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Larp Woes

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LARP has come a long way in the past 30 years.

Way back when it was a niche, nerdy club, usually university based, made up of socially outcast members, often with connections to grunge and metal music. It was looked down upon by the mainstream with reviews full of derision.

It was the D&D nerds expanding into home-made gaffa-tape weapons, curtains for cloaks, leather jackets for armour, throwing bean bags for spells, and struggling to get 20 people together on alternate wet and windy Sundays to shout magic missile at each other!

Now though, things have changed. A lot.

There is an industry making entire ranges of high-quality latex weaponry, shields and masks; armour that looks real and could be straight from Lord of the Rings; accurate period costumes; and events that have over 6000 people attending! And those people aren’t just nerds any more. They come from all walks of life – from pizza delivery guys to lawyers, football players to chemists, school drop-outs to those with doctorates, the skint to the rich, and from babes to pensioners. It’s now accepting of both sexes & all sexualities, all races and creeds, and all social cultures fro the jocks to the nerds. The whole genre has improved in pretty much every area, but it still has to work hard to keep away from its derided past.
At the moment, I’m part of the crew for a mid-sized fest system. I started with them three years ago, and the first event gave me mixed feelings. The rule-set was simple yet flawed (in my opinion), the people and the atmosphere were amazing, but the game itself was a joke. It was like the Benny Hill of systems, and that made me feel uncomfortable. Surprisingly though, one of the organisers asked for feedback, and I gave my honest feedback, and was then, even more surprisingly, given the chance to re-write parts of the system to help shore up the holes, and to add more depth to the system. This was a shock to me as many of the systems that I’ve played over the years were run by cliques that outcast anyone that spoke against their invention.

All this was good though, and I went into it with high hopes. However, despite my good intentions, the improvements that I’d hoped to bring to the game didn’t materialise. Tweaking the rules had almost no effect on the game. At first I thought it was just a transition phase, but time has told that it was more than that, and it made me realise that the system is almost a parody of Larp, and is at risk of becoming a joke in the current Larp world. It is a system, that if people watched from the outside, would be derided much like the Larps of old. It is child-like silly, and often farce. And it is really making me closely compare it to the games from 30 years ago, and that makes me sad, as it could be so much more.

The biggest problem, as I see it, is that it appears that many of the players don’t actually follow the rules. Hell, one faction appears to be playing a completely different game to the rest of us. So, changing some of the rules doesn’t make a difference as they are just ignored anyway. And yet the organisers seem to just turn a blind eye and ignore these indiscretions, despite the fact that this upsets a growing section of their player-base. It is almost like the organisers are playing their own game, and they don’t really care what the players do. (certainly the plot goes that way, but that’s another story!)

This then puts me between a rock and a hard place as I don’t want to be part of a joke system.

I’m not looking for Larp elitism – I could switch to Empire for that – but I still want the game to actually mean something. I want to actually be able to immerse myself in a Larp world, and be any to role-play with the majority of players. But right now, this isn’t possible.

Maybe my ideals don’t fit within this system and I’m flogging a dead horse trying to instigate changes that will never materialise. Maybe this system doesn’t want to me a traditional Larp event. Right now it is more like a social gathering, with a backdrop of Larp to give an excuse to camp out in the woods. Lot’s of alcohol and silliness, a fixed storyline, by no real game or roleplay.
In the past couple of days I’ve read some of the plot ideas coming in this year and they’ve made me feel quite deflated. One of the choices would be perfect for a slapstick comedy, but for a Larp system it’s just ridiculous and will not be taken seriously by anyone. Other ideas will just add to the list of things ignored or abused by players so I see little point implementing them unless something is done about players that are cheating. (intentionally or not).

At grass roots club level, I’m used to having at least two refs, one for monsters and one for players. And that’s when there is 10-15 on each side. For larger player groups it isn’t unusual to have two player refs to keep things flowing. They don’t have to be obvious refs, in white tabards with a big R on them, but their existence keeps everyone in check. It isn’t perfect, but it works, and almost every system runs this way.

So, when you have a system with 200+ players and 50+ NPCs and monsters, you cannot possible expect people to adhere to any rule set when there is a grand total of zero refs. Not one. There are player ‘reps’, which are little more than people getting freebies and getting a buzz by telling their mates the game secrets, but there is no-one that even attempts to ensure that the game rules are being followed, let alone the community rules of Larping. Hell, in many areas, Rule 7 isn’t even enforced.
And this is where I’m stuck. Do I continue to fight for a system that doesn’t really care about becoming a real Larp system? Do I keep banging my head against a brick wall trying to bring in more role play, and a better environment and system, when the players are just allowed to ignore the rules? I have a lot of time and energy that I could devote to this system, and can see massive potential, but I don’t want to waste my time on a lost cause.

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