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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Self Care At Weekenders

Regardless of whether it’s your first weekender, or your twentieth, there’s bound to be some things you can do that will help you out for the long haul. Weekenders are often packed full of exciting stuff and it’s easy to neglect your basic needs in your search for more fun stuff and involvement. However your mind and body needs what it needs and if you neglect it too much, you could find yourself becoming more irritable and emotional.

NURTURING YOUR BODY

Sleep!  If you don’t get any sleep, you’ll be tired and grumpy and have an awfully hard time keeping up in fights, investigations and political scenes. Even if you handle exhaustion pretty well, if you get much less sleep than your normally should you’ll feel the pinch somewhere. Even if you don’t get much sleep, at least get a few hours. Three hours are better than none, after all.

If your game involves bunk beds, if you’re on a bottom bunk, it can sometimes help to put up a privacy screen in terms of a little sheet that you tuck under the top bunk.  Now snug in your little cave, you can sleep more cosily. Of course if you’re on the top bunk, well, you’re the king of the castle.  Take a few deep breaths and embrace it.

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Cognitive Load in Games

People’s brains can only hold so much information at any one time. This informational capacity is impacted by a low of factors including health, emotional state, hunger, stress and dehydration. Overload this, and people’s brains start to fry. Not physically, but in a confused grumpy kind of way.

Now this isn’t to say we should avoid having a high cognitive load in our games.  That would be silly.  Some people are attracted to solving puzzles and coming up with solutions or just love lore!  And some of the most popular tabletop games have entire books full of mechanics to remember (like Dungeons & Dragons).  What it does mean is to be mindful of the cognitive load requirements of your game and how they can impact on people.

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The Accidental Hard No

This article covers in-game “Hard No’s” where the PLAYER actually really does WANT the situation to happen but their CHARACTER draws such a clear line in the sand that the desired events don’t happen. They might, for example, want an in-game romance but have their character react so badly to the very idea of it that no one pursues the option. The player is then confused and annoyed as to why their character arc isn’t progressing as intended.

The Obvious Hard No

Picture this:

The half-orc barbarian, Allisa, stands outside the entrance to the cave, with her arms crossed. “I won’t go inside that wretched hole,” she says roughly to her three fellow adventurers. When the others give her reasons to enter, she shakes her head. “I don’t care about any of that. I’m not going!”

The others give in, confused as she chose to come along on this encounter, and offer her a few tentative options (guard the entrance, come with them or head back to the tavern) before entering without her. She feels neglected and left out. She’s become the victim of her own in-character Hard No.

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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.

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The Vital Nature of Delegation

The more nitty gritties you can delegate, the more time you can spend on managing the event itself and dealing with all the little things that can’t readily be delegated.

The first hour of game is always chaos. Everything always takes longer than you expected and you will often have a dozen or more players or volunteers stopping you every so often to ask important questions. Therefore the more nitty gritties you can delegate, the more time you can spend on managing the event itself and dealing with all the little things that can’t readily be delegated.

Many folks are willing to help if needed, and most will even be flattered you thought of them. So don’t fear asking for help!

Naturally it’s best to give them as much notice as you can so they have time to prepare and so they won’t feel pressured to do it if they don’t want to. Plus, if they do say no, you’ll need time to think up an alternative. Of course, if it was unavoidable, most people will accept a last minute request for help.

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Keep Folks Informed

Players are actually a fairly agreeable lot. If they understand why things are happening the way they are, or if they can predict it, they are normally fairly accommodating. They’ll step up and help out if they can. If they trust that you are trying your best and the situation is out of your control, if a crisis develops, they’ll help out or accept a long lull.

And if it turns out the game isn’t what they enjoy, so long as they’ve enough experience to know what they enjoy, then if that’s communicated accurately beforehand they’ll most likely understand why they didn’t enjoy it without getting angry. Then they’ll either drop out beforehand or dislike the experience but acknowledge that maybe, considering they hate romantic comedies, and despise romantic roleplay, perhaps that romantic comedy LARP might not have been a good fit.

Yes, you’ll get exceptions and you’ll remember those. It’s hard not to. But *MOST* people really do take it with good grace, and most of the exceptions just grumble a bit and move on.

Therefore it’s in all of our best interests to communicate as much as we can, as best we can, without overloading the players. Some stuff will be lost in the grind, some emails unread, but even that has its saving graces as most folks will acknowledge you made a good effort to communicate and they won’t fault you for it. The anger drifts away.

So now we’ve gone over the many reasons why it’s worth it to communicate, what are some of the things folks need to know? Well, anything related to their basic needs or which goes against cultural norms.