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Plot structure on larps

A lot of larpers (and larp organizers) never think twice about HOW the larp plot is structured - or even created, instead following in the footsteps of their predecessors and how things have always been done. Plot structure can have profound effect on a larp - different plot structure can give a way different feel to how plot works, and can make them look and feel very very different from one another regardless of the rule system used or not used. It is one of the most important aspects of any larp.

This article will cover several ways to structure the plot. But of course, this is a place where you can get inventive and combine listed methods, use some of the unlisted or even invent your own. As far as I know, methods of structure so far haven't been categorized in any way, which means I'm probably just inventing the classification here. Yes, feel free to use or modify it for your own purposes (as a reminder: everything I write here is free and reusable, though I could use your support if you're feeling generous).


1. External plot


By external plot, I mean the plot which is mainly created by player characters as a reaction to some external stimuli, which is considered the plot device. Player characters can react to the situation in the environment and/or NPCs and similar tools.


1.1. Environment plot


Environment is a key component to some larps, on which most of the reactions and plot comes from the unique condition imposed on everyone involved. Larps involving the environment as a major component are usually short, because the novelty of the situation might wear off. Sample plotline: stuck in the elevator.

Larps which were run in Croatia that used Environment plot as a main plot structure: Love is Blue, Death of the Japanese Emperor, Limbo.


1.2. NPC Timetable


NPC Timetable is a series of events which happen during a larp in a prescripted manner, and which are facilitated by NPCs. Those NPCs face the players with plot elements as according to the timetable. Sample timetable: 11:00 orcs attack. 12:00 puzzle time. 14:00 lunch break. 16:00 side tasks that will help complete the main story in a predetermined manner. 19:00 orcs attack. 21:00 showdown with the big bad guy, and eventual completion of the event.

Larps which were run in Croatia that used NPC timetable as a main plot structure: nearly all of them.


1.3. Linear plot


Similar to the NPC timetable, but executed as a series of events. Players are traveling from one plot point until the next one, and the organizers and NPCs set up "encounters" along the way. Linear plots can feel cinematic, but railroaded. Sample plot: A damsel in distress sends you to recover her heirloom from an enemy house; along the way, you encounter bandits; an injured merchant; a roadblock that you have to solve; a peasant asking you for help (that is actually a thief); house guards (passed by battle, diplomacy or stealth); and finally an opposing noble herself (which could be solved through battle or thievery).

Larps which were run in Croatia that used Linear plot as a main plot structure: several Maksimir events by Ognjeni Mač, and first Larpcraft quest.


1.4. Hook and module


A lot of American larps are organized in this way. Players are at a static location (such as a tavern), where they encounter plot hooks such as ads, NPCs etc. who lead them on "modules" which often work like linear plots mentioned above. An event would consist of multitude of such smaller plots.

No Croatian larps used that method as primary structure, although it was used a few times.


2. Internal plot


Internal plot is character-driven. Where everything that happens happens because it's desired by characters without existing external stimuli.


2.1. Prewritten goals


This is probably the most universal larpwriting model used worldwide. In some larps, it's how all characters are written. They can be used with both player-written characters and organizer-written characters. Even in larps when it only applies to NPCs, this method is still there. Basically, you give a player a goal (or a list of goals) to complete. Sample goal: become the Prince of the city. Goals can be personal, faction-based or global.

Larps which were run in Croatia that used Prewritten goals as a plot structure: Para pokreće svijet, A Party Full of Secrets, The Elder Scrolls Chronicles, Star Wars.


2.2. Character history


Sometimes what drives the plot is not in what happens globally or what characters are trying to accomplish, but who they are and what they did - and the story is unfolded as secrets from their past leak... This usually requires detailed pre-written characters, although you could also try using the Ball of Yarn method with an existing group.

Larps which were run in Croatia that used Character history as a plot structure: Tragači zore, Koliba


3. Others


There are ways of writing plot which can't be directly described as external or internal.


3.1. Resource control


When there's a limited number of resources that everyone wants to have, the in-character competition creates emergent plot around them. It's pretty much basic human nature observable throughout our history on scale both large and small.

Many larps use this principle to a certain degree, but there are a few which relied on this as main plot motivator. In Croatia, these were: Izgon (with mana directly representing resources) and Camarilla Agram (where positions, status, boons, blood bonds and knowledge the others possess are various forms of "currency").


3.2. Fateplay


Fateplay is an interesting thing. It resembles prewritten goals, but instead of giving you something to try, it dictates what to do and it is not optional. Example: On the second day of the larp you will challenge a man wearing the white hat to a duel, and you'll lose that duel. It sounds controlling and constraining, but fateplay can actually be spoiler-free and still allow for surprizes. Say, if the man with the white hat was a father of a girl that fell madly in love with your character (due to another fate that she had). The larp that is based on fate will have key points that will trigger and which are directed, but everything else is up to player interpretation. More information about fateplay is available here, here and here.

Few larps ever have been written as pure fateplay larps. None in Croatia yet.


Conclusion


This article is basically just an introduction to the various ways you can structure plot on larps - there are many more, and a lot could be written about every example I gave. I hope it gave you something to think about and consider - whether you're attending larps or making them. Where does the plot come from?

Is the guy you end up in combat with a balanced challenge put there by GMs, or a player playing out his fate, or simply someone going after his goals?

In most cases, it won't be as clear cut as these categories. Sometimes it can be done in a way that won't work for most (e.g. a larp which asks players to bring their own plot, but provides them with no support mechanisms for that), or it will be misunderstood for something else and derided for something that goes against the organizer's way of thinking.

Best advice I could give is for larp organizers to really think about and be transparent to what their larp is, what do they expect of players, and what can they offer. And for players, if you're not clear about how this larp (or your character) is supposed to be played - ask! Lack of communication between players and organizers can only leave both sides frustrated.

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