Three Reasons Your Boffer LARP Is Rubbish

What I See Is Not What I Get

Whether you’re trying to imagine a high fantasy sword & sorcery world, a grim post-apocalyptic nightmare or a shadowy world of occult conspiracies, just trying to imagine that you’re actually immersed in the setting instead of wandering around a hotel, friend’s backyard or rented Boy Scout campground is a major investment on the part of your imagination. Add to that seeing the other players as their characters instead of fellow geeks in costumes, and your imagination is working in overdrive pretty much the entire time you’re in-game. Add to that an extra level of narrative flourish – “OK, guys, I know that looks like a tent, but it’s actually a huge castle!” or “OK, when you see me, I’m 15 feet tall and have two heads and a glowing sword!” – and staying immersed becomes essentially impossible. Don’t tell me you have a glowing sword, show me! Stay as close as possible to what your props, costumes and makeup can already create, and let our imaginations do the rest. If you need to narrate, keep it brief and stay close to what’s in front of us. Our imaginations are already heavily taxed, so don’t add to that burden unless it’s absolutely amazing or absolutely necessary.

The Rules Are In the Way

LARP needs to flow smoothly, because when you interrupt the action, there’s an awkward pause where we all suddenly realize we’re playing a game instead of stayig immersed in our characters. This is especially true in boffer LARP, where maintaining the flow of things like combat and large group social interaction are crucial. Any time I see a skill that calls for a time-out, I cringe a little, especially if it’s a skill that will be used even relatively often. The same goes for skills that call for measurements on the fly – it’s one thing to have a ritual-type skill that takes 10 minutes to create a 15 foot circle of protection. That’s plenty of time to measure out the distance, and indeed creating the space is part of the roleplaying. It’s quite another to have a skill that calls for people to try to measure a 10′ radius in the middle of combat. Keep your mechanics as unobtrusive as possible – try to incorporate them into roleplaying whenever possible, instead of being something you do in addition to roleplaying, and when you can’t, try to make them quick and easy to resolve, instead of chewing up valuable game time.

“PC” Also Stands for “Paying Customer”

The best boffer LARPs I’ve ever seen never forget this – that a player has laid down some serious money for admission, not to mention costumes, props, food & drink, gas, etc. Some games take a very haughty “we are Serious Artists and if you don’t like it or get screwed over or whatever then too bad” approach, where the staff feels free to openly favor characters, do terrible things that ruin people’s fun for the weekend or otherwise mess with people’s entertainment in the name of Creating Art. I remember attending a boffer LARP where a player’s character was hit with a Big Deal Magic Effect on Friday night and essentially removed from play for the rest of the weekend. The staff congratulated themselves for being amazing and daring, but the player was pissed – he’d gotten his gear together, hauled it to the game site and paid his money to play, and less than four hours in his game was ruined. When he complained, they told him he could be an NPC all weekend, and gave him guff for his “bad attitude.” Needless to say, I’m with the player – he paid to play his character, not do their grunt work all weekend. (If you want to NPC for a whole game, fine, but that should be your choice, not one forced upon you.) Mind you, I’m not saying that players should always win/get what they want, or that staff cannot endanger characters, challenge players’ expectations or whatnot, or even that LARPs can’t create Art. But games need to remember that there are different obligations when it’s your friends sitting around your kitchen table, and when it’s 100+ people who’ve paid $50 or more to play your game. One is a friendly meet up, with nothing more than pizza money on the line; the other is a business, and forgetting that is a bad idea.

Pete Woodworth wrote, edited and developed for White Wolf Game Studio’s groundbreaking Mind’s Eye Theatre LARP game system for 8 years, and has been playing and writing both parlor and boffer LARPs for 17 years. 

2 responses

  1. kellywarriorprincess

    How is that any different than any LARP by Minds Eye Theatre?

    January 22, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    • A fair point. MET can suffer when it’s missing WYSIWYG elements too. The main difference is that MET is not expected to play out in real time once the rules are engaged, for better or worse. Combat and use of powers goes into rounds, and newcomers can easily be briefed and brought up to speed.

      In boffer larp, though, action traditionally flows in real time – which means that if an NPC tells the players “OK, I don’t look like me, I look like Warlord Tyrantus, ready? 3-2-1 lay on!” that’s fine for players who were there at the start, but other players entering the scene once it’s underway either need to break the real-time to get brought up to speed, interrupting the flow of play, or they may make decisions they would not have if they had been briefed.

      In short, both MET and boffer larp can suffer when WYSIWYG elements are lacking. However, due to the way the rules are structured, the disruption tends to be less consequential to MET due to the expectation of narration and the stylized rounds for rules resolution, as compared to the more jarring impact such elements have on systems that are expected to function in real time.

      January 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm

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