LARPs Immerse Players at Gen Con

This year, over 60,000 geeks of all flavors converged on Indianapolis, Indiana for the Gen Con gaming convention, held between July 30 And August 2. It offered over 15,000 different events, most of which were opportunities to play just about every game imaginable, including role-playing games, collectible and non-collectible card games, board games, historical and non-historical miniature games, party games and electronic games. There’s also seminars, panels, workshops, autograph opportunities, film screenings, a gigantic vendor hall and more.

Perhaps the smallest sub-group of Gen Con gamers are the live action roleplayers, or LARPers. Out of that 60,000 number of attendees, the LARPers only number several hundred players.

LARPer in armor, Game of Thrones, Gen Con 2015
Costuming can be an important part of the immersive LARP experience

There’s some division in the gaming world about LARPers. Traditional rolyplaying games are played around a table. Gamemasters explain scenarios while a handful of players describe how of their characters react. LARPS, on the other hand, are much more player-driven. The gamemasters set up the initial scene and intervene as necessary, but it’s primarily about how layers interact with one another. Rather than being confined to a table, players dress up as their characters and move around a designated area as they see fit among potentially dozens of other LARPers.

Some say LARPers get over-dramatic or are too caught up in being their characters. I’d say such critics are missing the point. LARP is meant to be immersive. It’s about being someone else for a few hours, able to experience their highs and lows. It’s socializing in imaginary worlds. Others enjoy them in small quantities, finding them emotionally or mentally exhausting, which just illustrates the wide variety of way people react to different kinds of gaming.

There’s always the bad eggs, of course, but every social group has them. Does anyone really think there are no table-top gamers who try to steal the spotlight, put others down, and take the game too personally? But for most games, those people are few and far between. Instead, it’s a fairly tight knit community of gamers who welcome crossing paths with one another game after game.

Creating the Best of the Best

It’s always of paramount importance to have a well-run game. Despite the emphasis on player contribution, the quality of gamemasters can absolutely make or break a LARP. They are the ones who create the characters, construct the plot, and otherwise assist players in interacting with one another in a meaningful way.

And some of the best run games I’ve ever encountered come from Iocane Productions. Their games are set in the worlds of Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. Despite the known setting, they are careful not to intersect with the source material. The Battlestar Galactica game was set on a battlestar other than Galactica, another ship that managed to survive the assault on the colonies. Games of Thrones was set a couple centuries before what’s covered in the books and TV show. While that certainly can disappoint players hoping for a canon character, it leaves players open to develop plots in whatever direction they wish, unfettered by expectations of canon.

They also take particular care to make every character important, a particular feat when the game includes 75 characters, as the Game of Thrones one does. Every single character has his own plots, and their actions can all potentially impact the overall story. Whether you’re a newcomer or a respected LARP veteran, you have a character worth playing.

Quality characters take time to write, so it can be tempting to skimp on them and just let the players make something up. Some players even thrive on that sort of opportunity. However, for characters to interact well as a whole, there needs to be connections between them. That means some background of note, as well as the assignment of objectives to help give players direction in how to find their place in the story.

House Targaryen, Game of Thrones, Gen Con 2015
House Targaryen stopped squabbling just long enough to take this picture.

Iocane has also come up with a system that keeps most of the action in the hands of the players rather than the gamemasters. It’s tempting to run a LARP like a traditional table-top game, in which the gamemasters are intimately involved. But LARPs are immersive. Constantly having someone explaining the action over your shoulder is counterproductive to the nature of a LARP. Moreover, you simply don’t have enough gamemasters to do that in LARPS, which commonly have 20 or more players.

Iocane ties characters together with enough interrelated social goals that physical action is often unnecessary. When it is, an incredibly simple system is used to quickly resolve situations requiring a Gamemaster. The result is gameplay rarely needs to pause while a gamemaster is sought out to resolve a situation.

One of the great things about Gen Con is it offers people a chance to try new things.  So if you’ve ever wondered how a game like a LARP works, Gen Con is the place to give it a try.  LARPS give players a chance to truly step into a fantastical world for a few hours, and Gen Con offers a wide variety of different games from which to choose.

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