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A discussion on the role of Permanent Death in a LARP.


- Mickey and Bill

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  • Andreas Markehed

    Hi, heard you would like to have an episode on the Nordic Larp style. I’m from Sweden and I’ve been to a few Nordic Style Larps. Might not be very surprising as it originated around here.

    The way you larp is actually very foreign to me as there are a lot of differences beetween how we play over here and the way you play.

    I’d be happy to answer any questions you have, or to be a guest of the show.

    Jun 8, 2012 at 4:14 am
  • Zoe

    “Failure doesn’t necessitate death”

    I totally agree with this. If death needs to be part of the equation, threaten beloved NPCs. I think threatening a PC’s NPC connections can be really powerful– say, for instance, a group of PCs has spent 2+ years interacting with a friendly and benevolent teacher NPC. Following a highstakes battle, that the PCs fail, they figure out the NPC has been lost. Again, you can’t repeat this sort of thing again and again, but I think it can be down right shattering if the PCs have built a strong connection.

    In the Accelerant system… If you want to punish a PC, what about permanently draining headers (especially secondary ones like Assasin or Highborn flavored ones). If a PC fails, then you can still punish them, but they still have a story to continue– in fact, if they’ve lost one of their defining traits, like their nobility, then they have a goal or a narrative with which they can work (disgraced noble/reclaiming their lineage etc.).

    Here’s another thing on fear: fear is a visceral, emotional, and sensory experience. Use as many senses as you can– especially sound and touch. This happened to me in the last MM game (at the Midean vaults). We were attempting to access ridiculously well-guarded vaults, and, on our second run through, the entire party had collapsed (except for one person who went spirit and booked it). Someone had quietly healed me as they scampered out, and I was possuming, waiting from my chance to make a break for it. From my angle, lying on the floor, I couldn’t see where the four guards were. However, I could hear their footsteps, and I could feel the vibrations of the floor when the guards were close to my body. In order to get out, I had to blindly listen and time my exit. The moments while I was laying on the floor, trying to time my escape, were incredibly scary. It was a really well-done module because the fear I felt was so simple, but so powerful.

    Jun 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  • Adina

    - Regarding your comments on players accused of being too attached or invested in a character- extremely well said. I completely agree that players should be encouraged to invest in their characters, not shamed for having “spent too much money” or time or whatever. And the notion that players who prefer to leave a game because their character died means that they’re obsessed is insulting and plays into the kind of anti-RP sentiment that pops up in things like Jack Chick strips. It’s a recognition of the end of their story, not a form of pitching a fit (players who do that do it because it’s who they are, not because they’re LARPers). When I feel very attached to my character, it’s a mark of a LARP well run.

    - I also completely agree with the failure should not equal death bit. I enjoy combat when I know the monsters and NPCs want something beyond “I’m evil and I want PCs to die.” It could be to steal something, or to prove a point, or to spread a disease in furtherance of their research. One of the scarier moments in LARPing for me was when a small army of monsters defeated the town, but didn’t just slaughter us wholesale- they fought until we accepted our defeat and surrendered, then kept us surrounded and waiting to find out what they might do. Having all of the heroes defeated and unconscious or forced to sit and wait was just as scary, if not scarier than just killing us outright right away. It’s generally the anticipation that creates the visceral experience, not what happens after the result.

    Jun 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm
  • cat

    i would love to hear more about the micro nation/larp concept becoming baron of a real town would be the grooviest … are they talking about using an existing game as the “rules” backbone?

    Jun 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm
  • Eric Pierson

    In regards to death, one of the more interesting solutions I have encountered is to make the possibility of resurrection a purely role playing decision.

    The various gods have their own idea about whether their followers should be resurrected or not. Even within one god’s religion there are followers who debate whether or not their god wants them to come back from the dead.

    In this way, if someone wants that rush of playing someone who if they die they are going to stay dead, there are several in game reasons to have that happen. For people who feel the time and money they have invested in the character would be wasted if they died, they tend towards the gods who permit a return trip from the land of the dead.

    this has led to some rather interesting role playing situations as some of the “perma-death” people consider anyone who comes back to be an abomination…

    Jun 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm
  • Alan

    This was a really tough podcast for me to take in and listen to. I had a very strange mix of agreeing with you guys, disagreeing and then agreeing and disagreeing with you but for completely different reasons than you had stated.

    I believe there was a very important aspect you did not discuss about “characters becoming stale”. I agree with the sentiment that other people shouldn’t decide what is fun for you and/or killing your character for your own good. That is BS.

    However, what was not discussed was the person who loves their character but is OOC 90% of the time (like unless they are interacting with NPCs they care about) who refuse to give that character up because of power level or wanting to see the story through or whatever. In my mind, that conflicts with Bill’s assertion that what someone else does doesn’t matter to other players. As we are crafting a combined narrative and atmosphere, people who are sick of their characters make it hard for other people to immerse.

    As well, there is also the “been there, done that” syndrome of characters that have been around for a long time. I find this particularly trying as a player and as a staff member. I find it is something that can (and often does) hurt atmosphere and tension.

    Without agreeing or disagreeing with Mickey’s assertions about his own PC, I do feel that if he is correct, characters/players like that are 1 in 100, if that. And, an argument could be made (but is hardly an emphatic assertion on my part) that it still might be better for the atmosphere/setting/narrative of the game to still not have that character around.

    My personal experience is that I know people who are wonderful roleplayers who fall into what I have described above. It is sad to me to see them taking away from the atmosphere when I know they can be enhancing it.

    Turn over of authority can happen a few different ways and death is one of them. Some very goodly characters (in games with a lot of goodly nobles) might have trouble justifying IC political maneuvering or such things. I have heard people trying to find ways to get people to make/play less pragmatic characters and how they aren’t very cool when there is an over abundance of them. If you can mourn your goodly mentor then take over his barony with honor, that might lead to some cool moments for good guy pcs. You can extend that out to very lawful ones as well, who wouldn’t kill the evil noble who has his position politically locked down. (Though, my opinion this is possibly more or less objective as I never, ever play good guys ;) )

    As for new pcs becoming nobles, I would say there is a difference between new and newer characters/players. If the person takes over for the 10 year character is a 5 year character, sure they will make mistakes but so did the one before him when he took over.

    I think death would need to be done carefully. I agree it is crap way to lower the average level. In fact, I would strongly advocate that you shouldn’t lose much (if any) character points/build when you die. This creates a shake up, gets some fresh rp and interactions and still lets the person keep the “investment” in play time and the like. However, this should (maybe needs to) coexist with a build/CP cap and/or a game that has a planned end point.

    I agree 100% that increasing death counts won’t really kill off high level characters unless they are specifically targeted and that gets really tricky to do in any fun and fair way.

    There were other things I agreed with but I need to do work so I am going to wrap it up here.

    So, that is my two cents for now.

    Jun 19, 2012 at 3:11 am
  • LukeM

    Though I don’t want to necessarily take a side on the debate, I would like to bring up what I think is a valid point.

    Part of the reason permanent death appears so ominous may be because it doesn’t happen often during that particular game. During the last 20 years of playing my NERO character I have witnessed quite a lot of permanent death, but it has certainly diminished over the years. I used to actually be concerned about it for my own character as well as for my friends’ characters. This is a prime reason people used to make secondary characters, because they wanted to be prepared for their primary’s permanent death. That “fear” went away around 1998-2000 when permanent death occurred about once a year, or less, due to everyone buying back deaths. It became a 10% possibility for most everyone in a game where dying in the first place was also now infrequent. To put this into perspective, permanent deaths used to occur around once every other event when I first started playing. (There’s was a reason there was an obituaries section in the Raven’s Herald)

    I play another game, Accelerant based, where permanent death hasn’t occurred yet and to my knowledge doesn’t really exist. What does this do for me, the player? I honestly don’t care what happens to my character. I could start killing all the other players and never fear being killed myself. Then again, killing others is pretty pointless as well. They’re not going anywhere either. Granted, it is up to me as a player to create purpose for my character and drive towards that, but the ultimate fact is none of it really seems to matter yet as I am only a year invested in this character.

    In working on my own game I have of course come across this dilemma. My working solution, the abridged version, is to have the players be well aware of whether or not their next death will be their last. There are other logistics involved where you can buffer this final death, but the general idea is the players make a conscious decision to take the risk knowing the possibility of death.

    Jun 25, 2012 at 10:54 am