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LARP FAQ — How can I make my favorite LARP better?

I love this LARP thing, how can I make the games better?

The best thing you can do is to not be a PC, and volunteer in some fashion.  That’s the answer you probably did not want to hear.  Figure out what you are good at, and contribute that to the game you love the most:

  • Fighting as an NPC
  • Roleplaying as an NPC
  • Performing Plot/ST duties
  • Making costumes
  • Making props
  • Making weapons
  • Cooking meals
  • Providing physical labor (setup, takedown and cleanup)

All of these things must be done, and contributing more than your mandatory NPC shift is a rewarding way to give back to the people you love.  

How can I make games better and still participate as a PC?

You can make the games better by improving the experience of your fellow PCs.  There’s two ways to do that, both of which attack elements that reduce the experience for your fellow PCs.

#1 Reduce OOC chat

When you see another player talking OOC, there’s a great way to indicate this, and not break character.  Approach them and tell them “You look thirsty, you should drink some water”.*

This is an IC way to curb OOC talk.  You will likely need to explain the signal with OOC talk the first few times, but hopefully it catches in your group quickly.  Suggest it to your plot team to include in their “listen up” or other documents.

Variant:  You can say to the OOC offender “I heard somebody talking about you in <the place that is not here, but is close>.”  This is a cue for them to go to that place, and role-play with people there.  That person can use the “Build Story” gesture when they get there (see below) for lack of anything else to do when they arrive.

#2 Reduce Downtime

Downtime is the bane of fun.  If you google “downtime in LARP” you’ll see a bunch of pages that tell you to bring a game to play to pass the time.  That’s straight up bullshit.  Nobody drives 2 hours into the woods and spends $500 on a costume to play Viking Tiddlywinks.  Those games remove you and the other players from role-playing and/or action.   Those games also suck.  We have better games, like Pac-man, naked Twister, and um.. LARP.  Here’s much better options, from worst to best.

  1. Volunteer for an extra shift as an NPC.
  2. Fight / practice with other PCs.  Very few games have mechanics for “practice” weapons.  Who cares? Make that shit up with “Forsooth, I have procured safe practice weapons and enchanted them with bouncy magic.”
  3. Make up your own plot between you and another player.  I posted something similar for a pre-game ritual, but this is a process that would occur during the flow of a game.  Among the common calls such as “Clarify” and hand signals, such as “hand on head”, I think something should be added that can only add to games.  I call it “Build Story”.  

The “Build Story” gesture

palm

This gesture is presenting an open palm, face up, and saying something like

“I heard a rumor you were talking about me.”
“I cannot help but notice you looking at me strangely.”
“Haven’t we met before?”

The meaning of this gesture/overture is “I would like to create a pretense to role-play with you.”

Both participants can then work it out.  The participants should probably take an OOC sidebar, especially if they don’t know each other characters well enough to just start rolling with it.  This is fine, just do it discreetly without disrupting anybody else’s IC mojo.

The two of you decide collaboratively about something either in the past or the future of your characters.

THE PAST

One player describes an event that occurred between the two characters. This event becomes canon if the other person 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.

First Player <Raggorn>:   Raggorn met Thornus on the road, and flirted with him.  It didn’t turn out well.

Second Player <Thornus>:  Hrmm… I think Thornus would have flirted with Raggorn 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.

First Player <Raggorn>:  Awesome!  That totally happened!

THE FUTURE

The first 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.

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

Second Player <Thornus>:  Yep, shy flirting with threats of violence sounds perfect.

In both cases, the players then can leave the OOC sidebar, and use your new canon to roleplay that downtime into oblivion.

This blog post has some ideas for character story/relationships.

Obviously, this gesture won’t catch on unless you make it work for your LARP.  Until then, you’ll have to be more overt and ask people to step aside OOC, and make your proposal.

*Full Disclosure, the “You should drink some water” cue is not my idea.  I read it in one of the hundreds of larp rule sets I’ve devoured.   Unfortunately, I cannot recall which LARP that was, otherwise I would give credit where it was due.

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From the North Pole, with Love (Part 2)

Faction Preview

When you open your packet, you’ll find out what faction you’ve been assigned.

All factions (except for the last one) have a secret sign.  You’ll get that in your packet, and you might start the game knowing the secret sign for another group.

E.L.F. – Elf Liberation Front
These freedom fighters are trying to figure out how to end Santa’s reign of tyranny.
Common Trait*:  Keen Sight – the ability to see and interact with orange envelopes
Enemies: S.L.U.R.P.  and F.E.A.R.

S.L.U.R.P. – Santa’s Lawful Undercover Redaction Police
Santa’s Secret Police
Common Trait*:  Elf-jitsu – a highly effective martial art centered on karate chops for both attack and defense
Enemies: E.L.F. and K.R.U.S.T.

F.E.A.R – Furtive Elven Adolescent Reconnaissance
Santa’s espionage force, used to spy on children throughout the year.
Common Trait*:  Keen Ears – the ability to detect lies from filthy lie-holes.
Enemies: E.L.F. and D.O.L.L.

K.R.U.S.T. – Krampus Revolutionaries Under Santa’s Tyranny
These elves want to ally with Krampus, so they can punish children. They loathe children with a passion equal to a million burning Cabbage Patch Kids™.
Common Trait*:  Rage Choke – frighteningly powerful attacks, but unable to be used in defense
Enemies: S.L.U.R.P. and D.O.L.L.

D.O.L.L. – Dedicated Organization of Loyal Laborers
Loyal Elves that drink the koolaid eggnog. They just like making toys, and want to keep doing it. However, this Frozen™ shit is starting to get old, even for them.
Common Trait*:  Wrapping – able to heal other elves with wrapping paper and ribbon.
Enemies: K.R.U.S.T. and F.E.A.R

The Shattered One
This solitary elf is a faction all to her/his own. This elf only gains pleasure from the murder and torture of other elves.
Common Trait*:  Ganking – a powerful attack from behind
Enemies: everybody

*Members of this faction usually have this trait, but might have the skills of another faction.

Post-LARP post: Dying Kingdoms Camper – November 13-15, 2015

IMG_7939

This game had some great highs, and very little lows.

highs:

    • The above photo by Flip Cassidy.
    • The group my PC is with, the Stormcrows, had a tits-hot camp.  The tent, and all the decorum were just amazing, and very immersive.  Even better, I didn’t have to set it up 🙂  Even more betterer, the campsite was a 15 minute drive from home.
    • Mattos was able to further his personal plot-line a bit (fyi, I’m taking it slow, I’m in no rush).  Mattos’ allergy to elves was able to insult them quite deeply.  (OOG, I know it’s a confrontation of the internal story that somebody playing an elf has, i.e. I’m pretty).  Mattos as able to discover that he has some kind of fae blood, role-playing with Skaven (the ever-amazing DW).  He also discovered that the svaltafar (drow/dark elves) smell amazing to him.  (OOG, I’m interpreting that he has a fae-spirit aligned with the svaltafar.   That spirit hates all other elves, and is pretty evil itself.  Mattos doesn’t know this IG, however).
    • Starting about 2 on Saturday was when the game picked up for my character.  Mattos had a great moment liberating a slave that had been brainwashed by lizard-people.  I sent this slave (IG name Essen, OOG name David Pulcifer)  back to Maldava, and paid a pretty penny (a full gold solarum) to make sure he got there, paying for a caravan to keep him tied up and drunk the entire journey.  I predict my upcoming downtimes will be breaking the brainwashing on this slave.
    • The last battle was pretty gnarly (in the good way).  As usual, we NPC’d for this fight.  Also as usual, I skirmished rather than holding the line.  Par for the course, I got a lot of backs.  I’m glad that I was able to hurt/scare folks, but didn’t end up killing any PCs.
    • We Stormcrows got back into character after the big battle, and started cooking.  Ian/Bear had a murder non-vegetarian stew.  I brought murder-free stuffed acorn squash, which was uber-tasty.  Unbeknownst to us, there was a cooking competition set up for two characters that I assume have in-game cooking skill.  Turns out, my squash won the “unofficial” contest.  This makes me interested in the cooking skill, but I don’t think it fits Mattos’ background.
    • During the cooking and eating, we Storm crows performed a ritual to summon the Morrigan.  OOG, this was our “let’s get some content” plea to plot.  Boy howdy did they deliver.  Emily played the Morrigan, and was awesome.  I was genuinely afraid of her, and tried my best to not get her attention.
    • Barker (Johnny Bias) and I had a long conversation as a result of this summoning.  The Stormcrows had rescued his bodyguard earlier in the game, however, so we struck up a convo.  Barker let me know how troubling the summoning of the Morrigan was to the rest of the group (player base), and why her asking for the Black Mirror was a fail-grenade.  Mattos disclosed with Barker how everything wasn’t as it seemed, and asked for his help in stalling any efforts the Stormcrows made in the short term.

lows:

  • It was fucked cold.  Luckily, I was so close I just went home each night.  It did suck making the hike out to day parking at 2 am, however.
  • I lost my temper in the final battle.  Yes, I took shield bash in the lips, and it wasn’t an accident (i.e. the guy did the classic newb-scoop shield bash, and he should know better).  Nevertheless, I’m always more upset with myself when I snap like that, and that anger-poison lingers with me longer than it should.

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.

THE CIRCLE
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.

circle_of_adventurers_by_harbingerhobbies

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 PAST
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 FUTURE
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.

OTHER PLAYERS AND GM
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

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.

Post-LARP post: Dying Kingdoms Day Game – October 10, 2015

This game was the first appearance of the first LARP PC I’ve played in 10 years.  I was really excited to bring Mattos, and this game was great for it.  I was very pleased with my costume and armor (pics later when they show up).  As I usually do with a new character, I didn’t have much about him developed, and let that evolve in-game.

There were several (6+) new people starting LARP for the first time, and I took the time to role-play with them (as well go OOC to explain stuff that needed it).  I always like doing this, and I made several new friends out there.

DK is the anti-Sizzler when it comes to LARP.  There isn’t a lot of plot-driven content, but the content (both Plot driven and player-created) that exists is good.  This game was no exception.  My character’s involuntary distaste of elves certainly got the attention of those characters, or at least their amusement.  I was actually pretty busy role-playing in the Stormcrows camp, and never got the chance to interact much with the “old-hands”.

We’re all looking forward to the camper in a month!

LARP Role-playing tips and tricks

I’m far from the best role-player (I suck).  I know the theory, but my shyness/insecurity makes the practice of said theory sporadic.

I’m playing a PC for the first time in over 10 years next weekend, and the first new LARP character in over 15 years.  It is for the high-RP low-combat game Dying Kingdoms.  I’m excited about it, and nervous.  So, I polished off my old notes and reddit posts for this week’s entry.

—————————-

There two rules to role-play.

  1. Everybody wants to tell you about their character.
  2. Nobody wants to hear about your character.

Most posts I’ve found give you RP tools to get around rule #2 (i.e. find ways to make telling people about your character something that isn’t a boring info dump). Instead, I advocate that you embrace rule #1.

Step 1: Break the Ice – approach them about the most obvious thing you can think of “You look like somebody familiar with nature magic. Was that hard to learn?”, “Why are you wearing full plate and a scowl in this peaceful tavern?”, “This beer is cataloblepas piss. Have you ever had anything worse?”

Step 2: Shut the fuck up until they are done talking.

Step 3: Make a short comment about what they said. “Isn’t nature magic difficult/dangerous/prone to cause ass-cancer?” 

Go back to Step 2

It works like a charm. If somebody returns the favor and asks about you, then it’s usually a natural question from something you have led into. Don’t use that as an opportunity to brain dump your entire background or this neat story that you think is awesome that happened to your character (see rule #2). Answer the question and hopefully with hooks involved. For the simple, a hook involves asking a question or giving a leading statement. “I’m a healer because I’m scared of fighting. How did you overcome your fear of combat?” In essence, circle back to them and use rule #1 to your advantage.

RP can work fantastically when it’s a perpetual daisy chain of jacking each other personas off.

Oh yeah, this works in RL also. +1 Charisma pots for everybody.

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More in-depth methods
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Confess Your Secret – this is the exception to Rule #1, and you talk about your character.  However, in this case, you confess a secret you have.  [Obviously you need a secret to do this.  Make a character with secrets, but make sure they get out!]

  • Confess to an authority figure your guilt about the secret, and look for absolution.
  • Confess to a friend, and get them to promise to never tell anybody.
  • Confess to a stranger because you are drunk, or you think they won’t connect you with it later.
  • Confess accidentally with a slip of the tongue, or leaving evidence of your secret where it can be found.

Gossip – Make an extension of rule #1 above (Everybody wants to tell you about their character), looping back the information about somebody into another conversation

  • Spread a rumor.  It doesn’t have to be true, and in many cases, it should not be
    • It can be an ugly rumor (I heard that Sam is in league with Lord Tushysmash)
    • It can be a glowing rumor (I heard that Sara is just an amazing healer)
    • Say the rumor “I simply cannot believe X”
    • Ask the person if they think the rumor is true.
  • When you find out details from Bob about Bob, use that as a talking point with Mary.  Ask Mary about Sally, and more important than details, ask what Mary thinks about Sally.  This gives you:
    • Ammunition for more talking
    • Gets Sally to form an opinion about Mary

Confront – This is best done when both you and your target are comfortable with each other.  

  • Do a confrontation privately only if you want OOG to create a link between your two characters.
  • Do a confrontation publicly (or with friends with you at least) in all other cases.  This brings more people into the mix.
  • Confrontation can be
    • hostile – “stop killing those elves you monster!”
    • good intentions – “we think killing those elves is a bad thing.  What can we do to get you to stop.”
    • supportive – “You keep killing those elves, and we think it’s because you have a problem with elves.  Let’s discuss that problem and hug it out in a naked drum circle.”

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