Archive for the category “theorycraft”

Approaching Role-Playing like I approach fighting.

Fact #1

I have a lot philosophical ranting about LARP fighting.  I can go on forever talking about, and I love getting technical either about techniques, weapon styles and meta-tactics.  I just love fighting, and I love codifying fighting as well.

Fact #2

I’m a mediocre role-player.  I used to be abyssmal, especially in table-top.  I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, but I can struggle with it.

What I want to do:

I want to develop a “role-playing” style, much like a fighting style.  The more I think about it, the more I think “hey, the concept of a stance – how does that translate into role-playing?”, that excites me.

I feel I can become a better role-player on this journey of dissection.

The analogies between fighting and role-playing seem to be something that I can build on, but the first thing that really needs to be defined is the win-condition.

Win Conditions

Fighting Win Conditions (for PCs)

  • The NPCs are dead
  • The NPCs are really dead
  • The NPCs are dead and/or fleeing
  • The NPCs are dead, and we didn’t spend a lot of resources accomplishing it.
  • You held off the NPCs while some of your guys did the MacGuffin.

In addition to all this, it’s not a win if it’s “dirty” — i.e. you had to cheese your way through it (either fighting cheese or rules cheese), and therefore made it unfun for the NPCs or your fellow PCs.

Fighting Win Conditions (for NPCs)

  • You got the PCs to have fun beating you, and you had fun along the way.

I have a bunch of old posts about this specifically.

Role-playing Win Conditions

  • Convince
    • Either you convince somebody of something (“sell me this armor for X gold”) or you allow yourself to be convinced of something (“yes, I agree that all humans must be eradicated”)
  • Share Story
    • Either you bring somebody else into your story, or you allow yourself to be brought into somebody else’s story.
  • Share Lore
    • Either you impart knowledge, or you absorb it.

Like the fighting win conditions, these cannot be “dirty”.  You must be cognizant of what is important to somebody out-of-game, and try to cater to that.





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)

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.

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