Re: TTRP vs. LARPing

From: Sandy Petersen (
Date: Thu 09 May 1996 - 19:28:36 EEST

There is a more-heated-than-it-ought-to-be discussion about LARPs
vs. TTRP going on. I thought I'd thrown in my two bits as a person
who has designed both types of games, played in both types of games,
directed both types of games (both ones I designed, and ones I did
not design), and who has won awards for both types of games. But
only made money off my TTRPs.

LARPS are vastly more fun, more realistic, more engrossing, more
emotionally exhausting, and more Gloranthan than any TTRP. Period.

The only valid excuses for preferring TTRPs to LARPS are:
        1) You have not yet LARPed, and are arguing from your armchair.
        2) You are a hermit, or socially backwards, and dislike
interacting with other humans.
        3) You have confused LARPs with live-action RPG stuff (you
know, rubber swords, water balloons as fireballs, rent-a-castle,
etc). While a selected few of the trappings of live action RPGs have
proven occasionally useful in LARPs, the two types of gaming are
similar only in the sense that miniatures games and TTRP are
similar. Hey, they both have metal figures don't they? And combat
        4) You have LARPED once or twice, but had bad experiences.
Sadly, this is a real possibility -- not everyone has fun in a LARP,
even a good one.

In LARPs, the players can be divided up into three broad categories.
        A) those who have an inordinate amount of fun.
        B) those who have a lot of fun, but once or twice during
the game experience slow periods when not much is happening
to/around them.
        C) those who mostly sit on their butts being bored, though
usually even they have fun a couple of times.

In a really well-run LARP, maybe a third of the players fall into
category A, and only one or two players get stuck as Cs. In a
badly-run LARP, as few as 10% of the players get to be As, and I've
seen as much as a fourth be Cs. Three reasons are to blame for the
existence of Cs.

PROBLEM ONE: Bad Organizers
        If the directors suck wind, and/or your character stinks,
you can be handicapped to the point that you don't have fun. I
remember three games in particular. In one, I got stuck with a
character who was a lone sniper. *sigh* not much interaction there.
In a second, I was the Italian Observer with no clout, no minions,
no allies, and no cool abilities. I didn't even have a neat diabolic
enemy. In a third game, I was the Russian Ambassador. What's wrong
with that, you ask? It was a Superhero game. I had no superpowers,
and with master criminals, alien invasions, and secret coalitions, I
was pretty damn superfluous.
        SOLUTION: if your character or goals stink, ignore them!
Emulate a new personality you like better, and decide to go for
goals that seem more interesting or better fit your guy.
        If the directors stink, ignore them, too! Most LARPS I've
played in I never or at worst very rarely had to talk to a director.
They're _not_ the same as a TTRP GM and can be ignored with a fair
amount of impunity.
        Take my three games mentioned above as examples: in the
Lone Sniper game, I immediately discarded my character concept and
signed up with a bunch of like-minded losers to cause real harm for
The System. Tragically, bad GM intervention killed off my character
shortly after we got our gang moving along (even the guy who killed
me was surprised that the GMs left me dead, and said later on he
wouldn't have done it if he'd known), and they didn't even have
provision for replacement characters. So I was hosed, but it was an
unusually bad game. In the Italian Observer game I got together all
the national observers/rulers/ambassadors and managed to keep the
others talking and "diplomatting" enough so that no one ever
realized that I didn't really have any power except what _they_ gave
me. My ploy was so successful that I soon had bitter murderous
enemies chasing me around and had heaps of fun. I even succeeded in
making three other players with stinky characters have fun. Two were
helpless Observers like me, who were drawn into the politicking,
and one was this poor woman whom I mistook for a vampire (there was
no supernatural element in the game), and persecuted for much of the
game. She loved it, of course. In the Russian Ambassador game, I
decided to totally overstep my boundaries, recruited KGB agents,
browbeat everyone I didn't like, and informed all and sundry that I
had full authority to order an immediate nuclear attack on Los
Angeles and environs (where the game was supposedly taking place).
Soon I had enemies, fawning toadies, false friends, true friends,
sniveling bleeding hearts trying to talk me out of my villainy, etc.

PROBLEM TWO: Other Players
        If other players are doing bad things to hurt your
character, or not cooperating, or whatever, it can be hard to have
fun. Good example: the first time we ran Cafe Casasblanca, one woman
was prevented from going on a rescue mission to free her father
from a concentration camp by her lover and his allies because it
would be "too dangerous". Hence, she sat on her butt waiting for
them to return. Deathly dull. In one game, there was going to be a
huge clash between the forces of Good and Evil on Sunday morning. As
one of the forces of Evil, I ran around frantically that morning
looking for my allies, who'd all sworn to assist me that day. I
found one (1) of them. The others were sleeping in, out to
breakfast, or had decided that some trivial plot they were engaged
in was more important than the fate of the planet. *ARGH* Naturally
enough, the forces of Evil lost big-time (there were over a dozen
Forces of Good opposing me and my lone ally). Now, I don't mind
losing -- in fact, I fully expected to do so from the start. But I
think that the Final Clash would have been far more interesting if
there'd been more guys on my side -- for one thing, the Forces of
Good would have been more worried and frantic about the outcome. As
it was, a number of them didn't get to contribute anything to the
clash, but were mere spectators.
        SOLUTION: don't stand for it. If they're well-meaning
("Don't come with us, it will be dangerous.") stand on your rights
- -- "I'm not staying here sitting on my thumbs. Take me NOW!". If
they're unreliable ("Where's Fred? It's time for the human
sacrifice!" "He's at dinner. Said he'd be back in about three
hours.") do without them -- replace them with someone else ASAP.
"Sorry Fred, I got Mr. Hyde to do the job instead, so now _he's_
Nyarlathotep's avatar. You're still on the team, though." Also, you
can help ensure lack of bad players by asking the game organizers to
pit you against, or to make you an ally of, people you know.
IMPORTANT -- it's as fun to be a sworn enemy of your best pal as it
is to be working together with him. Preventative medicine is good,
too -- early on try to recruit as many allies and potential friends
as you possibly can. Then when someone goes off on a tangent and
loses interest in your plots, you can readily replace. ALSO -- keep
your eye open for players who are in category C (i.e., not having
fun). These folks are easily recruited into most any plot and can
prove valuable aides! In addition, if you need help, go to the
Directors and ask them who in the game could use an extra plot. Good
directors are usually aware of who's having a slow time, and they
can point you towards potential helpers.

        You may have personality quirks that make it hard for you
to have fun in certain LARPs. If it's hard for you to walk up to a
complete stranger and start talking to them, or if you are generally
rather passive in your gaming, waiting for the GM to give you
missions to do, then a LARP can be tough.
        SOLUTION: steel yourself. Walk up to the first affable
stranger you meet and start talking. Either she will be (a) useful
to you, (b) dangerous to you, or (c) completely unconnected with you
and your goals. In case of (c), move on. In case of (b), respond
appropriately (bluster, threaten, be obsequious, etc.) and in case
of (a), link forces. In any case, she won't be a stranger any more.
If you don't care for taking charge of your own destiny in the game
(maybe just because you had an all-nighter the evening before and
are very tired), find out who your allies are supposed to be and
offer your services. They'll give you stuff to do. If they don't, go
to their enemies, and offer to help _them_. Either way, you'll soon
have lots to do.

Now, some comments on Doyle Wayne's remarks.

>this is why I find TTRP to be more challenging than LARP. How do
you get to the >point were everybody is on the same wavelength?
        This is totally absurd, Doyle. You have _precisely_ the
exact same problem in LARPs. In a LARP you don't act alone -- you
have a party of guys usually the same size or larger than your
normal TTRP gaming group. You _still_ have to get everybody in your
group on the same wavelength! But in addition, you get the added
bonus that there are other groups you can try to recruit from, or
who are trying to foil you. AND you can have a traitor in your group
without destroying or seriously handicapping your gaming
        LARPS are far more challenging than any TTRP can or will
ever be.

>When I ran a Masquerade one-shot, I was concerned that the
lesbian, black, and >chicano characters would be misplayed by the
straight, white, male players that >I was inviting.
        Solution One: don't give a damn. The point of the game is
for the players to have fun, NOT for the game to be played
"properly". If some guy isn't running Charlie Chan the way _you_
think he ought to be, it doesn't matter. A straight white guy who
knows nothing about lesbian black people will _still_ play a lesbian
black differently from his normal self. And if he doesn't, big
deal. The game will still work and be fun. It will just be
        Solution Two: cast the players better. Ask them what kind
of person they want to play. This is done in all Glorantha freeforms
- -- invariably the sign-up sheet contains a section in which the
attendees give their preferences. Look at the Home of the Bold
sign-up for this Convulsion: players are asked to tell the GMs the
following information
        1) knowledge of Glorantha (this way you don't cast a newbie
as a Lhankor Mhy expert on Pelorian culture). 2) who you'd liked to
be teamed with (so you and your friends can be cast as characters
who are likely to interact). 3) what part of LARPing you prefer
i.e., costuming, action, plotting, chewing scenery, etc. (very
useful in casting as most LARP characters emphasize one of these
aspects over the others.). 4) What kind of background you prefer
i.e., high profile, outsider, Lunar, etc. 5) Personality traits you
want to display. 6) unusual physical characteristics to take into
account when casting. Example: I'm pretty much totally bald. In
fact, what hair I have left I shave _extremely short (like 1/16
inch). This probably makes me better cast as a troll or gladiator
than Queen of Fairyland.
        Solution Three: tell the players in advance who they're
going to be, so they can get ready to act as same, and provide
        Solution Four -- do all three.

>As for athleticism, I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief if
that Storm >Bull Beserk is being played by a real mousey guy.
        This is a combination of your own personal failing as well
as his.
        His Part of the Problem -- he needs to provide costuming to
mask flaws, as well as work on characterization. Example -- Nick
Brooke is tall enough, but he always has a big cheesy grin and a
rather weedy physique (no offense, Nick -- permission granted to
insult my APP in your next posting ;). If he were to play a Storm
Khan, he'd be smart enough to do one or more of the following --
wear a breastplate or cape (makes you look bulkier), wear a helmet
that shades his eyes and maybe his nose (makes him look more
sinister), wear lots of dark leather and spiky bits, etc. Presto,
he's scary! Even though he's not built like a Russian weightlifter.
The aura of violence is more important than musculature.
        If you are short and slight and want to play a tough guy,
instead of trying to be Arnold Schwarzeneggar, watch an old Peter
Lorre movie. He weighed maybe 115 pounds soaking wet, and yet was an
effective heavy. The poisonous punk is as chilling an image as the
hulking goon.
        Your Part of the Problem -- if you can do it in RPGs, you
can do it in LARPs. roleplay.

Sandy P.


End of Glorantha Digest V2 #549

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