An Overview of Creating a LARP

Designing can be fun.

There’s not much out that that explains the creative process of creating a LARP so I thought I’d step up and explain the processes that I’ve stumbled through for the Multiverse Cycle.  Though the mind rarely moves in clear-cut stages, I thought that vaguely grouping them into time-passed semi-linear categories might help people interested in doing it themselves.  If you have a very different process, feel free to describe it in the comment box below!

A random idea

Oftentimes the idea might come from a conversation with your friends, a television series or a roleplaying game idea that you have percolating for a while.  When I had a conversation with my friends about the LARPcraft rules and how we would improve upon them, I never thought I would sit down the following day to write a widely differing character generation system.

Alternating Stage: Rules

Though the first thing I did was sit down to think up rules for a boffer LARP, the truth is that you can’t have rules without setting and vice versa.  A good set of rules suggests the setting, and the setting enhances and works to highlight the rules and make them easier to remember.  The first set of toing and froing I did was the base mechanics – health and faith.  Health did what it usually did (provided the space between life and death for characters) and faith functioned as a sort of mana bar, willpower point, and it powered skills (and thus limited their uses).  I decided that those with high health would have low faith, and vice versa, and aimed to give nearly every race a unique ratio of health to faith.

I created classes where people could pick any skill but had to pick at least one from their core class.  Later I turned these classes into occupations and added a single occupational skill that you couldn’t possess unless that was your core class to help differentiate between them.  Most of these skills were what is known as utility skills that let you do or know something rather than fight better or cast more unique damaging spells.  I wanted few calls, low numbers (swing for one damage) and a pretty simple battlefield scenario since I find it difficult to process too much in a combat.  Plus I’ve always been drawn to utility skills, no matter what the system.

Coming up with cool setting ideas are just as important as a working rule-set.

Alternating Stage: Setting

My races were my first port of call for setting and initially were a set of fantasy land races that were mainly based off what sort of racial costuming would be possible and relatively easy to represent.  We had humans, elves, fairies, animalkin, stone elemental-born and gillmen (love me some underwater races).  I’ve never liked really liked dwarves, though I understood that many others did, so I scrapped them, and I’ve never been a fan of the orc teeth prosthetic so I switched them out for the more intellectual gremlin.  Since I looked the look of tieflings, I decided to go with gargoyles rather than tieflings or fairies.

It was about then that I came up with the idea of having each race come from a different world rather than a different country and to have each world sit at a different point on the magically rich vs magically poor and scientifically controlled versus no science scales.  So then I sat down and picked a variety of settings that I thought would be really cool — gothic Victoriana, lost cities of Atlantis, steampunk, wild west, generic fantasyland, post-apocalyptic and modern low level sci-fi (not cyberpunk, cleaner, no interstellar space travel).

Then I paired these settings with the races, testing out different pairings here and there in a few cases for though some pairings were obvious (humans and low level sci fi, gargoyles and gothic Victoriana, animalkin and fantasy land, gillmen and lost cities of Atlantis) others were less so (stone elemental-born and post-apoc, gremlins and steampunk, elves and Wild West).

At this point the elemental-born shifted as I re-read Dystopia Rising and came up with something entirely different.  The metallic etchings remained, the potential for metal limbs, but the people themselves became augmented humans who had managed to colonise an alien world.  The elves soon started to make sense for the Wild West when I gave them a more mecurial mind-set.  I only really accepted gremlins and steampunk after a conversation with my husband where he urged me to go for it.

Looking over my worlds, I realised that there was too much similarity between gothic Victoriana, the Wild West and Steampunk, so updated gothic Victoriana to dystopian 1930s – 1950s while keeping the gothic vibes through the existence of plagues, ancient ritual and festering nobility that remained in certain areas.

Twenties Guy
Read widely and never stop reading.

Consistent Stage: Research

I kept heading back to Google, typing in new search terms each times, finding LARP documents, reading those LARP documents and copying across any abilities, ideas or even logistical information that I thought might be useful at some point in the game.  I’d dump it in the right spot, move along, then come back to it later on to see if it was a worthwhile addition and if so to alter it to my needs.

I read far and wide, from Nordic to American Jeepform to boffer to parlour and back again.  I found myself re-reading articles I’d read from years ago — recognising occasional comments a younger me had placed there.  I absorbed as much as I could, learned from the masters about what worked and what didn’t, and also took a look at what *I* would find fun.

I found that most skill-heavy LARPs favoured combat skills and powers, whereas I would favour anything else.  It appears to make a more easy-to-balance game.  Just include a variety of different scenarios to ensure each skill remains usable.  Naturally this remains to be seen as I haven’t playtested the boffer rules yet.

The Play Is The Thing

In the next article I’ll discuss how I took all of this and then further refined it through a long consideration of what I wanted to run, how I wanted it to work and what the needs of my existing player base would be.  After all, I’d just finished the Dark Before Dawn campaign and was midway through a six session Paradise Island campaign and I didn’t want to ditch them for a campaign that ran very differently.  Stay tuned to find out what I did and where it went from here in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the design principle series.

10 Ways To Belittle Your Players

AKA How to make your players feel trapped in an alleyway of trash rather than at a fun event!

A few weeks ago we discussed the many ways that players can help the Game Masters burn out so they won’t want to run a game ever again!  Now let’s discuss another hot topic — ten ways to belittle your players and make them wonder just why they’re playing this game again.  The joys of belittling your players are many and varied, and you can do it in a slow and insidious way where a multitude of little comments build up in a way that undermines their self-esteem without ever revealing what you’re doing and why!

1.  Give your group of players a nickname they’ll really hate.  Call them your “adorable little munchkins who could power game their way out of a paper bag,” or your “band of dumb crazies,” while shaking your head whenever you discuss their antics.  Sure, some players might like those nicknames if they are actually trying to be crazy or the game is about power gaming, but this pointer is directed to those many players who have to suffer such nicknames despite their actual intentions, desires and play style.

2.  Laugh at your players when they don’t understand your plot.  Blame them for ignoring all of the obvious clues you’ve seeded throughout your complex story line and conveniently forget that they have several days to a few weeks between each game to dull their memories.  Without the big picture framework, it can be easy to lose facts among the sea of words typical of any campaign.  You can always make your laughter sound playful with a paternalistic shake of the head to show that you’re not being mean (or bitter!), you’re just astounded at how little their pretty little heads can retain.

3.  Call your players fools, and laugh at them some more, when you manage to trick them.  It doesn’t matter that part of the reason why the game can run at all is because players conveniently overlook certain details (such as not doing background checks on every quest giver that comes along) or that you have control of the entire world and how you describe it.  It doesn’t matter how easy it is to overlook, blank out or get confused about a few lines of verbal description amid four hours of what is essentially a conversation.  Now while every GM should be able to take pride in a job well down with a cleverly crafted conspiracy, you can take it several steps forward by making it all about how much the players are failures because they didn’t figure it out.  Remember, you don’t win unless they fail.

4.  Grumble when your players move cautiously and do those constant background checks that you taught them to do.  Encourage them to just do the damn quests, then go back to No. 3 when they comply and punish them some more for not taking their time with every situation.

5.  Rather than having a conversation with them out-of-game about any behaviours that are causing problems in the game, passive aggressively punish their characters for their choices instead.  That way the player won’t quite know why it happened or how to fix it and your players get to enjoy having every other player annoyed and frustrated with them for consequences that affect them all.  That way you get bonus belittling from the other players!  Since many games involve consequences for in-game actions, you can easily cover it up as a normal outgrowth of a situation rather than an attempt to teach them through punishment.

6.  Give the characters belittling nicknames that will stick and influence how other people (and the player themselves) sees that character.  Call them “that annoying little girl,” or “the dumb lug,” or “the stuffed shirt.”  After awhile it’ll become difficult for the other players to see them as anything else.  When describing encounters they are in you should also reinterpret their character’s actions in line with the nickname, perhaps by OOCly expressing astonishment at “the dumb lug’s moment of wisdom.”  Remember that even if your player started that nickname, you can make it belittling by continuing the joke even after it’s long stopped being funny.

Toxic behaviour can poison any game.

7.  Why only give such nicknames to your characters?  Give them to your players as well!  Have oodles of fun by consistently referring to your friends as the min-maxer, the manic pixie girl and the drama queen to make sure they know how little you think about their roleplaying ability.  Use these nicknames frequently without ever asking your friends if they’re actually okay with it and never protect their reputation by adding such silly caveats as, “but they only min-max as far as would be fun for the campaign.”  Instead make it seem like they can’t play or do anything else!

8.  Just be upfront with your belittling with phrases such as “I can’t believe you idiots did….” or “You guys have really screwed up this time.”  This punishes the “play to lose,” “accept what happens,” or “play for story,” dynamics and ensures the players know that there was a right way and a wrong way to game and they did it wrong.  This way the players themselves feel like failures and may even try to find someone to blame among the group.

9.  Reward only one type of behaviour and then punish them for doing it like there was an alternative.  In other words, make combat the only option which works in your campaign and then taunt the players for not bothering to talk to their enemies.  Point to the one or two options where diplomacy could work and ignore all of the times that the players tried to use diplomacy and it just blew up in their face.  Or make diplomacy the only workable option because the bad guys are so enormously powerful and then complain that the players never want to fight.

10.  Talk about how running games is such a burden and how your players always ruin the game for you in vague and powerful statements within ear shot or while discussing the game with them and other people.  Fail to have a real conversation with them about what you need to be happy and how they can help out with that.  Expect mind reading.  Ignore the possibility of compromise.  Be a martyr and refuse to respect your own time and effort as well as the players by continuing to run a game you hate rather than finding a game that can suit all of your interests.  (Real Advice: If your players are really that toxic and the game is truly horrible, stop until you can find a better group.  Seriously, don’t hurt yourself and other people by wasting hours on what you hate.)

NOTE: This is a satirical article so please don’t take these ideas as actual advice.  Also bear in mind that many of these toxic habits can be picked up by a Game Master through previous experiences with players and GMs and probably aren’t intended to actually hurt you.  This doesn’t stop it from being a problem as unintentional belittling is still, well, hurtful but it is important to be mindful of if you need to approach your GM about a toxic behaviour.  Assume the best intentions until proven otherwise, but do have that conversation with them about anything they are saying or doing which is causing you harm.

Encouraging Players to try a New Game

Some folks just feel “meh” about certain games but that doesn’t mean they won’t try it.

While some players are eager to try new games, others are pretty happy with what they’ve got and don’t really want to try anything new.  There are new rules to learn, new techniques required to succeed, and they just not be jazzed about the genre.  So what can you do when you’re really excited about trying a new game and one, or more, of your players aren’t?

Firstly, sit down and have a chat with all of your players both individually and as a group about why you want to run the game.  Tell them what excites you about it and how long you’ve been thinking about it.  Most players will be sympathetic if there’s a game you’ve been yearning to run for years even if they have no personal interest in it.

Once they understand your enthusiasm, find out what they think about the game you’re offering and what kind of game they prefer.  See if they’re willing to at least try the game and offer to let them play without having to learn any of the rules.  Let them know some of the most useful techniques in that style of game so that they can feel confidant playing it.  You want to set the entry barrier as low as you can.

Perhaps they would be happy to play the game but have a very specific concern.  They might really enjoy character consistency and fear losing several characters a session or perhaps they really enjoy a violent solution but are happy to find it after a lengthy political or investigative adventure.  Are there adventures you could run which could satisfy those requirements within your desired genre or game world?

There’s a chance they’re just not interested in a campaign that doesn’t excite them. That’s pretty normal.  What if you ran a single adventure before returning to the usual fare?  Naturally if you do this you must keep to your promise and not press for additional adventures unless your players are champing at the bit to continue.  Put your fave game aside for awhile, at least six months, and then suggest another once off.

Presuming they’ve agreed to try the game, you shouldn’t penalise them too harshly for using old techniques or forgetting new ones.  Yes, your players should be reasonable and not immediately try to gun down the vampire prince for being rude to them (presuming they know that’s not what the game is about) but is it really so bad if they breach the Masquerade here and there while trying out their cool new powers?

Compromise and be explicit in your compromises.  Tell them that you’re willing to make the Masquerade more flexible but that you’re excited about them using underhanded techniques against the vampire prince.  That way the players know which part of the game is important to you.  After all, at this stage they’re only playing it as a favour to you.

Accept that the first game you run in that genre might not be what you’ve dreamed about.  Those players who are used to narrativist Indie games might not think to declare that they’re looking for traps every time they enter a room in your dungeon crawl.  Give them some reminders so that they know it’s something they are supposed to do.  Introduce unfamiliar consequences with a light touch.  Perhaps they see some charred adventurers who were careless a day ago and maybe the first trap they encounter only deals 1d3 damage.

Reward them for trying the new techniques they haven’t used in previous games.  If they try to shadow the cultist, let them find something interesting even if they don’t end up at the villain’s HQ.  If they flirt shamelessly to distract the security guard while another person tries to swipe the key card, let them get away with it.  Sometimes videogame genre assumptions will trickle in and provide an easy point of reference for the characters in an unfamiliar RPG.  If they want to crawl through a vent to infiltrate the enemy base, why not allow it this once in your techno-thriller?  You can cleave closer to reality next time.

Hopefully if you do all of these things they will have enjoyed what you were itching to run and are willing to try another game with those rules or in that setting, if not now, than sometime in the future.

So what do you think?  Let me know in the comments section if you have any other ideas on how to get players to try new games.  Or on how to encourage the GM to try a new game (often a trickier prospect).