Tech Hates LARP

The more complicated the tech, the more it hates LARP. I have a CD player. It’s an old CD player. Other than a few scratched CDs making it repeat itself creepily and unexpectedly, it works. I also have a Bluetooth Speaker with a USB plug. Sometimes it’ll let me switch between the two USBs. It requires a little fiddling around with. It will always eventually play from at least one USB (so long as the sound formats are correct). It’s not as quick, easy and safe to use as the CD player.

However if I decide to go even higher tech and try to use it through Bluetooth, it can be as snarly at the start as using a USB, but even once you get it running it will occasionally stop even though the mobile phone controlling it sitting on top of it.

So what’s the moral of the story?

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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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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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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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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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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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LARP Design Principles, Part 3

No LARP can be all things to all people. Each decision affects every other decision and trims away certain opportunities in favour of highlighting others. It’s always worth keeping your game’s design principles in mind so that you don’t inadvertently contradict yourself — such as if you have a “simple mechanics” design principle that you only pay attention to intermittently in the combat and magic sections, making certain parts far more complex than others.

In line with this, I have spent the past few articles considering my own LARP design principles while making the Multiverse campaign.  This article will touch on the last two principles.  You can read up on the other principles in Part 1 and Part 2.

Town-based roles typically reserved for NPCs would be given to PCs.  Also known as, let the PCs do it!  There are incentives for players to have their characters run the banks, merchant stalls, hand out quests and manage the law.  Some of the roles are given funding that they can use to hire other adventurers to accomplish certain tasks.  Suitable PCs will also be tapped on the shoulder with further information or experiences that they can bring to the session.

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LARP Design Principles, Part 2

A creator’s LARP design principles should affect everything they do which is why an article I’d hoped would be written in one post will likely be done in 3!

If you’d like to check out my overview of the processes of creating a LARP you can see where this all came from.  Otherwise you can find Part 1 of this series over here.

Now without further ado, here are my next two principles:

Low, mainly social, PvP became of interest to me because my previous experiences have all been in games where the focus is competition — often both between and within teams.  Characters were typically designed not only with personality flaws but to be selfish, cruel and sometimes even downright villainous.  These were great games but they were wearying and they only told certain kinds of stories.

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