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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: LARPs  (Read 17855 times)
ThreeGee
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« on: September 18, 2002, 08:46:56 AM »

Okay, I looked carefully and could find nothing saying that we cannot talk about other forms of roleplaying than tabletop, and I searched carefully for any previous threads on the topic, but for no reason that I can determine, there is zero discussion here concerning LARPs.

What I would like to do is solicit your ideas concerning LARPs that you have been in, what you think are the differences between live-action play and tabletop play, and how the system must necessarily be different between the two modes of play.

I am primarily interested in non-combat LARPs, though I play and staff combat-LARPs as well. I will refrain from making my own observations for now, because I want to open up discussion on the topic, rather than channel ideas into more specific lines.

/Grant
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2002, 09:09:45 AM »

Quickly, 'cause I'm at work...

Aside from some social contract and stance (ie: immersion) issues, tabletop and live-action art the same exact beast.

The big difference is the addition of a fourth resolution mechanic that only exists in LARP (and only in some of them). That is (what I'm calling) "Skill" -- typically using physical prowess, like in boffer combat. Some LARPs also have lockpicking, pick-pocketing, spell-casting and alchemy as Skill-based.

Hmm...actually, "Skill" is a mechanic also used in table-top -- the classic example would be solving a riddle to get past an obstacle.

So right...Drama, Fortune, Karma and Skill.

We definitely need more LARP discussion tho'.
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Seth L. Blumberg
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Posts: 303


« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2002, 10:56:38 AM »

In my experience, Jared, the social contract and stance issues that you so cavalierly dismiss mean a lot.

It's very hard to get into Director Stance in a LARP. You can't really call NPCs into existence (who'll play 'em?), you can't call props and scenery into existence at more than the most basic level--even the GMs have a hard time accessing Director Stance other than in preparation for play. The biggest difference from tabletop play, however, is that in a LARP, anything that another player is doing out of earshot of you is indistinguishable from GM fiat. It is almost impossible to maintain protagonism in a LARP, and that makes Narrativists (like me) very unhappy.

In my experience, there are two, and only two, sustainable modes of LARP play: player-vs.-player Gamism, and Sim-Char. (I suppose one might add Participationism to that list, but why not take a load off your feet in that case?) Anything else is hopeless. Maintaining coherence is a bitch, and an absolute necessity, too--those modes do not mix well.

Other minor issues: social contracts are very very different (I'll let someone else address this, since I was always the one misunderstanding the social contract in my LARP days), and short handling time is utterly crucial.

And by the way--"Skill" is a subset of "Drama."
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2002, 11:35:13 AM »

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
In my experience, Jared, the social contract and stance issues that you so cavalierly dismiss mean a lot.

Re-read my post -- I say those two things are the only things that are really different than in tabletop play.


And I don't believe that Skill is a sub-set of Drama. Drama would be:

GM: Okay, you're attacking the guard, blah blah, you miss.
Player: Dude, I'm 10th level. He's 1st.
GM: Oh right, okay...yeah, he's dead.

Or something. Player skill doesn't come into play.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2002, 11:44:11 AM »

Hi Grant,

Here are two older threads which discuss some relevant issues, although briefly.

Size limits for Narrativist play
Theoretical speculations about LARPs

Best,
Ron
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deadpanbob
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« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2002, 12:31:24 PM »

ThreeGee:

I'll jump in here in a little bit...

First off, most of my experience - either tabletop or LARP - is as the GM/Storyteller/Entertainer/DM/whathaveyou.  Second, I much prefer tabletop, because I tend to prefer Director and Author stance - surprise surprise, and Narrativist and/or Gamist modes of play.

Getting all of that out of the way - the biggest difference in my experience is that in most LARPs, all plot, to whatever extent there was any, was player driven - whereas in most table top games that I've run/played in, the plot was more heavily influenced by the GM.

What this means, is that in my experience, unless the players in the LARP were not only good players/improvosational actors, but also good at creating characters with hooks that other less experienced, less outgoing players could latch onto, you ended up with extensive cliques in the LARPs.

There would be one very active, very self-directed, very enjoyable, very outgoing characters who all schemed and plotted against each other, and then you had a much larger group of folk who basically acted as window dressing and/or NPC's for the first group to interact with.

Finally, the size of most LARPs I've been involved with preculde any heavily GM controlled plots - because the high number of players typically means that a GM is stretched too thin to do a reasonable job of handling NPC's, and many players don't like being saddled with playing through heavily scripted plots handed to them by the GM.

I have worked with a couple of small to mid sized LAPRs (8 to 15 people), with a lot of dedicated players who were interested in cooperatively telling a story and involving everyone in the collaborative plot - and those were quite fun, and very similar to table top, but with an added flavor of heavy Simulationism thrown in.

Of course, all of the above are strictly opinions, and my LARP experience may have been skewed by the small number of times I've attempted it (a dozen or so).  So, take everything with a grain of salt.

Cheers,

Jason
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2002, 12:37:30 PM »

I spent most of the eighties and half the nineties running and playing LARPs. I invented one of the forms of LARP, the (normally indoors and weaponless) kind where players are cast in pre-generated character roles written to interweave in an enormous relationship map.(1) I've written about a million words of LARP content and about half a million words about LARP. Are y'all sure you want to turn on this fire hose? :-)

And all I can say about this discussion so far is, Arrgh!

First of all, there are lots of different styles of LARP. Some of you have been talking about completely different styles without realizing it. These styles are about as similar to each other as RoleMaster is to Soap. (Back in the 90s, the last I kept track of such things, most LARP players were still completely unaware that any styles other than their own existed. Perhaps that's still true.)

I can break down a few types, but this is only one of several different and meaningful ways to sort them out:

Fighting LARPs usually characterized by:
- Boffer weapon combat
- Outdoor play
- Generic fantasy settings
- Generic fantasy systems with experience points, hit points, levels, classes
- Day-long games
- Ongoing characters with long-term advancement

Game Tie-In LARPs usually characterized by:
- Indoor play, usually at conventions
- Sponsored by commercial RPG publisher and based on that system
- Several-hour sessions
- Player-created characters within the system
- Resolution mechanics simplified from the commercial system

LARPs casting players in pre-generated character roles, usually associated with:
- Indoor play, often at stand-alone multi-LARP conventions
- Multi-day games (pre 1995 or so)
- Emphasis on politics, economics, diplomacy, espionage interactions that don't need to be simulated
- Wide range of settings and genres, wider even than most tabletop (e.g. Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, Watergate, Titanic)

Not to mention the actual play mechanics, types of scenarios, number of players involved, number of NPCs involved, gamemastering approaches, character design approaches, or GNS modes -- all of which vary widely within types.

So I can pretty much guarantee that any blanket statement to the effect of "all LARPs have problem X" or "only Y technique works well for LARP" is going to be wrong.

- Walt

(1) This may sound like a bizarre claim, because doing live games that way seems so obvious that why would anyone have had to invent it? Nonetheless, they didn't happen(2) before 1983 when I ran Rekon-1 (much later published as "Nexus" by Chaosium) the first time at Boskone XX; and within weeks after that, groups in several other parts of the country who had seen the event were already planning their own games.

(2) Model UNs, assassin games, some of the earlier obstacle course fighting LARPs, economic behavior simulation studies, improvisational theater, the novel Dream Park, the novel and movie Westworld, and role playing in psychology all already existed, of course.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2002, 01:28:31 PM »

Links Walt? Can you let us in on where they keep the good stuff?

Mike
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Wart
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2002, 04:42:26 AM »

Quote from: wfreitag
Fighting LARPs usually characterized by:
- Boffer weapon combat
- Outdoor play
- Generic fantasy settings
- Generic fantasy systems with experience points, hit points, levels, classes
- Day-long games
- Ongoing characters with long-term advancement

Game Tie-In LARPs usually characterized by:
- Indoor play, usually at conventions
- Sponsored by commercial RPG publisher and based on that system
- Several-hour sessions
- Player-created characters within the system
- Resolution mechanics simplified from the commercial system

LARPs casting players in pre-generated character roles, usually associated with:
- Indoor play, often at stand-alone multi-LARP conventions
- Multi-day games (pre 1995 or so)
- Emphasis on politics, economics, diplomacy, espionage interactions that don't need to be simulated
- Wide range of settings and genres, wider even than most tabletop (e.g. Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, Watergate, Titanic)


4th type: Invented independently by Oxford University's roleplaying society, also the Camarilla LRP organisation.
- Players make their own characters.
- Indoor play, more often than not weekly or biweekly.
- A team of GMs.
- Emphasis in-meeting on discussion, politics, diplomacy, etc.
- Between sessions players submit turnsheets describing what they want their characters to get up to between sessions (the IC time between sessions being anything from a week to a decade). This is when most action-oriented stuff happens.
- Resolution: most turnsheet actions are resolved by the GMs deciding if and how player's actions work. This doesn't feel as de-empowering as it sounds if you're a player since the GM meetings happen behind closed doors anyway. In-game, in Oxford we also prefer the GMs to decide how actions succeed - they tend to know what our stats are, rolling dice or playing paper-stone-scissors just looks monumentally ridiculous.
- Definitely only works for player-v-player gamism or character-Simulationism. Narrativism simply doesn't work: after all, what work of literature really has 20+ main characters? (Aside from things like Anne McCaffrey's Dragon series, which only focuses on a few characters each novel, and Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, which is really a bunch of different novels set in the same universe at the same time welded together.)
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2002, 08:09:33 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Links Walt? Can you let us in on where they keep the good stuff?


Ah, where indeed? You've just hit on one of the main problems with SIL relationship-map LARPs: the ephemeral nature of their production. You can't publish a system (the rules are a trivial fraction of the game design), or even a compendium of all the written materials created for a game, and expect anyone to do much of anything with it. A good LARP design of this type includes a multitude of "contact points" (game mechanisms that involve the GM, partly or entirely for the purpose of keeping the GMs informed what is going on) and "control knobs" by which the runtime GMs can unobtrusively adjust pacing, economic parameters, and above all, the information flow that is a key influence on plot focus and plot trajectory for sub-groups of player characters and for the game as a whole. A coherent instruction manual pointing out these mechanisms and explaining how to use them was never, to my knowledge, written down for any individual game. The game authors and gamemasters "just knew." Pass the compendium on to another group (as was sometimes done), and they could figure it out, but with a similar (that is to say, enormous) amount of effort they could write their own.

As further explanation of why you can't buy a LARP in a box (of this type), let me paint you a picture of the state of all the tangible game components at the start of one of my SIL LARP events. It's Friday afternoon; the players will soon begin arriving to pick up their character packets. Many of them (the ones that signed up long enough in advance) have already received a copy of the rules and a brief description of their characters in advance in the mail.

The character packets, right now, are sixty manilla envelopes stuffed into two cardboard cartons. The envelopes each have a player's name on the outside (except for the ones not yet "sold" or cast to a player, anticipating some walk-in registrations) and the character's name on the inside. Inside each envelope is some or all of the following:

- A copy of the rules (even if sent in advance, no one remembers to bring them along). Rules were usually six to twelve pages, a good deal of which was devoted to covering the "elementary school" issues (no running in the halls, no real fighting, we will call the police if we see you doing something illegal in the real world, even if it's "in character") and the rest covering simulation mechanisms.

- A pocket schedule of game downtimes. (We learned that players failed to eat or sleep unless the game "closed" for these purposes.)

- The character sheet. Different for every character. In my games I shot for one-page characters. Sometimes more, if the character sheet also included background history that only that character knows. Some groups went nuts with character sheets, writing five pages or more per character, a practice I found counterproductive.

- Background briefing information (aka "blue sheets"). A typical game would have twenty or so different background information documents, ranging from "stuff everybody knows" that goes to almost every player in the game, to "secret insider" information shared by a few characters. Sometimes same background material had different versions for different characters' points of view. Every character has a different combination of these.

- Item cards. The character's possessions, identified and described on individual index cards. Every character has a different set of these.

- Physical items. Usually small trinkets that can be stuffed inside the manilla folders, but occasional bulky (but portable) physical items were supplied.

- Game money. Having several different currencies was common (e.g. earth money, alien federation money, and alien underground money). Occasionally metal coin blanks were used. Each character starts with a certain amount.

- Ability cards. Characters' actual special abilities (if any) were described in the character sheet, but the ability card represented the information shown to other players to use an ability. Klunky ability mechanisms was one of the hallmarks of bad SIL game designers. Few things are more pathetic than a guy walking into a room waving an index card and yelling "I'm invisible, you can't see me."

- Points. For any game mechanism based on consumable points, the appropriate number of individual points printed on business card size cards.

- Stat card. For any game mechanism based on individual character stats (if any), especially if those stats could change, a card (usually 4 x 6 to distinguish it from all the other cardware) with the character's stats.

- In-game documents. Coded messages, code keys, letters to be delivered, military maps, sealed orders, old books, wills, property deeds, ID badges, you name it.

- A small notebook and a pen.

Elsewhere in the control room:

- A file for the gamemasters for each character. The file includes the character sheet, additional notes compiled pre-game detailing such things as the character's outside contacts (NPCs role played by the GMs or by temporary NPC actors) and a summary of the character's relationship, and space for additional notes taken at runtime.

- Stockpiles of all of the game's currency. Stockpiles of additional prepared items, and blank item cards. Ditto abilities. Rubber stamps for vetting items created by the GMs at runtime (often hurriedly hand-scrawled). Supplies of points. Additional in-game documents awaiting release or discovery by player characters.

- A whole bunch more character packets, each containing all the necessary components (e.g. stat cards, money, items, and points) for "grab and go" NPCs for the NPC actors.

- Master "war room" maps (if the game has e.g. an off-camera military maneuvering element) or other global game state charts (e.g. a stock quote board if the game has a stock market).

- Computers and printers (or pre-late-80's) typewriters for creating new game components as needed, and for generating new in-game documents (e.g. twice-daily newspapers) as needed.

Want to know where all that good stuff is now? It's in cardboard boxes in my attic. Large cardboard boxes. Many cardboard boxes. Linking to it seems problematic.

Now, if you mean current active LARPs, well, I just don't know any more who's doing what or where to find them, or whether their technique is any good. When I say a decent 100+-player Narrativist LARP is possible and has been done, I'm speaking from experience, but that doesn't mean you can play in one this coming weekend. It's one of the reasons I stopped doing LARPs: the impossibility of publication except by live performance.

- Walt
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2002, 08:11:23 AM »

Quote
after all, what work of literature really has 20+ main characters? (Aside from things like Anne McCaffrey's Dragon series, which only focuses on a few characters each novel, and Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, which is really a bunch of different novels set in the same universe at the same time welded together.)


Not to be too snarky, but War and Peace has 150 or so characters. In any case, I can't see a player's play being any different within the context of a larger or smaller group. They can still theoretically make decisions that are Narrativist. What I think the hinderance in most forms of LARP is to Narrativism is the lack of omniscient view that usually accompanies such play (as opposed to Tabletop). As I don't know what player A is doing right now, how can I know for certain how to make a decision that will create good story. As such it becomes much easier to just go with "what would the character do" Sim, and hope the result is story like (if one cares about story at all).

But then, I'd bow to your greater experience. Does that seem to fit your observations?

Mike
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2002, 08:18:20 AM »

Quote from: wfreitag
It's one of the reasons I stopped doing LARPs: the impossibility of publication except by live performance.


I'm a bit confused at that statement. If I were to put all this into action, I'd first write it out on my computer, as I do everything, and then print out the copies I need. Having those files on my computer, it would then be a relatively simple matter (though possibly a bit laborious) to post them to a web page, or even to make a PDF file of the info and get it published.

So I think I'm missing what you're saying. Is it the GM experience that can't be bottled? What is it that can't make it on a site or into a publication?

Mike
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2002, 09:35:00 AM »

Quote
If I were to put all this into action, I'd first write it out on my computer, as I do everything...


Yes, if you were putting this into action today. What about if you were doing it in 1982? Or 1988?

Sure, some of this material exists in electronic form. Such as 5-1/4 inch floppy disks. (And some doesn't. The first few games were written on six dorm room typewriters.) Writing these games were group efforts, and everyone used whatever tools they had at hand: Apple IIs, IBM PC ATs, university mainframes, 128K Macs, whatever. Cutting and pasting often involved actual scissors and paste. A friend wrote an item card database program in BASIC so that they could be printed out on tractor feed index cards, since no commercial software could do so. Needless to say, those data files are not compatible with the latest version of Acrobat.

With some effort I could turn any of these old games into a Web publication, or write a new one in suitable format from the beginning. And to solve the problem of the typical result of an average group of GMs trying to run a SIL LARP from a compendium being fifty players forever convinced that LARPs suck, I suppose I could do what Ron did in Sorcerer and write a large manual on "how to run a SIL LARP" and include that on the site too. But I see no potential reward for doing so. The chance of any particular game being run even once as a result of such a Web site appears remote. It's too specialized a craft for publishing even to be meaningful in the conventional sense, like publishing plans for building your own deep-sea submersible. The audience for LARPs is small, and hasn't appeared to grow much since about 1985.

- Walt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2002, 09:45:08 AM »

Hi Walt,

It seems to me that your posts in this thread, especially the big'un, already constitute a phenomenal "how to" guideline. If you wanted to turn them into an essay, maybe add an example or historical anecdote or two, it'd be very welcome as an addition to the Articles section at the Forge.

Best,
Ron
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Seth L. Blumberg
Member

Posts: 303


« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2002, 10:47:33 AM »

Quote from: Jared
Re-read my post -- I say those two things are the only things that are really different than in tabletop play.

That sounds to me like there's an implied "...so LARPs aren't really very different from tabletop play at all." Sorry if I misinterpreted you.

Quote from: Jared
And I don't believe that Skill is a sub-set of Drama. Drama would be:

GM: Okay, you're attacking the guard, blah blah, you miss.
Player: Dude, I'm 10th level. He's 1st.
GM: Oh right, okay...yeah, he's dead.

Or something. Player skill doesn't come into play.

Uh...no, Jared, that's Karma: direct comparison of character attributes not modified by random input.

Drama is anything that isn't Fortune or Karma. More specifically, it's any mode of action resolution that doesn't involve quantified character traits. As such, it includes resolving actions based on who talks most eloquently, or who can whack whom most skillfully with a boffer, or whether the GM is having a bad day.

Quote from: wfreitag
First of all, there are lots of different styles of LARP. Some of you have been talking about completely different styles without realizing it.

While I can't claim to be one of the Living Gods of Interactive Literature, I have played and run LARPs in two of your three categories (as well as Model UN, Killer, economic behavior simulations, and improv theater), and I have friends whose experience in the field of "fighting LARPs" is not small. I believe that the points I made apply equally to all three of your proposed categories. If you disagree, I would be interested to hear why.

Quote from: Wart
4th type: Invented independently by Oxford University's roleplaying society, also the Camarilla LRP organisation.

Other than the emphasis on ongoing play, this is indistinguishable from Walt's second listed style, "Game Tie-In LARPs."

Quote from: wfreitag
A good LARP design of this type includes a multitude of "contact points" (game mechanisms that involve the GM, partly or entirely for the purpose of keeping the GMs informed what is going on) and "control knobs" by which the runtime GMs can unobtrusively adjust pacing, economic parameters, and above all, the information flow that is a key influence on plot focus and plot trajectory for sub-groups of player characters and for the game as a whole. A coherent instruction manual pointing out these mechanisms and explaining how to use them was never, to my knowledge, written down for any individual game.

Walt, if you write a book on how to design and apply these mechanisms in a LARP, and it costs US$40 or less, I will buy it. I have several friends who would, too.
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