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Author Topic: GMless LARPs  (Read 28929 times)

Posts: 64

« Reply #15 on: November 27, 2005, 12:49:09 PM »

I'll throw and example of another variety of Nordic LARP, heavily prepared beforehand but in actual play, essentially GMless (except for the GM's being information brokers and playing NPC's): Isle of Saints.

Jukka Koskelin | merten at iki dot fi

Posts: 11

It's all my fault...

« Reply #16 on: November 27, 2005, 12:56:39 PM »

I do wonder if perhaps the answer you're looking for is to reduce the amount of out-of-character influences on the game. From what you said above, the GM's ability to overshadow the players is a big problem.

With what you're describing I think that you'll be replacing the shadow cast by one person, which can at least be ignored, and instead making everyone cast shadows over each other's play.

It sounds like the player would have to do a lot of out-of-character thinking to make it work.

Walking, talking, and a few simple mechanics can make for an excellent game, and if the game is focused on the ability of the players to generate interaction and intrigue, the GM is relegated to arbritrating rules queries - they become a facilitator, not a leader.

We could be a thousand years apart, or a thousand miles away...and yet, here we are.

Posts: 83

« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2005, 04:46:28 PM »

I just read Graham's game, Dirty F**king Freaks, by Graham Walmsley and there's two thing I have to say about it.

1st. It moved me. I have seen many fine examples of slim-lined LARP rules, often by lurking near the Forge, but never one quite so delightfully obscene. (See below for more coherent commentary.)

2nd. I, too, spent some time in San Francisco and I, too, played a Game which may well have inspired this one. (For instance, do you remember a guy with a jigsaw puzzle that seemed really important to the plot but which just spelled out something frustrating and inane when you put it together? Did you want to kill that guy? Thus, I may have been one of your fighting c*nts. Also, if it was the same Game, then my skanky girlfriend at the time described it thusly: Before the game, all the guys were talking about the girls and all the girls were talking about drugs.)



Graham's game certainly does do several things I want to see done in a LARP.
The idea of drawing a crowd for a fight and forcing the crowd to judge is elegant and nasty.

Perhaps I am still reeling from the heady intoxication of Graham's ugly little game, but it cuts right to the point and convinces me that a little nastiness may provide something vital.

Also, the very, very simple rules are exactly what I think a LARP should use. Why? Because players always have a lot to think about.

Okay, Thats just structure notes. Delivering rules in one and two-sentence paragraphs seems absolutely intuitive and I know it works, but I also know how hard it is.

I'd like to take that idea and make it just a bit more complex.
Thank you for the inspiration, Graham!

I'm going to try and boil down my theories into a few coherent sentences for tomorrow.


Posts: 83

« Reply #18 on: November 28, 2005, 10:19:25 PM »

Okay, here's an attempt at a more coherent version of the GMless LARP scenario:

So far, I've suggested that the duties of the GM in a LARP be removed. Although some rather good reasons have been put forward supporting GMs in a LARP environment, it does not deter me from my original desire. I would like to see a system which specifically supports a GMless LARP.

I think that splitting up the duties of the GM will make it possible to run a successful GMless LARP.
If this happens, formal limits will certainly be neccessary for each individual "edge" (I really like that term.)
Two cases have been put forward which make me think this may be a tenable position:

The Cooperative LARPs of the Finns and Graham's wonderful (I'm not kidding. It's streamlined, engaging and even elegant) Dirty F-in' Freaks game.

Fom these two sources, and some thinking I've been doing on my own (and have already posted here) I'd like to propose a few terms/GM roles to make it easier to discuss this (should anyone still be interested.)

Backer - The guy who writes the backstory for the LARP. Note that this does not have to include PCs or subplots - only the guy who hangs the general setting, the most recent conflict or events of interest, and the NPCs. (These factors: What Went Before/Recent Events, the Backdrop For Tonight's Events, Important NPCs and the NPC list could easily be created cooperatively or just come out of a box, many RPGs provide such listings.)

NPC Wrangler - The guy who actually decides what NPCs are doing during the game. It is the priveledge of the NPC Wrangler to introduce new NPCs, call back old NPCs and to speak for those NPCs.

Toybox - The guy who approves new props and hands out important ones (mostly MacGuffins.)
Perhaps the Toybox could have some sort of seal of approval (like a Notary Public, only for props.)

Healer - It occurs to me with this guy that saying you have a skill in Healing might also give you the right to adjudicate injuries/recovery/diseases and disease management in general.  From the point of view of immersion, the Healer/Doctor type character could turn generic wounds into practical consequences (Letting the player say, in character and with due authority: "Well, I've done what I can for that leison, but you won't be able to use your arm for the rest of the night" for example.)

Beedle - The court of last resort guy. The judge you go to when you need to settle rules disputes.
This might be handled by popular vote or general agreement (as suggested in Graham's game) or, I was theorizing, obviously corrupt officials (ones who openly accept bribes and act upon their biases.) That would serve as an entertaining deterent for we more hidebound players, perhaps?

Extractor - The guy who gets people out of bad situations - lets them take time outs, etc. Perhaps this is best left to the province of individual players (Graham's LARP does a wonderful thing where it outright forbids removing other players from the game. Delay - yes. Maim - yes. Remove by force, death, binding or other means - no. Very neccessary because normally a GM would have to do it.)

Bloodhound - Someone who knows any secrets or mysteries (perhaps other players who wanted a stake in important events would have to confide in this person) and can hand out clues. An obvious limitation here would be that the Bloodhound can only hand out hints - never direct answers, but can provide them at will? ("Say guys, look what I found!" or "I'm sherriff Dunbar, do any of your recognize this bloody satchel?" kind of thing.)

Well, that's all I can think of for now. I hope this counts as RPG theory, it's rather specific, but I think it might fit.

Graham W

Posts: 437

« Reply #19 on: November 29, 2005, 12:27:20 AM »

It all sounds good.

Honestly, though, it sounds as though you're past discussing theory and you're designing the game. If I were you, I'd design it - even if it's just a quick 24 hour game - and discuss it in Indie Game Design. I think you'd get more coherent feedback on the whole game than on the fragments we're discussing here.

By the way, Adam's game "Ends and Means" is worth investigating as well. (It's been discussed in past threads, so do a search for "Ends and Means").

It has a very clever way of getting players to "buy" GM time with Focus Tokens, which are a limited resource. So, although it's not strictly speaking a GM-less LARP, there's sort of an implicit suggestion that the players should be able to entertain themselves without a GM if they have to.

J. Arjoranta

Posts: 2

« Reply #20 on: November 29, 2005, 03:11:01 AM »

(1. This is my first post, so be gentle.
2. I blame my inability to write English on the fact that I was born in a wrong country.)

First I'd like to ask about the motivations of making a GM-less game (I know it has been done, but I'm not sure if the writer meant the same thing). (1) Is the purpose to have a larp with minimum preparation time? (2) Or minimum GM influence on the actual play time?

If the point is (1), then we're closing a gap between larp and improvisational theatre - or more accurately, portraying the relation between theatre and improvisational theatre. Improvisers can start a scene from scratch, and I think that competent players in a larp could also. (Although I just found out how hard it really is. I tried participating in impro-theatre myself.)

My point is, that if this is the goal, then you use techniques from impro-theatre and with some minimal social contracts (You can't change the genre during play... etc.) you could start a larp with no preparation. I don't know how well this would work, but that is partly why I am trying the impro-theatre thing anyway. Maybe pre-made characters would help, but that would require some preparation.

And, if the point is (2), then I think you could approach it differently: removing GM-influence and removing the GM are two different things. Like my fellow Finn pointed out earlier, there are games played here that can work with minimal - or none - GM intervention. Players won't be queuing to the GM, if the GM doesn't make the decisions. Our game of Vampire: the Masquerade was written with 5 GM's, but most of the time during the game, we just played. None of the players had to came to me for consultation, because the players had all the strings in their hands. I think this was due two few fundamental differences between the Larp-scenes in here and US:

- Our game(s) (I can't say this is universal in Finland, but I think it is more common.) focus more on the social and drama aspects than the "plots". There will be no-one investigating around, lookin for clues, because there will be none. If there are plothooks to be found, they are held by the players - and more accurately, they will mostly be something the character knows, not owns. Focusing on the social plots, we erase the need for propping clues.

- We play more "hands on". With only bare minimum mechanics, most scenes (even fighting!) are acted out, not played "by the rules". That why Freaks wouldn't probably be a good idea here. This gives the players the change to dictate the outcome of the action. We also encourage "giving in" (for lack of a better term), especially during fight scenes. This gives out more drama, and if we enforce (social) rules of not killing character unless absolutely necessary, won't offend players being beaten up.

I lost my point somewhere on the way, but I think that background information will help in understanding what I'm saying:

By writing the background material thoroughly the GM can then be just one of the players and let the players tell the story. For that you need good rules for conflict solving, or just good players. We're blessed with the latter, and I think we'll try running a game with no mechanics soon.

Jonne Arjoranta

Bigot: One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Ambrose Bierce

Posts: 83

« Reply #21 on: November 29, 2005, 09:25:45 PM »

Jonne and Graham, thanks for your responses.

Gaham: I was really hoping I could get someone else heated up on the GM-less idea, but I'll put up a crappy web page by this weekend and see what I can do. The problem with designing something is that I really didn't have any kind of... I guess you call it a theme (in this forum) to explore. I have no premise for a game in particular in mind and I really don't want to do something like urban fantasy or horror. I'll look around and see if I can get a setting idea (I really don't want to make a generic system right now either. That's why I'm fiddling around in theory rather than design.)
(I'll look into that Ways and Means thing, too. I think I've seen that one before.)

Jonne: Great english. I've got a degree in journalism and I've worked on a couple English Language papers (weeklies) and I still spell things wrong. I don't always spell check and I ought to, so you're one up on me there. (It's not as if I even speak a word of your ... I assume... first language!)

Well, I think what I've seen of the Finlandish approach is great.

As for my motivations:
I'm trying for both 1 and 2. I'd like to reduce the prep time AND the GM influence.
Which may be impossible, but, if push comes to shove, GM influence is what I'd like to edit out.

My biggest problem is that, should I end up actually designing this GM LARP, the only people who might play it (so that I might also take part) would not be very cooperative. At all. So I'd have to be pretty strongly "gamist" - with "narrativist" tricks hidden in the rules.

And I certainly do plan to use tricks from Improvisational Theatre (I'll have to check out "STOP MAKING SENSE" from the library again.)

Well, I'll post here when I've finished the project (I'm no 24 hour designer) and started a thread in Indie Design.

Adam Cerling

Posts: 159


« Reply #22 on: November 29, 2005, 10:06:23 PM »

I'll save you some search work in the interest of self-promotion:

[Ends and Means] Debut
[Ends and Means] Werewolves in L.A.
[Ends and Means] Memorial Day Playtest
[Ends and Means] King Lothian's Court

(I apologize that I have only a design thread and some playtest threads to point to; although I have an 80-page draft, I'm holding back on posting it until I get more playtesting under its belt.)

Don't worry about a setting! I also had no setting in mind when I started writing Ends and Means last spring. Instead I focused on the kind of play experience I wanted to create. I began with a list of design goals, much like you have your list. I knew that some settings would complement my system and some would not, so I ended up drafting a chapter about how to design those complementary settings yourself.

Don't be afraid to make your "Narrativist tricks" the centerpiece of cool in your game. Don't write a game that other people might want to play. Write a game that you want to play, and then your enthusiasm will help draw the players you need.

I look forward to seeing what techniques from Improvisational Theatre you will incorporate. That's a realm of which I have no knowledge.

Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
J. Arjoranta

Posts: 2

« Reply #23 on: November 30, 2005, 01:04:51 AM »

I think you should check out "Impro for storytellers" by Keith Johnstone. There are several techniques there that can be used in role-playing, especially larp.

And I think that WhiteRat has a important point there: write a game you want to, not one you have to. When the game is finished, it is all about marketing to get the right people there. I've actually thought about "casting" for players, so we could decide which character would be suited for which player. That is too difficult in real life, so I'm thinking about alternative techniques for character selection.

Bigot: One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Ambrose Bierce
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