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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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