April 25, 2014

Example Adventure Style LARP Session Agenda

Time for another LARP post!  I wrote about Adventure Style LARP previously, and a commentator asked for an example session. I had to invent a whole fictitious session in a comment, so it made sense to use that for a weekly post.

Here's my totally invented, short, small, low-budget adventure LARP example session design:

Basic Information:

  • Game Time: Saturday 1p-5:30p
  • Players:  20 players, who have to agree to cast NPCs for a certain amount of time
  • Game Fee:  $10.  Produces just enough for the site, like so many other LARPs out there.
  • Site:  Low-cost urban meeting space, 1 large room, 1 small side-room.
  • Staff:  One head GM, one assistant/floor GM.  I imagine additional staff positions are also filled: One player serves as webmaster out of game time, another player serves as site coordinator out of game time, and two players serve as writers for subplots.

An adventure LARP happens when external plots (Adventure style LARP games) have greater consequence, scale, or excitement than internal competition (Elysium style LARP games).  A good adventure style LARP needs enough staff to handle adventure scenes for all the players simultaneously; an agenda for each event to coordinate players, staff, and space; and cast to play NPCs.  The easiest way to get cast to play NPCs is to make it a requirement for players.  This example LARP has all the hallmarks of a small game with very few resources.  I wanted to show that with good logistics and a good player social contract, you can pull off an exciting Adventure style LARP with no "tabletop standing up" and no "sitting around doing nothing."

Agenda:

In this agenda, the PCs are divided into three "character classes" - the class is not a D&D style class, but a declaration by the player of what kind of scenes that player prefers most.  The class then informs the player what kind of stats to take, based on the kinds of scenes they will be tracked for.

  • Investigators:  These are characters designed to have networks of contacts, social skills, investigation skills.  Players of these characters know their primary activity at the LARP will be uncovering clues, solving mysteries, and interacting with NPCs who have things or information that they want.
  • Occultists:  Magical characters are designed to have magical skills and knowledge.  Players of these characters know their primary activity at the LARP will be solving complex puzzles involving occult symbols, books and knowledge of mythology, and occasionally roleplaying tense magical rituals.
  • Field Agents:  These are combat/action characters who specialize on physical skills, stealth, athletics, burglary, etc.  These players are signaling that they like to put themselves in tense life or death situations including stalking enemies, making hostage exchanges, breaking into secure facilities, and getting into fights.

There's no restriction of abilities.  Field agents can cast fireball or be good at surveillance.  Occultists could be amazing swordfighters, or have interrogation skills.  Investigators could be crack shots, or have a few spells.  The main advantage of having "character classes" is for the player to tell the GM what they like to do most.  Your LARP may handle this in other ways, such as a player survey.  This process is somewhat more diegetic.  It also connects with the agenda and NPC casting requirement.  See below for how that works.  The players are represented by single letters, so you can track a player's participation across the different slots and tracks.  There is flexibility in tracks - players can swap in and out of different tracks unless they've been tapped to cast an NPC.

1p-2p: Setup

  • PCs get Between Game Action (BGA) results.  The Investigators did a group BGA, and their result shows where Kandinsky's office is and that he's leaving to meet a mysterious contact. The team will split three ways. 
  • The Occultists will continue investigating the botched summoning from last game with a seance for one of the victim/participants.  
  • The Field Agents will stay on Kandinsky and hopefully tail his contact.  
  • The Investigators will break into Kandinsky's office while he's out to find more information on the artifact smuggling trade.


Slot 1:  2p-3p: 60 minute slot

  • Track 1 (Floor GM): "Seance" Magic/occult PCs (A, B, C, D, E, plus 1-2 others), 2 cast play NPCs (F, G). 
    • Objective: "Can you learn what went wrong at the Great Summoning by contacting the spirit of Professor Andropov? Are you prepared in case the seance goes wrong?" 
    • NPCs:  Ghost of Professor Andropov; Evil Shade that gets accidentally summoned and pretends to also be the voice of Andropov... until things get hot.
    • Gamespace: Small room or large room, whichever fits best. 
    • Props: Candles, Occult junk.
  • Track 2 (Head GM): "Surveillance" Action/combat PCs (H, I, J, K, L, M, 1 other; but not N, O, P, Q, F, or G). 4 cast play NPCs (N, O, P, Q). 
    • Objective: "Can the team maintain surveillance on Kandinsky without spooking him until he makes it to his meet with his contact? What can the team learn by tailing his contact?" 
    • NPCs:  Kandinsky, Romanof, Romanof's two "pavement artists"  
    • Gamespace: Guerilla LARP in public; crowded streets; Starbucks; metro.
    • Props:  Public space prop restrictions; players leave anything suspicious at game site.

Intermission: Combat/Action PCs pulled out for 30 minute break (may be needed for walk back from prev. scene). Investigators trickle in and learn results of the seance, then head out to their investigation.

Slot 2: 3:30p-5p, 90 minute slot

  • Track 1 (Floor GM): "Quick Search" Investigative PCs (N, O, P, Q, F, G, plus 1 other). 
    • Objective: "While Kandinsky is at the meet, what can the investigators learn about the artifact smuggling operation by searching his office?" 
    • NPCs:  None.  
    • Game Space: Small room; preferably set up as an office. 
    • Props: Laptop (login account prepped for game with pw and files); lots and lots of irrelevant officey paper and junk, clue files, clue photos.
  • Track 2 (Head GM): "Romanof Transformed" Action/Combat PCs (H, I, J, K, L, M, 1 other). All other cast play NPCs. Should provide at least 3, at most 5 NPCs.  Need at least 3 for the minimum combat challenge.
    • Objective: "It turns out Romanof is possessed by a devil when he leads the street team into an ambush in a blind alley. Can the team overcome their attackers without killing Romanof or letting him get away, so that they can bring him back for exorcism and interrogation?" 
    • NPCs:  Romanof and his goons physically transform (so it's OK to swap out cast).  Additional devils appear at the start of the ambush.  
    • Game Space: Starts in the alley behind game site, moves into the large room in game space as Romanof flees. 
    • Props: Devil masks for cast for the spirits that arise to attack the street team.


Denouement: Teams return to "base" to debrief with each other. They should have Romanof prisoner (bound and unconscious so no need for a cast NPC - Romanof will not be interrogated until next session) and need to determine how they, as a group, will treat prisoners, what limits on interrogation, etc.

    • NPCs:  Either use one to play the unconscious Romanof if they need a rest, or else wrap some cloth and cushions in a trench coat and tie it up in a bundle with rope.
    • Game space: Reset large and small room to "home base" set dressing. 
    • Props: Interrogation stuff spanning the gamut from ethical to abu ghraib. Rope, handcuffs, hoodwink, pliers, jumper cables, water pail. Hopefully PCs will agree not to use horrible methods, but if they do, there's probably a morality system to get involved next game.


That's what the framework for a fully plotted adventure style LARP would look like. Note that no scene happens in the "theater of the mind" and nothing requires props that most troupes can't get hold of cheap and quick. Nor does it require a large game space. More players = need more tracks = need more game space of course. But more players = more budget = can afford more game space.

The agenda is just part of the prep!  Prepping an adventure LARP takes a lot of work!

Each scene would have a scene bluesheet, with details for the GM to reference and an agenda for the scene (where to start, when to start certain events, etc.). Each NPC would have a stat sheet and an NPC bluesheet with facts about what they know, what they want to achieve, and how to act.  NPC bluesheets never contain spoilers because they never contain information that the NPC wouldn't reveal during the scene either through their actions or words.

Slot 1, Track 1 (the seance) would require the players to get a seance briefing.  They would probably get "homework" before game -- links to YouTube videos of iconic seances, instructions on how to do a seance, lists of vocabulary about different aspects of a seance, etc.  The people who self-assign into Occultist class PCs are the sorts who love to wiki-dive about cool occult stuff anyway, so the GM would probably assess their existing knowledge, then do some research to find resources to supplement it only if needed.  Still, a YouTube video to get them in the right frame of mind would be helpful, even for players who have a lot of OOC occult experience.

Slot 1, Track 2 (the surveillance/shadowing scene) would require the players to handle some basic tradecraft.  There's homework the GM can send them, as well.  Burn Notice episodes, tradecraft blog posts online, and passages from LeCarre novels come to mind.

Slot 2, Track 1 (the office search) would require a lot of infodump clue props, including computer files, pictures, and paper with clues on it.  The GM and writer would be prepping this stuff ahead of game time so that it looks and feels authentic, contains the clues they need, and adds some level of challenge.  The laptop hack game challenge, for instance, would be designed so that if the PCs failed, they'd still get the core clues they needed from the paper and pictures.

Slot 2, Track 2 (the ambush) would be a LARP combat; and that requires combat stats and careful attention paid to designing a challenge that adds just enough tension and risk to the Field Agents' lives.  It's too large a scene to playtest for such a small LARP, so the GMs will need to know their combat system and PC stats pretty well.  In a LARP like this one, Field Agent PCs probably have magic weapons and spells to fight devils, so that helps make them feel prepared and badass (likely there'll be a second act "darkest hour" transition mid arc, where their advantages are nullified and they get routed; but now is not the time for that).