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Author Topic: Differences in writing 'adventures' for LARPs vs. Tabletop.  (Read 18596 times)
sean2099
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« on: May 18, 2006, 06:18:05 PM »

Hi all,

I have never written a "formal" adventure for a LARP style game before.  I have played in them before and they seemed more spontaneous (little preparation beforehand.)

So, let me describe how I am approaching this.  The 'adventure' that I want to write is for a game I am creating.  It is meant for a 'first session' game.  The prologue isn't the setting for my game (it's one of a myriad of possibilities for a 'gods game.')

I am writing in down in scenes.  For instance, scene one is a prologue illustrating a battle between two brothers that are gods.  They both die of mortal wounds and their blood splashes onto the shell of the celestial turtle.  (Don't ask about the turtle; that's pretty much what mythtellers say when they use myths of this nature to explain creation.)  From the blood, all life springs forth (including the players.)  At this point, it should be known that some of the brothers' blood mixed together and some of it didn't.  The blood that mixed formed all the mortal life while the drops that didn't mix formed other parts of the universe, including all of the various immortals.

Prompt:  players can now describe the universe and their connection to each other.  They make the discovery that they are literally related by blood (pure droplets that hit the same part of the turtle.)  They see that there are other beings like them, some potential allies and some that are enemies.

Moving forward:  Pseudo-Medieval Period (Mortals)

event - end of a ball...

My question is how much detail would you want for an story written LARP style.  Assuming they have rules, understand them for the most part, and have characters made.  Should I just write loosely connected scenes with a few stats for NPCs?  What else should be included?

*Sigh* I am trying not to make this a poll thread but I want to make sure I am using a structure that will work well for writting LARP style adventures.
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Clyde L. Rhoer
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2006, 04:42:47 AM »

Hi Sean,

It's hard to say without knowing more about your motivation and the games social contract. I can infer a few things from your post but would rather be certain. So let me ask a few questions.

Why are you writing a LARP adventure? To support a game you have created? For fun? Other? All of the above? What are some details of the game? Is it a continous game or are you making a one-shot adventure? Are the players expecting you to have a heavy hand in scene framing and plot generation?
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David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2006, 06:44:40 AM »

This is a classic issue of situation design, vis a vis prep v. improvisation; and LARPs (I believe) make it most obvious, because of their large play areas and relatively little direct GM control.

I posit that there are two general types of situations: event sequences, which players may or may not discover and redirect/stop; and conflict framing, which will eventually drag in any interested players.

Event sequences - Modules, the master villain's plan, the invasion of the hoard. Basically, anything which will start, have stages, and could end if unchecked (usually in a lot of death and a change of in-game authority).
Conflict framing - Factionalism and scarcity of critical resources, requirements to be clandestine and means of discovery, conflicting morality and a forced alignment with one. Basically, anything which will drive players to take sides on an issue and then work to resolve it to their own satisfaction.

In my opinion, it is easier to do conflict framing than event sequences, for many reasons. Primarily, event sequencing takes more prep, a tighter schedule, more GM-to-GM communication, and more railroading or coercion (or cooperative player whimsy) to encourage participation. However, event sequences can be an interesting way to establish or resolve conflict framing (and, then, move to a new scarcity or moral divide). Once players present a "plan to invade the evil master's crypt" or "quest to find the source of unobtanium and stop this foolish war" or "decide to go overt and start dropping the hammer" then the GMs can set up more of a event sequence to lead players through.

At such times, the players have usually wound down on their own in-fighting, and they will be encouraging some final resolution. This means (a) they are ready to attend to the GMs, rather than continue to run around doing their own things, (b) they will be easier to collect together without force or heavy-handed clue-dropping, and (c) they will have solidified their factions or groups and will be wanting to stick together for The Big Push.

At such times, the clash of the original conflict framing against the clustering effect of event sequencing can be AWESOME. Consider how cool it would be if the Three Families all staggered through event sequences (modules) to reach the final resting place of The Goal of Being, and saw each other across the field? Automatic all-out war! Or a final resolution and lasting peace! (Or both: the dead sleep peacefully.) LARPs, by dint of their huge player base, offer great flexability in how to set up conflict framing, let it run itself using player input for inspiration, and resolve with more proscribed event sequences which ALSO work to bring the factions together even if they have stayed at arm's length out of prudence or fear.

I may have more... I am currently working on a LARP system, and a BIG part of my current thoughts is how to establish situation for games. I think I could be accused of long-winded thread-jacking, if I tried to get every point about this I have into one post. ;-)

More to come...
David
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2006, 09:41:34 AM »

My wife and I write a LARP every year for about 60 players. It's a short one-time event, played out over about 5 hours. This year and last year, we played the LARP in a large ball room at a hotel. Years prior to last, we used rooms and hallway of the hotel we stay in, since the entire floor was taken up by "our people."

Our approach has been to set up relationships, goals, and secrets for each character. The last two years, we've added in the idea of knowledge hidden from the player. For example, in Act 1 you might be told that you went to the conservatory and it was empty, but in Act 2, we tell you that, actually, you met a woman there and exchanged words. This is the approach that How to Host a Murder Mystery takes, but we take it to the nth degree. Breaking down the information into three chunks by Act helps the players digest it better, too.

A character's sheet is a page of background information, including descriptions of important relationships; then a page for Act 1, a page for Act 2, and a page for Act 3. We stuff the background and Act 1 page into an envelope with any separate props. Act 2 goes into a second envelope labeled for that character, along with additional clues and props. Act 3 gets its own envelope, and occasionally more props.

Information for an Act is in two columns: "Reveal" and "Don't Volunteer." The Reveal information must be revealed by the player in that Act. This is what drives the plot forward. Yes, this is highly railroaded in some ways, but it's a great deal of fun. The Don't Volunteer information is stuff that is potentially damaging to the character's case (generally, there are multiple crimes or acts of treachery that must be solved or hidden). The rule about Don't Volunteer information is that if you are asked a direct question about something in that column, you may not lie about it. You can dodge, mislead, or fail to answer, but you cannot state a lie.

With 60+ players, the number of possible relationships becomes unwieldy. We partition the problem into tables of about 8 people each. Players start the LARP at a table of people with a common starting place. Their plots and secrets wind together. After the introductions and some "Reveals," players get up and start talking to players at other tables. Their sheets inevitably lead them to branch out and trade information with other people.

Every player gets additional goals every Act. Players usually have at least 6 goals, and sometimes as many as 15.

We use a custom card system as our only game mechanics. We create 'power' cards that are usable only once during the game. Each card has a power like "Advanced Liver: You drink so much that toxins don't affect you much. If you are poisoned, play this card to counteract all ill effects." We pick suitable cards for each character and 6-10 of those go into the envelopes for Act 1. Sometimes players get more cards in later Acts.

We also print out a bunch of Best LARPer cards that have a line on which to write a name. We give each player 6 of these and they write their choices for best LARPer for each Act and toss them into a convenient basket or bowl. We tally them up at the end and tell everyone who got lots of votes and who got the most votes. There is no prize other than a pat on the back.

At the end of Act 3, we get everyone back at their table then do the Big Reveal. Our murder mysteries are full of twists and turns and red herrings and misinformation. We lead them through the plotlines, asking specific players for input along the way with a prompted, "and what happened with that?"
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mneme
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2006, 12:00:57 PM »

FWIW, I hate (with a passion) the approach that Adam takes, having tried it.

Trying to play a character without knowing essential information that your character would have known means that the little creations you make as part of playing the game have a substantial (bordering on 100%) chance of being invalidated by the mechanic, which is insanely frustrating, and rewards boring and uncreative play.  It's possible it can be done in a fashion I'd find fun, but I'm doubtful.  I've played a murder-mystery-style LARP with phased rounds, and found the mechanic very harmful to roleplay; this is from limited experience, not speculation.  Basically, by my lights, this is an interesting party game, but it's not a LARP, it's not a roleplaying game; it's not even a story game.  The players have no agency.

Now, playing games where the characters (not the players) have knoweldge that they learn during the game, like the all amnesiac subgenre (one game of which, Jamais Vue, I've rewritten once and helped run twice), is fine -- sure, what you said last hour wasn't true, but that's because your character didn't remember it yet, so it's all golden.
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mneme
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2006, 12:10:24 PM »

Oh, following the topic:

Hi, I'm Joshua Kronengold -- I've been involved in the theatre style LARP community since about '93, working on an ever-unfinished game since '96 or so, and have been running games (some my own, some other people's) since 2000ish.

What I think works best is having some set situational events, but not scripted beginnings and endings.

For example, you could write a race game where the overplot went something like:

time -1: intro, time to read character sheets, put players into starting locations, etc.
time 0: game begins
time 1: the king dies.
time 2: enter: the inquisitor (played by the same player as the king).
time 3: announce that the (NPC) book is taking bets on the big race.
time 4: the big race begins.
time 5: the villains plan becomes visible if it hasn't been stopped earlier.
time 6: announce that it's 15 minutes to game wrap
time 7: announce that it's 5 minutes to game wrap

Everything in between -- what the players do, where the big sequences are, etc is up to the players -- the GM's contributions are nudges (especially to players who need guidance or to stop things from crashing to a halt) representing events external to the game, and keeping things at a tempo such that things are likely to feel more or less satisfying by the time they come to a close.  But script things more than this, and you're likely to end up with unsatisfying players...unless you're running an adventure game (for players expecting this) where all the "baddies" are NPCs whose timing you have total control over.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2006, 12:50:42 PM »

(Crossposted with Joshua K.)

Opinion noted. It sounds like you don't enjoy this kind of thing. Others do. Like the five exhausting hours of fun packed into five hours kind of fun.

Call it a party game if you want. There's tons of role-playing and, from discussion with the 70 players from last year, it was tons of fun. People really liked the information-hiding structure. Recall that this is a one-time, 5-hour game and not an serial LARP, too. We get a big bang in a little amount of time. If we were going to run a serial thing, we'd set it up differently.

I've played in two different How To Host a Murder Mystery games: one was a professional name-brand package and the other an amateurish package purchased off the net. Neither of these games felt like a role-playing game. We talked in voices, we revealed information when it seemed appropriate, and that's all. There were no decisions to be made, so if you're thinking that I'm describing one of those games, I can see how you'd think it's not an RPG or a LARP. Our game borrows from that structure and sets up enough situation that players have to make choices. Do I tell the prince that his sister is sleeping with my brother? If I do, I'll get my brother into trouble. I love my brother, but I also want the prince to appoint me head of the noble household, not him. But I'm in love with the prince's sister, myself. I don't want to get her disowned. Until I find out that she's been dissing me to everyone.

I disagree that the players have no agency. Players are forced to make countless decisions throughout the game. Decisions with teeth. They decide how to respond to things and make many really tough choices. We're dictating situation and players are tossed into a very dynamic relationship map. I'll try to take some notes this year (LARP is May 27) and post some Actual Play. Maybe I can convince some of the players (who are almost all very non-theory people; many aren't even tabletop gamers) to respond with their own comments, too.

Yes, players have to adjust from Act to Act as they get new information about what happened and what they did. Our players seemed delighted by the surprises. The mechanism is designed to protect pacing of the revelation of the various background plotlines so that a player doesn't resolve everything in Act 1.

Yes, it's absolutely railroading and cramming a plot down people's throats. The players are well aware of how it all works. Call it Participationism.

Is it a role-playing game? Depends on your definition and I really hope to avoid semantic arguments. Please read charitably. Or tell me why you think this LARP structure is not a role-playing game with some made up examples. I mean, we know they're role-playing, or talking in-character, but I don't think that's enough to settle the question.

To determine if it's a role-playing game, I guess the question is, "What of value can players introduce into the fiction?" Right? We are forcing players to make hard decisions about their situation, with consequences for every decision.

What about all the retconning that, you complain, destroys role-play? Imagine a Dogs tabletop game. You go to town and learn from Brother Enos that Sister Constance is cheating on her husband. You and the other Dogs confront her. Now, for the sake of argument, I as GM do something I'd never do in a real Dogs game: I tell you that your character is the one sleeping with Sister Constance. Did that take away some of your agency? Yes. Does it require some quick rearrangement in your head to satisfy continuity? Yes. Does it strip you of all agency? No. As a player, I'd say to myself, "Shit! I did that? I'll say that I confronted her because I didn't want the other Dogs to know it was me. She didn't implicate me because she figured I had to go along with this." But now, if one of the Dogs wants to haul her into the street and shoot her, you might have something different to say about it.

Remember that all the LARP characters are created lock, stock, and barrel by me and my wife. Players can't say, "But my character wouldn't do that! I didn't create her that way!" Yeah, they would act that way, and we hid from you what they did as a technique for drawing out a particular kind of story. It's a kind of "monkey wrench" we toss into every player's gearworks. There are broad grins on everyone's faces as they read their new sheets in Acts 2 and 3.

We front-load the story and situation in a big way. We've tried single-act structures and they do work, but this works better for us.


Can you tell me if the kinds of events you are running are one-shots or serial games? How many major plotlines and subplots would you create for 60-70 person LARP? Are you willing to post a sample character or plotline? I assume that the example you gave is oversimplified. The LARP we run is incredibly complicated in terms of story structure.

We also use some scripted events. For your "game begins" part, what are the players doing? What creates conflict for them? Are you using GMs for the villains and king? (We don't use any NPC characters.) Essentially, NPC characters are played by players with little agency, no?
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sean2099
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2006, 03:01:53 PM »

Hi Sean,

It's hard to say without knowing more about your motivation and the games social contract. I can infer a few things from your post but would rather be certain. So let me ask a few questions.

Why are you writing a LARP adventure? To support a game you have created? For fun? Other? All of the above? What are some details of the game? Is it a continous game or are you making a one-shot adventure? Are the players expecting you to have a heavy hand in scene framing and plot generation?

Let's start off by answering some questions.  The adventure is to support a game I've created (download of the rules for my WIP available at site.)  I am also doing this to use some ideas from some of my short stories.  The game itself support continious play but the adventure is a one-shot. 

From reading the posts and following my own instincts...There will be different scenes but the players can do what they want (certain things happen if they don't follow certain events).  This particular LARP idea is trying to serve as an introduction as well. 

Here's what I have planned so far (also dependent on number of players in group)

Scene 1:  Prologue

(Insert creation myth chosen by group beforehand.)

Scene 2:  "Present Day"

Event:  Party or ball of some kind (if small LARP, mortals only plus they will have a "god" character...if large LARP, then some are mortals and some are "gods/divinities.")  At end of party, one of the mortals is lured away (presumably for 'after-hours activities', 'activities' happen but creature actually drains all emotions from them, leaving them alive but devoid of all emotion.  Draining emotions allows infected to have emotions for x period of time.

Scene 3:  Fervent Prayers

They hear the prayers of a town, desperately asking for help.  Presumably, they are curious enough to check things out.

Scene 4:  Both groups try to find out what is going on...a "rogue" divinity has granted its worshipers the ability to drain emotions...the divinity seeks to destory existence by denying worshipers to any and all other divinities

Scene 5:  Discovery

Hopefully, one or both groups have found out what's going on (at least knowing about the problem and current people 'infected'  In one night and several afterward, one infected becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, etc.

Scene 6:  End

Are they satisfied merely containing the problems or do they take a proactive approach and try to fight back?  They can explore what happens if problem not figured out to some degree.

This is not the backdrop of my game; it's merely one of many possibilities with the Divinity game.  I'll expand upon it more and once done, I will make adventure available on website.

Thanks,

Sean
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Graham W
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« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2006, 04:03:12 PM »

Hi Sean,

I like the thing about the creation myth being chosen by the group. That's very nice.

It looks as though your structure is flexible, which I think is a good thing. The problem with LARPs is that players will always break your game by doing something unexpected (e.g. joining the worshipping cult).

One comment: at the moment, it looks as though most of the opposition is provided by NPCs. That may mean that your players spend a lot of time bugging you (because you represent the NPCs). One thing I've found useful is to make the PCs provide opposition to each other: for example, perhaps have one of the players play the Rogue Divinity or its worshippers. That way, they interact with each other rather than with you.

I hope that's of some help. What areas do you want feedback on?

Graham
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sean2099
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« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2006, 04:26:52 PM »

Hi Sean,

I like the thing about the creation myth being chosen by the group. That's very nice.

It looks as though your structure is flexible, which I think is a good thing. The problem with LARPs is that players will always break your game by doing something unexpected (e.g. joining the worshipping cult).

One comment: at the moment, it looks as though most of the opposition is provided by NPCs. That may mean that your players spend a lot of time bugging you (because you represent the NPCs). One thing I've found useful is to make the PCs provide opposition to each other: for example, perhaps have one of the players play the Rogue Divinity or its worshippers. That way, they interact with each other rather than with you.

I hope that's of some help. What areas do you want feedback on?

Graham

Actually, as I initially thought about making this adventure up, I was worried about the number of players.  What you said about the other players is a good idea.  I know some LARPs have a number of assistants that roleplay the NPCs.  Another possibility would be to have two different groups answering the prayers of the mortals.  i.e. both group want more worshipers and both groups want to do the right thing (or not).  There's room for intraplayer conflict, never mind setting personal goals if you are playing the mortal or god. 

As an aside, I have rules for the "Divinities."  Even as I work on "Divinity", I am writting another game related to this called "Mortals."
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mneme
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« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2006, 11:08:31 PM »

Adam, do you want to create a new thread for this?  I'm a bit worried about hijacking this one.

That said:

I also run one shot games with GM-written characters.  Our games tend to be 4ish hour games for 13-25 characters, not 70.  The long-in-development full weekend game we've been writing for a good long while has about 60 PCs.

And yes, we don't use NPCs for major roles -- we'll have a GM or a player who asked for such a role take on minor roles that end up being needed (or that are scripted in -- "at some point, the kraken will attack", frex), but if there's a villain or a king, it generally be a PC.

What I was listing was a (somewhat, but not absurdly simplified) tiimeline for "external events", ie, one separate from things frontoaded into character sheets.

I think the category question is irrelevant, aside from determining goals.  That said, I reflexively bring it up anyway, mostly when something conflicts with my personal goals of play.  Caveat emptor.

I do things there are mechanisms to protect pacing that don't mess with the character internal narratives.  Sometimes you do stuff like the amneiac game (really, style of games; there are a lot of them) I was referring to.  Sometimes you set things up with things tuned to go off at about the right time and they just work out (tying things to external events can help).  And sometimes...things just get resolved early, or don't resolve; you can design/run things such that even when things don't go as planned, there's still an interesting/fun game there.

That said, I think there are some things we could use to impove our games, and some of them are things you're doing as a matter of course (in particular: one thing we were advised when we started writing stuff was that every character should have a unique and useful power or ability of some sort; something other people have to interact with them for and which makes them unique, which is more or less true...but every character should also have some moral or situational choices to make; should be at some sort of crux point, and while that's something we've often designed into particular characters, it's never been a major design goal (someting I'll push when next we start work on a game)).  But I wonder if your games would be improved or hurt if you could work the act 2/3 revelations into the internal structure of the game itself, rather than having them be an exterrnal "you just remembered" force.  In the same way, I find that as my skills as a player have improved, I've become much more revealing about by game secrets and information, as that tends to make my games more fun, more interesting, and even, from a pure gamist perspective, tends to make my characters more successful, but while I suspect your "must reveal"/don't volunteer mechanic (borrowed, directly, from murder mystery games, obviously) forces certain types of play, it also pushes in a certain style of force that I doubt I, pesonally would find fun.
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Graham W
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« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2006, 12:54:49 AM »

Hi Sean,

Actually, as I initially thought about making this adventure up, I was worried about the number of players.  What you said about the other players is a good idea.  I know some LARPs have a number of assistants that roleplay the NPCs.  Another possibility would be to have two different groups answering the prayers of the mortals.  i.e. both group want more worshipers and both groups want to do the right thing (or not).  There's room for intraplayer conflict, never mind setting personal goals if you are playing the mortal or god.

Yeah, that sounds as though that would work. That's a classic LARP set-up: have two groups and send them both after the same thing. And concentrating on goals for players is always good.

Anything else you want to talk about, regarding this game?

(Adam and Joshua, I'm interested by what you're saying and I'd like to discuss it, but I'm worried about hijacking this thread too. If you move it to another thread, I'll gladly join in.)

Graham
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sean2099
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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2006, 03:35:44 AM »

Sigh...*browser crash at end of post*

Hi Sean,

Yeah, that sounds as though that would work. That's a classic LARP set-up: have two groups and send them both after the same thing. And concentrating on goals for players is always good.

Anything else you want to talk about, regarding this game?

(Adam and Joshua, I'm interested by what you're saying and I'd like to discuss it, but I'm worried about hijacking this thread too. If you move it to another thread, I'll gladly join in.)

Graham


Quite a bit actually.

In short...maturity issues with disparate power levels (would it be a big problem getting people to play mortals if some are playing gods?)  Power levels (use of higher level powers as presented in Divinity in a LARP),

Actually, that was it...only shorter (at least for now)

Sean
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mneme
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2006, 06:45:26 AM »

Sean: Disparity of power levels is fine.  It's important that everyone's got enough power to be influencial in their own circles (or at least some of them), but if some people are divinities with enough power to operate fairely in divine circles, and some are mortals with just enough power to operate inlower circles (with multiple circles of mortals, even), it's all good -- what you want to avoid is someone feeling irrelevant; having other players who are a little more powerful, or are relevant on an entirely different scale, is fine as long as they have enough to do on their scale that they're less likely to take over the lower ones.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2006, 06:25:26 AM »

You can mix characters of different power levels if you have a mechanism for keeping the really powerful characters from stomping on the fun of the weaker characters. We've run LARPs where gods walk among men. We just had to limit the god characters a great deal.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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