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History of Croatian LARP: NeCroSys

It's true that most Croatian fantasy LARP is either Amtgard or using Amtgard rules, or some variant thereof. And that has been the case for the last 15 years, since the beginning of Croatian LARP until Terra Nova started this year. That's why the question of rules is a big one to most Croatian players. But there have been other ideas in the early years that made attempts to change the scene. Today's article is guest-written by one of the insiders in the early Croatian LARP scene, Tomislav Šimat. He's been there since the first Summer Session, and his vision of LARP was different - some would say ahead of the times. Nine years ago, a new croatian system (NeCroSys in short) was created. This is its story - as well as an insight into an early age of Croatian LARP and how it came to be at all...

In mid-'90s a group of Croatian role-players gathered in the ruins of an old fort near Kutina for a game in a (more or less) authentic environment. They liked the game but decided it would be fun to play another kind of game, something with less dice and more physical contact. One of them searched the early version of internet of those days and came up with something called 'Amtgard'. The rest is, as they say, history.

With time the games developed and improved, new players joined the community, and the needs of players started to change. New people came with new ideas and new requirements, some of which were not covered with rules... although some of the older players thought that changing the official rules would be a bad idea because the rules were not made by the players but by the Amtgard society based in the United States. So a small group of referees sat down and looked for alternatives.

By that time the larp scene had grown considerably, as well as the players' presence on the internet, so new rules and alternatives were not that hard to come by. Our favourites were the German 'DragonSys' and two smaller systems, 'Legacies' and 'Legends'. It gave us some ideas about new possibilities as well as limitations of the game. Considering our players and their interests, we came to following conclusions:

- Amtgard was heavy with out-of-game content and we didn't like it. Titles and rewards were given for things that players did out-of-game, and they were then transfered to the in-game characters (a legacy of SCA). Also, the in-game king was elected out-of-game as a head of local branch of Amtgard society and as such became a member of the ruling board of Amtgard society... somewhere very far away (ok, we never attained the rank of actual kingdom, but nevertheless)
- In Europe, Amtgard was played by a small group of people. We translated the rules to Croatian, found out that we were rather isolated, and we went along with it... making it rather difficult to connect with other larping groups in our vicinity. 
- We didn't like the computer-game concept of 'multiple lives' that is normal in Amtgard but doesn't make much sense in the real world. The idea of one life which is a bit more difficult to lose, such as in Dragonsys, sounded much better.
- Magic in Amtgard was... complicated and unwieldy. We disliked it a lot, as did all the people we talked to. 
- The system of classes and levels used in Amtgard was very limiting considering the charater development. It was alright for battle games where all the characters' abilites were defined through their roles in combat, but there was almost nothing about other ablities in there. Also, the 6th level limit in each class left players with feeling that their characters were handicapped in their development in some way.
- We mostly liked the way combat worked in Amtgard and our players had problems with the concept of 'holding your strikes' and 'not hitting as hard as you can'.
- We needed rules that would need as few referees as possible
- Generally speaking, we would prefer rules that we could change as desired without having to ask permission from someone else who was not a part of our gaming group.

And so we sat down and put together everything we liked in other systems. The result leaned heavily on DragonSys but tried to keep the flavour of the game the same as it was before... trying to change just the mechanics and leaving the gaming part as similar to what people were used to as possible. We asked everyone who was interested what they liked and what they would like to see in the game and gave everyone the opportunity to read new rules and comment on them. The attempt was called 'NeCroSys' as an acronim for 'New Croatian System', and it failed miserably.

The reasons for its failure were rather personal and had nothing to do with the quality of the rules, because we never had a chance to test them. Let's see...

- People were very attached to their charaters and felt that the rule of one life posed a terrible danger. Because with four lives you know that you have a second chance if anything happens, but with only one life you have to treat it very carefully and role-play all the consequences of its loss, by you or by your colleagues.
- The interest in role-playing part of the larp was sadly limited to a rather small group of players, much smaller than we thought. People liked to complain about things but were not ready to change them... and claimed that Amtgard was bad but people were used to it.
- People who were elected as our representatives in the Amtgard society were afraid that changing the rules would take away all of their in-game benefits they got in that way, and lobbied havily against any attempts to change.
- Organizational problems at the larp scene got so much out of hand that a large group of players simply decided that larp wasn't that much fun any more. Most of them were from the group that wanted to change and improve things.
- For some strange reason, people were loath to test new rules, prefering something that has already been tested and approved by someone else, probably thinking that the authority of some unknown people far away added to the quality of those rules.

Several years went by...

In that time we had contacts with other gaming groups from outside Croatia, talked to experienced players and saw a lot of alternative rules. A new generation of players appeared, younger people with different views and ready for new ideas. People who saw what the old players had to offer and wanted to make it better. People who saw other kinds of larp and liked them. People with strange ideas ranging even as far as playing with no rules at all. People trying out new rules and new systems, like the German 'ConQuest' (a popular version of DragonSys). New times have arrived.

We got a little bit older, too, and decided to go about rules in a drastic way. We rewrote the complete rules, changed the setting from pure fantasy to quasi-realistic middle ages, removed all the magic except for ritual magic, one powerful attack spell and a lot of simple charms for defense, and kept just those mechanisms that we felt would be really neccessary for normal role play, not limited just to combat. It gave the rules a local historical flavour and we are really interested in ways the new rules would affect the way the game is played as well as the types of scenarios new rules would call for. 

So at this moment a new version of NeCroSys is waiting for people willing to try them out... 

NeCroSys failed, but it was widely discussed at the time. When I look at Terra Nova LARP and ConQuest ruleset it uses, it's not so different from an early version of NeCroSys, in fact characters would be quite interchangable. Terra Nova also sparked arguments, and one of the reasons Terra Nova eventually succeeded was that unlike NeCroSys it didn't try to change the scene - Terra Nova is a new LARP with new story and new characters, something that would have been much harder to swallow for the more unified Croatian LARP community at time NeCroSys tried to make changes. Switching the entire LARP scene to a new system - like NeCroSys tried - was a very ambitious attempt, and one can only wonder what would it look like had it succeeded...

I found this old 2003 version of NeCroSys in the dark corners of my hard disk. Tomislav was kind enough to send me a most recent one that he mentions near the end of the text - parts of the planned (but never done) quasi-historical setting can be seen in that one. They're in Croatian - no English version. Perhaps you can use them to start a larp? Or get some ideas from them? In any case, they're a piece of history that was ahead of its time, written 9 years before the first non-Amtgard-like fantasy LARP in Croatia (Terra Nova) and first event with rules fully written by Croats (Steampunk LARP - Para pokreće svijet).


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