Top 10 things you can do as a Player to improve your experience in a Chat or a Larp.
I am a big fan of Large Scale Dynamic games. Over the years I have written about them in various outlets and evangelized to various people i meet about them. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy a good old fashioned table top role playing game from time to time. But mostly i enjoy getting out and making social connections and working on games where the primary thrust is on making a collaborative form of art, rather than leveling up. Internet chat games and live action role play often share a number of the same underpinnings that make them different from table-top play. Most good LSD games are typified by large player bases, multiple plots going on concurrently, player-on-player conflict, and a more laissez faire attitude towards the plot and the administration of those games. So with a few of those thoughts in mind, i'd like to explore at least 10 tips to help you get the most fun out of your experience.
1) Friendly Rivalry In a table top game, most of the time you know where your characters troubles are coming from. They come from the GM. He's all of the antagonists and minor character who might knife you in the back at the worst time. So it's pretty easy to figure out where your stress is coming from. Often this leads to a misunderstanding of the role of the GM and people assume that the GM is out to get them, and GMs assume that they need to be horrible dicks to their players. This is all very wrongheaded of course, but not the subject i'm really talking about today. In a Large Scale Dynamic game, many times, a good 85% of your characters troubles are being caused by other players. As a direct result, the proper attitude towards your fellow players is vitally important. You should always try to approach play in an LSD game from the standpoint of "Friendly Rivalry" It is vitally important that you approach the game with the idea that if you're screwing someone politically, and someone else is screwing you politically, that once the smoke clears and/or someone ends up dead…That the two of you are able to have a friendly beer and figure out a way for your characters to work together on the next go-round so the two of you can screw some other guy. THAT is the proper attitude to have. It helps to prevent people from flipping out when things go badly for their characters. Because let's face it. sooner or later it's going to happen. Sooner or later you'll run headlong into some other player who is smarter than you and he/she is going to wax you. In fact, i kind of think that's a form of compliment. They saw you as a threat and decided that you needed to go FIRST. If you can't handle that idea at all, play video games. You have no place at a larp or a chat game. Always remember. Out of Character Soap Opera = BAD! In-Character Soap Opera = Good. If that means staying away from people who cannot grasp the above advice, then perhaps you have to do so.
2) Do your homework and have your shit together. Once you get into a game, you have a certain amount of responsibility for knowing how the game works and knowing how your character works. Naturally, if you're a rank beginner, allowances will be made. But honestly if you have been playing a for a while you should make an effort to get the game system down and to know exactly what your character is capable of. This enables you to make informed choices even in moments of stress. If there are books you need to read in order to understand a characters faction or culture, do a deep read of them, don't just gloss them. I am continually shocked by the number of players who play religious characters with only a dim understanding of the tenets of the religion they espouse. Occasionally i am forced to say, "You do know that if you ever say something like that in public, the inquisitors will be round here like a shot to hook up a car battery to your nipples…You do KNOW that, right?" And in this same vein, it is totally cool to come to an ST and ask them if a power works the way you think it works before initiating its use in some intrigue, trap, or combat scene, whereas it is totally UNCOOL to throw a fit during the same because you didn't think to ask, it doesn't work that way, and now you're screwed. Another lovely side effect of having your act together is that it enables you to maximize your playing time. If you have detailed plans and are able to get them in to your ST by wednesday before the saturday game, (and bring along a copy just in case) then you don't have to spend a half hour of the ST's time laying it all out. You can proceed with other plans and schemes. Which leads to…
3) Have a plan. If possible, have more than one. It's just good sense. You will get more out of any game session, or out of any chat event, if you have a plan going in. It means, that unlike a lot of players, you will not be reacting to the plans and machinations of others with nothing more in your pockets than lint. It's never a very good idea to try to beat someone in a foot race when you've only got a standing start, and they are already in motion. Now this is not to say that i'm one to denigrate improvisation on the part of players or characters. I have a character who often boasts he can improvise better on his worst day, than most can plot and scheme on their best day. And it's largely true, but even he doesn't like to get caught completely flat-footed. Now there are some nights obviously where i may not be feeling it and may just go with the flow of story and play. But in truth those nights should be rare. Your character should have things that he or she care about and they should be on the prod constantly to protect those things or enhance them in some way.
4) Care. One of the most important things you can do when building your character is to consider what your character cares about. In fact, it's WAY more important than what cool powers your character might have, or what mystical gee-gaws you're carrying around. It is, quite frankly, the key to your characters identity. It is what moves him or her to any sort of action. A character that care about nothing, DOES nothing. A character that cares about little, does little. A character that cares about a number of things will always have plenty to do. Have friends. Have causes. Lairs and toys and powers are nice but they don't nourish you like the things you really care about. To some players this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, any person i care about is a potential hostage. Any thing I care about is a potential lever to get me to do something… To which I say, If you don't want to have adventures, don't play. I'm an LSD GM. That means I ALWAYS have more to think about than harassing and chivvying you into having fun. If you aren't interested in making any kind of emotional investments inside the game, then I need to spend that time working with players who DO.
5) Manufacture your own trouble/ Make active choices Choices drive action. In acting, we always talk about making active choices as opposed to passive ones. In a table-top game you can be fairly passive and still be involved. and since the GM can see you there. He or she can always fling some plot in your direction. But in a large larp or chat you may not see the GM a lot, or even much at all. Heck i was involved in a chat game online where they had no regular GM. They hadn't had one for at least a month at the point where i came on board, but the players where a bunch of wild improvisateurs like myself…and for a couple of months we had a grand old time. What i'm saying here is, never wait for an ST to wander by and put a plot cookie in your hands. Find trouble you can get into all by yourself. Make active choices about your character. What they want to do. How they want to accomplish it. Who they've got to ally with or crush completely in order to make it happen. Be able to get into all sorts of conflict with the game world and your fellow players all by yourself. After all, only you can know what sort of story content serves your character best. Decide your OWN level of involvement.
6) Make Mistakes Again. this may seem counter-intuitive to some gamers. Many pride themselves on their cleverness and problem solving skills. And indeed, there is nothing wrong with having enough intelligence on the ball to wriggle out from under the Belt Sander of Destiny. But on the other hand, a game where no one is flawed and no one makes mistakes is deathly dull. Ever read a book where the hero is always six steps ahead of the enemy? I have. It was a waste of time. Ever see a movie where the heroes are never in any actual danger? Doesn't that seem sort of pointless? Sure, there will always players who are going to make dumb mistakes. But what i'm talking about is deliberately making some horrifying error in judgement and having to run around trying to fix it, or kill anybody who might know, or maybe even the combo platter. Now i'm not saying necessarily that having some IC mental pathology or substance abuse problem is automatically interesting. (I was involved in at least one game where there were FAR too many people who thought crazy = interesting+cool.) but that's a good jumping off point. Look again at the things your character cares about. Ask yourself, "How far would i be willing to go?" and then ask yourself, "How interesting would it be, if i went farther than that?"
7) Paint the corners of your personal world. Because God know that your GM doesn't really have time to do it for you. In most table-top games a GM can afford a more hands-on approach to the minor characters in the lives of the players, and he can insert certain elements into a players backstory as a means of setting up events down the road that will (hopefully) pay off. But in a Larp or a Chat, ST's just don't have time or mental bandwidth to devote to the smaller elements of personal play. This is the time for you to shine with your personal creativity. Make your allies and retainers and hangers on interesting. Go wild like you're designing the fiddly bits of norway's fiords. Make them crufty and idiosyncratic. Give them strengths and weaknesses. Make them well enough and you might even convince other people they are worth playing in their own right. (Or at least be able to hand them to someone new and say "Go Play!") By that same token, you should probably never consider your character's personal history as a dry-as-bones recitation of facts, but rather a living document that you can flesh out as you go. Consider your characters backstory as a mere skeleton that requires more meat on it. Work to add points of uncertainty and wiggle room so you can build in new things in your past. You can even get pretty good at doing this on the fly. ("You know…this reminds of the time i had to break you out of that prison in Murmansk…Why exactly were you naked in public in the first place?") Besides, you never know when fleshing out certain elements of the minor characters around you, or your own personal backstory might afford you opportunities to save your own bacon. "Did i forget to mention that he's quite skilled with a shotgun? Damn…I probably should have."
8) Decide where your attention goes. Nobody can be good at everything, and it's kind of dumb to try. So as a direct result, it's important to make certain decisions in the character building stage about what sorts of plots you want to involve yourself in. Too narrow and you get excluded a lot or you're out of your element a lot. ("I have determined that my character is an expert in Enochian and will spend most of his time closeted in his library.") But then again on the other hand, you should take care not to spread yourself too thinly. Not only will it make it hard to become truly good at anything, but you'll occasionally find yourself running about trying to piss on too many brushfires. Look at your sheet and make an honest assessment about your strengths and weaknesses and when someone approaches you for this thing or that, look them in the eye and say, "My PC has absolutely no business being involved in that plot. But i'll happily introduce you to another player who will eat it up like candy." This ESPECIALLY extends to people who tag along on combat raids, who have no business being in combat.
9) Take your meds and keep your cool. Look. I'm going to be painfully frank here. Gaming is a social activity. There are SO many things that can go wrong with social activities by dint of people losing their shit. Now naturally there is only so much help for this but you have a responsibility to your fellow players to help all of them keep the wheels from coming off as best you can. NO ONE wants to carry your mental baggage for you. True Story: Had a lovely game of Hunter: The Reckoning one night. One of the players had brought along his girlfriend who sat in the other room and chatted with one of my housemates. We had a great time that night. The players did well and I was happy with my own efforts and we were enjoying the nice warm glow of a game well played… Then the girlfriend came in from the other room, and with no preamble began to relate that social services were trying to take her child from her. This of course came with a half hour crying jag. Needless to say it was a serious mood killer. I'm not unsympathetic to her plight but seriously, WTF? It's like going to a restaurant and having the waitress tell you about how she's being pressured into having an abortion by her druggie boyfriend, when all you want to know is if the pies are fresh. Now imagine a meltdown like that at a Larp or a chat game. Keep your crazy in your pants. otherwise you'll be asked to keep it far away from me and my game. If you have meds for that stuff. Take them. If you have things that trigger your problems let the GM know and steer clear of those things as best you can. If you simply can't act like an adult, well…That's not something i can fix for you. Gaming can be stressful, Combat doubly so. This especially can be troubling in Chat games because, as a friend so eloquently put it, "It's harder to enforce the social contract when you don't have a face you can slap." So it's important to keep one's cool in the thick of things. Remember… We're trying to make interesting art here. Flipping out because your character might get hurt or even inconvenienced is childish bullshit
10) Be an example of what you want to see. This is pretty much just a good rule for living, but it's especially necessary in gaming. If no one thinks political games are interesting, you can always make a political character and prove them wrong. If your fellow players are more interested in dots on their sheets and driving their characters like a rented Gundam, make a character that is all about personal relationships and personal plots. Sure, this sort of thing can be a uphill slog and there are times when it won't pay off. But when it does, it is absolutely worth it. So if there is something you feel is missing, why not plug that hole yourself?