23 March, 2016

Looking at the Boff in Boffer

The SCA hates being called a LARP.

Full metal weapon re-enactors hate being told they need to pull their blows or need to react when someone throws "a coloured cloth pouch filled with birdseed" at them.

...and boffers boff. They enjoy that style of game for various reasons, some because they can let out their aggression with foam weapons, others because they want to show of their athleticism or combat skill. When asked to reign things in for the sake of other's enjoyment, I've often seen them storm off "because that's not the style of play they like". A bit like a magic player being asked to play with a "friendly" deck rather than their finely crafted "competitive" deck.

For a roleplaying game to thrive it needs a bit of give and take from all the participants. When you've got 30-odd players, there probably needs to be a bit more negotiation, and a bit more give initially, but the ongoing stories from a larger collaborative group can be far more interesting and complex than you'd get at the table. With a lot of players, this style of game can handle regular new arrivals as long as they can fit into a decent ecosystem of narrative and immersion, but it needs to make sure it doesn't turn away those potential new members before they've had the chance to find a place in the game.

The last game, Clans of Elgardt, has been a victim of too many players who didn't want to compromise. There were factions of individuals who wanted to fight, and only fight without any pesky story elements getting in the way, they drove off some players in the early days who wanted something more out of the game...then they had a "hissy" and left en-masse when administrators told them to make sure their punches were pulled, and that other people's fun was important too.

But the players we lost due to them didn't come back...the name of the game was tarnished.

The game pushed toward story with certain GMs after that point, following storyline elements that were becoming focused on a specific subgroup, to the detriment of the other three quarters of the players. We started losing players who were showing up, and getting bored because they weren't really involved in the key storylines... and when they wanted to do something else, they were getting ignored. Which then gave the group a bit of a reputation as high-maintenance high-ego prima-donnas, once again slowing the flow of new players coming into the game.

That's where I came in and took over as GM/Storyteller. I tried to clean up those excluding storylines, with the intention of giving everything something to do again. Naturally, this led to a new round of player upset from those individuals who had been the focus of the game for a few months...it seemed that they begrudged the whole idea that other players weren't simply their supporting cast. So they founded a new series of games.

Which leaves us at the point where there are a few LARP groups all spawned from that original group. Some as hardcore foam weapon fighters and nothing much beyond that, some as storytelling troupes who focus their stories on a few specific individuals while everyone else is left to their own devices, some splitting off to form LARPs along other genre lines with others (such as Warhammer 40k and Malifaux LARP groups). It's all an interconnected web of individuals, many of whom can be linked back to the renaissance that the first group prompted.

But that original Elgardt group has suffered to much bad reputation from so many directions that it's generally best to leave it to posterity, and start afresh with something new... something that's approachable for new players. The other problem with the Elgardt system is that players demanded it, it was hastily cobbled together to meet a specific set of demands, and then the group drifted through several different regimes with different agendas, all pushing the rules in ways they were never designed for.

So we need to look at the game holistically, we need to consider why the character fight at least as much as we consider how they fight and what kinds of rules govern those conflicts. There are always elements that we can't specifically govern, such as player skill, but this can be mitigated by providing a range of options for characters to participate in, and tools for them to facilitate story beyond the mere repetition of combat. The next problem is that combat in a boffer LARP is very immersive, you physically swing a foam/rubber weapon at someone, and if you feel it connect you've scored a hit. Spells are often reduced to spell balls that need to be thrown at someone, or ritual effects that specifically take a count of five before they take effect. Then there's the social side of things to take care of...some players want to portray suave and sophisticated types, but find that their innate introversion or awkwardness prevents this.

Why do we game? If it's to engage in escapism, then being restrained by our physical, mental, social and psychological restraints works against that. It's one of those age old questions in the hobby, and I just don't have an answer for it.

...but I'll keep trying.

(image from http://www.larping.org/larps/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/anywq.jpg)
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