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.

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