Social Status and Character Creation in Larp.

Social status is an interesting issue in many U.S. combat larps. Some game systems leave it up to the players to write their status into the character backstory. Some have elaborate game mechanics which allow the purchase of status with experience. But lots of games have no official way to limit players from claiming any title they want (however silly that title may be). Many players abuse this and tell extremely similar stories. Games overflow with ‘Counts’, ‘Dukes’, and the brothers, nephews and sons of titled nobility who come complete with some kind of tragic backstory.

Many players also tend to ignore the interesting down to earth stories, and instead shoot straight for the Eurocentric Feudal landed caste. Occasionally players choose an Asian style Feudal landed caste to spice things up. This similarity of story is frustrating, limiting, and not all that fun. I’ve attempted to address this lack of depth with a character creation system based on group dynamics. It can generate nobility, but far more often produces ‘salt of the earth’ type folks. Today let’s address the game mechanics of a social system.

Title usually has the connotation of control over some aspect of the game world. To claim to be a duke means to claim you have the power of a duchy sitting around somewhere. To earn a title, and the power that comes with it, the player should do something more than simply make a statement. Additionally, simple attendance over a long period of time should not earn a title. Persona are expected to attempt to survive, they don’t need to be rewarded for doing so. To earn title a player should do more than just wait and survive.

Larps need tons of resources to pull off which leads some games to award extra experience for help with acquiring the material and people needed to host interesting plot lines. But when you can pay experience for social status this can walk a dangerous line of paying for a title. This can in turn implicitly or explicitly turn into ‘pay to play’. Paying money/time to earn power in a game. No game designer is ever comfortable with that.

In game title should be awarded for in game benefits. There should be out of game benefits for out of game contributions. This prevents a new player from showing up, dumping a bunch of materials or money on a game system, and getting a shiny new title day one.

So what can players provide in character that should earn them respect and control over a portion of the game world? My favorite solution to this problem is to provide title to players who bring new players into the game system and who can teach those players the ropes. The player gaining the title has had to do something of social significance to the game system in order to earn a title of social significance. This idea was implemented to great effect by W. T. Armstrong and Johnathan Daniels in their Imperium Larp system, in which I played for many years.

The system consisted of ‘Houses’ as the basic unit of the social world. Each year there was an event at which a census was held. The members of each house wear the color of that house and are counted. The size of the houses determine the social status of the House Leader. A player who can pull together 20 people would have more social status than a player who can only get 10 people to work together. Increasing the number of players makes the game more fun for all involved. Social status becomes a sliding scale, rather than an ever increasing ‘stat’.

Ideally this encourages system growth in a way not many other methods do. Quickly houses attract the existing player base into their houses. Once existing players are aligned into houses to gain more power the players have to recruit more people and retain their loyalty. Smart houses who want to thrive have to start recruiting and training new players.  This benefits the game system by gathering more players.

As the player is recruiting out of game, the persona is recruiting in game. As more PC’s step up and go adventuring the house leader gains more power. They gain title to befit the actions they have taken, not the claims they have made. Your character can’t prove being a duke day 1 with no one at your back. But if you and 30 other players all claim your a duke, well that’s more believable. Particularly if they are armed.

One of the best aspects of Larp is community. When polled most players report that the people involved are what keep them coming back again and again. Real combat may form life long bonds, but even fake combat builds strong friendships between players. Leveraging the best aspects of larp while linking recruitment and growth to in game rewards can produce very good results.

This concept of ‘Houses for Everything’ can be combined nicely with the 4x larp. You may notice some connections already forming. Over the course of the next few blog posts, I’ll combine all these disparate concepts into a game system. The next step is to build a master index of concepts. Some of which have been covered recently. Then I’ll start writing up some of the sections not yet covered and really dive into the rules that make a 4x larp.

How have you implemented a social system in a larp? Tweet me with a reply. Or leave a comment with Google Plus. If you want to chat in person, swing by practice. We’re on hold for the winter, but come spring our Facebook Group will start coordinating again.

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