Some thoughts on Writing a Larp.

Thinking about and working on the 4x larp rules set is interesting to me. Unfortunately it seems like it’s not very interesting to many other folks. It is beginning to feel like too much work for too little audience. But it would be a shame to abandon the project completely. In the parlance of Entrepreneurship, time to pivot.

On the bright side, there has been some international interest lately in Hit Location style of larp. The folks over at LarpBook are searching for an easier, faster, and more visceral combat foundation for role playing. Something that breaks immersion less than number crunching in combat, and provides a very good quality emotional experience. Hit Location larp can definitely provide that. And act as a great foundation for storytelling.

There might be some benefit to writing a handbook of Hit Location larp rules without the setting and theme of a full game system. The idea would be to benefit anyone who wants to get into larp without the overhead associated with Hit Point systems. From a personal project standpoint it might be a good idea to complete a smaller project, before jumping in to building a whole system.

Game mechanics cannot be protected by copyright nor trademarked. Only adding a setting, theme, plot, characters, etc would make it a unique property. The concepts and mechanics that I would be writing about, are not something I created. They are a tradition, which is for all intents and purposes public domain at this point. The point of writing the rules down would be to share them as a foundation. For these reasons it makes sense to release the work as a Creative Commons piece, and give it away in ebook format.

The beginnings already started in my Core Hit Location Mechanics post. They don’t cover much, but for anyone who wants to hit friends with plumbing supplies in the back yard, they’re perfect. An expansion of this material into a basic Handbook makes the most sense. Maybe if there’s interest it could actually be made into a physical book.

A first draft is currently being worked on; an index, already created (well expanded really from the blog post, really). A rough draft is in the works. There is a tremendous amount to learn about publishing an ebook. But it’s fun, forging ahead, trying something that is both old and new at the same time. We’ll see how it goes. Come along for the ride.

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House and Character Preparation for a 4x Larp

Hypothetically you’re joining a 4x larp. You’ve collected a number of friends, formed a house, and have decided what the general outline of the story for that house is… But what are the Houses from a rules perspective? Why are they formed, and what do they accomplish in game?

OOC

The game system uses a House structure for a number of reasons. Organizing players into houses speeds logistics, as some of the basics of event check in can be preformed by members of the house. The training of individual players is a responsibility of the house. The creation of gear and garb is much easier on any individual player, when they have the support of others. The House structure also creates a foundation for storytelling.
The House system is not designed to facilitate individual storytelling. This game system recognizes the House as the basic unit of character in the game. This is vastly different than all other larps and table top games, where the focus is on the individual player’s history and story-line. In a 4x larp the game system is going to run the world, it’s up to the Houses to manage their individual story-lines.
This de-emphasis of the individual in larp is nothing new to game systems outside the United States. It is a big departure for most American players. It might take players some time to wrap their heads around the concept. That being said, role playing the individuals story is encouraged if not required. The responsibility to the individual falls on the House that person is a member of, not the game system.

Social Structure

In many larps players are free to make up titles and claim any social rank. This freedom causes a lot of problems with verisimilitude, because the game doesn’t feel real when everyone is ‘the child of a baron’. The social structure of the House system creates a foundation for a few players to earn a title, but the majority of players will mostly likely not have a title. Granted there is nothing preventing House from creating titles. Additionally the social structure is going to tie into the magic and monster systems.

The key to this system is the House. Each House is a group of players whose persona work together to tell a common story. They share a similar background and come from the same place. Players are encouraged to give their persona a unique background and tell a story with their actions, but from the game systems perspective individual role play is a nice bonus, not a requirement. The goal of this flexibility is to allow players who are there to fight to get into the action, and players who are there to role play to build their stories. Stick jocks are welcome to play characters who fade a bit into the background. The generic House Guard role. Role Play enthusiasts are encouraged to step up.

Higher social rank is bestowed upon the leader of a House who can recruit more players into their house. This is good for the game as it encourages players who are interested in political power to recruit. It also rewards players who recruit naturally. From a game system perspective a larp needs to grow, and making that the responsibility of the players themselves, and rewarding them for that, solves two problems at the same time.

Title

As Houses increase in size the persona who leads that House is bestowed with greater title. The ranks will look something like the following table.

[Insert table]

Heraldry

A House can be created with at least 2 persona, but when a house reaches 5 members they must create heraldry. It is expected that the players will actually craft a banner which bears the Houses heraldry. This banner becomes important as a symbol of the house, visual recognition on the field of battle, and is used for the magic system.

Heraldry, Tabbards, Belt Favors and other such identifying insignia, are also used to prevent confusion during game play.

Actions and Battles

Before an event begins Houses take actions. Those actions translate into battles which the members of the house actually fight. By selecting which kind of action a house takes, and where, the house can determine what kind of battles happen at the current or next event. The Marshalls may throw in an unexpected twist, but the House gets to choose where and how it will engage the game world.

Workers

As this system does not focus on the individual, any given player is not expected to play the same character at all times. One particular player might be their own PC in the first battle of the day, and play as a Worker for the House in the next. Workers are not heroic characters. They are the farmers, armorers, blacksmiths, and other working people which support the House. They often have skills which are useful on the battlefield, and any grown person is expected to be able to defend themselves. They may be limited in skills, but they are not necessarily weak.

The real benefits of workers are the resources they acquire during Battles. A House may choose to field workers instead of regular PC’s. The workers must survive the Battle. When they do it represents the Houses efforts to grow food, capture materials, or gather resources. Workers are an abstract way to represent the hard work done for the House.

Workers can be captured, and their tabbard must clearly indicate not only what house they belong to, but also what job they do. Opponents must be able to at a glance, in combat, know whether they are fighting a Worker, and what type of work they represent. The number of workers a house can field is strictly limited, so this clarity also helps the Marshalls keep track of how many workers are present in any given battle.

Resources

… {WIP}

This blog post kind of got away from me. It’s been a couple weeks in writing and it’s still not done. The main reason it’s taking so long is the sale of my Condo and purchase of a house. Bear with me as life takes president over larp. If you notice something that doesn’t make sense or something that needs clarification please let me know via Twitter, G+ comment or on the FB group.

Relational Character design in a 4x larp.

Applying 4x to combat larp changes the perspective of play. Most larps focus on the individual player/persona combination as the fundamental unit of game play. Scenes, mods, plot lines, story what have you is all based on individual characters concepts. For this larp we’re going to take a step back and have the House be the basic unit of character recognized by the game system. So lets take a look back at Relational Character Design in Larp, and use that to build the foundation of character creation in a 4x larp.

This concept uses a Fiasco Style creation system, where the characters are created from their relationships not from their stats. Each player is still in control of a single persona and still fleshes out that character concept. This borrows the setup portion of Fiasco to create the house and the character relationships, but leaves resolution to the larp event.

Character Creation

Take a look at the current rules and steps for this method of character design. At first it might seem like you need other players in order to get a house going… However while play testing it becomes obvious that you can just as easily sit down and come up with a compelling house by yourself. One with a story that just might surprise you. If you only have one or two people as founders of the House, feel free to pretend you have a few additional players. As you add new players to the house, they can either take up those existing ‘NPC’ roles, or they can go through the process again to help generate House persona.

Stats and powers change significantly when the House becomes the basic unit of character. Individuals usually need a spell book or a character sheet to keep track of their spells, abilities, curses, magic items, etc. Spells, powers, and NPC’s are instead recorded at the House level. Generally Heraldry is used to record this information, and having visually impressive heraldry becomes as important for the House as garb is for the player. Large banners, flags, belt favors and other physical signs of the Heraldry of the house are greatly encouraged. Although representing game mechanics, the Heraldry itself should be a physical object present in the game.

There is something fundamentally inspiring about the House you fight for. The color of the banners that mean home, and company is an inspiring sight at the lowest point of battle when all hope seems lost. Modern brands hold powerful sway over our psyche. Nations use flags as modern heraldry to inspire citizens. This game seeks to tap into that element of awe and inspiration while forming it’s magic system. The heraldry of the house should speak to its power, it’s strength and be an emotional as well as mechanical symbol of the House.

Having the House be the basic unit of character means that persona can be more fluid in a 4x larp. Although every player might participate in combat, their Player Character or persona may only be present for 1 or 2 rounds in a given day. A House may choose to field a worker, or a monster instead of that particular persona. Your persona might have story reasons to be elsewhere, which means it would make more sense to play as an NPC or House monster. As play is broken up into discrete rounds, it’s easier to play as multiple persona in the same day.

Persona Death

It happens to all characters at some point. They die during combat and cannot be recovered. This will happen in 4x larp as well. Most 4x strategy games have methods of using resources to field more troops. Most larps use game mechanics to return players to the field in good health. Spending resources to build up important structures and recruit powerful allies will help players avoid death for longer. As long as the House still stands, some measure of the dead character may continue. When the game system starts up these effects might be simulated by consumables like scrolls and potions. But long term the resources players acquire will be spent to heal the injured and resurrect the dead.

If a persona is dead at the end of combat, but there are other living House members present to carry them home, then they are not ‘Lost’. With powerful magic, or benevolent healing that persona could be returned to life. Persona who cannot be recovered, perhaps they were thrown overboard at sea, or fell in a volcano, or were capture by the enemy and sacrificed to an elder being, are considered “Lost”. At present there is no way to return a Lost persona. That may change over time depending on how much persona turnover players experience. Ways to recover lost persona will be implemented for game mechanic reasons and not for plot reasons.

At some point though, persona will be permanently killed. The most common way for this to happen, as envisioned at the moment, is for the persona to be captured by a ruthless enemy. Or to be dead on the field of battle at the end of a round, with no way for the House to recover the corpse. Imagine a game of capture the flag. But in addition to being captured, players can be killed. Where they die might be pretty random. A player might die on the opponents side of the field.

The player will most likely get back up at the end of the battle, and play an NPC. They could even play as a Worker for their House and gather resources. Which means that although that player suffered a loss in terms of plot and story, the house has not suffered a loss in terms of effectiveness (unless the persona was really powerful).

House Death

If everything can end, what does it mean for a House to end? There are a few ways a house could ‘die’. All members, including the leader, could be dead at the end of a battle, with no one willing to return even one of them to life. If that occurs that House will fall. Fallen Houses stay in play, and could be captured by other houses, or even NPC’s. This might ultimately mean little if players haven’t become too emotionally attached to their House, but as the point of the system is to invoke the emotional connection we all have with symbols, it might be a real emotional experience.

As Houses grow over time and gain resources, they can spend resources to purchase structures that prevent the loss of houses by paying NPC’s to guard their home as they venture out. For the moment that system has not been fleshed out, but the ideas are present. There could also be a Coup de ta, but that isn’t the end of a house, just the end of it’s autonomy.

There are many other things to consider in the creation and end of characters in a 4x larp. But that’s where we’re starting. Keep checking in as things get fleshed out.

Siege Damage in a 4x larp.

The basis of Hit Location Larp is that all weapons deal one point of damage. No matter how experienced or how strong a players persona is, they still only deal one point of damage. What about portraying a character with “The Strength of 10 men“, or a monstrous troll that attacks not with clubs but with whole trees? Siege damage represents massive damage beyond what mortals are capable of. The addition of Siege damage to a larp can shake up a stale combat system. Also it’s immensely fun! Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “Siege Damage in a 4x larp.”

Thoughts on Safety

We’ve already discussed the specifics of safety during interactions between two players, but what about at the event level? When running an event some additional safety concerns arise. An event holder needs to be prepared. At the moment I’m not actually ready to write rules of safe play for a 4x larp. But here’s what I think is important when writing considering writing safety rules.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Safety”

Getting Started in 4x larp.

How does getting up and running in a 4x larp differ from getting started in a combat larp? There are many posts on /r/reddit asking for help getting started with larp. So many that I made my own getting started post, so I didn’t have to keep repeating the same info. So lets head off that inevitable question by discussing how to get started with a 4x larp.

Player

The main difference between this game and many others is that the individual persona is not the most basic unit of character in the game. The House is the most basic unit of character in the game. To keep the same character alive they must join a house. You will add to it’s resources, and they will provide you with supporting story, gear, garb, and camaraderie. Getting into a House is the first and most important thing you should do when joining the 4x larp.

As a player it’s your job to help tell the story of the house. To add to the aesthetic, and perhaps add to the narrative and role playing of the house. If you just want to play guards and fight, that’s fine. But should you want to step up and take a greater role you need to know the houses background. Get to know what choices the other house members have made about what story they are telling, and find out how you can work with the other players to add an interesting detail.

Many of those details are going to be visual. So getting garb which fits the theme is really important. Remember, footwear is the most difficult thing to get right when you’re new. If the house you are joining is outlandish in style, they should provide you with details, or items to get you started. If they are closer to the norm of fantasy larp, then help provide garb to other members of the house.

Garb for newbies is always a bit daunting. But with a bit of time and effort you can put together something basic at a reasonable price. First year newbies get a pass on their garb as long as it meets a basic level of acceptability. Pictured we have perfectly acceptable first year garb. It consists of sweat pants, made from modern materials with a tiny logo, and a woven natural fiber long sleeve shirt. Lack of logos is important. The color probably shouldn’t be black. All black is really ‘basic NPC kit’. Basic PC kit should have color.


Take some time to put together weapons and armor which reflect the theme of the house. The house should have a boffer weapon style, and might also have a latex style as well. While it will be cheap in materials, but take labor to build your own boffer weapon, you’ll have the ability to customize your weapons to match the house. At the moment there is no distinction or restriction on boffer vs latex weapons. While we’re experimenting feel free to use either.

Second Year Newbie Garb

While putting together your gear and preparing to attend your first event, you should also be practicing with your house. The group will be expected to fight together, possibly in a historic style, or possibly making up the houses own style. Either way, make sure you train with the group and fight together. Practice makes a big difference on the battle field.

Event Holder

As there no existing groups playing this game, most likely if you want to play a 4x larp you will have to start one yourself. That makes you the Event Holder by Default. To run a 4x larp there needs to be a few houses established. So let’s assume that you have 10 – 30 players who are interested in playing this game. Maybe you’re all new to larp, or maybe you’re an existing group looking for a game to keep things fresh between regular games.

For a first event, or for the inexperienced, keep it simple. Stick to the 7 Battle Types already addressed. Schedule as much of the event as possible before it starts. This will prevent getting overwhelmed between battles. Determine which battles are going to be played and what their out comes could mean before setting foot on the field. There will still be plenty of things that crop up which you weren’t expecting.

After practicing event holding, maybe after a year or so of holding events, you might get comfortable coming up with more of the event on the fly. More and more of the story can be told in improvisational style, and less will have to be done before hand. At that point you might start considering the 8th Battle Type. Which might not be a battle at all.

The most difficult type of combat round to come up with is the Quest. When Houses choose to explore a location on the map, they engage in a quest. Which in format is more like the Events most combat larps are known for. However it still takes place in the same time frame of a typical 4x larp combat. Think of it as a free form module placed among battle games. Quests require a lot more creativity, flexibility, and resources so make sure you’re prepared. But also, don’t be afraid to remix components you’ve already gathered. Don’t try and write plot, instead write characters.

After reading this a couple times it seems like a fairly poor introduction to Getting Started. Are there specifics that need to be addressed? What would you want to know about getting started in 4x larp? Tweet or post comments using G+. Or talk to me in person when the weather gets warm.

4x larp Event Template

Communicating a game idea is difficult, especially before play testing. Perhaps my intro did not help explain the concept of the 4x larp. There are tons of details that need ironing out. It might be helpful to walk through a 4x combat larp event, as I envision it at the moment. First we’ll need to mention Event Write ups.


If you’re an event holder and are not familiar with an Event Write Up Template, then you’re missing a huge tool in the development of an event. Find a Simple Event Template here. Being able to communicate your event concept to another person forces you to clarify parts you’ve missed, refine the idea, and troubleshoot how the event is going to go. Figure out who among your larping friends, gives the most brutal feedback and have them read your Event Write up.

This guy gives the best feedback.

So here is the Event Write up for an Example 4x larp.

Rough Timeline:

Assume 8 am for most events.
Event Holders and Marshall’s arrive at event site.
Prep time, unpack gear.
Set up major locations (oceans, forts, etc).
Sort NPC gear.
~1 hour.

Players arrival.
Players sort their gear.
Event goes live.
Houses report their locations, and actions.
Event Holder determines rounds (some of this should have been done pre event), makes alterations to the schedule as needed.
~1 hour.

Set up first round. Summer Brooke attacking a location.
Play first round.
EH/Marshals record first round.

Set up second round. Byley Keep Exploration.
Play second round.
EH/Marshals record second round.

Break for food.
~1 hour.

Set up third round. Aldlake Pavilion Attacking a location.
Play third round.
EH/Marshals record second round.

Set up fourth round. NPC House attacks a location.
Play fourth round.
EH/Marshals record second round.

Other combats as needed or desired. But probably not because everything is going to run long.

EH writes closing to recap events, and mention possible outcomes.
EH gives closing recap of the event.

Everyone breaks down event site.
Site closes.
~1 hour.

Why are there no times for the combats? Well… mostly it’s because I don’t know how long things will actually take. And partly because Larp is best when getting away from a set schedule and a daily grind. It’s really tempting to block 15 min setup, 30 minute game, 15 min take down. Each combat is played in about an hour. Four per day. But before testing and for fun, I really don’t know and don’t want to fix how long things should take. To remove watches, phones, machines, timing, from the Marshal and the players makes a better larp. Also being flexible with the time frame means that one combat can go very quickly, and another may take longer, and that’s ok. There is probably a timing pattern that works best, but we’ll find that through experience rather than me guessing.

So there is a rough idea of a 4x larp played over a day. There are some (possibly many) decision points which require thought and creative decisions. Despite having a frame work Event Holders are still going to need to make choices on the fly, and with a lot of perpetration. Folks who enjoy improvisation are going to enjoy this format. People who like tons of planning and prep might get tripped up by what the players do. But that’s no different than any other larp really.

Does that make sense? Does that seem like a format worth trying? What do you think? Send me a tweet. Or leave a comment with Google Plus. Come join our practice and help build this thing.