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PROBLEMS WITH LIVE ACTION:
THE RANTINGS OF A NON-LARPER
















I don't play live action games very often. I have a gaming group who I play with every week, and most of us would sooner have root canal work than participate in a live-action RPG. Why is this?
It strikes me that there are some inherant problems in live action gaming which are off-putting for lots of us sit-down RPGers, which could be circumvented with a little thought and planning. In the interest of doing this, I'm going to set out what I think those problems are, and some ideas on how to handle them.

1) Vampires. This is the big problem for many of us--plain and simple, White Wolf's vision of the World of Darkness interests us very little, and 90% of the Larps that are out there are vampirecentric. Theres nothing wrong with this, it's not even a problem per se. The problem is that few other RPGs lend themselves easily to realistic live action in the year 2002. Shadowrun and its ilk rely heavily on shooting things, which is hard to simulate effectively and can get you in trouble. D&D relies heavily on monsters and treasure, both in short supply in this day and age. So step one is to find a game system or genre which fits into the modern world seamlessly, provides interesting plots and challenges for the players, and yet does not scream out Goth! for those of us who just don't get the goth thing.

2) Feeling like a Jackass. Most RPGers over the age of 25 feel like total dorks standing in a public place playing rock paper scissors with a guy in a trenchcoat. So sue us, were self-concious! An ideal Larp would, in my mind, have a subtlety of system, so that the game could be played in full view of the public (if warranted by the plot) without attracting stares, glares, and possible police involvement.

3) Keeping a Mood. This goes back to the previous point. While the rock paper scissors mechanic in Laws of the Night is really very elegant and effective in a lot of ways, when you come right down to it, it's still rock paper scissors. It's a game children use for deciding who goes first down the slide at the playground; when you have to stop in the middle of an intense roleplaying moment to play rock paper scissors, anyone with a sense of the ludicrous is going to have trouble keeping a straight face. Maybe it's because I'm old, or because I can't distance the mechanic from the process of the story; but I really do feel this mechanic breaks the mood of a game. And in a horror game especially, isn't mood part of the point?

4) Politics and Pals. Vampire is a game of politics, and that's a great thing--that's part of the beauty of larping, it's making and breaking alliances, and no one knows who's plotting against who. But by its nature, any RPG is also a game of pals. You have your friends, and you have people you like less than others, and you tend to ally with your realworld friends to a certain extent. In a campaign larp, you have time to build complex political plots; but often there is a tendency toward out-of-game plotting as well. "Jerry's a dick, let's kill his character at the Larp tonight." Now, the GM can view this as a natural tendency of players in an every-man-for-himself political game, but the fact is that you have people who go home at the end of the night feeling cheated and unhappy--not just because they died per se, but because they got gang-banged. The point of any RPG in my mind is for everyone to have a good time. This doesn't mean everyone has to be pals, but it does mean that those who are pals don't dominate the event and bend it to their nefarious will. One way for the GM to combat this is to severely limit the number of players. If there are only 10 players, and a goal to be achieved, even those who hate each other will have to plot carefully, and use one another rather than eliminating each other. (Though this may create a financial hurdle--see below.) Another way is to skip the campaign game and play single event larps, such as are done at countless gaming cons around the country. This sacrifices intricate storylines in the name of speed and action, but for some tabletop RPGers the slow development of a long plot larp is a deterrant anyway.

5) Money. This is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in some types of larping. You get a big group of players, you need a big place to play. You're playing a game that is not necessarily public-friendly, so you need privacy. To assure these things, you need to find a special place to hold the larp. This costs money. So you charge your players a chip-in fee to play, but then you come up a bit cash short from unforseen expenses, and so you try to recruit more players to increase the cash flow, and the group gets bigger, requires more space=more money=more Gms to keep order=more expenses=more juggling balls in the air etc. The larger a group, the more unwieldy it becomes and the more work it is for the GM(s) to keep track of what the hell is going on. Ideally, you need a free place to play, which means public, which goes back to #2--you need a system that lets you play among the mundanes without scaring anyone or looking like a jackass. And you need a small group, which makes it easier to blend into the public place, easier for the GM to manage, and cheaper for any sundry expenses like handouts, pencils, and a cooler full of soda. 10 players at $5 a pop covers a lot of sundries when youre not renting the Hanna House.

I'm not trying to be overly critical of the larping standard here; the larps I've been in have been fun, the plots are often interesting, and there's a lot of good roleplaying going on in this genre! But I feel like a slightly different approach to live gaming would make it more accessible and appealing to a wider variety of players. This is what were trying to do in this Nephilim LARP experiment. Fun for all, and all for fun. Or something like that.