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.
As 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:
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!