You sit in a fur laced armchair as the morning mist comes in. You glance to the window where an icy summer mist begins to creep over the ashen mountains. Your bones creak as you stand. Grabbing your war axe you mumble “this is going to be a long day.”
Storytelling is all about immersion. It’s about making someone feel they are part of the story and not a viewer of it. There are so many different levels of immersion. At its most primary level immersion is the idea of which head space a player is thinking in. Are they thinking as their character or as the player? When it comes to immersion in LARP there are several rules we can put into practice to help players feel immersed in the game.
1 – Disassociated Mechanics
Dissociated mechanics are rules that are in place that do not support the game’s vision. For example, if the system’s rules focus on combat but the system was planned to be a social game then the game will fall more towards combat. Similarly, players should not feel there are things in the system that cannot be done specifically because of rules. A game’s rules should focus on keeping players in character, with giving them in character ways to solve problems.
A great example of dissociated mechanics in use can be found on TheAlexandrian.net:
For example, consider a football game in which a character has the One-Handed Catch ability: Once per game they can make an amazing one-handed catch, granting them a +4 bonus to that catch attempt.
The mechanic is dissociated because the decision made by the player cannot be equated to a decision made by the character. No player, after making an amazing one-handed catch, thinks to themselves, “Wow! I won’t be able to do that again until the next game!” Nor do they think to themselves, “I better not try to catch this ball one-handed, because if I do I won’t be able to make any more one-handed catches today.”
2 – Mimicry
I mentioned this briefly in another article. This is the idea that players will copy how NPCs and the game team act. For example, if the refs of a system are constantly dropping out of character to make witty jokes the players will follow suit. This is also the case for NPCs. If NPCs are making funny voices, acting out of character or use knowledge their character would not know then characters will do the same. The best way to counter this is by briefing NPCs, Game Team and Players on the sort of attitudes expected to make the game better for everyone.
3 – Consistency
Consistency is the idea of making sure things make sense. No one is perfect, it’s possible for crew and the game team to not properly remember some aspects of the game world. That being the case a strong effort should be made to keep the game world real. Unlike normal tabletop role-playing games keeping consistency in LARP is significantly harder. This is because there isn’t one sole repository for in-game knowledge. There may be a myriad of NPCs and game team members that interact with the players. Each of these having different interpretations of what should be happening. There are several ways to help this. The first is communication, sitting down and talking to the game team on what information is important. The second of these is keeping it simple. When creating NPCs make it as simple as possible for the person playing them to remember. Give them several small hooks to roleplay the NPC off, a flash card approach is a good example of this.
4 – A World In Motion
Creating a balance in LARP worlds is hard. Finding the balance between creating a world that will move without the players but also creating a world that the players feel they can impact. Finding this provides an ideal environment to encourage immersion. Allowing players enough room to feel important but also encouraging them with a sense of urgency to engage with that world. This balance can be found with the balance between finding out in play and out of character resources. Encouraging players to make in character information repositories. As well as encouraging players to find information in character instead of out of character.
5 – Illusion Of Preparedness
This rule links in with several others and comes down to trust and respect. If you haven’t met any of your player base before then they will approach the game on a neutral footing. Allowing players to see when things have not lead to what was planned or when things have been improvised leads them to question the consistency of the game and think out of character. This rule is called ‘illusion of preparedness’ as it is not always possible to prepare all of the time. That being the case it’s important, if and when you mess up, to pass it off as expected and make sure to keep as much consistency as possible.
6 – World Knowledge
With most things, there is also a balance that needs to be struck with how much information players know about a game world. Having too little knowledge may leave players feeling frustrated. While having too much knowledge will lead players knowing information that their character in character would not know. Both of these situations would significantly lower immersion leading to players thinking in an out of character mindset. Having a system that solely relies on ‘find out in play’ elements can lead to the former. While having expensive out of character wiki spaces on ‘in-game knowledge’ can lead to the latter.
7 – Look and Feel
Due to the very nature of LARP, being visual and physical, to keep immersion it’s important to make the game look and feel real. This can be taking that little bit more effort to make sure the set dressing fit the setting or by not allowing crew or players to drink out of out of character drinking vessels. This can appear to be a very small thing however over time makes the difference between characters playing a game and living in a world.