Escalation of power is a common source of problems in boffer LARPs. Like in tabletop RPGs, characters gain experience over time, which translates through some mechanism into power. In your typical Accelerant boffer campaign LARP, this comes in the form of Character Points, aka CP, which get spent on increasing stats and new abilities.
Why we have escalation in a campaign LARP feels self-evident to most LARPers, I think, but to put some of the reasons into words, we can look at it from the GNS theory (which, again, shows itself to be useful terminology despite its flaws.) From a Gamism point of view, it’s a reward for success(not winning, that’s different- winning implies completion, while success implies part of an ongoing process) even if succeeding means only surviving another event. It’s satisfying to unlock new abilities and move ever forward into bigger challenges. From a Narrativism point of view, escalation of power allows the scope of a LARP to increase in drama and tension- we start campaigns by using mundane daggers to fight bug monsters and risking getting cut, and end them by using magic flaming swords to fight demons and risking the end of the world if we fail. Plus, new abilities gives us new fun “toys” to with which our characters tell their personal stories, new ways to interact with the world of the LARP. And from a Simulationism point of view, it represents our characters learning and improving with practice over time- how our experiences in the world of the LARP have real impact on our characters.
All good reasons.
The problems escalation causes include things like power disparity- this isn’t Dungeons and Dragons, where players tend to level up simultaneously in a system that attempts to provide some sort of balance between the different characters. Some players become much more powerful than others over time. This means that combat has to either ramp up in danger (more powerful monsters, more dangerous traps, etc.)- which makes it very tough for weaker players (generally, the newer characters) to accomplish anything in combat before getting steamrolled, or else combat stays low in terms of challenge level, and the higher level players smash their way through it.
But we need at least some power escalation in order to have NPCs (non-player characters, such as monsters to fight, enemies, townsfolk who need help, etc.)
In Accelerant (and some other systems), there’s a system of CP exchange that provides LARPs with NPCs- people spend weekends playing monsters and such for LARPs in order to earn CP for their own characters in other campaigns. In other words, I might spend a weekend playing an NPC at The Calling in order to earn more CP for my character in Lost Eidolons. (Which contrasts with systems like that of Knight Realms, which has its own players do NPC shifts during the weekend… something I’d be very interested to hear about from players.)
I feel as though there’s no such thing as too many NPCs for a boffer LARP. Most of the boffer battles I’ve been in, PCs have outnumbered the NPCs by a considerable amount. Orchestrating combat where PCs (player characters- the heroes played by LARPers) are outnumbered is hard to do a lot of, unless you’re willing to have a lot of PCs sitting in the tavern and waiting. (And being outnumbered is rough on NPCs, even if they’re given high stats, as I recall from my own experience NPCing!) Which makes it important to have good incentive for players to NPCs for other LARPs.
With this system of CP exchange, those players who NPC for other LARPs increase in power much faster than those who don’t, and a player who comes in to a campaign LARP late ends up way behind those who have been with a LARP from the beginning. People whose characters never die also get a bigger and bigger advantage over people whose characters die and have to make a new character from scratch. (That is, those whose characters permanently die, or “perm”- since many boffer LARPs have some sort of resurrection mechanic.)
There are various approaches to this issue, but ultimately, any attempt to slow or halt the escalation of power will devalue the incentive to NPC for other boffer LARPs. Giving fewer CP per event NPCed is an obvious example. Capping CP per year means that people who hit the cap have no more incentive until the next yer. (I think gathering data and trying to chart the effect of various methods of restriction power escalation on NPCs numbers would be a fascinating study… though difficult to analyze.)
Personally, I’m a fan of the idea of progressively raising the minimum CP (for newcomers and for people whose characters die and need to start a new character.)
That all said, I was discussing the issue with B., who makes up half of Lovers and Madmen Productions, a theater LARP writing team, and has recently joined the writing staff of an upcoming boffer campaign, Clockwork Skies. He shared with me an idea for a future boffer LARP that addresses the issue of keeping the LARP exciting while minimizing the need for escalation of power. And I love this concept… I thought maybe by sharing it, I could generate some enthusiasm for it and somehow convince him to someday make it a reality.
The premise of the LARP focuses around the existence of some secret organization- I imagine it will be inspired by popular conceptions of the Illuminati, or the Stone Masons. The organization’s members would comprises of a select group of heroes, (the PCs, of course) who are reincarnated throughout the generations. (Characters might either be people who happen to undergo reincarnation and thus get sought out to join the organization. Or, they might be people who join the organization, which then uses its magic rituals to cause them to be reincarnated. I think both are interesting possibilities.)
There would be some given number of events for each generation of the orgnization- B. suggested a year (likely 4 events); I thought maybe half a year (2 events) would be better, depending on how many generations the writing staff would like there to be over the course of the entire LARP. The players might play a few events in ancient Egypt, maybe a few events in Imperial Rome, a few in a medieval setting, the Renaissance, the Victorian Era, WWII… each time, they get reincarnated and carry on the works of the organization, maybe strive to undermine the efforts of a similar, but evil organization.
While I find the concept incredibly intriguing on its own, it presents a very interesting solution to the issue of the escalation of power. That is, each time a character gets reincarnated for a new generation, they redesign their characters’ stats from scratch. Players would get to play the same character (which appeals to LARPers like me, who get very attached to their characters) but would have the best of in-game reasons to try out different archetypes and abilities if they so chose. (And even people who wanted to play the same archetype over and over would still be able to change it up as the setting changes- a sneaky person would use a knife in ancient Egypt, but maybe wield a gun during WWII.) There would also be an in-game reason for everyone to start out at a low level of CP at the beginning of each era- they’ll have new lives with new experiences, though their souls are old, with memories from previous lives.
And to appeal to people who really love the escalation of power- characters would take one skill with them for each previous life they lived, maintained through their memories of their previous lives.
Of course, there’s no perfect solution to the escalation of power issue, and as such, this one has its own flaws- starting players over from the beginning CP level still means there’s less incentive to NPC. The CP you earn only lasts until the end of the era, so it decreases in value as the era goes on.
This LARP concept presents a slew of logistical problems, as well. Imagine trying to create all the necessary props and costumes (both for the staff and players) from scratch every year or so- stuff that fits in with the aesthetics Ancient Egypt would look out of place in Victorian Europe. (And mechanics would have to be revised a few times, too, to reflect the new technology and culture of the era.)
But also imagine the story telling potential- grudges and romances that span generations! Archeological expeditions to dig up your own treasures from the past! Players could imagine how one character might develop differently if he lived the life of a pauper in one generation, and a duke in the next. The possibilities are endless, and fun to dream about.
I’d play this LARP; I’d play it so hard.