Steam Legends LARP: A Post-Mortem

So, after a month or so of shutting down my larp, I finally got around to writing about it. It was pretty difficult, as criticizing your own work can be hard, but it’s necessary to understand your failures so that you don’t repeat them. So, here we go.

What Was Steam Legends?

Steam Legends was a LARP set in a Steampunk Fantasy setting, with an emphasis on Discovery and Fellowship. I wanted item crafting to be a significant element in Steam Legends, as I haven’t seen that done to a great extent at other larps. Sure, you can make them, but a larp’s IG economy usually a secondary concern.

I tried to make a game where players can make their own spells and steampunk contraptions. Spells were customizable, and mages needed to write their own spell formulae in their spellbooks. Sometimes they fail, as they had to select how powerful and how much “fatigue” it used. If it used too little the spell would fail, while if it used too much it would be an inefficient spell. Similar things happened with Chemistry and Engineering. Our site was a picnic shelter in the middle of High Park in Toronto, so we had limited space to play and we were surrounded by a lot of people, so we couldn’t exactly leave things lying around for players to discover, so instead we put a lot of the discovery element into our crafting system.

Many of the other larps in Southern Ontario center around an “everyone for themselves” style of anarchy, usually worse than the wild west. What I wanted was to have a player-run municipal government, democratically elected by both the PCs and NPCs living in the area. There would be oversight from the plot team in the form of provincial and federal oversight, but the elected officials would have a budget with which to plan and build a town as they see fit, and those outside of that town council could purchase land to build homes and businesses. Sure, there was monsters and other stuff to kill like many other boffer larps, but the decisions made by players would impact the local NPC populace just as much as themselves, and they would have to deal with the ramifications of those actions, good or bad.

What Worked?

Basic Combat

Every boffer larp must have a simple but mechanically intriguing combat system in place. The reason many have hit points and damage calls is so that you don’t necessarily need to be a real-life swordsman. The fantasy of being a combatant of sorts shouldn’t hinge on real-world athletic ability or skill.

Steam Legends’ used a system where, after purchasing the basic group of weapons you can use at its base value (1-Handed Edged, Firearms, etc.), you purchased Combat Maneuvers. Each one came with an ability and a Combat Maneuver point, which you can use to activate your Combat Maneuvers. So, if you bought Parry, Critical Strike, and Disarm, you could use those points to Parry three times, or Critical Strike twice and Disarm once, and so on.

It worked very well, and there was little confusion on how they worked.

Customizable Spells and Items

Our players liked the idea of spells and gadgets that they could call their own. Many of our early players spent their free time just crafting spells, trying to figure out the limitations and costs of the effects in the book.

It was only later in the game’s lifespan that the engineering was starting to get picked apart in a similar fashion. And while the engineering rules were fine, there was a larger problem that impacted that skill set in the game. We’ll get to that.

The World with Order

I really enjoyed the political side of the game, short lived as it was. We had a liaison for the crown come in as the point of contact for the PCs. They would have tasks for players to, and if they accomplished them, would be paid for said tasks. In the late season, we held an election for the town council, including a mayor. Many players were interested in it, as they liked the idea of being able to influence how the town prospers.

In our second season, we had a PC break the law. Instead of a noble just killing them on the spot, or ignoring the crime altogether, we had them arrested, tried and convicted. We held an event in which the main focus was the trial for that character. It was the first time I have ever seen something like that without it being a joke.

What Didn’t Work?

The Economy

One of the major design mistakes I made was basing the economy on another larp that is a constant state of depression and whose main form of currency is an Out-Of-Game one that is rewarded for volunteer work. This greatly affected the crafting element of the game. Many complained that they couldn’t afford basic upgrades to their gadgets because of the high cost of components. This in turn actively discouraged the discovery element inherent in engineering, as it was just too difficult to figure out without vast amounts of In-Game money or Out-Of-Game points to get the expensive components.

Lack of Support Staff

When I first started off, I did have a lot of support. However, for various reasons, many of which were just life getting in the way, my support staff dwindled to just my brother and sister-in-law. While I really love and appreciate their help through the years, I just didn’t have enough to continue to adequately run the game.

Because of that, much of the rules changes and plot fell on my shoulders. I did have a plot marshal during my first and third seasons of the game, but even then, I had an involvement in writing plot. It was a heavy burden with little relief.

Other Things

The site we had in High Park was very small and very public. Our picnic shelter was a stop for a lot of people taking a walk. I remember one weekend we had a group of mothers with their kids try to escape the rain, and even tried to ask a nearby police officer to kick us out despite having a permit to be there. The public was a constant distraction, despite the convenience of having a larp in the middle of Toronto.

One thing I certainly didn’t expect was that players can be very slow to act. We setup a plot thread starting with our first event that we wanted our players to solve. It wasn’t solved until the end of the second season. This was partly because of player inaction, and partly because we had a completely different player base between the first and second seasons. As a result, we were slow to setup an In-game municipality, which in turn irritated our players.

Why I Shut It Down

Ultimately, after three years, I was burnt out. In addition to running Steam Legends, I am also working on a video game project, a part-time job, and a strong need for some downtime lest I lose my sanity. Something had to give. I had given the idea of shutting down the game before the season started, but I just couldn’t take it much more and needed to give it up.

What’s Left?

For now, Steam Legends is not a thing. It was an interesting experience and I learned a lot about game design through its successes and failures. Maybe in the future, if I have more resources and interest, I’ll remake and revive the game once more. Other options are to turn it into a video game or table-top RPG. But for now, all I’d like to do with it is let it rest for a while.

As for larping in general, I think I want to wait a little while before I attend one. I’m focusing my efforts on gaining a career as a video game designer, and just self-improvement of sorts, such as learning to drive. I love larping, and I won’t be giving it up any time soon, I just won’t be running one in any capacity for a while.

When NOT To Meddle With The Affairs Of Players

It has been far, FAR too long since I posted anything here. I want to get in the habit of writing posts again. So here’s one now!

As many know, Live-Action Role-Playing games are a form of collaborative storytelling. They often have a Game Master (or Storyteller, or Dungeon Master, or any number of names) which act as referees and providing things for players to interact with, such as enemies to slay or merchants to barter with or damsels to woo off their feet. This back and forth, of presenting players with a situation that players react to and the situation changing as such, is pretty standard.

However, there are times where players create their own plot all by themselves, using only their own resources and inviting players to participate, with no input needed from the Game Master. This can be as simple as a house party or opening a vegetable stand. Some of these can lead to some great stories and can increase the immersion of the game for everyone attending. However, I have seen many Game Masters interfere with this kind of plot in a negative way in the past, making what could have been a great experience for everyone transform into a bad memory.

Game Masters need to know when NOT to interfere with the affairs of players. Not every thing needs to be a thing.

I have a couple of examples that I’ve observed of a Game Master interfering with player-driven plot to the point where the player just gives up in frustration.

The first is a situation where a character became pregnant. She role-played it up as one might expect for the full period of 9 months, while properly repping the look of her pregnant self as time went on. Now, bringing a child in this world is a big deal for most. In fact, it’s a major highlight in a person’s life, all things considered. What could be added to this situation to make it more meaningful and engaging? A break—up with the father? A terminal diagnosis for the mother, giving the understanding that they’ll never see their child grow up?

No. Death Knights!

When the time came for the birth, the character role-played giving birth, with all the screaming and pain you’d expect from giving birth. In front of a line of the biggest, baddest fighters in the game. Instead of giving birth to… anything, Death Knights appeared, combat ensued, and when it was all over the entire 9 months leading up to this moment were wiped away to make room for a mediocre combat encounter. The pregnancy was never spoken of again.

From the outside looking in, that is a very boring conclusion to a story that had quite a bit of build-up. I have no idea what the Game Masters were thinking, but if I had to guess, they were thinking “BABIES BORING! DEATH KNIGHTS FUN! PLAYERS SMASH DEATH KNIGHTS!” So much potential wasted by concluding a 9-month build up to a straight-forward combat which lasted a few minutes. Such a shame.

The second example I have is when a player at a larp decided that they wanted to hold regular sermons at the chapel that was on the game’s site. This was a great idea. It adds role-play, immersion, and requires no interferences from plot. It can leave a lot open for anything to happen and gives opportunities for other characters, whether or not they follow said religion the character is preaching, to role-play with the player. This player posted notices on the bulletin boards and walked up to other players in-game to tell them about the sermon and inviting them in.

The Game Master’s response? Send in a fire and brimstone preacher of the same faith to shriek over every word the player says.

Players watched as this Game Master all but physically shove him off the stage and repeat the same bullshit over and over, letting no one else the opportunity to even role-play with anyone. The player who wanted to get this rolling didn’t do it again, as they knew that this situation would happen over and over again.

The message was clear. Only the Game Master drives plot forward.

Friends, these are examples of Plot Interference. Players try to do something on their own, and get shut down by Game Masters. I could give examples of why the Game Masters I mentioned did what they did, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what the motivations were. The end result of their actions was player disappointment and frustration. That’s bad. Players don’t like their goals being trampled on by outside forces. It makes them feel like their actions have no bearing on the world, and sends the message that the world acts upon you and you just have to take it.

That doesn’t mean you CAN’T interact with a player who’s pursuing their own agendas. In the case of the preacher, you could have NPC’s come in to listen to the sermons on a regular basis, coming up to the character afterwards to talk about the sermon or other topics with them. In the case of the character giving birth, there’s not much needed there. Give them a baby girl or boy, no surprises. The event of giving birth to your child is a grand event in and of itself.

Instead of giving monolithic obstacles that cause them to give up, give players opportunities. As a Game Master, ask yourself: What can I do to improve the plot this player has created for themselves? How can I make this more engaging and fun for everyone? If you can’t answer that, then don’t do anything.

Send NPCs to shop at a player-run store to barter for goods. Ask if you can join the tea party, and even offer to bring treats. Listen to the player-written sermon. Let her have the damn baby. And if you can’t think of anything that would engage or entertain the players, don’t do anything.

Death Knights aren’t always the answer. Not every thing has to be a thing.

LARPing & Bartle’s Taxonomy

Recently, Extra Credits created a video on Bartle’s Taxonomy, one of the cornerstone design principles within formal game design. I’ll link the videos here and here. While Bartle’s Taxonomy works great for any kind of game, I’d like to try and apply it to LARPing.

Richard Bartle was the creator of one of the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) games, creating MUD1 in 1978. As the game grew over time, he asked the players of the game he created what they wanted out of the game. Everyone who was asked disagreed on what the one answer was. Bartle realized that those playing his game were playing it for vastly different reasons. So he set out to find out if there were any correlations between players, and in the end, came up with the Bartle Test, a series of questions to determine what kind of player an individual was. He then placed them on a chart:


Image from Gamasutra

The vertical axis represents a player’s preference of interacting with the world or interacting with players. The horizontal axis represents a player’s desire to either act on something, or act with something. This creates 4 quadrants which represent the different player types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. While people can be a little of all of them, they’ll typically gravitate towards one more than the others.


These are players who look to meet goals and overcome challenges that the game sets for them or that they set for themselves. They want the big treasure chest that’s guarded by the dragon, or they want to each a certain level of power or skill set that’s hard to achieve. For them, it’s about thriving on overcoming difficult tasks.


Discovering new things about the game are what an Explorer craves. They dive into every nook and cranny to find things that most others would overlook. This isn’t limited to just what can be found in the game world, either. Explorers like to tinker with the mechanics of the game. They’re always trying to build new character skill sets and find the tricks that allow them to understand the game better than even the creators ever would.


These folks simply see the game as a means to socialize with others. They actually don’t care much for the game itself so much as chatting with everyone there. They’re often involved in the community surrounding a game, asking questions and prompting conversations with the rest of the player base.


Players that like to defeat other players are Killers. They thrive on getting negative reactions from other players, with the more extreme reactions giving a Killer a better experience.

As stated earlier, every person that plays a game heavily gravitates towards one of these roles, but does not fit solely into one category. The Bartle Test gives a score in each category. Only one category can have 100%, and all four categories will add up to 200%. So you could have a score that reads: Achiever: 100%, Explorer: 50%, Socializer: 30%, Killer: 20%, resulting in a player that loves to achieve, but has some interest in exploring the game’s mechanics, likely as a means to better achieve goals set by the game they’re playing.

In multiplayer video games, you’ll have an equilibrium between the amount of Achievers and Killers, as Achievers are prime targets for Killers. The number of Killers are slightly lowered by Explorers who aren’t phased by the actions of Killers and often have tricks up their sleeves to deal with Killers, which annoy Killers. Socializers, on the other hand, increase the amount of Killers, as they provide Killers with an easy target.

Different games are going to have different percentages of player types in a given game. For example, Call of Duty will have a large amount of Achievers and Killers, with very few Socializers and Explorers. A game like EVE Online, on the other hand, has a lot of Explorers exploiting the game and its mechanics.

So how do we apply all of this to a LARP? Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question as there’s a lot of different styles and genres within LARPing. But there are certain aspects of LARPing that attract certain player types. For example, almost all boffer LARPs will attract Achievers to their games. With an easy to understand combat system and a clear goal-driven plot, Achievers can easily see the challenges to overcome.

Socializers will be attracted to games with heavy levels of role-play. LARPing is more than just beating up the monster, it’s also about creating awesome moments together, and Socializers live for this sort of thing.

Explorers will be interested in getting the most out of your LARPs mechanics, looking to see how skills and abilities can be used to their full effect or finding new ways to use said abilities. LARPs that have rules to allow for these sorts of things are what will please the Explorers.

Killers want a place to feel dominant over others. They like to take others down a peg and feel superior. A LARP that allows for this will attract Killers to it.

A note about Killers. When it comes to LARPing, unless your game has some sort of competitive element built into it, Killers are poisonous to a LARP. Remember, while not all Killers do what they do out of malice, many do. And if they’re not reigned in and controlled, many of the others in your player base will be upset by this and leave. They’ll have an impact on your community as well, being candid and aggressive with their opinions and making others apprehensive about responding in turn.

However, as stated earlier, not everyone is completely in one category, and you’ll find that there are many reasons a player comes to a particular LARP. For example, an Explorer with Socializer leanings would largely be interested in exploring the game’s mechanics, but may do so in a group, forming guilds for crafting and experimenting to create new items. An Achiever with Killer leanings will approach a game like a sport, attracted by a goal-oriented game that has a competitive edge between players.

While looking at the different player types is important, achieving a balance between all of them is also important. Having an unbalanced population will often lead to just one type of player in your game, which can lead to a stagnation in your LARP over time. But by having a variety of player types, you can keep the game fresh by providing a variety of challenges that not everyone will expect. This also allows for different player types to interact and work together, making your game more inclusive.

Knowing what player types there are, and which ones you want to attract to your LARP, are a great jumping-off point when designing a rules set for a LARP. And having a balance between the four different player types can make your game more rich and rewarding for everyone in your community.

Running My First Live-Action Role-Playing Game

As I begin this blog post, it’s been a little over 24 hours since the first event of my LARP, Steam Legends, ended. I’m still sore all over my body and my brain is still fried from the stress, but it was all worth it. I learned a lot from the experience and I would like to share what I’ve learned, or learned again, with all of you.

But first, here’s a little about what my game, Steam Legends, is all about.

Steam Legends is a combat LARP with a steampunk fantasy setting. Aledir, the nation that Steam Legends takes place in, won a war against an army of undead that nearly overrun the country. The thing that turned the tide of war in Aledir’s favour? The invention of firearms capable of penetrating heavy armour and the undead’s natural defense against other weapons available at the time. A year has passed since the invading armies were defeated and the nation is still rebuilding, especially in the eastern provinces. But since that time there has been a technological boom as a result of how successful firearms were.

The Out Of Game Setup and My Anxiety Revolving Around It

I procured a permit for one of the picnic shelters within High Park in Toronto. There was a washroom building nearby, a water fountain, a few short trails around and a small grove area. However, there was also a major road on one side of the area, and a giant playground on the other (which would have been AWESOME to play in, as it looks like a big castle, but it was swarming with small children). Most other LARPs play in a private area, but this was High Park on a Saturday with great weather. LARPs and the general public usually don’t mix, so one of the big fears I had was someone not participating in the game disrupting it in some way. Another fear was bystanders being hit with nerf blasters. Yeah, it’s nothing lethal, but if a kid walking by gets hit in the eye, there’d be hell to pay.

As for the design of the game, the intention of the game is to place an emphasis on exploration and camaraderie. Because I anticipated the game would likely be played in a small area for a while, I placed a majority of the exploration in the crafting system. Steam Legends is a game where players craft their own spells, rituals, steam contraptions, and potions, learning what works and does not work as they go. While this gives a great range of customization, this could also lead to being told “no” a lot, which is something that can turn a player off very fast. That was another worry.

And, just generally speaking, I was worried because all of this could have just fell apart instantly. The players could have defeated the plot within the first hour or two, or get frustrated and leave to do other things in High Park (like play in the playground I mentioned). I’m not married to any rules I’ve written, but I hate to disappoint those coming to be entertained.

What Happened?

Everyone had a great time! There were some hiccups, but for the most part there were no major complaints that hampered the game. Here are a few highlights for you:

  • Just before the game started, we took the players to a place nearby, which was also in front of the playground and a major hub of public foot traffic. I thought this could be a problem, but instead many people were friendly. The players even took the opportunity for a photo op from a few people in the area!
  • A group of players took the opportunity to write and trade spells, which kept us busy writing tags during down time. More on that in a bit.
  • Because guns are available in this game, we had a group of bandits with guns, and we had ourselves a fire fight. This was new to many of the people there, as Steam Legends is one of the few LARPS in the area that allows NERF blasters to a great degree. But despite that, and the fact it nearly wiped out the players, it was one of the high points of the day. Someone even flipped a table for cover!
  • The players liked the fact that they could come up with their own solutions to problems that occur. Specifically, they liked the mechanics for writing their own spells and magical rituals.

Of course, not everything went according to plan, and as the day went on many of the flaws in the system were exposed. Here are a few things I learned, or learned again, from my experience running my first LARP event:

If You Stat It, They Will Try To Kill It (Even If They’re Not Supposed To)

One of the big enemies the players had to defeat was an undead treant (big tree person, but zombified). When they first encountered it, they were supposed to flee because it was too powerful to overcome. Their NPC guide even called a retreat when he shot the treant and it called Minimal (it took 1 damage as opposed to what was called by the attacker) from a damage type that normally works on undead creatures.

However, they still tried. Eventually they took the hint, but it took a while (and a few teleport spells from the NPC) to do it. It was a small complaint a few had about the treant, but it was intentional, not because we wanted to kill all the players with it, but because it gave them an opportunity to plan a strategy to kill it, which added role-play and allowed the players to come up with their own conclusions and solutions to the problem. Still, players don’t like to lose, so it had it’s pros and cons.

Bureaucracy Stinks

While I’m proud of our item creation system, it comes with its drawbacks. Much of our downtime was used just keeping up with the group’s mages coming to us requesting tags for new spells they’ve developed and shared. We ran out of spell tags near the end. It’s clear that we need a system that’s not as tag heavy in the future. Especially when there are more Engineer and Chemist characters, as they share a similar mechanical framework.

Downtime Issues

One of the things I wanted to do with Steam Legends is have a crafting system that was not only necessary, but fun. Many LARPs pay no real attention to their In-Game economies, but we keep a solid eye on it. In addition, the mechanics in place for designing new spells and contraptions will keep the crafters busy as they come up with new things to create, keeping them entertained while we’re busy plotting more encounters or just eating lunch.

However, this leaves anyone without a crafting skill with nothing to do, and there’s only enough RP between characters to be had. I have a plan for this, but it will take a while to implement In-Game, and even then it might not work.


As the writer of the game’s rules and In-Game lore, it’s really me that’s at the top of the totem pole. But everyone needs help, and while I did delegate tasks to those helping me (whom I am extremely grateful to), even they came to me when they had trouble answering the questions players had. I learned that I can’t put the workload all on myself, and need to train those acting as game marshals better so that they can answer the questions players have, as well delegate more tasks to those working behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean you should be a slave driver or pawn your responsibilities on everyone else, but you can only do so much by yourself.

There were a few other problems with the mechanics and other things, but nothing that can’t be easily corrected. I had a great experience, and I look forward to running my next event! When that will be, I don’t know, but right now I know that I can pull off a LARPing event of my own creation that people enjoy, and that’s what counts.

Video Game Inspirations for LARPs

There are many people who often compare LARPing to video games. This is not unexpected, as it’s very easy to compare a LARP like NERO to a video game like World of Warcraft: Get a bunch of people to play different class roles to kill NPCs and get loot, rinse and repeat. While I agree that LARPs should be judged as their own thing, the comparison to other game formats can still be valid. But there are considerations for LARPs that are separate from video games. Namely, where to play it and what physical resources will be needed to play or run it.

Below are three games I think could make great video game adaptations for LARPs, with some changes to fit it into the LARPing format.

Dark Souls

Now this would be an interesting concept for a game. No character truly dies, but they can lose things if they do die and turn undead. Becoming human again would have to be incentivized, and death and failure would be commonplace. Magic would be slow to cast, and leave the player vulnerable.

The dark fantasy setting would be nice, but it’s been done before. Tricking the AI wouldn’t be a thing, unless the NPCs were told to act dumb. And the sense of loneliness in Dark Souls would be lost in even a medium-sized LARP.

FTL: Faster Than Light

This could be a great LARP if blended with digital gaming. Several rooms would have to be decorated as ship bridges, with each player filling a role on the bridge. Each station has its own role and players on a single bridge have to communicate with one another in order to successfully operate their ship.

I know I’m basically describing Artemis Bridge Simulator (a great game, by the way), but while it would be great to use for the networking necessary, it doesn’t take in the Role-Play aspect of LARP. There would need to be changes made to the way players communicate, such as microphones and webcams so players between one another can see and hear each other. This would also take a lot of resources to set up properly, and depending on where you want to play, away missions could be possible but at the cost of transporting all of those computers and their wires and such to an appropriate location.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

This would be a neat parlour LARP! Players would take on roles of defense attorneys or crime scene investigators, working together to solve a case and prove their client’s innocence. It could even be played in public, depending on how outlandish the costumes are. The plot would have to be very well written, and the drawback is that the story would be already be written for the most part, with the players only piecing it together rather driving it forward (aside from winning or losing the trial, of course).

So You Want To Be A Game Master

Dungeon Master. Storyteller. Artistic Director. They all mean the same basic thing: Game Master. The person in charge of enforcing the rules and setting the stage for the players. I’ve played under some great ones, and some very terrible ones. And over the years, I’ve seen (and made) some common mistakes that many starting GMs make. Below are four tips for those thinking about running their own RPG.

NOTE: We’ve all made these mistakes. Yes, even you did. Admit it. It’s okay, I don’t judge you for it.

Tip 1: You Are NOT The Star

The first thing you have to realize is that the main characters in your story are the main protagonists. They are the focus of the game. You can create a world around them that is fantastical and awesome, but in the end the characters are the ones that should be driving the plot forward. It’s a bad idea to put a character that you control that is always with the PCs, helping them out wherever they can. If you’re short a character, having a substitute NPC is fine, but they should be a background support role, not really making any decisions for the group. Don’t make a Mary- or Gary-Sue character that represents you. Perfect characters are boring.

Tip 2: If It Isn’t Fun, Cut It

As you run adventures for your players, you’ll make mistakes that are not fun for your players. If something is boring or too hard, cut it. Ideas are worth nothing. Yes, even that one. Yes, that one too. It’s all in the execution. If your players aren’t having fun with a plot line or encounter, get rid of it. It’s not a precious baby.

On a side note, please don’t take the above as discouragement. If this happens, it’s okay. It’s a lot better for you make mistakes early so that you can learn from them and become better at running RPGs. You’ll think of something better than what you’ve done before, and your players will thank you for it.

Tip 3: Use The Same Rules As The Players

I’ve seen a lot of GMs make up their own rules far too often. It’s not a bad thing to make a rule or mechanic to go with an encounter here or there, but you have to do it sparingly. Players get frustrated when an ability or the like that normally works suddenly doesn’t. It’s okay if there’s something in the rules that prevents it, but if there isn’t, then it can be very jarring. Part of the art of GMing is getting creative while staying within the constraints of the rules as written. If you find yourself breaking the rules a lot, your game is going to suffer as a result.

Tip 4: Say No To Your Friends

While your job is to be the game referee and to maintain story continuity for the players you’re entertaining, you’re also not a door mat. If a player gives you a character background that would start them with a gross advantage, say no. Unless the other Player Characters are millionaires too, they can’t start with a massive fortune. No, they can’t have the magic sword of superdoomkill, it doesn’t matter if their dad gave it to them on their 16th birthday. If your players are smart enough, they won’t need to have a big starting advantage anyways.

These are all common problems that a lot of starting GM’s make. I hope that for those reading this that are thinking of starting their own games get some insight on what makes a great GM. Happy Gaming!

A Review of Secrets of Magic LARP

This review is very very late, like many of my posts. But a new LARP has emerged, and it seems to be very promising.

Secrets of Magic is a fantasy-based LARP that has just opened up this year. I’ve had the privilege to attend two of their day events, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

Genre and Narrative

As I said before, Secrets of Magic is set in a Fantasy world where the various races of the world are very weary of one another. Humans were enslaved by the more monstrous races, such as the Drakekin and Ogerborn, and were unable to use magic the same way they did. That was until they discovered a new path of magic: Death. I don’t want to give too much away on this review, but it ended with many civilizations ending, and each race being scattered across the world, creating isolated settlements for themselves.

Then Darius comes to found a town in which all races are equal. He and his compatriots seek out adventurers to help settle this new town, which is where the PC’s come in.

The races are Humans, the only race that can use Death magic, as they are the only ones who are mortal, Drakekin, descendants of dragons who are proud, determined and fierce, Feyfolk, graceful and cunning descendants of Fairies, and Ogreborn, who are enduring and forceful descendants of Giants. Each have their own innate abilities, such as the use of specific Secrets, the term for the various types of magic within the game.

As things stand in the story, the town the game takes place in is nothing more than a person’s barn. However, the PCs have a chance to really determine the direction the town evolves into, for better or for worse. The directors have done a good job of involving the players as much as possible, giving them jobs and tasks to help the new town prosper.


Like Elegy, Secrets of Magic’s rulebook is very small. However, it wasn’t designed to be as unobtrusive as Elegy. This is largely because Secrets of Magic realizes that it is a game. Yes, there’s plenty of role-play, but that doesn’t mean that it tries to hide the fact that is a game.

Characters are not class-based, but are built around XP. You start with X amount of it, and purchase skills and abilities with it.

A unique function of Secrets of Magic is that if you’ve been playing at another LARP, you get extra XP for your first character. There is a limit here, but it helps a lot of you’re a veteran LARPer.

XP is gained every event, and how much you gain is determined by whether or not you have a Protagonist Token by the end of an event. This is given to each player, and is a sort of “get out of jail free card.” If you don’t have it, you get 4 XP. If you do, you get 7. Alternatively, you can use it to refund 7XP worth of skills on your character card to respend. This is handy if you don’t like a particular set of skills anymore, and want to get rid of them. I haven’t seen this done at a LARP before without having to jump through a lot of hoops within the game.

I do worry that the XP gain might be a little fast. I hit that starting XP ceiling my first event, and now I don’t know what to do with my build, as a lot of the skills my character would want is already known by my character. I imagine this is what will happen with a lot of other characters after a few years of playing.

That said, the skills themselves are pretty straightforward. There’s only a handful of spells for each type of Secret, and the same can be said for combat abilities. Crafting is remarkably fast as well, which is a good thing. A lot of other LARPS either have tediously long times for making things, or simply gives you a pool of points to spend on items at the beginning of an event. Secrets of Magic allows for the role-play of item creation without the long waiting times.

Player Base

What a friendly bunch of people these folks are! You can tell that they care about their players and make sure that they’re involved and having a good time. I like how there’s enough leeway with players and what they want to do, and plot reacting to said actions. There’s enough structure from plot that players don’t just go murder-hobo on everything, but players can still pursue personal goals for their characters.

Right now, the player base is small, only about 15 people total, so there’s only a small amount to handle, which is easy. I’m hoping that it can keep that spirit alive as the game grows, as more players means more individual desires to deal with. I also hope there’s a plan for that as well. Knowing the owner of the game, he probably does.

Also, ZERO drama. None. Or at least none I saw. This could be because of the small numbers, but as things stand for me personally, it’s a great change from other LARPS I’ve been to.

Other Stuff

Like I said before, Secrets of Magic puts a great emphasis on player-driven plot. But it does so in a controlled way. NPCs have given PCs roles within the town, and are given tasks as well as payment for said tasks every event. It actually functions well.

The game’s is the Badenoch Community Center in Guelph, Ontario. It’s a small site surrounded by crown land. Bring bug spray in the warmer months. The place does have bathrooms, but no showers. Which is fine, as the events this year are only day events. Also, bring your own food.

Overall, Secrets of Magic is a very well-run game that needs little resources to run smoothly, and has a promising future if it keep it up as their numbers grow. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a larp that has the players’ interest in mind.

Secrets of Magic Facebook Page

Don’t Puke On The New Carpet

I recently participated in the 2015 Global Game Jam, the first video game jam that I’ve been to in a couple of years. Whenever I go to one of these events, I try to do something different or try to learn something new. I saw a let’s play video of Don’t Shit Your Pants recently, and I decided that I would set out to make a game like it, simply to figure out how it was coded.  This was also an opportunity to use the new UI tools that are part of Unity 4.6, something I haven’t touched yet myself. The result is this very immature game that, while I’m proud of the learning experience, I’m not so proud of the content. Still, it made me laugh and I hope it makes you laugh as well.

To run the game, download the zip file in the link below and unzip it’s contents. Double-click the exe file and select your settings. It can play fullscreen. Enjoy!

Download Don’t Puke On The New Carpet

LARPing And The Aesthetics Of Play

It’s almost late, but I’ve posted after two weeks of inactivity, as promised!

I’d like to talk about Aesthetics Of Play, and how they relate to LARPing. Aesthetics Of Play are essentially what makes a particular game fun for the player. In a paper at Northwestern University entitled “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research,” the three authors describe eight different aesthetics of play: Sense Pleasure, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission (or Abnegation, as some prefer to call it). Every game may have elements of all of these, but only a few are considered core to a game and why those that play a particular one fun. Killer Instinct does have a story and plot, but that’s not why a lot of people play that game, so Narrative isn’t a core aesthetic of said game.

With all of that said, how can each one be used in a LARP’s design? I’m going to go through all eight of these (and throw in a ninth one, as identified by Extra Credits, as it makes a lot of sense to put in) and look at how it can be used as a core aesthetic.

  1. Sense Pleasure

Sense pleasure as an aesthetic is one where your senses are stimulated: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Games you keep going back to for a great soundtrack or stunning visuals uses this as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPs can use this by setting the physical space in the right way: decorations which reflect the intended setting and genre, music and sound effects to reflect the theme. What would be interesting to see at a LARP is trying to manufacture certain scents within a set, such as the damp, musty smell of an old decrepit cabin in the woods, or the sensation of a slight touch along the skin when a ghost walks by or through a player, but the player never sees the NPC.

This aesthetic is usually not used as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs, often due to budget constraints. But it’d be interesting to see a one-off or perhaps annual LARP game try to achieve this.

  1. Fantasy

Fantasy is the ability to step into a role you can’t step into in real life. However, in many games, this role is chosen for you. In Call of Duty, you’re a soldier. In the GTA games, you’re a psychotic criminal.

While in many LARPs, Fantasy in surely core to a game, but often goes hand in hand with Expression. However, the games mechanics often set the limits of that expression. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It depends on the kind of LARP you’re trying to run.

  1. Narrative

Narrative is games as drama. This is what drama unfolds which the player witnesses, as opposed to the Fantasy they play through. Final Fantasy, Journey, and so on, all use Narrative as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPing is supposed to be interactive. You don’t passively watch events unfold passively. So this one is often passed over for Fantasy. Still, there are times where certain plotlines in many long-term LARP games may not interest your character, and you just want to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

  1. Challenge

This one is defined as an obstacle course of sorts. It’s a group of enemies in a module, or a puzzle. It’s a challenge where players must overcome in order to progress through the game.

In LARPs, this is often represented by groups of NPCs looking for a fight. Players have to use their skills, such as magic, or weapon skill abilities, to fight and take down the opposing NPCs. It’s pretty common. They can also be represented by logic puzzles, or even actual physical obstacle courses.

  1. Fellowship

This is working as a team to achieve a goal. Dungeons in World of Warcraft, team deathmatches in FPS games, and so forth.

This is often a vital Core Aesthetic in a LARP. Whether you’re playing a class-based or skillpoint-based game, often times you will need to rely on another character’s skill set to get you through things. Fighters need healers to keep them alive, mages need fighters to prevent others from killing them with ease, etc. If one person gets through an encounter meant for a group, you done goofed.

  1. Discovery

This is the act of discovering something new within a game. This can be discovery of a new land, or a new item that can be created, and so on.

While there is a bit of this in some LARPs, it’s not often used as a Core Aesthetic. Players who like to make things often like to find new things to make, whether it’s raiding a dungeon with big hero-types to find a new formula for a magic ritual, or discovering it on their own through experimentation. I’d like to see Discovery used more in LARPs.

  1. Expression

This is the ability for a player to express an aspect of themselves through the game. Character creation in games such as World of Warcraft or Skyrim are all forms of expression.

This is core to LARPs where the player creates their own character before they play their first game, and is used very often. I would even say that this it a defining feature of LARPs, and is a Core Aesthetic to all of them (or all of the ones I’ve played, at least).

  1. Abnegation

This is game as a pastime. This aesthetic is one where players play to just zone out and disconnect from everything. Skinner box games, or games that require grinding, are examples of Abnegation.

This one is often not intended as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs. Still, there are people who like to just role-play with their friends, and not participate in the plot. It’s just chilling out by a fire and just unwinding, which is still a valid way of enjoying a LARP.

  1. Dominance

This is the aesthetic that the Extra Credits added to their list if Aesthetics of Play. It’s the urge to show dominance over others. Call of Duty, PvP areas in World of Warcraft, even GTA Online uses it to some degree.

Naturally, all of these are examples of PvP, which I’ve already expressed my thoughts on. But despite my views on it, I still see it as a valid Aesthetic of Play that can be core to a LARP if the ones running it want it to be.

So what are the Core Aesthetics of any LARP? That’s a loaded question, as different LARPs over different things. Expression and Fantasy often go hand in hand to create role-play, however. And Fellowship often goes together with Challenge to create a group dynamic to overcome obstacles as a team. So those four are often the big ones in a LARP. If you can focus your mechanics to deliver the dynamics necessary to achieve those aesthetics, I think you’re on your way to creating a great LARPing experience for your players. But don’t forget that the other five are still valid, and experimenting with them is something that not a lot of people have really explored in a LARP.

I hope that you find this something to consider, as I’ve recently have been pondering.

See you in two weeks, max, folks!

Happy New Year and A Couple Of Interesting Links

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s been too long since I’ve posted here, and frankly, I’ve been very lax on posting things here in the first place. So I’m going to try to post at least once every two weeks with SOMETHING. For now, here are a few links to LARP-related articles that I found interesting.

First, an article about The Circle Of Jerk, a concept where only the oldest, most powerful characters get to have any fun, a situation I’m too familiar with, unfortunately.

The other is an essay regarding the lack of LARPs in Japan. A bit wordy, but interesting none the less.

I hope you like the articles, and I’ll be posting something of my own very soon.