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!

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