I love the idea behind LARP and tabletop role-playing — that a group of people are getting together to collaboratively tell a story. But whenever someone explains the mechanics of a game to me, my eyes glaze over in seconds and I start thinking about what kind of hat my character would wear.
Sure, I’ve been covering this world for about a year, but I’m ashamed to admit that I a complete noob when it comes to the rules. I’m getting ready to attend my third Knight Realms and Avatar System events respectively, and it’s downright embarassing that I don’t know from boffer damage or faith points. My mind simply doesn’t want to grasp the rules. It wants plot. Lots of plot.
The flip side of the coin is that rules make the game, set parameters for the world, and are there to seamlessly handle interactions between characters without an interloper. My tack of asking someone else which dice I roll or how many cards I pick every time I hack at a monster gets old fast and disrupts the game for other players by taking them out of character and into mechanics.
In fact, my ignorance of the rules means I can’t figure out what is possible inside the games and that degrades my own experience of this community. I may hate simple math, dull statistics (hello! why do you think I became a writer) and reading of dry tracts, but it’s finally time for me to pore over those rulebooks.
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Good game rules aren’t hard to learn. They’re invisible. There are tons of games out there which you can grasp all the rules within 20 minutes of play. Knight Realms isn’t a really good example of that, with it’s complex system and ubiquitous math.
But well designed rules make for interesting challenges. The gamists – the players that most appreciate the “gamey” aspects of LARP – are excited by strategy, tactics, and group problem solving. Well designed rules give them stuff to sink their teeth into without being an obstacle to narrativist or dramatist players. (see also: the threefold model)
I would caution against talking about LARPs /without/ paying attention to the rules. This can easily lead to conceptualizing the game in a way which appears like combat and role play are opposite ends of a spectrum. But they’re not opposites at all!