Friday, July 9, 2010

From where does inspiration spring?

As with all works of literature and play, there are only seven stories in larp. Seven stories which authors bend to their desire, I am going to do a short series about how to integrate these stories into a boffer larp.

Fantasy literature began it's life as a genre deeply embedded in the quest story. The Grey Mouser, the Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian all are sentinel works in the early genre, all of them are also centered around a quest. Quests as a story arc are fairly simple. Beginning with a journey, you add interesting encounters at regular intervals and culminate with some world altering event. Breaking this down into a boffer larp can be simple as well, here are my personal thoughts on how to make it as effective as possible.

The journey is the central point of the quest, not the traveling. Some quests take place in one location, some in the mind, some spread out over continents or planets. Where-ever you decide to begin your player's journey, make sure that the setting is mutable. Changing ambiance as players move through different locations can create the illusion of moving great distances, the suspension of disbelief makes this fairly simple, change the lighting or color of lighting as the players move through their journey. If the color changes in your encounters, the locations will feel different even if they are the same mod shack as always.

A complication arises for quest stories because often a plot team or story teller needs to entertain 30 or 40 people, a quest may only be viable for 7-10. One way to handle this is to assign a separate plot person to run the quest, with his/her own NPCs. This solution has the positive effect of specializing that one plot person and allowing them to be more detailed in their planning. It has a negative effect as well, you have dedicated some percentage of your resources to entertaining only a small percentage of your players. IN my opinion there is a better solution, the questers can travel alone, but the encounters require more manpower. The traveling portion of a quest, the random roleplay upon the road and the small combats that represent the annoyances of travel can all be handled by a single plot person. With this solution only one dedicated resource can entertain a group of players AND at intervals the story he is telling can involve everyone.

The encounters along the road or journey form the bulk of the narrative if any quest story. In Lord of The Rings this would be the meeting with Galadriel, the Balgrog in Moria and the Riders of Rohan. The most important thing in a boffer larp is to keep the balance between telling your story and keeping the adrenaline pumping. If every encounter is a roleplay encounter someone in the back will be dozing, if every encounter is a fight well you get the idea. My personal goal has always been to have four types of encounters fights, roleplay, puzzles and complicated fights. Most of those are self explanatory, complicated fights bears some explanation. The best example of this in modern media are the boss fights in multi player games. In order to draw and encounter out for longer and make it challenging for a larger number of people, the plot person adds a slowing mechanic which complicates the fight. For instance, one person must solve a puzzle while the others fight the monster(s) or several people must answer riddles while one person blocks a passage way. Quest encounters in my opinion should be a mixture of these three things, always maintaining enough combat to keep the stick jocks from party killing.

This leaves only the final encounter, Frodo throwing the ring in to Mount Doom, Darth Vader chucking the emperor into the power shaft etc. There are two important things about this encounter, one it must be differentiated from other encounters by scale and two it should answer most if not all of the questions brought up on the quest. It is important to note here that scaling is still incredibly important, the goal is to make this the hardest encounter of the quest without making it impossible. This is accomplished by gauging success at previous encounters and then ramping up the volume just a little. If you are the plot person running the quest, it is best to slowly increase the difficulty over the course of the journey. This gives you the best gauge of where to place the scaling of the final encounter. Answering questions is also important, leaving things hanging intentionally is only really good if the goal is to hook the next quest.

So this is my take on converting a quest into a boffer larp, what does everyone think? There is of course a lot more detail that could be added, but I will leave it here for now. Thanks for reading!


  1. This looks pretty good! The one thing I would add is Dénouement - the players need to experience the world after it's been changed by the adventure.

    If they saved the day from the evil wizard, the players should get a taste of what the world is like in his absence. They should experience a contrast in the world before and after the adventure, even if it's just some previously sad NPCs thanking them for their efforts.

  2. I also like to have varying degrees of success on modules. That way players can feel like they barely succeeded or blew out the enemies.

    I also agree with Fresh Heir, that the world needs to be changed. Many plot teams act like it's over as soon as the badguy dies, but there should be an epilogue to every story.

  3. I agree, great idea. That could probably be an entire article.