Jan. 6th, 2014

Larp (again

Jan. 6th, 2014 07:04 pm
I have two things I want to write down:

First, most Larps are badly designed.
I'll elaborate: I played a game called Fiasco recently. It's a role-playing "game", in what seems the purest sense of "role-playing" and quite possibly a misapplication of the word "game". You don't have stats, skills, or even win conditions that you can work towards. Your character is in the first instance defined by relationships with other characters, where you only have 50% of the input into those relationships, and that 50% is itself constrained in selection. There are good and bad outcomes available for the character, but you can't choose to work towards a good outcome - the will of other players combines with the whims of the dice to give you the ending. And each game is an intrinsically one-off scenario, so your character doesn't develop, except within the context of the immediate story, which is a heist that goes wrong (that's not a spoiler, it's built into the game).
So... you're roleplaying. In the sense that you're creating a character within limits, and you're playing that character. But you don't get to choose outcomes - or a least, not enough to have a meaningful impact on the final result. They just happen to you.
I've played it once, and it was a lot of fun. It was really engaging and hilarious. In fact, it was a lot more engaging than most larps, which is where this point comes from. Because larps contain within them all of the things that make fiasco fun, and then a bunch of other stuff as well, where the other stuff is supposed to be "features", like growth, exploration, numbers, soft skills, etc etc. If all that other stuff, which (I think) can be summarised as "system and setting of the larp" added to the stuff that's in Fiasco comes out as less engaging than Fiasco alone, then "system and setting" must be overall negative. Which means the larp is badly designed.

Second: game balance.
Some people don't care about game balance, and that's fine. But... I usually do! And if I'm going to play a game where "in character success" is any kind of motivating factor (which is most larps), then I care a lot about game balance.
So as a designer, first you need to work out whether you want people like me in your game. Don't worry, I won't be offended if you exclude me because I'm somewhat gamist in approach! In fact, I'd rather you did that than lie to me in order to get me into a game I will then hate. So, work out whether gamism is a concern in your game. If it is, then try to make your game balanced, in power terms. That's somewhat difficult, but you can make things easier for yourself with two important steps:
First, publically acknowledge that balance is a consideration, that you're not perfect, and that therefore the rules are subject to revision if something becomes a problem. Just saying that will make people like me more likely to play.
Second, publish all the rules. And I do mean, all of them. Publish the rules for the magic that not everyone gets. Publish the tech tree that other systems would have kept secret. Publish the list of possible powers for monsters. Doing this will reassure gamists that they aren't going to get their arses handed to them by something they couldn't have planned for. It will also reassure us that you aren't hiding all the unbalanced bullshit behind a "find out in play" excuse. In character "find out in play" is okay. Out of character "find out in play" is "you lied to me and I'm not coming back". Don't expect us to trust you with the game balance issues (which are hard to get right, and which can break the game for us) while refusing to trust us to roleplay our in-character ignorance.
As an addendum to this last point, experienced players generally have an advantage within games even when playing new characters, becase they understand the meta, both the state of the game and the hidden things in the rules. That's actually a bad thing, because it puts new players off. You can't help the meta state-of-game knowledge from happening, but if you publish all the rules you can remove that part of an experienced player's advantage.



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