It’s a safe bet that most folk who turn up to larp events are gamers. I’d love there to be more people coming from different backgrounds, there’s some “gateway larps” that are more appealing to them, but that’s where we are right now.
Zombie LARP is just such a gateway larp. Mary Hamilton spoke to Grant Howit’s brilliant slides at The Story 2011 – her presso is over here. There’s one slide in there which sums up where a LARPer might be born – it’s slide 44 if you’re interested – and it’s single stickman. That’s it. The next slide gives the wannabe survivor a NERF gun. It’s the lowest requirement for starting at a LARP I can imagine. Later in the presso there’s a bit about other classes – Security Guard, Believer, Test Subject, Medic – which have extra abilities and flaws.
So one thing I love about that class system is the way it makes the barrier to entry is so low, and the extra engagement is presented later. (Their website doesn’t reflect that clarity yet, give it time…)
And I also love how the place of that first class in the game is pretty clear. It’s you. Here’s a gun. Survive. And then the others layer some more possibilities on top of that but you still don’t have to think much. In Zombie, if you’re a Believer you’ve seen the films, you know how they work in the story. They die saving the rest of the party near the end, and for some reason they’ve always got a Southern American accent. So that’s another thing – hurrah for anything which helps make a story. It’s like a teeny-tiny micro-brief, right there.
In teams with all the classes represented, Zombie gets closer to the combined-arms thing that I also like about larps with a class system. (I know it also turns up de facto in skill pick games, but it’s generally clearer in games where it’s explicit.) You’re pretty buggered without a Medic. You can really use a Test Subject to crunch through a mob. When you need someone to die so everyone else can get away – you want a Believer, accept no substitute.
Similarly, one of the our design guidelines for Odyssey was that no-one was self-sufficient. It’s slightly different for a fest larp, but we didn’t want the game to be about a small number of heroes, and a large cast of largely irrelevant extras. (I’ll not go into the 3-month row about what to call two of the main classes except to say “Matt was right, I was wrong.”)
So the entire game is a mesh of inter-relationships. Warleaders get tribute, but need muscle from Champions, wisdom and intercession with the Gods from Priests and magical support from Philosophers. Champions get martial might, but need leadership from warleaders, intercession with the Gods from Priests and magical support from Philosophers. Philosophers get the ability to change the world, but need protection from Champions, resources from Warleaders and even – occasionally – wisdom from Priests. Priests can get the favour of the gods, but need resources from Warleaders to sacrifice, and help from Champions and even Philosophers to do the gods’ bidding.
So, we’ve tried to make it clear that weaknesses are deliberate, and other classes are there to fill the gaps. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but I hope we’re moving in the right direction.
So: class systems, good as a gateway tactic, good for making a few words of characterisation go a long way and showing what your place in the story is likely to be, and good for nice, crunchy combined-arms gameplay.
Just a few pretty unformed thoghts as usual. One of these days I’ll doubtless write about how I love skill point systems and templates and kits and stuff…