RULE NO. 1: Don’t Diminish The PCs! 

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Let player characters intervene in unexpected ways to situations.

This rule is the most important but the hardest to follow through considering the limited resources available to a Game Master.  It’s also tricky because the players are often moving through a complex world and there’s always going to be entities, groups and even individuals who are far more powerful than them.

Encourage interactivity.  Always.  If you can find a way to make something dependent on player actions, go for it.

Share the spotlight.  This is where skill variety, character ties or factional connections can really shine.  Find a way to keep everyone involved and connected in the story.

Even when NPCs are talking to each other, player involvement should matter.  If two NPCs are going to have at each other, keep it short and snappy and let PC interactions dominate the discussion.  If they throw out a few comments here and there, make those comments matter.

Also bear in mind that a small group of 6 watching two NPCs argue with each other is far more impactful than a crowd of 30 — because that small group of 6 know that their choices (whether silence or involvement) will be more meaningful to the discussion and not devolve it into an unintentional chaos of 30 people randomly shouting at two NPCs.

PCs should also have a vested interest in the outcomes of the conversation and should have some capacity to interact with it.  Two force shielded bad guys waxing lyrical at each other is boring — though if the PCs are trying to distract them or set them at war with each other it can get a whole lot more interesting.

Let them make decisions and let those decisions matter.  If they take hostages, don’t just immediately free them.  That undoes their decision.  If their decisions go off-script in a way that damages the game itself (i.e. they have taken all six cast members hostage) then find a compromise.  Perhaps you remove the hostage’s phys-reps (i.e. cast members) and say they are locked behind a closed door.  Maybe you upfront tell the player base that this isn’t a game of arrests and hostage taking and get them in on the ground floor with how the game will play out.

Don’t criticise them for stupidity for doing what their characters would do — but do provide them with alternative options if their characters would know them.  A lot of players aren’t highly trained professionals in crisis negotiation and SWAT tactics.  Providing them with a set of dot points or the occasional nudge that suits their skill selection can be appreciated.  Never tell them the path they should take.  In other words, provide them with the tools to make their choices — don’t tell them which choices they should make.

Make the character’s suffering *about* the characters and not about the villains.  This is kind of a hard thing to describe but basically what it boils down to is that if the villain is torturing a PC, it’s the actions and reactions of the PCs that matter.  Keep the spotlight on them and their feelings toward the villain — not on the villain’s moustache twirling.  You can do this through a variety of mechanisms depending on the style of game and players involved:

  • Avoid gagging the player character. That way their threats, pleas or silence are all valid options.
  • Redirect their attention to the suffering player character rather than away from it.

If the players think of a way to destroy your schemes and machinations, let them, and build on it.  Give them the win.  Let them have a cool thing.  If they take out your big boss early, maybe throw out a few waves of minions and create something new for later.  Players absolutely love scheming their way through your plans for a reason.  It means their choices really have made a difference.

The more often powerful items and factions and NPCs show up in the game, the more they must be reliant, in some way, on player actions.  No one likes an unstoppable spirit showing up in-game … except when that spirit can be summoned, negotiated with, empowered and sent at their enemies!  Keep the players centre stage so that the glories of more powerful elements are reflected on them.  Any exceptions to this rule are best treated as a force of nature that guides the PC’s actions and gives them something to bounce off of.  Players will react better to an invulnerable NPC they must hide from or lure away than one they have to obey unless the complexities of obedience is the story — in which case the NPC is a force of nature anyway.

These are just a handful of ways to keep the players feeling like they’re relevant and that their characters are the protagonists.  Do you have any additional ideas?

Plot Barriers Part 2

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Sometimes plot is obvious, sometimes it’s subtle.

When players feel they don’t have enough plot, what they normally mean is there are serious issues preventing them from getting much out of the plot they do have.  There are often a number of reasons why they can feel this way and there’s a bunch of things that can be done to change it.  Here are some reasons why you might be feeling disconnected to plot:

Someone might be trying to protect the plot for emotional reasons or just might not realise your relevance to it.  This might even involve higher ups within your character’s team actively removing your character from the plot line.  This issue can come up when the GM weaves people into the same plot from different directions.  Someone wants to protect their loved one but that loved one is the only witness, and possible culprit, of a situation you want to investigate.  Naturally the other character wants to protect them but you really need answers….

There might be an in-game misunderstanding or issue that you’re not aware of.  After all, if your character keeps talking about setting off the atom bomb it makes sense for the other characters to restrict their access to it!  Or it might be that the authorities attempts to block you *is* the plot (turns out your boss is a turncoat!) and that exploring their motives would be a worthwhile angle.

  1. Firstly try to see the situation as a challenge. Find ways of distracting them away or negotiate to have a chance to talk to them.
  2. If that doesn’t work perhaps your character’s reputation plays a part. It makes no sense for them to give you access to their loved one if it’s likely your character will assassinate their loved one in seconds (especially if they’ve vowed to do as much in earshot of that other character).  If this is the case, either find ways to modify your character’s reputation or have a sincere OOC conversation with involved players about how you can get the next piece to the puzzle.
  3. Maybe a third party could play a conciliatory role or get you an in on the plot-line you’re after. This has the added benefit of getting extra players involved.

There’s no time to actually touch your particular plot.  Everyone is busy dealing with the central plot that there’s just no time to actually do the thing or discuss the issue that is central to your character.  It may be that the GM isn’t providing enough time for general conversation and activities or it might be that your character is just busier than the others.

This can sometimes be solved by quick in-character conversations between games (if allowed by your campaign), being super-organised in wrangling people for 5 minutes during the game or by writing out brief notes that you can hand out that detail what you need from others.  Sometimes it might be that you’re trying to stay on top of all the plot in the game which isn’t always possible.

In the end, no one character can tackle all things so if you’re trying to be on top of two sub-plots and a main plot you’re going to run yourself ragged.  However, if there’s just a single sub-plot you’re trying to focus on and it’s impossible to even talk about because giant plots keep striding through the room every 10 seconds that everyone *had* to get involved in then definitely talk to the Game Master.

You just don’t think the plot is very relevant or very interesting.  Or you don’t trust that it will be fun to explore.  This may, or may not, be the categorical truth but it certainly feels that way so you avoid it.  This can be a hard one to tackle.  Everyone has their own idea of what’s fun and it can be hard to tell the Game Master “No Thanks.”  Especially if it’s already entered play in a public way.  So what do you do?

When having such a conversation, be calm and nonjudgmental.  Don’t tell them the plot “sucks”.  That kind of blank negative criticism is just going to make them defensive and it’s probably not categorically true.  Different players like different things.  Instead tell them that the plotline doesn’t interest you or negatively impacts the direction you want to take your character in a way that just isn’t fun for you.  Reassure them that others probably would find it fun (someone probably would) and that you’d like to find some way out to disentangle your character from the plot-line.  If you have any ideas, now’s a good time to give them.  Ideally three potential exits as it gives the Game Master the most wiggle room in case your first exit plan doesn’t work due to plot reasons.

Please note if you don’t want personal plot flung at you out of nowhere, let the GMs know that as well.  Be mindful, though, that this will mean that you will need to be more proactive with plot.  You mayneed to either approach the Game Master with ideas or you may need to focus on other people’s plot-lines rather than take a starring role.  The benefit of this is that you have full control of your character, their history and their involvement (to a point).  The downside is that you have to work harder to find plot relevant to your character.  It’s always a balancing act but only you (in concert with your GMs) can find the right place for you.

Plot Barriers Part 1

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Once you have plot you need to know what to do with it….

Most often when I hear complaints that a player doesn’t have enough plot, what they normally mean is there are serious issues preventing them from getting much out of the plot they do have.  In some cases I’ve been able to show entire laundry lists of plot connections that a particular character has, but the player will sincerely feel that they don’t have any plot worth a damn.  Often this boils down to one of several issues:

 

The player can’t do much with their plot hooks because other characters aren’t paying any attention to it for whatever reason.  Interactivity in LARP is key so without other players buying into it, it can’t become part of the focus.  This often boils down to other characters not realising the relevance of the plot you have to their character’s situation.  Folks are often bombarded with stuff to do at most LARPs and during the quiet times they are busy trying to *find* stuff to do.  This means that they won’t always pick up on the ramifications of what you’ve just said.  If you’re finding it difficult to hook others into the plot you have, perhaps try the following:

  1. Look around the room and find those who are experiencing a quiet time for their character and then give them a summary of the situation. “Look, I know how to do Blah but I need Blah to do it.”
  2. Think about their character’s feeling sand needs and centre your issue accordingly. “If we get this done then we don’t have to do Blah which might save a lot of lives.” 
  3. If that doesn’t work, exit the conversation in a character appropriate way and move swiftly to someone else and try a few times until you see someone’s eyes light up. Trust me, there’ll be people in that room who get what you’re trying to say and are keen to get involved.  It might just take a few goes.

Plot seems minor and irrelevant compared to other players’ plots.  Sometimes this is because the plot hooks’ connection to other characters or the central storyline is unclear.  Sometimes it’s because the player isn’t confidant dragging other players into it or emphasising its importance.  Sometimes it’s true.  And sometimes it’s just a mismatch between the players’ interest and the plot hooks their characters have access to.  Perhaps the hook you have might be loved by others, but not by you.

The path to engage with the plot isn’t clear.  Your character has a strange dream but there are no mechanics on how to draw more details from that dream.  Or the plot might not appear accessible even though it is — such as you might feel you can only approach your contact when the NPC shows up in-game whereas you could call them at any time.  Often Game Masters don’t clearly explain the ways you can interact with plot or they throw you something that looks cool but doesn’t actually offer much interactivity.  Alternatively there might be a wide array of things you can do with it but it’s not immediately apparent.  So what do you do if this comes up?

  1. First try and engage with the plot in good faith, check around the location, and chat to people to see if anyone knows anything or has any idea on what you can do with it. It can often help to give it as a summary and then follow up with a question to them.  “I know this guy who has a bunch of information, but I don’t know how to reach him.  Any ideas?”
  2. Brainstorm possible angles that you could approach the issue with. Ideally involve other interested characters in this.  You’ll all be looking at the same situation with your character’s own skills, experience and point of view so you’ll get more ideas if you include more people.
  3. If none of that works you can approach the GM and say: “I’m really interested in following up Blah. Any ideas on what I can try next?”  You can even throw in a: “I’ve tried Blah, Blah and Blah thus far,” so they know what you’ve done and what hasn’t worked.  After all, maybe the answer *was* in the room but another character moved it.  If the Game Master knows you’ve already searched the room then they know not to send you looking again.

NOTE: Sometimes plots are legitimately inaccessible for a couple sessions.  If that’s the case then the Game Master should be willing to tell you that there’s not much you can do … yet.

 

Getting Your Hands On Plot

31189981_10211339470713748_5364121042660884480_nOne of the most common complaints in any LARP is how to get your hands on more plot.  Plot being defined as compelling connections to the greater world or the overarching themes or wider narratives of the game.  It involves being able to make a meaningful connection to how the game plays out.  Being involved in plot is a two-way dance between GM creations and player actions and if you want to become more tied within the weave you can take some of the following steps.

First check if you have any plot.  You don’t have any plot?  Are you sure?  Sometimes it’s worth checking with the GM if you think you have no plot as you may be surprised at the large plot hooks that your character may have which you may have forgotten about or overlooked.  Significant chunks of time between sessions can often leave key facts by the wayside.  Seriously I’ve seen players overlook massive game-changing information and connections they had because time had obscured its relevance.

If you really don’t have any plot, contact the GMs (ideally between sessions) and ask them if there’s anything your character could be connected to or even suggest certain plotlines you’d like to be tied into.  Your best bet is to be relatively vague about this because GMs will be trying to find ways to connect you to existing plot even if in an unexpected fashion rather than create something entirely new.  If they create brand new plot for you, great!, but they might not be able to do so in a way that is immediately relevant.

Contacting GMs can also be useful because sometimes they will have made general offers of plot that you might have turned down or never responded to and if that happens a few times then they’ll assume you want them to take a hands off approach with your character.  If that’s the case, then that’s absolutely fine.  Some folks prefer making their own fun!  But if it’s not the case then you may have to let them know.

Finally, if you want to tap into plot be mindful that the essence of all story is conflict.  This means that plot of all kinds will have its benefits and its drawbacks, its pain and its enjoyment, and that it may interact with your character in unexpected ways.  If you want to maintain complete control of your character then you’ll need to focus on either engaging central plot (stories affecting the entire room) or leverage the plot affecting other characters.  Asking GMs to weave your character into the plot might just not be fun for you otherwise.

In the next article we’ll talk about barriers to engaging with plot and then we’ll talk about what to do with plot once you have it.