Nordic-style in One-Shots vs Campaigns

Inspired by a facebook post, I decided to write a post here where I can be as verbose as I’d like. The question asked was how the use of nordic-style techniques differs from a one-shot LARP vs one that is run in an recurring episode (campaign-style) game.

The short version is that negotiated negative consequences, and the techniques used to allow/prevent them, depend on two primary factors:

  • They should be modeled in such a way that they help support the themes of the game itself.
  • They should be paced to achieve the player’s desired story in the timespan they want to see it in.

To the first point: it’s important for a coherent LARP to know what it is trying to achieve. We all know that for most the answer is ‘for players to have fun’, but different players have fun in different ways and a game that is trying too hard to appeal to too many different types of players will wind up (in my experience) feeling bland and uninteresting to most.

Consider the type of story you are telling: is it a Gothic Horror game? A slow-paced Lovecraftian piece?  A fast-paced personal-horror tale? If you as Designer/Storyteller don’t know, your players will have to make it up as they go along.

Once you know the intended pacing of your game, you can begin to make decisions on just how often and how far your players should feel comfortable burning. There are a lot of meta-game considerations that will affect a player’s comfort level with embracing negative consequences, including how often environmental opportunities to make poor decisions are offered, how many tools players will have to drive conflict between each other’s characters, and even how ‘replaceable’ a character is. Fine-tuning these to support the play style you want is critical.

Assuming that you know how long your game is going to be, have a general idea of how often/badly your players should feel comfortable embracing the ‘crash and burn’, and have implemented systems to support those decisions, the answer is really simple: It will be entirely up to the player.

If the players know they only have one game to tell their whole story, then players can (and will) crash and burn as fast and bright as possible. That isn’t to say that all negative consequences will be burning the candle from both ends, though. It may be that the player in question is telling only a single story of a character whose personal canon is contrived from multiple LARPs, and though they fully intend to embrace the negative consequences, they’d prefer to keep them to a level that allows the character to continue on.

That’s entirely cool, if the game permits it. Some games (most notably in my experience, the amazing End of the Line VtM LARP) directly encourage the crash-and-burn style. Other one-shots (such as some Call of Cthulhu games I’ve read but never gotten the chance to play), might encourage a player to have their character deliberately try to protect their mind and body.

This aspect doesn’t really change that much when the game is meant to be episodic. The players still have to choose whether or not (and how fast) to burn– in short, to pace their own story. The considerations in a campaign LARP are mostly in choosing how at what slope they want those consequences to ramp up , and how the decisions made by the designer/storyteller support that slope.

In the end, (and most of my articles end with this almost-exact sentence) it’s most important that you, as a storyteller and LARP developer, be aware of the kind of game you want to be running, and the themes you want to emphasize, and that you design your meta-game aspects in order to support those themes.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Tell your players!

All game play styles can be valid, as long as a LARP is honest and forthright about the kind of game they are. It’s important that the label on the box match what’s inside, so players can be sure of what it is  they are going to be playing.

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