On Saturday, Angela and I went for a walk and ended up talking mostly about gaming. Angela has a somewhat different perspective on gaming than I do. She never gamed growing up, but she had an old (1e) AD&D Monster Manual that she enjoyed. She got pulled into LARPing in college – first Vampire (which she didn’t really like the culture of) and then Wraith – which she ended up GMing. She played tabletop since then (Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Exalted, a bit of D&D, an ill-fated single session of HARP, etc.) and is now running a D&D game and playing in a Mage game.
Two observations she made:
1) D&D is like playing two games. One of these focuses on roleplaying. This game is intermittently broken up by the second game, based around miniatures.
This is a criticism that’s often levied at D&D. I find Angela’s observation interesting because I didn’t necessarily take it as a criticism – just an observation. She enjoys playing minis games (HeroScape seems to be a particular favorite, and she went through a period of time where she played a lot of Warhammer Quest) and sometimes I think that her favorite part of D&D is collecting minis that she can use.
2) She noted that GMing the Wraith game she felt more free than running D&D. LARP lends itself to things like using props, moving players from room to room in order to represent movement of PCs (and change player mindsets), and using body language to convey mood or NPC reactions. There’s less flexibility about such things when everyone’s sitting around the table.
This is a weird observation to me. I often felt limited in LARP in other ways… and find some liberation in pure reliance on imagination. On the other hand, I see the truth in it. In tabletop games, props are mostly limited to miniatures (and related things like terrain) and 2-D player handouts. When I played my last LARP character (a Pardoner in the Wraith game), I’d occasionally carry around a 6′ tall Giger-esque lantern. NPCs often had unique (and well-known) masks. Similarly, I do get frustrated when players in a tabletop game ‘forget’ that their characters aren’t present in a scene (either during it or later). In a LARP, that scene might happen in another room and only the PCs who are present actually take part.
Can a tabletop GM learn some things from LARP GMing techniques? Probably. I’m not sure how much would translate well, but it is an interesting question that I’ll have to give a bit more thought to…