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Just as many typical RPGs teach us that violence can solve most problems and that a (truly) dead enemy poses no problems, LARPers around my area (Moscow, Russia) are typically very quick to kill characters of other players, showing very little respect to the lives of sentient beings (not saying "humans" to avoid fantasy racism).

It is common to just go your way on a road and be killed by robbers who just wanted to take your couple of coins, and the robbers can turn out to be noble warriors. Non-lethal weapons are usually not even present in the combat system. Most conflicts are resolved by armed combat, and armed combat usually goes until one side is fully disabled, and being disabled usually means that death is just a matter of time, perhaps it will happen right away, perhaps it will happen after being questioned.

Experienced players develop response measures to this. They try to get as many defensive bonuses as possible so it is harder to disable them, e.g. automatic town portal when they get hit, or try to generally buff their combat stats as high as possible. They try to strike first, and always finish their opponents to prevent potential revenge, which in turn would make themselves finished. They move in huge squads so fewer entities are actually dangerous for them.

Experienced players used to playing murderous cretins enjoy this, the victims of the murderous cretins typically don't enjoy losing their characters and the need to wait for a respawn. Stupid character deaths essentially remove players from the game for no in-game reason, which is obviously very frustrating.

It is worth noting that behaving like a murderous cretin in LARP is more disruptive than a similar behavior in tabletop because in LARP a real player loses their character and stuff, not an NPC.

The canonical question about casual violence in tabletop RPG has some awesome solutions for this problem in tabletop, but a lot of the solutions aren't applicable to LARP because they rely on the GM being in control of things -- he/she is not in control when the LARP event begins.

Why?

  • There are no NPCs to serve as an example because the few NPCs that are present are not enough. Even if NPCs show disdain about anti-social behavior, other player characters are usually OK with casual violence.
  • Players don't care much about the local law because they are the law. There is nobody capable of punishing High King's bodyguards who went on to earn some extra coins on the road and have slaughtered 15 people during that time, half of which were young women. There have been a few very rare cases when law enforcement had ultimate powers and was done by NPCs (e.g. if the palace guards announce you to be arrested, you are assumed to be automatically arrested with no chance to fight back). You are safe as long as you don't provoke the guards of your own home city.
  • There is also unlikely to be any revenge, as there are usually no witnesses of the murder, and people actually finish victims of armed robbery for this exact reason.
  • Most player characters don't care about murder being a wrong thing: because the players don't care. They probably should care, though.
  • Since killing anything that discomforts you is more effective than not killing it, players have no actual reason to change their behaviour.
  • A murder doesn't look like a murder. There is no blood, there are no internal organs falling from a cut abdomen and no enemy trying to keep those internal organs in place: because it would be hard to physrep this unless the murder scene is scheduled, which is typically not the case. Scheduled murders most likely mean an NPC death, and even those players who value character life often tend to neglect the lives of NPCs.
    • Another important reason is that players typically avoid roleplaying being wounded if they can avoid it, they just sit on their knee silently (our way to physrep being wounded or dead), don't plead for mercy, they just silently accept the death of their character. I don't know the exact reasons for this.
    • Moreover, a player roleplaying being wounded too well is likely to be asked if they are actually hurt and the game will stop for a moment. This could probably change if more players were OK with such roleplay, but since it's rare, it causes this unneeded reaction. Also, it does happen that a player gets hurt, and I would probably opt to keep my players asking if everything is OK.

It should be noted that just killing everything on your way typically doesn't give any mechanical advancements. People just kill to resolve conflicts even when it is not necessary, to remove witnesses and to take the property of the victims.

It is also worth noting that the game master is not supposed to interfere in the gameplay once the game begins. So any measures are to be taken in advance. It's possible to write the rules and to enforce them, it's possible to talk to players before the game, but I generally cannot come to a player during the game and tell them to stop doing something unless it's against the rules or unsafe.

So, as the host of the event, how can I prevent players from behaving like a bunch of murderous cretins?


By requests from comments:

  • Characters are usually not transferred from game to game even if they survive. It is rare to have LARP series, but this happens, and there are a few successful LARP groups that only play in series. So you can call it "one-shot". Some series begin unpredictably: one successful game happens, and the game masters decide to host a sequel game, allowing the players to use their old characters.
    • Because of the usual one-shot nature of the games, a lot of weird stuff often happens at the end of a typical game, making continuing the plot harder.
  • This problem generally persists from setting to setting and I don't see a correlation here. I have mostly played fantasy, but a zombie LARP where I basically was an NPC had this problem too. To be exact, here is a list of settings where I have seen it:

    • Witcher
    • Warhammer
    • Innistrad (part of Magic: The Gathering)
    • Vampire: The Masquerade (I was myself a murderous cretin there, but it was fully in-character; if you know the setting, my Humanity was around 3-4).
    • The Elder Scrolls

    Probably worth noting that I did not encounter this at the only Dragon Age LARP that I've attended, but that doesn't automatically mean that it didn't happen -- just that I have not seen it. This game also didn't include much personal conflict, it was more about the Blight. I could presume that a game being focused on an external threat partially solves the problem, but this needs further testing.

  • The quantity of players attending a given game can be very small (like 50-60 players) or very large (1000-3000 players), the "murderous cretins" behavior seems to be most common at the biggest projects and more rare on the small ones. The "average" game is typically attended by several hundred players (200-400).
  • The NPC crew is usually not big, as it is not feasible to have a big one. Generally about 1 NPC per 10 players, sometimes it is even less. Should be noted that some NPCs are typically non-combatants, meaning that they don't have the skills/health/equipment to meaningfully participate in combat. Combat encounters against NPCs usually involve either "dungeons" where there is a limit on the number of entrant PCs to ensure that NPCs have a quantity advantage, or "powerful monster" encounters, when a powerful NPC monster roams the area and looks for problems (the NPC uses this power to compensate for the quantity disadvantage here).
  • Players usually design their own characters themselves unless the game is particularly small. The range of their roles and nature is huge, it is not really possible to define it shortly. Some major characters can be created by the GMs, but the player can normally ask to have something changed.
  • Many types of combat can happen. It might be a duel of honor between two characters, or a small group of 5-6 bandits ganking one passer-by, or two squads of 10-15 soldiers fighting each other in open field, or a huge epic battle with two to three hundred participants per side (even if there are more players there, they don't usually rush into combat at the same time). There are two semi-important ones that are probably worth noting, though.
    • Army combat, a model simulating a clash between two big armies. In this case, this squad of 10+ soldiers (sometimes rules dictate 15+) represents a huge state army. The difference between a blob of 10 (or 15) characters and an army is that the army has a number of "respawn points" used to revive the fallen soldiers, so dying in an army doesn't make your character dead. Another rule often exists and tells that anyone or anything that is not an army and is attacked by an army is automatically hit and loses the combat.
    • Combat versus NPCs. The difference is that the NPCs don't really try to win -- they try to create a challenge and die to the players in the way that makes players feel overcoming this challenge. It is rare to die against NPCs, but it can sometimes happen, like a total party kill (TPK) in a dungeon. Also, when entering the dungeon, there is typically a limit on how many players can enter so that the NPCs have a quantity advantage and can be swarming the PCs (as noted above).
  • An interesting addition: player characters are also often ready to kill themselves, for example, if they are going to be interrogated and have a risk to give away some important information. The decision to commit suicide is (gladly!) a very hard one in real life for real people, but not for the LARP characters. It creates a vicious circle where characters don't value their life because it is easy to lose it on the road and kill themselves, and because human life isn't valued, it gets even easier to kill others without a strong reason, and easier to get killed.
  • As the players represent the most active part of the game world, game masters are usually not supposed to interfere. However, sometimes it is still needed. E.g.:
    • When a player character addresses a deity with their prayer, a deity can sometimes answer through a game master, and even give them something tangible.
    • Players entering a dungeon can get comments from the dungeon master like "You enter a dark, dark cave with stone walls. You see lyrium veins in the walls here, and those white strings look like spider web.".
    • Some supernatural powers need the player to talk to the GM so the game master can name the effect.
    • When players get, say, daily resources, they typically get them from "regional gamemasters", those responsible for a particular area in the game world.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, answers here should follow the the Back It Up! principle: Your answer should be based on personal experience of how that solution works out in practice in a LARP. The experience can be your own, or someone else's that you can cite. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 9 '18 at 22:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, are you open to significant changes in playstyle or core mechanics (e.g. eliminating combat entirely, or switching to consent-based combat resolution), or are you just looking for some trick to make your players behave differently while keeping essentially the same setting, theme and mechanics? Or something in between? \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen May 11 '18 at 4:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IlmariKaronen I would be interested in hearing about such a solution, perhaps I will even try such a thing once a day, but I am currently unlikely to accept it. Feel free to submit such an answer, though! Would be nice if you also write about the environment where you use your system. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 11 '18 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ You've actually reminded me of one historical LARP that I've been to 10 years ago where combat essentially required consent, but it made sense because it was about the French Queen's birthday, it was in a palace that was presumed to be full of guards who would detain anyone trying to start combat. To fight someone (to have a duel) people had to go to a designated place (a hidden place with no palace guards), take special protected equipment and swords, and fight using special rules. I remember this going well, so I would upvote your answer based on my experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 11 '18 at 5:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Frame challenge: All of this seems consistent with players not actually being invested in the setting, plot or characters. It makes much more sense if their objective in LARPing is to have fights and work off the frustrations of everyday life. And if that that's what's happening, recognising that issue is a necessary first step to doing anything about it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dallman Sep 13 '18 at 17:22
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Generally you need to build reasons why murder is disadvantageous into the setting. The details will tend to be very setting dependant, and will vary depending on what level and type of murder you want to include/exclude from your game. Below are some examples which I have seen work, with a bit of context on the game style.

Odyssey (~300 players): A game which featured 5 player factions based on classical myth. We designed the game to allow any PvP within a faction but very carefully controlled PvP between factions. A feature of the setting were real gods who would both speak to players after their death and enact punishment on their faction for violations of the worlds rules. If a member of one faction murdered a member of another faction then the gods would punish the entire faction of the murderer. Generally we would find murderers sacrificed to the gods before we even found out the murder had happened.

Maelstrom (~1000 Players): A game I played which featured both immortal souls and skills needed to speak to the dead. The game was highly political with shifting factions, as well as some NPC support for the hosting faction (which varied from event to event). The nature of the soul meant that it was difficult (but not impossible) to hide the details of a murder. Murder was common, but rarely done without planning and forethought, as it would tend to have consequences, especially if the event hosts were keen on law and order. Specifically, the friends of your victim would tend to find out that you were responsible for the murder unless you were clever and careful about a murder (sometimes even then). The friends of the victim would then speak to other groups with a reason to punish you. This could just be your enemies, it might be characters who have a strong desire to uphold the law, it might be mercenaries they have paid. However, a common outcome of murder was a large group of people (larger than any friends you might have) coming along and killing you.

Memento Mundi (4-8 players vs 6-14 monsters): A very small game which I ran for several years. This was a high combat game where killing the enemies was largely the point of the game. There were 2 ways a player might face repercussions for a murder. If the authorities in the city the players came from considered the victim a citizen and heard about the murder, then they might find themselves with a price on their head, unable to go on certain adventures, or even with exploding control collars round their neck. If the victim wasn't a citizen of the city then they were unlikely to face any consequences unless other players took issue with it or if they ran into an enemy force allied with the victim.

Specifics

You have a large number of players and a limited crew presence. This basically means that you need to find ways to ensure that your players are policing other players. You do this by ensuring that there are in-game laws of some sort, PCs gain advantage by enforcing them, and that players are broken up into subgroups so that any one sub-group is always outnumbered by everyone else.

You don't need just one set of laws though, and different player groups could gain benefit from enforcing different sets of laws.

Ensure there are people who wish to investigate and resolve murders:

  • If your setting has religion, ensure that variations of murder are condemned by each faith, and ensure that there is some sort of reward mechanism for upholding the faith
  • If your setting has off-stage rulers, then some of your players can be law enforcement. Again, ensure that there are benefits to upholding the law: promotions, greater resources, favours.
  • Your background material can talk about the virtues of ensuring that transgressions against you are yours should be punished, to show that future transgressions are unwise.

Ensure that murders can be investigated:

  • For example, get recently deceased players to provide you a short write up of what happened to them when they were murdered. Give it a quick review to ensure that everything in it is appropriately IC, and then provide that writeup to people who are using appropriate skills (magic/divination/etc) to investigate.
  • Give players the option to roleplay their corpse for a while, so that they can describe what has been done to their body. Potentially provide a means of talking to the dead.
  • On the rare occasions where you have spare GMs and know enough about the murder, hang around the crime scene giving characters little details like "there is a patch of yellow fabric caught on this tree"

Where possible, make murder cause problems for friends of the murderer:

  • This is where my example above of god-given punishments on an entire nation fit in.
  • Lost diplomatic opportunities can also work. NPCs don't necessarily want to share their plot and loot with characters known for harbouring murders.
  • If your setting features ghosts, then they can haunt those associated with their death, reducing income and resources. Nothing will encourage people to find and punish a murderer like a piece of paper reading "Angry ghosts haunt you sleep demanding justice for Bob, your mana pool is reduced by 1 until Bob's murder is caught."
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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, in point (1) you suggest divine punishment for a murder, delivered by NPCs. I will probably consider it, but this doesn't apply to most settings that I have listed in my question. In point (2) you suggest some consequences, but I don't understand which ones. Would be good if you cover this issue better. Point (3) is just not going to work in the circumstances I have listed in my question, see my question to learn why (In short: the players are usually the law) \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 10 '18 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nod I'll expand my answer a bit. I think I've got a bit of a better idea what you need now. \$\endgroup\$ – littlefeltfangs May 10 '18 at 16:31

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