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Author Topic: Theoretical Speculations about LARPs.  (Read 3569 times)
James Holloway
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« on: August 29, 2001, 12:41:00 PM »

I don't have an agenda, really. I just wonder if there are any differences in the way that the theoretical framework discussed here and described in the FAQ applies to live-action games.

Is player authorial control possible in LARPs? Would it need to be implemented differently? Are LARPs inherently part of one point on the G/N/S triangle or can they be anything?

I don't really have views on any of these subjects, I'm just a LARP dork and I don't think I've seen the question raised on this forum yet.
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jburneko
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2001, 02:50:00 PM »

Hello,

I'm not much of a LARPer myself but I'm a sucker for theory so here's what comes to mind.  I hope I don't offend any LARPers, if I say anything inaccurate shoot me and tell me to stop talking about things I know nothing about.  That said.

LARP has generally been thrown in as an extreme end of Simulationism.  Not only does Player = Character but the physical space around you is used to aproximate as much of the real space you are supposed to be in as possible.  This makes using Author and Director Stance difficult but not necessarily impossible.

Author and Director Stance generally require OOC information.  If two people are having a discussion in another room for your character during a table-top game you the PLAYER can still hear the conversation and use your Authorial or Directorial power to act on that information.  This IS impossible in a LARP unless everyone is somehow hooked up with two way radios but that would seem to defeat the point to LARP.

Where you CAN gain OOC information is BETWEEN games when you 'debrief' with your fellow LARPers.  It would then be possible to reflect on the activities of that session and plan your next 'move' from within Author Stance.  But I really don't see a way to escape Actor Stance in a LARP.  An exception I guess would be if you were playing in a Premise based scenario in which case you can at least make character choices based on the Author viewpoint of the Premise to help your character build a Theme.

Director Stance would be REALLY hard to use since you're working within the physical constraints of reality.  The best you could hope for is a GM who allows you to improvise props.  For example snatching at nothing on the wall and claim that it was a sword hanging there and so on.

These are just my initial thoughts.

Jesse

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2001, 07:52:00 AM »

Hello,

I was holding off on posting to this thread, because (as with everyone so far) I am *pig*friggin'*ignorant* about the actual experience of LARPing.

Unjustified speculation: that LARPing carries the full GNS potential of any "adventure gaming" activity, and also that as conceived so far that it probably has explored very little of that potential. (So basically, I'm simply stating exactly what I already state for RPGs, and for that matter, wargames and CCGs.)

Plaintive call for help: I know bloody well that several Forge members are very experienced LARPers. C'mon! How about some help on this thread, eh?

Best,
Ron
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James Holloway
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2001, 08:00:00 AM »

Ron, I think you could be right, but there are things that seem easy and fun in sit-down games (director stance for players, for example) that seem difficult to implement in LARPs. During play, players often become physically spread out in a way that makes communication with all of them very difficult.

I like Jesse's suggestion of letting the good stuff happen during downtime (assuming a multi-session LARP, of course - in fact, my current ongoing LARP works like this in a rudimentary way). This is a little interesting - it seems to me like structural switching between play styles, which is comparatively kind of rare. Might players have a hard time with it?
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Epoch
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2001, 10:00:00 AM »

I'm not an incredibly experienced LARPer, but I've played more than a half-dozen LARP sessions.

I tend to agree with Ron, but Jesse and James do have certain points.  Communication is an issue -- even in relatively small LARP's, it's hard to immediately inform everyone of something, and particularly hard to do so without being very intrusive in the game (ie, if everyone's in a room, you can just yell, but that's jarring for a lot of people).  So that has a certain somewhat limiting effect on the extremes of directorial control -- limits it for both players and GM's, by the way.  Also, the emphasis on physical objects existing for in-game objects limits the abilities of anyone to, for example, create a supporting character or whatnot -- you need somebody to get in the physical space of the supporting character.

Pretty much all LARP's have some mechanism, formal or informal, for talking OOC (I think that Mind's Eye Theatre, which I hate with a passion, uses a hand signal to designate OOC speech).  Author stance is eminantly possible.  I've personally engaged in it.

Most LARP mechanics out there right now are gamist (which amuses the hell out of me, given the stereotypical LARPer's insistance that they're so far beyond D&D-like games) in that they reward player skill with the mechanic.  This has to do with the difficulty in getting randomization into a conveniant form, I think.  In addition, LARP's tend to be insensitive towards desires to, for example, "imagine" that such-and-such a player is being convincing in his speech when he's actually a stuttering idiot, so that's also, to a certain extent, gamist, in that player skill is required and tested.

Very large LARP's are, in my opinion, unlikely to ever conform to Narrativism as envisioned by Ron and such, due to the difficulty in coordinating 50 plus people to all contribute to a single premise.  However, there's a lot of potential, I think, for a LARP that explores shared authorship in a somewhat looser grand design.

Those are just some random, scattered thoughts.
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James Holloway
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2001, 12:01:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-08-30 14:00, Epoch wrote:
So that has a certain somewhat limiting effect on the extremes of directorial control -- limits it for both players and GM's, by the way.  


See, this leads to my question of whether LARPs (I could expand this to "physical conventions of gaming," I think) facilitate particular play styles. Many LARPs exhibit strong gamist or simulationist tendencies, and I think that the numbers and so on involved are partly the cause:

Many LARPs (mine included) really on player vs. player conflict to provide the action, because the scale of the game makes GM intervention problematic. This leads to a desire for "balanced" rules, a common gamist objective.

I'm not sure whether LARPing inherently facilitates the kind of character-immersion that many simulationists seek, but I know a lot of my LARP players are very dedicated to deep IC styles.
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Epoch
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2001, 01:52:00 PM »

I don't know that balance is gamist per se.  You could make a good argument for narrativist (or dramatist, for that matter) balance on, quite simply, the grounds that one-sided conflict is boring, and one form of conflict that you wish to explore is PC vs. PC conflict.

The gamism that comes out of that, I think, has more to do with the fact that very, very, very few players are willing to let their characters be "beaten" by other characters, so they adopt gamist play styles to try their best to "win."

That said, it's not impossible to have PvP conflict without becoming Gamist.  Let me share a very narrativist LARP that I played in (I think it was called Pantheon):

There were 30 players and 4 GM's.  All characters were somewhat amnesiac minor deities, trying to "graduate" into a full-fledged pantheon and start a new world.

We had little worshippers on our existing world and they gave us power through a kind of minor sub-game.  I happened to do very badly in the first couple of rounds of the sub-game, and got very little power because of it.  I got bitter.

So, you could gain another form of character currency ("rank") through your actions, and one of the big points was to accumulate 5 points of this.  Most people got one or two, then go stuck.  I could only get one.

I started to try to trade my influence to other people.  In exchange for a certain amount of currency, I stunned someone right before she was supposed to attend a duel.  The action was deemed dishonorable, and I was stripped of my 1 point of rank.

I conspired to send down a meteor swarm onto the worshipper's world, to hurt everyone else's followers, and again used my (unique) power to stun the world's guardian right before the attack came.  Needless to say, I wasn't terribly popular for that, either.

Finally, it transpired that we needed to form a sort of consensus-based Godhead to stop our universe from being destroyed.  I refused to join the consensus, asking why, exactly, I should save the universe for my more powerful and better-liked relatives.  At this point, I was pretty much the major antagonist in the game.

I dropped into author stance, talked with the GM's, and eventually agreed to go into the consensus if the Godhead would also make me sacrosanct (ICly, I was worried that someone would see if they could reach consensus just by killing me).

The game dynamically generated its own rewards by having the various players and GM's (who were personified natural forces in the universe, I believe Fate, Death, Time, and Luck) vote on who the new universe's pantheon would be.  Despite not having any of the "requirements" for admission, I ended up in the new Pantheon.

So.  I bore you with all this because it strikes me as a good example of player-vs-player conflict in a Narrativist vein.  I wasn't chosen from the beginning to be the antagonist, I just evolved there from in-game events.  Having come to the point of being a memorable conflict, I (the player, not the character) worked to resolve the conflict in an ICly plausible way.  At the point of the conflict, we weren't "balanced" at all.  I'm actually kind of surprised the other PC's didn't just mug me -- they might've been worried that if I died, they'd never be able to form the Godhead.  And, having resolved the conflict, despite being the antagonist, I was rewarded (on a player level more than a character one.  Sure, it was good for my character, but the game was over at that point.  I got recognition from my peers (indeed, sustained applause), and that was the admitted point of the wrap-up pantheon ceremony) -- indicating a desire to reward players who contributed on a story-level, even if they were opposed in a in-world level.

I'm sure that, if you desired it, you could get a much more Narrativist LARP.  That one was pretty ideal for me, as it hit the limits of my own Narrativist impulses.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2001, 02:49:00 PM »

Hey,

I'm pretty sure that no one is saying anything about what CAN be done ... that is, a Narrativist LARP experience is certainly possible. I have been talking with a Forge member who's too shy to post about it, who's done more LARPing than I can possibly imagine, and regarding Narrativism he says, "Yes, absolutely," as well as, "Vanishingly rare."

He also agrees that Gamism is very common, especially in terms of raw status, reputation, and popularity, and that it gets expressed in terms of the most basic human variables - willingness to be near the person and give them attention, sexual interactions (real not imagined), and so on. Much more immediate and linked to the experience of role-playing than table-top.

And yes, Mike (Epoch) is right in that attention to balance doesn't necessarily imply Gamism, although I don't think it's unreasonable to observe that balance is a common design feature in facilitating Gamist goals. I believe the point made does work if it were phrased as, "Gamism is common in LARPing, and balance mechanics in the rules often reflect those goals."

Best,
Ron
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James Holloway
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Posts: 372


« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2001, 06:30:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-08-31 18:49, Ron Edwards wrote:
"Gamism is common in LARPing, and balance mechanics in the rules often reflect those goals."



Right. What I mean is: as a way of creating non-GM-centered stories, LARP GMs often implement player conflict plots. Players, however, tend not to like to "lose" to other players (at least in my experience - many people who wouldn't bat an eyelid at submitting their character to be hosed by the GM get very competitive when it's another player). This means people pester GMs until they balance the conflict system.

Huh. This raises another tangent question: do LARPs bring the social dynamic to the fore in a way greater than or different from tabletop games? It's a cliche of ongoing live-action games that they run on a hidden web of intrigue and sex and so on...
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2001, 07:05:00 AM »

A reason for so many LARPs revolviing around game balance is because of the organisations which play them. When you have (for example) twenty groups around the country in the same setting, playing by the same rules, players get shirty when Ref adjudications go differently at one event to another, even if they're made for reasons of improving the story.

Matt


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Mytholder
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« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2001, 03:57:00 AM »

Hi all,
sorry I didn't reply to this sooner - away at GenCon UK (and a Tori Amos concert, which bizarrely sparked more thoughts about gaming than the con did...), but anyway...

Narrativism in larps is fairly tricky. As several people have mentioned, communication is the problem. If I make a change in the larp environment, everyone else must be informed of it. Standing on a chair is one option. Nobilis' larp rules suggest sticking notes on a noticeboard ("have just repealed laws of physics").

That said...larps can have narrativism without running into immediate communication issues, as long as authorial power is only applied to things outside the scope of the larp environment. Most larps map the physical location to a game location, and anything outside the game location is handled by GM fiat/tabletop roleplaying/mechanics etc. For example, if we're playing Vampire, then the larp room maps to Elysium (a Vampire sanctuary) and anything happening in the city outside Elysium is handled by the GM.

Now, you could use narrativism on stuff outside the larp. I could say "there's a big cathedral where the Mages meet in the city", and this wouldn't mess up the larp immediately. I'd have used authorial power to add to the game world without breaking the larp environment.

Of course, this is just postponing the problem. At some point, the other players are going to have to be told there's a big cathedral in the city. Post-game debriefings are a solution, if a bit clunky. Another option might be giving characters certain traits - Access to High Society, for example - and letting them fill in what these traits actually mean in the course of play (my Access to High Society can mean I know a servant in the palace, or that I'm secretly the son of the Count of Blah, or that I can blackmail Lady Blahly...) As long as different characters don't have overlapping traits, there's no danger of contradiction, and therefore no need for immediate communication, and therefore harmony and joy reign supreme.

Another, far easier approach is just run small larps. I've seen eight-player larps. No communication problem there.

As for GNS placing...er. It's not clear. Mind's Eye Theatre is a mess as far as GNS is concerned. The system is Gamist, rewarding player skill as well as point-juggling. The overall structure of the Camarilla fan-club is simulationist - the worldwide story appears to come down to trying to create an illusion  of a world-wide society of vampires, there's no real driving plot. And the intent of the game is drama. Yuck.

Smaller, once-off larps (freeforms erc) generally aim for drama. And the big re-enactment games with real/boffer weapons look to be semi-sim from my vantage point.
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