I’ve found myself longing to play in a Live-Action Roleplaying Game that focuses on courtly intrigue. What I mean by this is the social sparring, witty repartee, and backroom dealing that happens among aristocrats in the movie Ridicule or among university professors jockeying for tenure. I’ve experienced some of this when playing Vampire: The Requiem using the Mind’s Eye Theatre rules, but that game has a major problem for me. Characters can kill each other with strange powers, so someone playing the political game has to also worry that the person they’re verbally sparring with can decapitate them with a swipe.
I’m working on the rules, but I want to design in the open so that I can get feedback and suggestions. Here are my base concepts for the game:
- This will be a LARP in the American Theatrical style. No foam weapons, and the game runs similarly to a tabletop roleplaying game.
- Sessions take approximately four hours and can be linked into an ongoing game.
- The game can be played with minimal intervention from a Game Master, although an organizer may help with bookkeeping.
- The game can be played while standing and moving around, with limited interference from out-of-character mechanics.
- Direct combat is not useful. Any victories or defeats will happen through social interaction.
- Special in-character skills or abilities may help a character, but they will not take the place of social intrigue.
- While a player’s strategy and charisma will be helpful, a player lacking social skills or cleverness can still have fun and influence things.
My idea so far is a combination of concepts from the card game Whist, the TV show Survivor, and the mancala game Oware.
There’s a certain class of player behavior in tabletop RPGs and LARPs that often causes issues. It’s when a player notices a way to be really good at something. There are two ways this is done, and they have gained the nasty names “min-maxing” and “rules-lawyering.” But this isn’t actually a bad thing.
I am involved in the Camarilla, which is the White Wolf RPG publishing company’s official fan organization. Among other things, the Cam organizes a global campaign for live action roleplaying, or LARP. This is a “theatrical LARP,” not a “boffer LARP.” We don’t hit each other with foam weapons; instead, we have more social and politically-focused games, and any combat is as heavily abstracted as it is in tabletop roleplaying. The nature of a global campaign raises some very interesting issues in game design.
The Cam is not the only global LARP campaign around; One World By Night is another organization that runs a similar campaign for the old World of Darkness setting, for example. As far as I know, though, the Cam is the largest global LARP around. A global campaign means that local games are connected to games across the US and the world, so that I can go on a trip to California and use the character I play in Charlotte to a Camarilla game there. Events that occur in Alabama can affect nearby locations, and there are periodic conventions where players and characters from all over the world come to play in a single game. This results in all sorts of interesting consequences and annoyances.
I’m going to be running a brand-new LARP of Geist: The Sin-Eaters for my local Camarilla domain. This has a number of challenges, most of which caused by the fact that this game has never really been LARPed before as an ongoing chronicle; it’s only been out for a few months. One of the problems I’m running into is that of the political game, and I’d like some suggestions.
I haven’t addressed roleplaying games directly on Ludus Novus much. At first glance, they don’t fit in with video games all that well, and several times I’ve used them as a contrast to video games. However, there’s a distinction that I can make that I think makes them seem less distant.
When people say “roleplaying game,” they are usually referring to a rules system, often combined with a setting. To be clear, I’m referring to “tabletop” or “LARP” roleplaying games here. Dungeons and Dragons. Cthulhu Live. Traveller. Each of these seems so much broader than, say, Half-Life 2. While HL2 only offers one storyline, D&D is limited only by the Game Master and players’ imaginations. However, I think that a better analogue for a video game would be a roleplaying campaign.
I’ve run my short “one-shot” campaign, “The Dead of Apartment 4C,” three times. Each time, a different set of players has run through roughly the same plotline, just like each person who plays Half-Life 2 experiences the same potential narrative. The campaign uses the Fudge system for its rules, and I as Game Master have been the referee. For Half-Life 2, the Source engine is its rule system, and the player’s computer or console is the referee. Roleplaying games and video games look a lot more similar when we match a video game title to a roleplaying campaign rather than a system.
After the break, I’ll do a quick runthrough of some of the RPG theory I’ve picked up.