Starting the Year Right: On The Best Way To LARP

Sorry its been two months since I updated this. In the past few months I have written 3 books, attended 3 conventions, and have been doing a ton of production work for the D.R. LARP Network. PLUS, I got engaged and started wedding planning. Sleep has been delayed until 2018.

For the past few years I have heard an increase in noise in regards to the “right and wrong” mediums of LARPing. Literally every approach and subject point on LARP has people arguing both for and against aspects of LARP system design, content, and mediums. People for skill calls, people against skill calls. People both for and against high small group experiences. People both for and against large sandbox type games. People both for and against LARPs that handle controversial subject matter. People both for and against contact and non-contact system design. People both for and against the use of LARP for social education. People both for and against the idea that LARP can be pure entertainment.

It seems that as soon as a decision in design and process is made, there are people willing to argue and debate both sides of the spectrum of the subject. Skill calls, non-skill calls. Spoken narrative or WYSIWYG. Campaign or single shot.

So I am going to settle all of these debates once and for all, and put a stop to “the game of whose better”. Much like the pope expressing everyone is free from another well-known game (which you just lost), I now free you from the need to argue and debate design decisions in regards to a “right and wrong” way.

LARP is such a wide hobby that appeals to many different sorts of people for many different reasons. I mean, look at the name! Live Action Role Playing. Literally our hobby is about the embodiment of another persona to experience a different or augmented reality via the medium of play. And much like any other game or form of play, there are varied levels of rules and systems that go along with the different games you engage in. Some games are super simple rules like checkers. Other games are much more complex in implementation like “World In Flames”. Both are games, both are valid forms of entertainment, and neither of these options are “right or wrong”.

Now if you want to debate the design of a system in relation to the experience that it is attempting to present, THAT is a valid debate. A game world that is designed with antagonism and conflict as a primary focus needs a system that streamlines combat and allows for a wide range of player involvement. A game world that is designed around player verses world interaction on a cerebral and influential level require a system that focuses primarily on the reward and benefit of non-combat activities. If you want a world simulation for an ongoing chronicle sort of event, you need to design something that addresses all forms of play. Often times this results in a very large rulebook.

Another thing to keep in mind as you are considering different design systems is the fact that single shot or limited occurring games are seen through rose colored glasses. Most games and world interactions have “a perfect system” for roughly one game event due to the fact that players have not had the ability to review systems objectively from an out of character perspective over a period of time, players do not have to face stagnation vs growth, and players don’t have the time or the investment to be able to gauge an system based on a relative scale. When players first start to engage in a game world, the mechanics and definition of system design means little to nothing to the participants. Everything in the world is shiny, new, and AMAZING (or bad, boring, and horrible). The system for the game has not had months and years of people looking for flaws, exploits, and limitations in the system. 

This is why, in my opinion, running single shot events for existing Intellectual Properties is SO MUCH EASIER than building your own materials from the bottom up. I have run a series of independent fan LARPs based on widely popular TV and Movie intellectual properties. PEOPLE LOVED THEM. People begged for the games to be done again, for the games to be run as serial games, and for me to push to get official rights to these properties. While I love the energy, the fact is that a one shot fan LARP is game design on easy mode. You don’t need to explain or design an engaging world for your players, they already know it from the TV, comics, and movies. You don’t need a fantastic system because people are going to be so enraptured with the world materials, and don’t have enough time to nit-pick your system design, that everything will be rolled together as a big ball of perfect in their mind.

But, the hoops of self-production vs being carried by existing fandoms is for another time.