LARP Design: The Verbs

There’s this idea in text-based adventure design that you have to figure out what verbs are available to your characters. Can they walk, run, jump, crawl, or look in cupboards? Is this a game where Shoot is more important than Talk To, or the other way around? By looking at what players can do in the game, you can find out what the game is about, and vice versa.

Three costumed figures in medieval outfits face the camera.

You can port this theory over to LARP even though technically anything that is physically possible may theoretically occur.  Sure, your regency romance LARP can theoretically involve players choosing to crawl — but is it likely, incentivised, or encouraged?  Probably not.  So you wouldn’t consider it a verb of your game.

In the average boffer LARP, you would have Walk, Run, Fight, Throw, and Shoot.  You might also have Read, Collect and Talk as there may be the odd note, chatty NPC, conversation between PCs and herbs to collect. But you might not if talking isn’t really a part of how the game works, even if it does occur.

What if it were important to break the Talk verb into several other verbs.  What if in this game Intimidate, Goad, Bribe and Persuade were equally important?  You might even have mechanics that back them up so players know how to navigate the use of those verbs, or perhaps not.  In either case, you’ve got a more roleplay-heavy game than the first example where Talk matters but how you talk does not.

But what if you take the same standard fantasy fare but you had the following two verbs: Romance and Betray?  A different style of game appears indeed when you can Romance the random kobolds you come across and plausibly expect success.

Sure, you could always take the easy road out and say, “Well, if my players *really* wanted to romance the kobolds, I’d let them.”  And that can be a great outlook, if it fits the style of your game in general, but that doesn’t make romance a core verb.  It’s just a possibility.

One thing that mechanical rule-sets can be quite good at is creating a clear list of Verbs.  Obviously this isn’t a perfect list, but it’s a starting point.  After all, how many games have Picking Locks as a skill but it almost never comes up in game?  The mechanic, in that case, isn’t reflecting the game’s actual core verbs.

So to all the players and game masters out there, what verbs does your game REALLY support? 

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