The following articles originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

October heralds the relaunch of See Page XX to fit in with the new look Pelgrane Press website. But it’s more than cosmetic; there are other changes – this month features more articles than we’ve ever had before. We have two interview, one with Kenneth Hite, author of the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, the other Brennan Taylor, President of Indie Press Revolution. Graham Walmsley shows how adaptable GUMSHOE is, in this case as a basis for Live Action Roleplaying, and Robin D Laws shows you how to create use GUMSHOE with other settings. Fred Hicks talks about the fine balance between character empowerment and danger. As a resource for the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, Simon Carryer offers us a fact-packed article on air transport in the 1930s and finally, dear old Mystic Moo gives us the RPG Horoscopes for the season, and acts as an agony aunt for roleplayers with “issues.”

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

by Graham Walmsley

At first sight, Gumshoe would make a perfect LARP. There’s little die-rolling, so it suits a game played standing up; and, as an investigative game, it’s about talking to people. It sounds ideal. Would it work?

In this article, I’ll attempt to create a Gumshoe LARP. For the setting, I’ll use an English murder mystery: a staple of investigative LARPs.

For the ruleset, I’ll use Fear Itself. So it’ll be a horrific murder mystery: think Conan Doyle’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

This LARP will have little combat and much talking. There’ll be about 20 players, in costume, and pregenerated characters. The game will last about four hours, at the end of which the players will find, amongst themselves, a murderer.

The Characters

As with all Fear Itself characters, the PCs will have a Worst Thing They Ever Did and Sources Of Stability. These are superb roleplaying tools, especially for a LARP.

The characters will also have a Risk Factor: the reason they don’t just call the police and lock themselves in the bathroom.

In addition, there’ll be Affinities and Enmities. These will create alliances and factions, which are golden in LARPs: they instantly let players know who they’re with and who they’re against; who to talk to and who to avoid.

Finally, each character will have something They Want. Let’s take this a step further: we’ll fix the pregenerated characters so that every character’s want could be granted by another character. That gives everyone a goal: something to work for, which they might achieve.

Let’s call this new characteristic “What I Can Give”. It might, for example, be Money, Forgiveness, Property or Healing. For game purposes, each character has an infinite amount of this quality to give: if a character can give Money, they have an infinite amount of money to give, to whom they choose.

Investigative Skills

When you’re walking around, playing your character, complex character sheets get in the way. Instead, let’s put the skills on cards: instead of having two Streetwise points, you’ll have two Streetwise cards. Rather than spending a point, you discard a card.

We’ll let players choose skills as follows: there’s a central pile of cards, from which each player takes 10. This also means skills will be distributed between the players: if there are only three Architecture cards, a maximum of three people may have that skill.

Clues

Some clues will work exactly as in Fear Itself: the GM holds them and players spend points – or, rather, discard cards – to get them.

For example, you’d discard an Investigative Procedure card to get the following clue:

Clue: Investigative Procedure

There are scratches surrounding the lock, as if it has been picked.

If a player told the GM he was closely examining the lock, he’d also get that clue.

There will be Core Clues, too.

Core Clue: Streetwise

A street kid tells you that Father Morgan was attempting to wash blood from his hands in the gutter.

And some clues might have time limits.

Core Clue: Architecture

There is a false wall behind this bookcase. (Do not reveal until after the second murder).

But we can be cleverer. LARPS work best when players talk to each other, not the GM. So let’s put clues in the hands of the players.

Player Clues

Each player will hold a number of clues: say, three or four. These will be allocated to each pregenerated character before the game.

Clue: Flirting or Intimidation

You know Dr Brown intended to change his will.

If you hold this clue, and someone uses Flirting or Intimidation on you, you must reveal it.

Players will hold Core Clues, too. Again, some of these might have time limits attached.

Core Clue: Cop Talk

You know damn well Father Morgan killed Sir Ralph and you’ve got photographs to prove it. Do not reveal this until after the second murder.

Murders

Best of all, the murders themselves will be Core Clues. Here’s an example:

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the second murder victim. After one hour, you collapse, poisoned, and die.

Also, each murder will have associated Clues, some of which would be Core Clues, and some not:

Core Clue: Medicine or Investigative Ability

From a blue tinge to the lips, you can tell the victim has been poisoned with cyanide, ingested in the last ten minutes.

Clue: Investigative Ability

The glass from which the victim was drinking has been wiped clean of prints, save for the victim’s fingerprints.

The murder victim would hold these clues and, after they die (giving the “Murder” clue), they’d give out other clues to players who used an appropriate ability.

Stability

How can we work Stability into this?

Since we’re using cards already, let’s have Stability Cards instead of Stability Points. However, you can’t hold negative cards, so we’ll have to tweak the rules.

Let’s move the scale upwards: on 5 Stability Cards or less, you’re shaken; on 2 or less, you’re mentally ill; when you’ve no cards, you’re incurable. You start with around 10 cards.

Note that we’ve halved the length of the scale, so we must halve the Stability Losses:

  • A human opponent attacks you with evident intent to do serious harm: 1 Stability Card
  • A human opponent attacks you with evident intent to kill: 2 Stability Cards
  • Witnessing a grisly murder: 2 Stability Cards
  • Discovering the corpse of a friend or loved one: 3 Stability Cards
  • Seeing a friend or loved one killed: 4 Cards

However, in Gumshoe, you roll dice to check Stability. Dice work badly in LARPs: because everyone’s walking around, it’s hard to roll them.

Instead, let’s try this. On the wall, we’ll have a clock. Then, on each Stability card, we’ll print 6 random numbers, from 1 to 12.

To do a Stability check, look at the clock and note the number the minute hand points to (if there’s doubt, ask someone else and agree). Then draw one of your Stability cards, at random. If that number is on the card, you’re fine; if not, discard an appropriate number of Stability cards.

As in the original Gumshoe rules, you may spend Stability to increase the chance of succeeding. Simply draw any number of extra Stability Cards. You must discard these extra cards whether or not you succeed: but, if the number is on them, you succeed the Stability check.

The chances of succeeding, using this system, are slightly different from those in the original rules. In the original rules, the probabilities of succeeding would be:

  • With no points: 50%
  • With one point: 66%
  • With two points: 83%
  • With three points: 100%

In our revised LARP rules, the probabilities are:

  • With no cards: 50%
  • With one card: 75%
  • With two cards: 87%
  • With three cards: 93%

and, with more cards, the probability of success increases gradually towards 100%. Nevertheless, it’s a good approximation to the original rules.

I’ve chosen a clock because it seems appropriate to a murder mystery: I imagine grandfather clocks and meals served at specific times. However, there are various options: we might use occult symbols instead of clock numbers. The symbol to match against could be on another Stability card.

Mental Illness

If you get a mental illness, how do you communicate that to the other players? In a tabletop, it’s easy; but, in a LARP, you don’t want to stop the game to accommodate it.

Instead, let’s use sticky notes. When you get a mental illness, you collect a sticky note from the GM, and place it on your forehead.

You won’t know what it says, but other players will read it and react: “Talk about me behind my back”, perhaps, or “I am talking at twice the normal speed” or “I am covered in blood”.

What Would Cause a Stability Check?

Firstly, the GM might have pre-arranged Stability checks written into clues.

Clue: Investigative Procedure

There is an ancient skeleton lying under the floorboards (Stability Check: 1 Card).

Then, prospective murder victims would have stability checks written into their Murder Clues. The gorier the murder, the greater the Stability check.

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the second murder victim. After one hour, you collapse, poisoned, and die. (Stability Check: 1 Card fpr witnessing the murder )

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the third murder victim. You die by being mauled, by an unseen assailant, perhaps a huge dog. (Stability Check: 2 Cards fpr witnessing the murder )

Of course, you lose more Stability Cards if the victim is a friend or loved one.

Finally, of course, a player can cause another character to check their Stability, by attacking them.

Health

How should we handle combat and Health levels? We could do it in a similar way to Stability: have Health cards, perhaps, with clock numbers printed on them.

However, combat plays little part in murder mysteries. Sure, there are murders, but they’ll be pre-planned. Also, in a short LARP, it seems unfair to allow players to remove each other from the game by killing each other.

So let’s make a bold decision: there won’t be Health levels. You can attack someone and force them to make a Stability check. You can even decide, together, that the attack caused a wound. But you can’t kill anyone.

To me, this makes for a more interesting game. Attacking someone won’t hurt them: but it might send them mad.

Denouement

So, that’s the backbone of Gumshoe as a murder mystery LARP. Taking a step back, how does it seem?

There are issues. What happens if a player wants to imprison another? What if they want to break through a door?

Also note that, because there’s only one location, there’s effectively only one scene in the game. This is a problem: Gumshoe games use scenes as a pacing device: for example, the final clue will rarely be available in the first scene, only in a later scene. This game needs a similar pacing mechanism: perhaps the clue giving the identity of the murderer is unavailable until after the final murder.

Despite these, I like the idea. It seems playable and fun. I’d happily wander round, investigating murders, and, if I needed a change, attack someone to drive them mad.

So, that done, the only thing left to do is play it and see if it works.

Sample Characters

Lord Bristol
Concept: Vain landowner
Risk Factor: Dismissive
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Disinherit my son, Alfred when I found out he was about to marry Sarah, the maid
What I Want: Absolution for my part in the war
What I Can Give: Property
Affinities: Sir James Degby, Mrs Warpole
Enmities: Alfred Bristol, Jack Brass

Jack Brass
Concept: Cunning Master of the Stables
Risk Factor: Thrill-seeking
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Shoot Lord Bristol’s best stallion in a drunken rage
What I Want: A small townhouse
What I Can Give: My hand in marriage
Affinities: Sarah Devizes, Alfred Bristol
Enmities: Lord Bristol, Father Nigel

Sarah Devizes
Concept: Religious maid
Risk Factor: Horny
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Throw a pan of boiling water over Emma, my sister
What I Want: A good husband
What I Can Give: Forgiveness
Affinities: Sir James Degby, Father Nigel
Enmities: Jack Brass, Lord Bristol

Sample clues

Core Clue: Murder
Held by: Lord Bristol
After one hour, you are trampled to death by a horse in the stables.

Core Clue: Natural History
Held by: GM
Found in: Stables
The horses have been drugged with extreme doses of a stimulant.

Clue: Reassurance
Held by: Sarah Devizes
Alfred used to beat you. You were glad when he called the engagement off.

Clue: Streetwise
Held by: Jack Brass
You’ve seen Bristol drinking very, very heavily. He has a secret whisky bottle concealed under the study floorboards.

Core Clue: Murder
Held by: Sir James Degby
The first time you are served food or drink after the first murder, you are poisoned.

Clue: Investigative Procedure or declared search
Held by: GM
Found in: Study
Under the study floorboards is a whisky bottle, half empty.

Core Clue: Intimidation or Reassurance
Held by: Father Nigel
After three hours, reveal that Sarah confessed to you that she was planning to kill her father-in-law.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, and Mutant City Blues. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

This post originally appeared on DyingEarth.com between 2004 and 2007. 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

I always thought that the great breakthrough of the roleplaying hobby into the pop culture mainstream would occur at a remove. As Hollywood’s obsession with brightly-colored genre properties ready for their CGI close-ups accelerates, I always figured it was only a matter of time before some enterprising producer sniffed out a gaming property and had a big hit with it. Sure, we’ve already had a D&D movie and a Vampire TV show. The comics field also had a long list of disappointing attempts — even some very successful ones, like Superman in the 70s and Batman in ’89 — before the success of X-Men prompted an all-out buying spree for the movie rights to comic book characters. Now that even the fourth-tier comics characters have been parceled out,it seems logical to expect somebody in Hollywood to pony up and knock one out of the park with a Shadowrun or Deadlands flick. (And, hey, I just happen to know a guy who owns this property that’d make a great vehicle for a Chow Yun-Fat / Jet Li pairing…)

Turns out I was, as is so often the case, wrong.

Who would have thought that the multi-million dollar media explosion would take its cues from the ever-so-humble, studiously non-commercial LARP? (Also known as a ‘freeform’ to the Brits in the house.)

All around the world, all around the TV dial, Live Action Roleplaying rules the airwaves.

What? Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed all the LARPS!

Survivor? Big Brother? The Bachelor? Average Joe? The
Apprentice?

After, all, what are they but televised, pre-processed versions of those games of negotiation and hoodwinkery we all know so well? The guy with the goth-style top hat standing on the escalator at Origins, his crossed arms proclaiming his state of invisibility, is involved in the same essential activity as Richard from Survivor or Omarosa from The Apprentice.

The most immediate benefit of this phenomenon is to provide us with a new, more succinct and accessible way to describe our hobby to perplexed relatives and acquaintances. “It’s like a cross between Survivor and Lord of the Rings,” makes up in brevity and easy cultural reference what it lacks in precision. It certainly beats the ever-popular, “Well, you’re improvising a group story, but there are rules, so it’s more like a game, but there’s no ending and nobody ever wins.”

The nobody ever wins part is the second-biggest sticking point that prevents us from expanding beyond the comfortable hobbit warrens of fandom into the culture at large. The only larger obstacle is the requirement that participants exercise their creativity by creating a fictional character and contributing to a group narrative.

You might well argue that without these two elements, you no longer have roleplaying as we know it. Maybe so. Still, there could be great benefits to creating a gateway experience. This hypothetical LARP variant might act as a stepping stone to draw new people to our world. It could contribute to our hobby’s infrastructure by becoming a new sub-category of gaming, like CCGs or clicky-base games. It could move crowds into the convention halls and send traffic into game stores. Every little bit helps.

At the very least, a compare ‘n’ contrast between the reality TV genre provides an interesting thought experiment. What elements do they have that our games don’t?

Competition

Some LARPS provide clear victory conditions; others parcel out awards to an array of winners and generally celebrate the cooperative spirit of group storytelling. Reality-TV games are all about winning and losing. Our hypothetical gateway experience has to be a game in the purest sense, with one triumphant participant left bloodied but standing at its conclusion. Even those of us in the current roleplaying culture who love Settlers of Catan or Panzer Leader tend to be shier about pure competition than society at large, which trumpets its values at every stadium and sports bar.

Clarity

With competition comes clarity. Instead of the multifarious goals of a lovingly complicated freeform, which might revolve around succession in a vampire clan or the raising of a new goddess, reality TV pounds home a single, simple goal: don’t get eliminated.

Packaging

The big difference between reality TV and our kind of game is the spectator element: you can enjoy it passively, the way almost all entertainment in our culture is consumed.

On reality TV, events are heavily massaged through editing, background music, and other techniques of the medium to emphasize conflict, drama, and emotional impact. They build with epic, drawn-out pacing to the crescendo of each episode, in which the evening’s loser is chosen.

Even if you don’t want to play, you want to watch. Watching breeds excitement. It transforms a game into an event.

Punctuation

In Reality TV, player eliminations provide regular dramatic high points, generating a wave pattern of suspense and excitement. Our LARP-like events, on the other hand, give everyone the chance to participate for as long as possible.

The punchier, more ruthless reality games get their charge by having irrevocably bad things happen to certain participants at predictable intervals. There’s always a freight train coming; the only question is who gets tied to the tracks this time.

Emotion

Reality TV focuses the pursuit of primal goals: love and status. Participants seek the approval of others even as they plan to climb over them.

A huge number of these shows are high-stakes versions of the Dating Game, and appeal strongly to women. Although LARPS tend to draw more female participants than other streams of hobby gaming, in general we do a bad job at pitching ourselves to half of the population. Our LARPS tend to blunt emotional interaction by framing them in boy-friendly martial themes, history, and politics.

Relatability

Though few of us expect to be marooned on an island with a cast of buff, half-naked fellow outcasts, many reality games draw on more universal themes of daily life: trying to get along with the other people in your house, looking for a mate, or, as in North America’s latest reality hit, The Apprentice, vying for success on the job. It might be fun to picture a reality show with magic swords and talking dragons, but the imagery of successful reality TV hits much closer to home.

Money

And in the end, most of these shows offer the winners something everybody wants and can relate to: a big cash prize. With a kitty of money at stake, suddenly any game abstraction, any immunity challenge or contrived stunt, takes on a clear meaning.

Therefore, a more mainstream-friendly flavor of LARP would possess the following traits: simplicity of concept, a spectator element, constant suspense generated by dramatic events at regular intervals, accessible emotion, familiar imagery, and a big pot of money.

I can see the creation of a cash-prize LARP circuit as a serious business opportunity for someone with the capital and vision to make it work.

I can also see the result as something that many current players would flee from at maximum velocity.

That’s reality for you.

by Elina Gouliou

The “Play to Lift” Technique

Vanessa James / Yannick Bonheur demonstrate a star position – image David W. Carmichael

There are some game sessions where all the characters shine and the action is awesome and cinematic. I thought it was a matter of luck or circumstance, until I encountered the Play to Lift technique and realised that it is often the result of all the players around the table (including the GM) lifting each other up and making their characters look cool.

This technique, also known as “Playing Up,” is used in some live action roleplay (larp) traditions, but it can easily be used in tabletop RPGs. With this approach, each player actively reacts to the other players’ characters in the way they want their characters to be portrayed. For example, if I want to play an intimidating and mysterious Seer, the characters of the other players will “lift my play” in their interactions with me, being fearful and respectful towards my character and believing in her prophecies. They may even turn their plot around so that the prophecies turn out true, or interpret events to fit these prophecies. This makes my Seer come alive in a way that I could never achieve without my fellow players’ buy-in.

A good example of playing someone up is in relation to their character’s status. High status can never be demanded in character; it can only be conferred freely by the people around the character. This includes the NPCs who are often controlled by the GM but it also includes the other player characters. If someone has asked to be played up as high status, I would talk to them in character with deference, give them priority and step to the side to allow them past. The same concept also applies if someone is meant to be low status, a great orator, or physically intimidating.

If my D&D character has a high Charisma, then that telegraphs to the other players that my character is particularly appealing in manner or speech. If my character’s Dexterity is low, then my character might be heavily built or clumsy. But there are many different variations of these broad characteristics. If someone has a high value in Intimidation, that might just mean their demeanour, or their overall behaviour. Play to Lift can be applied to any element that a player wants to emphasise for their character during play, including those not defined by stats, such as confident, overbearing, motherly, creepy or empathetic.

Playing to Lift is not just for character strengths, but also for weaknesses. So, if I want my character to be portrayed as clumsy or really absent-minded, then this is something that the other characters would pick up and comment on. The importance is that this is a characteristic that the player of that character wants to be emphasised, even though it is negative.

The opposite is “Playing Down.” This means playing on a trait that the player did not intend for their character and does not really want conferred on the character. For example, if I fail one Dexterity roll and another character says “well, you are always clumsy, remember that time…” or they cut a character mid-speech despite this character being a captivating orator. This creates a negative feeling of “but I did not want my character to be perceived like that” and either I need to negate the fiction (which means breaking character and trying to reverse engineer what has been established) or go along with it (essentially feeling forced to accept a character trait that I did not want). Playing someone down has a negative effect on the game.

Elements of the Play to Lift Technique

We need to know what attributes everyone around the table wants to be lifted. Where the attribute to be played up is a mechanical one, that attribute should match the strength or weakness. There is no point in asking for a character with a low fighting ability to be played up as a mighty warrior. In some cases, you can instinctively feel what the player wants and just give it to them. But the most fail-safe way is to ask in advance. This is best done at the beginning of the game when people introduce their character out of game. It’s a quick and easy process. For example “I am Elina, and I am playing Lucilla the Bard. I would love it if people could play up my musical skills”. Or “I am playing Lucilla the Bard. I have a terrible voice and no musical skill and I would love if you could play up how untalented I am.”

The play to lift technique relies on three elements: reciprocity, recognition and good communication.

The first element is reciprocity. You play me up, I play you up and we both get the story we want to tell. We actively make each other’s characters look cool.

The next element is the recognition – the idea that every player around the table is responsible for each other’s fun and for telling a great story. This also means that players realise that it is often a characters’ weakness what makes them interesting. If someone wants to be played up to be invincible, the best at everything, then it is pretty boring and it does not lead to a dramatic story.

What to Do When Play to Lift Requests Clash

Sometimes it can be that the players’ wishes for elements to be played up may conflict. That is where good communication comes in. A brief discussion around the table will make sure that everyone is on the same page about the style of game they want. At that stage, you should establish if (a) you can make the character concepts and play up requests fit together, (b) it is possible to tweak some of the characters to accommodate the request or (c) the play up requests really do not work, so that the other players cannot play up this aspect. It is infinitely better for players to know, than for hours of frustration because they are not getting the support they want and their character needs.

If someone wants to be played up in a direction the others do not like, then that might show a misunderstanding or at least different expectations of the game we are about to start. If I want to play angsty family drama and the others want to play “killing goblins and taking their stuff” then there is definitely some misunderstanding about what type of game we are playing and someone will end up disappointed.

Lifting someone’s character does not have to, and does not usually, dominate the plot. It is about the little things: a nod of respect, a sign of unease or a short side scene to persuade the reluctant hero. If your friend wants to play a dark and broody loner you can have a mini scene where he is trying to come to terms with their turmoil and follow the adventure should also explain that this will not be the focus of the game.

In my experience, there are only very few instances where it is genuinely not possible to marry two characters’ play-ups. Most of the times, it will be possible to accommodate everyone with some creative thinking. Let’s say that I want to be lifted up in being intimidating and my fellow player Cat wants to be lifted up in being a fearless, undaunted adventurer. With a quick first glance, it seems that these two requests are not compatible. However, there are many ways to accommodate them both. For example it may be that Cat’s fearless pulpy adventurer is usually undaunted, but my intimidating seer somehow sets her on edge. Imagine how scary the Seer must be to make even a brave adventurer feel unnerved!

Or it may be that the other characters are not scared themselves of the Seer but they can see the reaction of others. They describe how the villagers shy away from the Seer and how the town becomes deserted and everyone shuts themselves in and closes the shutters when the party approaches. This falls to a great extent on the GM who controls the NPCs but the other players can contribute with ideas. Perhaps the other characters wonder and ask themselves what she has done to make her so terrifying that even the mention of her name make people shake.

When the Dice Are Not on Your Side

What happens when I want to be played up but just failed my die roll in the ability I want played up?

First of all, a dice roll can be interpreted in many different ways. So, for example, if I lose in a fight that can be interpreted as “your character is really not scary, he is a weakling, you just lost in a simple fight, ha ha ha!” or “OMG!!!, David just took down Goliath, what a turn out!, this is incredible!!!” In the first interpretation, the character who lost is no longer scary, and if I wanted my scariness to be played up, this would totally negate that. In the second interpretation, the character maintains its scariness and the dice results are considered an outlier event that is very rare.

Secondly, sometimes the dice tell us something about the character and it is cool to incorporate that in the fiction if the player decides they want to. So, if I have rolled a one five times in a row, I may decide that my character is really jinxed, clumsy or weak. I may choose to incorporate that in my character’s play-ups. It is important that decision should come from the player themselves and not imposed by the others around the table. My group has been playing The One Ring for about a year now, and our ranger has been constantly failing his Travel rolls. The player has decided to make it into a feature of the game and he is making jokes about it. But it was the player who decided to incorporate that failing into his character, not the other players.

Play to Lift in Player v Player Situations

Playing someone up is more difficult in a PvP setting but it is also more important than in cooperative play. Because it is essential that, while the characters are at each other’s’ throats, the players are absolutely happy with it and with the direction the conflict is going. As a player I love it when another character back-stabs my character in a Hot War or Game of Thrones game. My character is furious, devastated or angry, but, as a player, I am loving it.

Of course, in a heavy PvP game it is not usually possible to avoid all difficult PvP interactions (as the game revolves around that) and therfore it is important to communicate up-front the style of the game. But it is possible to avoid areas that the other player does not want for their character and to dial down the escalation. Ultimately, the player’s happiness and well-being is more important than the game. If I am not sure, I will just check-in out of character with the player that they are happy with the direction the game is taking.

Finally, we must remember that it is possible to play up two characters who are conflicting, without undermining the other one. So, the fact that David won in the biblical story did not really make Goliath any less scary. It just lifted David without undermining the incredible strength and scariness of the giant. With practice it is possible to play up two characters on the same trait without undermining each other. And that makes for the best PvP fight, because there are two bad-asses fighting each other, both played up in awesomeness by the other player. And is that not the epic fight we always want to see in movies, TV series and ultimately at our gaming table?

Playing to Lift as GM

GMs can Play to Lift, too and to some extent they are the biggest influence in how the characters are perceived by the outside world, as they control the whole world environment and the NPCs. Where the other players can be the outliers, the GM can provide the reaction of the norm, the common folk. Respect, status, reputation often is cemented by these reactions.

As a GM it is important to remember that Playing to Lift does not mean winning without opposition. That would not be dramatic, nor cinematic. Playing to Lift means giving an amazing challenge to the characters while ensuring that everyone gets a chance to get the spotlight and shine. It means being the number one fan of the player character’s stories.

Conclusion

Some may argue that “we are already doing this in our gaming group.” I totally agree. I have seen many tabletop players who do this instinctively. I think that I used to do it sometimes. But since I heard of the technique and saw how effective it is, I actively think about “what does the other player want?” much more than before. It is as if I have put a vocabulary to my instincts and thus, I am trying to play people up much more frequently and proactively than before. I may still fail occasionally but when I do, I know what I have done “wrong” in terms of how I want to play.

When people lift each other up, everyone wins; when they play each other down, everyone loses.

Update:  My friend, the talented games designer James Mullen, wrote a game poem directly inspired by this article, intended as an exercise in using the Play to Lift technique. It is called On the Way Up and you can read it here.

REFERENCES

Susanne Vejdemo, Play to Lift, not Just to Lose. Nordic Larp

Bøckman, Petter. (2003) The Three Way Model: Revision of the Threefold Model. In Gade, Thorup, Sander. When Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Pp 12-16.

Willer Piironen & Kristoffer Thurøe. 2014. An Introduction to the Nordic Player Culture. In Saitta, Holm-Andersen & Back: The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp, pp 33-36.


Elina Gouliou divides her gaming time between a wide variety of tabletop games such as Monsterhearts, Hot War and Fate Accelerated, and live action roleplaying games both large- and small-scale. She loves games that focus on the drama rather than rules and enjoys the process of co-creating a captivating story.

 

I was wondering when someone would run a DramaSystem LARP using Emily Care Boss’ brilliant live action adaptation of the rules as seen in Blood on the Snow. The answer, it turns out, is last November. The Twin Cities’ LARP House, a group dedicated to Nordic-style play in America’s Scandinavia, ran two events using the “Family Business” Series Pitch by Aaron Rosenberg. They’ll be running it again in June; see announcement in above link. While you’re clicking, check out these notes on play from participant Adam McConaughey, who makes some key observation about the nature of power and the weakness of coercion in DramaSystem.