Friday, June 24, 2005

Things I've learned from the Shadows Larp

For about the last couple of years, I have been playing in a lovely larp called "Shadows Over the Bluegrass" and been having a good time with it. I've resisted writing about it here because it always seemed like it was rude to write about while it was going on. Since we have run our Gehenna chronicle and I've got a little distance on it, I wanted to talk about a few things that I have learned in the playing and the running of the larp.

-Power creep is okay as long as everybody benefits from it and as long as it's pace is fairly slow and steady. In fact, it should be an element of your chronicle that the players will eventually supplant the power Npcs that you have in place at the outset. Because that's the way it *ought* to happen.

-This leads me to the concept of Experience Banking. Over the course of time, it's become clear to me that the best way to handle experience is to make it the province of the Player and not the character at all. In this way you have an opportunity to control how the player spends his experience without having to penalize him. Let's say I've got a player who has been playing a character for over a year and that character gets ganked. It doesn't really make a difference whether it was intentional or no. Does it make sense to make the person start all over with a beginning character. Well, honestly, no. It also doesn't make sense for a player who can't keep a character alive longer than 2 months to make them start over each time
So, with Experience Banking, You can take the EXP built up by the guy with the sudden mortality problem and help him build a character with a little bit more sauce on his ribs. Conversely, you can take the player with the extremely built up player and have him put his EXP into a new character. You might allow him to put them all into a character that you, the ST might want to put in play, or you might allow the player to put those points into a sibling, childe or Sire of the dead character or in extreme cases of point build-up ask him to split his EXP between two or more middling level characters.

-As an ST. It's in your best interest to keep an eye on the bottom level of the spectrum and offer a break to brand new players with some "point debt" as a possible option. You'll want them to earn some of it at the jump.

-Talk to your fellow GM's in person. Get on the same page as to what kind of larp you're running. Constant communications are the best method for maintaining game cohesion and any time ST's play tug of war with the various plots, everybody suffers. Also, trying to meet right before the game in question, never seems to work well. Mainly because at the top of the game, damn nearly every player wants a moment or two of your time.

-If it's not on paper it is not a rule it is merely a rumor. Don't attempt to convince me that there is a homebrew rule that covers whatever it is that you are talking about without you don't have documentation to show me. The ST who told you, may have made it up on the spot, may not remember it at all, and may not even be there that night.
It helps nobody if there are rules that only exist as a semi-sentient energy being capable of communicating only with one of
the ST's, and then only in signs, portents and fever dreams. If five players have five versions of how to adjudicate and all are claiming that it's part of the homebrew rules. SOMETHING HAS GONE TERRIBLY WRONG!

-You will piss somebody off because they simply don't understand what you're doing and that you have reasons for doing it. And you will only learn of it after the person in question has been poor-mouthing you for the better part of a month. Often times this will come out in some toxic rush in a spate of angry emails over things that you may not have even done. Unfortunately, Larp OOC Gossip is like a big elaborate game of "Whistle down the Lane". And this can be very puzzling. I was
accused of giving an Ventrue NPC advanced levels of Quietus...Which I had not in fact done. I've never even used Quietus in a character I've created. I'm still not even sure where this rumor came from. The best defense against this sort of thing is to have a few folks who you can use as spies to find out rumors like this and bring them to your attention before people get angry and leave the game over things you haven't actually done.

-Never assume that you are really in control of anything, and make multiple plans.Figure out what you will do to advance the plot even if everyone involved with the plot is now dead. Remember also to leave more clues out there than you think you will need and multiple paths to the truth.

-Don't assume that the heroic types will prevail and don't force it either. Tragedy can be a good way to go. Not every story ends happily or neatly.

-You will burn out. Plan to have plenty of eggs in your basket for when this happens and lean on your fellow ST's as best you can.

-Try to be as patient as you can be. I struggle with this one when too many people want my attention. It helps when you can impress on your players the difference between offstage action and onstage action. Offstage action like the stuff your character has been doing in down time can be discussed easily in an email (which has the added bonus of leaving evidence that you did it.) Onstage action is anything you need to do in the actual game proper. Guess which one is more important to
fill the ST's ears with at the top of play.

-While I have long been a proponent of creating a stable of Characters for beginners, and while I do occasionally like to hand off an interesting NPC to players, You can go through a lot of creative juice if players get the idea that the best way to get something powerful is to go to the ST and say. "Um. Do you have a character for me to play?" Now if you're the sort of person who aims to please you will run yourself ragged trying to please everyone. Thus, I have come up an idea to cover this.
The Troupe Squad is a group of players that can be trusted to build a set of characters based on your design specs and pull them out and play them on the spur of the moment. Need a Sabbat pack or a group of Imbued Hunters to make life interesting for your players, The Troupe Squad is the group to handle it. Need a player to play a reclusive mentor for a character, Pull one of your TS and either hand it to them or get them to build it. Naturally, anybody who is on the troop squad
needs to be well versed in the system and could stand to be up on any game systems you plan to bring into play. Personally I am of the opinion that Squad Members ought to receive extra EXP since they are taking time out of playing their own characters to assist you.

-You're a fool if you don't sit down and come up with a few templates for various types of people that the Characters might run into over the course of their peregrinations. Cops, SWAT teams, federal agents, church hunters, and so on. Make the Templates in such a way so that there are two on each sheet, because a player can't really throw more than one fist at a time. Heck, if you can put them on 3"x5" cards, so much the better. Print up an assload of them.

-If there are more than 3 Mook unfriendlies for each PC involved in a mob scene, only give them one retest period. If there are more than 5, don't give them a retest at all. Attrition will be more than enough to grind them down.

-Learn to say "This is a special case" with confidence. Have that confidence by dint of having a very good reason for every thing you do.

-I used to think that Mission Statements were some kind of corporate wankery until it became clear to me that they were useful for communicating overall strategic goals and tactical goals to other ST's and Narrators. A very basic premise of leadership is that people can't really do what you want unless you tell them exactly what you want. They can't fucking read your mind and they can't anticipate your needs if they don't know what they are. Believe me, I've worked with too
many people who expected me to do things without being told and it frustrates me mightily. With a Mission Statement you can at least let people know where you want to go and how you plan to get there. Honestly, it's better to make a decision and expect people to follow than to dither over whether the decision is right or not. If the decision is wrong you can always change it and do something else. Dithering gets you nowhere.

-Information and Power is never free
When something works for the players very well, up the stakes. Don't let them fall into a comfortable rut with something that begins to be like a gum-ball machine for them. Say they have a ritual that enables them to summon a demon, the demon should up the stakes each time he's called forth.I missed an opportunity or two that way and I ended up regretting that. Always make a character pay with sweat or pain

-There is a general tendency for all action to gravitate towards formal court. This is, in and of itself, not a bad thing, but it does make certain plot lines get ridiculous when Elysium security gets seriously hard to crack. In truth, efforts should always be made to support multiple areas for play in a Larp. Court should be one of course, but at very least there should also be a vampire bar of some sort. Over the course of an evening, it's certainly possible to draw vampires away from court and into some other venue by dint of having crazy shit happen there and the vampires hear about it Another method for creating multiple areas for play involves dealing with multi-region politics. Perhaps an intelligent prince appoints some ancillae to vassalage in the surrounding suburbs and bedroom communities of the urban center. Or perhaps a vampire with enough and
age and power decides to set up a princedom in a small nearby town. And the prince of the bigger town either can't or won't dislodge him for whatever reason. Then you've got TWO courts or more in an area and the politics gets a great deal more interesting. Suppose that a character does something dumb and gets a blood hunt called on him. He has the
option of running to the other prince and throwing himself on his mercy which can create great friction between the neighboring principalities. This can be fun.

-In the course of a Larp it can be a good idea to keep on eye on cliquishness or a tendency to not be very welcoming. I covered a lot of this ground in the Crank Report entitled "One Shot" but you might point out to your more socially minded players that new people in the larp mean more manipulable resources. Get some of the more social players and talk to them about being a sort plot-based Welcome Wagon. In the old Blacklite larp. I played a very social Ventrue who loved
nothing so much as meeting new people, finding out a little about them and then taking them around to connect them up with the sort of people that might help them in their endeavors (which invariably meant that both players felt beholden to me in varying degrees.) But it also enabled me to steer new players into as much plot as they could handle on their first night in play. That shit makes a difference to the new player and it makes for better play for everyone else as well.

-Delegate or you will go mad. Anybody who has been tagged as a Narrator is the sort of person who knows the system and shows up regular. Give them responsibilities. Have someone handle hunting and send you a precis of what happens. Have
someone handle Influence (or perhaps more than one person) and let you know what's shaking. Have someone handle the armory, Have someone keep track of who holds what office at court (especially if there is a lot of turnover. The Prince should know this stuff, have him keep track of it.) Aim for being the spider at the center of the web of information.

-Energy is contagious, as such, you need to bring as much energy to the game as you can and you need to be willing to try to perform each game session. Your actions and energy set the tone and are the lead that others will follow. See what you can do to push the envelope each time. And on those night when you just don't have it in you, throttle back and simply observe, but walk around drop tiny plot bombs everywhere. If you're doing it right, players should be terrified to see you crooking your finger at them with that grin on your face. Especially, if they see no NPC tag on you.

-There will be people who will be critical of your game and your style. They may not get it or they may not like it. Or they may not dig a particular change or ruling. Always listen to these concerns if they are brought to you, but under no circumstances allow yourself to criticized publicly. Public critique is incredibly disrespectful. By this same token, do not publicly criticize players under any circumstances. If you have to call them on the carpet, do so privately and in person.

-Be prepared to kill your own characters at any time. Make certain that if players attempt to kill your NPC's that you don't make easy for them but you also don't make it impossible for them. Remember, NPC's are not there for you to feel like you have a big dick. They are for the players to interact with. In the words of Dr. Phil, "It ain't about you!" Besides, if your NPC is a major league bad-ass and he gets mysteriously offed, then naturally whoever offed him is going to become a bigger scarier threat, right?

-Dog-piling will kill any character. I don't care how bad ass you think you are, if the odds are worse than 3 to 1, you're gonna bite it. The best you can do is run, figure out who those assholes were and then hunt them one at a time at your leisure.

-When a Larp is reaching the end of it's life, and it is obvious that it is winding to a close, you will lose a chunk of players. This isn't necessarily because they hate you or the game but there is a tendency not to play through to the dramatic end. This is a pity. But it does let you focus on the players who actually think that kind of thing can be really fun.

-Nobody wants to die cheap. They don't necessarily mind dying, but they don't want to go out like a punk. Or over some dumb rules bullshit.

-Sometimes, the best thing you can do, is take your character and drive him like a rental car.

Sono Finito.


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....I would imagine it's really hard to keep track of what goes on in a LARP. The little bits of it I've actually seen allow things that would be unlikely in table top.

.....I was watching one years ago in which a player put on his backpack backwards, with a steel ring and string hanging out the front, then pasted a post-in on the front. He then walked into an Elysium event, walked up to the guy playing a Justicar, pulled the ring and said "Boom!" The post-it read "25 pounds of C-4 and nails, and I'm Dominated!"

.....It was actually kind of fun as an observer to watch the argument that followed. Needless to say, the mood was ruined. In a tabletop game, some Harpy's "spider sense" is going to sniff this sort of thing out every time!


At 7:29 PM, Blogger kinesys said...

Eeg. If the GM knew that was about to happpen he should have been able to go around to anyone with Auspex and give them that sense of impending doom.

Plus, any kind of security at the Elysium probably would have stopped him at the door.

The basic intent on the players part though, was to wreck the game so i can't get behind his actions really.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....It was actually two players, the bomber who thought it would be funny, and the guy playing the Tremere being investigated by the Justicar. No thought whatsoever was given to security by the GM, and even if mortal or ghoul security was involved, the bomber was a Malkie with Obfuscate 3.

.....The point I was thinking about was that a REAL justicar probably has enough Auspex to see that coming and turn on enough Presence 5 (bolstered by secret Justicar magick) to freeze the bomber in his tracks, but the guy playing the Justicar let a guy walk up to him with a backpack strapped to his chest and did nothing. The GM was busily trying to explain that there was no real blood in the punch to some players, and didn't see it coming.



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