Friday, January 13, 2012

Relax, man! You're working too hard!

It's been fascinating learning how my ideas of “larp” have been established from years of playing a boffer fighting game, and not an RPG. Ideas about death, as I wrote about in my last post, but also so many other things that I just took for granted until venturing into the greater world of live roleplaying.
In my years of play, games happened every weekend for an afternoon. Fighting would happen as continuously as we had energy for, and then the group would go to the local fast food place, or go home for a well earned shower. We wrote our game thinking such a schedule was normal and expected because it was for us. What a hard lesson we have learned over a year! When we had to write story driven games and imaginative ways of motivating players and characters to do things it became a real draining task week after week, game after game.  It came down to we just didn't have the energy to make exceptional games every week, settling for “good enough” and then, at least for me, feeling panicked every Sunday like I was going to class without studying for the big test. The hardest part was learning that players just didn't want it. It's a big time commitment to come to game weekend after weekend, loosing what amounts to half your weekend for a game that the game designers have put in less than 100% to make an engaging adventure or string of situations for characters. And since we were running every week players felt like if they missed a week or two it was no big deal because we'd be out there again next weekend. Our player base dwindled making it that much harder to run any sort of reasonable game and often there were so few we just sat around talking about the game instead of playing it. We were really in a bad place.
I realized in my desperation that we were missing the obvious rule of supply and demand. We were supplying far too much for the demands of our players. Our quality suffered, and players were bored. We were killing our own game. It seems counter intuitive what we needed to do, for our own mental health and to bring back player interest, but in hind sight it should have been obvious. Stop running so many games. Create a scarcity so players feel like they're missing out if they don't make it to games. Use the time to make better props, develop better stories, and stop freaking out. We cut the game back to once a month and saw what happened. Not only did more players come out, but on other weekends some went to other people's games and see what other offerings were out there. Honestly some found games they liked better and didn't come back, but others kept coming, and told their friends in other games what they liked about ours. Ultimately I think we're getting players that are a better fit for what we are offering.
The other advantage has been character experience changes. Before we offered one XP point per week attendance. I didn't want to create more complex rules that could be applied with favoritism, and I still worry about that. But that meant that players weren't rewarded for going any further than showing up. I hoped the experience of play would be the reward, but some people aren't motivated that way. Now we have tiers of XP; One point for attending, another for coming in costume, a third point for providing service at the game such as running an NPC, and last for supplying physical support such as providing drinks or snacks or bringing pavilions signs or banners that improve the appearance of the game. Players can still earn up to four XP a month so characters can advance just as before, but players are recognized for going further to take ownership of the game.
Only after making these changes and looking at other games myself did I see that larps that are story driven generally only have one game a month, or one larger event per quarter! We had been spinning our wheels trying to fulfill an expectation that we assumed, but no one else really does! This reinventing the wheel thing can really kick you in the pants, you know?