Storytelling in larp.

Matt was interviewed by Starburst Magazine recently. It’s over here:

Most of it is Matt waxing lyrical, as only he can and it’s good stuff. But I think he missed the point of one of the questions:

“SB: How important is storytelling when it comes to games? “MP: Personally I have never valued storytelling in games. Larp is the only gaming medium that is completely interactive; the participants can do anything they choose that makes sense in the setting. As an organizer you have no control over what happens at the events, none whatsoever, and any attempt to usurp control comes at the cost of your players’ roles as the central characters. So there is no capacity for telling stories and the story-teller’s art is not a part of creating compelling live roleplaying games. It has to be said that that is a fairly contentious view and is not ubiquitous in the hobby. But an approach that concentrates on making the player’s world vivid and exciting but gives them complete control of the narrative, rather than imposing a story, is one of the features that makes Empire distinctive.”

In his defense, I think he was wrongfooted by the question, but I think his answer has the wrong end of the stick. I reckon his view that “the story-teller’s art is not a part of creating compelling live roleplaying games” is not only contentious but just plain wrong.

I reckon storytelling is crucially important to larp.

I believe that because joy of larp is not just during the event, but after it. That aftermath, the frothing, is made of stories. I still tell tales of the heists a group I was in 15 years ago pulled off at the Gathering, of a particular battle a character of mine won, and more and more… Part of the joy of larp is the stories that we tell about what our characters did.

I agree that players should control the course of their narrative. Their stories should emerge, rather than be imposed on them. Our responsibility as organisers is to make games that make it as easy as possible for players to produce a personal narrative that is compelling.

Yes, that should involve a quality physical environment. If I wanted to suspend my disbelief all the time, I’d tabletop.

Yes, the setting should be inspiring, and should present hooks for characterisation, and enough consistency so it’s easy to immerse yourself in.

Importantly, it should include a game design that makes meaningful interactions between characters possible. So that they can make profound decisions, if you like. Enough of a system of the world that our actions have impacts, not too much that it becomes a tedious simulation.

Importantly to me, however, the system of the world should be of the whole place. That means that organisers need to represent a lot of it, and only part of that can be mechanical. Much of it is made of characters the organisers control. To me, those are better if they are rounded individuals too. Believeable antagonists. Creating characters  like that is part of the art of a storyteller, and that’s why storytellers are important on the organisers’ side of the hedge.

I think the art there is lightness of touch. Part of the joy of larp as opposed to, say, many MMORPGs is that the world can respond. We don’t do instances. You shouldn’t get back to the village to find they’re still complaining about the bandit chief. For really great larp, the world must respond. I think that response should be mixed of game-design and storytelling from the organisers. That response must be part-game-design, so that it has  real in-game affect. I believe that that that makes the roleplay easier.  However, if that response is simply game design it’ll be a dry as a city guard moaning about the arrow in his knee for the 50,000th time. If it’s got an element of storytelling, it’ll live and breathe for us, and enhance our stories by affecting our response. That’s the balance. Inspire players to glorious actions in fabulous stories which they control, you don’t impose, and their stories will be better.

In larp, we are all storytellers, and the role of the organisers is to help us make these stories marvellous.

(Edit: I changed the title – it was unfair to a chap who’s got a world to finish off in the next 14 days…)

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