Player led plots

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There’s an interesting series of posts over on Larp eXperience about StrangeLRP - a small ~25-player campaign based on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. A lot of the early posts are about design influences and how they ended up with the design philosophy that they have. But the interesting stuff is in post 4, where they talk about narrative design and player-led plot:

Anyway, plot. I had some concerns about plot. It works like this: Everyone is planning to run a player-led larp, but not everyone knows how to do it. As an organiser, the instinct is to think about what is going to happen – why else would you be planning, if you weren’t thinking about what is going to happen? Consequently, everything becomes linear, because things happen in linear time, and you want to tell a story. A, then B, then C.

People like narratives. I think they need narratives. So A, B, and C need to be connected. If there is a problem with B, then it has to be fixed to maintain the connection between A and C. There are points of potential failure, and usually, there are right and wrong ways to play the narrative.

[…]

This is simplistic. In practice, very few larps are truly linear. Usually, they progress along branching pathways – ie. it doesn’t matter if the critical component goes missing, because we have worked out some alternative endings for the larp. That’s better in some ways, but there will often be more than one plot, and without considerable work, getting the branching plot strands to interact can be difficult.

Faced with this, my instinctive reaction has always been to abandon control. I thought, back in the day, that I hated plot and narrative, but I have learned to love them, with certain caveats:

  • Plot is interesting stuff that could happen. Predicting the outcome makes it less interesting.
  • Narrative is something that the player creates retroactively, and the organiser can’t do it for them.
  • Given enough agency, players will provide their own plot, and draw other players into it.
  • Agency rests on a foundation of consistency – the larp should not be predictable, but the players should be able to make reasonable predictions. The world can’t change at the whim of the organiser.

They talk about organising the game using set-pieces, events for the players to react to, rather than planned narrative. So I guess things like this (there are untold less violent examples, but I guess its the classic). Though to make the reactions work, you really do need the last bit - something I thing they’ve argued in relation to Odyssey as well.

I have never run a campaign (and never plan to). But is anyone trying anything like this in their designs here?