Saturday, June 18, 2005

Newbies at the Larp

Yes. I've been gone for while. I been busy. I been playing and running and working and doing plays and shooting movies. It's been hectic. But I've also been thinking...A dangerous proposition for me. So there might be a whole slew of new material slapped up here in the near future. I never went away completely. Nor am I ever likely to.

Recently it has been my privilege to participate in a kick ass larp. It is a well structured, and more importantly, well organized Larp. I enjoy playing in it and supporting it in other ways. One of the ways that I try to help is by taking new folks aside and helping them get up and running. Even more than tabletop it is imperative that a new player has a positive experience on the first night. The GM is liable to have 20-30 people to please as opposed to a tabletop game where the average is 4-6. It's very easy for them to get lost in the shuffle. New folks who don't have fun on the first night don't come back.

And that's really sad. Larping has a lot to offer and in fact may be a way for people to come into gaming who had never tried it before. A friend of mine is an actress who happens to do a bit of MUDding. She'd never played a tabletop game before but she had done some improv and when I was able to couch it in those sorts of terms she went for it like a duck to water. Not every person in the world has cut their teeth on Dungeons and Dragons ya know. I've met some interesting folks in a larp setting who wouldn't know a tabletop game if it fell on them. This tends to add a sort of dynamism to Larping if only because not everybody is going to get the same jokes.

Since it sometime falls to me to indoctrinate new folks into the arcane mysteries of larping I thought it would be good to mention a few tips for other people in a similar situation. You know me, can't keep my big mouth shut if I'm convinced my words might help some poor soul.


It is a good idea to have one going in. Let me repeat that because it's more than vaguely important. It is a good idea to have one going in. On the side of the GM's it's a good idea to have a few templates drawn up of temporary characters and side characters. These can be whipped on some unsuspecting newbie at a moments notice and can be conducive to getting them up and running. (Think the characters out a bit and give them some good goals to shoot for.) If you have a player who is not new to gaming but is new to larping, they will want to play something of their own design. Let them, but be cognizant of the types of openings in your game and where they will best fit. Take time to sit down with them and let them know if there are any funky rules alterations. (There is nothing more infuriating than finding out that your character is way overpowered or way underpowered just because you were using the book rules instead of the preferred homebrew.)

Frankly, making a character on the fly on the night of the game is the worst thing you can possibly do. It's compounded by the fact that as a GM you may be called on to do other things and be forced to leave another player in charge of helping newbies with their sheets.This has the unpleasant effect of boring the shit out of that player, and the newbies who have to spend at least the first hour skimming the book and trying to figure something out. Total newbies will have to have every other thing explained to them. It also gives the player unfair knowledge of the new people since he helped make them.

It's a good idea to have at least a couple of people who are willing to help with character creation and answer questions. With the advent of Email, web authoring and instant messaging, there is no excuse why a player can't have a sheet far in advance of gametime. Unless of course they wandered in off the street, Give them a template and go on.


I've talked about informational overload before. Start spouting ruleage at some new person and they'll get that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on their face. They won't get it. They'll only get intimidated. The best council I can give to new persons is this: Don't get into a fight with another character on the very first night if you can possibly help it. Combat systems by their very nature are somewhat abstract and really bog the game down if you don't know what you're doing. In a good Larp with a heavy social/political emphasis you won't need to fight all the time. If, however, you are going to get hip deep in trouble with some other player, immediately yell for help from the nearest storyteller or narrator. Give them your sheet if you have to. Ask questions if you don't know what something is. It does nobody good if you get dusted, and then pissed because nobody helped you

Naturally if you end up coming back, it will behoove you to learn how the game system works. If you're on game 8 and you still don't know how to do things then you are creating a serious nuisance.

On the GM side, it might be good to slap together a rules quick reference sheet and run off a Jesus-load of copies. If you're feeling froggy you could even put it on the back of their character sheet.


Whenever I'm at a Larp and I hear somebody say " I hate this larp. There's nothing to do." I usually have to restrain myself from smacking those people. What they're really saying is, "I hate this larp, the GM hasn't come over and told me what to do." Larping is unlike Tabletop gaming in one important respect. It favors active players over passive players. In the best kinds of larps that I've been in, the major players are perfectly capable of creating their own plots and plans and schemes and involving the appropriate people. There are times when they actively resent GM plot devices because they get in the way of their own pet schemes. While this might rub some Gm's wrong, it is the state to be wished for. It means you don't have to work as hard. Instead of making great big plots you can fashion tiny little plots that may take on huge importance someday down the road.

One of the best things I've ever heard from a Larp ST was this: "We have plenty of plot. Don't make us use it."

This, more than anything, can be intimidating to new players especially if their style of play tends to be passive. (Active players tend to jump on the first sign of a plot in the offing. Passive players wait until something bad happens and then get involved trying to get out of it.) In Larping though, Passivity is boredom. Active players shine.

Take a few minutes to talk to the new person about the first steps they'll take into the game world. If they have some pregen then they've probably got some set goals with attached rewards already. (This works great. Especially in Con Larps.) But if not, they may have some questions about what to do. Take some time to ask them about what they feel their character might have as their goals. Help them toward anything that sounds active and away from anything passive. ( Good: break into the social set, exact vengeance, investigate murder of "X"... Bad: Wait until "X" happens, try to stay out of trouble,Keep a low profile, etc...)

Once they've got an idea of an agenda, the next logical step is to encourage them to interact with the other players to find out who can help them make their goals happen....And who is going to stand in their way. By this time they should be off to the races.


It occasionally needs to be explained to new players that just because character "X" has it in for them, that Player "X" is really a nice guy and doesn't really have anything against you. It is also really important that this, in fact, be the case. In a well-run Larp it should be understood that character mortality happens and that FRIENDLY rivalry is the way all the conflict should be viewed. For instance, I was nearly killed by a pair of church hunters in a Vampire Masquerade game. After it was all over I congratulated them and told them they did pretty well against me. I didn't have any animosity towards them and wouldn't have had any even if they'd managed to grease me. I'm an actor. Character death merely means that I get to try something new.

New players may not immediately glom onto this. It doesn't help if they get into some sort of scuffle with somebody and get greased outright. To players it ought to be pointed out that all the major rules of conduct in Larping boil down to one main rule:
"Don't be a dick."
This goes for regular players as well. Any punk who gets his jollies from fucking with the newbies is going to get a massive physical and karmic beat-down when I find out about it. On the flip side of that coin though, it should be mentioned to the new players that playing a rebellious character is all well and good but that there are other characters who will take exception to some sorts of behavior and who can destroy them...Almost reflexively. ( " aw shit...I think I broke him...I didn't mean to break the guy.")

I guess what I'm trying to say here is something to the effect that Larps have to have conflicts and tension in order to work and not be dull, but it behooves the players to bring the proper attitude about that conflict and it's place in relation to their real world relationships. Fun one-ups-manship is O.K. but any story that creates real hard feelings between players needs to be fixed or stopped. I think it's a good idea if new persons get inculcated with this idea early. We are after all here to have fun.

Buddy System

Gm's take heed: it is a good idea to look in on your newbies at some point once play starts but it's imperative that you have at least a few players who are willing to take a newbie under their wing and show them the ropes. It should be understood that not every player is temperamentally suited for it nor is every character suited for it either. ( The guy playing a Ventrue politico with a dozen ghouls and childer will probably be cool with this while the guy playing the Gangrel who lives on the mountaintop away from all others and who can barely speak because he's out of practice is not.)

Bringing a newbie into a game can be very useful to the player in lots of ways. The new person might play a ghoul or childer that the player has been meaning to get around to making. This gives the experienced player a reason to be protective and an in-character reason to explain everything about Masquerade life to the new person. In exchange, the new person gets sent on errands for the experienced players and gets to meet new people that way.

It should be noted that people learn by example. Those who learn by the side of the players who break character only when it's absolutely necessary tend to get into that habit. Those who learn by the side of those who break character every two minutes tend to get that way too. This irritates me in ways you cannot possibly imagine. ( " I hated her SO much...Flames....On the side of my face....Flames....")

Older players can also be counted on to answer the occasional rules questions and other organizational minutiae but it is considered poor form to bother them with lots of questions in play. After is better. Make a list of questions you want to ask.

Begin at the beginning

When dealing with newbie's it is very easy to forget that they may not exactly be up on things. I mean if you've been playing Masquerade for bu-jilllions of years you know the ins and outs of vampiric existence like the back of your undead unchanging hand. John Q. Newbie might not and there's no reason he has to be left out. Educating a new childe or ghoul can be a stimulating plotline in and of itself. It's a good idea to start newbies at the very bottom and let them work their way up. While it may be tempting to give a good friend a mid-level to high level character get him on par with the others it's not going to help much and it's liable to make him a target of in-game attack or out-of-game contempt.

Think it through. Do you remember what it was like the first time you played a vampire and had to deal with reality of the changes in your life for the first time. You get into a habit of thinking of vampires as vampires after playing a while. It's real easy to forget that each vampire was a person once and had to adjust. Every once in a while I get into a game of Vampire where the ST insists on playing out the embrace and transition. These kinds of games have a certain power and feel to them. They can be great creative grist for the mill. And what's more....Even a newbie can understand it, and learn the game from the ground up.

That can be groovy. And it makes it all the more sweet when they have a character they've really grown into or they are entrusted with playing something big for the first time.

Sono Finito


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