Casual Conversations in Live Action Role Playing

John Out West

Registered User
Validated User
Hey there,

A little while ago I ran a murder mystery Larp in a Victorian setting with my friends. There was a lot of hiccups, but everyone has such a good time that they want to do another. What I found worked well was giving each person a task, such as: wedding off a daughter, stealing some items around the house, Slip poison into a drink, or confessing love. (There is a couple that claim to owe their relationship to this particular party) That being said, the casual conversations felt lack luster. Each character had a small backstory which helped.

This time I wanted to do "The Last Night of 79," where its a 70's themed Disco filled with drugs, sex, and dancing. (All but the latter will be simulated, as most of us are dancers) There will be an undercover cop, a starlet, a russian spy, the disco king, and instead of playing the DM i'll be playing the DJ. There will be tasks like "Get High," "Make the deal," "Gather Evidence," etc.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to help people who only Roleplay about once a year really get into it right off the bat? I'm looking to make the casual conversations really pop between people. I was thinking a more expansive world would help, since there would be the "Starlet's Movie," and people would be able to talk about the Cold War. Although, i'm not sure if that's any different than a character background.

Thanks for the help!
 

johnthedm7000

Social Justice Witch
Validated User
Hey there,

A little while ago I ran a murder mystery Larp in a Victorian setting with my friends. There was a lot of hiccups, but everyone has such a good time that they want to do another. What I found worked well was giving each person a task, such as: wedding off a daughter, stealing some items around the house, Slip poison into a drink, or confessing love. (There is a couple that claim to owe their relationship to this particular party) That being said, the casual conversations felt lack luster. Each character had a small backstory which helped.

This time I wanted to do "The Last Night of 79," where its a 70's themed Disco filled with drugs, sex, and dancing. (All but the latter will be simulated, as most of us are dancers) There will be an undercover cop, a starlet, a russian spy, the disco king, and instead of playing the DM i'll be playing the DJ. There will be tasks like "Get High," "Make the deal," "Gather Evidence," etc.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to help people who only Roleplay about once a year really get into it right off the bat? I'm looking to make the casual conversations really pop between people. I was thinking a more expansive world would help, since there would be the "Starlet's Movie," and people would be able to talk about the Cold War. Although, i'm not sure if that's any different than a character background.

Thanks for the help!
Take this all with a heaping tablespoon full of salt, as I've never LARP'ed but I do have a lot of experience as a GM in games where the interpersonal connections between characters are tangled and crazy. My thoughts would be that there are a few things you can do as facilitator to make conversations pop:

1. Keep Backstories Simple and Evocative: Maybe a paragraph of text, along with 1-3 goals that are all simple and to the point. These goals should complement at least one other character's goals, and interfere with or complicated another character's goals. Just as importantly, each goal should *require* at least one other character's assistance or knowledge. So if the cop's job is to make a drug sting, obviously the drug kingpin is someone that he could get that information from, but they're never going to give up that info right? So make it so that another character in the game has "the drug lord's former side piece" as part of their character (and has a goal related to their former lover). Now the cop has a reason to get involved with the drug lord's personal life, and the drug lord who's goal is "find love away from all of this deception and bloodshed" a reason to protect their former lover from the corrupt cop.

2. Ask provocative questions: As part of the hand-outs, ask a few simple evocative questions that pertain to the situation and have players fill in the answers for the characters. Read these answers as the GM, and incorporate it into your portrayal of the DJ (maybe the guy knows too much, maybe he's an eerie omniscient janitor type character, or perhaps that coke you took is just really good stuff....maaaaaaan) and the set-up of the scenario. Tie the DJ into other character's drama and in the midst of that drama, have him bring up the questions in ways that encourage people to dial down into it.

3. Restrict People's Options: Restriction breeds creativity, especially when it comes to facilitating a conversation. On your character hand-outs, give each character a few things they *must* do, a few things they must not, and a way they must talk. Maybe the cop talks in short declarative sentences. Maybe the drug dealer is waaaay tooo casuuuuuaaaaal, maaaaaaannnn. Perhaps it's obvious in every sentence that the dancer has something to hide. Especially with newbie roleplayers, giving people firm prescriptions about the bounds of their interactions with the situation will create all sorts of unforseen situations. Like imagine this character:

Cop
Can't admit their feelings verbally.
Must respond to violence with violence.
When you meet someone new, lead with an insult or a probing question (or BOTH).

You never asked for the Vice beat. You would have been happy doing traffic duty for the rest of your life. But you're looking at the chance of a lifetime, and with a sick kid in the hospital you can't pass up this chance for a promotion.

Goals:
Put the drug lord in jail.
Sleep with the most damaged person there.
Gather incriminating evidence on counter-culture sorts.

Just a few thoughts.
 

MoonHunter

Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
JohntheDM hit most of my points.

The additional points

Goals need to be concrete and obtainable. If the goal is more long term, these should always be "The Next Step" to achieve the actual goal. So you might need to take down the drug dealer

Your relationship to X. So you have a guideline for interaction with the other people. The Russian Spy (who has been in the states for a while) knows the Starlet because he working the rich and party circuit. The Cop knew the Starlet in High School he has the hots for her and their almost relationship. The Starlet vaguely remembers the Cop from High School. He was just a guy she knew. (Nobody said everyone has the same opinion of their mutual relationship.)

Secrets : These are your secrets you are trying to protect (give each one a value... will protect at all costs, does not want to be embarrassed, will pay good money to avoid its release.) and secrets you know about others (and what you think how valuable that is to the secrets' owner or how much you care about that person.)

Subgoals:. These are other things you might want to have happen, but if they happen great... if they don't not a big thing. The Starlet has "Embarassing Mrs. Mayor" because she was a bitch to her at some fund raiser. Not really something that needs to be done, but if you could do it.
 

John Out West

Registered User
Validated User
This is good, thanks. A lot of what you guys are suggesting are things I've already implemented, so its good to know we're on the same page!

I really like the idea of giving characters conversational "Flaws," like being unable to express their emotions, etc. Something i definitely want to do with the drugs is have each character pick up a quark, like "Must always rhyme," and if they fail they go catatonic for a minute, or start speaking complete gibberish until their next interaction with a new person.

I think having lots and lots of Sub-Goals might be the solution to this problem. My current plan is to have three goals for each character, and as each goal is met, they get to see the next goal. So a goal may be to "Sleep with the Starlet," and then turn to "No one else can have her, find a gun and Kill the starlet." That of course would come with the question: "Where do i get a gun in a night club?"

I think John7000's idea of letting the players make up a few stories of their past will help, as they could talk about them at the party. Would certainly take a lot of pressure off of me to create all of their backstories.
 

johnthedm7000

Social Justice Witch
Validated User
Don't prescribe a certain order for the goals. Instead, let them choose which they pursue and in which order. If you prescribe a certain order, odds are conversations are going to feel terse, because they're on a clock and have a single track to go along. Giving characters significant quirks in how they must act, but letting them choose from several different simple goals means that the characters can interact in different ways, which means more exciting and dynamic conversation.

Insofar as the drugs are concerned, I would list how the character reacts to each drug at the party on their sheet like:

Pot: You get horny and hungry
E: Dance time, sugah.
Cocaine: Talk a mile a minute. Tell everyone your regrets.
Heroin: Everrrrytttttthing issssss sssssslooooowww, butttt ittttttssss oooookaaaaay.
 

IdiotSavant

Registered User
Validated User
If you want the characters to talk, then give them goals which require talking to people. Relationship-based goals are good here (e.g. "confess your feelings for X", "find some way to break your engagement with Y"), but you can also have issue-based ones (e.g. "decide what you think about Z"). Goals based around finding information which others will naturally want to keep secret are risky, unless the players either play-to-lose (in NZ, a secret is something you tell your closest friends in the first half hour of the game), or you have mechanics to undermine the effect of people lying.

I found when writing larps that looking at other people's work was a great way of learning what worked and what didn't. There are alarge number of these sorts of games available online, and a good set of links to them on the rpg.net wiki: https://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/LARP_Scenarios
 

Alon

Registered User
Validated User
At the risk of necroing, some advice (and I have a fair amount of experience writing, in roughly the same community as IdiotSavant IdiotSavant ):

1. Keep the character sheets to a reasonable length. Players can memorize up to around 1,000-1,500 words of prose. It's closer to the higher end if you expect some pregaming, i.e. players exchanging emails in-character or meeting two at a time before the game to chat, otherwise it's closer to the lower end. My first LARP, The Dance and the Dawn, relied on a fair amount of pregaming and had a sheet of maybe 1,200 words. Don't go over this unless you know what you're doing and write to a more experienced crowd, or unless you want players to constantly look things up in their sheet during game.

2. How big is the game? Beyond about 6 players, it's fine to give each PC connections to only some of the other PCs.

3. Unless the game is like 1 hour long, PCs should have multiple goals, and should not expect to succeed in all of them. Maybe the undercover cop is trying to nab several people at the party, maybe the Russian spy wants to get laid but also make contact with the starlet and blackmail the undercover cop into acting as an informant, etc.

4. Concrete example from what I believe is the seventh LARP I ever played, Ex Ignorantia. I played a Persian-American grad student from the Bronx. The character sheet never specified class background, but some of the details screamed "urban working-class background." I was being severely pressured to do something drastic by other characters, who were comfortable academics, and came up on the spot with an explanation for why I'm reluctant, drawing on gentrification narratives that I've heard from working-class New Yorkers. My sheet was long, like maybe 4,000 words, but even then I came up with this purely from how I interpreted my character. I suspect you can induce the same in your players if you give them enough plot and background hooks, even in a short sheet. If it's clear that it's background that informs the PC's worldview but isn't known to other players ("I moved here from ___ and that's how things are here"), it's easier for players to improv it.
 
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