Skip to main content

NPCs, game styles and role-playing

I've considered including this topic in "start a larp" series, but in reality this will be something that's hopefully useful to all players and game masters in understanding how a particular larp is designed. NPCs are a term descended from tabletop RPGs, meaning non-player characters. Tabletop role-playing games have a single dungeon master/game master/storyteller who, besides leading the story, also plays all the extra characters who make that story possible.

In larp, things don't work the same way as in tabletop. Because, you know, the game is live. There's a variety of ways to put NPCs in game, play them, and plenty of games work just as fine without any NPCs.

I'll define four broad categories of larps, considering how their story is designed with NPCs in mind. Most larps will probably fall somewhere between these categories.

1) Jumper NPCs
Few people playing are playing several NPCs - usually (with several exceptions) expendable and shallow characters intended as an obstacle. NPCs are typically played by organizers. The style of such games is usually gamist, close to tabletop, and quite dynamic, with lot of variety but limited depth.

2) Permanent NPCs
A larger group of people dedicated to play NPCs, playing (usually) a single role each. Will be less dynamic than 1), but it usually provides greater depth, better NPC costuming and more consistent world than 1). Requires finding sufficiently numerous and dedicated NPC player base, and won't work on smallest larps where every person matters.

3) Integrated NPCs
Like 2, but designed in such a way that a line between players and NPCs is blurred, and any differences between the two are minor and not apparent at first. Here, NPCs don't usually run the plot but help the larp happen.

4) No NPCs
Fully open games, with GM provided background but player decisions only. Players provide all the content, and can be - to a point - directed by GM, or not. Sometimes players or player groups take the same role as NPCs in other larps.

It's important to repeat that all these game styles - from perspective of NPCs existing or not - are valid, they just typically result in something different.

Most Croatian larps are organized like 1, some are moving toward 2 though. Terra Nova's goal is halfway between 2 and 3 (once enough NPCs sign up). ConQuest of Mythodea is 2 with touches of 3, Drachenfest is 3 with touches of 2. Our Steampunk is 4 with a bit of 1. Hungarian Chronicles of Demgard are 4, as well as most nordic larps.

All those styles are valid ways to play and there's lessons to be learned from each.

Play every character you play with a clear purpose in game. Nevermind if the game is totally open or railroaded, stay true to your characters. I've seen it numerous times that people play NPCs well, but their own characters are just fantasy version of themselves, acting as if they came to a picnic. Don't be like that and never be afraid to give your characters personality and attitude. Stand out and act more like an NPC. Characters like these are more interesting to play, and they're more fun for other people too. And, you might learn something new.

If you're casting NPCs, make them as close to players as possible. Give them real motivations, real expectations, and detail. Give them a framework, a way of thinking, not just set things to do. If you're playing NPCs, GM will provide you with a description, but feel free to fill the blanks - it will make the character more alive, more fleshed out. Design them and play them as you would PCs.

Do this because it's your game and you want to improve it. Improve the immersion for you and other players on your larp. If you've been playing the same way for quite a while, there are always ways to improve it or try something new. There are always new experiences, and there's always something new that can inspire you...

Give it a go, enrich your larp. It will be worth it.

Popular posts from this blog

The 15 rules of larp

The following 15 rules (warning: strong language) were written some years ago in Great Britain, and have been pretty much generally accepted on the British larp scene. Especially popular is rule 7 - widely known by its number and commonly considered to be the most imortant rule of all (and I agree). Even the biggest British larp forum has taken Rule7 as its name.

The rules have been originally created by the Drunken Monkeys and edited by Rick Wynne who added some extra stuff in the explanations to make them more understandable to international audience (it still contains some British larp lingo though), more work-safe and to throw in his two cents. (copy of the original wording is available here)

1. Don’t play a mighty warrior; play a warrior and be mighty.
Don’t label your character. As soon as you say that you are the best swordsman in the land someone will come along and kick your ass. Just get into the mindset of the person and role-play it out.

2. No one cares about your character b…

These 10 Easy Steps Are All You Need To Start Larping!

"How to become a larper? How to start larping? Where do you begin? How to join a larp? How to prepare for your first event? How to gear up? What do I need to know for my first larp?" Etc.

These are all questions that people interested in larp ask all the time. And in over three years of writing this blog and over 350 posts on it, I just remembered I haven't written any decent advice for new and potential players. And that's why it's harder than it seems. Not preparing for your first larp, but writing about it. Different larps can be quite different, and can be even more confusing to existing larpers (used to another style) than to those who never larped before.

However, I decided to do it - and write a comprehensive guide about it, with a catchy Upworthy-style title that's sure to catch the attention, right? After all, it did catch yours. Below you will find a 10-step guide that will answer the most fundamental questions about larping that you might have.


Mind's Eye Theatre: Werewolf The Apocalypse rulebook review

Just under three years ago I wrote a review for Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade rulebook. It was the first book published by By Nights Studio, and a year later I reviewed one of its supplements - Storyteller Secrets.

Now, after a long period of work, after the success of their kickstarter campaign, By Night Studios finally released the full version of the new larp rules for Werewolf the Apocalypse setting. This was preceded by various alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omega slices - each containing a different playtest version of the rules, slowly released from September last year until July this year.

First impressions were that the artwork is very cool, and that the book is HUGE. Numbering at 762 pages, that's over 200 pages more than Vampire the Masquerade.

But before I start going in-depth, I'd like to mention that this blog's readers come from various backgrounds - and I'll adjust my review accordingly. I assume I'll have some larpers who haven't p…