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LARP Experiments #3 - Backgrounderator Print
Written by Nick Huggins   
Sep 14, 2009 at 05:13 AM

Got a bunch of people? Got a few hours? Want to play a theater-style LARP but you've got no handy scenario? "Backgrounderator" might be the answer...

It's one of the things that has always annoyed me about the particular brand of theater-style LARP that I've been involved in creating for a number of years now. The frequent mode of operation is that someone writes a scenario, and characters, and a plot, and then that same someone acts as referee. The players tend not to create characters, and the referee guy ends up doing a lot of work. Put simply, I wanted to hand some of that ownership for the characters back to the players - without losing the depth of character that the players like to have.

I wanted something that was short and easy - minimal rules, because I can't stand rules. I wanted something that would harness the players' ability to generate character background, but that would keep it within the game - If a player generates "the Purple Helmet - crusader for Justice!" in a game where everyone else is playing the servants of a nobleman then my system has failed.

Frequently I hear LARP people talking about character backgrounds, and the web of inter-relatedness that characters in LARPs have. So I decided to work with that. I further decided that the best way of making everyone create characters that are reasonable was to force it into a group activity. But of course that means that everyone knows everyone else's background. Not so good. The solution came from speed dating - Everyone co-creates a number of scenes with a partner; different partners for each scene. Let's not dig too far into why I started pulling ideas from the world of speed dating!

My worry was this - players of LARPs around here are used to being spoon-fed. What if they were struck by a lack of inspiration? What if they failed to agree with each other? I decided to give a randomly assigned "theme" to the players for the scene that they'd generate together - And I included 100 such "themes" (originally stolen from Mythic RPG but later refined into something less derivative.)

So... The Referee generates a plot; a reason for characters to get together. He or she may declare where formative scenes will take place, and then assign partners among the player group. The players, for their part, take any character ideas they may have and generate a number of scenes, each one with a different partner. These scenes define how each character knows some or all of the other characters, and gives us some nice background.

Here's an example: I'm given a character that reads "You're one of the nerds in your class." I'm assigned a partner for my first scene - she's been told she's one of the popular kids. The Referee says that the first scene takes place in class one day. We generate a number between 1 and 100 (we use dice!) and consult the table, coming up with "Best Friends Forever." How odd between a nerd and a popular kid! After some thought we decide that our nerd helped our popular kid out with some work that needed doing, and they've shared a close bond ever since. My next scene partner is told that he's a jock, and our scene takes place at the prom. We get "a body of water" and, well, there's only one way that can play out - my poor nerd gets thrown in the school swimming pool in his tux.

So at the end of the character creation process my character has a friend and an enemy, and most importantly has good reasons for that - and character background that the game can leverage.

I've tried this approach on three games so far, with varying levels of success, but don't take my word for it. Look up "History Repeats" or "Thingummy Bob's" in the scenario archive. If you have a try with your own play group let me know how it went!

User Comments

Comment by GUEST on 2009-09-14 11:28:41
interesting idea. Im here in the middle of generating Character Backgrounds for my first LARP and its nice to see another spin on it. Im going down the route of generating the backgrounds myself here, using a system called Central Casting, an old manual a friend gave me...but if things go well with this LARP, i may try your technique next time. Cheers Nick!

Comment by GUEST on 2012-09-26 22:22:06
There was a comment buroght up regarding what happens when a front row is sent off to the sin-bin. The original suggestion in Issue 9 was incorrect! While the team with the binned front row player can choose any player, it most certainly would not likely be a back! This would leave a gaping hole in their defense. My apologies for this error! And the current issue 9a has the correction in it.Again: the correct action is that the team can choose *any* of their players, of course, but they most likely would choose a flanker. Thanks RP!

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Comment by GUEST on 2015-11-22 05:27:55
Oct31Danny Gonzalez Hello Freddie I have been really busy, but I've been lntiensig to all of your podcasts straight through. Anyways, I was wondering if you guys still wantedTo play warhammer 40k. It would be awesome if you were still interested, I have some models, problem was that I never had anybody to play with. So never got the chance to play. It would be great to have my first warhammer battle with you guys. Danny G.P.S. I also played magic for a short time. And I am interested in LARPing

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Last Updated ( Sep 14, 2009 at 05:50 AM )
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