Larp within a Larp: Flashback Scenes

Campaign Larp Question

Often in a larp campaign I have seen the Game Masters and Storytellers use the Flashback storytelling device, where the player characters experience events from the past in some fashion, with the goal being plot exposition.

Sometimes this is done really well and can be a good experience, other times it feels like it is actually a ‘larp within a larp’ because you are playing a character who is themselves playing a role.

I’ve seen this done a few different ways:

  1. The past event plays out while the player characters look on, they are unable to interact with the event
  2. The past event plays out while the player characters look on, they are able to interact with the event but cannot effect the outcome.
  3. The past event plays out with the player characters as a part of the event, they are all givein generic roles to support a few central NPCs.
  4. The past event is played out by the player characters as a part of the event, they are all given a set character to portray other than their own.
  5. The past event is played out by the player characters as themselves thrown into an uncertain scenario where they have full agency of action.

You’ll note the increasing level of player agency with the decreasing level of story control by the Game Masters or Storytellers.

There’s a place for this sort of narrative device, but I’d love to hear your personal examples:
Which scenario were you in, how did it play out, was it satisfying, did it achieve the objective you set (if you’re the GM)?

Speaking as a Game Master: a small portion of The Dying World’s plot is delivered by way of dreams and visions, which is a related concept. I’m talking from the perspective of someone planning these scenes, because although it can be unpleasant losing agency as a player, there are sometimes reasons where if you have some information to impart by way of a vision you need to retain control of how long the scene takes and what players focus on.

We fall under Number 1 for most PCs and number 2 for some characters, mainly Lucid Dreamers. Most of this is because these visions are delivered to individuals, and giving interactivity means the potential for a scene to extend from a few minutes of GM time to half an hour or more, for a single person. That’s not something we can really afford to do unless we plan to. If we did those scenes as interactive, that’s a whole extra GM right there.

Options 1 and 2 mean you can deliver a packet of information, maybe answer some clarifying questions, and then move on to the zillion other things you have to do that weekend.

This can get complex, because some of these visions are the memories of the player characters. I only do these when they’re necessary and there’s no other effective way to convey what needs conveying, mostly because we very badly want to do justice to the PCs and to any information they’ve given us about their backstory and loved ones. I know I’ve agonised about phrasing stuff in the way a PC would!

As a PC? I find 3 and 4 actively stressful and largely not enjoyable to do. It takes me a while to find a character, I find I mislike suddenly having to be another made up person with very little transition or context. 1 is fine if the scene doesn’t run too long (in general if a scene requires me to stand still and watch/listen and not interact, you have me for a maximum of five minutes unless the scene is completely riveting), I love 2, and I can’t comment on 5 as I have never been a part of a scene run in that way.

I am trying to remember if I’ve ever used a flashback in a larp as a GM.
I’ve done dreams.
I’ve done “this is where you are when the scenario starts”.
I’ve done clarifications. In a few instances in 33AR, people said they wanted “There was a big fight and me and Y got separated” and I wanted to really dig around in the details of how and why, and what that means for their being reunited.
But I think the closest I’ve come to flashbacks is “unlocking memories via hypnotism”, and in those cases we normally had it written up to be delivered to the player when it was triggered. They were largely non-interactive and didn’t need to include anyone else.
I did have one sequence which was basically ghosts, and played out functionally like 2. But a villain was actually hiding in the crowd of ghosts and ganked one of the PCs once he was identified.

I have plans for a very silly Highlander game, where flashbacks are an essential component of the game. At any time, you can slap someone on the back and say “Hey, do you remember the time when” and then take them away to a room with different set-dressing and have a flashback, and then have people interrupt your flashbacks and have nested flashbacks. I expect and want people to abuse the flashback system every which way from Sunday.
And also each person has a designated Queen song that when it plays they always win fights.

And also each person has a designated Queen song that when it plays they always win fights.

:rofl: Why does this make me think of Good Omens?

The original (only!) Highlander film was entirely Queens songs, and was 2/3rds flashbacks.
“When love must diiiii-eeeee” always gets me.

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loool I’d forgotten about the flashbacks…

But in Good Omens, every tape (it was tapes back then…!) that was left in Crowleys car eventually turned into a Queen album.

Hmmm… A larp based on Good Omens. Hmmm…


I need to play that game, Mel.

As we all know, the people who made the (only) Highlander movie firmly believed: there can be only one.

I think my main experience with flashbacks is as ‘recovered memories’. My technical comment is that you need to give people a bit of time to read the memory and think about it before they join the game again; and my welfare comment is that it can be unkind to give someone a surprise memory involving graphic violence or evil actions without OOC discussing with them what they’re up for first.

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I have a rule that I use now about recovered memories coming from the GM without much input from the player. These surpise recovered memories might change your perception of WHAT you are, but not WHO you are.
“Surprise, you’re a robot”, cool. What you are has changed, but says nothing about who you are.
“Surprise, you’re the king!” same thing.
“Surprise, behaviour you previously felt good about had context you didn’t understand” is a bit borderline, because it strongly impacts who other people think you are due to things you as a player had no control over.
“Surprise, your boss was actually the bad guy all along” - depends on what info the character did have access to.
“Surprise, you actually deliberately chose to kill those people, you just forgot it and became a pacifist” I would avoid.