[LARP] Designing an old school Nordic Larp

edited December 2006 in Story Games
So, this is an actual design thread of yer old school Nordic character immersive LARP, focusing on how LARP is designed and why things are done how they are done. Examples are based on Isle of Saints, a World of Darkness LARP we did several years ago.

This is a longer series of posts which I'm thinking to split up in several topics:

1. Why, what and how? The vision

2. Roleplaying contract, rules and how LARP's are different from tabletop playing

3. Initial concept design and iteration

4. Main plotlines, groups and group level plotlines

5. Characters and character level plotlines

6. Actual play, GMing the LARP

7. What worked, what did not work and what should be improved

Feel free to drop in a comment at any point, especially on things that needs more detail. Or if you think there's a topic missing.

1. Why, what and how? The vision

Isle of Saints was a one to two days and nights long LARP for about 60 players, organised by team of three writers. It was also what's known around here as a city game - a LARP where the play area is a whole city and sometimes beyond that. The two other guys had done a similar, if smaller, project before in which I was a player. So Isle of Saints wasn't the first citywide LARP in Finland - I know of at least two, possibly three, earlier projects and I had participated in one of them, a Mage larp that was kind of a test drive and and prequel to IoS.

The game was held in Helsinki, which doubled as the capital city of Isle of Saints - an imaginary island in middle of Atlantic Ocean. The cities were identical copies and the players were instructed to think that the streets matched and internally think that the street names fitted the setting.

IoS was based on White Wolf's World of Darkness, mostly Vampire: The Masquerade and Mage: The Ascension, though not on the Minds Eye
Theatre-versions of them. One of the reasons we wrote the LARP was to fix things that thought were not working well enough in the MET-based LARP's we'd been participating.

Some examples of things we wanted to avoid or do in a different way:

Change the rules. Minds Eye Theatre is, for a character immersive play, a very clunky set of rules; it basically takes the Storytelling system tabletop rules, streamlines them a bit, changes dices to RPS-test and tells you to roll with it. In essence, it brings a tabletop-paradigm to a LARP with not that good results, since LARP's are very different beasts. More about this in rules -post.

The "Elysium-syndrome"; LARP's tend to happen in single physical place, which is a bit ankward for a large group of players and characters. Players have to fake reasons to stay in the playing area even if it's clear that their characters would not stay there. So either you hang around, with no reason, or go out from the game.

The "Only Vampires Allowed"-syndrome. It doesen't really feel that you're a beast in the top of the food chain if the only people you meet are other beasts in the top of the food chain. Where's the personal horror and predatory feeling in that? We wanted to simulate a full city in World of Darkness, with several different supernatural factions not entirely aware of each other, and with lot of humans mostly unaware of supernatural beings. In essence, we wanted "the masquerade" that works.

We wanted to avoid a large social gathering with obvious plots happening during a fixed period of time; in other words, we wanted to simulate few days and nights of life of the characters; not the least exiting days, more like starting slow and then acclerating the pace.

We decided that we'd want to have around 60 players and that the game would be invitation only; we picked an initial list of players whom we know would have the same idea of Live-Roleplaying that we had. We also had to take into account matters like playing space (players that could provide their aparments for playing) and travelling (players with cars). We drafted initial budget, calculated the participation fee and discounts for players providing apartment or a car.

We didn't really spent a lot of time pondering on how we wanted to do things; two other writers had one similar game under their belt and we reviewed what worked in it and what did not, what to do in same way and what to improve.

Comments

  • 2. Roleplaying contract, rules and how LARP's are different from tabletop playing

    So then, roleplaying contract. While there is no formal social contract, signed in three copies, in the Finnish LARP scene, there is a very strong mutual understanding of How to Play. It was developed in early to mid 90's and sort of written out in the Handbook for LARPers, published in 1997 by the Live-roleplayers assosication, in the article "Psychology of live-roleplaying" by Toni Sihvonen. The article basically spelled out the character immersive playing style.

    The actual roleplaying contract is this:

    "The mutual understanding that helps players to immerse; you cannot judge players attitude based on how his character acts."

    Which pretty much gives the player a free ticket of playing a character based on his interpretation of it and that this interpretation cannot be challenged. What you see is what you get. Pretty much every LARP is based on this understanding; it's kind of an oral tradition - aside from the mentioned book, people learn to organise live-roleplaying by attending games done by other organisers, and the tradition gets passed on. Most of the players in 90's actively played and developed the culture, and the contract can be seen as an essential building stone of LARP's; it's not really questioned.

    Like all contracts, this one gets broken, players have different agendas, and confusion ensures. We decided to skip the confusion by doing an invitation only LARP and inviting people we knew beforehand.

    Rules. No Minds Eye Theatre for us; MET is basically a light version of Storytelling system, with a different resolution mechanics. There are several things that didn't work for us:

    The resolution mechanics itself; vampires doing rock-paper-scissors for extendted re-tests times three just looks funny.

    Plenty of attributes and skills, hard to memorize. Having a two-sided, filled up character sheet might work for a tabletop game, but it doesen't work for a LARP.

    The general clunkiness of resolution; MET takes the tabletop paradigm and brings it to a LARP. In tabletop playing, having a set of rules that constantly need an intepretation by someone with authority (GM) sort of works, since the in-game action can be stopped or slowed down in order to handle the mechanics. In LARP's, this does not work; the characters are dispersed over a large area, playing in small groups, and the game time follows the real time. Using a clunky resolution system is a continuum problem; time stops for several characters, but it does not stop for others. Also, the constant need for GM authority is a pain in the ass.

    So, the replacement rules were these (a short version of the original document):

    "Hold"

    The basic rule for LARP's; if something endangering (for players) is happening, you should "Hold". Everyone hearing this, shouts "Hold". Playing stops.

    "True"

    If a player starts his sentence by saying "True", it means that something affecting your character will happen. Player then describes what happens. For example: Pat has flavoured Kim's cup of coffee with a healthy dose of laxative. He hands her a cup and says: "True: When you've drinked that you'll be hit with a strong case of diarrhea in fifteen minutes". Kim will then spend some quality time in toilet.

    "Off-game"

    There is none; you will be in your character during a game. If you really, really need to say something as a play, but your fist above your head and say it.

    "The world around you"

    You'll map the real city names to Isle of Saints city names; same goes for city districts - downtown is downtown, suburb is where the workers sleep.

    If you want to interact with non-player characters (like calling your mom if she's not potrayed by a player", you will call this cell number and introduce yourself tell whom you're trying to reach. GM's will answer and play the NPC.

    If you need to check something from the GM's, you call this cell number.

    Please don't harass people not playing the game; be gentle when interacting with them. You know other players by batches, which tell their apparent age and if he's ethnically different from the player.

    "Combat"

    Based on simple number comparision on scale from 1 to 5. Some things, like melee weapons, give bonus to the combat value. Character with higher value beats the crap out of the other character.

    "Damage"

    Getting beaten means that you might lose consciousness and it'll hurt like hell. Getting stabbed with something means that you need first aid. Getting shot means that you're really hurt or you die. What happens and where you're hit depends on the situation; work it out between the players.

    "Common sense"

    Please, use it. A lot of instructions on how to behave in public places and how not to swing around your cool replica weapon in the railway station.

    "Cheating"

    Do not cheat. Cheating and getting caught is a good way of getting yourself a status of Personana Non Grata and committing a social suicide.

    "Supernatural powers"

    Now, this is another failing point for MET and a hard thing to accomplish in LARPs in general; how to simulate something that not possible or easy to act out. MET uses the resolution system to achieve this and we ditched that. We basically toned down supernatural powers and allowed only one or two powers per character - all of them used with the "True"-rule. So mostly social and mental powers. We rated the powers from one to three and wrote the usage instructions on the character backgrounds; roughly explaining what the power does, what's the value for it and if the character was able to resits use of some kind of power and in what level.

    Supernatural powers were not included in the general rules; only characters who had them, knew about them, and how to use or resist them.

    "Everything else"

    Anything not detailed in the rules or character background was left to player discretion; they had the option of calling a GM if they wanted.

    (Continued later, feel free to ask clarifications)
  • Are there ever conflicts in the interpretation of "True"? Example - you poison my coffee with laxatives, and in fifteen minutes I dutifully go to the bathroom, but return only a moment later. Your intention was to delay me but it was not achieved.

    How does the overall LARP consensus social contract differ from the Jeepform one?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarAre there ever conflicts in the interpretation of "True"? Example - you poison my coffee with laxatives, and in fifteen minutes I dutifully go to the bathroom, but return only a moment later. Your intention was to delay me but it was not achieved.
    Not that I'm aware of (but I'm only aware of what I've seen or heard), at least in the few games I've been either or running or playing, in where the rule has been used. The wording of what happens is the responsibility of the player invoking the word. The interpretation is done by the receiving end. This is usually not questioned; the results can be bitched about after the event, but rarely happens (or, again, I haven't heard).
    How does the overall LARP consensus social contract differ from the Jeepform one?
    You mean the Jeep Truths and Pieces of Cake in Jeep Dictionary? It differs a lot.

    Jeepers do not emphasize character immersion (forgetting you're player); they use a lot of metagame-technicues and can juggle with character ownership. Story is a central element of the JeepForm; LARP's, as such, don't have central stories (though they might have central plotlines; the emphasis of these is kind of an rairoady-thing). And so on. JeepForm is a kind of mix of live-action playing and tabletop playing, maybe more the latter than the former.

    In short, LARP's are very chaotic and very dispersed. Jeep games are (based on what I've seen and read) very focused and heavily constrained by the form. I'm not really an expert on Jeep things; haven't adopted the mindset, yet.
  • OK, that's what I thought - I know a bit more about Jeepform than Nordic LARP culture in general.
  • 3. Initial concept design and iteration

    After the vision has been decided, we had the rough number of players and basic concept for the game (setting, logistics, idea for what kind of game we wanted to do), we set down to do the concept design. Basically, it's brainstorming, setting design, character concept design and plot hook/structure design.

    We started with the setting; what kind of place Isle of Saints was? What was the history, both normal and supernatural one. Isle of Saints was modelled after the Over-the-Edgish island-state of Al-Amarja, with the somewhat kooky secret society and paranoid stuff ripped out and replaced with "enlightened" western dictature; take the Kennedy family and give them dictatorial powers. The island was set about 400 miles east from Newfoundland. The main GM, responsible for the setting, wrote about six to seven pages of setting background, mostly "fluff" for reading and establishing tone and theme of the place. It included instructions on how to map the imagined setting into the real life counterpart.

    Then we brainstormed the major character groups, factions and initial plot hooks that would tie these groups together; the possibility of conflicts.

    And then went to to brainstorm character concepts within the groups, relationships within the groups and relationships spanning from individual character in one group to characters in other groups. We did this iteratively; sat down four or five times, tossed character concepts, possible plot hooks and relationships, took notes and at the same time pondered about what could be realisticly achieved. We had a rough estimate of playing spaces at this point, which we also included to the brainstorming; this large communal apartment could be used for this, this small city apartment for that. We also started looking at the player list and casted players to character roles.

    At the end of concept design phase we had:

    - List of character concepts
    - List of character group concepts
    - List of character relationships
    - List of players
    - List of locations
    - Setting information

    An example picture of internal and external relationships of the Detective Squad (click for large image):

    image
  • Did you do R-maps for all sixty characters by group?

    What was the casting process like?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarDid you do R-maps for all sixty characters by group?
    We did not draw relationship maps of every character, no; instead we had a list of character concepts with the relationships typed into them. I did draw maps of my characters, but I don't know if other writers did similar thing. The drawn maps did not have all relationships them, we added relationships later in the writing process.

    The picture is not an original one, just a reverse engineer, from the written characters. I don't have my written notes anywhere, anymore, just the written characters.

    So, the concept list was something like this:

    Mike Freyd, detective
    - middle-aged detective
    - not doing good with his wife
    - has a son (Jens Freyd), who's been drawn into bad company (criminals)
    - Mike is trying to juggle with his marriage, son and work
    - Possibility of romantic relationship with other detective?

    And so on. Character concept just had possible relationships, which were then shaped by the individual writer.
    What was the casting process like?
    Good question, I forgot to add this.

    In the casting process, we had list of players and list of characters, which we tried to match, taking several things into acccount:

    - Gender (obviously, this also shaped the character concepts, since we had to match them)
    - Habitus of the player (would this guy fit into criminal role?)
    - Is he an archetype player? Do we want him doing what he's doing best or break the archetype and get him something completely else? (For example, we knew straight out who'd be playing the oldest vampire or the prince of the city)
    - Does the player provide an apartment? If yes, does he have to be there during the game? If yes, then he needs a character who owns the apartment.
    - Does tje player have a car? If yes, we'll need a character who'll be travelling.
    - Do we know if some players don't just get along? If there are such players, we need to separate them.
    - Do we have players who don't get along with some of the writers? If yes, we'll have to cast him into the character group of another writer.

    And we iterated, iterated and iterated again, until we had casted all the players.
  • Did you have initial information from the players to guide you? For example, were there people who specifically wanted to play vampires, or wanted to be challenged across type?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarDid you have initial information from the players to guide you? For example, were there people who specifically wanted to play vampires, or wanted to be challenged across type?
    Aside from knowing the players, no - and we didn't tell them what they'd end up playing either, because we didn't advertise the game as WoD -LARP, just "Isle of Saints: A LARP set into modern times, and we aren't telling you anything else". We wanted the masquerade-aspect to work starting from the players, so after we had done the casting, we offered them a limited character concept of "You'll be playing an older, well-established gentleman with lots of connections" (The Prince) or "You'll be playing a sort-of internal security detective, with firepower, dark suit and attitude" (a MIB operative).

    This resulted in few players wanting to play something else than what we offered, since they didn't like the initial concept, which was fine with us. Most had the attitude "you'll do the characters, we'll play what you give us".

    After the event, this did lead to some feedback from players feeling they got support roles and not central roles, which I'll get to in the problems-section.
  • 4. Main plotlines, groups and group level plotlines

    The character groups were:

    Camarilla vampires, seven or eight characters and several mortal servants
    Sabbat/Anarchist vampires, three characters and several mortal assosicates
    Technocracy mages, six or seven characters
    Tradition mages, six or seven characters
    Polices, six characters, one nonplayer character
    Criminal gang, six characters
    The Artist Gang, five or six mortal characters
    The rest characters were mortals in different small groups or connected to other groups

    The characters were divided to three writers roughly according to groups; I wrote, for example, five camarilla vampires, three sabbat vampires, five police detectives, one tradition mage and five other mortal characters (son of a detective, husband of a mage, boyfriend of a sabbat vampire and three office workers).

    Main plotlines or -hooks were written in the concept creation and further detailed in the character writing. These were things we GM's more or less set in motion in order to bump different characters and groups together and create situations. Some of these were pre-set events around which the LARP was built, happening in playing spaces. Some examples around the camarilla vampire group:

    Main event for the most mortal characters and a good amount of other characters, from almost every character group, was an engagement party of a young couple; a young, talented artist and his girlfriend. The Vampire prince of the city had set his eyes on the young artist and his trusted servant had been sponsoring the artist for some time, and was now ordered to bring the boy to see his unnamed patron during the engagement party.

    The camarilla vampires had received a tip of a police detective who had been spying uncomfortably close to them and been in contact with someone who obviously had knowledge of their power structure; their game started with a meeting in which they were to decide what to do with this. The detective himself was a non player character who was bound to go missing in one way or another. This would put the other detectives on the edge.

    A camarilla vampire dealing with criminal underground had set his eyes on a certain statue and wanted the criminal gang to break in to the apartment where the statue was supposed to be. The owner was a retired techoncracy agent, and breaking into his apartment was bound to get that group intrested. However, the statue had accidentally been delivered to his neighbour, an outwardly normal office worker, with delusions of grandeur and international espionage business.

    One camarilla vampire had found out that her childhood friend hanged out with the sabbat vampires and wanted to meet her. The sabbat vampire(s) wanted her to defect and were arriving to town both to see her and check the status of their informant (who was blackmailing the police detective).

    The detectives had open cases: they had seek and detain orders for one camarilla vampire (not knowing that he was a vampire), shadowing orders for several criminals and domestic disturbance case for one of the tradition mages.

    And so on. The plot hooks did not have a scripted endings; just the setup, initial directions and character goals or needs. Some of them appeared to be character level plot hooks, but with the amount of hooks they were bound to collide at some point. We wanted to set so many wheels into motion and have so many relationships that the events would drive themselves onward and in turn, create more events.

    The tool for controlling the events was an simple one; we used pre-determined starting times for characters and pre-determined times for meetings. Some examples:

    The Prince

    Friday 19.30 - an emergency meeting called by the Sheriff (game starts)
    Saturday 18.30 - Servant Blackwell brings young William Morgan to meet me at Elysium
    Saturday 19.30 - Prince's reception at the Elysium

    Mike Freyd, detective

    Saturday 14.30 - lunch with son Jens at the Burger Joint (game starts)
    Saturday 16.00 - Work shift starts
    Saturday 16.30 - Meeting of the evening shift
    Sunday 03.00 - Work shift ends

    Jens Freyd, detective's son (hanging with the criminal gang who're bound to call him at some point)

    Saturday 14.30 - lunch with dad at the Burger Joint (game starts)
    Saturday 18.00 - a pre-emptive beer with the work mates (the office workers) at Bar Old Hat
    Saturday 19.30 - William's and Anna's house party (will turn into a suprise engagement party, but Jens doesen't know that)

    We used the different stating times and meeting times as a pacing tool, which both allowed us to keep track on the start of the events and gave us times when certain character groups were in certain places. Apart from that, the game was mostly out of our control.
  • Why were certain characters designated NPCs?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarWhy were certain characters designated NPCs?
    Because they were hardly more than plot components; we anticipated that there's was a strong probability that their in-game time would be very short and they were really out there only to kick things forward.

    For example, the camarilla vampires knew the identity of the blackmailed police detective and were bound to do something about him. This is where we did script a bit; if they wouldn't make a move, the detective would probably have bounced off in any case. The vampires did make a move and invaded his house, did a rough interrogation (the detective was played by the lead GM, the only one of us three who did not have an active NPC-character in them game), and took him in custody. We guessed that spending two nights and a day locked up somewhere would not be exiting for a player.

    For the other police detectives, though, the blackmailed detective appeared as a "real" character in their briefings and was in no way potrayed to be an NPC. So when he did not show up at the start of the shift, we figured they'd get worried, and checked him out - and find his busted-up apartment.

    The second NPC - the retired technocracy agent, was only a target for the criminal burglary, and a link towards other technocracy agents, who got an alert from his security devices and went to check his apartment, only to find out that someone had broken in it. The criminals did manage to accidentally kill the poor old man, handling him a bit roughly and triggering a heart attack.

    Two other NPC characters were played by myself and the third GM; we tagged along two large groups, the vampires and the mortals going to the party, in order to provide GM-backup if needed, and to monitor the events.

    We did end up with few player characters turning into NPC-like characters, unfortunately, which was certainly not planned, mostly because of communication problems. They just got isolated. I'll follow this one up on the problem-section.
  • edited December 2006
    Cool.

    Just to give some context to this, could you briefly comment on how widespread your "old school" approach is compared to other Nordic regions and venues? i.e. The Trondheim outdoor live-combat folks may have worked rather differently, say.

    As another data point, are you familiar with the Book of Larp? If so, how does it compare?
  • Posted By: jhkimJust to give some context to this, could you briefly comment on how widespread your "old school" approach is compared to other Nordic regions and venues? i.e. The Trondheim outdoor live-combat folks may have worked rather differently, say.
    I'd say that it's fairly widespread in Finland; while the exact methods might be different from one group of writers to others, I think the goals and ideology can be distilled from the examples. There are LARPs that seek to break these traditions and experiment with the form, though.

    As for the Nordic countries - I don't have any first hand experience, I've never played abroard and haven't so far managed to take part in the Knutpunkt-conventions. But I've been told that Eirik Fatland's Nordic live-roleplaying crash course is very accurate in comparing both the similarities and differences. For example, character immersion and the kind of "black box playing" is popular here, but not as much in other Nordic countries. On the other hand, persistency and tendency to minimize mechanics are common in all countries. I would guess that we do more preparing work on the character- and relationship-build level, whereas most other Nordic countries do more work on the general preparing level, including setting material, physical and logistical levels.
    As another data point, are you familiar with theBook of Larp? If so, how does it compare?
    I haven't read it (though I'd certainly like to) except for Mike Pohjola's article and example scenario, which I read several years ago. Considering that the examples above pretty well rhyme with the Turku Manifesto, I'd at least say that we're in same lines with Mike. For the rest of the book, can't really say.
  • edited December 2006
    5. Characters and character level plotlines

    When we have the main plot-hooks, groups and character concepts, and group level plot-hooks laid out, started the hardest and most time-consuming part of the design; character-design. This is the point where working changes from easy and collaborative brainstorming into time-consuming, do-it-yourself, 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration -work. Incidentally, it's also the common dying point of, at least our, LARP-projects. This time we managed to pull it through, if barely. We assigned the characters to individual writers, designed/wrote them individually and then proof-checked them collaboratively.

    During the concepting phase, we came up with a template for the characters:

    Name: Mike Freyd
    Age: 48 (born 3rd of March, 1952)
    Occupation: Police Detective
    Quote: "There's some food left in the bridge. Behave."

    (Writer contact information)

    Background

    (Mix of prose and character history bits, usually one to several pages, detailing who the character is, how he thinks - very freeform)

    Habits and manners

    (several paragraphs, detailing how the character behaves)

    Family

    Jens Freyd (Pat the Player)

    (several paragraphs of text detailing characters relationship with another character)

    Friends

    (same as above)

    Colleagues

    (same as above)

    Physical fitness

    (Short, one paragraph long description of the physical fitness of the character)

    Fitness: 3
    Skill: 2
    Combat value: 2,5

    (stats)

    Skills and education

    (Few paragraphs detailing what the character knows and and do, on general level)

    Planned timetable for next few days

    Saturday 14.30 - lunch with son Jens at the Burger Joint (game starts)
    Saturday 16.00 - Work shift starts
    Saturday 16.30 - Meeting of the evening shift
    Sunday 03.00 - Work shift ends

    The writers fleshed out these parts, using the template, the background -element being the most time-consuming, if rewarding, part. Other elements, perhaps excluding the relationships, were quite easy to do. The background-element is used to give the player a mental image of the character; who he is, where does he come from, what he wants, and so on. We wrote them usually to be quite long, partly out of habit, partly because we knew we could both deliver quality text and that the text would give the player a good base from where to start building his own interpretation of the character. While the method was mostly successfull (at least from our perspective), it did on several occasions result in a Background Bloating which then affected the quality of text and timetables. This especially happened to me with the Vampire characters. I'll get back to this in the problem -section.

    There was a clear reason for using such template; while the freeform background is a good tool, we felt that we should highlight the things player should remember, so they were separated from the main text body. Text was more readable and the important bits stood out; rest of the character could be read and digested in general level.

    In the process of writing, we further developed the plot-hooks from the concept phase, came up with new ones, and fleshed out the character relationships so that players could identify with other player's characters.

    The characters were proof-readed by other GM's; we wanted and had to ensure that information we gave out was internally consistent, and when not, it was by design. I can't stress enough the importance of this; running a LARP in heavily distributed mode, with practically no or little GM control and help available, requires consistency from all aspects of the prepared material. It simply lacks tools to add such material during the event itself; everything has to be prepared in advance or be something that players can come up with during the event by themselves, within the context of their characters. It should be noted, though, that everything apart from the prepared material falls into the second class.

    Some examples of character developement and relationships:

    I wrote the Camarilla Prince to be an embodiment of a "humane conservative" and another older vampire to be the embodiment of "humane leftist intellectual", which contrasted extermly well in the game. Players developed the characters further and spent a good amount of time adding color by potraying themselves as old rivals on friendly terms. Internalizing the background was apparent through everything they did, every decision they made, every discussion they had. Furthermore, to an outside observer, this appeared to be perfectly natural - the blend of character and player was quite total when you're thinking someone as "Mister Thompson, the prince" and not as "Pat, your friend and player" almost thorough the whole event.

    The third character, a younger vampire made by the leftist intellectual, was written as a young leftist rebel, to add contrast and love/hate -relationship with her maker, and vice versa.

    The polices had a classic relationship struggle, with two detectives, best friends, each falling in love with the same woman, who in turn was intrested in fourth detective (who certainly wasn't intrested in her at all).

    Most character plotlines revolved around the relationships and social issues. Some relationships were loosely tied to group level plots. For example:

    A nerdish, professor-type Technocracy mage had set up a blind date with a girl he'd been in contact with only through the internet. The girl, accidentally, was a tradition mage. Furthermore, the police detectives had an active assigment to shadow the technocracy mage based on a case of domestic disturbance. (I've been told that the date was very romantic one, a start of a beatiful, if probably a short and painfully ending relationship)

    So, basically, the players were given characters with developed rich (I hope, some players may disagree) internal tapestry and relationships; we provided the initial situtation and players were free to develope their characters in any way they wanted and to drive them to whatever direction they wanted. I don't think we really had many cases that could have been identified as character goals, as such. We did write the characters in such way that some things were likely to happen; emphasizing the rebel nature of the mentioned young vampire and providing her with an opportunity to switch sides was a pretty strong indication that such thing would happen. Apart from creating the sitation, though, we had no tools or want to control the events themselves. The group level plot-hooks did add a lot of structure to the game, however, and we controlled the game, to some extent, through the tools mentioned in the previous chapter.
  • edited December 2006
    6. Actual play, GMing the LARP

    (This started to turn into a massive actual play minutiae, so I'll just cut the GM stuff and some examples here. And cut it to two posts, what I witnessed and how the general logistic went)

    So, having done the concept design, brainstorming and writing - and delivered the setting material and characters to players (some barely before the game) - we got to run the game. Because things were happening in different places at the same time, I don't really have a clear picture of what was going, apart from the groups I hanged with and communication with the lead GM, who was the only one not actively playing. In fact, it could be said that I missed most of the game and only observed most of the things happening to camarilla vampires. Rest of the things I got to hear in the debrief, from other players and GM's, and some after-action reports.

    I didn't really have to do GM-things during the actual playing, except for briefing individual player groups before they started playing. I might have done a few clarifications on background issues and setting, but I didn't do rules judging - it wasn't needed. So I kept myself on my toes in case of emergencies and just played, while discreetly keeping in touch about what was happening elsewhere, mostly through phone.

    My game started on friday afternoon when we did the last minute checking on things at the Lead GM's communal apartment in downtown. Characters - delivered, found replasing players for those who had had to cancel their attendace, and so on. The first group of players, some technocratic characters, were starting their game first and I met them when leaving. I spent my evening briefly briefing the Camarilla Vampires, attending their meeting and then breaking in and delivering some pain to a certain detective.

    On saturday, I started by briefing rest of the character groups; detective and his son at the Burger Joint, rest of the detectives at the apartment which served as their headquarters, Sabbat vampires and their mortal juicebag at a gas station (from which they left for few hours long car drive; in in-game reality, they were driving from adjanced town to this town, which was simulated by them driving one hour away from city, taking a coffee pause, and driving back), and finally the office workers at downtown pub. Then I headed to the Camarilla Elysium, a communal apartment in downtown, and arrived a bit later than the vampires, who were already in full-fledged play. I spent rest of the game mostly tailing them.

    Example of the "True"-rule:

    The esteemed mr. Blackwell, capable servant of the Prince, brought William Morgan, the would-be-childe of the Prince to Elysium almost exactly on time, having escorted him out from the middle of engagement dinner with his girlfriend and both of their parents. Some socialising with the "art patrons from abroard", as it was explained to William, and a glass of red wine later, the prince took William to another room with me and mr. Blackwell. There we witnessed a very good, very Anne Rice-esque, scene of prince explaining that there, indeed, are vampires (with evidence, prince slitting his hand with kitchen knife and then healing the wound - this was done with the True-rule) and that he offered immortality to the young man. William asked for some time to consider the offer, which Prince gave to him and asked him to call back before the morning. William left, prince's reception started. (And later called, and declined the offer for immortality - love won, this time, after hours long discussion with his future wife)

    My highlight of the game:

    While hanging out at the Elysium, Prince's cellphone rang - it was one of the Vampire's, a shady computer guy who never attented the social events, warning that some internal security guys were tracking down Prince using his cell phone signal. He switched off the phone instantly, and we quickly grapped our overcoats, and went out from the Elysium - just in time to see three men in black suits walking towards us at the street. We hurriedly started walking towards the city centre, and the Men in Black started running after us. So we ran, across the street, into walking boulevard, zig-zagged through the shopping alleys, and finally sprinted into bar. We bought beers and went to sit to a table from where we could see the door, and tried to relax. We spent fifteen minutes inside, I drank the beer, while the vampire only briefly sipped his. Then we decided that we had lost them, made an exit and later regrouped some of the other vampires whom I reached via my cellphone. Prince's phone was shut out for the rest of the game.

    Later, it turned out that we escaped because the MIB's (whom I knew to be technocrats - the vampires had no clue of this) caught another vampire, took him to their car and interrogated him, pretending to be internal security detectives, complete with offical badges and all. He got out as well, just keeping his cool and talking his way out of the situtation. The MIB's knew something was wrong with the guy, but they never thought to check if he was alive - they weren't expecting to catch a vampire.

    That was an half'n'hour where I quite completely forgot my role as a GM and just let it flow.
  • Wow, that sounds fun. So the RP never stops? Is there a debriefing after?

    I imagine the guy to be married had a fun scene with his bride-to-be, making a tough moral choice. But he made the boring choice - sticking with the mundane status quo. Was this satisfying? Was it expected? Do people make decisions based strictly on character motivation, or is there some concern for the overall game?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarWow, that sounds fun. So the RP never stops? Is there a debriefing after?
    The goal is to keep the in-game going all the time; you only stop it if you really have to, but we try to streamline the rules in a way that the in-game won't stop even for resolution. Same goes for GM involvement; if we don't have to step in and break them game, it's good. I didn't have to do this, except for once or twice when someone asked for a clarification, or when we had a logistic bump - we used the lead GM's apartment as a general location (the detectives apartment, retired agents house, etc) - and one party was leaving still inside when we arrived. I had to escort the other group to wait for a while, while the other group made their exit, not noticing us, and us not seeing them. Stuff like that.

    The mentioned MIB-team, who started their game a night early, spent the first evening just socialising - getting that hot cup of coffee and doughnuts in the car, cruising the perimeters, talking manly talk. We generated some alerts for them, though - they went to check their communications equipment hidden in a large park, in middle of night, and so on. That's also why the character background and relationships matter - you gotta have enough meaningfull stuff and complete enough picture of your character, other characters and the world in general to just slip into it and get carried away.

    There is usually debriefing at the end, and we had one, late saturday/early sunday night. Debriefing works as a tool for letting the players smoothly snap out of their characters, reflect what happened and also socialize and chat about how their game went, what happened, and so on.
    I imagine the guy to be married had a fun scene with his bride-to-be, making a tough moral choice. But he made theboringchoice - sticking with the mundane status quo. Was this satisfying? Was it expected? Do people make decisions based strictly on character motivation, or is there some concern for the overall game?
    The ideal is to make decisions based strictly on the character motivation, but you never can tell; it's the players call and players responsibility to do what he does. Was it a boring choice? Maybe, only he can tell. At least the the need to make the choice generated hours worth of drama for several charactes, and affected a lot of other characters as well (for example, the gossip about engaging couple locking into the toilet to argue over something - those young rascals). The player was very satisfied, as was his spouse, in the debrief. It certainly wasn't expected - I would have bet on him turning into a bloodsucker. I think the vampires made him into a ghoul, just to be on the safe side - he had drank the Princes blood twice, unknowingly, and the wine they offered him at the Elysium was the third time (True: when you drink this, it tastes a bit weird but so good - and you instantly like this man standing here. A lot.")

    This, incidentally, is one of the differences between the Swedish and Finnish LARP's. We drive towards immersing to the character and basing things only to his mindset - the Swedes way of playing is more collaborative and less immersive; they aim for the dramatically appropriate results, which generate more stuff for other players. Or so I've been told and these are, of course, rough generalisations.
  • Thanks. Can you give an example of a conflict in-game, and how it was actually resolved?
  • edited December 2006
    I don't know if there were physical conflicts, in which the combat resolution system would have been used. I didn't see any and I don't think any of the characters - except the NPC's - got hurt.

    One conflict was in the example above; the MIB's questioning a vampire and trying to find out what's fishy in him. They didn't get anything on him, so they grudgingly let him go. I presume they used their supernatural powers in the interrogation; the vampire either resisted with mechanics, or their powers just didn't point out that he was a dead guy.

    Another conflict was the rebel vampire; she had to decide if the joined the sabbat pack or stayed with the status quo. The sabbat pack leader, her friend from earlier times, convinced her to switch sides and her sire - the leftist intellectual - couldn't convince her to come back when he later called her.

    The problem with conflicts is that we don't really have clearly defined conflicts and thus no conflict resolution mechanics; only something akin to task-resolution or just freeform, social mechanics. Or, at least, I can't pinpoint them.

    I have one quite detailed after-game report online if you want to check that and see if you can spot them. In any case, it's fascinating, if dramatized, peek inside immersive players head (also, it's quite long):

    Debrief of Antero Isopuro, international man of mystery

    (The character, in short, being a normal code donkey who just happens to see the world through James Bond -lenses and thinks himself as the centerpiece of that fantasy)
  • 6b. Actual play, logistics, big picture

    I think we had around six designated playing areas around the city, mostly in downtown, but several places in suburbs as well. Most of the groups had a car or two in use (I just checked from a technocracy player that he drove around 170 kilometers during the game - the technocracy base was in the suburbs, and most of their missions happened in downtown).

    Players used cell phones for communication; they knew the phone numbers of the characters they had relationships with, or if they had other reasons to know them. They could get more numbers from the GM's if they had reasons and means to do that. The GM's communicated with cell phones as well; the lead GM had a secondary phone line, so he could use one line for in-game calls, and second line for GM tasks.

    Also, irc was used for communication - we had several characters who mostly participated through phones and irc; a vampire who didn't want to socialize, a tradition mage in wheelchair, technical police officer (who spent some time online, I think), and perhaps several other players. The lead GM played several NPC's online, the so called haXor-types in Isle of Saints. The idea looked good on the paper, and sucked in actual play, mostly because we could not focus on the online players and they were more than a bit left out, with little to do. More on this in the problems-section.

    So what did the players/characters do during the game? It was mostly social roleplaying, playing a full day of life of your character, until events at some point started to accelerate and turn south, when the plot-hooks kicked in, your or your groups intrests collided with other groups, and stuff happened. This did not end the social roleplaying, though - just added some action and direction to it.

    So, in essence, the whole event could be thought as several mini-games starting on their own and then colliding and expanding into a larger whole.

    Examples of group-level plot-hooks kicking into effect:

    The Camarilla Vampires started with the mentioned detective investigation, and kidnapped the man. This lead to police getting worried about and investigating their colleague who didn't show up to work shift, the Sabbat controller getting this information and relaying to Sabbat pack approaching town, and possibly the tecnocracy getting hang of things via their surveillance.

    The young artist was introduced to Prince, which mixed up things in the engagement party, especially when vampires later showed up in the party.

    The Vampire with undergroud ties contacted the criminal group and assigned them to steal a statue, which they failed to do, but in the process accidentally killed a retired technocracy agent (accident and accident - one of the criminals was not named Pepe "Anus" Chicanez for nothing), which then triggered technocracy intrest to a whole different level. All these different things eventually led the technocracy to tail the vampires and especially the Prince. It also lead several groups to pursuit the misplaced statue and a certain codemonkey who possessed it, and was investigating international conspiracies in engagement party.

    The Sabbat pack approaching town got into contact with the rebel vampire and persuaded her to switch sides. The rest of the camarilla were already a bit suspicious of her and put one of the vampires to keep company to her, which led to an excellent scene; the two vampires visiting engagement party (both had some ties to the humans there), the another vampire leaving the rebel alone just for a mere minute - which she used to sprint accross the street and into a waiting car, which then speeded away. Two minutes after this, the rest of the camarilla arrived to the scene with multiple cars, having gotten a hang of the switching attempt - and missing it by just a bit. Talking about narrow escape.

    The technocracy tailing vampires eventually did find them, at Elysium, triggering the mentioned escape scene and further driving the vampires to regroup at the safe house, and planning for the future - still now knowing exactly who was after them.

    So, in essence, the chaotic model of relationships and plot-hooks did generate a lot of contect and the structure worked - for most of the groups, with the bonus effect of lot of close call -situtations. For some other groups and invidual characters, it failed badly.
  • Did events resolve neatly during the specified play period? Were things rushed at the end, or did elements fail to resolve? It seems like the organic nature of the event would lead to a lot of pacing unpredictability.
  • A lot of things were left unresolved; camarilla vampire's situtation was wide open when the game ended - we were at a safehouse discussing future strategies (for next months and years). The statue was in possession of the international man of mystery, who lied to everyone that it was stolen from him - he planned to use it as a future bargaining chip for... Something. And lot of other things. I think we could count the engagement stuff as having resolved, and the rebel vampire's case. Probably several others as well, especially on the character-level.

    Leaving things unresolved was by design/by nature of the playing; we aimed just to slice one hectic period from character's life, play it through, and assume that things would continue on that pace in some alternate universe. There was no drive to resolve everything during the play - though some things were indeed rushed, but hopefully only by in-game reasoning (groups wanted to have the statue before any other group could claim it, etc).

    I'm not sure if I can elevate a certain sense of "realism" as a design goal (it was more like a byproduct), but we certainly wanted to avoid the kind of game with clear plots and goals that would "have" to be resolved before the end of the game.
  • 7. What worked, what did not work and what should be improved

    Hindsight is always hindsight, but looking back, I think we ran mostly succesfull game, although with several things that backfired heavily. I'll go through the problems first.

    Communication during the event was probably the biggest failure; we relied on one GM who was supposed to handle the in- and off-game phone calls, online presence, and feed relevant data to different groups. This worked well enough when things were quiet; it became quite a clusterfuck when things went hectic. We gravely underestimated the amount of time phone calls would take and how much the players would be doing in-game phonecalls to whomever. Our communication system was jammed, which affected the police group in particular - they couldn't get data from their moles and street police patrols (which would have been supplied by the GM's, based on where the other groups were moving), quite effectively cutting them off from the rest of the game. It also affected the online-players, as the GM-played NPC's became mostly inactive.

    Second, some character preparation and casting work failed. Some players got characters that didn't suit their playing style, which resulted with a boring experience. Some characters were just bland; the concepts didn't work at all. And finally, some where written in a way which didn't result in meaningfull play. For example, the Sabbat gang had a mortal boyfriend (or juicebag) with them and he was written to be a pretty obnoxious guy. The player did a great job playing him - and the Sabbat gang kicked him out after they reached the town, having been just this close to wasting him. That player missed most of the game - and didn't even know he had been in a car with three vampires, until after the game.

    One of the players had to cancel his appearance because of illness, just few hours before the game started, and we couldn't replace her. This left her characters husband a bit alone regarding the relationship stuff.

    Some mortal character players felt that they got support role character when they found out, after the game, that there had been a whole other dimension in the game. Some comments can be read from here. Should have put more effort to writing the mortal plot-hooks, probably, though the supernatural/mortal divide was there by design.

    Some of the characters suffered from a background bloat, which then affected some other backgrounds as well - when the deadlines came close, the quality of writing suffered.

    On the positive side, apart from the communication glicthes, the game as whole worked pretty well. Things clicked together and events movent forward, generating more and more stuff when things progressed.

    The rules worked for the players; that is, they weren't used much and when they were, the usage was subtle and quick. I'm not sure how much the nature of rules - very freeformish - affected their usage, but more complex rules would probably just have been skipped.

    I think we mostly succeeded in the main goal, simulating a certain amount of time in a city of darkness in "realistic" manner. The masquerade was kept until the end; some mortal players probably guessed that there was supernatural stuff going on in the background, but it didn't blatantly jump to their and especially not to characters eyes. The pacing of the game mostly worked; slow start and buildup, hectic ending.

    Also, we managed to get material internally consistent, which save us from lot of trouble. The players were pretty much capable of playing on their own, without need to constantly update them about setting- and character related things.

    Probably the most important factor was the fact that we chose our players and made an invitation only -game. It's a cheap shot, but this way we didn't have to worry about things like cheating, differences in play styles (though we eventually got some of that, as mentioned) or too many other player-level things.

    What could and should be improved, then?

    First and foremost, the heavy preparation really isn't an economic way of running a LARP. While designing, writing and tinkering is fun, the long preparation time tends to be the swan song for lot of projects. They never get off the ground (I should know; IoS has so far been the last LARP we've organised and we've had plenty of concept brainstorming since that).

    Some smaller games are already improving this by putting the characters and relationships out less developed and more as concepts, at then let players collaboratively work on that and develope the rest. There's still a lot of room for improvement.

    Second is the communication; that's where we lacked the most and got a painfull remainder of not lacking on it again.

    The casting process should be more thought out and differences, even small, in playing styles taken into account. Also, the characters would still have to be developed more carefully on the concept level. Some kind of concept proof-checking wouldn't hurt.

    ... And probably lot's of other small stuff.

    In the end, I don't think there's anything special in this stuff is related to the design-part - it's pretty much your old school, traditional scenario and character design, which just tries to take some of the elements unique to LARP's into account.

    And how it relates to tabletop gaming? The process of design is pretty similar with character immersive tabletop playing, around here - it aims for similar experience and similar goals. As the playing style in tabletop is very similar to the LARP playing style, the design methods tend to follow on the same path.

    Phew, that's that, hopefully you got something out of this. Thanks for the questions, they touched a lot of things I didn't even think about when writing this.
  • Thanks Jukka, this was really interesting and useful to me. I'm sorry it was just a Q&A between the two of us!
  • No problem; glad you found it intresting.
  • Just to chime in; I found this thread to be very interesting. Nordic LARP is fascinating to me, so while I've never participated in one, I find reading about the design and execution to be thought-provoking and inspiring.

    So, thanks!

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
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