April 2018

larp problems

This is a continuing series of blog posts that exposes the raw ego, naked agony, and rare raptures associated with designing a live action role playing event, The Dreamlands, from scratch. I hope this collection of self-reflections serves you as either an inspirational anthem or a cautionary tale of dire warning—it might be both.

Thanking the GMs, fellow players and Enigma at the LARPY Awards

Mike Tice thanking the GMs, fellow players and Enigma at the LARPY Awards

“I don’t know what all this trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.” – C3PO to R2D2 (Star Wars)

Larp Design

I postponed The Dreamlands larp. There were not enough players to support the structure (close, but not quite), nor did I have enough time to assemble or build everything I wanted. I overbooked myself this year, and now I pay the price. However, this means that I have more time to prepare the larp for spring 2014 and write some more articles about it. This delay of the larp dovetails nicely with something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while: blame and credit.

To whom do you hold accountable for your experience at a larp?

I see four entities contributing to the overall role-playing escapade:

  1. The larpwright(s), scenario writer(s), or system/rules creator(s)
  2. The event staff/GMs (not always the game designer)
  3. The other participants (NPCs or PCs)
  4. Yourself

Of course a combination of the above is possible and likely. But can you differentiate between each? If you have a good time or a miserable time at a larp, whose fault is that? Here are some examples.

Years ago I designed and ran a western one-shot theater style larp (though we did use Nerf guns) with elements from H.P. Lovecraft, earning it the pejorative description “Cactus Cthulhu” from some players upset that the Mythos elements were (intentionally) hidden from them until mid-game. Regardless, one player playing a thief was cornered by Pinkerton agents and shot near the end of the event. Recently, this player told me that it wasn’t my fault for her character being shot. “There weren’t enough GMs in the game,” she said. She blames the staffing, or lack thereof, for her character’s demise. But I look at it differently: she played a thief. The lawmen (and woman) deduced her secret identity and moved to collect her bounty. This occurred without a GM present. The combat mechanics were understood and properly enacted and obeyed by all participants. Is it the designer’s fault for creating a character that was wanted by authorities and allowing Pinkertons to be in the game, or the GMs for not monitoring every conflict? Are the other players at fault for playing their goals to the mortal end, or is it the fallacy of the thief player herself, for being plugged with lead?

Kevin Moran after his acceptance speech

Kevin Moran after his acceptance speech at the 2006 Larpy Awards

A converse example: at my first fantasy boffer campaign as a PC, I attacked everyone in the game with an area affect fire spell: “By the sound of my voice…5 fire.” Personally I greatly enjoyed the scene, as I spent the next thirty minutes braying in blubbery shame. I spent the rest of the weekend trying to make it up to the PCs. I had a great time, but other players still resent me. They didn’t have “fun,” the false god of larps (read my article on fun here). I don’t know if attacking the other characters was against the rules, so was it the designer’s fault for not telegraphing clear restrictions against character vs. character (CvC) action? Was it the GM’s fault for not stopping me or calling a hold and ret-conning the spell? Was it the NPC’s fault (I befriended a demon in disguise, I thought he was a PC) for encouraging the power display, or was it solely my fault for deciding to go ahead with it?

Another example from the second run of Rock Band Murder Mystery at Intercon, a larp I designed with Morgan Joeck. One of the first turning points of the narrative occurs upon discovering a body. In this run, many minutes went by before anyone saw her–I paid cash to a model to role-play a dead hooker in the con hotel; phrasing that casting notice took finesse. When she was finally found, the lone witness took clever steps to hide and then dispose of the body. But the plot couldn’t really move unless the other players saw the corpse. As a GM, I pushed fiat and made up an excuse to breach the secret among the other players and keep the plot rolling. Whom would you blame for the frozen plot: the design team, who should have constructed the opening reveal better; the GMs for not tipping the scales sooner; the other players for not investigating better; or the person who found the body, who stayed true to character and did everything right to conceal the stiff?

A final anecdote: in a film noir theater larp, one character played a police officer. After the first murder, the cop called everyone into the living room and prevented anyone from leaving. The plot could not continue, the game faltered and then fell. Whose fault? The designer for creating the character, the GM for allowing him to exert his authority, the other players for going along with it, or the cop character’s puppetmaster (player) for enforcing his auth-or-i-tah?

These examples are merely thought exercises for you because, I think, the answers reveal your approach to live action role playing. Are you someone who believes that you pay good money to be entertained, and the GMs damn well better give you what you paid for, or are you a loner who makes your own joy no matter what else is going on?

I don’t believe that any larp system is foolproof. No matter how good the rules (however you define “good”), I feel that a poor GM team or malefic players can derail even the best system. So, too, can a responsive GM or passionate participants turn weak or nonexistent rules into a profound experience.

A 2006 Larpy Award winner and two presenters (including baseball player Jose Canseco)

A 2006 Larpy Award winner and two presenters (including baseball player Jose Canseco)

And of course your own input into the mix is critical. I’ve had moments of incredible joy in terrible larps, and I’ve let myself and others down in extremely well designed, well-run events (sorry to everyone that played in “The Yearbook” with me at Intercon M).

Of course each larp, each larper, is different. But I think it’s important for all of us to know which way the four winds blow that whip any larp: the designers, the GMs, the other PCs, and you.

What can you do to ensure the best circumstances for a good experience? You can’t control everything, but here are some things to think about:

  • As a player, did you read the rules and lore? Did you spend enough time on them to comprehend them, at least for your character? If not, did you ask for clarification? Do you play to make the best larp experience for yourself or for others? Do you play to win, or play to lose? Do you use any metagaming techniques to adjust or reflect on your role-playing before, during or after the larp?
  • If you are a larp designer, did you make your rules simple or complex? Clear or opaque? Did you leave room for others to modify or change your rules, either the GM staff or the players themselves?
  • If you are running a larp, do you know when and how to subtly “rescue” players from themselves or the plot and when to let them twist? Have you adequately explained the rules and mechanics? Have you made yourself available to the players? Do you pick sides and favor some PCs over others?

I hope that a few moments of reflection and constructive criticism—of yourself as well as others, externally or internally—will lead to greater knowledge of yourself, of what you enjoy in larps, where and how to get it.

In the comments below, tell us about one of your favorite or worst larp moments. Who do you think caused that to happen: the game designer, the GMs, the other players, you, or a combination? 


Check out the rest of the series: Filling Space (1), No Fun (2), and PVP and PVE Fighting in a Locked Cage (3).продвижениесайтапродвижениепрограмма для android взлома wi fiбампер для iphone 5варианты оформления договора банковского вклада предусмотренные гкslots gratis casino 770massage parlour in dubaibet casinoPay with phone creditтур на майские с киевастеп братиславская

Dec 16, 2013

Everyone has rivalries. As LARPers and role players, we will often find ourselves in situations where there is someone we just can’t deal with outside of the game. That’s fine. The mistake comes when we allow that person to exist in the game in which we are trying to immerse ourselves. In a LARP community, unless you are willing to sacrifice continuity or immersion, you have far less control over whom you will interact with. Sure, you can try to avoid and/or ignore the people you don’t desire to spend time around, but inevitably the situation will come to a head when you are in a scene with that person and need to figure out how to handle it with as little damage as possible. (By damage, I mean the damage to the continuity of the story and the immersion of yourself and the other people involved in the scene.) Those who allow themselves to pollute the game by bringing out of character problems into the game ruin it for not only other players, but for themselves.

Pán Prstenů - Bitva o Středozem [2012] by Stano Buštor

Now that I am a parent, I have to consider heavily what sort of activities I will participate in and how much of my energy I can devote to them while not neglecting my kids. I seriously looked at my life as a LARPer and spent some time in deep, introspective thought and reflection. I thought back on all of the times I would come home from a LARP physically exhausted, but mentally and emotionally refreshed. LARPing can be for your psyche what physical rest is for your body after a hard day’s work. You can come back and appreciate your life so much more.

I also took a hard look at all of the times I came home from a LARP and felt more stressed than when I had arrived to “relax”. What did they all have in common?

If you come home from a role playing session or a LARP event and the first thing you feel inclined to tell people about is how (insert player’s name here) ruined this scene or that scene for you, you could have a problem. When you find yourself inclined to tell hurtful stories about the people you play with rather than the experiences of your character, you are clearly not getting the immersion that role players seek.

Whose fault is that?

I won’t suggest for a moment that there are not people who play role playing games for the wrong reasons, and I won’t suggest that there are not also people who take joy in ruining the fun of others. Sometimes it will take intervention on the part of the out of game authorities in your role playing community to handle this if/when it gets out of hand. However, I had an epiphany recently that has served me a great deal, and I hope it will serve you as well:

You cannot control other people. You can only control yourself. In controlling yourself you can, in many cases, have a very positive effect on your environment and the way people treat you. You have to take responsibility for the situations you find yourself in and, subsequently, your part in them.

So many people give in to the temptation to use the role playing community as their battlefield because you can, in theory, do harm to someone with very little fear of any real or tangible consequences. While in the short term that may be true, as someone who has been a veteran of every level of political conflict in LARP, I can tell you that the harm you do to your own experience in playing the game is ten times bigger than any short-lived satisfaction you will gain by trashing your role playing immersion for a cheap payback.

Say you and someone you LARP with make the mistake of discussing politics on Facebook. That person happens to be sitting in the tavern when your character goes there to get a drink. At this point you as a player have a choice as to what you are going to do: Are you going to ruin your own LARP experience by allowing Facebook to exist in the world you are roleplaying in? Are you going to suddenly decide you don’t want to go to the Tavern anymore and force your character to change their plans because of something that does not exist in the game world in which you are trying to immerse yourself? Are you going to use this chance for some payback? Or are you going to stay true to your character and interact with him civilly and professionally?

So how does one do this? How do you develop such in character relationships or even friendships with someone you cannot stand outside of the game you are playing?

– Kill them with kindness. When an out of character problem has developed between you and another person, they may expect you to either awkwardly stop role playing when they are around or, even worse, try to find some way to use the game to hurt them. Do the exact opposite. Don’t break character around them. You might be asking yourself “Why? Shouldn’t I be careful so as to prevent them from hurting me through my character?”

 Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In this instance you are absolutely going on the offensive. You are going to be so professional in your dealings with them that if they were to do anything negative to you based on out of game reasons it would be obvious to everyone around you. You are going to be so in character with them that any out-of-character-motivated action they take will reflect badly on them, not you.

I know this will sound strange, maybe even impossible, but I can tell you I have done it. It works. It is a bit awkward at first, but if you consistently interact with the person solely as your character and seek their company no more or less than your character would, you will start to feel your problems with them outside of the game become more and more irrelevant when you are playing. Eventually, if you are immersed enough, you will forget who they are altogether for the time you are playing. I have to tell you, it’s bliss.

Remember the scene in Star Wars where Luke is being tested by Yoda and he goes to the cave that is strong with the dark side? Luke looks at Yoda and says “What’s in there?” Yoda replies “Only what you take with you”. When you cross the threshold into the fantasy world your character lives in you have to choose what you bring with you and what you leave behind. Why should the jerk who trolled you out of character exist in your role playing world? He doesn’t. His character does. Role play accordingly. Leave those problems behind. Your character has enough problems living in a world full of monsters trying to do them in.

And again like Star Wars, there is a dark side. If you choose to go down the path of using your LARP as a vehicle for your personal problems you are literally inviting those problems into your leisure time. At first you might think this will make the game better for you. Maybe you will even delude yourself into believing it will be better for the game as a whole if you get that person to stop playing. In my next article I will talk a bit about how ‘Going down the dark path can forever control your destiny’.

How do you deal with out of character conflicts coming into the game? Have they ruined past experiences? How will you deal with them in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Guest article written by Neil Kiernan.

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May 31, 2013
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