Time-tax: a guest post by Andy Raff

Poached with permission from Mr Raff’s presence on Facebook, in a format that can be shared, for the benefit of other larp designers.

Basic live-roleplaying mistake #ZUP in an ongoing series : TIME TAX.

Never, ever, time tax your players.

A time-tax is a situation where you tell the players that something will take X amount of real time and they then “roleplay” repetitive physical action. Examples I have seen might include “sculpting” an invisible block of stone; pretending to “climb” a wall until they are allowed to use the OOC stairs to get to the top; “searching” an area before they can be handed a clue by a referee; “picking” a lock before the ref lets you pass through it; “digging” a hole; “eating” a corpse to dispose of it.

Sometimes it’s a ridiculous hangover from tabletop. Sometimes it’s a failure to appreciate how “simulationist” a live-roleplaying experience should be (and often this fails anyway because the amount of time chosen isn’t especially “realistic”). Either way you SHOULD NOT DO IT.

One reason to avoid it is that it is invariably immersion breaking; pretending to hit an invisible block of stone with an invisible hammer immediately drags you out of the game. The other reason is that it is *literally* a waste of your players’ time. Your players are not here to pretend to hit an invisible rock; they are here to interact with other participants (talking to them or pushing them over in the mud and taking their stuff and everything in between).

If you want a task to take a period of time there are in my opinion right now a I write two satisfying ways to do it.

Get them to *physically do the task*. If you want them to dig up a treasure chest or a corpse then bury a treasure chest or a corpse and provide them with a shovel. If you want them to find a clue hide the clue in the room*. It doesn’t have to be the actual task – one of the best I have heard of was a game I think Richard Smith was involved with where characters who could lockpick were issued with an actual ring of keys – the better their skill the fewer dud keys there were on the ring. They opened IC locks by using the keys.

A second way is to give them a task that is peripherally similar but not the same. Play a card game to break into a datafortress. Do a jigsaw puzzle to sculpt a stone. Solve a pipe puzzle to translate a document. It may not be as satisfying depending on how you integrate it but your player will at least be *doing something* instead of sitting on their arses staring morosely at the rain.

A third way obviously is to do something “overnight” – the Timeless Hammer Rhythm ritual works like this for example. It takes place during OOC time period when nobody is RPing anyway.

If you’re interested, the closest we get to a time tax in Empire is the ten minute rituals – and I’m arguing we should knock all them down to five minutes. A five minute ritual can be fun roleplaying – ten minutes is pushing it into time tax.

One of the most valuable resources your players have is the time they spend in your game – don’t make them squander that resource because they *will* resent it. Don’t try and “balance” your game activities by putting a “you will have a shit time” cost on them. Don’t try to insert “realism” by having your characters stand around for an hour doing nothing.

Thank for coming to my very tired incoherent TED talk.

(We have one obvious time tax in Empire and that is apothecary. We’re looking at ways to make that better)

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