Back in the playground or why Luke Skywalker needs no rules.

When I was in first school I used to play chase, middle school as kids we used to play A-Team and Dempsy and Makepeace. We didn’t have rules arguments when I was being Luke Skywalker (along with three other kids, cause you can have more than one Luke Skywalker as a kid!). We just had fun. When I got to secondary school, well to be fair secondary school we just played at having hormones, it was very similar to the Larping community and Facebook. Lots of arguments over nothing punctuated with look at me drama and the occasional real horror story that put problems aside and everyone got on for five minutes before we all remembered we were special.

But back to my point, I grew up on Clive Barkers Imajica and Weaveworld, Twin Peaks, Zenith, Frank Herbets Dune and Lovecraft. I ran Cyberpunk/Cuthulu mash ups because of the tenuous link between humanity and sanity. Hell I my fairy tale was Hellraiser (seriously, Cenobites are the dwarves, Frank is the mirror and there is even a wicked step mother, go look at it. It’s Snow White). I was lucky in the sense that my schools encouraged imagination, and that even with my dyslexia in secondry school my English teacher encouraged me to ‘write weird’ and ‘use my imagination’. Everything in fiction I loved tended to be without limits, flights of fantasy that horrified, inspired and

I never played D and D till I was something like 16 or 17 and hated it. Silly questions like, why wizards do have to memorise spells? Why can’t I play an orc? And why do we have to play Grayhawk, can’t we just create our own stuff came unbidden, while older and wiser folk told me that this was how it must be young one. Oh and that Vampre was a shit system because you’re supposed to kill the Vampires…. And I discovered the rules argument, the idea that a bunch of people sat down together, ostensibly friends, arguing the toss over rules. It’s a weird thing. We never argued about Dempsy and Makepeace (although we were all a bit confused why we liked Makepeace so much.), hell we didn’t even put limits on stuff. It was perfectly reasonable for BA to have a lightsabre and pity Darth Vader’s foolishness. It has always seemed to me that Roleplay and Larp wants to contain and control, while as a kid we just wanted fun, indulge our flights of fantasy, maybe some ice cream and very probably around 12 to want to see Makepeace naked.

d and m

If you will pardon my pretention for a moment while I paraphrase Piccaso, He learned to draw and paint very early and is in fact the only childhood prodigy in art. He said he spent the rest of his life trying to paint through a childs eyes again.

Nowadays in Larp I’m pretty lucky, I don’t have a ‘x system is shit I won’t do it’ attitude to things (although I have a pathological fear of the number 6 for some reason, I blame Emma and Kat) and recently have been pretty lucky writing alongside some people I actually respect. Seriously, both of them. One of the thing that has come out of this is I hate rules.

Now I get it, we need them for fireballs and shit, and that’s cool I suppose. The thing is though I’ve played a few rules light or no rules systems recently and they work. Not just, serviceable, but actually don’t have arguments, no one broke my ‘emershuns and it was lots of fun. Most refs involved in those systems say if you treat players like adults, most of the time they act like it.

Now I’m going to just pick two things with this have a pop at and the first up is the ever popular ‘Players cheat we need rules cause cheating’

Now it’s bollocks, maybe there is a minority, but most of the time it’s down to misunderstanding rules. I’m not even going near how much the assumption of cheating is a little on the paranoid side. The fact is that trust breed’s trust and every system that’s been rules light has not had cheating. You can’t. No rules to break.

Next up ‘But you need character creation to make sure people don’t make uber characters and Mary Sue’

Wow, now I think that statement says more about the person saying it than the player base. Most players I know stick flaws in their characters; play a person over skills anyway, so why would you assume that players are just going to play an 80’s power fantasy action movie character in your Larp? Hell even if they did, all the other players will look at them and shame should set in. Not taking your hits? Well when you are responding to solid hits via rp and factoring armour, the ‘Yeah that’s about right’ count is better than the mental maths bit (Empire I love your global hits.). In some games I’ve been rocking stupid hits, I tend to just fall over when it seems right anyway, why not make that the damned rules integrated. Got a game with guns in it and you have a physrep that fires? Fall over when you get , hit by a sword, well it hurt, got hit by a full swing from a dane axe or ubersword of doom, fall over. Common sense kinda rules here. Someone taps you with a sword which they hold it like it’s not made of metal and swing it like it’s made of air, ask politely where they purchased their aluminium sword then hit them with your shield (not available in all systems.). On a side note everyone should swing a Falchion once, seriously, give it a full swing and see if you can change direction.

So if we make the assumption that as players we don’t cheat and that we aren’t going to take the piss with our characters where do we need rules?

The stuff we can’t do.

Magic, super powers, cybernetics, hacking and engineering. Or in my case being civil to other humans without puking. But do we need it? Assuming that us players don’t cheat (Never catch on) let’s assume that medicine, hacking etc works. That they roleplay and it works. You put the damned thing in for them to get past anyway right? You didn’t put an encounter with a security lock in you expected your players to fail at did you? There will either be a key card or an engineering skill to get past it. Why do you need rules at that point? Then let them ic role-play and figure it out and create the drama. Most modern table tops are even giving xp and in depth skills rules the heave ho, rather relying on players to choose traits and backgrounds that define what they can do. More focus on the person than the rule system in character creation.

Is medicine going to be better if you say it works if you role-play well or if you say here’s the mechanics do that.

The only things left are ‘supernatural/tech powers’, character death and pvp.

PvP, let’s assume that people take their hits and are up for a laugh. No problem unless you get ‘Ultra competitive alpha person who must win.’ You didn’t want that dickhead anyway right?

Character death? With no experience system whys character death important? You’re not getting uber characters with huge amounts of skill points (who incidentally are hard to kill anyway, cause all the skill points.) People will retire as and when they get bored or when it’s dramatically appropriate, leading to cool deaths not death by toilet goblins. The counter argument is where’s the game? Well where is the game honestly? Is arbitrary death on a battlefield against the big bad that needs to go down at some point or you are rerolling your entire system actually a game? Are wank npc flange game? Is having to flange clues in for players who missed something to keep the plot on track game? What the bloody hell is the game in a Larp?

Supernatural powers etc *

Maybe if they aren’t bits of paper to be torn and calls they will gain some more weight (plus you save a tree by trusting your players not to over cast and cheat). Last Norseman events one of the seers predicted night time attacks (rare at Norsemen), exorcised someone and summoned a swamp that actually stopped 4 players in their tracks as they walked through a real swamp. No rules, just cool play on the characters part and refs listening to what he was doing and adding it in.

Did Merlin or Gandolf chuck fireballs? Nope Curses and rituals, or just balls out ‘I’m a wizard don’t fuck with me’ Can you do laying on hands? Hell yes. Can you bind someone to your will? Hell yes if you have a good monster crew who pick up on what the player is doing when they start speaking in tongues or obviously beguiling. All of a sudden magic has become a more mysterious. Want rules for it? Make them IC metaphysics., not calls and timings. Hell a curse to ‘die in this battle’ and seeing the monster get cut down is twenty times cooler than magic missile 3.245 to the face followed by bad miming.


Want to summon something in the ritual circle? Well do it, just be aware it might not work or it might turn up later. Want to ming up a sword? Why? No need now. But you could now do something cool and roleplay with it. Make it the bane of the big bad, bind a gaes into it so the weilder cannot die until it is fulfilled. Make it a legendary story rather than a Diablo pick up. Talk to the ref team about what could be cool, or add to the story. Use your ritual to drive your characters narrative and bring people along. It doesn’t actually have to shoot lightning bolts to be cool.

What’s the worst that could happen? It might go wrong, but we are in this for fun and you know what I’m still Luke Skywalker when I swing a sword, not someone who went to a field to run numbers and shout powers. As Clive barker put it
If I wanted that, well there’s WoW and Knights of the old republic. I don’t need a field to xp grind or juggle powers. I’m not saying burn all the rule systems and nail people who like xp to a wall, just maybe look at the different things out there with an open mind and give them a go, least you miss out on something cool.

We’re too much ourselves. Afraid of letting go of what we are, in case we are nothing, and holding on so tight, we lose everything else.” 
 Clive Barker, Imajica

*Obviously doesn’t include superhero’s, but if you’re doing that, you have enough childhood cool that you won’t need rules ever, I was Captain America all the time at school, just need epic punching and even better one liners. If you can actually make me fly I’m in. This is in no way a plug for what looks amazing in the shape of Dan and Kelly’s new Superhero game Futures End, but it is and I promise not to wear Lycra.

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