LARP Gameplay Matters To Communicate

Sometimes what looks like a design flaw, can be embraced by players if they knew it was coming and planned accordingly.

While players tend to get more upset, understandably, about missing out on vital logistics facts, folks can also get quite annoyed when certain gameplay expectations aren’t met. This isn’t to say these gameplay elements are problematic, in and of themselves. Different players enjoy different things and sometimes so long as players know what to expect, they can often adapt and plan accordingly. So let them know.

1. Will there be any lulls? While lulls happen in any LARP, some games will have periods that are guaranteed lulls. Maybe the NPCs will be fed at the same time as players, so meal-times and the thirty minutes before and after that will be quiet. Or maybe the entire session is set at a quieter pace than others in campaigns, so characters can focus on relationship building and self-reflection. Knowing this in advance means players can let down their guard and bring gameplay elements to keep them busy.

2. Can player events be interrupted at any time? And are those interruptions likely to take over the entire event? If the players are putting hours of preparation into the king’s wedding, only for it to be stopped after 5 minutes due to a kobold attack, they’re unlikely to be pleased. If they knew there was a good chance the wedding wouldn’t really happen (even if they don’t know for sure), they can plan accordingly and reduce their efforts or come up with a back-up plan for continuing the wedding later.

3. Can they play the character they designed? Sometimes GMs say: “Uhh … sure, it’s probably not the best, but … maybe?” Honestly you’re better off either finding a way where they can really play that character, or a variant of it, or saying no. But presuming you really want to hedge your bets and go with Maybe, give a detailed explanation of the possible issues and invite them to problem solve it. If the issues are extreme (i.e. all the plot involves hiking trails and fighting kobolds, but they wish to play a nobleman who sits in their camp) then give them firm information on how much time they will spend alone.

4. Signpost the bits that might annoy players. Maybe you have a super powerful arrogant wizard who turns out to be the bad guy. You want the players to feel helpless before her, for now, but later they’ll have the chance to turn the tables. Tell them that there will be powerful NPCs they can’t scratch for now, but that they’ll get to affect them later on. Or if that’s not the case, tell them that the game explores helplessness and that there’ll be powerful NPCs they’ll never be able to impact because the point of the game is to explore what it’s like to be a peasant surrounded by mages. This helps build trust.

5. If something is unsolvable, signpost it in-game or out. You don’t necessarily have to say that *this* puzzle is unsolvable (though you could) but you should at least let folks know that some of the puzzles in this game are unsolvable right now. This also works when the players notice some small element of the game but just don’t have the tools to chase it up because the mechanics of the game wall off further exploration right now.

6. What is inappropriate gameplay for this game? If the family dinner LARP has a character randomly decide to commit a murder, odds are the game that everyone else signed up for has been derailed. This tends to be an incredibly frustrating experience for all involved. Let folks know what the vision is so that they can all be on the same page, while leaving enough room within the vision for personal creativity. Maybe the family dinner had more, or less, conflict than you imagined and that’s fine. But maybe its best if it either does, or does not, include a murder.

7. What are nonnegotiable elements of game design and where is the flex? If you run a game in a dark space, there may be accessibility considerations due to both physical and mental health. Darkness, however, covers a multitude of FX sins. Some games simply wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t dark. If darkness is essential, and you can’t just turn on the lights, then let people know that. But if someone approaches and asks whether a muted torch could be available for those who just want to direct it at their feet to see where they’re going, consider it. Would it really impact the design if someone did that? What could it add?

8. Are you introducing plots that are counter-intuitive for your style of game? If your game has heavy theft components as part of the Player versus Player framework, and you introduce a plot that has multiple pieces, it’s best to communicate that in advance. Even if you’re vague as to the “what”, let folks know that sometimes they’ll need to share and communicate. Either that or accept that some puzzle pieces will go missing and that those who steal them *ARE* playing the game as written. Or if almost every NPC is a villain, you may need an in-world sign for those who most assuredly aren’t … or accept that every NPC might be slaughtered.