Tag Archive | LARPing

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.

Rules

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

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.

Player Vs Player Needs Consent

In and of itself, I have no problems with Player vs Player in games. The idea of a “We Vs They” or “Everyone For Themselves” in games is certainly not new. Competitive games encourages sportsmanship, promotes teamwork, and can promote self-confidence, especially in physical sports.

When you enter into one of these games, you understand ahead of time what the rules are and the expectation that there are two or more teams competing against one another. The same goes for games such as League of Legends or Call of Duty (if you play it online) where it’s clear you’re going to be an a PvP situation.

Table Top RPGs and LARPs, however, do not have these built into their systems. There’s no PvP-only zones in a larp, and nothing saying you cannot attack or kill other players that are playing around you. This causes a problem with those that simply want to enjoy their LARP or Table-Top experience as presented to them by their Game Masters.

This is especially problematic when a person wants to play one of these games with the intention of doing a lot of Player vs Player. A person who does this is essentially saying “I’m going to have fun at someone else’s expense.” It shows a lack of empathy for other players, many of which bring the game world more to life with their character’s actions.

I personally find non-consentual PvP to be abhorrent. At best, it’s just rude. At its worst, it can completely ruin an event or evening for a player. I’ve seen many new players driven off from LARPing because of someone that simply wants to steal and kill everyone just because that’s how they get their jollies.

So, what to do? In the case of Table-Top RPGs, it should be discussed between the players and the Game Master as to what level of PvP is acceptable among the group. Once that is established, you can then move forward with the game with those parameters, and everyone will be comfortable playing at that setting.

For LARPs, it gets a bit trickier. LARPs are not as small or intimate as a D&D group. As a result, not everyone at a LARPing event will be familiar with one another’s comfort or views regarding PvP. Some, as I stated earlier, come in specifically to take out other players for fun.

A great technique I’ve learned from Elegy is the idea of talking to another player Out Of Game about the PvP you’d like to engage in. If they say no, then don’t do it. But if they do agree to it, with or without conditions, it’s all good! Why? Because now there’s consent involved.

A lot of great story can be developed and carried out between players that do this, and it can make an event even more immersive and exciting for everyone involved. In addition, because everyone involved consented to it, there’s no hard feelings at all, and everyone can still leave the game happy.

So talk to people you want to engage PvP with. No one will regret it, and it leaves your LARP or RPG game a better and more welcoming place.

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