April 2018

gambling coins

Almost every larp has some sort of gambling going on. It adds to the atmosphere, gives players more things to do when things are slow, and makes the setting more believable by giving it another real-world facet. Characters may grow rich or lose fortunes at a gambling table; they may even wish to retrieve their lost coin in less-than-savory manners, leading to player-driven plot and real character development. Some larps even go so far as to make their own games, using cards or pieces from other sets and creating their own rules.

Characters play two games when they sit down at the table; gambling houses are notorious for the trading of information as well as coin. Secrets discussed across a card table in flickering candle light may give the same information as discussing it in private, but the scene it sets makes the exchange more cinematic, more exciting. From cards in the tavern to chess with the nobles, if a character knows they can get the information they need, they may pick up a game to get it. It can eventually give your players a new character path to walk down, diversifying your larp.

gambling cardsAs in real life, gambling can dramatically change the direction a character’s life and game-wide problems can go. Gamemasters in particular may find in-game gambling useful; not only does it create activity for the players to seek out on their own, but it adds spice to plots and themes as well. An NPC hook with a map or plot-related magic item could sit down at a poker table and ‘lose’ the item to the PCs. If a character is losing badly at poker, but thinks his luck is turning and bets a plot-related item, new players can introduced to the plot, thus widening the reach of the story. An NPC looking to make a deal can bet a PC that she can’t best his champion in a fight. The possibilities for conflict and entertainment are endless.

Characters can place bets on anything, but having games to play is generally the best way to gamble. When selecting a game to bring to your larp, make sure it’s appropriate; playing something that requires a stopwatch is fine for a modern-day setting, and some GMs have even been known to bring along a mobile device to modern-day larps and have the PCs play on mobile casinos, but it may need to be modified or simply not played in a medieval fantasy larp.  The number of games you can play with a deck of cards is endless, but my favorite variation of a non-card gambling games to play at a larp is:


Liars' Dice

Each player begins with five six-sided dice in a cup. They shake the cup and slam it onto the table in front of them. Each player throws coin (or your larp’s currency) into the pot in the middle of the table. This can be any amount, depending on how high the stakes are in the game. Each player may then tilt up their own cup to see their dice. Make sure the other players can’t see!

The first player makes a bid of how many of each die number they think was rolled on the table (five 6s, or two 4s). The person to their left must then either up the bid by calling a higher quantity or higher die number (ex: if the player before you bid four 5s, you may either bid four 6s or five or more of any die number) or call ‘liar’.

If the player to the left believes that the last bid called is too high, they may call the person a ‘liar’. When ‘liar’ is called, all players lift their cups to show their dice and hold up their fingers to show how many of the die number in question they had rolled. If the total rolled die numbers on the table meet or exceed the ‘liar’s bid (ex: if the player bid six 3s and there were seven 3s rolled at the table), they win the pool and the player who called ‘liar’ loses a die. If the total rolled die numbers on the table are below the ‘liar’s bid (ex: if the player bid six 3s and there were two 3s rolled at the table), the player who called ‘liar’ wins the pot and the ‘liar’ loses a die. The next round starts with the loser.


What do you think about gambling in a larp? Have your played card games for coin or secrets? What’s your favorite method of in-character gambling? Join the discussion below!

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Kiri Brasseur

Kiri is the Editor in Chief of Larping.org. Armed with an extensive knowledge of grammar and voice-enhancement, she aims to wrangle our team to pull larping.org to the forefront of online larp content. She has committed two years, some tears, and a lot of love to larping thus far, has no intention of dropping her weapons, and loves that her passions for larping and writing fit together so well!

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  1. Jon July 11, 2013 8:19 AM

    I love liar. very fun game to play. Pente, left right center, Nine Mens Morris, and shutbox are also very simple and fun games. We have also used Pente as a secret code to initiate a conversation with a secret group, similar to the episode of Avatar where Uncle Iroh plays mahjong (or whatever it was) and makes the shape of a lotus in order to gain access to a secret society.

  2. Constance July 11, 2013 8:28 AM

    We played Hobbit Hold ‘Em with a deck based on Grateful Dead imagery. It was a nice change from traditional suits, and we played for fruit and veggies. A few of our rogues used real slight of hand while anteing up to steal cherries. Someone tried counterfeiting cranberries with baby bell wax rinds.

    Good times

  3. Jennifer Karner July 11, 2013 10:59 AM

    I love gambling at Larp! I’m lucky in that I run the entertainment Guild for Darkon, and we run both a Casino and Gladiatorial style fights that we call Pit Fights. Pit Fights involves a lot of yelling bets across the ring as you throw in money for your favorite character, but the casino is really when the gold starts to move.

    We run Liar’s Dice, Built a wooden board and modified Keystone from Fable 2. (This is by far the most popular game) We also run poker, black jack, craps, have a coin toss and an archery range. Although, we do have a call in Liar’s Dice we use, ‘spot on’ if you have made a call that is completely correct, everyone but you at the table loses a die. It can makes things very dicey, very quickly.

    For me having gambling as a serious part of the game, makes things even more immersive. You don’t need to rely on plot on further ic actions, because you’re sitting there plotting and betting fully in character. Pit Fights have been a Darkon tradition since long before i joined the game, but the casino which has only been around for about 5 years has done really well the 1-3 times it shows up yearly.

  4. Aaron V July 11, 2013 2:34 PM

    Gambling in larp is great, thanks for the article.

    I am curious, though: how do the mechanics handle cheating, if at all?
    When I ran a western larp (Silver & Sage), I couldn’t figure out a way for gamblers to cheat at cards that didn’t involve the GMs, so I asked any gambler characters to use their real world skills. One option I have seen is to use a marked deck, and tell the gamblers what the marks are.
    Any other ideas of how to cheat at cards in a larp that does not involve the GMs?

  5. Alabast July 11, 2013 5:48 PM

    Awesome article!

    I just wish there were more examples of games. I want to run a gambling session with my character at my next event, but I know nothing about dice games or gambling in general. And I’m clearly googling the wrong terms. Got any suggestions for links to sites that explains how one run bets, gambling rings and similar things?

  6. Jennifer Karner July 13, 2013 11:15 PM

    Aaron V: So far as handling cheating goes for me, and in my game. It works pretty much like cheating does in the real world, except with fully in character consequences if we catch you. I’m not really a fan of ‘aiding’ cheating so to speak, simply because it’s more fun to see what people come up with. I do test, and retest all of our games to ensure a minimum of cheating where possible since it loses me money. Something my character is not cool with. But we run our Casino very close to how an actual Casino floor might run, just adjusted for the Larp atmosphere.

    Alabast: I’m not sure about any links, as I sort of figured everything out for myself over the years. Most of the games I/our Entertainment Guild run are either real games, or based on something we’ve found. For instance, we run Poker, Blackjack and our most recent addition of craps. Keystone, which is our most popular game is taken from Fable II; we built a board for it and then played with the odds until we found what worked. I’d suggest talking to people in your game and seeing what kind of games their characters would be interested in. Gambling for me, is directly linked to deeper immersion in a really simple way, so I want it to be accessible and enjoyable for as many people as possible whenever I run our Casino, or Pit Fights.

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  8. Eleazar September 20, 2016 9:35 AM

    The larp group I belong to doesn’t offer many opportunities to gamble but that changed with the introduction of my bard character who brought with him some dice and cards to gain some extra coin. One game that was already established before this was called “Winner’s Mark” and the way it was played was as follows:
    -A player would toss a coin into the center of a 3 to 5 foot circle
    – the starting player and opposing player(s) would then toss as many coins as they felt comfortable, attempting to get as close to the original coin as possible
    – once everyone tossed their coin(s), the player who got closest to the original coin wins the pot

    This game was quite fun and surprisingly difficult. The article was a fun read and I definitely agree with what it’s saying, great job!


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