October 27, 2013

Social Arsonists

I learned 50% of my tabletop GM skills from LARP.  I learned half of those just playing LARP, and the other half from GMing LARPs.  (No, I'm not making you a pie chart.)

LARP is a crucible of GM skills.  Any half-decent tabletop GM can run a successful LARP for 10 players by simply doing what he does at the tabletop for twice as many players.  You may have been to a LARP (perhaps a networked LARP) where the GM basically ran a series of tabletop scenes interspersed with playing NPCs and answering player questions.  This is just tabletop GMing, with more players.  When the player count hits 15 or 20, the GM starts leaving half the players behind to get bored while he takes the other half of the players off on a tabletop scene.  Most of the LARP GMing I did was spent doing this, I'm not proud to admit.  I only started to pick up real LARP GMing skills by attending different games outside my sphere of influence.

I learned that LARP is different from tabletop because the GM needs to be able to get players interacting and reacting, but not with him.  And while interaction is preferable to reaction, a good LARP GM knows that if you can goad a player enough to react rashly, it will lead to a lot of interaction.

A good LARP GM knows that his players should rate the moments spent where the GM is talking as the most boring parts of the LARP.  A good LARP GM knows how to get players to interact and react with as few words as possible, and then to move on.  A good LARP GM flits about the game-space like a toxic gossip at a party, lighting little fires and walking away.  A good LARP GM is a social arsonist.

Another term for this is agent provocateur.  An agent provocateur is an infiltrator who pretends to be an ally and pushes people in the organization to take risks and commit crimes.  A LARP GM is like an agent provocateur, urging players into taking extreme and drastic action to cause others to react.  Good LARP GMs are double traitors, often setting up false flag operations or urging players to set up false flag operations against their enemies implicating a third party.  Having assassins attack your player characters is amateur.  Shake them to their core by killing off one of their enemies "off camera" instead.  You can do this with a note on a 3x5 card while you're off with other players subtly implicating a third group in the murder with a half sentence of whispered innuendo.

After that, fine tuning the level of tension among five players when you have their full attention around your kitchen table will seem like a cinch.