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Ritual of Bonding

This post was something I kept in my pocket for sometime.  I mostly forgot about it, but also have been struggling with some social anxiety at game.  In typical fashion, I finally say “fuck this anxiety, do the thing”.  My rusty brain dredged this up, thinking, this should be something in-character.  I wanted this to be IC so I have an excuse to do this at any time during game.  I think I have a good IC reason my child-elf Gaeden to initiate it now.  I’m writing this as more of the script I intend to go off of.

Would you like to come perform a ritual of bonding with me and some other friends?  I warn you, it can be hard for some people, maybe even dangerous.  I think the benefits outweigh the risks.

Gather around, please.  Form a circle, and go ahead and sit on the pillows.  Try to sit next to people you know, as that can help with the power of the ritual.  It’s not critical, in fact, it’s important that the ritual always include somebody new.  Bonding means nothing if everybody already is bonded outside the ritual.

As we start this ritual, allow yourself to relax.  Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly.  Take in the people in the circle.  Include them in your awareness, and try to think of yourself in each of their places.  Think of what they could be thinking or feeling.

<pulling out ritual athame>

I cannot remember much of my life.  I do remember that it was very hard for the effendal to form meaningful relationships.  Almost everybody in your immediate family or homestead was much older or younger than you.  They were alien, as you were strange and unfathomable to them.

You could only find peers from other families or groves.  This ritual, the ritual of bonding, was a way to come together with your peers, and form a lasting bond.

I will begin the ritual, and then I will pass this knife to you on my left.  In each case, you will face the person on your left, and join your free hand to one or both of theirs.  You need to look them directly in the eyes.  You can hold the knife three different ways.

If you hold the point down, you are announcing that you will be speaking of the Past.  You must speak of an event in the past between you and the other person that was important to you.

<ooc>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.</ooc>

If you hold the point up, you are announcing that you will be speaking of the Future.  You must speak of an event that you want to happen between you and the other person.

If you hold the point towards you, you are announcing that you will be speaking to your Heart.  You must reveal a truth about yourself that has been kept secret.



Post-LARP post: Dystopia Rising Camper, April 15, 2017

I had gone to DR games before, but only for a short bit of NPCing.  This time I finally went as a player.  That me with the bone crown and the crap on my face.


The folks at the game were amazing.  I played a hard-to-love character, and I did have a  handful of people that knew me from other games, so they were welcoming.  However, there were TONS of people I did not know before this game, and they quickly got into RP with me.

I was really impressed by the costuming.  In my previous forays, I didn’t get to see the really nice stuff, and I focused on the weapons/armor.   My initial impression was that the costuming was ugly and the weapons seemed low-quality home-made.

Getting to spend more time in the player base, my impression changed on the costuming. The theme takes some getting used to.  I’m used to pretty costuming, and that is not the ascetic here.  However, the effort and detail is obvious and awesome.   Look at the guy in the picture next to me. *

The local DR community seems to have a thing against store-bought weapons.   I don’t recall seeing a single store-bought weapon while there, which is

There’s no shortage of tradeskill/crafting actions to do, and it appears to consume a good portion of most folks larp-time.  I started in tard-mode with no trade-skills, but still had no problems filling my day with RP and meeting people.

It was also fun to be in fights where everything could one-shot me.   I had to bring my A-game to melee, and I still got dumped by point-effects.

*I have never met this guy in the photo.  I might play a whole year and never meet him.  The game has 150+ participants, and there’s probably dozens of new and returning players each game.

There’s a VERY interesting angle to think about here socially.  The other Socal LARPs are not this large, and I’ve been able to learn the majority of players after a few events.  I will probably never be able to do that at DR.  What does that mean for the character of a LARP?



“machine-gunning” in boffer-LARP

There’s a lot of ideas out there over the years on how to deal with “people hitting too quickly” in boffer LARP.  This is called machine-gunning, drum-rolling, etc.

“90 degree rule”

IFGS had the “90 degrees” rule to deal with the issue.  The weapon had to retract to at least a 90 degree angle for a swing to count.  It is fairly simple, and it’s pretty easy to know when somebody is not complying.  However, you could not determine if it was fair if you were being struck from behind.

afaik, the 90 degree rule is locally used by RR and Wyrd to this day.

There’s two cons to this system.

Con #1:  The 90 degree rule promotes the “newb rush” from florentine.

The newb rush works as follows:

  • Body rush your target, taking 0-1 hits on the way in
  • Hammer your opponent because you have superior arm position or shorter weapons.
  • Profit

Con #2:  The 90 degree rule favors weapon skill.

If you are skilled with the 90-degree rule, it doesn’t slow you down in the slightest.  You learn to work with it.

Lots of folks would say “wouldn’t this be a pro for you Scott, since you are a stick jock?”.  I say it is not.  There are too many barriers for people deciding to get into foam murder, and a system that favors the veteran fighter is a Bad Thing™.  It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a con.

“1 second rule”

Different variants of this rule exist, but they mostly boil down to “You can attack only once per second”.

There are often exceptions for florentine.  There are often not exceptions for feints, or clarifications for blocked blows.

Locally, this is used by DK & ET.

This is a pretty good system.  The “one second rule” could use clarifications for feints/blocked attacks (i.e. feints don’t count against the timer, blocked blows do).  Because of the lack of clarifications on blocked blows, you are highly motivated to do the “bounce and tap” technique.  This is performed by striking the weapon/shield, and then striking the body clean with a short retraction.  Most folks will take that hit, since it felt “clean”.

Unfortunately, both DK & ET are not combat heavy games, and they are very heavy with no-hit binaries.  In way the pendulum is swung too far in these games to allow everybody to participate in melee at the expense of combat length/robustness.   That is clearly a Good Thing™ for them, as their player bases are crazy enthusiastic.

“3 swing rule”

This rule states you can take 3 swings and then must disengage.

This system is used by TM and DR locally.

I am a huge advocate for this system, as it finds a great middle ground for allowing all levels of fighters to participate.

The only draw back is that the newb-rush is alive and well.  Both games have many “flo-bros” using short weapons, and body rushing to get their hits in.  The disengage requirements are rarely enforced in the heat of battle.

<theory>Why these all might be failing</theory>

I think these all are making the incorrect initial approach.

Why are these rules in place?  In the order of importance from least to most, here’s my take.

  1. Safety
  2. Realism
  3. Enjoyment

Safety  — This is a concern, but a minor one.  Striking somebody very rapidly isn’t a direct safety concern.  It’s the fact that no limitations to strike speed promotes unsafe fighting behavior (charging/hugging/other douchery)

Realism —  This is usually the reason stated when people talk about machine-gunning rules.  “You cannot swing a real sword that fast and still do damage”.  That’s true.  However, nobody wants realism.  They want verisimilitude.   They want it to feel real.

Enjoyment — This is the reason NEVER stated, but it is the most important.  I’m crazy good with combat numbers and doing math in my head (10+ years of IFGS with armor subtractions will do that).  I did more combat NPCing than anybody I know.  Here’s the truth – I rarely had the numbers right.  It wasn’t possible with all the crap hitting me.  I did the best I could, and felt horrible when I screwed up.

Also, almost all adjudication of machine-gunning rules falls on the defender.  The defender is forced to call “you are hitting too fast”, or “you aren’t disengaging”.  This is really unfun to be forced to either do this adjudication, or get killed.

That’s why I’m thinking the paradigm might be better if the “one second rule” was applied not the attacker, but to the defender.

My thought is that as a defender, I am expected to take only one attack per second, regardless of how many attackers I have.   I can choose to take more if I can process it, but I’m not required to do so.

This takes the onus off of the defender for adjudication.

I think this would greatly increase the “drama” of a big bad NPC fight.  All the PCs would still wolf-pack him, but they would know that if they all started to hit him that a lot of their hits wouldn’t count.

I also think this would greatly favor the non-veteran.  Don’t get me wrong, the non-vet is still going to die to the stick-jock.  However, the non-vet will get more screen time, as it will take the stick-jock MUCH longer to kill them.



Thrusting Weapons (101) for Socal Larps

What games can I thrust in?

Thrusting is not allowed in both Twin Mask (TM) and Dystopia Rising (DR).

Thrusting is allowed in Dying Kingdoms (DK), Empty Thrones (ET) and Rendallir Remembered (RR).

What consitutes a thrust-safe weapon?

No latex weapon is thrust safe.

DK/ET require that the weapon tip cannot fit in an eye socket and have 1″ of open cell foam. This is a minimum requirement, and I highly recommend at least 3″ wide tip, and at least 4″ of foam (mixed opened and closed cell) between the core and the tip.

I have a thrust-safe weapon, how can I thrust safely?

There are two primary ways to hurt somebody with a thrust.

    1. You thrust them in the face/throat.
      solution: Avoid thrusting to the sternum, shoulder or collarbone. These thrusts are likely to get blocked up into the face, especially by newbs. Very tall people may get away with downward thrusts to these zones, but newbs will still manage to block the thrust into their head.
    2. You thrust them in their center of mass as they lunge at you. The target’s entire bodyweight goes into the thrust.
      solution: Thrusts should be quick jabs, with none of your body weight behind them. They should be done with a loose arm, and a hammer/”ok” grip (only thumb and forefinger gripping tightly). This will allow your arm to move backward if the target lunges into the thrust.
      A pistol grip on the weapon requires that you grip the weapon tightly, and constricts your forearm and elbow. A pistol grip is great for many other shots, and definitely gives you more precision with your thrusts. However, it causes issues when the target lunges into the thrust.

Forced Character Retirement in LARP (addendum)

Wow.. it’s been two months since the last post after a good long stretch of regular posts.  I had work bust out with dual-wield responsibilities, and I’m only now pulling my head out from that.

Anyway, I’ve had some further thoughts on the retirement, albeit tangential.

The normative here in Socal is to reward folks that perform non-player volunteer work with some kind of reward points.   In most cases, these reward points act identically to normal character build points.  Volunteer for us, and you can be a more powerful character, faster.  Sounds like a great deal, and it’s a lot cheaper on the wallet (as volunteer work typically is free, or has a nominal charge).

Nevertheless, these character-applicable rewards are a punishment when combined with forced character retirement.  In return for volunteering, you get less story.

Now, some systems here alleviate this by allowing the reward points to be applicable to non-advancing goals.  Get gold, influence, downtimes, etc.  That’s one solution.

I’d promote another.  Those reward points are not counted towards your retirement cap, or at least the reward points that are sourced solely from volunteer work.  Games are just better when there’s a small cadre of npc-only bodies, and there should be a motivation for that, if only as a turn-taking incentive.

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.










Dreamship Icarus – The World

With the success of my xmas parlor larp, I’ve talked with Jesse.   I’m starting the development of something we can run in our home every few months.  This is the first step.


2022 – First mention of “global heat spiral” is made by a U.S. President.   Global warming takes a previously unimagined spike, increasing global mean temperatures by 10 degrees over the next decade.  The UN previously considered a 3 degrees to be catastrophic, and expected that to occur over several decades, if at all.

Many island nations are lost, and coastlines fall into the sea.  Massive deforestation and skyrocket food costs ensue.  

2033 – Dr. Rica Leon of NASA first discovers the first applications of dream-drive dislocation while performing experiments on Skylab 9.  The dream-drives enable biotic-intelligence enhanced individuals to fold space-time within their enhanced subsconscious.  A new space race ensues.

2044 – First manned round-trip expedition to another solar system by the Bhaozhai 15.  [The Bhaozhai 1-14 missions were never heard from again.]  This success makes the WuXing corporation the highest valued company in the world by a factor of ten.

2055 –  Sky elevators are now common throughout Earth.  These elevators drastically lower the cost to break orbit, creating a new opportunity for dream-shuttles to reach other planets.  The WuXing corporation controls most of the mass exodus from the dying earth.  This results in many planetary colonies being nothing but indentured servants.  They work only to mine ore and grow food for sale at enormous markup to more affluent planets.  All of this results in WuXing becoming the defacto galactic government.

2066 – A great revolution of the “slave planets” rises, and then falls in but the span of a year.  The final blow, the Battle of Hasting’s World, crushes the leadership of the rebellion.

2077 – The current year.  Earth is almost entirely abandoned except to scrap crews and a few subsistence indigents.

From the North Pole, with Love (Re-Cap)

The x-mas game was load of fun, and I didn’t even get to play 🙂



First, here’s the 20 characters that were available.

The character writeups worked well, but a lot of people got confused about the secret signs.  In the future, I’ll put a picture in the text for every secret sign.


As far as mechanics, I think most of it went smoothly.  The playing card mechanic was successful, and I definitely will be re-using it again.   The pain points were minor, but included:

  • Detect Lie was probably too weak in comparison to the other abilities.  I’m not sure how to supplement it directly.
  • Steal almost always had to be clarified that the target had their back turned.
  • The “disengage” mechanic was the real effect of the “tag-off” effect, at least the way the players used it.
  • Some people never really understood that to beat a card, it had to match the value, or match the suit and beat the value.  Lots of folks thought an Ace was an auto-win, and it wasn’t supposed to be.

6 Scene Beat Sheet for extended LARP mods (Scene #5)

Scene 5 – Final Fight with EBG

goal(s): enable awesome war stories, tie up the plot/stakes
element(s):  combat, resolve the stakes

Your Villain is Here, and is Defeated by Heroic Effort

Scene #2 required you to identify the villain.  I’m gonna reiterate that notion here, but also make it clear.  You must have an identifiable and named villain.  Here’s something that nobody said, ever:

“I loved that action movie with the unidentifiable unnamed villain”.

In fact, one of the best scenes of Return of the King was made weaker by a lack of build-up and identification of the Nazgul.    (Okay, admittedly, I have other problems with this scene not in the scope of this post).


The key here is not necessarily victory for the heroes, but the defeat of the villain by heroic effort.  

Defeat of the Villain

A defeat isn’t necessarily death.  I encourage against killing your villain.  Your villain immediately loses entertainment value if she is killed, never to be seen again.

That does mean that you need an escape gimmick for your villain.  Here’s a short list

escape hatch The villain has a door they can run through that will take time to open.  This also includes a tunnel they can collapse behind them.  

value:  high.  Your players will spend serious effort in a fight, even with other NPCs still alive, to get the door open.  They won’t feel cheated by this.  They can imagine that it’s possible to catch the villain in their next conflict.

reliability:  high – the PCs could possibly kill/detain the villain before they can get to the hatch

key factor:  you should have a phys. rep. for the hatch.  Otherwise, it’s really a teleport (see below)

teleport Any magical NPC could have this, as well as any rich NPC that could buy it.

value:  low.  PCs hate this one, and not in the good sense of “hate”.  They feel cheated.  PCs cannot imagine catching the villain ever in future conflicts either.

reliability:  complete – this always works

key factor:  don’t do this one unless you cannot help it

phased out The villain phases out of existence, which is usually followed by a teleport while still phased out.  The villain might physically flee (see below) as well.

value:  medium.  This is a mitigation of the teleport, because the villain can taunt the players in mid-fight.  

reliability:  complete – this always works

key factor:  use this instead of teleport.  every time

physically running away The villain runs away.  Perhaps they are aided by traps or NPCs laying in wait to hinder pursuit.

value:  high.  This enables the physical abilities of some PCs who can run fast.  It creates awesome stories.

reliability:  low – your villain has a good chance of not getting away

key factor:  you probably don’t want a fattie as the villain

undying The villain is a lich, vampire, or something else that can’t be killed normally.

value:  medium.  Most folks know all the tricks to liches/vampires, and aren’t amused by them.  There are easy plot points (find the phylactery, find the coffin) to exploit, however.

reliability:  high.  This works almost every time.

key factor:  Your “rules” for this kind of monster must be consistent, and should be spelled out earlier in the event.

Heroic Effort

The villain needs to be defeated because of heroic effort.  This should not be a deus-ex-machina coming to save them.  This should not because the players came in and steam-rolled the NPCs, or used some cheesy power to invalidate the fight.*

The defeat comes at the hands of the players, and it is heroic.  Heroism requires sacrifice, or attempted sacrifice.  The easiest way to do that is to scare the players with a blackpoint in the previous scene, making this scene look very grim.

Here’s the thing… all heroic combat stories involve either:

  1. “Hold the Line” — The hero stands in one place, defending others while they accomplish some goal.
  2. “Danger Dash” — The hero rushes through danger to accomplish a goal.

As a result, you’ll want to have elements that promote these meta-actions.

Heroic Efforts are enabled by large battlefields

You will want to have a large area for this.  You will also also want to spread the fight out.  Awesome heroic moments occur in smaller groups.  As a result, you should places mini-goals in the fight, and put NPCs there.  Encourage the PCs to split up.  

A large area enables the Danger  Dash.   A player will feel empowered to run to the back and stop the ritual sacrifice if they see the room to do so.

Heroic Efforts are enabled by Gimmicks

Those mini-goals mentioned above are probably gimmicks.  Stop the ritual.  Break the barricade.  Slay the archers. Topple the barrels.

The gimmick enables both the Danger Dash  and Hold the Line.  You can rush past baddies to cut the drawbridge rope, or blockade the doorway while your allies finish the ritual.

One of the best angles for this is the “taunting villain”.  Have your villain taunt a player with word or deed.  This can lead to an explicit “honor combat” if that’s appropriate for your villain.  However, you can engineer it otherwise.  Behind the scenes, all your NPCs are in on the fact that this is leading to a single combat between villain and PC.  Your NPCs will acci-purposely allow the single PC to engage the villain.   Afterwards, they suddenly remember that they have pushbacks/respawns/knockdowns/etc and other mechanics to make sure nobody else gets through.  Awesome story, and the players are none-the-wiser.

Heroic Efforts are enabled by Minions

You want LOTS of little crunchies here, as well as the EBG.  The crunchies and the mini-goals are effectively extra hit points for the EBG, giving him more screen time.

Minions enable Danger Dash  and Hold the Line.  A player feels empowered to dash when the stuff he is dashing past doesn’t hit very hard.  Holding against waves of crunchies is extremely satisfying.


*I’m not a fan of cheesy powers, since they NEVER lead to a good story.  Nobody ever said “remember that time you pointed and said polymorph potato!  That was an amazing heroic moment, and the NPC loved having only 2 seconds of screen time.”  I played a powergamer scum spell-caster for 10 years that could do this stuff all day.  I did it once or twice and realized this was unfun for both me and the NPC.

Nevertheless, your system probably has a lot of these “one-shot kills” or combos.  Don’t try to outthink the powergamer and give your villain a bunch of specific counters.  Just make them immune to this stuff.  The powergamer will appreciate the communication of a “no effect” call, and you still want them to have a positive experience as well.

From the North Pole, with Love (Part 3)

This is related to the Xmas LARP I’m running this year.


Card Mechanics

Don’t worry, we’ll be going over all this with examples at the start of the game.

Your packet will include 5 playing cards.  These cards will be used to resolve the elf-on-elf conflicts of this game.

You can do the following with a card:  [ATTACK], [DEFEND], [DISTRACT] or [STEAL].  Some elves may also perform the [DETECT LIE] action.

There are four general rules to all the cards:

  1. A card can only be used once in the same room.  It must be claimed and taken into another room to be used again.   Some cards are exceptions to this, such as weapons, and will say so on the card.
  2. The “loser” of any conflict keeps all the cards used.  Some cards will be exceptions to this, such as weapons and elf-jitsu, and will say so on the card.
  3. Most cards cannot be stolen or removed from you, even if you are knocked unconscious.  Some cards are exception to this, such as weapons and armor.
  4. The defender, win or lose, has the “initiative” to initiate the next conflict.

[ATTACK] – Present your card to the elf you are attacking, and describe the awesome way you are attacking that elf.  That elf may DEFEND, but if they do not, the elf you attack loses 1 hit point.  Some weapons may inflict 2 hit points of damage.

[DEFEND] – You use a card to DEFEND when subject to an ATTACK, DETECT LIE, DISTRACT or STEAL.  The card you play must either:

  1. Match the value of the card you were attacked with.  (e.g. You are attacked with a 9 of holly, and you defend with a 9 of christmas trees.)
  2. Beat the value of the card you were attacked with, but match the suit.  (You are attacked with a 9 of holly, and you defend with a Jack of Holly.)

If you do DEFEND, you cancel the effect, and the “attacker” keeps both your card, and their original card.  If you do not DEFEND, you keep their original card.  In both cases, the cards cannot be used again in this room.

[DETECT LIE] –  Present your card to the elf you think is lying.  You must indicate the statement that you think is a lie.  (e.g. the elf states “I’m not a member of K.R.U.S.T.”)  That elf may DEFEND, but if they do not, they must honestly indicate if they were lying with that statement.  Remember, the loser keeps all the cards.

[DISTRACT] –  Present your card to the elf you are trying to distract, and describe the awesome way you are distracting that elf.  That elf may DEFEND, but if they do not, that elf loses the ability to DEFEND against the next STEAL played on them in this room.  If you are are DISTRACTed, you should role-play it appropriately.  Remember, the loser keeps all the cards.

[STEAL] –  Present your card to the elf you are trying to steal from, and state the item you are trying to steal (e.g. “The puzzle piece”).  You must be positioned behind this elf.  That elf may DEFEND, but if they do not, that elf loses the named item.  If you state a vague item (e.g. “The puzzle piece”.. but the elf has 4 puzzle pieces) the victim gets to choose one of the items that fits your description to be stolen.  That elf does not know they were stolen from until they leave the room, and should role-play this.  If the elf does DEFEND against the theft, they are immediately aware that you tried to steal from them.  Remember, the loser keeps all the cards.

Special Situations:

Leaving a room:   If there is an elf that is trying to ATTACK, DETECT LIE, or DISTRACT you, you may not leave the room until that conflict is resolved.

Tag-teaming:   Elves are HUGE fans of pro-wrestling.  As such, whenever an elf has initiative (see above), they can tag an ally instead to get the initiative instead.

Teaming up:  Elves are HUGE fans of pro-wrestling.  Only one elf can ATTACK another elf at a time.




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