Skill Design in your LARP Adventure

Rob Morton, James Bloodworth (me!) and Pete Morton holding a copy of their revised “Goldrush” rule system.

Live Action Role-Play, Live Role-Play, LARP, LRP, whatever you call this hobby it is all ultimately the same thing.  People engaging in fantasy worlds to resolve situations, this is what seperates us from those who produce fantastic costumes and then just stand around in them at conventions (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  LARPers will actively engage with the game world using game based skills to affect change but it is these game based skills I’m talking about in this post.

Game Based skills need to simulate real world skills so your players characters can hack a computer network, fly a spaceship, perform scientific research, mix potions, perform rituals, etc.

When I was originally trying to decide on the name of this blog, I kept on coming back to one of the first concepts I ever learned about LARP* Scenario design:

A good LRP system needs to tread a path between playability and realism.

Path being most definitely the keyword in the above sentence.  Basically this is about achieving a balance in the skills within whatever game world that you, as Games Master (or GM) have devised.  It’s important to remember that each player wants their character to feel as important as the character next to them.

Whenever I come down to design a new system or skill there are some basic design rules I absolutely enforce: –

  • It has to be easy to understand and use
  • It has to be able to be used on the game

Lets take a look at the first rule.  On the Goldrush games one of the skills was the ability to hack into the Cortex (Firefly version of the Internet) and gain information.  In the early days (and in most other systems) the player with the skill roleplays on some prop the action of hacking and has to do that for so long before they get the information out.  I was never happy with this as I like my players to have to actually do something in order to achieve their goals.  The iteration involved us buying up old GameBoys from eBay, couple these along with Tetris cartridges and suddenly you have something that actually looks like a hacking terminal (we bought the ones with transparent casings) and in order to have “hacked” the system they have to score so many points in the game, the harder the challenger, the higher the score required to achieve it.

Hacking the Cortex on a mobile device

That worked relatively well but for the next session of games we’ve moved on and are now using Raspberry Pi’s as captive web servers, so players can take their smart phones, connect to the wifi (if they know the password) and they have to solve an adventure book style puzzle (built using Twine).

This should make the skill even more accessible than before and has worked well in test runs we’ve done so far.  This comes back to the comment I made about earlier about skill design being a path.  You could go all way and have players running Wireshark to capture IP packets sniffing for passwords, whilst realistic, probably isn’t overly playable by most players.

Moving onto my second point, my other beef with other games I’ve been on is that they have pages of skills that are either unusable in the game or their is no opportunity to use them.  I was on a game a few years ago and if I’m honest I metagamed slightly and picked skills that I thought would work in game rather than picking skills that fitted my character (my usual standard), other in my group went for skills that worked thematically for them.  Ultimately they were not able to use their skills and felt redundant in the game leading to a less than great experience.

When creating skills consider my two points, or even better test run with someone and see if they get them.


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