Top 21 Tips for Joining a new LARP

IMG_6239When you’re thinking of joining a LARP for the first time, it’s important to consider a few things.  Firstly, everyone was new once.  While some people have gained some experience in tabletop roleplaying games, re-enactment or improvisational theatre, many have walked in without that experience.  The grand majority of players are eager to welcome in new faces, introduce you to the game and get you started with your character.

1.       If you’re feeling a little shy, perhaps you could arrange to meet a few players outside of the game first so you have some familiar faces.  ARC Inc. runs a number of social events, many of which are open to the public, which could provide a great way to introduce yourself.  We also have a forum and several Facebook groups that would give you an online method of saying hello.

2.       Contact the Game Master *BEFORE* you attend the game to let them know you’re coming.  Typically you can find the contact details on the LARP organisation’s web-page or message them on Facebook.

3.       Let the Game Master know if you have any previous experience in roleplaying and what sort of games you have played before.   This will help them give you the right amount of advice tailored to your needs.

4.       If it’s an ongoing game with short 4 – 5 hour sessions, you can often gain some benefit from just watching your very first session rather than participating in it.  That way you can get some idea about what sort of characters and skills are most successful within the format.  Obviously this isn’t an option in weekend or once off games.

5.       Alternatively you could try playing as an NPC first — just to see what the game is about.  If you’re attending a weekend event, this will often give you the chance to play a variety of roles all designed by the Game Masters to give their players a lot of fun things to do.  This can teach you a lot about how the game works.

6.       Create a character capable of taking the initiative.  The ratio of Game Masters to players means that each player has to accept some responsibility for finding their own way to the plot and getting each other involved.  While most players will put in a lot of effort in drawing in new players for their first few sessions, it’ll help if your character is willing to put themselves forward and grab the plot hooks for themselves.

7.       Build in background ties with other characters.  If you’re chatting on the game’s forums or Facebook group, you can often find people directly who are interested in knowing your character.  Alternatively the Game Master may have a few ideas.  Background ties are great for enriching your LARP experience and give you all the more justification to get involved with certain characters and their stories.

8.       Understand that success in a LARP isn’t about “winning”, but about being part of an exciting and satisfying narrative.  Most LARPs don’t have a win condition, but even those that do are benefited when players understand that having fun really is more important than being prince.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t play in a competitive manner in a game that supports it, only that it’s unhealthy to get so hung up on win conditions that you can’t enjoy yourself unless you win.

9.       A LARP isn’t a good place to be a lone wolf.  Much of the game involves players entertaining each other with their character’s needs and shenanigans, and if you spend too much time separating yourself from that then you’ll soon feel that you’re missing out.  Most plot points are designed to entertain multiple characters so if you’re part of a team you’ll be more likely to get involved.

10.   Set reasonable goals for your character.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they will walk into town and immediately become the best at something, adored by the many, and when they fail to accomplish these lofty goals within a day are often disappointed.  Be mindful that it takes time to accomplish great deeds.  Aim for something more simple — passing all the tests to become a member of a secret society or impress someone important so that you can join their entourage.  Or perhaps simply make a name for yourself as a reliable guide or an eccentric scientist specialising in rare fungi.

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Read the setting materials before making your character.

11.   Read the setting materials as they’ll have a big impact on what kinds of characters make sense – and will be useful – in the game.  Even apparently generic fantasy settings can have unexpected divergences that are good to know.  You don’t want to be referring to some faraway kingdom when the world is literally encompassed by the plateau people are playing on and the fence line (in-game) stands before the voice of space.

12.   If the rules overwhelm you at first, don’t take it to heart.  Some games are more rules-intensive than others and it can take awhile to understand it all — especially if this is your first go at something with a complicated rule-set.  Try and sit down with someone who can explain them to you.  Maybe even build a cheat sheet that details what you can do.  Understand that you won’t know it all before you go (most likely), but do try to re-read the rules every so often as the months go past until you get to a point of understanding what you can and can’t do with your character.

13.   Finally understand that LARPs are like novels, movies and television shows in that not every genre (or every director / writer) is for everyone.  This means that you might attend a game that just isn’t very appealing to you for a number of reasons.  If you don’t have a good time at a particular game, and you don’t think the problem is specific to that session, than consider looking further afield for different games that may interest you.  There is a *huge* diversity within LARP, so even if you find on that is reasonably good for you, it may still be worth dropping in on other games to see if you might not like them better or might even enjoy playing both for awhile.

14.   Take advantage of being new.  Approach players or Game Masters for help and advice when you are worried or bored.  Let them know that you are new (especially if it’s a large game) so that their characters can either be easier on you (to let you learn the ropes) or the player can introduce you to someone more helpful.

15.  Check the game’s social contract and make sure you understand what is an acceptable level of Player Character versus Player Character (PvP) conflict before you join the game.  It can be quite frustrating to be betrayed by your kith and kin when you were expecting a game of either friendly competition or factional loyalty where one only betrays members of other factions.  It can be equally problematic to bring your treacherous A-Game only to upset other players because the whole point of the game is to collaborate against an external threat.  Not every Game Master will tell you so it never hurts to ask.

16.  Learn what you can and can’t get away with.  In some games, stealing from a fellow PC will earn you merely some rough justice from that character when they find out.  In others, your character will be ostracised or even arrested and hung.  When in doubt, ask people out-of-character what the typical consequences for certain actions may be.  NOTE: They may not tell you about any consequences that would be specific to a particular situation but they should be able to give you general advice.  One PC might tolerate in-game theft more than another.  One PC might be given a more lenient sentence than the other.

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Be mindful of potential consequences … but don’t let that limit your gameplay if you feel it would be fun to explore.

17.  Be mindful of potential consequences.  Even in a game where theft is allowed, if your character consistently steals from other characters or hides most of the loot after a quest, you probably won’t be invited on further quests.

18.  Learn the local in-game hierarchy by asking plenty of questions in-game.  Use your character’s newness to help justify this.  Taking notes can also help you sort out who are the best people to approach for quests, plot assistance or protection and who are the ones who are more likely to hurt your character.

19.  Feel free to approach any player after game to ask them for advice.  Even (and perhaps especially!) the ones playing the powerful and intimidating characters.  The player will likely feel flattered in your interest and many of those playing key figures in the game will happily help you find something to do.  Of course, you can find fantastic player mentors (and even character mentors!) in any role of the game so don’t neglect to ask questions of those who play quieter or more low-key characters.

20.  Typically information in a game will be spread out among many characters to ensure that more players get something interesting to do.  This means that if you feel like you don’t have everything you need to get it done, you probably don’t and will need to talk to other characters to figure out the rest.  Game Masters do this because creating a plot that entertains several players is clearly a better investment of time and effort than a plot that entertains only one.

21.   Share information and you’ll gain information!  While the temptation to grab a plot, hug it to your chest and run away with it can be quite strong, bear in mind that most plots need allies to succeed.  Besides, if you become known as the person who helps spread the plot around, other people will remember you more and be more willing to involve you in their own plots.

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LARP Design Principles, Part 3

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It’s always good to have a plan for how you build your LARP so that you don’t paint yourself into a corner midway through.

No LARP can be all things to all people.  Each decision affects every other decision and trims away certain opportunities in favour of highlighting others.  It’s always worth keeping your game’s design principles in mind so that you don’t inadvertently contradict yourself — such as if you have a “simple mechanics” design principle that you only pay attention to intermittently in the combat and magic sections, making certain parts far more complex than others.

In line with this, I have spent the past few articles considering my own LARP design principles while making the Multiverse campaign.  This article will touch on the last two principles.  You can read up on the other principles in Part 1 and Part 2.

Town-based roles typically reserved for NPCs would be given to PCs.  Also known as, let the PCs do it!  There are incentives for players to have their characters run the banks, merchant stalls, hand out quests and manage the law.  Some of the roles are given funding that they can use to hire other adventurers to accomplish certain tasks.  Suitable PCs will also be tapped on the shoulder with further information or experiences that they can bring to the session.

After all, why have a farmer NPC roll into town to ask for help with their cacti if I can encourage players to do the same?  Naturally I don’t want to make this an onerous duty but if I chat to players about what they’d be interested in being involved in, include some random rolls to decide upon which farmer has the issue and provide a small allowance of colony funds to pay for this sort of assistance, it should work out quite well.

The merchant stalls and bankers are only required to be at their stalls for a certain proportion of the game time, and must post their available times.  While they can choose to be corrupt, keep poor records, skim off the top, or never be open, doing so will have in-game repercussions and the possible loss of position.

While this does limit some players who might otherwise enjoy the idea of being a merchant or a banker without having to deal with the boring parts of such roles — the truth is that in boffer LARPs players often have to choose their character role based off what they would enjoy actually *doing* at the game anyway.  Since the game only needs one or two bankers and a few merchants, it’s no big deal if they aren’t popular roles.

Finally I have created the idea of Rotational Player Characters as an option.  While typically most players will create a single character to play, RPCs allow a player to have multiple characters that are fully enabled to get involved in plot (unlike NPCs) but which are individually played for full sessions so that they don’t keep getting switched in and out.  Such characters are similar to pre-generated characters in that they are partially generated with the GM and arrive with some pre-set goals.  However the evolution of these characters are in the player’s hands and the player isn’t privy to any information that these characters are not.

This allows me to introduce a range of colonists who might not live locally, or often go on expeditions, but who add a lot to the milieu, provide new perspectives, and help complicate the social situation.   One session they might get a ranger from another colony pop by (who does so every few months), an administrator from the Citadel drop by to take a look at the Wilderness the next session, and a journalist collecting stories on the third day.

What they gain in easy spotlight and having the GM come up with some basic ideas of what to do, they lose in being locked off from major positions (council members, local sheriff) and some degree of autonomy (partially pre-generated characters).

In-Game Encouragement to Portray NPCs.  To ensure we have enough cast members, our players get not only a justification for why their character isn’t present but an active benefit.  During game sessions, players can send their characters away on various quests selected from a mission board.  This will typically earn them coin but may also grant information, plot hooks and other Cool Stuff that can be brought into game.

While their characters are dealing with other business, the player can then put on a costume, mask, face paint, prosthetics or what-not and have some fun playing an NPC for a few hours.  To keep things simple and easy and encourage impromptu NPCs alongside those who are properly scheduled, there will be three fish bowls that provide an NPC lucky dip.  Players who wish to send their character off for awhile can pick a slip of paper from the following bowls:

  1. Non-Combatants.
  2. Roleplay Heavy Potential Combatants.
  3. Dangerous Creatures.

This allows the players to partially moderate the flow of the game by pumping in new NPCs and kooky stuff to do when the session gets dull or when they want extra stuff.

So that’s the basics of some of my self-identified design principles and just a handful of the different ways it has informed my system and setting.  Obviously they permeate far more than what is listed here but this series has already gone on for three pages so I think that should be enough for now.

LARP Design Principles, Part 2

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Not every game requires throat slitting and back stabbing levels of PvP.

A creator’s LARP design principles should affect everything they do which is why an article I’d hoped would be written in one post will likely be done in 3!  If you’d like to check out my overview of the processes of creating a LARP you can see where this all came from.  Otherwise you can find Part 1 of this series over here.

Now without further ado, here are my next two principles:

Low, mainly social, PvP became of interest to me because my previous experiences have all been in games where the focus is competition — often both between and within teams.  Characters were typically designed not only with personality flaws but to be selfish, cruel and sometimes even downright villainous.  These were great games but they were wearying and they only told certain kinds of stories.

Stories where people who were playing someone with a conscience had the rather villainous choice of either standing back while their compatriots butchered and tortured with impunity or murdering them and therefore depriving another player of their character for behaviour that is a normal part of the social contract.   After all, it’s rather rude to kill someone for abusing humans in a vampire game.  It’s certainly rude to make a habit of it.

I wanted to try my hand at a LARP where the focus is on positive social interactions, the joys (and yes, stresses) of collaborating in teams and the difficulties and problems inherent in forging a community.  No one would be allowed to play a sociopath, murderer, sadist or traitor.  They could be rude, abrupt or somewhat self-serving but not to the point where they would willingly jeopardise anyone else’s life or liberty.

Using a game setting such as a united-government-sponsored colony allowed me to use psychological screening as an excuse to deny those sorts of characters.  While there might certainly be a few spies and saboteurs sent in from dissident factions in the various sponsoring governments, I wanted to keep them as NPCs so that all of the characters could comfortably exile or banish them as would be logical for a scientific expedition.

Social conflicts would naturally still occur.  They’d even be exacerbated by cultural differences, clashing expectations and rivalries for certain positions in the colony.  So long as the game had plenty of interesting external threats, weird new ways to collaborate (or encourage friendly competition) and bizarre things to explore and identify, there’d be plenty to do.  If at some point a crisis occurred and Player Character versus Player Character hit a crescendo than it’d be a memorable but unintended side effect of the entire campaign.

Naturally this decision has affected many choices I have made.  I scrapped a faction system, re-wrote a few of the races to make them less antagonistic, and built in the possibility of cultural confusions and clashes that won’t lead to war (i.e. each race has their own preferences around how to give a gift).  I even changed the Thief Occupation to the Journalist and moved a few skills about because naturally if you include thieves you’re going to have people looking at their allies as people to steal from and naturally the victims may well figure it out.

Does that mean people can’t pickpocket in this game?  Of course they can!  But the focus should be on obtaining information or manipulating a situation, not on depriving your fellow colonists of all their coinage.

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Functional societies need their quirky merchants.

A functional player-run society to keep folk busy is a principle that certainly came out of my experiences in vampire games.  In such a campaign, many of the stories revolve around people doing their jobs or trying to get hired to do such jobs.  Dividing up resources such as locations, businesses and knowledge also took up quite a few hours and gave plenty of excuses for back room dealing.

I wanted to allow the same opportunities for self-directed roleplay in a boffer campaign where the colony itself has its own intrinsic value.  This meant keeping as many positions as possible in player, rather than NPC, hands and creating little perks and rewards for people who held those positions.  Such things as being able to set bounties using Citadel resources, putting forward requisition orders to the Citadel, or even devising quests for the other players that they didn’t need to pay for were all opportunities.

This then tied into needing a robust economy so I created a rather simple downtime system where player characters paid a certain amount of money to maintain their lifestyle at a certain level — ranging from abject poverty which affected their starting health and faith pools right up to being fabulously wealthy where others in Citadel would be more prone to delivering information, rumour and gossip and offering / accepting invitations.  As the downtime system just requires a person to select the highest level they’re willing to pay, and they’ll get as near to it as they can afford, it shouldn’t take up much of the player’s time but will round out their experience.

Creating a sense of society in a colony requires more than wages and jobs, however, so I will be creating a map of the known land and when a player signs up for an NPC shift, they can send their character off on special quests where they can scout out areas, obtain resources or accomplish certain tasks that can’t be easily replicated in the game.  They pick from a list on the quest board, perhaps make one or two choices Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style and we roll a 1D6 to determine what they obtain from their foray.

This has a bonus side effect of encouraging people to NPC because there is the potential to not only gather resources here but also discover interesting tidbits or even obtain quest hooks that can be brought into game.

Finally there will be a colony map including miniatures with the option for characters to carve out land as farms, mines and lumber yards or build and expand the colony buildings themselves.  Naturally not all players will be interested in this, but some will eat it right up and the others can either maintain themselves with purely in-game actions (i.e. sheriff) or by hiring their character out between games (i.e. declare you work on a certain PC’s farms and take some of the gravy home without having to make any of the decisions).

In order to keep the society a functional and player-run society, I need to keep things reasonably simple and to do with events that can occur during the game.  After all, everyone needs to have the opportunity to make decisions even if they ordinarily wouldn’t care.  Thus as many decisions as possible should be pulled back into game or at least during game time.  There’s nothing stopping players from deciding to commit a certain amount of chits to expanding their farm by leaving a note with the bank, after all.

And on that note, merchants and banks are portrayed by PCs.  They’re a bit more work and such work will be detailed upfront.  PCs aren’t expected to be at their stall or bank every minute of every day but are expected to post up opening hours somewhere on their stall.  Theft from a stall or the bank will obviously be considered quite taboo.

We’ll cover off on the next few design principles in next week’s article!

LARP Design Principles, Part 1

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The map from Angorn: Land of Sin — another homebrew LARP.

As a follow up to my overview of the processes of creating a LARP, I figured I’d talk a little about how my existing player base and LARP history informed some of my later decision making.  You see, I’d run a few dice-heavy theatre LARPs in the Vampire: the Requiem setting and I had a number of players who didn’t come from a boffer background.  I didn’t want to lose them, and I didn’t feel that I needed to.  I also knew how much fun you can make from adventure-style games involving clues and NPCs despite a dice-based combat system and figured that surely I could use some of the lessons there to make the Multiverse campaign even better.

I also didn’t have any co-GMs in mind so I had to build it in such a way that it could be largely self-run.  I’d likely get the occasional person willing to run a module or two, but nothing more intensive than that.  All the GMs I did know had their own LARPs to run or would prefer to be a player in this one.

So I had a few design principles in mind as I refined the rules:

  • Utility skill focus (rather than combat skills)
  • Very streamlined combat mechanics
  • Low, mainly social, PvP (vampire made me weary)
  • A functional player-run society to keep folk busy
  • Town-based roles typically reserved for NPCs would be given to PCs
  • In-game encouragement to portray other NPCs

The utility skill focus was largely achieved by simple brainstorming and trawling through all the LARP rules documents I could get from the internet to find new utility skills.  Once I had the new skills slipped into the various occupational sets, I’d go away for a day or two and then come back to really think about what it’d be like to actually play with that skill, how it could be used, what it added / detracted to the experience and whether it’d even come up.

Utility skills rely quite a bit on other players’ reactions and the GM making a point to include them so I wanted to make sure that the players didn’t lose out when they picked one over another.

Streamlined combat mechanics has been reasonably easy thus far.  Simply don’t include many on the PC front — no spells to force changes in behaviour on a battlefield, no sunders and agonies and take-a-knees and stun-locks.  In order to keep things interesting, I have included the possibility of interesting combat mechanics for NPC antagonists (monsters) and through equipment.  A person might get a very expensive stun baton that has a thrice-usable stun-lock mechanism before shorting out that could be described to everyone pre-game.

While using equipment to make combat more interesting has its faults (very hard to pre-define everything or even recall it all), it makes merchants more useful, money more valuable, and if an item turns out to be overpowered it’ll soon be used up and pushed out of the game.  It also inspired a setting-element that degrades certain technologies over time which excused the lack of guns and would help me balance equipment.  Plus, who doesn’t love finding a knick-knack that can actually do a thing?

Of course, I’m still wrestling with what to do about armour.  Most games have a huge focus on it and I’m not so keen on having armour repair mechanics — but also equally not keen in *not* having such mechanics.  I’ve been advised that we could go without it because, after all, the range of costuming opportunities in this game (Wild West, Steampunk) should be encouraged rather than discouraged by making armour a powerful and vital thing.  I’m still thinking about this little conundrum.

Anyway, I’ll describe how I dealt with the rest of the principles underlying the Multiverse campaign in the next post.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments box below or even put forward your own ideas, suggestions, and thoughts about the LARP refinement process.