Sunday, February 16, 2014

Developing a One Shot LARP: Coping With Complexity

Developing a LARP is tricky business but it's also quite simple. I've been getting ready. I've rustled up all the odd and quirky things in my house which I think could have decorative or prop value. I've started collecting coffee jars. Why coffee jars? You'll need to wait and see. I'm trying to use up a few spice bottles in the next month or so as they make good die roller containers (so I bought pizza topper since my husband smothers that on everything). I've cast my eye across potential venues to investigate a few times (though I've yet to actually make appointments and start rocking up).

I've also read a lot of LARP articles (not that there are very many) to better understand different styles of LARP and their issues so that I can better knuckle down on just what I want out of a LARP, the kind of players who would enjoy that, and the kind of traps which would arise. If I can't tell the players exactly what they're signing up for, then I may get some very frustrated players who might otherwise have either avoided the LARP or simply changed their expectations.

Plus certain LARP styles stand at odds to each other. LARPs with great rules complexity (like World of Darkness) really don't suit high combat LARPs (which you want to be snappy). I've arranged to have a Combat Helper stand with the player who's turn will follow the current one so that we can speed up the combat. The Combat Helper is also a player but knows rules well and, most importantly, has no combat skills himself to speak of so will have no real part to play in the grand majority of combats.

Complex rules are also not great with investigative LARPs where you don't want to have to hand hold the players through everything they do but you also want to quickly signpost who can read the Ancient Greek and who can decipher the occult text. Checking to see if you have a relevant skill buried among the powers, combat skills and social skills could be irksome for some players. You also want to make sure the skills divide down enough that anyone with, say, a dot in Academics due to their document analysis skills can't open that Archaeology skill envelope about that obscure Mayan death cult. World of Darkness has skill specialties which help with that but changing the mentality of players used to being able to at least "try an Academics roll", especially if they're heaps excited by what's in that envelope, can be problematic. So with the one shot LARP, at least, I've hidden all the character's skills. They have enough on their character sheet booklet to worry about. Instead of a list of skills that won't come up in this session (i.e. outdoorsy ones like Drive or social ones good for downtimes and NPCs like Expression), they only have a list of 4 - 7 skills, specialties and languages which are on the envelopes. If you have the right one, you may open the envelopes. There's no temptation to argue.

Complex LARPs are also not heaps beginner friendly, which is why I'm making a booklet, rather than just handing out sheets. These booklets are only 2 2/3rd of an A4 page but will be divided up so that you get a nice pocket-sized booklet which contains your Bio, History, Connections, Goals, Relevant Disciplines & Rituals (since rituals now take 15 minutes per roll, I only list the pre-cast ones). The disciplines identify your + Number that is your dice pool. There's even a page that shows your Attributes and your Skill Envelope Skills as well as a page that shows all your combat stuff from Blood Potency to Initiative to Defence to Combat Skill bonuses (divided by type of weapon where you have multiple attack skills). There's also a page on vampiric banes, personal banes and inherent abilities such as the Blood Buff.

As a complex LARP, the game also involves expendable resources - health, blood and willpower. Health is represented by a set of marked squares. Since storytellers mind the combat quite precisely, we have the pencils and we can mark off their health or provide them with a pencil and instructions to do the same. But what about blood and willpower? They can be gained and lost very quickly. Well, I went with stickers. I used Google Images to track down a blood spatter mark and a brain image, shrunk them down, and printed them off on envelope labels. I used a stanley knife to score the edges so that each icon can be more readily removed.


I will paste these sections on onto their pages, including the label backing, so that you can remove them, replace them, and remove them again without ripping off any paper.


  1. The label idea sounds pretty nifty. You could do something similar with velcro or magnets for really long-term use, but it'd be more work and cost a fair bit more.

    I'm pretty intrigued by the coffee jars...

    1. I already have magnets from my wedding invites, so many magnets, but they'd be thick and the magnets would be prone to slipping and sliding, making them about as good as poker chips in the pocket.

      Velcro could work, though would make the booklet thicker. In a persistent LARP where folks could be expected to know the basics of their characters, there'd be fewer pages to worry about so it might work there.

    2. Yeah, those are some drawbacks. Where velcro might be handy is for a low-mechanics walkabout kind of LARP (maybe boffers and so on?). You could issue everyone a belt or sash to stick velcro tokens on, so they only need a two-side reference card otherwise.

      Thinking about it, surely someone must have started offering LARP apps? It seems like a natural development, and I'm about the only person I know without a smartphone.

    3. I know there are dice rollers. Don't know about anything else.