My last article asked the question “Is Amtgard a LARP”. My answer was yes, but with the caveat that the role-play amount varies by park and region. While writing that article I started to describe ways to improve the role-play in the community but decided I was drifting too far away from the main point of the article. From that tangent this article was born. I’ll be talking about ways you can increase the RP in your area. In most cases it will take the effort of one or more individuals to achieve. Not all of the ideas will work for you, but at the very least it might inspire you to come up with your own methods.
There are three basic categories I’ll be talking about, battle games, themed battle games and quests plus a bonus hybrid category. You can achieve various levels of role-play within those three categories, with the least role-playing coming from the standard battle games and the most coming from the quest. In each section I’ll explain the premise, explain how it can be implemented and give an example of how it can work.
By far the activity you probably play the most at your park is the battle game. They typically offer the least amount of role-play. They are often fast paced, pvp, goal oriented affairs, but if you look for it you can find ways to inject some role-play. It’s all in your perspective. What I’m going to suggest doesn’t allow for interactive role-play but it does allow you to feel more like you’re playing a character and not just playing a role.
Before you play in a game create a basic persona that you play when you go into a battle game. What is your character’s personality,what is their race, what do they like to do, how do they like to achieve their goals? How does your character’s powers manifest? What class, or classes do they like to play? Once you are able to answer some or all of these questions you are already on the road to role-playing in a battle game.
Take me for an example. I like to play as a gnome but I didn’t want to stick to just playing the monster version after I hit level 6. I decided my character was a tinkerer gnome. He liked to create magic infused mechanical devices to achieve his goals. Sometimes he wanted to aid combat by providing those devices to other people while sometimes he wanted to join in combat and use the devices himself.
The class I chose to to first represent my character was a Summoner Druid. I built a spell list around him creating a mechanical golem to fight his battles for him. He also handed out various devices to other players to aid them in fighting. If I wanted to fight I would instead take Avatar of Nature and build myself spell infused mechanical suits to go and fight in.
I could take this approach and apply it to any of the classes. This type of role-play doesn’t affect anyone else but it’s fun to imagine you taking on a persona and playing a character. If you get enough people interested in playing the game from this perspective you are on the way of creating an environment for role-playing.
Themed Battle Games.
Themed battle games can inject a level of storytelling you don’t find in your typical battle game and it’s so easy to do. The basic idea is rather simple. You take a battle game, such as capture the flag, and frame it in such a way as to be narrative driven. For example, the capture the flag could be two competing armies fighting over a resource for their respective kingdoms.
It can also get somewhat complex, you could make a series of connected battle games that have a larger overall effect. For example you could make it a series of battles that determine territory, Risk style. You take two or more teams and have them battle over various territories. It would be best played over several weeks or maybe a reign. Set a specific number of games and at the end of those battles, add up the territories and the team with the most territories wins. In this scenario it’s best that you play different styles of games to keep it varied. You could also change up terrain rules to simulate different terrains.
Doing a group of theme linked battle games such as the one described above can create an environment for role-play. It can help people feel like they are part of a larger story; it encourages them to get involved in their team, which in the example above, could actually be a whole kingdom. They could be encouraged to create a symbol for their kingdom, a motivation for why they are fighting, maybe they will develop a moto or a set of goals for their kingdom. The sky’s the limit.
The best thing about the themed battle is that at its heart it is a battle game, just dressed up. For people that don’t care if they feel like they are role-playing, they won’t feel like they are being infringed on and the people that want to feel like they are part of a story will feel like they are part of a story. This is also a great way to introduce role-play in a minor way to get people hyped for the idea of a more involved formed of Amtgard role-play, the quest.
When people think of role-play in Amtgard most of them think of a quest. Quests can vary greatly from kingdom to kingdom and from park to park. It all depends on who is running it and how they approach them. They can be fairly simple, being little more than a themed battle game or it can be as complicated as an interactive D&D adventure. It’s a combination of the area’s culture and the person who creates it.
One of the simplest quests I’ve seen was a kingdom relic quest. The goal of the quest was to have the relics go out to the players. The creator wanted to keep it simple and straightforward. The setup was that several monsters were guarding a bunch of supplies needed to make the relics. The goal was to defeat or distract the monsters so you could get the supplies. The winning condition was having all the supplies returned to an NPC.
This was basically version of a capture the flag battle game. What made this not a simple battle game was that the players were broken up into adventuring parties and were battling monsters. I believe the teams were up to five people and the opposing force was made up of non-players. It could also be argued there was a chance to RP with the monsters and the NPC who was themed as an alchemist. As I said this is the most basic quest I’ve encountered.
On the other spectrum you can have quests which are fairly complex. They take more work and may take more NPCs, so they are more difficult to organize. In the more complex quest you can have interactive NPCs which give out information. You have encounters which allow for role-play to overcome while still having some encounters which require combat. You can have multiple winning conditions that vary the outcome. Maybe you could add a multi-step objective to win. You can create a multi-layer quest where there are mini-quests you can complete along the way to completing the main quest. Your imagination is the limit.
While this article isn’t about how to run quests, I will give some advice since it can be overwhelming. While I said imagination is the limit, you have to make sure the steps to completing the quest are clear and concise. You don’t have to blatantly tell them what the goal is, but it’s important to make sure the information is clear and easily obtainable. You will also find that what you might think is obvious might not be obvious to the players. The more complex it is the more you are going to have to be willing to be flexible. Part of running a large quest is managing unforeseen problems. You have to be willing to change some things. Experience will tell you what you should or should not change.
Mixing Battle Games and Quests
Bonus category! I wanted to take some time to talk about how you could combine battle games and quests to further cultivate role-play. It isn’t an overly complicated idea but it’s fairly new in my area. The idea is that you have a themed battle game that connects to a quest. This can be basic or as complex as you’d like. I’ll be using my event, Shattered Kingdoms, which has been doing this for over 5 years now. It’s a Thursday to Sunday role-playing campout.
In our 5th year the players started out by journeying to the kingdom of Onseuk. Along the path they encountered a graveyard overrun with undead. They had to destroy the graveyard to stop the undead from rising. This took the form of a three stage hold the point battle game. To defeat the undead they had to hold the first point for 5 minutes, simulating destroying the area, before moving on to the next area, doing this a total of three times. This encounter set the tone for the whole event.
After defeating the undead they continued along their way and found a village to spend the night at. This section of the event was open world questing. There were several mini quests which told various parts of the story for the weekend, many of them informing players of the various going ons of the kingdom and what they might expect. The two main themes they were supposed to learn is that there was a higher than normal amount of undead and that there was a bandit problem in Onseuk.
The next day the players encountered a guard tower which was no longer inhabited with guards but with bandits. They were demanding gold from the players. This encounter took the form of a keep battle with life shatter component. The bandits each had five lives and the goal was to shatter them. Near the end of the battle a wave of undead attacked the players from the side, just to remind them that there was also an undead threat. The next part of the day was another quest segment. They arrived at the Kingdom and they were tasked by the king to find the source of the bandit threat and eliminate it.
I think you get an idea of how you can incorporate battle games into a story for a quest. This can play out at the local level too, it doesn’t have to be just at a campout. You can do it over several park days, maybe over a whole reign. Battle games are a useful tool to tell pivotal moments in a larger story, it’s something fun that a game master can tinker with and add to their tool box.
There are lots of ways in which you can cultivate role-play. All it takes is some work. At the basic level, the battle game, it’s about how you perceive your character and their role. It involves a low level of commitment, it’s also probably the least satisfying. The other two options, themed battle games and quests require a lot more work. If you don’t already have any form of themed battle games or quests in your area you have your work cut out for you.
You might find you will have to take it upon yourself to help create the culture where role-play can flourish. The best approach is to get at least a few people together, brainstorm some ideas and then approach the monarchy. In my experience if you come to the monarchy with a well thought out plan they will give it some serious consideration. I would suggest starting at the local level, work there, get some experience and then look towards the kingdom level.
If you take some of the steps that I suggest here, I think you’ll find that people will be more open to the idea of role-play in Amtgard. You may never get the immersion you can find at some of the other LARPs, but I think you’ll find a marked improvement in the role-play experience in Amtgard.