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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.

Advice from Videogame Design that works for LARP

While LARP and tabletop games are very distinct mediums from videogames, there are certainly some elements that are shared between them. Both are interactive mediums, after all, and both (typically) have a designer who has created much of the setting background.

So what are some of things we can learn from videogame design?

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LARP Session Example Time Sheet

There are very few rundowns of what happens at a LARP from a GM perspective so I thought I would provide a schedule for a very plot-heavy and semi-directed session of the Triway Chronicle.  So here it is! 

Tactical (combat) Route (4:30 – 5:00):

  • Safe House Manager: Wallrider awaits them who can give them context on the safe house.
  • Three Robots.
  • Zeds Group A (first and last): One Group Leader and several zeds who could cut across the circular path so they could attack the PCs upfront and afterward.
  • Zed Group B (second and third): One Group Leader and several zeds who could cut across the circular path so they could attack the PCs upfront and afterward.
  • Lootable Corpses: Three non-combat players.
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Who Has A Stake In This Plot?

No matter how grand and powerful and scary the plotline you create, everyone is going to have a different level of investment in the outcome. And that level of investment can be 0.

NEW FLASH: Not everyone does have a stake in the plot.

This can occur in any kind of roleplaying game but it’s more common in larger games like LARPs where you can have dozens, even hundreds, of people all playing alongside and against one another.  No matter how grand and powerful and scary the plotline you create, everyone is going to have a different level of investment in the outcome.  And that level of investment can be 0.

So how can you keep an eye on the investment factor?

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Getting the Most Out of Making Your Own Character

There are a lot of LARPs where the responsibility for creating a character falls entirely, or at least mostly, on the player. This can be a lot of fun. You might get a basic role (i.e. cantankerous businessman), a basic setting guide or a full rule book with skills to select. Every LARP is different! But there are a few general rules of thumb that’ll make your character way more interesting.

  • Leave space to introduce new elements into your character’s history.  Leave space for new character ties, plot connections and opinions.  Oftentimes you’re better off with a series of dot points, especially on the history documents you send to your Game Masters.  While you can still send your backstory as a short story, attaching dot points to that will help the GMs pick out the elements that are most important to you, and can be really helpful when they need to find a name.  Also be aware that not every Game Master has the time or inclination to read fiction, or lengthy backstories, but some will.
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Getting The Most Out of LARP Pre-Gen Characters

When you are going to a LARP game, you will either be given a pre-generated character or will be asked to create your own.

  1. Read It Twice. Read it once when you’re first given the character information, mainly to have a basic idea of who you are and what you’re about and to see if you’ll have any issues with it as written. Then read it again closer to the date so that you can refresh certain details.
  2. Highlighter. Go over the character information with a highlighter or start underlining things with pencils that look important or interesting. Some details might suggest goals, background ties or quirky ways of looking at things that you might overlook on a straight up read through.  By taking the time to highlight it, you can also quickly check your sheet for cool stuff to focus on during lulls in the game.
  3. Reach Out To Other Players. If you have a few characters listed on your sheet and some way to contact those players, it’s a good idea to do so. If there’s a pre-game meet-and-greet, definitely try and go along to it.  It’ll allow you to deepen those character ties, come up with some cool anecdotes and really figure out how you feel about each other before you arrive.  If they’re a long-lost sibling or arch nemesis, it’s a good idea to try to memorise their face so you can immediately respond to them as soon as you see them in character.
  4. Personal or Team Goals. Most of these characters will be written with various goals in mind that will often be written out in list form.  It’s a good idea to take a close look at them as often other characters will be written with the assumption that you will pursue what’s on your sheet.  Be mindful, though, that there are often hidden goals suggested in the rest of the document so it’s worth taking a look at the other sections as well.
  5. Create gameplay. Players will tend to gravitate to where the action is so you can make a big difference by coming up with interesting plot points yourself.  This could involve hosting mini-social-events like tea parties, attempting to sell off items and equipment, or by sharing the information you know and asking lots of questions.  Anything that encourages interaction will keep you involved in the game.

13 LARP Body Language Tips for 13 Personalities

While you certainly don’t need to go to the effort of redesigning your own body language, it can be worthwhile for those who wish to have their character give a very different impression than themselves. The following tips are all exaggerations of any particular style so feel free to mix and match to create the right level of tone and consideration. Remember that all people are unique and different and that the following tips are more about how a person is perceived than about what the individual is actually thinking or feeling.

People may also change their style depending on situation so a character who is normally Cocksure might tend toward actual Arrogance when dealing with, say, their students but become Nervous around Citadel and Shy around people they are romantically interested in.  Also note that there are cultural distinctions in play here both in the game and in the real world.  An arrogant Nixie might look more like slight overconfidence while an arrogant Orc might mainly come across as aggression.

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