Difference between tabletop RPG, LARP, and jeepform

edited August 2013 in Story Games
Over in Techniques! Do we have a list of them?, Elin said:
While theese are larp oriented, they still do have a place here.*
*(Because no one has been in my opinion been able to come up with a better way to draw a line between larp an tabletop then the bcharming "If you standing, than it is a larp")

I didn't want to fork that thread, so I started this one.

To me, the distinctions between tabletop RPG and LARP are unifying scene focus, time continuity, and interaction with NPCs. Jeepform is a hybrid of tabletop RPG and LARP, plus some additional techniques.


Unifying scene focus
In an RPG, everyone is (theoretically) listening to the play that is happening at all times, even if it doesn't pertain to their character. In a LARP, people are moving around and interacting with one another, and it's often impossible to know what is happening to other people.

Time continuity
There's also the expectation of acting things out in first-person with minimized metagame discussion and no pauses, in a LARP. In tabletop RPGs, things have their own sense of time. Game time moves in fits and starts. There are pauses while people look up rules.

Interaction with NPCs
LARP -- at least the games I've played, seen, run, and read about -- doesn't have a lot of back-and-forth between player and GM. The GM might set a scene in motion, but then she gets out of the way and lets the players go for much longer than they'd play in a tabletop RPG. LARPs enable players with tools so that they don't need to wait for a GM for answers. As a result, LARPs tend toward a universe of PCs and very few NPCs. LARP players interact mostly with one another and don't interact much with NPCs (or "monsters"). Tabletop RPG players interact some with each other, sure, the focus of play is on interacting with the environment (including NPCs and "monsters").

Jeepform, a hybrid
When you look at jeepform (and my experience with it is limited to 3-5 sessions, so I don't claim to be an expert), you see a hybrid of tabletop and LARP techniques. You have more GM activity compared to LARP, but the GM isn't playing NPCs. The group is probably focused on one scene at a time as in a tabletop RPG, but that group might move around freely as in a LARP. Time is probably fluid and continuous with minimal contact with rules, but it doesn't have to be this way. Jeepform is more likely than LARP to employ flashbacks and other "cinematic" scene techniques.


Let me make it clear that I don't think that these are hard lines between categories. There are probably plenty of instances of games about which we could debate LARP vs. Tabletop RPG all day. Any time you try to categorize things, you have to realize that not everything fits neatly into the lines. I do think that the definitions I've supplied cover almost all of the games that I have personally experienced. YMMV, of course.

Of course, as these communities cross-pollinate, the boundaries will get increasingly fuzzy and games will get better, as a result.

Comments

  • edited August 2013
    You missing a few BIG ones, IMHO:
    Physical action - You DO what your character DOES. In action-style/boffer/airsoft LARPs, that includes running, evasion, physically scoring hits to do damage, sneaking (barring special character abilities that for others to ignore you), listening... and even persuasion or tricking. Some LARPs are so "minimal" that the rules only cover that which is unsafe or impractical to DO oneself... or even say those things aren't possible for characters at all, in any circumstances (e.g., flying). tabletop, typically, rarely goes beyond speaking/posing/standing in character.

    Constant play - Some LARPs are "24/7" or "always running" (yes, with some no-play zones and downtimes, for practicalities of modern life). Such LARPs maybe only occasionally have meetups for "group events" and really depend on impromptu gatherings, message boards/email, and central information drops to communicate significant world-state changes (e.g., emailing a GM to tell him or her that your PC was killed). The closest tabletop games come to this is "living worlds" with asynchronous play that's coordinated centrally and redistributed to players on a semi-regular basis.

    Costuming, sets, props - While, yes, this happens in some tabletop—and this doesn't happen in some LARP—MOST LARP relies at least somewhat on costumes, sets, props, and even safe weaponry (boffer/airsoft) to establish scene and tone. Yes, I've played in some budget LARPs with very little of any of that, of course; but I'd consider them outliers and unusual, not the norm/average.
  • There are definitely lots of LARPs where the points 2 and 3 don't apply. I know I played a lot of live action cyberpunk games in the past where combat played out as slowly in the larp as it would in tabletop, with lots of rules lookups and discussions and tactical thinking. (I think Mind's Eye Theatre tends to have similar issues where time halts when conflict starts, but I'm not an expert on that variety of larping.)

    And NERO and other boffer larps are very close to tabletop in GM and player roles. You typically have a party of PCs that band together to interact with each other but also to go on prescripted adventures where they interact with NPCs and fight many, many NPC monsters, much the same as you would in D&D. These NPCs and monsters are typically played by a GM or by someone who volunteered for monster duty for the weekend (which usually generates rewards for their PC in some fashion).

    There is a wide variety of different kinds of larp out there.
  • I'd agree with these as fuzzy lines between the two based on my experience.

    I'd extend Time Continuity to Continuity of Time and Place. For a larp, the jumps in time or space are much more limited, because these involve an announcement to everyone - and this may be an interruption because no one has a full view of everything that is happening.

    Also, you mention that in tabletop there are "pauses while people look up rules" - I'd add that as another fuzzy line, that tabletop has more complex mechanics and/or dice rolling.
  • David Artman - your "constant play" is what Adam calls "Time Continuity".

    Larp itself has considerable divide between theater-style larp and action-style/boffer larp. I think you're absolutely right that action-style larps are more dominant in numbers, such that theater-style could be considered the exception, but it's an open question as to whether we should consider traits of this to be inherent to larp. Likewise, D&D and D&D-like games are very dominant in numbers among tabletop RPGs - but how many traits of these should be considered inherent to tabletop RPG play?
  • If we were better in finding similarities instead of trying to divide by finding differences, we would evolve our hobby a lot more.
  • Rickard,

    This isn't an identity politics thread, by design. If you want to talk about that, start a new thread, please.

    The point of this thread is, hey, I think we really can put our finger on the differences between LARP and tabletop RPGs and jeepform. It's not that hard to do, though we'll all have to agree that the boundaries are fuzzy. Also, as I said in the last sentence of my original post, crossing the streams is GOOD.

    But crossing the streams is easier when you know what the streams ARE.
  • David,

    I agree that those things are features of LARPs, but I'm not convinced they're the defining features, so I left them out. But sure! Those are good examples of some (fuzzy) features of LARP that aren't strong features of tabletop play.


    John,

    I have nearly zero experience with action-style LARP and boffer LARP. I did write a couple LARPs (for 50-70 players) that included R/P/S sword play rules and "trump cards" that had strong mechanical weight. Also, those LARPs were in a three-act structure where we delivered background information to players in info-dumps before each Act, and we intentionally made people unreliable narrators (their information in Act I might be a lie, and we'd give them conflicting, overriding information in Act II or Act III). I'm not sure what kind of LARP that is.

    To me, the most important distinction between LARP and tabletop RPG is the distributed nature of scenes combined with lack of a GM for every scene. Everything else is just a refinement or variation of the concept. If you have a GM for every scene but it still feels LARPish, it might be jeep, or it might be some kind of action LARP for a small group.


    Nick,

    I'll defer to your experience on the "Time Continuity" aspect. I don't think it's that important.

    I'll push back on the "Interaction with NPCs" aspect a bit. I think an action LARP where all the monsters and foes are played by stand-in GMs or helper players is still a PVP LARP, not a PVE LARP. They're really PCs, not NPCs, because a GM isn't playing them. A GM is assigning players to play them. It's a fuzzy distinction, I admit.

    Really, though, I shouldn't have focused so much on the interaction with NPCs. The important aspect of that third point is that players are empowered to go role-play without much interaction with GMs or NPCs. Boffer LARPs may be totally different though; I have lots of hearsay knowledge of NERO, for example, but I've never done it myself.

  • edited August 2013
    Something I realized over the years on roleplaying forums, is that all these discussions/definitions about "my picture of roleplaying games" is more about what that person likes in a game. Like w176, I stopped seeing the differences and instead seeing the similarities. I see The Extraordinary Tales of Baron Munchhausen, Once Upon a Time and Norwegian roleplaying poems as roleplaying games just as I see LARP as one. I know that most people don't, but I feel it's a more relaxed state of mind that probably can embrace the techniques/tools from the other games.

    So I don't agree that crossing the steam is easier ... because I want to swim in the steam and experience a mix of it all.
  • I play them all, too! Yay, for us! We've both established that we're awesome!

    But this is a thread for sussing out the defining characteristics of the three forms, not for saying that those differences don't matter, and not for trying to evolve the hobby by finding similarities.
  • How might we evolve the hobby by finding similarities? I'd love to hear about that in a new thread. Sounds like a cool topic.
  • edited August 2013
    I have played tabletop sessions that would be classified as larps and larps that would be classified as tabletop games by your definitions. I find this discussion interesting but for me there are few differences between the as a whole, the differences I experience are, I believe, due to different rules and techniqued that differ from session to session and game to game but in a bigger perspective larp and tabletop rpgs are different names for discussing the same thing with different people.
  • edited August 2013
    I'm not sure, if you want to create groups of games, that your initial set is correct.

    That or my UK perspective of what jeepform is could be an issue.

    I would definitely split LARP in to two fairly different streams. 'LARP/freeform/Interactive Theatre' being one, ' Boffer LARP/action LARP' being the other. While both styles of gaming do have similarities to each other, they are both as different from each other as either is from tabletop.
  • I will agree to the fact that there are focused larps designed to further these two categories but I find most Swedish larps as trying to catch all playstyles and thus there will be pockets of both of these spread out in the time and space that the larp covers.

    I see sets of techniques, conventions and rules and perhaps these can be squeezed into generalized categories but drawing a line, any line, will most likely result in 25% of larp being bixed up in the "tabletop box" and 25% of tabletop rpgs being mixed up in the "larp box". Perhaps one could build a spectrum with "larp" in one end and "tabletop games" in the other and map techniques, rules and conventions along it to symbolize their correlation to the two extremes. How one would define the extremes though is trickier and would probably be based in some general consensus illusion of what each category consists of, thus making the whole endeavor worthless.
  • I would definitely split LARP in to two fairly different streams. 'LARP/freeform/Interactive Theatre' being one, ' Boffer LARP/action LARP' being the other. While both styles of gaming do have similarities to each other, they are both as different from each other as either is from tabletop.
    Live combat is just a technique; we frequently do theatre-style games with live-combat mechanics for verismilitude. What seperates these types of larp isn't combat mechanics, but whether the plots are typicly internal (theatreform) or external (live combat) and presence of NPCs/crew.

  • There are definitely lots of LARPs where the points 2 and 3 don't apply.
    Yep, which is why I said:
    In action-style/boffer/airsoft LARPs...
    ...but, even in parlor LARPs, you move across the room to speak with someone (you don't say, "I move over there to whisper to him."). You gesture and pontificate. You place yourself between a threat and a dependent... etc. You DO your actions, you rarely DESCRIBE them.
    David Artman - your "constant play" is what Adam calls "Time Continuity".
    No, it's not. His definition means, approximately, 'real-time play, not a lot of time jumps or flashbacks.' My definition means what I said: "24/7 play" as in 'the game is always running, regardless of planned meetups or events' (maybe I should have said 24/7/365, to be totally clear).

    With the point being that LARPs face a problem that tabletop doesn't: if you have a month between events, you often have to somehow DEAL with that month, in game terms, because folks are talking offline, making plans, maybe using long-term effects of abilities that require coordinating between players and GMs to resolve, etc. Real time has passed; real players have new significant others to incorporate into play; or have to explain injuries/pregnancy/absences/etc in game terms (to avoid shattering verisimilitude).
    ---
    And, yes, all that said... I am thinking in terms of a specific style of LARP: continuous, long-term play with real-time considerations mapping to game time. Jeepform flies a LOT in the face of that, as does any one-shot.

    Honestly, if you drew a Venn diagram with Action LARP, Parlor LARP, Jeepform, and Tabletop as nodes, they'd overlap in really messy and complex ways, probably across multiple axes other than 'mere' gameplay (e.g., continuity of time, continuous play v time-freeze, level of organization/central authority, degree of environmental opposition v PVP, etc.).

    Hence the reason this topic has never been resolved the fifty times that it's cropped up on RPG.net's LARP forum. ;)

    Ryan Paddy has some very good categorical posts about LARP, if you want to search google with "site:forum.rpg.net" added....
  • Just as a vast oversimplification:

    When you're playing a tabletop game, you hear three different kinds of things:
    1) "Let us into the castle, you knaves! The zombie horde is approaching!"
    2) I hide behind the bookshelf and listen to the brigands' plans.
    3) Zoltar Silverzap searches through his backpack for the missing Rune of Wonder.

    In a LARP you hear #1 all the time. #2 you hear only if there's no other good way to communicate the information; it's a last resort. And you never hear #3.
  • @DaveC: That only applies to a very specific kind of larp (that perhaps is the most commonly associated with the term "larp") and is not valid for all larps. In my oppinion it's the same as saying "you can't 'win' a role playing game" or "when you role play you roll dice"; it's the nom but does not cover all cases.
  • @RasmusL: I'm pretty well aware of the different types of larps. That's why I specified that this was an oversimplification. But I think it's worth planting flags near the center of the territory as well as mapping out the edges.
  • Ever tried running around with a table ,,,,,,and chair.
  • David Artman - your "constant play" is what Adam calls "Time Continuity".
    No, it's not. His definition means, approximately, 'real-time play, not a lot of time jumps or flashbacks.' My definition means what I said: "24/7 play" as in 'the game is always running, regardless of planned meetups or events' (maybe I should have said 24/7/365, to be totally clear).

    With the point being that LARPs face a problem that tabletop doesn't: if you have a month between events, you often have to somehow DEAL with that month, in game terms, because folks are talking offline, making plans, maybe using long-term effects of abilities that require coordinating between players and GMs to resolve, etc. Real time has passed; real players have new significant others to incorporate into play; or have to explain injuries/pregnancy/absences/etc in game terms (to avoid shattering verisimilitude).
    ---
    And, yes, all that said... I am thinking in terms of a specific style of LARP: continuous, long-term play with real-time considerations mapping to game time. Jeepform flies a LOT in the face of that, as does any one-shot.
    OK, I misunderstood. I would add that it's not just one-shots and Jeepform that contrast with that, though. I know a number of long-term campaign LARPs where the game is not always running in the manner you describe.
  • I'd be interested to hear about a LARP that's a long-term campaign but don't address real-time changes. I bet there's a lot of discontinuity, because the players still post on message boards or email each other and GMs or what-not. I've played in a LARP that tried to have all non-event time "stop time" and it didn't work worth a damn. Ended up with a handful of folks who followed the principle (me, for one)... and who were, invariably, confused for half of Friday night because a bunch of shit happened during the "stop" time. I'd be ambling about looking to 'touch base' with folks, and they were already ankle deep in some activity for which they'd planned prior to the event.

    Not saying, "No, uh-uh, never happens..." but I *am* saying that it's probably rare because it's invariably dysfunctional (defined as 'interfering with suspension of disbelief and verisimilitude').
  • Kastaria 2012 - Until the Day I Die part 1 and Kastaria 2013 - Until the Day I Die part 2 was a fantasy larp that played out the events of two weeks divided into two larps with a year in real time dividing them but only a few days dividing them in the game world. I am not sure if this technique was used for other larps in the series but at least this example worked out fantastic, with people showing up with the same gear, camps placed at the same place, picking up the events of "a few days back" without any major confusion.
  • edited August 2013
    I been organizing a larp this weekend so I totally missed this awesome thread. I'm at the exhausted stage after the weekend but I'll try dive into this discussion.

    Fist of, you gotten the jeepform things kind of wrong. See: http://lizziestark.com/2012/09/17/jeepform-for-noobs/

    Secondly while some things are more common in the larp media, and others things are more common in the tabletop media you wont be able to define a clear cut line between larp and tabletop with any of those.

    All the different parameters are just that. Parameters. Even if a certain degree of X is more common in one media, you ill find examples of the same level of X in the other media as well. No matter if there is physicality, unifying scene focus, time continuity, interaction with NPCs, continuity in place, costuming, props, etc. Both kind of games will exist all over the scale on all parameters.

    Even if you can say "This degree of X are more common in larps then in tabletop", that is all you can say. Because you will find thing people classify as tabletop that brakes those assumptions, and you also find things people classify as larps that brakes those assumptions.

    It is like trying to find an absolute line between pop and rock. You find some things that is more common in pop music, and some things that are more common and rock music, but you wont be able to draw any kind of clear cut line between them. A band can be label differently at different times, at different people, in different contexts, for different reasons.

    But "Rock" and "Pop" can still be useful terms, even if you can't draw a clear-cut line between them.
  • I'd be interested to hear about a LARP that's a long-term campaign but don't address real-time changes. I bet there's a lot of discontinuity, because the players still post on message boards or email each other and GMs or what-not.
    Most of my LARP is done in the UK SFLRP scene using lasertag as a resolution mechanic. There are a number of different styles of game played, but the most common long term version of late has been arcs of 5 linked games run a game a year. We currently have a UNIT game going on (I think it'll hit the 4th game in the arc next March, I missed the last one which was gutting as it snowed unexpectedly and some of the footage of the guys using the snow camo we bought 20 years ago 'just in case' was fantastic) and a Firefly game going which is doing it's 3rd game in October. These games use recurring characters with GM driven plots at the events themselves, as such there is little gaming done outside of the annual sessions. Players debrief to the GM's over a couple of weeks at the end of the game and that can be used to create the next game in the arc (more for the Firefly than the UNIT games) but the next game often starts with a much smaller game time gap from the previous one than the real time gap (on at least one occasion they've pretty much followed on one from the other in game time.)

    The same players will probably have a character in each on going game as well as meeting up between games for unrelated one off events and our annual 'con' style meet which will have 3-4 linked games over a weekend plus 3-4 one off games played.

    As such there is little to no between game playing going on with the arc games. It seems to work but is probably a factor of the way the hobby has evolved as much as anything else.

  • Elin,

    If I run a game that is played over a table with dice, and we never get up from the table, do you think it's safe to classify that as an RPG instead of a LARP or jeepform?
  • edited August 2013
    I think it pretty safe to say that. But there also a possibility that you larping a bunch of dice players. Or that you are larping a bunch of character that is currently playing a tabletop role-playing games.

    It is pretty safe to say that Britney Spears is doing pop, and AC/DC is doing rock, but there is still no sharp line between pop and rock and there are still a lot of bands that can be classifies as either, both, or neither.
  • And then one of the players at the table puts on a silly hat and Britney is doing rock...

    It is really a very good analogy, thanks for thinking of it. :-)
  • I think that tabletop, freeform (which includes jeepform), and larp aren't distinct categories, but exist along something that is more like a continuum with larp at one end and tabletop at the other. And continuums are messy and it's hard to define exactly what is what.

    For me, it's useful to think of the platonic larp and platonic tabletop game. In the platonic larp, there'd be a one-to-one correspondence between the game world and reality, while in the platonic tabletop game, there'd be a symbolic relationship between the game world and reality. So in the platonic larp, a mug of ale would be a mug of ale and time would proceed exactly as it does in the ordinary world. In a tabletop game, I say "I stab you" to represent stabbing you and the two hour walk to the dungeon takes 30 seconds of real time (while the 30-second fight against the goblins takes two hours...but that's another story).

    Neither the platonic larp nor the platonic tabletop game exist, but individual games tend to cluster toward one of the poles, I think. Freeform is the messy stuff in the middle, incorporating both tabletop and larp techniques, and there aren't hard boundaries defining it, I think.

    Jeepform is a subset of freeform that uses particular symbolic tools "metatechniques," deals with particular themes and sorts of characters, and is created by members of a certain collective. So all jeepform is freeform, but not all freeform is jeepform!
  • OK, heard--there are games which have a year between them real time, but only days game time, and yet no one wonders (frex) how a PC grew a full beard (or lost a LOT of hair) in those days. And no one ever has to make an effort to remain 'in flow' even though they might have forgotten fifteen PC's names in the interim. And no one engages in more than a total of 48 hours of planning or dialog over the interim year, so that they aren't 'suddenly' more effective or better-positioned at game time. And no one ever practices combat more than 48 hours (realistically, 32, if they sleep 'in game time') so that they don't 'suddenly' become a much better combatant than they were 'two days ago'.

    In short, I think you've begged the question, by saying "we don't notice" to my point that such discontinuity invariably is "interfering with suspension of disbelief and verisimilitude". If that's truly the case, then, sure, continuity of time is not requisite for LARP, in spite of the incongruities that 'stop time' invariably creates, if you have the right sort of players (i.e., those that can easily handwave abrupt changes).
    ---
    More to the thread's point: Can we list techniques that LARP leverages well, which tabletop rarely leverage well?
    Or is that too many turtles down?
  • edited August 2013
    (Edited this post because I misunderstood a post.)

    Yeah. There are black box larps where props and costumes are minimal the same way they are in black box teatre.

    If you want to make a black box larp with a story like "A Christmas Carol" where characters have vision of things past, present and future. Then it not all that important that you don't become a better combatant, or if you OOC have a problem remembering people names, because neither of the things are important to the type of story you want to play. And it wont matter if you can't look like a 20 year younger or older copy of yourself, because a black box larp makes use of minimal costuming. In that game the focus would probably be examining the effects and consequences of personality flaws on your own life and in the lives of the people around you.

    The same way tabletop games have different suspension of belief that differ depending on the dramaturgy and the agenda of the game.

    If you play a game where 360 degrees realism is a part of the agenda, then details matter the same way that details matter if you play a tabletop RPG that strive for high detail accuracy. If you play a game where details like that don't matter to the dramaturgy, does details don't affect the suspension of the belief.
  • Tabletop Larp Jeepform, were created by people who play that way.
    Its like what works for the group or individuals.

    Some groups like to dress up and slap each other with latex swords, others spend 3 hours simulating a strategic combat, haven't got time for that then condense it into one roll or move.

    I think a lot of the difference is us, what we like, what time we got, social skills or even desires.
    A lot of time is spent finding out what we don't like too,,, or, what we like every now and then.

    So listing techniques or mix of techniques,,, with the reasons why we like playing that way might help.



  • Here's a fair effort from 2009 just to distinguish LARP categories, without even working to distinguish it from TT or JF. That's from a two-minute search with sloppy terms. If I ever make the time, I'll try to put together a reference on a blog post... if for no other reason than to show prior art.
  • Forgot to add:
    ...which is to say that any meaningful taxonomy of LARP/TT/JF will probably have to break LARP and TT down into more atomic categories, and THEN we could bubble out exclusive (or even just more-efficacious) techniques (if any) to either or both.

    But, yeah... "what makes LARP different from TT and JF" won't get very far without more distinctions. Just like the GNS Revolution unpacked play into parts that, in turn, could be recognized and (for design or focused play) emphasized.
  • Yeah, ultimately my thread here is masturbatory until we start using the differences to borrow stuff to make our own games better, which is what Rickard was trying to do a while back.

    I think we've probably talked out all the borders--fuzzy though they may be--between these types of play. Feel free to keep sussing them out though.

    To sum up my feelings:

    If I had to put definitions on LARP and jeepform and tabletop such that one could look at any game in progress and stick it in a category, I'd probably say things like, "a LARP is a role-playing game with more of These tendencies and fewer of Those tendencies," and so on. Really, though, a game is whatever the people playing it think it is, and that's that, and everything else is semantics, identity politics, or both.

    That LARP and tabletop evolved separately (though with definitely overlap of influences and participants, surely) means that people think they're different things. It's interesting that if we're to believe there are no reliable differentiators, then a LARP group playing a particular kind of LARP and a tabletop group playing a particular kind of tabletop might be doing the exact same things and be totally indistinguishable from each other to outsiders. At least for the types of LARP that is very similar to tabletop and vice versa.


    Everyone, please feel free to use this thread as a place to discuss how to borrow techniques from one form to make another form better, as Rickard was suggesting.
  • Hm. In a Dresden Larp at GenCon, the Soulgaze mechanic was Classic Larp (as I play it): Wizard says "Soulgaze." Other character chooses whether or not to look away. If character holds gaze, two players exchange envelopes. The envelopes have a piece of paper describing what the character sees during the soulgaze. Read paper, repalce it in envelope, return envelopes to original owner.

    In tabletop, odds are

    1. If it's a PC you created to play yourself, you describe what is seen
    2. Otherwise, GM describes

    But, there's no reason one couldn't use the larp mechanic.

    When my local group did a DresdenFiles game before the game actually came out, at least half the players put on the game wiki "What you see when you soulgaze my character".

    In general, for pre-generated PCs, larp or tabletop:

    1. Each PC must be cool. Ask yourself: Why is this PC cool?
    2. Each PC must have something to offer the others or something desired from the others or both. Exact details will vary.
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