LARP SPOTLIGHT: Dervin

In a Viking-inspired nation, five clans who have been united under the same banner meet at monthly moots to discuss the issues that arise. Right now the issues include the mysterious storms surrounding the island suddenly vanishing, allowing orcs, dwarves and another human civilisation to finally visit them, bringing their own intrigues and issues with them. The elves, an ancient race, step forward from their swamp dwellings to weigh in on the discourse with unknown reasons behind their actions. This is a political LARP but it does have some boffer combat elements where people who wish to can duel with (latex) swords.

Previous to this session: Nothing.  This is the first session.

Session Begins: The hall is set up with five tables in a U-shape surrounding a central table.  Each of the five is for a different clan and is decorated accordingly.  The orcs are brought in chains to answer for their attacks on the Boar Clan and they are sat in the corner of the room until it’s their turn to speak (though they can listen and call out during other speeches).  The elves come in as guests of the Elk Clan, the dwar as guests of the raven clan, and the other human society, the Ersellians,  as guests of the Horse Clan.

The Boar also had one of their own in chains who had deliberately attacked some of the other clans to amass his own power.  The Boar demanded the right to best him in combat, and all four of them attacked him with (latex) sword and shield but found him inhumanly powerful.  Eventually they bested him though it was difficult to do as his wounds seemed to regenerate before their very eyes.

Then there is time for the groups to separate and speak with one another, but then the speeches of all these strange outsiders happen.  The elves have a ritual where they offer a sparkling gold drink out of a glass skull to all the heads of each clan.  They also requested official recognition of their land, which fell within the territory of one of the Elk Clan.  Their request was accepted.  The orcs apologise for their attacks – they had thought the Dervin were Ersellians who had conquered their land.  The dwar wanted to open up trade with the Dervin people.  The Ersellians merely wanted to open up schools in Dervin lands.

The meeting then broke up for further discussion and snacking on food brought out on wooden plates and bowls.  Each outsider group had to find a clan that they could temporarily join and the various groups tried to learn about the other.

The meeting then continued with the orcs joining the Boar, the elves joining the Bear (based off the roll of a dice), the Ersellians joining the Horse, and the dwarves joining the raven.

The body of the slain Boar, which had been thrown outside, had gone missing, and so the druids cast a ritual to find where it was.  They etched drawings in the soil and paced the circle chanting to represent the ritual casts, but the ritual backfired, and the primary caster fell injured to the ground.

There was more that happened but as it’s a political game much of it isn’t known to me.

Build your Character to fit your play style

Generally people build characters based on something that interests them — a skill that captures their attention, a costume, a bit of history, a snippet of personality they want to explore! They think about who they will play with and what that will be like. Very rarely do players truly sit down and think about what would help them access the parts of the game that interests them.

Factions and skill mechanics help somewhat with this as joining the thuggish bravados will probably tie you into combat or getting several engineering / hacking skills will get you closer to the techie side of the game.

But aside from that, it can be hard to know what connects to where or to think about how character choices might push you away from what you’re after.  You may have joined the Diplomat’s Guild and have a full set of negotiation skills, but if you play someone always spoiling for a fight and trying to declare war, your character might not be invited to the gently-gently diplomatic soiree off in a back room.  Instead you might find yourself with frequent invites to bar room brawls and war room planning, which might be just what you’re after.  Or it might not be.

With new games it’s even harder.  You might join the right faction, take the right skills and pick a suitable personality, but how much diplomacy is there in this game?  What if there’s only gunboat diplomacy and intimidation?  What if it turns out that you really like the espionage side of the game and being a diplomat is too high-profile for that?

Well this is much more difficult to figure out before attending the game.  You can ask other players about their characters, and see what kind of gameplay they’re getting, or you could talk to the game master about available options and what the game is like.  You could also play NPCs (Non Player Characters) for the first session or two so you have a better idea of what the game is like.  Or you could create a new character if the old one just doesn’t fit right.

The other problem people can have is when they create characters that work better in movies than in LARP.  If you want to play a thief, are their options for stealing from enemy factions or NPCs, or will you only be able to steal from your friends?  How happy will your in-game friends be with your character?  What are the odds they’ll start leaving them behind?

Here are some examples of common character “barriers” that might prevent you from doing what you want to do.

  • Do you love politics but have chosen to play an aggressive, crude or snarky character who is the proverbial bull in a China Shop?  Folks might avoid bringing you along to delicate diplomatic matters.
  • Does your character hide from even the slightest whiff of violence?  You probably won’t be getting much combat in game then.
  • Does your character glare and scowl and threatens everyone they meet?  You’ll find it hard to get that sweet, mushy romantic sub-plot.
  • Does your character snarl about the stupidity of wizards and try to undermine them at every moment?  Probably not going to be invited into the magical secret society then.

I recommend reading The Accidental Hard No for more information on this particular issue.

So how do you find out where the fun stuff (for you) is in a particular game?  What questions do you ask the Game Master or other players?  And what advice would you give to new players for how to get involved in the fun stuff?

The Rule of Three

Have you ever been running a game and realised that your beloved clues have been overlooked, mislaid and forgotten? In a tabletop game you can at least draw attention to them through prolonged description or by providing them with a physical handout. But in a LARP, it’s a lot harder to guide attention (though a fancy prop will help) and even if they are seen, remembered and analysed, they may only be seen by maybe half of the players, if you’re lucky. And in an average group of twenty plus player characters, you’ll want more chances to reach people.

So consider the Rule of Three.

For every piece of vital information you put into the game, you give three possible encounters with it.  Ideally each encounter will give a slightly different spin on it, or provide slightly more (and different) information on it, so that those who manage to find all three clues don’t feel gypped.  In a tabletop game, you might choose to drop the third clue if the players well and truly have it (so they don’t feel hit over the head with it) while in a LARP you’ll just have to hope for the best.

Each clue should be diverse and provide a slightly different angle on the information so folks who spot all three feel like they’ve learned something for their thoroughness.

These clues can be:

  • Tactile — the man is wearing a Russian decoder ring that helps them decode a secret message.
  • Visual — a photo of the spy wearing Russian uniform.
  • Audible — a Russian recorded message that they must translate.
  • Readable — a Russian note detailing something of importance in the spy’s handwriting.
  • Conversational — another character describes hearing someone talking into a phone in what sounded like Russian while watching a particular house.

You could also have multiple clues all in the same format but spread out in different locations such as with the following three visual clues:

  • A photograph of a man suspected of being a spy who is wearing Russian uniform when he was younger.
  • The man’s phone has the app names in Russian rather than English.
  • The man has a Russian passport in his pocket.

These are rather overt examples of clues (the man must be a terrible spy) but you get the idea.

With groups larger than 40, well, you may need to divide them into groups first and then target each group individually with 2 – 3 clues.  I don’t really have much experience with large-scale but I’m more than interested in learning more about information flow in such games.

So what are some of the most unique clues or methods of information spread you’ve seen in a game?