Re: Table-Top vs. Live Action, etc.

From: Nick Brooke (100656.1216@CompuServe.COM)
Date: Wed 08 May 1996 - 17:47:13 EEST

Pope Jim wrote:

> I can't forbear noticing that MOB's account of the major characters
> he has played is mostly an account of disaster and defeat -- maybe he
> should play farm boys!

Why? MOB's scenery-chewing disasters are more amusing for those around him to
watch than most other players' triumphs! I'd far rather see someone "go down" in
character than witness them succeed with all the style of an wargamer and the
panache of a flatfish. Keep MOB's Parts Big, I cry!

Doyle wrote a long-ass reply: I'll follow suit. But you know, Doyle, I wish
you'd stop using me as a straw man for arguments you dislike:

: The idea that Heroquest will never be published ... is an attitude
: that I find worthy of derision and scorn and deserving of attack ...
: this is Nick Brooke's position, I believe ...

So you'd *guess* that I believe something you find worthy of derision, scorn and
attack? You really know how to make friends!

: Some declare that LARP is the saviour of role playing or similiar
: nonsense. To be fair I have *never* heard Nick Brooke claim this...

So why the hell do you link my name with this nonsense?

Anyway, on to the meat. If any part of this upsets you, please assume everything
is covered by a big "while I'm not serious, I can't believe you are either" grin
(thanx, Lewis!). If you only have derision, scorn and attack to offer in reply,
please can you do it in personal email (to save other folks' time and patience)?

> By discipline I refer to the necessary self control and self awareness to
> sustain both suspension of disbelief and that "in sync" feeling with the
> other players and the Gamemaster. LARP, while certainly sharing elements of
> it's makeup with table top role playing, posits a different dynamic. In TTRP
> this dynamic relies on the participation and compromise of all involved. In
> LARP, if you are not satisfied with the current role playing situation you
> find yourself in, you can always walk away, and try to find another.

For "relies on", you could also read "depends on". I can't believe you're saying
"Play TTRP: it's less satisfying than LARP!" -- from your article, it seems that
if you're unsatisfied with the situation in a TTRP game, or if one player
refuses to compromise, you're stuffed.

To put it differently: in table top role playing all the players usually have to
be on the same side, talking one at a time, while in freeforms they can follow
their own agendas, hold private conversations, etc. Which is why any tabletop
game with more than half a dozen players ends up dominated by the loud-mouthed
extroverts who know how to get the gamemaster's attention, and freeforms can run
with fifty to eighty people getting along quite happily on their own for the
most part.

In TTRP there is often a single plot, or plot/consensus, and those who wander
away from it become disenfranchised ("Don't Split the Party"), while in
freeforms there can easily be around three times as many plots as players, and
little GM intervention is required to keep them boiling.

> Roles that people take up and role play quite well in table top (the
> opposite sex, other classes and races, athleticly endowed individuals)
> fall flat in LARP.

Not so in my experience. The Broken Council freeform from RQCon2 is perhaps the
best example: as for SEX, I'll cite my wife Penemara, ably played by a guy named
Jim (who certainly had the best ankles at the Con); as for CLASS, I was an
Emperor in that game (though not in real life, alas!); as for RACE, you can look
at photos of David Cheng practically skyclad as a Wind Child (I must upload
these to the Web some day); as for ATHLETICISM, I *really* don't see what you're
getting at (unless maybe you're confusing our somewhat literary games with the
Rubber Sword brigade!).

Casting and costuming for freeforms takes a lot of time and thought (on the part
of authors and players alike). I'm sorry if games you've been in have 'fallen
flat'. Freeforms can face real problems if key parts are miscast, if players
have to drop out, if people don't read their briefing materials, etc. etc. --
but we do live in an imperfect world, after all. And the same is true of
tabletop gaming.

> Nick sez above that TTRP straitjackets him, preventing certain sorts of
> games.

Unless you can fit 80 people round your living-room table for a table-top game,
it should be blindingly obvious that TTRP games can't do everything that
freeforms can. Because freeform writers have to "cut the crap" and focus on
what's important in a situation, they don't need to bother working out trivial
details which, while true and doubtless important in some circumstances
(toothbrush size, ENC points of iron codpiece, bite attack percentage), are not
worth worrying about given the situation at hand.

Frex, in "How the West was One" we had a rudimentary combat system, because the
game wasn't about fighting: we had a more complex system for Tests of Faith,
because it was about religion. In "Home of the Bold" we had a longer combat
system, and players carried around cards listing their bruises and wounds; but
there were no rules for Faith Points, etc. as they had nothing to do with the
situation at hand. Now, if our freeform rules were converted for tabletop
gaming, you'd probably find that EVERY character sheet would require ALL of the
detail from BOTH these rule sets in order to play ANY game... because tabletop
rulesets tend to grow knobbly extrusions to cover every possible situation.

It's *because* each freeform can define its own rules on a couple of sheets of
paper that such games are easier to write. This means sneering that:

> LARP's goals seem loftier, if for no other reason then that they are
> easier to acheive and so seem acheivable, as opposed to tabletop role
> playing goals

is like saying that tabletop roleplayers deserve credit for smothering
character, setting and plot beneath a mountain of rulebooks, because doing so
makes playing an enjoyable game more difficult, and therefore more of an
achievement! :-)

> I find that LARP seems to be incapable of doing many things that TTRP does
> quite well. These include focusing on the individual over time, mass combat,
> skirmish combat, Low Power role playing, the participation of the entire
> group in the unfolding of the story, etc.

OK, OK: unlike you, I've never claimed LARP can replace TTRP. But some of the
IMHO worst aspects of RuneQuest are these things that TTRP "does quite well":

o Focus on individual over time abuse of development rules;
                                        characters with no real lives
                                        outside combat and training

o Mass combat don't make me laugh! I don't
                                        know any TTRP rule set that
                                        handles mass combat well
                                        (beyond saying "wing it")

o Skirmish combat Strike Ranks, Hit Locations,
                                        and the Underwater Bronto-
                                        saurus Tail Lash Attack

o Low power role playing *not* a monopoly of TTRP:
                                        cf. MOB's Rune Metal Jacket or
                                        MD's Embarrassment of Riches

o Participation of entire group predetermined, linear plots,
                                        often crammed into holes in the
                                        ground for simplicity

They are different kinds of game. Freeforms work very well for taking a focused
look at a tense, intense, and potentially explosive situation, with pre-made
characters, tangled politics and intricate plotting. I doubt they could work for
campaign play, or if players had freedom to design their own PCs, other than on
the Rubber Sword level. Tabletop gaming can easily degenerate into skirmish
wargames (*especially* given the complexity of RuneQuest combat), where much of
the time available for a session is spent rolling dice, crossing numbers off
character sheets, and praying for a critical hit. It can also produce great
campaigns, memorable and moving events, insights into character and personality
that go *way* beyond what a freeform can ever provide (I don't know about what
Australian psycho-freeforms can do!) -- but this is not achieved through the
agency of the rules system, but rather is down to the chemistry and composition
of the playing group.

It does seem to me that the RuneQuest rules can't readily define some of the
more powerful persons, events or themes of Glorantha, in ways which which quite
simply do not become issues in LARP. And this is, perhaps, *because* to play a
LARP character you don't expect or need to know your character's shoe size, bite
attack percentage, and/or have every little piece of skill, knowledge, magic or
experience he's ever picked up in the course of his life written down on a piece
of paper somewhere.

You know, Doyle: I've played RuneQuest for years, and I like playing RuneQuest.
(Although I dislike some things about the way RuneQuest is written and played,
to be honest, don't we all?). But I'm *not* going to let that blind me to the
benefits of other ways of role-playing. Pretending that traditional tabletop
role-playing is an inherently better vehicle for exploring Glorantha than
freeforms is manifestly wrong, in my experience and opinion, and although you
argue well in favour of TTRP, you're only able to do so by ignoring all of its
well-known weaknesses.

Freeforms *can't* replace 'traditional' role-playing games, but they do appear
to be a better vehicle for getting players involved in unfamiliar,
'high-powered' and/or complex situations -- the kind of Gloranthan situations
which traditional games largely steer clear of. And, most especially, freeforms
appear to be a good way of getting newcomers into Glorantha: since all the
setting and rules you need to start playing are in a slim background booklet or
on your character sheet, while *everyone* needs to talk to other people to work
out what's really going on, they're a fairly low-stress route into the world.
And, above all, they're FUN.

What's more, the work involved in thinking about an unfamiliar setting *not* in
RQ rules terms and presenting it, simply, concisely and colourfully, for players
in a freeform has produced some fine background materials which TTRPers can use
or abuse as they see fit: the Rough Guide to Boldhome, the SCU Guide, the Broken
Council book, the Malkioni Sect writeups, and plenty more...

There's a lot of life left in RuneQuest, BUT there's a lot more to Glorantha
than RuneQuest. Arguing about how large a number should be pinned to Harrek the
Berserk's bearskin, or how many points of Befuddle would be needed to stun the
Crimson Bat, is rather missing the point. Anyway, there's another mailing list
out there for people who want to discuss such fascinating matters...

Ross Stites asks:

> Why do the Lunars use so many resources to garrison and hold the Zola Fel
> after they've captured the port cities south of Dragon Pass?

Here's a few possible reasons: there are Jrusteli ruins around Corflu, and EWF
and Jrusteli ruins in Old Pavis, which are well worth holding onto. Plus, if the
Grantlands project succeeds in turning the Zola Fel valley into a front line
against the Praxian nomads, the Lunar possessions in Dragon Pass become far more
secure. The Lunars don't like nomads all that much (remember Sheng?), and
anything that keeps them further away is alright by us.

(Maybe some of the Lunars in Pavis are experimenting with EWF secrets, keen to
fulfil a prophecy which says that the Lunar Empire will awaken the ancient
Dragon Powers... :-)

Garry Nixon recommended George MacDonald Fraser's book on Scottish reivers. I'll
jump on the bandwagon and push John Prebble's history books: his Glencoe and
Culloden are excellent works, very readable, evocative, and *extremely* useful
for Sartar under Lunar occupation, when a clansman's worst enemy could be a
chieftain in league with the redcloaks.



End of Glorantha Digest V2 #545

RuneQuest is a trademark of Avalon Hill, and Glorantha is a trademark
of Chaosium. With the exception of previously copyrighted material,
unless specified otherwise all text in this digest is copyright by the
author or authors, with rights granted to copy for personal use, to
excerpt in reviews and replies, and to archive unchanged for
electronic retrieval.

Send electronic mail to with "help"
in the body of the message for subscription information on this and
other mailing lists.

WWW material at

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.7 : Fri 13 Jun 2003 - 16:31:11 EEST