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How to make a good Online LARP (and how not to)

A good online LARP needs immersion, player autonomy and predefined relationships. How can this be achieved?

As I already stated in my article Does Online LARP work?, LARP can also work online. But what does an Online LARP need to be good – to work? Based on my own experience and feedback from Kendra (who runs an interesting LARP blog here), I have compiled the following list of criteria:

  • Immersion is important. You have to create an atmosphere in which the players can empathise well with their character and the game world.
  • Independence of the player / his character in the form that he has the possibility to take actions on his own is necessary so that the character can develop with his characteristics.
  • Predefined relationships help players enormously to interact with other characters and settle into the game.
Even as the last survivors of the decimated “Space Unit” fleet, you still understand humour (screenshot from the Online LARP “A Squadron Story”)

A good Example

Last Saturday I participated in a private Online LARP “A Squadron Story” by Corinne Axena. The setting was homemade by Corinne: a Star Wars-like sci-fi world where the players took on the roles of 5 space fighter pilots. I played the squad leader T. Lu. Corinne played Mission Control. The game time was about an hour. The game started shortly after an important mission unexpectedly went wrong. Most of the time we discussed what happened, what we could do and improvised interactions with the spaceship and Mission Control via chat and visual play. The previously listed criteria were met as follows:

Immersion:

  • We played via Zoom where, even without a green screen, you could replace your background live with a picture or a video. We players all replaced it with a spaceship cockpit panorama that matched the character.
  • Each character has their own memories of what happened just before the game began. By sharing this information about the course of the game, you build a connection with your own character’s perspective.

Independence of the players/characters:

  • My character was the leader of the player characters, but because of a concussion he got shortly before the game started, the other characters had the opportunity to question or even disregard his authority. I was very happy about this, because the diversity of the characters doesn’t come into its own if only one can claim decision-making power all the time. It was also good that Mission Control could intervene at any time.
  • The players had the possibility to chat with each other ingame via Zoom at any time. This was also used, e.g. between friends to share their views on a problem or simply to pass on information. During the game, suspicions arose that one of the pilots might be a traitor/cheater. Theories were put forward not only publicly but also privately via chat with characters as to who it could be.

Predefined relationships:

  • My character had a best friend and a rival among the player characters which led to tension.
  • He was also torn between his motto “The mission comes first!” and risking the lives of his comrades.
“The sci-fi camouflage suit works!” (We learned that when the face is out of camera view, zoom means the body is background and it disappears)

A bad Example

That same evening I organized Süsse Träume 2 – Der Prozess (Sweet Dreams 2 – The Trial): A Fantasy Online LARP of my own. Although the event was fun for everyone, it was, as I had to painfully realise, unfortunately not really an Online LARP.

The event came about because the players of Süsse Träume Run 2 (Sweet Dreams Run 2) successfully captured the antagonist, the witcher Trajar. They performed a ritual to escape from the dream world where the sorcerer had previously imprisoned them in such a way that they all woke up in the same place, in a ship. Through a text role-play chat, they then acted out the events on the ship. At first, they wanted to execute the witcher themselves in vigilante justice – no one has to know. But then they decided to try him in court. Then I had the idea that this would be an ideal opportunity to try out a fantasy LARP in an online format.

The concept of the game was simple: The witcher is accused of his crimes infront of a court and a jury of three people, representing the ruling aristocrat, is to judge the case. The plaintiffs and the accused had a defence. In addition, there were experts who knew the defendant and knew about magical things. In total we were 12 people and I played the NPCs, i.e. the defendant and 4 callable witnesses. The event lasted 4 hours. In the following I will list how the criteria were fulfilled or not fulfilled.

Immersion:

  • + We played via Discord and I set the condition that you had to wear a robe of the character (at least where you can see it). In order to minimise the reference to modernity, I also made it a condition that you had to choose a neutral background or one that matched the setting. This worked wonderfully.
  • – A problem was that most of the people normally communicated with large headsets, and because of my condition they now had to use, for example, their much inferior laptop microphones as an alternative. The voice quality generally left a lot to be desired, but I don’t think the players can do much about that.
  • – Because of the high number of players for an Online LARP, you had to simply listen most of the time and could hardly act or connect with the action.
  • – In addition, there were hardly any possibilities to bring out the character traits from the game.

Independence of the players/characters:

  • + In the court proceedings, one could shout “objection” at any time. If you were then given the floor, you could intervene.
  • – But you could usually only do that if you could logically find fault with the statement you had just made. This could have been done differently. Above all, consultation with the jury would have been necessary and a specific choice of character for its members.
  • – You could only communicate with each other by speaking. I thought about making it possible to communicate with each other via chat, but I thought that would spoil the immersion. You would have to whisper to the target or pass them a note, just like in a forum role-playing game.

Predefined relationships:

  • All the characters were present for purely goal-oriented motives. Here I missed the chance to add the interpersonal element, which would have boosted the game and the immersion. I underestimated this element too much and now know how important it is. This element drives the other two criteria, is virtually the engine of the whole interaction game. And this is exactly the strength of Online LARP, is as I already stated in the article Does Online LARP work?.
The accused witcher Trajar (picture by Claudia Chiodi of Süsse Träume Run 1)

My Conclusion

Predefined relationships between characters help an Online LARP immensely and automatically increase immersion. I have learned that 6 people (incl. 1 game master) in a chat room is a good number and 12 is way over the target – though maybe possible under certain circumstances. Online LARPs can very well be played in runs, i.e. in several rounds, so that more players can still enjoy the game. It is also possible to have several chat rooms playing in parallel, which may even be able to interact with each other in one way or another. This was surprisingly done at the Animus Online LARP by Chaosleague, for example, and it worked wonderfully. Last but not least, I have to admit that the modern era and everything that comes after it offers much simpler settings and allows for more interaction between the players.

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