Agency is the freedom to make choices. The ability to change the world around you, reaping rewards and suffering failures. In larp, there are several aspects to this subject, the most important being the balance between Player Agency, Storyteller Agency, and Game Health.
1- Player Agency
Player Agency is the ability for Characters in a larp to make meaningful choices that affect other participants and the world. Players need to feel as if their decisions matter. It is important that Storytellers not view this as handing out consequences or levying punishment. Agency is not a trap. Good story is created from results, not punishment. The actions of the Character can have negative results for the Character, but should be creating interesting stories for the Player to experience.
The best games create opportunities for Players to have experiences based on their interactions with each other and the results that naturally spring from them. Plot that grows based on their actions and reactions will grow investment and the feeling of being in a real world. Players should be encouraged to create their own goals and act on their motivations within the setting of the larp. Staff should support these stories and blend them into the rest of the setting.
Storyteller Agency is the room in-game for the creation of NPC driven plot. Staff must be careful to use these stories to provide engaging choices for the Players, but Players must also allow the Staff leeway to create them. As touched on in On A Roll episode 10, antagonists and similar NPCs need to be given the opportunity to soliloquy, but Staff needs to be careful not to abuse the opportunity to bend the rules in the service of drama.
The Staff of a larp must also communicate up front to the Players the expectations of balance between Storyteller and Player Agency. Some games can be all about the ride, the adrenaline of a series of well crafted scenes in which Players impact one other, but not the larger world or story. Others can be a grand sandbox, exploring the edges of what is and is not possible, but where resolutions are rarely as pointed and climatic. Most games fall somewhere between the two extremes.
3 - Game Health and Community Impact
All Agency is bounded - either by rules, community, or the setting. The most important of these is community. All participants, Storytellers and Players, must keep in mind the engagement and comfort of those around them. Create stories that draw others in and expand involvement in interesting ways and recognize the emotional needs of the community. Be willing to both deescalate heated Character versus Character conflict and willing to step aside when you have reached your personal limits. Never allow Agency to become an excuse for toxic play. Never force another member of Staff or a Player into a scene that makes them out of game uncomfortable or fearful.
Agency should also be bound by the rules and the setting. Staff should only bend rules to create more interesting stories and choices for the Players, and Players should only bend rules for game health. In both circumstances when the rules of the system are not strictly followed, all involved should be aware of the out-of-game decision to do so, being careful not to the abuse the trust of either the Storytelling Staff or the Players.
Agency should be bound by the larp Setting. Players can rail against the edges of a setting and appropriate behavior within it, but should understand if those edges move slowly. Other Players and Staff are involved in and interested in a specific style of setting and play. If a small group of Players or Staff shift the setting significantly, then agency is being removed from those that wanted to play in the original version of the game. This is not to say that setting changes are bad, but that Players and Staff must communicate the level that is possible and desirable. Departing from that level requires further communication between Staff and Players.
Agency is at the core of many roleplaying experiences. Participants need to feel like their choices matter, affecting the world and the other players. Players tend to prefer games that give them the greatest number of interesting and engaging choices, ideally feeling like their options are unlimited. However, Storytellers need to be given the Agency to create stories as well. Each group working cooperatively - never in opposition - to create engrossing worlds and experiences.
Jason Hughes is a co-Host for the podcast On A Roll he’s the former OST for the Underground Theaters Camarilla venue, a long-time gamer and larper.
I have long since learned to view my experiences in the roleplaying hobby as a series of stops on an extended voyage. LARPing is one such stop that I wasn’t certain I’d make. I’m not completely certain if my aversion was born of societal stigma or an atypical dislike of crowded spaces, or (most likely) a combination of these factors and others. Nevertheless, I never really saw myself going to a LARP event or, if I was eventually pressured into attending, really enjoying it. After a weekend at Dystopia Rising and a fair bit of time to digest the experience, I can safely report that I’m hooked. Allow me to share four cool things that helped dispel my preconceived notions, so that they might do the same for you.
1) Characters Are Crazy, Players Are Friendly
Before I made the trip to Eden, the setting for our local Dystopia Rising game, I felt certain that my main problem would lie with the personalities that I’d encounter. Again, I now feel certain that I was simply suffering from “popular stereotype” syndrome. Still, I could not help but carry with me the fear that I would chafe socially with most of the other players throughout the weekend. While it’s true that my character’s life was threatened multiple times (back-to-back in one instance), I never felt that any personal offense was intended. The other players accurately portrayed a bunch of nutters as one might find in the post-apocalypse, but when the costumes came off and the real people emerged, they proved to be an exceedingly friendly and social group. Even in the midst of the action, I never felt like I couldn’t pause the flow to ask for rules clarifications when needed. GMs and assistants were enthusiastic about the game and helpful at all turns, even when my character met his untimely death on the first night. All of this culminated in a near perfect balance of immersion and ease of play.
2) Getting Involved Is Worth The Risks
In most LARPs, death is not the end. At the very least, it can be very difficult to actually bite the bullet. Resurrection spells, bleed out times, and emergency services prevent your character from being lost forever. Dystopia Rising is no different, and as such each Strain (analogous to Races in other games) has its own Infection rating, which serves as a death counter. You typically lose Infection when you die, and when it runs out, you’re finally dead for good. Since death is not usually final, players are encouraged to do the dumb thing sometimes. Whereas in reality you wouldn’t explore the dark woods to find the source of the gurgling sound you just heard, at a LARP, this stupid decision is instead viewed as courageous. If the worst happens, you’ll be back in no time, be it by the helping hand of a friend or a quick trip to the GMs’ cabin. If you don’t act boldly, you won’t get hurt as often but you’ll have far less fun. That gurgling sound could be the start of a huge plot that draws in tons of other players. Sure, that cry for help could be a trap, but it could also be a generous character that just needs a little first aid. In short, you’re better off trying and dying than hiding in your cabin all weekend. Games are meant to be fun, after all!
3) Sign Up To Be An NPC
If your game allows it (or requires it), sign up to be an NPC as often as you can during your first few games. While it’s important to get into character and start to grow in that direction, portraying an NPC can help you learn the rules of the game and stretch your creativity a bit. New characters don’t often have a lot of plot going on for them. They’re new, after all, and plots often take several weekends to get moving. When you volunteer as an NPC, you immediately get access to a plethora of plots you’d never otherwise see. You get to try out new costumes, accents, and skills. Sometimes you even get to scare the pants off of other players, especially at overnight LARPs. Dystopia Rising has plenty of pathways to the latter, including zombies that get into bed with you and prevent you from crying out for help while they break your limbs. Talk about terrifying! As an NPC, you get to be the source of that terror and provide the sense of satisfaction that player characters will receive when they finally vanquish you.
4) Check Your Inhibitions At The Gate
While most new LARPers will naturally drop their inhibitions when they enter character, it bears mentioning here: don’t bring your preconceived notions and social hang-ups with you to the LARP. Surrender to the character and retain only the most essential social boundaries. Your character may fall in love, swear vengeance against a hated foe, or get caught up in a fanatical religion. These opportunities could pass you by if you have your guard up. Let the game take control and lose yourself in the rush. It was this feeling of being swept up in the narrative that kept me coming back to the rulebook and the website long after the weekend was over, and it’s most certainly what’s going to get me coming back to the campsite.
A special thanks to the folks at Dystopia Rising, both the players and GMs, for helping to craft such a cool and unique experience for me. I can’t wait to rejoin you, and I hope that this article convinces just one person to take the plunge and give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but you truly won’t know if it’s for you until you give it a chance. Happy LARPing!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. He played Ambrose Lamm, a Baywalker Priest of the Sainthood at Dystopia Rising: Eden, and plans to return as soon as possible. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Pic Reference: http://www.dystopiarisinglarp.com/
Full disclosure: I am a fake RPG geek girl who has never done a LARP campaign in her life. Closest I’ve been is Cosplay Chess at anime cons, but I have been doing this cosplay thing here for 10 years so I think I’m qualified to talk about the costume-y side of LARP. If not, please do be sure to tell me where I can turn in my geek card. ;) The following is a guide on how to put together costumes for LARP so that you can have some heckin’ cool costumes to run around and fight in depending on how much time/money/effort you want to put in.
1) Make Friends Who Know What They’re Doing
If you LARP with folks who have costumes that you like, ask them about the costume! If they make their own stuff, ask them if they’d be willing to teach you how to make your own. Most people with lots of experience enjoy teaching others and showing them the ropes. Learning directly from another person is also probably the easiest way to learn new skills because you can ask them questions in real time and actually get responses. If your LARP buddies don’t make their own stuff, but you want to learn how to, see #2. If your buds get their stuff commissioned, ask them where they go and see #4. If none of your regular LARPing buds make their own stuff, you can turn to folks who put their sessions up and youtube and fish around there, or try networking with folks at gaming conventions.
2) Master The Art of Google-Fu And Teach Yourself How To Sew And Foamsmith
So you’ve decided you want to join our ranks and become a crafter like your father before you, eh? Not gonna lie to you, this is not an easy path and you’ll need to master the art of google-fu if you want to have any chance at getting by. There is a WEALTH of information for free online about how to sew and how to make sturdy weapons and armor out of foam. The cosplaytutorial tumblr has a catalog of a ton of these for easy referencing & is a great place to start your search. Learning how to search for this information is one of the most valuable skills you can have and since you’re doing original characters for the most part in LARP, you need to learn how to search for things that are adjacent to what you want to do. So, for example, you want to make a set of sci-fi armor that’s not from Star Wars for one of your campaigns: google “Stormtrooper armor tutorial” because that’s going to give you the skills you need to make your not-Star-Wars stuff. I’d also recommend picking up a book or two about sewing techniques because otherwise you’ll be a costuming grandma like me who only knows how to do two types of hems and didn’t know how to do French seams until a month ago. Even if you don’t intend on making all of your stuff all of the time, learning how to do some basic sewing will come in handy if you decide to go the thrift shop/altering found items route.
3. Thrift Shops, Bargain Bins, and Coupons, Oh My!
I wear yo granddad’s clothes, I look incredible
Thrift shops are a great place to start for costume pieces. Bedsheets in particular are awesome because they’re like a buck, are usually sturdy cotton and take to dye easily. AND you can make anything from hoopskirts to tunics out of them and there’s a ton of fabric in ‘em so even if you mess up, you’re still good! Thrift shops are also a great place to find pieces that just are a pain in the buns to make or if you don’t want to make stuff and are too broke to do commissions. With a little bit of altering to found items (this is why basic sewing skills are good to have) you can make anything into a pretty sweet LARP costume. Costuming on a budget is tough, so check around your area for fabric/craft stores that aren’t part of a chain like Michael’s, Jo-Anne’s, or Hobby Lobby-- they usually sell fabric for much cheaper than what you’ll find at the big box stores. If there are no such stores near you, you can check online or prepare for battle with big retail fiends armed with as many coupons as you can stack.
4. Commission That Biz
Here’s the deal with commissions, kids. If you want something done fast and cheap, it’s not going to be high quality work. If you want something done good and cheap, it’s going to take a long time. If you want something fast and good, it’s gonna be expensive as heck. You want something to be good, cheap, and fast? Keep dreamin’. Keep in mind that you’re paying not only for materials, but also for someone’s time and expertise when you pay for commissions. The person you’re paying needs to eat and pay rent; they deserve a fair wage especially if this is their only source of income. In other words, when the commissioner tells you the cost of their work is $xxxx; you don’t whine at them. If it’s too much for you to afford, say so and try to find someone who’s in your price range or ask if they’d be willing to do a payment plan for you. Treat commissioners with respect -- this should go without saying, but for some reason some folks think that commissioners should only charge for materials + $20.
So there you have it! Four ways to get costumes for your next LARP event relatively easily -- if you have questions or want more details on learning how to sew/craft/bargain, let me know here or go check out my wordpress.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress all under the same convenient handle.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.