April 2018

GM Corner



The term is practically a dirty word in some larp circles. By definition, metagaming means the utilization of out-of-game information to affect in-character play. While in some forms of games metagaming is a neutral idea, within larp communities the term has a lot more baggage. The word conjures up images of confrontations between players over misused knowledge and hard feelings over player cheating. However when examining the concept of what it means to metagame, it becomes clear that the complex issue comes down to a question of player intent rather than a hard and fast rule.

In many forms of games, metagaming is a regular part of play. Players in sports or board games such as chess may study not only the rules of the game, but the strategies that have developed around game play. They bring that information to their sessions to optimize their strategy. This meta information is not considered in any way negative, but instead proves that the player has prepared to bring their best to the game space. In these games, the player is themselves both in and out of game and shares knowledge without a separation. If someone is playing chess, they aren’t taking on the character of another person to play, and therefore their knowledge is their own. The nature of roleplaying games makes the issue of the metagame different because of the different persona a player takes on when they are in the game.  Inside the world of a roleplaying game, a player is meant to be separate from the character they play and therefore, theoretically, some of their knowledge is meant to remain separate. Metagaming in a larp means using information that your character wouldn’t normally be able to access to impact the in character course of events. This is usually done to present the player who is metagaming with an advantage over other players or the game itself. In many larps, it is considered a form of cheating.

2104744Examples of metagaming can be broken down into a few different categories:

Story knowledge: The first occurs when a player uses a piece of information they overheard out of character while in character, thereby providing their character with some knowledge they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is the most controversial and generally discouraged type of metagaming. A player might be looking for an advantage in the game and, instead of roleplaying through a scene, reacts to knowledge they shouldn’t have in character, thereby changing the gameplay in their favor. In most games, this kind of metagaming is frowned upon for the sake of fairness. If everyone were to utilize metagame knowledge in their roleplaying, good storytelling could break down; story secrets and hidden knowledge could no longer be safe. Additionally, it shows a focus by the player on their individual achievement versus the enjoyment of the community of players as a whole.

Mechanical knowledge: A second example of metagaming involves a player making decisions for their character based on their knowledge of the rules system, such as deciding whether or not to take on an enemy based on their out-of-character knowledge of how much health they have or how deadly the enemy can be. This kind of strategic thinking is a grey area for many players, since it does straddle the line between performing in-game as their character and playing the game as an out-of-character gamer. Information on a character’s sheet, for example, is not in-character knowledge in the sense that the character doesn’t know how many points it has to spend on experience, or how many health points it has before it does.


To engage with the rules of the game, a player has to step outside of the in-character headspace at least a little to fight enemies and calculate their damage. That breach of roleplaying into the out-of-character headspace can lead to players making decisions for their character based on their knowledge of out-of-character information, but it may be considered less severe. After all, it lets a player fully engage with the rules system that adjudicates game challenges.

Safety: This third kind of metagaming conjures up less issues of unfairness or misbehavior. Within any game, a player may engage with something that makes them uncomfortable or unhappy, even something that makes them fear for their physical or psychological safety. A player may choose to react to that situation from an out-of-character feeling of discomfort, choosing to remove themselves or to address the problem with game staff and other players, rather than engaging with it on an in-character level. This reaction, by definition, could still be considered metagaming. However, due to the fact that it involves a player taking consideration for their own safety and well-being, it doesn’t come with the same baggage. The fact that this kind of self-care in game is still technically considered  metagaming points to the fact that engaging in metagaming is not always a bad thing; it just depends on the context.

The decision about whether metagaming is considered a cheating offense and how severely it is dealt with largely relies on how stiff the barrier is between being in character and out of character. Games that focus on keeping a strict boundary between in character persona and out-of-character player may have strict rules against metagaming and levy consequences against players that are caught. In games where the separation is more lax, the consequences might be less serious. Still other games, like many Nordic style larps, break down this boundary completely by encouraging players to play ‘close to home’; that is, to build characters that are very much like themselves. They also include techniques within the game that allow players to break character and explore their feelings, thoughts, and decisions with other players out of character before scenes are played. This style of play focuses on metagaming as yet another technique for telling a rich story while stripping away hidden information in play.

By examining the different ways metagaming is used, avoided, or punished, we can see that information can and does spill over from the out-of-character realm into a player’s character. Metagaming can not only sometimes be helpful in a game, sometimes it might be necessary for the safety and well-being of players. It comes down, then, to the intent behind the metagaming and whether or not the game allows for the free exchange of information over the in character/out of character line.

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Jul 31, 2013

Some people know how to ruin a perfectly good party.

larp advice

Take a seat.

This person, as a rule, will always be attending your game or event. How to deal with them safely and legally could have serious ramifications, so it’s important you not only have a battle plan for when it happens, but an understanding of those ramifications. Poor planning will allow a bad incident to overshadow your game or event. It will become a defining moment, and the only thing your event will be remembered for; after all of that work you did, don’t you deserve better? So sit down a moment, draw a pint, and let’s talk about how to deal with your rowdy player problem.

Why on Earth am I qualified to talk about this? I used to work as a supervisor for a company doing section 8 housing policing, I was a bouncer, and I just finished a combat tour in Afghanistan. This stuff relates a bit; but me and mine have run security at some fairly notable national-level fighting events. We go places and run the show so that event staff doesn’t have to worry about it. The Forsaken of Belegarth and Dagorhir have our fingers in a lot of pies, and our experiences have taught me a lot about doing this stuff safely.

And half the guys I deal with are drunk.

Let’s set the stage and discover the types of risks which are present at your event. Some of them you may not have even thought of. This is the first stage in any risk assessment (which is essentially what we are doing):

  • The players: Your players’ emotions are going to be a roller coaster through this event. Part of it is the emotional charge that is associated with doing something new, or something that you love to do. People are passionate, and when passions run high, dispute happens. This is especially true in serious cases, such as permanent character death. Player arguments are going to happen, and there need to be measures in place to resolve them.
  • What about townies? Anyone that runs particularly large events that are open to the public, or have public visibility, will tell you that the locals are going to wander onto site and they are going to cause an issue. They aren’t going to get what you’re doing, and their reactions will be varied. They may try feebly to understand and grow frustrated, or they may just make fun of you for dressing silly and try to have a good ole time by whizzing in your cheerios. How much access will non players have to your site, and how can you maintain safety while trying to teach the mundanes a new trick?
  • Alcohol and drugs: Is there a policy for these in your game? Substances greatly elevate any situation when done to excess. Personally, I like games that let me drink, but there need to be serious safeguards to responsible usage. If someone is intoxicated, what is the plan? If it can be contained, get them to their camp, get them with more sober friends, make them responsible and accountable, and remove all of them from play. You cannot reason with a drunk; you can only contain and monitor them.

Insider Threat, Outsider Threat, Substance Issues. We can handle them all. Let’s do this.

Four Steps for Player Conflict Resolution

The formula for any rowdy argument is fairly simple: two or however many parties feel wronged, and they want justice done. The most important thing to remember is that if you are running an event, it’s your gig. That is your job. There is a great deal of hospitality management that needs to be done, and you are responsible for stopping dumb in its tracks so that everyone can have a good time. Here is my simple system of conflict resolution for your knuckleheads:

1. Isolate the event: Taking this away from the prying eyes of other people involved is important so that play can continue while you are away dealing with the primitive screw heads that caused the mess. In addition, this prevents sides from developing and dividing your game into two separate peanut galleries. Whether it is an individual being dumb or a dispute between two players, isolate them away from the rest of the attendees and get them where they don’t have support or additional instigators.

  • Break Immersion: We are in a fantasy environment. Everything seems to have a sense of fantasy, mystery, and fiction about it. When a conflict arises, it is important to determine whether it is real, or someone still pretending. Are all parties really on the same page? Shatter immersion. Do not use character names, use your mundane name and make it abundantly clear that you are now in control of what is going on.
  • When in charge, be in charge: I am going to allow for a bit more coverage into this. It is important that you have enough presence to stop conflict in its tracks. As event staff it is simpler because there is already a perceived authority thing going on. This does not mean raise your voice; in fact, it is better that you don’t. It just means that whatever attempt your agitator makes to steer current events needs to be stopped cold.

    “But you don’t get it, this fella-”

    “Stop. Listen to me. I want to help you, and I want to resolve this.”

    You need to be very literal and purposeful with your word choices. Control the situation, control their world, and do not allow for dispute. Numbers helps this game. If you are not comfortable doing this on your own, bring backup. Have them stand there and provide support. If they happen to be that overly large fella that plays a troll every game, so much the better. But s/he is there for support only. You run the world.

2. De-escalate: It is important to do nothing that will escalate a volatile situation. I have seen some event staff yell at people to get them to cease and desist, and if someone is a type B personality or a small child, maybe that works. When you are playing with adults, this isn’t going to cut it. Proud people will keep their pride throughout, and yelling at them is not going to cow them, it is going to cause them to lash out. Do not yell, do not threaten, maintain calm and level-headedness, because behavior of the authority is contagious. If you are calm, then others will be, too.

  • Use defensive language: Nothing will set off an aggressor like them thinking that you do not respect them, or do not care. This has the dual effect of keeping the player happy and polite so that they are not inclined to flee the game. Dr. George Thompson teaches a class called Verbal Judo, which is used for Law Enforcement, Security, and managers. Aggressive language such as ,“Calm down!” ,“Because those are the rules!”,“Hey you!”, “I’m not going to tell you again!”, and “Be more reasonable!” are all taught to be ineffectual for calming a situation, and are in fact detrimental to a positive outcome. Instead, the usage of defensive and supportive language will help calm a situation. “I want to understand.” “I am here to help.” “I understand how you could see that from your perspective. I would like to help.” See what I did there? Not only did I provide perceived value to their opinion and say I was interested in it, but I also suggested that it might not be the only and right opinion. This stuff is gold, and I recommend a verbal judo course for anyone who deals with volatile people regularly.

3. Resolve conflict: When possible, find a fast solution for whatever the problem was. If someone was being rude or disrespectful, see that they understand the problem and won’t repeat it. If they took someone else’s stuff on accident, correct the oversight and let all parties know that the issue is now resolved, and they need to move on. Do not threaten. Not only could it re-escalate the problem, but a threat is a promise; If you say ‘this stops or they are gone’, then that is it, lest order be disrupted from the entire event. I also believe in having someone understand the whole ordeal:

“You did this and I had to act, for which I apologize. If you continue the behavior, then I am going to have to kick you from the event, and no one wants that. Do you understand? We agree that that is fair? Now come on, let’s go smash some goblins to a fine pudding.”

Be as arbitrary as possible when resolving conflict, because bias, whether real or imagined, can escalate a situation. This is another thing that is handy about bring a back up staff member with you to resolve conflict.

4. Follow up: So you thought you solved the problem, but they’re back at it? That is because after conflict, people will stew about a negative outcome. Their negative feelings will fester, and it will poison whoever is around them. Following up, asking if everything is still ok, does a couple things: For one, it gives evidence that you care about the player and believe that their point is important, but it also proves that you didn’t forget about them, and if they try to re-escalate you are going to be all over that. There was a proverb I heard somewhere about using huge chains on a bull to tie them when they are young, so that you can use a rope later. When someone sees the futility in causing conflict, the conflict will end except in the most dire of circumstances.

For players that just don’t get it


So they stopped talking and they are throwing dukes. They are cursing and throwing other people’s stuff around. They are threatening people, and this is now beyond a small contained event. COME AT ME, BRO!

You need to ask yourself the cost/benefit ratio of escalation. Is this incident worth the drama of having to arrest a player? As event staff, you are responsible for not only people’s good time, but their safety. Rule of thumb: do what you must to keep the majority of your players. Take these events seriously, and they will stand testament to future knuckleheads. Does this mean you need to hang the body high where everyone can see it? No, but there are two things left in your toolbag as you try to get this mouth breather off site:

Call the cops if it has gone that far. This isn’t your responsibility at this point; this person has decided they want it to become a criminal matter. Get someone else to call the cops while you keep an eye on Captain Wow to ensure s/he doesn’t trash anyone’s stuff or incite a bigger fight. Isolate them away from their players. One of my favorites is saying you can’t hear them and escorting them to somewhere you can that just happens to be away from others, but you might not be able to pull that off outdoors.

Things you need while waiting for the police:

  • Contact information for witnesses and event staff.
  • Any paperwork your agitator filled out. Get copies, as it probably has a lot of personal information for the cops to use. This will also make the coppers friendly, because they like it when the paperwork portion is easy. Write down when they were called, and when they showed up. If they don’t take your statement, but you think they will, then write down statements as soon as possible, or at least notes, because details are lost quickly. Do not bring attention to the cops being on the way as that could panic the agitator, and fear responses are unpredictable.

OH NO YOU DIDN’T. Did that guy just punch you in the beak? Without going into things like homestead and castle law, here is a guideline: If you, or your group, leased an area and are a representative of that group, you are entitled to protect all persons or properties contained in that area as they are, partly, in your care. This is why we sign waivers at games. Violence causes a different level of problems, so I will advise you placate your offender ’till the fuzz shows. When in doubt, though, use the minimum force necessary to subdue the offender, and when they cease to resist, cease to apply force. If you do get into a physical confrontation, it is important that you report that this is what you did in your report. Don’t tell them training or anything, just say “I used the minimal amount of force necessary to subdue the subject, and ceased to apply force when they ceased to resist.” If you do this, you are within the law, and they are liable for all injuries, including theirs. As I am not familiar with your local laws, it is important to look up local laws on self defense and whatever homestead laws exist. Knowledge is power.

To review

Your action steps are Isolate, De-Escalate, Resolve, Follow Up. By following those steps, you will handle things peacefully and have a good chance of retaining all players involved. All of these are guidelines, however; there are other tools to consider, and I hope you do. Find the plan that is right for you and your game.

Everyone goes to game to have fun. Keep that commonality when you are dealing with people. Resolve things quickly, quietly, and at its smallest level so that everyone can get back to having fun, but maintain a plan for things that go awry. You never know when you are going to find That Guy.

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Jul 30, 2013

If you are lucky enough to larp in an area with multiple games, if you’ve been playing in your home Larp for a few years, or if you’ve attended massive events like Ragnarok or Pennsic, you might be considering trying your hand at cross-gaming. There are many pros and cons you may encounter when cross-gaming, […]

Jul 22, 2013

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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Jul 11, 2013

In my 15 or so years of LARPing I have tried roughly half a dozen LARPs (Kanar, CARPS, NERO, and Vampire just to name a few). Some LARPs encourage more player vs. player situations, and some discourage them. There are pros and cons to both approaches. PVP, or “Player vs. Player”, can give you some of the most memorable and exciting experiences LARP has to offer, but it can also create an environment that breeds more cheating, metagaming, and out-of-character grudges than any other experience LARP has to offer.pvp fighting

LARPS that encourage PVP and operate in a deadly rules set where it is difficult (if not impossible) to resurrect a character often end up having very realistic and intense moments of conflict; however, with no survivability, character development does not generally have much time to happen. When players know that their character can die at any moment they become less attached to them and may feel less inclined to spend money on custom costumes or weapons.

LARPS that discourage PVP and operate in a high-survivability rules set will be full of rich and highly developed characters with deep friendships and rivalries that have grown over many years, but the lack of a real threat to their character can result in feeling invincible. A world without consequences can be one that is rather dull. What excitement is there in adventuring if there is no possibility of loss? What do you have to lose in a conflict with another character if you are not likely to ever die? Death and violence themselves start to become meaningless. People might become friends with their murderers as if getting killed by them was no worse then getting into a shoving match with them.

Most LARPs fall somewhere between these two extremes. Some encourage PVP simply because it’s easy to do and easy to fix. What if your combat system is deadly and resurrection is difficult or impossible, but the local law enforcement is highly effective and it is difficult to get away with killing someone’s character? It does not rule out PVP, but it creates a situation where it’s risky, and your character will have to carefully weigh the risk vs. reward.

No matter what precautions you take for your game (or lack of precautions), PVP is something you will inevitably have to take a hard look at. Done well, it can be a great thing for your game, but done poorly, it can do terrible things to the health of your LARP as a whole. One of my mentors in LARP once said, “PVP is always fun until someone starts losing”. I found that was the case more often then not; It always starts out great, both sides talking about how great it was to be part of such an intense moment, but as the conflict develops things can go far enough to push those involved past the 4th wall.

One of the things I have noticed about LARPers is that many of them think of their character as the main character in their own personal fantasy novel or action movie. The problem: so does everyone else they are playing the game with. When you throw in PVP you are putting a very volatile component into the mix; One that could either be great, or be game-breaking for the people involved.

This view is not unfounded. Before we start calling all LARPers self-centered or spoiled, lets consider what is invested in one’s character in the average 5+ year lifespan LARP:

  1. larp leather armorFinancial investment. A good LARP costume can be very expensive, particularly if your LARP requires or encourages the use of real armor. My plate armor, in all its stainless steel and brass trimmed beauty, cost roughly $1,000. It was custom-made to fit the character, and I would feel awkward trying to use it for another. Many players feel compelled to make personalized and custom clothing and other belongings for their character, maybe centered around specific symbols or heraldry. LARP weapons can also be a big part of a character’s identity, and the more expensive latex weapons can rack up the price tag even further. Multiply this even further if you are dealing with a group of characters who go to great lengths to have matching or themed garb for their group.

  2. Time investment. A character you have spent years developing has story linked to them. Sure, you could just make another character, but the experience can be so hollow compared to the rich experience of playing a character with a long history.

  3. Emotional investment. For many players, their LARP character is their escape. Their character is the things they wish they could, but cannot, be, and in some cases their character is very much part of them. I have met quite a few LARPers who played their characters for as many as ten years or more, and when those characters finally died, they literally could not make another one; it was just never the same. Some people are just “one character” LARPers. These types tend to put all of their energy into one character, and when that character dies, their interest in the game goes shortly afterward.

People LARP for different reasons, and their particular flavor of “escape” can be complex and difficult to articulate. One serious danger when it comes to any game with PVP activity is that it can attract personalities who sometimes PVP for very dark reasons. In video games we call them griefers, and they exist in some LARPs as well.

I remember a fellow at a LARP I play (who has since re-thought his old ways) who, when the encounters had ended for the evening, was known for saying “Alright. It’s time to go newbie hunting!”. Newbie hunting generally consisted of actively looking for low level characters, murdering them, and robbing them. These characters had no alliances or anyone who would care enough to investigate their deaths, and usually nobody who would care enough to pay to resurrect them, either. This practice was, in many cases, a great way to ensure a new player never came back.

Another fellow became a notorious and powerful necromancer; He raised small armies of undead and could literally wipe out entire groups of characters by himself. (Thankfully, the rules no longer permit this.) His power became so extreme that eventually entire in-character organizations were driven out of the game by one player.

What about people who play Assassins who’s entire purpose is to engage in PVP? I know one who was either directly involved with or arranged the deaths of roughly thirty six PCs in his career. (That one was me, by the way. Was it fun? Sure. Until it wasn’t.)

larp potion

“Should I use this poison? Hmm… I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that guy is friends with the marshal in charge of poisons…”

Some of the toxic environments that can be created when PVP is out of control can also shatter immersion nearly beyond repair. I remember very clearly having to choose what game mechanics I would use to kill someone’s character based on what OOC authority figure was the marshal or referee who oversaw rulings for those particular mechanics. It creates a breeding ground for metagaming, and the heated situations can really put a lot of pressure on marshals/referees/GM’s etc to rule one way or the other. Friendships can be lost, and role playing immersion totally destroyed.

Winning is (usually) more fun than losing. When PVP happens there inevitably is a winner and a loser, but if there are few consequences for losing, then winning itself becomes less rewarding.

When you engage in PVP in one of these LARPs, you are thinking as your character. Depending on your level of maturity, the above factors mean more or less to you when talking about your own character, but what do the above factors mean to you when you are deciding the fate of another person’s character?

What do you think about PVP? Have you had experience with it, positive or negative? It is a necessity for your larp experience, or a volatile mechanic just waiting to destroy a game? Join the discussion below.

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Jul 09, 2013
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