LARP Design Principles, Part 3

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.

2 thoughts on “LARP Design Principles, Part 3”

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