24
January 2017

The Methods of Mechanization – The Means of Communicating Intent and Effects in LARP – Part 1

Since my first post, I realize that I may have bitten off more than anyone should chew when trying to address the myriad cultural and administrative aspects of LARP. Going back through my original document, it was apparent that I could have easily turned the one post into potentially, many more consolidated and pointed discussions. The first of these will be a new series I’m entitling, “LARP Rules!”. Excusing the pun, this series of posts will cover the generalized, modern practices of American LARP rules systems and mechanics, and take a deep dive into their roots, where these systems are currently, how they got there, and where they’re going (or where we think they should go for that matter). In addition, I’ll be providing personal critique on some alternatives to common mechanics practices, in addition to soliciting input from some of the LARP braintrusts that I’ve come to know over the years. The intention of these articles is to foster a pseudo-academic approach to how we address the virtues and drawbacks to current LARP rules sets and how we can constructively progress when developing systems for future games that consider the current LARP climate and needs of gamers on the whole. In these sorts of debates and discussions, the go-to for many people is to say something along the lines of, “Well, there’s no right way to have fun, and don’t tell me how to have fun.” In addition to completely missing the point, this line of reasoning does little to further the debate on what makes for a rules set that encourages what I’ll refer to from now on as the LARP Core Rules Tenet. It is the following:

Meaningful, consequential role-play and immersion is the means and the end. The story is secondary and is the organic, waste byproduct of interactions between players, be it through combat, in game skills, social mechanics, or otherwise. As such, any rules system, being that which defines and dictates actions in a game, should seek to put up as low a barrier as possible to this end, it being understood that a rule designed to represent an action is not the action. This represents a departure from play, and therefore to immersion. This departure is anathema to this end and as such should be as limited in scope as possible.

Think about it for a minute. In the artistic and professional endeavors of the world, whether it’s painting, programming, music, or accounting, there exist standards and practices that have been developed and improved upon over the lifetimes of the practice. And while there may have been diverging techniques within the community you were in, eventually these techniques and principles of practice coalesced to form a foundation from which to establish the “best practices,” for the given endeavor or profession. Objective assessments of technique bring together those within a profession into one community of practice, thereby encouraging and formalizing standards by which to operate. LARP rules development and implementation should be no different. LARP is an interesting kind of endeavor in which we have a narrative form driven forward by participants within the context of a rules set meant to represent actions, be it large and complicated, or small and concise. However, this narrative is only driven forward through personal interactions, be they intra-player, or between players and game administrators. It’s usually both. The only time, as players, we think to illicit the use of a rule or mechanic, is when we wouldn’t otherwise be able to perform the action, whether out of concerns for safety, the limitations of our reality, or other. Although it can be said that the game couldn’t exist without rules, the rules aren’t necessarily what drive the plot or narrative forward. And this is the exceptional thing about LARP. The very element that defines a game, the rules in this case, are the very thing that impairs it, being the interactions between players that drive a plot. In a sense, it could be said that the relationship between a LARP and its respective rules set, while necessary, is ultimately its biggest enemy.
This concept is by no means limited those games in the fantasy, boffer genre, however, these types of games will be the focus of the proceeding discussions, as they tend to permeate the popular LARP scenes in whatever part of the world you may find yourself. While these dialogues, on part of author and reader alike, will no doubt be replete with personal views on what makes for a “good” rules set or mechanic, the intent here is to strip away these preconceived notions about what has worked in the past and reexamine rules development within the context of LARP as we know it today. After all, we have the foundation of 30+ years of experience upon which to stand and from which to make assessments. We are in a singular position of luxury here; one in which we can use the design principles of the past to inform future rules development. All the while, being able to create something totally new that caters to player experience expectation and play styles that have developed over three decades of experimentation. So let’s begin by stepping into the past to see how the early systems got off the ground.

In the beginning…

dragon_magazine3

In the days before the popular use of the Internet, sometime in the late 80’s, when the troll was something relegated to story time and Dungeons and Dragons, one of the few ways to find and talk to your niche was through its respective newsstand publication. And for the gamers of the world, this publication was Dragon Magazine. It was THE place to go if you wanted to get the latest news and updates for everything D&D, get the word out for your convention, for the coolest new game that was going to land, or if you were trying to tell others about a strange new hobby; a hobby that would come to be known as live action role playing. Somewhere in the northeastern U.S., a bunch of people from a local gaming store thought it might be a good idea to get up from the table and try this thing out for real. And it worked. Really well, as a matter of fact. Soon after they thought to publish a notice in Dragon Magazine, people started to show up by the hundreds.

dragon_magazine1

It seemed that the hive mind was on their side in this case, for lo, LARP was born. The preceding information, in so many words, comes from a great interview the guys at LARPCast did, with one of the founders of this early LARP group, Mike Ventrella. The game he and his comrades would go on to create was, in a sense, patient zero for the many mutations we see today in the fantasy LARP genre.  Given this humble beginning, it is easy to understand why the rule books for many popular games, as well as their descendants, still look the way they do. In lots of cases, these rulebooks seem to prioritize staying faithful to the complicated and overly detailed mechanics of their table-top progenitors in favor of actually doing more to facilitate an easy transition for players into a hobby they helped to create in the first place. It is this concept that is perhaps one of the more fascinating aspects of the rules discussion. In the early days it seems that the motivations were mainly centered around catering to the thematic elements of your pen and paper RPG’s of the day. So how then, do we transition from designing rules systems around these themes and forms, which are not particularly suited to replication within the context of the LARP form, to designing systems that instead, cater to the LARP form while maintaining the thematic elements of a given setting or genre? We’ll discuss this more a little later and in additional articles.

Where are we now?

Right now it seems that the hobby is in a bit of a flux. We have the large, franchise and chapter games still firmly rooted around the country, with an aging population of organizers and admin who’ve been around since the beginning, alongside newer players and organizers who’ve really not had the same amount of success in improving upon the overall hobby or “growing” it, in general. While this is backed up mostly by personal experience and observation, one need only look around the web at the different offerings to see that it’s pretty sparse in terms of overall quality and experience. We haven’t really seen the growth and improvement in player population and aesthetics experienced by the European LARP scene. It just seems a bit strange as to why this is when we’ve got the proliferation of large social and festival style gatherings like Burning Man and other such events that attract tens of thousands of people to do little else besides “hang out”, not to mention the relative increase in popularity and notoriety “geek” society has experienced over the past few years. It would stand to reason that LARP, even in its position as a fringe activity at best, would attract no small percentage of these numbers, right? Perhaps it will simply never become all that accessible and grand, and maintain its current status, somewhere between a novel pastime and niche hobby. While it has gained some traction and recognition in the media, it seems as though this attention has done little to advance the craft. Dismal musings aside, and because this series is supposed to be dedicated to rules theory and critique, let’s shift gears a bit and take a look at how this aspect of game development has perhaps affected the overall progression of LARP into what we experience today.
As was summarized in the previous section, there is little mystery with regards to the origins of the early LARP rules sets. Given the lens of time, we have the luxury of being able to look back and ask ourselves if early game development methodologies were in fact, optimal in establishing a successful LARP framework. Hindsight being 20/20, we can make the assessment that attempting to translate rules sets designed for executing tabletop gaming actions into mechanics to facilitate live role playing probably wasn’t the best approach. This isn’t meant to demean or marginalize the efforts of our LARP forefathers, but to simply give context to discussions around why we might want to look at changing LARP rules design philosophy in the first place. Put a different way, had these LARP pioneers known what it would become, would they have started where they did? While this isn’t quite a “chicken or the egg” scenario, it is easy to understand why it might have been difficult to anticipate that the hobby would eventually take on a life all of its own, of, but apart from its tabletop parents. We can now take these insights and begin to develop new ideas around how to foster and nurture this new manifestation of an old and loved hobby. And there’s really no better place to start than the rules. So with that, welcome to LARP Rules!, a series of blogs specifically geared towards addressing some of the core issues in rules development and implementation that, over the years, I, in addition to others, have found to be prohibitive to those interested in the hobby as well as those that have been around for a while. While the reasoning behind the issues will be subjective, I will seek to be as objective as possible in presenting evidence to support my claims and complaints, and I would ask that any replies to the content follow suit.

The Issue

 “10 Normal Poison Magic Damage Slay Fire Huge Kill Boom……. Get all that? No? Strange, it couldn’t have been made more clear in our 200 page rule book that you should have at least glossed over once before coming out to play. Oh, you did but you still couldn’t process all that? Well, clearly you’re the one with the problem then, as our rules system is great.

This ever happen to you? You’re out at a LARP and suddenly you’re accosted by some NPC or other, and then swept up into a dizzying maelstrom of cacophonous and unintelligible cackling, your brain frozen in a state similar to shock. Let me begin by talking about a little concept known as Hick’s Law.

hicks_chart-1In the early 1950’s, British Psychologist, W.E. Hick devised a series of 9 experiments based around the study of mental chronometry, that is, the study of “…response time in perceptual-motor tasks to infer the content, duration, and temporal sequencing of cognitive operations.” In short, it studies the brain’s reaction time to commands in an attempt to assess processing power and speed. So how does all this apply to LARP? Getting to that. The series of 9 experiments introduced different cues to subjects that were intended to illicit some corresponding reaction on part of the subject, unique to the cue. Hick found that as the number of possible, unique cues increased, reaction time in subject increased, logarithmically. It became clear that even the possibility of more choice in potential commands befuddled and confused the brain, making that much more difficult to efficiently respond to stimuli. Let’s apply this to a few randomly sampled skills from major LARP rule books from around the country and break them down into their smaller, more easily digestible components. This assessment will assume some prior insight into how LARP rules work, in general, and will not attempt to target only the most extreme cases to support my assertions.

Case Study 1:

Dystopia Rising LARP Survivor’s Guide

Avoid (MP-5)

This Skill counters Concentrated Fire, Destroy Shield, Destroy Weapon,
Disarming Shot, Scatter Shot, Sniped Shot, Knockout, and any other successful,
ranged targeted attacks. In order to use this skill, spend 5 Mind Points and
clearly say “Avoid!” This skill is ineffective against Area of Effect attacks
(such as bombs or “By My Voice” effects), as they do not target the user
individually.

So my character has this skill they can use during the game, and it’s potentially one of many. Having skimmed the book a bit prior to writing this, a few things are immediately apparent. I’m going to have to remember lots of stuff. First off, I’ll need to remember that this skill is 5 Mind Points, a skill resource system particular to this LARP, yet a common implement in skills systems in many LARPS. That is, a player can have any number of different skills, or in game actions, that cost something intangible and unique to the rules system. Some might call them points, slots, etc… On top of cross referencing the point cost with an available character point pool, i.e. how many points I’ve got left, I’ll need to also remember that I can use this skill to counter the following:

Concentrated Fire
Destroy Shield
Destroy Weapon
Disarming Shot
Scatter Shot
Sniped Shot
Knockout
Ranged Targeted Attacks

It can’t be used against Area of Effect attacks, so now I’ll need to become familiar with what those are and what to listen for to know when one has happened.

Case Study 2:

NERO LARP Rule Book, 9th Edition

Critical Slay / Parry <weapon> <hand>*

Critical Slay:

This skill enables the character to either swing a large amount of damage, or avoid a physical attack once a day for each time the skill is bought. A critical slay/parry may be bought once for every two full weapon proficiencies.  Both of these skill uses the same handedness rules and specific weapon rules as critical attack and Weapon proficiency. Anyone with multiple critical slays/parry can expend a parry while they have an active slay without expending the active slay. Does 100 damage and is called as “100 <weapon type><damage type> Slay.” For example: “100 Silver Ice Slay” A critical slay will always do full damage to a creature with a threshold or a damage cap. Before using a critical slay, the character must call out “Prepare to die!” (this is an OOG statement and can be made even while silenced). The Slay is considered used as soon as the statement is made. The Slay will be active until the blow is landed, or five minutes pass. If the blow is landed, the Slay damage can be negated by other game defenses such as phase, dodge, parry, magic armor, etc. The 5 minute time period cannot be shortened by any other   means, including having the weapon disarmed or destroyed, calling a defense, killed and then Life’d, falling unconscious, etc. When engaging new opponents you must announce “Active Slay” this is an OOG statement and can be made even when silenced. A player hit by a Slay who does not die from the Slay must announce that the Slay was successful by saying “Hit” or role-playing appropriately. This informs the fighter using the Slay that he or she must then begin calling regular damage again.

Parry:

May be used in place of a critical slay

This allows the character to call “Parry” instead of being affected by any one physical attack delivered by a NERO weapon or packet.  Parry can only be used to block physical attacks from boffer weapons, arrows, and attacks with the word “Physical” in the incant. i.e. Parry can block a weapon trap, but not an explosive trap.  It cannot be used to block spellstrike. You may not use a parry if you do not have a weapon in your hand or if your weapon is not free.  A Two Handed weapon must be held in both hands to be able to use a parry.  You may Parry a blow that strikes another character provided you are able to touch the victim of the attack with your weapon. A character using the parry skill calls out “Parry”in response to the attack being negated. If Parrying for another, a character calls out “Parry for <X>” where X is the name or race of the character you are Parrying for.

This was no mistake. This skill comes in two parts. Let’s begin by breaking down the intended function of the skills and then dissect their components. The apparent intent here is that we have two skills designed to counteract each other and give players some flexibility in regards to how they choose to expend the ability. Slay, if not apparent from its name, is a special offensive skill designed to deal out higher damage than is normal in most cases, while Parry, its defensive counterpart, is designed to counter a lot of the special offensive abilities in the game. So, not only do I have to know what Slay does, I have to know what Parry does as well. The Slay, in its execution and technical challenges, exhibits design flaws that perfectly demonstrates Hick’s Law. That is, should I use a Critical Slay attack, I not only need to announce “Prepare to Die,” I also need to make sure that I hurl up to four other abstractions at my opponent, all meant to trigger some possible response in my opponent. Beyond just doing lots of extra damage that a player must now subtract from their total hit points, I am putting the unnecessary onus on other players to make sure they acknowledge all of the additional extensions to my weapon damage call. It is pretty easy to see how quickly this could break down in lots of circumstances. And what’s worse is that this skill is actually dictating, if not at least on a small level, how I’m supposed to role-play the skill. “Prepare to Die!” I can only guess that this was something implemented in order to slow down repeated, rapid successions of Slays, as after that, I am at a loss. There’s so much going on with this skill that I’m a bit surprised it actually requires that you even use a weapon and not some further abstraction of the action. This kind of mechanic design should be avoided, in general, as it is one thing to require the user to remember all of the esoteric semantics of a given rule, but quite another to place that burden on other players. As I’ve been accused of ‘punting’ before, I’ll simply say that an easy fix to this would be to simply announce, “100” or some such contextually large number, in addition to getting rid of Parry altogether, as it does a couple of things. First, it no longer requires other players to acknowledge lots of other potential inputs beyond simply the number of damage, or health points that they must subtract from their current total. Second, it takes away the odd requirement to warn an opponent of their imminent demise or that you’ve got a slay active, which in addition to just being kind of an odd thing to make a player do, serves no real mechanical purpose. Lastly, it still effectively communicates to an opponent that they’ve been targeted with some above average amount of damage and that they’ll need to use the necessary corresponding skill(s) to counter it. To put this in perspective, if I’m in a game where damage numbers are relatively low and calls are few, vocalizing a damage call in a system wherein there rarely are vocalized executions of effects can have a profound impact and be an effective medium to communicate an extraordinary ability. Parry, on the other hand is one of those effects plaguing LARP rules systems that seek to reproduce an action people are able to safely execute themselves. Remember, the goal here is to impede immersion as little as possible, so in effect, you’re telling someone you dodged an attack that you didn’t actually dodge. Let’s save this kind of thing for the magic system, and when we absolutely need it..which we’ll cover a bit later.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series, in which we’ll address some updated and common sense approaches to this antiquated and overly complicated means of mechanization. Thanks for reading.

spencer

Spencer works in technology, and has been a LARPer in every aspect of the term since 1998. He likes the community most of all, but also really enjoys designing encounters and discussing LARP theory and mechanics. It is his goal to see the hobby grow and get better with every passing year. He lives in Marietta, GA.

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14 Comments

  1. Claus Raasted March 3, 2016 7:59 AM

    Looking forward to reading more on the topic. 😉

    Reply
  2. Almighty Watashi March 3, 2016 8:48 AM

    Sadly, the most popular larps usually have big rulebooks to give players a lot of options and progression with even more options. I see most larp rules being of late ’90s rpg quality. Everyone understands the importance of fun(tm) and balance(tm), but most of big larp rules are still clumsy, bloated, hard to scan/skim and made in such a way that there’s no truly “simple” class because every class still needs to know other classes. Every fighter usually needs to know most magic spells and every wizard needs to know how all the armors and big weapons work. We’ll probably be stuck in this “designed by engineers” mindset for a while because this hobby is still kinda small and not very profitable.

    Reply
  3. Pete Woodworth March 3, 2016 11:16 PM

    “Parry, on the other hand is one of those effects plaguing LARP rules systems that seek to reproduce an action people are able to safely execute themselves. Remember, the goal here is to impede immersion as little as possible, so in effect, you’re telling someone you dodged an attack that you didn’t actually dodge.”

    I can see where you’re coming from here, but at the same time, there is an equally valid argument that limiting players to what they can actually do in real life misses the point of playing heroic, fantastical characters. Of course it’s nice if a player portraying a master warrior can actually fight pretty well too, but what about someone like me – a guy who’s built like a sack of gummi bears and has about the same reflex speed? If I want to play an amazing warrior, shouldn’t the rules be there to support me as much as they do the guy playing a fire-throwing wizard? Or are you going to tell me that in a pretend world full of made up people I’m still limited by my actual physical capabilities, sorry, no heroic warrior for me?

    Reply
  4. Aaron March 4, 2016 12:24 AM

    An interesting article. I wrote about this in 2009, and have learned a lot since, and continue to learn more every day.

    Personally, I agree with Spencer’s sentiment: let’s stress immersion and realism in larps instead of fidelity to D&D or WoW. But that’s my own personal opinion. I also agree with Pete’s comment about being a heroic warrior: If you are not one IRL, mechanics are needed to make you one, like training wheels. Of course, those that game the system will ignore putting character build points in things they are already good at and put them in things they are not. If you are already nimble, skip the dodge skill and get points in something you cannot do, i.e., charm or command or other social skill (or vice versa).

    What Spencer needs to avoid doing is pushing personal preference for a minimal mechanics system and instead advocate a BETTER mechanics system, or a more efficient one. Pete should be able to play a combat-skilled knight if he wishes, but, it should be transparent that NOT ALL LARPS ALLOW HIM TO DO THAT. For example, Rock Band Murder Mystery, a one-shot theater larp I created and ran at Wyrd Con and Intercon, requires participants to be able to see and hear–I wanted to restrict blind or deaf people from participating, but had to adjust my Intercon run in case someone who wasn’t abled in sight and hearing wanted to play. It wasn’t necessary, but I needed to prepare for that. Larps have a very ableist problem.

    Thus, I would suggest that larps state up front that if you are unable to swing a boffer while running, you should not play a character that can. Or, conversely, larps should state that players can be in a wheelchair and still play Conan, because the mechanics will assist them. Neither is right or wrong, they just need to be stated clearly so PCs (Paying Customers) can make informed choices. That’s the real problem, not that larps have elaborate mechanics. Some people love complications. More power to them.

    This problem is also a product of the fantasy genre; go with modern day horror, or drama, or romance, or comedy larps, for example, and mechanics diminish or vanish. This is also my belief of why larps don’t have a bigger audience: not everyone wants to be an elf in a forest for the weekend.

    There are methods to avoid the issue of calls and confusing rules to memorize; it can be done quite easily. I won’t elaborate, because I am using those methods for a larp I am creating, but if you think about it, there are lots of ways to avoid memorizing complex rules. The one hint I will leak is that every player does not need to know all the rules (the GMs do, unfortunately).

    Finally, the word you want, Spencer, is ELICIT, not ILLICIT. Your homophones amuse me, thank you.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: You’re Breaking My Immersion! Or, How To Inadvertently Enable Ableism | Shoshana Kessock

  6. Pete Woodworth March 4, 2016 1:11 AM

    The idea that LARP can have a single set of “best practices” is also a massive assumption, specifically because it implies that all larp is designed to meet the same goals. Not even all boffer larps are, or should be.

    There’s a lot of confusion here between the notion of “I don’t like X” and “X is bad design.” One does not entail the other, except that a game with X is probably one the author would prefer to avoid.

    Reply
  7. Michael Malecki March 4, 2016 3:48 AM

    I really get tired of people holding Europeans up as the gold standard of LARPing. There are plenty of LARPs doing fantastical things in the US and it seems all LARPing.org ever posts is about how great Nordic Larp is.
    Americans have different value systems than Europeans. We look for different things than them for entertainment. We want to feel accomplished, our society rewards competitiveness so we are competitive by nature and to play fair sometime we need rules. There is a need to “win” that is seen more in American LARPs…and it’s not something we’re going to browbeat out of it by claiming Europeans are better.
    As for rules, while it’s true many of these rule books are lengthy, usually you only have the option of a few skills at the start. In Dystopia Rising, people are limited by their profession and only a few points to create their character so I can explain and assist a new player to create the badass zombie killer they want to create in 15 minutes. As the player progresses, they learn the rules over time. However, you just “skinmed” the rules.
    It seems like all we hear about is the “superiority” of rules lite systems and European LARPs. About how we’re not “grown up enough” to appreciate it. You’re entitled to your beliefs, but it seems like you all never have anything good to say about American Larp, and it’s clear that your experience is very regional to the games you play.

    Reply
    • Maria March 13, 2016 1:36 PM

      @Michael Malecki: Enlighten me: Where in the article did Spencer claim that European Larp is “the gold standard”? Where did he mention Nordic Larp? All I can find is this: “We haven’t really seen the growth and improvement in player population and aesthetics experienced by the European LARP scene.” And that’s completely factual.
      1) Larping communities in all European countries have grown in numbers since the late 80s/early 90s, e.g. from German events with a maximum of 200 people in1995 to fest larps with 9000 people in 2013 (imho we have passed the peak but the numbers remain stable)
      2) I you look at any European country with a long-standing larp tradition you will see that aesthetics have improved over the years – garb standards, tents, NPC kit, props…
      3) Can’t really speculate about the “we haven’t” part – I do not know enough about US-American larp to decice if there has or hasn’t been any growth or improvement.

      @ Alrik: Yes, there is a movement away from rule-heavy systems in Germany but that does not mean that all larps worldwide should be DKWDDK – or DKWDK. Generalizing a European trend as the non-plus-ultra for everyone seems… wrong. As Jason pointed out, some people may still prefer rules for various reasons
      * intricacies could be fun (just like board games)
      * predictability of cause-effect
      * leveling (everyone measured by the same standards)
      * making up for things you can neither do for real nor “darstellen” (roleplay) – it a conceptual choice to have spells or supernatural abilities even if players have to imagine their IG effect
      etc.

      Reply
    • Maria March 13, 2016 1:37 PM

      @Michael Malecki: Enlighten me. Where in the article did Spencer claim that European Larp is “the gold standard”? Where did he mention Nordic Larp? All I can find is: “We haven’t really seen the growth and improvement in player population and aesthetics experienced by the European LARP scene.” And that’s completely factual.
      1) Larping communities in all European countries have grown in numbers since the late 80s/early 90s, e.g. from German events with a maximum of 200 people in 1995 to fest larps with 9000 people in 2013 (imho, we have passed the peak but the numbers remain stable)
      2) If you look at any European country with a long-standing larp tradition you will see that aesthetics have improved over the years – garb standards, tents, NPC kit, props…
      3) Can’t really speculate about the “we haven’t” part – I do not know enough about US-American larp to decice if there has or hasn’t been any growth or improvement.

      @ Alrik: Yes, there is a movement away from rule-heavy systems in Germany but that does not mean that all larps worldwide should be DKWDDK – or DKWDK. Generalizing a European trend as the non-plus-ultra for everyone seems… wrong. As Jason pointed out, some people may still prefer rules for various reasons
      * intricacies could be fun (just like board games)
      * predictability of cause-effect
      * leveling (everyone measured by the same standards)
      * making up for things you can neither do for real nor “darstellen” (roleplay) – it a conceptual choice to have spells or supernatural abilities even if players have to imagine their IG effect
      etc.

      Reply
      • alrik March 17, 2016 5:44 AM

        I never demanded (or advised) that every LARP in the world should follow the DKWD(D)K-Philosophy. Much as Spencer never claimed “European Larp” (what ever that is) to be some kind gold standard. 😉 I just wanted to debunk Mr. Maleckis anecdotal and prejudiced claims regarding European LARPs being different from US-Americans because of different cultures or values.
        If that would be the case, we (Germany) would have been a rules light dominated country right from the start. But there was a development in the last decades, as we both explained. For backing this up with some data, I chose the DKWD(D)K occurrence as an example, because it’s the easiest to keep track of (thanks to the Larpkalender features), cause it’s the most common rule light approach and one of the less debatable. (I wanted to avoid the question, if a certain system like Fate or Degenesis counts as rule light or not.) I guess, I have red to many shallow arguments like “They have better costumes, cause they have castles” poisoning the (english) discussions and never get challenged.

        Regarding the assets of rule heavier (?) games you mentioned: That’s certainly enough for another (larperning?) debate. In short, I don’t think that more rules provide us with more predictability of couse and effect (thanks to al the rule layers, munchkins and “creative” organizers) but I do think that there is an equivalent of leveling in DKWD(D)K LARP (->character improvement in terms of gear, status and real live/darstellungs skills).

        I don’t expect there to be a “best practice” of LARP, but I am sure that there is the worst practice: unconsciously copying P&P and board game rules and sticking to that approach no matter what. And that’s (in my opinion) one of the things Spencer criticizes.

        Reply
        • Maria March 26, 2016 3:48 PM

          @Alrik: My apologies, I might have misread your comment as “anti-rules”.

          Regarding the “level-up” factor of DKWDK/DKWDDK – that is actually one of the drawbacks of “no rules” because you now have to depend on OOG-assets to “advance” your character (money, time, craftings skills, socializing) and there are natural limits to how much you can do there.
          Case in point: Magic – even if it is theoretically possible to play really powerful magicians who can cast spells that have a perfect “Darstellung” – they are still limited by how much OOG-theater/SFX-equipment that person is willing to schlep (pyroflasher, smoke device, Led-wearables…).
          Some of the German standards of what counts as an adequate “Darstellung” for those parts of the game that are supernatural/more high-fantasy have become unreasonably high, imho – normative even.

          So, as much as I personally prefer DKWDDK – I can totally see why rule systems are appealing.

          Reply
  8. Alrik March 4, 2016 9:12 AM

    Disclaimer: Please be patient with my bad English.

    What you (Spencer) say about the development of LARP and its early rule systems from the P&P hobby sounds very familiar to me,
    because it was basically the same in the german scene. The first point based system “Dragon Sys” was and still is very rule heavy too.

    But this is not the only remnant from the roots of our hobby.
    There is an older article in the german Larpwiki (“Das Dunkle Erbe” / “The dark heritage”), that talks about the P&P typical premise of playing
    “the heroes” and why this might not be the best approach for LARP: We can be as heroic as we want, all with super special abilities and items,
    as long as we are just four friends at a table with a GM that portrays the whole (not so heroic) rest of the game world.
    But you have at least fifty to a hundred and sometimes even a couple of thousand PCs at an LARP event.
    If they all play mighty heroes, you get in a serious inflation. The average player meets Gandalfs, Aragorns and Drizzt Do Urdens en masse
    and the simple farmers, soldiers and craftsman (played by the few NPCs?) are a rarity. Is a village or even a tavern full of heroes something else than ridiculous? Another problem: The story, the whole world develops around the heroes, its protagonists, at least in P&P, books and movies.
    But how could that work if anybody is „the hero“?
    The authors of the article at least give us the advice to play normal inhabitants of the world rather than classic high-fantasy heroes.
    This part of our dark (cause unrecognised) P&P heritage is important, because it reinforces the rule heavy systems and with them all their problems.
    As Pete Woodworth said: „If I want to play an amazing warrior, shouldn’t the rules be there to support me as much as they do the guy playing a fire-throwing wizard?“

    The differences in the LARPs on both sites of the pond have nothing to do with „different values“ in our cultures.
    German LARPs too began with ugly boffer weapons, heavy rule books and a competitive attitude.
    The current spread of „rule light“ events is a development within the scene in the last decade.
    The search tool of the larpkalender.de gives us some data about this:
    There are 430 event entries for 2002 total, but only 47 of these are „free play“/“You can do what you can do (or represent)“. The later is a game philosophy that is as rule light as you can get. In 2015 on the other hand, this kind of games fill 219 out of 470 event entries. In some states its almost the only played „rule“ style now. (always excluding organizer meetings and workshops from the data)

    You will find similar stories on the pages of our scandinavian neightbours.

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  9. Jason Mote March 6, 2016 5:17 PM

    This is an interesting read.

    Nordic LARPs are great. They are not the final answer to LARP however. They are a good step forward that will allow North American LARPs the chance to change for the better. Lighter-rules and tighter books are the way things are moving for sure. I would not expect anyone to completely break away from in-game skills however.

    Game complexity exists in many forms. I prefer games that are easy to learn and difficult to maser – Chess or GO – for example. However, even card games such as Magic: the Gathering take many games to learn what the cards do, and they are right there in from of your face. Learning combos and when to play a card is key to playing every game. Mtg can be learned quickly but takes a while to get into the swing and know how to build a deck, etc.

    Take a look at Vampire, Werewolf, and other Mind’s Eye Theater games – these are some of the most complex games out there! Multiple rulebooks, each filled with new powers and abilities. The skills and abilities and combos and synergies are astounding! It takes months of gaming every weekend to really know how to play the game or be any good at combat. This is the largest LARP game in the world – played in every country around the globe.

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  10. Grimworks August 17, 2016 8:46 AM

    Interesting article and replies. Spencer, is there a way to contact you about LARP we are working on in the Southast? We can be reached at grimworksstudios@gmail.com

    Reply

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