Monday, May 18, 2015

The Highs and Lows of Being Prince

While many LARPs have a titular leader, my only experience has been with Vampire: the Requiem LARPs so I can only really speak for that format.  Naturally very Player versus Player oriented varieties of that game will be a little different.  Mine involves a fair bit of Player versus Environment in a relatively open sandbox world.

Now prince is known to be a high stress position, especially in Australia where firm hierarchies with strong dictatorial leadership strategies are very frowned upon.  We like to call our bosses by their first name and feel consulted on just about every pertinent decision that affects our job.  We feel that the extra time taken to do so is well worth the feet-on-the-ground perspective that can be tapped by such consultations.

While the primogen council fulfils some of that function, since Australians are also unused to bringing their problems to delegates and instead attempt to either directly contact the official or solve it themselves when the official is within sight, things can get a bit problematic as in a 15 - 30 player LARP there are no physical barriers preventing them from reaching the prince directly other than protocol. 

It's not too difficult to remember to use the appropriate procedures for speaking with the prince, and Australians generally love falling back on "policy said so" as a sword and shield for when we have to put our foot down, but these elements run counter to our egalitarian expectations and so load the subject of prince with greater tension in Australia then perhaps elsewhere.

As an example, I have had a couple LARP groups of 20 players where we maybe got two to three players who actually wanted to play the prince.  Some groups will have had different experiences, naturally, but it has been mine that most players will avoid trying to topple the prince simply because it means they would need to step into the position.  Naturally the ratio would be higher in PvP LARPs as they attract more politically minded players but even there I've found the preferred positions are things like Seneschal where you can blame the leader while potentially still controlling the city yourself.

So other than some cultural baggage that surrounds the issue of prince, there are the real actual play issues.  Some of the tricks and troubles that need to be considered include:
  • Accessibility.  Can you, as a player, be reached between games?  Do you attend enough games?  If not, other players must choose between freezing their own roleplay and aspirations until they can next reach you OR proceeding until apprehended and ignoring the position of prince.
  • Bottlenecks.  This is why the aforementioned Accessibility situation matters but even when you are present and contactable, you may be busy huddled away in the corner with a few key characters while everyone else sits on their thumbs unable to move forward until they can tap you on the shoulder.  This can breed frustration and boredom in the main room.
  • Delegation.  This is a key management skill and not one that everyone has in spades.  If you're unavailable, is there someone else who can confidently act in your stead?  Have you briefed them enough that they can predict your own choices and decisions with some accuracy?  Are those with delegated authority likely to be locked in a back room with you and therefore defeating the purpose of the delegation?
  • Consequences.  Your role necessarily balances the need for drama, conflict, consequences and opportunity for other players to actually be able to do things.  Have you left enough wiggle room for players to have fun without necessarily going against your authority?  And what do the consequences mean both in and out of game?  While character death or enslavement is the clearest example of this issue, killing off key NPCs and destroying or taking away favourite assets also count as that shuts down whole arenas of gameplay for other players.
  • Opportunity.  Your actions and directions to the court will naturally sculpt the sort of gameplay opportunities that are available to the other players, to a sizable extent.  If every non-vampire supernatural that attends the court is slain or blood bound, they'll stop coming.  If murdering humans leads to death or torpor, than villainous characters are quickly outed and removed.  If neonates are forbidden from interacting with other supernaturals or if all dangerous areas are forbidden without a court-mandated assault by a specialised team, then gameplay is restricted in downtimes, RtRs and in session to one particular mode - unless your point, of course, is to have your orders disregarded but that's not a style of play that suits every player of a prince.  Of course, as with Consequences, treading too lightly in this area kind of negates the point of having a prince, though.
So what do you do if you're playing a prince?

Firstly, be mindful that you have a position that has the potential for the greatest control over the game as a whole and that's one of the main sources of suspicion and contention.  In a PvP LARP, this won't be such a concern because many of the other PCs are, at least in theory, out for your throne and so the consequences are just more plot and the opportunities you restrict are minor inconveniences.  Being the biggest bastard around allows you to be both protagonist and antagonist and give everyone oodles of joy.

In a primarily PvE LARP, you can literally sculpt the gameplay itself to suit your whims and your characters' wishes with any real platform of support and so, just as with a Game Master, it's important to build trust and to consider the ramifications of your characters' actions as a player for the other players if you don't want an insurrection on your hands and aren't eager to gamble your character's unlife in an antagonist role.

It's a hard position to be in when you're hoping / expecting to maintain a praxis for a long period of time in a PvE LARP.  A hard position, indeed.

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