27 March, 2016

The overlap between LARP and Apocalypse World

My thoughts on Apocalypse World and it's many clones and spin offs are mixed. On the one hand, I think they do some things in an elegant way that few games did before them. On the other hand, I think too many people are using those tools as a crutch that prevents them from doing anything truly innovative in recent years.

The one thing that games "powered by the Apocalypse" do is frame an action according to specific parameters, then provide a way to resolve that action. Depending on who is running the game, or how the particular rule set is written, there might be generic catch-all moves that handle wide swathes of action types, or there might be numerous detailed systems and subsystems (veering dangerously close the other style of game I don't particularly like "the hodge podge"). Most of them fit into a mid ground somewhere...and in this style of mid ground, the players strive to angle the narrative to a point where one of their moves will be useful, then like a pinball bumper, the move mght direct them a good way or a bad way... we don't know which until it happens... then we deal with ramifications. It's all about angling the narrative, accepting moves from the MC or other players, then negotiating the outcome.

In a lot of ways, a LARP is naturally like this. 

There are only so many situations a LARP developer can cover in the rules, only so many mechanisms that can be added into play without slowng things down. At one end of the spectrum is the "Australian Freeform" which basically has no rules at all, and everything is resolved through a combination of social interaction and what is best for the overall narrative of the majority of players (as determined by the collective GMs). At the other end might be Mind's Eye Theatre where everything that might be found in a tabletop RPG is similarly found in a LARP simulacrum... or maybe the other end finds itself in those diabolic tomes of tables and cross indexed minutiae of the 80s-90s boffer LARPs. 

What I'm finding more these days is an admittance that certain things should just be allowed to unfold naturally, players should be given the chance to get into character, and characters should be allowed to shine without the need for overly complex rules. That means either developing some generic rules that tend to cover a variety of situations, or developing specific sets of rules that each do one thing well... Leading us back to hodge-podge or ad-hoc systems which lead to fun among those few characters who have the attention of the GMs and fristration on the part of those players who get a bad run with the short end of the stick. 

A good LARP has consistency in its rules, it lets a story develop organically, it creates an ecosystem of narrative that builds as characters interact with one another, and when the right situations arise the rules come into play to resolve them as naturally as possible then discreetly falling back into the shadows. The players only need to know the rules that affect them, and the rules work in a consistent manner. If a player thinks that a rule mechanism will give them an advantage in a situation, they angle the surrounding events to a situation where that mechanism might come into play...and if they know that their opponent might be able to invoke a mechanism that gives them an advantage, they try to angle the surrounding events into a situation where that mechanism is less likely to come into play. Meanwhile, there are other people in the same situation...each manulating things to their own agendas, and numerous scenes like this that somehow interact with one another. Individual players may know their part of the story, and they may know the general rules that govern the whole thing, but they certainly don't know all of the stories for all of the players. That's where the overlap stops.

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