"Letter Larping"

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larpadjacent
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#1

Via Facebook, a fascinating idea: Letter Larping:

Letter larping is, in short terms, just what the name implies: larping done via letters. This means playing for an extended period of time, and it provides a lot of freedom that is difficult to find in traditional larps. Much like in tabletop roleplaying the characters are not restricted by the players’ abilities, looks, genders, ages, etc. Furthermore it is easily accessible for anyone who might otherwise have a difficulty attending traditional larps because of children, disabilities, mental illness etc. It also happens to be a wonderful way of brightening up otherwise dull periods, such as the dark winter, or simply to bring some spice and amusement to everyday life. The wonderful feeling of opening your mail box to find beautiful handwritten letters is something we think more people should have the opportunity to experience.

So basicly De Profundis or Quill with a centralised GM or GM team providing a bit of setting and maybe some kicker events (Quill does this with specific guidance, because its pitched as a one-shot, solo rpg).

The website notes that they consider it larp for basicly historical reasons: the first games run like this in Nordic larp culture were labelled larps, and so it stuck. Whether it is or whether it is larpadjacent I guess depends on whether you think you can larp alone (classicly, while locked in a dark closet). If the game is about the characters writing letters, and you sit there in character (and optionally, in costume) writing a letter with appropriate implements and in the appropriate style, you’re certainly “doing what your character is doing”, at least as much as in a live action online game with diagetic video.

But at the least, its useful for thinking about the role IC, diagetic letters can play in a game, and I can see some genres (e.g. regency) where they could be a huge part of play when coupled with physical events.


#2

I know some people that do something like this during downtime between events. They use email, though, because they treat it more like p&p where your characters may be in the same room/on the same ship/at the same encampment.

In the specific case I know about, they mostly seem to enjoy the philosophical discussions arising from having the worldview of an elf and that of a mercenary collide. Hard. :smiley:


#3

"Letters "in downtime seems quite common in larps in NZ, though they’re not usually sent physically. Though Musketeers had some physical letters - people have posted photos of their IC correspondence piles.

The difference here is that the “larp” is the letters.


#4

Let me be the devil’s advocate then and ask: do you really need a GM for this? If so, why?


#5

Vaguely related - although not a larp, this has really tickled my novel-writing brainparts and that hasn’t happened for a really long time…


#6

TBH, I don’t think it does - at least not for small numbers of participants. Neither of the published rpgs in this style use a GM (and Quill is very explicitly pitched as a solo game).

Though if you have a large number of participants, I can see that a GM might add value by adding events or NPCs and providing a framework setting.


#7

:upside_down_face: Some letters might get “lost”? Or read by people who shouldn’t read them?

Drama!


#8

Ideally. But the first requires letters to be sent via the GM, the second that the GM know the contents. The website notes that some games asked participants to send the GMs a photo of each letter sent, but it broke down because a) people forgot; and b) the GMs didn’t have time to read them all (which suggests they needed more, or more active, GMs).

Riffing on @Viperion’s point, it is a nifty way of crowdsourcing your epistolary novel.


#9

So, they’re discussing this topic over on the Gauntlet Forums (an indie-gaming forum) as well. There’s been suggestions about leveraging the physicality and mailing small props etc. But the most useful comment so far is this one:

  1. I believe setting a timeframe (10 letters over the course of a year, at least 2 done by X date) helps not only define the game, but also puts a pressure on the participants to keep their end of things. It allow allows for the out of game conversation about “hey I can’t meet this commitment because Y reason, what can we do about it?” to occur.
  2. Much like @Ren_Neuhoff 's microgame about the mars rover , I feel that you should include some sort of way to gamify the lack of a response, whether through missed post or missed schedule. I think you can get some value out of that.
  3. since we love having our laser like focus on what we are emulating for most games, having a set list of subjects that gets randomized for each participant to use like in Dear Elizabeth helps keep a tight focus and gives each player an “out” when their juices are dry I think.

The links on that are both to little one-shot indie-games, which are pillageable for ideas (and “Dear Elizabeth” is regency - perhaps the ultimate epistolary genre?)

On the role of the GM, I’ve been poking around the site for Incendio, a 20’s Potterverse letterlarp. In true Nordic style, they say straight out that there is no plot, so that people can feel like they are the main character in their own story rather than a side character in someone else’s (something we solve in NZ theatreform larps by having lots of plots, so characters are both). But that doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything - they talk of introducing small narrative threads that players can follow whenever and however they want, introduced at start or during play by media reports:

The storytellers in Incendio include things that the organizers send out at lajvstart and the newspaper that will be published regularly during the lajvet, but above all, the storytellers will build on things you as players find themselves on, both before and during the lajvet. It is these self-made stories that usually give the best game.

So I guess someone running these is looking for small plot seeds, which the players can expand upon. In a regency game, this could be an announcement that someone important will be holding a ball, that a new noble has taken a house in the district, or of preliminary reports of a battle being fought overseas (given the speed of information flow, it was fairly common for newspapers of that era to do a very brief preliminary report, then a detailed followup when the full information arrived days or weeks later).


#10

I was bitten by the game design bug last night, and am now seriously thinking of trying one of these. Partly because there’s now a specialist facebook group I can ask for support before I start…

I’d be looking at a Lovecraftian theme. Because I currently use PbtA in tabletop a lot, I’ve sketched out a series of letter-writing Moves to provide genre guidance (and ideas about what to do) e.g.

When you encounter the unnatural, describe how it has left you shaken, or what it has revealed to you about the true nature of reality, or both.

I’m also planning to provide genre guidance for characters by getting them to select an archetype (e.g. scientist, artist, journalist), and a few options from a pick list (e.g. “you solve problems by…” and “you are currently concerned by…”). The latter would seed initial plot and provide common interests to connect characters.

I was concerned about conclusions, but @Catnip has suggested imitating the XP / character retirement system from Legacy: a list of genre-appropriate actions, which double as covert suggestions of things to do. When you do one, mark a box; when you’ve marked six or so, your story should come to a conclusion. There’s also a Move for “When you decide that you have gone insane or been confined in an asylum”.

If this sounds like fun, keep an eye on this thread. If I can pump the Nordics for information, I might be able to start something late next month.


Name the Lovecraftian letter larp!
The other inevitable post-Hydra thread
#11

I could be tempted to play in this. Or maybe even help you write it if that’s something you’d like me to do.


#12

I don’t think it’ll need much writing, because I don’t think it’ll need much GMing (but I’ll be checking with some experienced letter larp coordinators before I solidly commit to that). So, I suggest playing. I talked to a few people at Hydra, and it sounds like there’s enough interest to proceed once I’ve got Titanic Machinations out of the way…


#13

Cool, cool. I’m in as a player then.


#14

Deep in design mode, and I’ve shared my initial rules document with an international GM to get some feedback. The most obvious point is that this is going to be more than one letter a month.

Here we usually play for 4-5 month with letters send to each contact once per week or once every other week, meaning each player write about 3-5 letters per week. Some write far more.

In NZ the postal cycle is “3 working days”, which once you account for limited delivery days, means about a week in practice. So if you write a letter to someone, you’re probably not getting a reply for a fortnight. If each character starts with 3 or 4 contacts, and writes a minimum of one letter a month to each, that’s probably a minimum play speed of a letter a week (and people can write more if they want). Does this sound like too much?

Unfortunately, it probably does rule out international participants.


Name the Lovecraftian letter larp!
#15

In terms of formulating your thoughts, sitting down and writing the letter, that would probably be about as much time as a weekly session of D&D (with the upside that I could get it done on the train). I think that’s perfectly manageable for me; don’t know about other people.


#16

Pretty sure I’d manage most of that too, at least during normal and predictable times. (gnarf)


#17

Maintaining plot coherence across 3-4 correspondents could be challenging


#18

That’s one of the things I’m worried about as well. In a tabletop or larp there’s setting documents and ultimately a GM to be the final arbiter of what is real and what is not. with a letter-larp, there’s only the players.

I’ll check with the facebook group, but reading the blog they just don’t seem to worry about it that much. So it may just be a matter of “try hard, and let the little things slide”, and negotiate in the forum or by email over anything important.


#19

I’m coming into this a little late, but I’ve a few thoughts, and experiences, which I just note below. It might note be directly relevant for your current plans though.

In Empire I’ve received and responded to IC Email; most often it is PDF by email; although some players delight in creating lovely period looking letters with wax seals etc; which are normally then put in a modern jiffie bag and sent by post. UK post is next day first class ,or 2-3 days second class. PD (the organisers) have rules about what and how plot can be discussed outside of the time-in; so that the game is kept to the field, but mostly what is organised is introduction; copies of documents discussed in the field and attempts to arrange meetings for the game.

In Maelstrom (where I was a plot team member) we allowed players to write to NPCs; and it was a big plot effort to reply to those letters.

In “Love Letter” we encourage players to write letters to each other in the in between the scenes. We try to read them as GMs but that the busy part of the game for the GMs.

In none of cases was plot consistency big issue; both games there are clear boundaries layed out in what the players can improvise. Empire probably has it better documented but they had well over 2200 players last event,

In comparison Love letter is 10-12 player 4 hour game, but equally the players are split into to groups; each sitting together and since both groups have pretty free IC communication during the gaps it is easy and sensible for them to discuss anything which effects other characters which goes in their letters. We (the GMs) often get sanity check questions from the players as well about what is sensible for them to have done, so it works out simply in that case. Obviously that isn’t quite what your talking about but a mechanism to IM the GMs would probably achieve some of the above.

In Maelstrom I believe I saw letters which related what happened on the field in way very different to my on-site perception; but unless the NPC had a contradicting letter; they was no reason for them (the NPC) to believe otherwise.


#20

Seen on Facebook: a Regency letterlarp, designed as an introduction to the format. While its open to international players, it only lasts for 3 months, so NZ’s poor postal service would severely limit participation given usual play speeds:

(I’ll be stealing some of their rules and character creation guidance for the still-unnamed Lovecraftian letterlarp…)