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A Review of Elegy: A Doompunk LARP

I recently went to Elegy for their second season finale event. I came to it knowing that I would either love it, or hate it. I had my reservations about going, mainly because I’ve had my ear to the ground regarding Elegy and on the surface it has both welcoming and unwelcoming voices. But I couldn’t be more wrong about the unwelcoming ones.

But lets get down to it. This is my review of Elegy: A Doompunk LARP!

(What the hell is Doompunk? Damned if I know.)

Genre and Narrative

Elegy is a Post-Apocalyptic LARP, which is a nice change of pace from the many of the other combat LARPs which are all Fantasy. This also allows an easy justification of NERF guns in the LARP, something very highly demanded by many LARPers.

The game takes place in a ruined Southern Ontario 200 years from today, called the Golden South. In this area, blocked off from the rest of the world by Rifts, giant fissures in the earth which spew forth radiation called simply “Rift Energy.” The survivors of the apocalypse have formed their own cultures which share the Golden south: The Imagos, religious farmers, Kinfolk, open and accepting of others out of both necessity and kindness, the Penitents, science-minded individuals bent on saving the world from the Rifts, Scraplanders, corporate-minded peoples of the world living in the last remaining city in the Golden South, Vanguard, no-nonsense survival of the fittest types, and the Wilder, who are not a true civilization perse, but individuals or groups who choose to live in the wildest areas of the land.

The game itself takes place primarily in a place called Bartertown, a shanty town where all the cultures meet primarily to trade with one another. Surprisingly all of the cultures consider it neutral ground and will fight shoulder to shoulder when Bartertown comes under attack. There’s PvP of course, but much of it is either negotiated OOG between the players involved, or doesn’t come to combat.

Rules

For a combat LARP, Elegy is very rules-lite. They are designed to intrude on immersion and role-play as little as possible. As a game designer, I’m a little jealous of them. Combat, for example, doesn’t have regular damage calls unless you’re using a special ability. Every hit does X amount of damage, (two damage for bullets, and one damage for everything else). This allows role-play while in combat.

Character progression is mind-numbingly slow, but the character creation process allows you to be at the top of your field right off the bat. So if you wanted to be a master surgeon or engineer, you can do that right away, but improving anything beyond what you start with will take many events. This is a great thing for those running the plot of the game, as they don’t have to write encounters for characters with specific levels of experience, or at least for now.

Mind you, there are some things I can point out that I didn’t like. The Grapple rules are a little muttled and it’s not clear what it can and cannot do, it’s limitations, etc. I don’t like the fact that when Resources expire, they are still in game and can be traded.

There’s also a list of Thoughtbender abilities (psychic powers) that need to be memorized by everyone, and though that list is much shorter than many other games, it can still be a bit daunting to have to remember all of it. As a result, you end up having to ask what things do, and for how long, which breaks both the flow of combat and the immersion.

Player Base

I’ll be honest here. I’ve had my ear to the ground with Elegy for a while and I’ve had mixed feelings about the people that play Elegy. Some seemed nice, while others seemed to post a lot of macho posturing bullshit and sarcastic, snarky things that made me want to avoid Elegy. The title of this review might have been “Elegy: It’s Underworld with Nerf Guns.”

However, this was not the case. Many of their players were very welcoming. Even in the pouring rain at night, as I arrived late to the game on Friday night, there were people that helped me with setting up my tent very quickly, and I’m very grateful for that. Even the people that I thought would be problematic to me turned out to be very nice, at least out of game.

Elegy is more than just another LARP. They’ve gone out of their way to make sure that people are not there just to be jerks to everyone else and try to win. There’s a community here that has respect for one another and expect everyone to behave like adults. In addition, they are very welcoming to new players, making sure that everyone, no matter how long they’ve played, can have fun and feel like they belong.

I did find a few problems, but they are pretty common ones at any LARP. There are some people that swing WAY too hard with their weapons. Another problem I found was that Killing Blows, which require a 5-count (a five second description of the killing strike, or at least a 5 second count) being counted way too fast. These things can be corrected though, and are not as bad as some other LARPs I’ve played in the past.

Other Stuff

Elegy places a great amount of emphasis on immersion and role-play, which is reflected in their rules, but also in their attitudes towards what happens in their game. Not every encounter or NPC is a combat one, though there are many of those still. Even though on the surface it looks like almost everyone is playing a stereotype of their cultures, every character does feel like a unique individual that goes beyond just being a Vanguard murder-hobo or Kinfolk nymphomaniac, which adds depth to the immersion and role-play.

The game itself is played on the Mythwood Campground in Grey County, Ontario. It’s a beautiful site, complete with a lake that is available for swimming (weather permitting). It is clothing optional, however, so keep that in mind.

The facilities do have showers on site, but mostly relies on outhouses for bathrooms. There is a heated cabin for many people, but space is limited and priority goes to those that need to be there for medical reasons. It’s also far away from Bartertown proper.

Elegy does have a food tent where warm food can be purchased, but they often run out of food to cook, so it would be best not to rely completely on it. Bring at least some of your own food just in case.

Overall, Elegy is a fantastic game, and offers a great post-apocalyptic experience and a thriving, welcoming community. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself when the next season starts next spring.

Links to both Elegy and Mythwood Campground can be found below:

Elegy: A Doompunk LARP

Mythwood Campground

I’m Taking It Back

With the whole GamerGate fiasco that’s been going down in recent months, the idea of “Gamers are dead” because everyone plays games now, whether it be on their phones on the subway, for hours on a PC, or anywhere in between, has come up. And I respectfully disagree with that statement.

The term Gamer is meant to be a term for a Games Enthusiast. Someone who not only plays games, but also reads and writes about them, blogs about them, subscribes to magazines (or used to before the internet was a thing), discuss them with other Games enthusiasts, and even make them on their own time. It isn’t just a thing to pass the time on the subway, it’s a major hobby that occupies a large majority of free time.

The logic of “Everyone is a gamer now, therefore no one is” doesn’t make sense to me. I wear clothing regularly like everyone else does, but that doesn’t make me a Fashionista, or Fashion Enthusiast. I eat food like everyone else, but that doesn’t make me a Foodie, or a Food Enthusiast. If I owned a car, I wouldn’t be a Gearhead, or Car Enthusiast, as a result.

Gamers are not dead. I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for playing and creating games. But some have, namely many female game developers and enthusiasts who have been the target of gross amounts of hate and misogyny simply for being female. Which is gross.

To me, it’s not that Gamers are dead, but instead that the term has been hijacked and twisted to mean something else entirely. The mainstream media often tries to depict Gamers as petty, apathetic, socially inept teenagers filled with angst and hate with no healthy outlet for their emotions, and therefore escape into games in order to cope. And because the loudest voices among Gamers are basically the petty, apathetic, and socially inept, that’s how the media labels ALL Gamers.

Except that we’re not.

Most Gamers actually want to see a large variety of different games, with different stories and perspectives. I’m craving variety right now, and I’m not getting it from the AAA publishers. The ever-growing indie games scene is where the variety is coming from right now, and that’s where you’re seeing all the variety. But somehow the ones causing all the noise and making all Gamers look bad think that variety means that their favourite games somehow disappear. I have something to tell you: Activision will still be making Call Of Duty over and over again for years to come. It’s not going to disappear because women want to make games about anything other than shooting brown people. Same goes for Battlefield, Gears Of War, and many other games you cling to.

The Gamers I know are a very welcoming bunch. They’ll accept you regardless of gender, skin colour, sexual preference, and so on. As long as you’re someone that isn’t largely negative and share the same passion for games, you’re welcomed with open arms.

And the ones that are spreading misogyny and hate, slut-shaming and harassing women in the games industry and within gamer culture? I’m going to say this as simply as I can.

You. Are. NOT. Gamers.

You may spend some of your time playing games, but you do not do anything other than that to express your enthusiasm for the hobby. You do not drive the direction of games in any way. You don’t add anything to the conversation beyond spreading hate. In fact, you spend more time discussing your hatred for people than you do discussing games themselves.

That is not enthusiasm for games. That’s enthusiasm for bigotry. You are BIGOTS, and that’s what you should be called. That’s your label now.

You do not represent me, or any Games Enthusiasts at large. The game developers and publishers are not siding with you. The games journalists are not siding with you. Even the culture you claim to be in does not side with you.

I’m taking back the term Gamer for myself and anyone that wants the term to become what it was, and always should have been: people who have a passion for games. Anyone that wants to exclude anyone else for that just for their sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or whatever, can go away and bitch about it with the other Bigots.

I am a Gamer, always have been, and always will be. And if you’re more concerned with games than you are with making sure only certain people get to make or talk about them, you’re welcome to be one too.

P.S. If anyone wants to call me a Social Justice Warrior over this, can you do me a favour and call me a Social Justice Wizard instead? I like that character class better, and it gives me an excuse to get one of those Social Justice class pins.

Keep It To Ten Minutes

A friend of mine, someone I regularly collaborate with on various projects, posted this on his Facebook page. With his permission, I am re-posting it here because it makes a lot of sense.


 

WARNING! INCOMING RANT! If you don’t wanna read it, then don’t. And I’m not going to reply to anyone who can’t put logic first.

So, here’s the thing about abilities at LARPs that take a long time to use.

Crafting skills and “medical” healing (and a few other more game-specific abilities) classically take a very long time in LARPs to take effect. The reasons for this that I’ve heard are things like “It’s more realistic” and “It creates roleplay opportunity”.

Firstly, if you want realistic, a sword wound or gun shot can take MONTHS to heal fully with modern medical technology, let alone whatever medieval doctoring equipment is available in most LARPs. If someone in a game spends 6 hours going from 0 HP to full, or returning a broken limb to full usefulness, that is just as unrealistic as spending ten minutes to do the same.

Secondly, these things don’t “create” role-play opportunity. The role-play opportunity is there regardless of how many hours people spend banging foam hammers on a fake anvil or stitching someone up. The people are there, and they are role-players; if they want to role-play, they will do so regardless of whether or not they’re being forced into a mind-numbing chore to replenish in-game resources.

Those first two points serve to address the obvious flaws in the argument for such abilities to take a large amount of time, but don’t serve to promote the argument of why such abilities should take a short amount of time. That’s this next part.

See, when players have limits to their in-game resources, they will seek to replenish those resources whenever possible. As a result, players will always spend the time necessary to replenish those resources, whether or not they’re enjoying themselves in the process.

Now you might say, “Well, most people don’t enjoy the act of forging metal or stitching someone up,” which is largely true and not a small part of why most people don’t do it in real life. But this isn’t real life, it’s a game. And when people are playing a game, especially when they are PAYING MONEY to play a game, they want to enjoy themselves. They are paying their money in exchange for entertainment (World Of Warcraft not-withstanding).

So whenever you have a game mechanic that would cause most people to get bored and stop enjoying themselves, what you have is a bad game mechanic. It will make people not want to take part in that aspect of the game, which is especially problematic if they wanted to make or have made a character for the purpose of being in that aspect of the game.

You know what happens when LARPers get bored? They stop talking about stuff that’s going on in-game and start talking about stuff that’s going on in real life, which breaks immersion for everyone around and causes even more problems. You might say, “Well, if they’re LARPing, they should stay in character even if they’re bored,” to which I reply, “Then YOU should have a system that doesn’t encourage them to break character.”

If players get bored and break character because the plot isn’t engaging, that’s not something that can be fixed with the rules. But if they get bored and break character because your rules are forcing them to effectively remove themselves from actually playing the game in order to be allowed to keep playing later, you’ve got a problem with your rules that can be quickly and easily fixed.

This isn’t just a problem with resource restoration, though. LARPs also often have game effects such as spells or abilities that render another person unable to continue interacting with the game for large amounts of time, often an hour or more. Why bother making someone stand around for that long? Whether they’re frozen or imprisoned or whatever, what purpose does it serve to make the player (or even cast member) stand around and do nothing for a whole hour? All you’re doing is taking away someone else’s ability to enjoy the game.

After a certain point, such abilities stop “creating tension” and start taking away from the enjoyment of the poor saps forced to endure them. It’s one thing if you’re stuck in place for ten minutes; you can spend that time wondering if they’ll get you, maybe trying to plan an escape. Any longer, though, and all they’ll be thinking is “Man, I really just want to get back to playing. Or maybe go home.” An ability that takes someone else out of the game for half-an-hour or more may seem “powerful”, but it’s really just dickery.

Short answer? Don’t make any game mechanics that force someone out of play for more than ten minutes at a time. Even ten minutes can be pushing it for some people, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that most people of the role-play mindset can mime an action or stand around for ten minutes without losing focus.

Summary.

Any “role-play opportunities” that can occur within an hour can also start within ten minutes, and can be continued for as long as the people role-playing wish to continue. Instead of feeling forced, it’ll feel natural and immersive.

Any “realism” you feel you might be losing wasn’t really there to begin with. Ten minutes to heal someone up with stitches or forge a sword that never needs to be sharpened is just as unrealistic as an hour or two.

Removing a person from the game for more than ten minutes is likely to get them bored, and they are paying money to have fun. If you have rules that take people out of the game for more than ten minutes, you are being paid for a service that you are not rendering.

Healing. Crafting. Resource restoration. Removal effects. Ten minutes, tops. Otherwise, all you’re doing is wasting time.

End rant.

Inclusivity Is Awesome

I was originally going to post about what I’ve learned about game design through LARPing and how it can be applied to video games, but given the current discussions about Gamer Culture, I’ve decided that instead I’m going to focus on one particular portion of that.

Where in recent weeks the discussions about inclusivity of Game Culture has seemed to have been taken over by the loudest and most toxic individuals, LARPs do inclusivity right, and they’re better for it. Almost all of the LARPs I’ve attended have a fairly large female population. The LARP I primarily go to, EPOCH Toronto, has an almost even ratio of men to women. In addition, there’s usually at least one woman on the executive board at any given time, and not long ago, the board was entirely composed of women fielding those positions.

This isn’t limited to just the sex of a person. Gender, race, nationality, religion, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome at a LARP event. In addition, there’s nothing stopping you from playing any kind of character you want. Are you male, but want to play a female character. Totally doable! Want to play a very religious person, but are not particularly religious yourself? Not a problem! Want to play a character whose gender is completely different from your own? Go for it!

As for the more toxic individuals that try to attend? They’re usually given the cold shoulder by the rest of the player base, and often wander off to another LARP, or just stop altogether. If the individual is particularly disruptive, they’ll be asked to leave. There will always be inter-personal conflicts in any social group, and conflicts are resolved rationally by the owners or executives of the LARP, often getting both sides of the story before taking action.

From a business standpoint, however, inclusivity gets you more customers. If a LARP is a safe environment, and provides a great game atmosphere, those that attend will tell their friends, and bring them to the next event. Then those new players tell their other friends, and bring them along, and for forth. Often times the best advertisers of a LARP are the ones that play it rather than run it. And the more inclusive a LARP is, the more varied, and therefore larger, the potential audience becomes.

Marketing teams across all game companies should take a good look at this, as sales will be more constant as more and more people buy the game, play and love it, then tell their friends, who will then buy it and do the same, as opposed to making things look shiny and having to rely on pre-orders to make their money.

Aside from the business portion of the equation, inclusivity also creates a positive culture that can actually be respected by those viewing it from the outside. There’s a reason why many people regard “Gamers” as mouth-breathing, socially-inept neckbeards, or a bunch of juvenile 12-year-old boys. They’re the ones that are the loudest, and the ones most people think of when they think of what a “Gamer” is.

By having a more inclusive culture, those in the media, and people in general, can consider games as the art-form it can be instead of a juvenile past-time. LARPing might be in the same boat when it comes to public viewpoints, but that’s just on the surface of LARPing. A LARP can bring people out of their shells, players can experience things that they may never experience in their normal lives, social issues can and often are explored, and so much more. On the surface, yeah, we’re in silly costumes swinging plumbing supplies at each other. But that’s far more benign than what Gamer Culture is on the surface: A culturally backward, toxic place where threats of rape and murder are commonplace.

If you want a better culture surrounding games, or just better games in general, allow more than just the social-inept dictate their direction. Bringing women, LGTBQ folk, those of different races, nationalities, etc. into the development-side of gaming. Have them included in creative decisions, not just in artwork or animation where a majority of women have positions inside the games industry, but in design and programming as well. From there, games being made with these groups in mind will come, and in turn, people that identify with them will come to play.

Communities will come together to create a great, positive spaces for everyone to enjoy. Those that try to bring them down will find themselves quickly silenced.

It’s already happening, folks. Just let it happen. You’ll be a better person for it. Don’t believe me? Give LARPing a shot and see what you’re missing out on.

Beet Party Uprooted: The Game

BPTower300dpi

Hello everyone! Great news!

The game that I Co-Designed and Co-Produced is on the iTunes store!

Beet Medley is an eclectic creative playground for children of ages 4 to 6 that features a collection of mini games and creative exercises that foster self-expression and inspire a love of music and rhythm. These mini-games add to the experience of the Freestyle game, a music-creation tool, which expands its capabilities as the players achieve goals and overcome challenges presented to them. Kids playing this game can create their own music to share with others.

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This game is for the iPad and can be found here, and by searching the iTunes store!

LARP Bullies

A while back I wrote about How To Win A LARP, and one of the first steps is to Be A Colossal Jerk. While people trying to win a LARP are almost always colossal jerks, there are other people there that simply want to push people around. I’ve identified three different types of LARP Bullies and described them below, though I’m sure there are plenty of other categories we can point out.

The Immersion Snob

Before I start in on this one, I will say that I do like a high level of immersion in my LARPs, but I also believe that immersion goes beyond costuming and props. I can also maintain my own sense of immersion while others are talking OOG, or eating a bag of chips in the open in a fantasy LARP. The Immersion Snob is the opposite. They put a lot of work into their costuming, make-up and props (which is to their credit), but they also demand the same from everyone else. If your costume or props are not up to their level, prepare for a lot of vitriol coming from them. Eat a granola bar, get ready to hear how you can’t eat that because they didn’t exist back in the Middle Ages. They expect you to bend over backwards, with no return on your investments or time and effort, so that they can have a good time.

While they want immersion, they often don’t add to the immersion beyond a superficial level. Sure their costumes are great, but they simply act like themselves instead of portraying a character. A player who acts out a character far beyond their own personality, but doesn’t have an outstanding costume adds way more to an immersive game environment than someone who has a great costume but acts as themselves the whole time.

The problem with the Immersion Snob is that it can be intimidating getting into a LARP for the first time. Rules can be daunting, everyone around you has great costuming, and so forth. That’s hard enough to get used to without someone coming up to you and telling them that what you’re doing is all wrong and that it’s ruining their time. It’s a very self-serving point of view that doesn’t help anyone, and can chase new players away.

The solution I’ve found is to point out that LARPing is indeed a game, and that not everything comes down to the accuracy of the setting. After all, most combat LARPs use weapons made from plumbing supplies and duct tape, and magic is often represented by bean bags. Camp sites often have at least some electricity, and therefore have power cables running along roads. Many cabins have plumbing and flush toilets on a septic system. There are plenty of things to point out, so maybe not having your nerf gun painted isn’t such a bad thing when all of these modern comforts are surrounding you. When you point this out, they’ll leave in a huff, often because they don’t want to admit that they’re behaviour only leaves to hurt feelings and new LARPers leaving.

The Brute

This person is simply terrifying. They play heavy combat characters, and really REALLY want to pick a fight with anyone they can. Largely because they want to do it in real life, but there are laws about that sort of thing, and prison is filled with people that are bigger, stronger, and tougher than they are. So they do the next best thing: do it through a pretendy fun-time game. They want to intimidate and physically bully everyone else around them in order to make themselves feel superior. It’s the classic depiction of the school-yard bully, but while pretending to be a Viking or an orc or whatever.

I shouldn’t have to point out the problems with these cretins, but let’s go over them anyway. Just like I stated above, LARPing can be intimidating for new players. Having a Brute try to push them around, especially early into a first event, can send new players packing. There’s also very serious behavioural problems that the Brute obviously has. Rageaholic isn’t the technical term, but it is a real thing, and it could be that the Brute has it or any number of underlying psychological problems that cause him to take it out on others. Add in the fact that most simply do not fight safely in combat LARPs, and you have a big, lumbering can of newbie repellant.

LARP operators have to be on the look for people like this. A LARP should be a welcoming place for new players, and having a Brute is detrimental to said environment. Personally, if I could, I’d ask the Brute to either take an anger management class or not come back. Barring that, I’d just ask them not to return at all.

The Sociopath

Far more dangerous than the Brute, the Sociopath doesn’t try to push you around physically. Instead, the Sociopath tries to elevate themselves through the coercion and manipulation of other players. They have no regard for the feelings of others, but will feign empathy if they know it will advance their goals. They treat others as objects, things to be manipulated rather than people. They will ruin an event or a LARP as a whole or another player for personal gain, with no regard for anyone else. They do not take responsibility for any of their actions, making fake excuses or throwing others under the bus, most often the victim of the Sociopath’s behaviour.

I don’t have to tell you that this person is bad for a LARP, or anyone playing it regardless of experience, or, frankly, anyone at all. This is a person that is definitely trying to win a LARP, and will do anything to do it. Cheating, targeting, lying to directors, backstabbing, the sky is the limit. This person gets their jollies from making others suffer, and it needs to be stopped before it starts, if possible.

The solution? The Ban Hammer. Get rid if this person immediately. Just like in any organization, this toxic individual can only do long-term harm to a LARP. Luckily, these people are few and far between, but as they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch.

Quit Hatin’ On Geeks, Geeks!

Recently I picked up a copy of Shadowrun 5th Edition. I brought it home and read it, and really liked it, and decided that I wanted to run a game at my place, announcing it on Facebook and seeing if people were interested.

While I got a few takers, another person posted how that the new edition wasn’t good at all, in his opinion. He went so far as saying it reversed innovations within the game industry as a whole, as well as posting a link to some guy who not only hated it, but wanted to hate it. This left a bad taste in my mouth, not because he trashed something I liked, but because his action discouraged others from wanting to come out as a result.

While I don’t think he meant it as bullying, it certainly didn’t help with me starting a weekly fun night of gaming at my home with friends. But it also brought up something that’s been talked about a lot within not only the gaming community, but other “nerdy” pastimes like Comic Books or the like, which would be bullying or harassing people new to these pastimes.

I’ve seen it a lot: Someone walks into a game store wanting to get into one of the card games other than Magic: The Gathering, and suddenly they’re met with ridicule by the M:tG players nearby, or the clerks at the front desk, making fun of them for liking something that isn’t as popular or even just different.

This happens a lot these days, and it’s pretty disgusting. Entire communities harassing people that want to get into a hobby or interest makes for a pretty toxic environment, and it doesn’t do well for our reputations. A lot of people think this is just a bunch of kids being bullies, but statistically speaking the majority of the harassment is committed by males in their 20’s and 30’s. The reason we think that they’re kids is because gaming is still viewed my many as a kid’s pastime despite the fact that games like GTA and Call of Duty are not meant for children at all. But I also think that it’s because most people expect that a person that old wouldn’t behave in such a way, making it easier to dismiss it as kids being mean to one another. Also, anonymity and lack of consequence play a huge role in this harassment as well. Lack of responsibility and the the fact that on one won’t be punished for this means that it will occur more often. It’s unfortunate, but most people do or do not do things simply from fear of the law, not by the ethics and morals they are supposed to have.

I really do not understand why this happens. Why would anyone have so much hatred for a person who likes something? I simply don’t get what is achieved by ridiculing someone else for enjoying an activity or hobby. Whether it’s a preferred table-top RPG, video game, LARP, whatever, it makes no sense and nothing is gained by anyone. If fact, it only serves to fracture our communities as a whole and make us look even worse than we do now.

Friends, this really need to stop. It helps no one. You gain nothing from bullying anyone for any reason.

I still plan to run Shadowrun at my place soon, and I’m sure we’ll all have a good time doing so. I’m not going to let someone else bully me out of my interests. I got enough of that in elementary school.

How To Win LARP

Ok, bear with me here.

There’s a common understanding among most LARPers I’ve met, and it is that you can’t “win” at a larp. Typically, all the players are there to enjoy the drama and action that unfolds every event, the plot continues over a long period of time, and no one is put on a pedestal at the end of a weekend and declared a winner.

However, I disagree. I’ve been LARPing for nearly 13 years now and I’ve seen a lot of different styles of play. The first LARP I ever went to seemed neat when I first started, but as I continued to play I noticed a lot of the same people getting all the plot and cool items and such. Eventually I realized that I would never get to see anything relevant to the plot and that I was just there to support their game with my money and be the occasional lackey. I left long after I should have, and I’m glad I did.

The people that were getting all the plot and wicked loot and In-Game political power were all friends along with everyone on the game’s plot team. If anyone of their characters died, plot would find a way to bring them back with no penalties to their characters. If those players asked for items far beyond the reach of anyone else, they would get them free of charge. These people could not be touched, ever.

So yes, you can win a LARP. And I have a step-by-step guide to being the king of all LARPers just for you!

Step 1: Be A Colossal Jerk

You need to be a horrible person in the first place to even considering trying this at all. Whether you’re a sociopathic bastard, love the feeling of schadenfreude, or just have a general feeling of apathy for others, this step is critical in winning any LARP.

Step 2: Bring Friends That Are Also Colossal Jerks

Even though you’re trying to be on top, there’s strength in numbers. Make sure you’re friends are on board, plan ahead, and make sure that they don’t care about anyone else besides your little clique.

Step 3: Make A Character That Is As Ruthless As Possible

Take a good look at all the options available to you, both in terms of statistics and skills, and in-game cultures and backgrounds. Pick skills that are easily exploited and get the most bang for your buck. For background, look carefully and choose whatever background to justify any and all of your power-gaming and gives you the path of least resistance. If there’s a race that covets power, pick that. If there’s a culture that believes the ends justifies the means, pick that. If there are options that allow for some political power right off the bat, pick the one that’s going to give you the most. Anything that will give you an edge over anyone else or justifies the abhorrent behaviour you’re about to embark on, go for it.

Step 4: Get Really Chummy With Plot

This one is pretty crucial. The greater a friend plot is to you on an Out Of Game basis, the more likely they’ll give you more to do than anyone else, and be more lenient when things go wrong. Invite them into your little clique on an Out Of Game level: invite them to barbecues, throw them birthday parties, anything to get on their good side.

Step 5: Be A Rules Lawyer At All Times

Argue everything. Deny being hit by that spell. Fudge how much damage you’ve taken (no one notices small amounts) and claim you still have health left if anyone calls you on it. Claim that mage didn’t say the correct words. No matter how trivial, argue it to no end to get the upper hand. Even be a rules lawyer when it comes to In-Game lore and background. If someone is being even one iota off from their race or background, tell them they’re LARPing wrong. The more someone outside of your group doesn’t want to play, the more play time for you.

Step 6: Get As Much In-Game Power As Possible

Strive to get as much loot as possible. This includes killing other characters, stealing (In-Game, of course), and so forth. Hoard as much of it as possible, and only bring it out when you know you’ll look like a hero that saves the day. Be chummy with the local NPC authority, if any, and if you do enough, they’ll make you a leader and give you the means to run the locale you’re in as you see fit.

Step 7: Never Let Anyone Else Get Anything Cool

Once you get political power, use it. If you see a new player get a neat item, take it from them and claim that you know someone that needs it more. If someone gets a leg-up, kill their character and claim they committed treason or the like. No one should threaten the power you and your clique have gained. Ever.

Final Step: Get Kicked Out

You made it! Years of being a dick to everyone that doesn’t matter has paid off. You have all the money in the world, you sleep on a pile of magic items, and everyone does what you say under fear of death. Plot comes to you and your friends and no one else, and even if you did fail somehow, plot has your back.

It’s usually at this point that the rest of the players start leaving in droves as a result of your power-gaming, and if the owners don’t have their heads up their butts, they’ll likely pin it on your posse. So they’ll take Out Of Game measures to make sure you stop this behaviour. They may tell plot to permanently kill your characters, strip you of political power, or just outright ban you from the game. And at that point, you win! No In-Game thing could stop your reign of terror and as a result the game broke, and now you’re being thrown out. Other LARPers in the area now treat this LARP like a joke, and will possibly never recover from your shenanigans.

Congrats! You win!

The Puzzle Monster

Whoa! A post not exclusively about LARPing on a site about Game Design! Wow!

Ok, that’s out of the way. On to the topic at hand!

A puzzle monster is an encounter in a game in which the standard beat it to death with your choice of death-dealing method doesn’t work, or is very ineffective, but has a weakness or strategy the player must discover on their own. You find these often with boss enemies in video games.

Puzzle monsters can be done very easily, but they can be also done badly. A good puzzle monster is one that can be defeated by any player, regardless of any skills or abilities the player may possess at the time.

E.V.O. The Search For Eden for the SNES has a simple puzzle monster at the end of the first chapter (if you’ve never played it, I recommend getting a SNES emulator and playing it. Great game). You are a fish at that point, and the boss is a Great White Shark. It charges at you often, and if it gets close enough to you, it bites you for massive damage. If you try to bite it normally, it will either bite you back or smack you with its tail, also for large amounts of damage.

The trick is to stay near one of the cave walls where the Shark dwells, and wait for it to charge, then move out of the way. The Shark will hit the wall, and become stunned, giving the player an opening to attack the Shark. Repeat a few times, and the Shark explodes into large portions of fish sticks (sorry if I spoiled this one for anyone, but later bosses are a LOT harder). Because of this strategy, you didn’t necessarily need to have all of the cool evolutions to beat the monster.

A bad puzzle monster, however, can endlessly frustrate the player. A couple of years ago, I attended a LARP which had a REALLY bad Head of Plot. Among many of his poor choices were puzzle monsters which had a very specific weakness, all of which were in the form of a skill in the rule book. A specific kind of magic spell or the like. If a character did not possess this skill, they had no possible way of defeating the puzzle monster. This led to a lot of frustrated players, especially less experienced players that left simply because the difficulty curve was just made too high as a result.

It doesn’t have to be hard to design a puzzle monster, regardless of what kind of game you’re designing it for. Simple examples include:

  • A monster that can only be damaged while standing in a specific area
  • A monster that can only be damaged while the player is standing in a specific area
  • A player must stand in a certain spot for a certain time to gain a sort of buff that allows the character to damage the monster, but has a very short time span, so the player must go back to that spot repeatedly.
  • The monster has a weak point that the player must hit in order to affect the monster in any way

Even a simple puzzle monster like the examples above can be rewarding for a player just for defeating it. Giving loot or the like as a reward isn’t always necessary as a result, depending on the difficulty level of the encounter. The player can walk away knowing that they took down something that was seemingly impossible to defeat with their own abilities, not being held back by the numbers on their character sheets.

Puzzle monsters can be challenging and rewarding, but if you design them badly, all you end up with is a bunch of pissed off players. Designing puzzle encounters around circumstances that anyone can pull off, regardless of the skills of the character a player is playing, will be far more rewarding than loading it up with skill immunities, and I guarantee it!

How I Rate A LARP

What makes a good Live Action Role-Playing game? There are so many just in southern Ontario, and so many more across the world, it’s hard to say which is right for you. Some go to be with their friends for the weekend to share a common hobby, while others play at different LARPs across the world. However, as a game designer and LARPer, I like to judge a LARP based on a few fundamental factors, that I would like to share with you today!

Genre and Narrative

These traits are what will define a LARP, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, etc. Genre only explains what to expect from an individual LARP, however. Narrative, the game background and lore, is what will set it apart from the others within a genre. A bad narrative can really mess things up for any game. So if the story of the game, why things are as they are in the world where the player’s are living out their alternate lives for a weekend, is terrible, then a lot of people will be turned off by this and likely walk away for a different LARP, and never take it seriously again.

Another good point for narrative is how well a new character’s back history can fit into that narrative. I believe that a good character history is one that adds to the narrative of the game, but still maintains its overall story. This addition doesn’t, and often times shouldn’t, be huge or game changing. Just something a good Head Of Plot can work with to create a great story. Having to jump through hoops just to get it right without being a carbon copy of every unoriginal hero origin story is just bad narrative design.

 Rules

Rules for any LARP are important, just like any other game. However, unlike computer games that can handle all the calculations that come with a game, a LARP has no computer governing its rules. It has to be done by human brains, on the fly. Therefore, simplicity in rules are vital for a LARP. If a rule is easy to understand and follow, it’s likely a good one. If a game has to stop every few minutes to clarify and debate rules, it clearly has massive design flaws. The first LARP I ever went to had these problems. I can’t for the life of me remember a time where an encounter was not interrupted at least once by someone debating rules, and arguing over who got who, what defenses were called, etc.

It should also be mentioned that safety rules are especially important at a LARP, as with any contact sport. There should be regulations for safe contact, safe weapons, policies for campfires and drugs and alcohol, codes of conduct, etc. These are all things a LARP should have, along with an insurance policy, which should govern everything mentioned above.

Player Base

To me, this aspect of a LARP is the most crucial, as it will dictate how often new customers will become repeat customers. As much as the owner(s) of a LARP want new players to come back to their sandbox, if the other players are being bullies or elitist about their game, not allowing them to play because they’re “not powerful” enough, or are constantly judging new players based on their costuming or the like not being up to par with others that have been playing for years, or worse, spreading rumours about new players for Out Of Game reasons to the current player base and ostracizing them out, then there’s a serious problem. Who an owner of a LARP allows in says a lot about the LARP itself. If it’s just the owner and his or her personal friends at the top, with no one else really able to get anywhere with their characters without sucking up to a more experienced player (take that as you want), then that LARP will have a lifespan of however long the “elite” feel like sticking around.

Typically, everyone is paying the same amount of money for attending a LARP for a weekend. That alone entitles a player, no matter how long they’ve been attending, to the same amount of fun as anyone else. Every person in a LARPs player base should understand that, and constantly demanding they be first in like for all the good bits and shoving the “noobs” aside is offensive to me. Owners must be aware of this behaviour, and do everything in their power to curb or stop this for the sake of their LARPs longevity.

 Immersion

One thing I DON’T judge a LARP by is its level of immersion. The feeling you get that you’re in a completely different place, surrounded by fantasy or sci-fi denizens. There are different levels of immersion and they differ from LARP to LARP. Some games demand a high level of immersion, while others have little to no immersion and just like to hit things with wiffle bats. Both of these levels, and every level in between, are all valid. It’s simply a matter of preference, nothing more.

 Conclusion

Those are my criteria for rating a LARP: Narrative, Rules, and Player Base. There are other considerations, such as distance, accomidations, etc. But those are all dependant on a player’s individual needs. Some like roughing it, others like plumbing and free Wi-Fi. Regardless, I think the three categories above, and the level of immersion that suits you, are the main points to a LARP, and determining if it’s right for you.