Game Wrap vol 1

The first volume of Game Wrap, NEIL’s annual volume on the craft of larp, is online. You can read it here:

They’re also currently seeking submissions for their second volume, so if you have anything interesting to say about larp, it might be time to write it up. Guidelines and submission form are here.

Writing Process, Written Product: Outside-In vs. Inside-Out Larp Design (Nat Budin): Describes two different ways of writing theatre-style larps. “Outside in” is something I recognise: decide what your game is going to be about, work out plots and characters, and then write it all out on character and background sheets. “Inside out” is weird, and involves the two co-authors who use this method effectively roleplaying protocharacters in the proto-game (or perhaps players talking after the game) to work out what the game is going to be about, who the characters are and what the plots are going to be. They do enough of this to work out the details, then write it all down properly. Its not a process I’d use, but it shows that there is more than one way to do it, and that’s worth remembering.

A Time to (Not) Kill: An Examination of the Institution of “Kill Moratoriums,” Their Use, and Alternatives in the Craft of LARP (Matthew Kamm): “Kill Moratoriums” are a common design decision in larps, aimed at balancing the competing goals of realism (allowing characters to be killed in a world with guns, spooky magic, and psychotic wielders of same) and player enjoyment (because it sucks to die early). So you end up with rules saying “you can’t kill anyone until the last half hour of the game” or similar. This article looks at some of the reasons you might want to do that, some of the reasons you might not, and some of the alternatives. Its fairly thorough, and the takeaway is that larpwrights should be explicit about their design decisions in order to set the tone of their game.

Secrecy in Intercon-Style LARP (Brian Richburg): This one is a bit mis-named, since its really about secrecy culture in the Intercon larp community. As in New Zealand, lots of their games are driven by hidden narrative (the cat is really a robot. X is really Y’s long-lost child. Z is secretly plotting something nefarious. And so on), the enjoyment and playability of which can be undermined by spoilers (which in turn undermines the ability of GMs to re-run them). But there’s also some discussion of “big twist” (or as I prefer to call them, “bait and switch”) larps, which deliberately mislead their players and are not what they say on the label, as well as the problems the anti-spoiler culture poses for documenting designs and learning from each other’s mistakes. All of this is perfectly applicable to New Zealand, where we also run hidden narrative games, but not something we tend to discuss much.

Reading this, I’m also wondering whether the anti-spoiler culture helps explain the relatively low rate of publication from the Intercon community.

Smile and Smile and Be a Villain: Supporting the Narrative Function of Villain Roles in Larp (Phoebe Roberts): Drama needs conflict. Stories need antagonists. In some genres, those antagonists are Villains, with a capital “V”: dastardly, mustache-twirling individuals in black hats, hell-bent on world domination or destruction. In a story where the heroes are meant to win, how do you make those characters fun to play?

To which I respond “that’s a stupid question”. Why do the heroes have to win?

And that’s my fundamental issue with this article. It does raise a lot of interesting questions about players ruining each other’s fun (and having roles which are about ruining each other’s fun), characters with no friends (or at least who will have no friends once their secret is out), and player agency. But underneath it all there’s a narrative assumption about the way things are supposed to go that I simply reject. Instead, I think its better to start from a position of agnosticism about endings, and design every character to be fun to play regardless of what happens.

(Though it also seems I just don’t design games like this. I write plenty of antagonists in my games - in fact, everyone is both antagonist and protagonist. But very few capital-V villains. I can think of maybe two (no spoilers please), and then only one of them whose goals are truly incompatible with those of others (and that’s maybe because I just haven’t thought about amusing compromises enough))

The Cowardice of Your Convictions (Warren Tusk): Players in larps are too nice. They cooperate, they’re generous, they will refuse to be nasty to each other even when its their role, and this general atmosphere of smurfiness can really smurf up your game. The article complains about this, then presents some design strategies to encourage players (and therefore characters) to be bastards to one another. Finally, it encourages players to be bad, to play their characters flaws and failings, because it will be more fun that way.

Unfortunately, they’re probably right; I’m never going to be able to get players to play realistic WWII attitudes to homosexuality in the British military.