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!
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!