by a foot print on a cold rock will last but a few seconds in this infravision).   When all else fails, remember that this variant is for flavor, not tricksy stuff like seeing footprints.  This isn’t science-infravision, it is magic-infravision.

However, you can describe the scenes from the Drizzt books at the table.  Narbondel can still tell time.  As a DM, you can use this as a tool to add description,

  • Describe extreme temperatures from a distance that would normally not be perceived.  The steam from a volcanic vent, the frigid block of ice, the beating heart of a red dragon.
  • Give a splash of color when a delver is using only darkvision.  Describe the goblin sentry as “a bright blotch of heat, perhaps a small humanoid, but with long pointy ears”.
  • Give the negative space (lack of creatures/heat) emphasis with the normal black and white of darkvision.  “The chamber is festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, all a dull grey in your darkvision that seems to blend together”.


Baby, it’s cold outside


I needed rules for cold climates for 5e, and the DMG isn’t out yet.  Voila!

Severity of Cold Environments:

  • Cold
    40 to 0 degrees
    Every ten minutes, DC 5 Constitution-Survival check, or suffer a level of exhaustion.
  • Severe Cold
    -20 to 0 degrees
    DC 10
  • Extreme Cold
    -50 to -20 degrees
    DC 15
  • Supernatural Cold
    DC 20
    under -50 degrees

note: Wind chill may change the effective temperature, so lack of shelter from the wind may dramatically change the difficulty of cold environments.

staying warm
The following modify the Constitution check
+2 Armor Insulation
+5 Cold Weather Outfit
+5 Fur Clothing
+2 Improvised Shelter*
+3 Tent*
+5 Resistance to Cold
(advantage) dose of Bloodsalt in the last 24 hours, or a heat source (near a fire)
(advantage) huddling with another character (this cannot be done while moving)

*Having shelter and staying put changes the rate of checks from once every 10 minutes to once every hour.

Armor Insulation: a special alchemical treatment for armor [50 gp]
Blood Salt: Blood Salt is mixed into food, and grants advantage on saving throws against cold, and disadvantage on saving throws against fire. A dose lasts 24 hours and costs 1gp.
Cold Weather Outfit: A wool coat, linen shirt, wool cap, heavy cloak, thick pants/skirt and boots. [10gp]
Fur Clothing: Heavy furs that can be worn in addition to a cold weather outfit. Heavy Furs operate as Hide Armor when worn without armor (including any penalties for non-proficiency). [10 gp, 12 lb.]
Improvised Shelter: A snow cave, den, or lean-to.

Snowshoes [2gp]: While wearing snowshoes, deep snow is only difficult terrain. Normally deep snow is difficult terrain that requires an Athletics check to traverse. Donning showshoes takes one minute, and an action to remove.
Snow goggle [2gp]: Snow goggles grant advantage against the effects of blinding effects, and disadvantage of visual perception checks.

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