Wednesday, April 2, 2014

LARP Considerations: Pull Toward Division vs. Cohesion

I'm in the midst of designing a campaign game that sits somewhere between the Adventure style (modules, external plots, NPCs) and the Elysium style.  It's an awkward position to be in as the two styles vie and compete with each other but it's also the best spot for me to be in because my LARP is only now getting off the ground and I don't have oodles of cast and helpers available to ensure there's enough plot for everyone, while on the other hand I'm too much of a meddler to sit back and let an  Elysium style LARP just happen.  Mostly because I'd get bored with having nought to do but process rules and dice checks.  (NB: My lack of understanding of what exciting bits such a LARP would contain obviously shows in my ho-hum attitude toward it.)

The trick, naturally, is that a PvP arena tilts toward divisiveness while a PvE arena tilts toward cohesion.  After Persephone Trent provides you with the financial requirements to undercut the cult, Gary Dodd provides you with the arms and Dimloch provides you with the physical clout, it's hard not to feel a little bit beholden.  When your very existence depends on that one time the Wyrm pulled you out of a burning river and carried your legless body through miles of the Underworld to safety, you start to overlook the minor issues that would normally drive you apart.

At the very least, as a group you start to look down on petty divisions when those divisions could spell the end of everyone.  External threats are a great way to boost internal consistency and identification between members.

Naturally vampires (as this is a Vampire game I'm talking about) are innately pulled toward divisiveness, but everything that is human about them pulls toward cohesion when it seems to be the only way forward.  Short of building concrete division points into your character (you see spirits as a source of information, I see spirits as corruptive demons), most things can quickly be overlooked or healed.

Yet cohesion removes a major source of conflict: the clash of characters.  Unless the storyteller has enough cast and assistants to ensure a constantly flowing plot where everyone feels relevant most hours of the night, there's going to come a time when they will sorely need the characters to clash.

So what to do?

I look toward post-apocalyptic tales for guidance.  In a post-apocalypse, most of those who survive are at least a little selfish and paranoid (same as vampires).  They huddle together in confined spaces because that is precisely what keeps them safe (Torrens Island provides refuge for my vampires from the "spirit" incursions) but those confined spaces also make resources more precious, especially in terms of space (there's only so much square feet to go around).

In most post-apocalypse stories there is a chance for betrayal from within to either improve one's own odds or because one wasn't who you thought they were (Strix can possess vampires).  These treacheries and confusions can also stem from an inherent distrust of certain aspects of the world, whether superstition or reality (don't let the lights go out).  An ambiguous disaster could also cause the individuals involved to become paranoid toward each other (were you involved in this?) or toward certain other groups which are allies to some but not others (mages serve these entities, spirits are demons, werewolves are corrupted).

And, as always, the resources themselves become scarce and dangerous to maintain (blood, money).  Sometimes these resources conflict with one another (improve one Rack at the expense of another, improve one set of Herd at the expense of another) and the people involved must deal with those conflicts.

Sometimes those conflicts are the dramas of life, both petty and entertaining.  Romances, exaggerations, anecdotes which cast oneself in a brilliant light, an entertaining joke told at another's expense, a game of chess or a boxing match, or an argument over ownership of something that could technically belong to both.

All of these aspects and angles can be a part of the rich tapestry that also includes investigations, ambushes, throwing off assaults on one's territory, cleansing poisoned wyrm's nests, learning coils and proving one's worth to the overall organisation. 

Perhaps, it is possible, that in a single covenant game we may have the most diverse range of conflicts than in other sorts of games because when one isn't forever at each other's throats, one gets to deal with the complications that arise from life (let alone unlife).  Perhaps it is possible to play with the best of both worlds.

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