30 July, 2015

The Boffer LARP Heartbreaker

The terms "Heartbreaker" and "Fantasy Heartbreaker" have almost become running jokes in many design circles. Like "What is Roleplaying?" and recently "What is a Game?" The idea of a heartbreaker seems to have broken beyond it's original concept to envelop a nebulous field of game design where a lone individual (it's stereotypically an individual, but might be a small group) work to improve on their traditional game, and then they try to tell the world how wonderful and original it is.

In the stereotypical narrative of the heartbreaker, the lone individual knows everything about the game they are trying to improve, and they've probably been at it for years. They haven't really come up for air in this time, and they haven't seen the wide range of other products on the market that might already be doing the very things they are trying to achieve. If they have seen these other products, they might think that thse products are "doing it wrong" based on third hand information about a play session where the players didn't understand the rules anyway. Thus the lone individual continues working on their ultimate fantasy roleplaying game, unaware that the general market has already addressed their issues and has moved on to other things in the meantime.

If we look at a colour analogy, we might say that roleplaying games run the full spectrum. If D&D is "Red", the fantasy heartbreaker designer might know blood red, glowing embers, ruby, rose red, scarlet, cherry, crimson, vermilion, their knowledge might spread to duller reds verging on browns like terracotta or red ochre, they might accept a dark pink as the lightest shade they'll tolerate and maroon or even shiraz as the darkest, and they might possibly expand their knowledge to a few rusty oranges. But everything else is foreign to them. Pushing into the infra-reds, they see board games and those aren't RPGs to this designer...anything yellow or further in that direction "isn't really a game" because they don't have crunchy rules.

I think I see a wider spectrum than that, I've played numerous games over the decades with varying rule sets from the extremely minimalist to the most heinously crunchy. I've had fun with many of them, and have had negative experiences with quite a few as well. But I'll accept that there is a point when my colour vision refuses to see roleplaying games on that spectrum.

My point here is that I've run into a conflict of interest in my Boffer LARP. The current rules set feels like a Boffer LARP Heartbreaker. The designers saw a few things that other people were doing and said "I can improve on that", but they don't seem to have actually experienced other systems that have actually improved on those concepts, and they don't realise that some of the fundamental principles they are working from are actually short sighted visions and vague approximations.

I've already done a series of blog posts where I built a LARP system from first principles according to what I'd like to see in a game, so I'm not going to do that again. I'm just frustrated that there are people who think the edges of roleplaying exist when you make witty banter during your sword swings and derring do. It's like saying that Tekken is more of a roleplaying game than Streetfighter or Mortal Kombat, because it has movement in two dimensions across the arena rather than simple linear movement across the screen... then going further and saying that Mass Effect is too airy fairy with all that story getting in the way and who wants interruptions to the combat anyway...

...it's striking me as GamerGate all over again. "We want the gams we want, and we don't want you to make those other games because they're not the games we want to play".

I even had one of the LARP players (actually an admin), tell me that if we were going to cut out the combat from the LARP games, he didn't want to play, and he actually thought the combat rules were too complicated anyway. It appears that he just wants to run around a parkland with rubber swords and hit people while wearing a fantasy costume (the fantasy costume is what make hitting things a "roleplaying game" rather than a "re-enactment"). I've had long discussions with people debating whether the SCA is actually an elaborate roleplaying game (it fits all my criteria, and the only reason people don't classify it as one is the fact that the members get histrionic when you do call it one). The SCA is actually closer to what I'd like to see in a LARP, some players get to fight, other players get to craft things and set up a world in which that fighting has a purpose. I'm trying to push for a game where everyone has something interesting to do, rather than make the vast majority of players a group of extras for the valiant heroes and savage monsters (both of whom are generally glory hounds). I'm not trying to spoil the fun for one group, I'm trying to expand the fun for more groups.

But the hard core warriors see only red.
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