Boffer LARPs have a lot of cultural relics and tropes borrowed from tabletop RPGs and video games. There’s one in particular currently on my mind — that of loot drops from enemies.

For background reading, tvtropes describes several common forms this takes. Check out random drops and the money spider.

I’m talking about the practice of sending out various sorts of monsters and bad guys to fight with some kind of loot on them (often in an NPC’s pocket in the form of an item card), that PCs get to take when they search the body of the fallen.

I personally dislike this practice for various reasons. My biggest issue is that we treat it as more than common place. We treat it as something PCs expect to be able to do and are expected by the staff to do it. But if you think about what is actually happening, supposedly heroic PCs are killing things (or knocking things out) then kneeling down and rifling through the pockets of the fallen. It seems so crass, so disrespectful. I think many people don’t think of it as such because they don’t actually have to rifle through pockets. (Or check orifices?) In Accelerant LARPs, that action is represented abstractly by stating “I search you” to an NPC, and if the NPC has loot on them, they simply hand it over. This makes searching bodies feel much quicker and cleaner than it actually would be.

Beyond being distasteful, it’s frequently done while combat is still going on. In other words, while allies are still fighting for their lives, PCs are stooping to rifle through pockets in the hopes of finding small items of even a little value.

There’s a very good meta reason why people have to do this while combat is still going on. Boffer LARPing frequently has monsters and bad guys “respawning,” meaning after being slain, they wait a bit on the ground, then drop out-of-character to leave the battlefield in order to return as the next wave of monsters. This is how we deal with wanting players to fight more monsters than there are available NPCs. So if you don’t search the bodies right away, they vanish from the field (in Accelerant, we say they “go to spirit”, and leave the field in “spirit-form”). Even if the monsters aren’t respawning, we generally don’t want to force NPCs to stay on the field, pretending to be unconscious for as long as the PCs might want before searching them. That can be boring and uncomfortable, and NPCs staying out on the field as unconscious or dead enemies can lead to them getting stepped on.

Because of this very practical out-of-game reason for searching before the danger has fully passed, I can understand why people are comfortable ignoring the lack of chivalry of searching for loot while the battle still rages.  But I still can’t bring myself to do it. So I generally don’t search fallen enemies, unless I have a specific reason to. (Such as believing the enemies are carrying a specific stolen item that the PCs really need.)

This becomes a problem for me when the in-game economy is built with the idea that much of the money (and items) coming into it is off of dead (or unconscious) bodies. My character quickly becomes the poorest person in the game because I’m avoiding a significant source of income (possibly even the primary — or only — source of income for some events.) I notice this when I can’t afford upkeep costs on my own, or merchants are selling basic items well outside my price range. I’m sure other players have felt this dilemma before — either decide your character is the kind of person who searches bodies for loot, or accept poverty.

This can also cause problems when the writing staff expects players to loot bodies in order to further the plot, but they don’t. I was once lured into the forest with a group of PCs and attacked by hostile fairies. Our guides also died. We were utterly stumped on what to do next, until it occurred to someone to search the bodies. (I think our hint was the fact that the NPCs remained lying on the ground for much longer than they usually do.) If we hadn’t thought to search them, that plot would have hit a dead end.

I don’t think it’s just an issue for those of us who refuse to search bodies. If this is the primary way the LARP introduces resources like crafting components and money into the in-game economy, then front-line melee fighters are at a huge advantage over everyone else — they tend to be right there when bodies are dropped, so they have the most opportunities, by far, to collect loot.

Meanwhile, ranged fighters get fewer opportunities to pick up loot, and healers are the ones most commonly shafted by this system. They tend to hide in the back, or sit in the triage area, trying to be in contact with allies while avoiding contact with the enemies as much as possible. I realize that, arguably, melee fighters probably take the most risk and so should get higher rewards, but I find the loot ends up disproportionately in the hands of melee fighters and pretty much none of it makes its way to the healers. (Healers often get treated like free health batteries and are shamed or demonized if they try to get payment for healing. They’re similarly frowned upon if they are selective about healing people who mistreat them or behave in ways contrary to the healers’ morals. I used to play a lot of healers in tabletop RPGs and LARPs, so I take this issue rather personally… and probably not entirely objectively. This is one reason why I’ve drifted away from playing healers.)

I become even more reluctant to participate in looting bodies when the item drops stretch or break my suspension of disbelief by being illogical or even impossible. Why so many random forest animals or creatures who live in caves and dungeons are carrying crafting components for gear and items, or even just gold coins, often isn’t explained. Sure, some of these creatures might be scavengers who collect random shiny objects, but why do they all have these items on them at all times? Don’t scavengers often drop these things off in a nest or something? If they don’t have hands, how are they carrying them while fighting us? Are they carrying the items in their cheeks, the way squirrels carry nuts? And if so, did my character just pry a dead animal’s jaw opens in the hopes of finding something inside?

Because these are common RPG and video game tropes, I think many LARPers have no problem ignoring these implications. But I have trouble with it.

This issue goes hand in hand with the reverse problem — that you can’t loot some items off enemies even though there’s no real in-game reason not to. For example, after defeating a troop of enemy soldiers, in boffer LARPs, one generally can’t take their swords or armor off them, though they should be reasonably valuable. They need to hold on to their weapons and costuming so that they can respawn, and even if they aren’t respawning, you don’t want to deplete the staff and NPCs of their boffer weapons and props. It would quickly become difficult to keep track of everyone’s weapons, and would probably result in both staff and players mixing up and losing props. Personally, I don’t find that this interferes with my suspension of disbelief much, perhaps because it involves ignoring a lack of action — that is, ignoring the fact that no one is collecting weapons — instead of refusing an action that everyone else is actively participating in around me.

It gets worse when the loot is a body part of the fallen monster. Lots of LARPs have systems for crafting potions, with ingredients like “eye of newt” or “tiger fang” or bones or fur or feathers or claws… or even organs, If I lean over an NPC and whisper “I search you” and they hand over an item card that says “spider poison sac,” valuable because potion brewers can use it for various things… does that mean my character just carved out an organ from a dead spider without my intending that action? Generally, I don’t intend to have my character carve up monsters for useful parts. I suppose if a LARP desired to address this issue, one could divide the looting into two actions, with “I search you” meaning a character simply searches for loot, and “I scavenge your parts” meaning “I cut out whatever there is on you that some potion crafter might be able to use.” (Though this would require every single monster to have all possible forms of scavenged loot every time they re-spawn, which is hard to coordinate, or come up with an explanation as to why some body parts can’t be scavenged at random times — such as damage from combat rendering their parts unusable — but that may strain credibility at times.

Another issue with monsters dropping body parts as loot — there often isn’t a logical in-game explanation for why some monsters only ever drop one body part at time, when they should provide many. (For example, when a dragon is slain, why is it only possible to get one dragon scale off of them?)

In Cottington Woods, one of the NPCs has offered a bounty on the wolves that prowl the area. PCs bring wolf ears as proof of their kill to the NPC, who trades it for money. I think this is a reasonable twist on the loot dropping system. It doesn’t involve the monsters (i.e. the wolves) carrying valuable items on them that wolves wouldn’t actually carry around. And it doesn’t involve players searching the bodies and unexpectedly winding up with body parts that they didn’t intend to cut off or cut out of the monster. PCs tell the NPCs playing the wolves that they are cutting an ear off, and the NPCs only need to carry a single sort of loot on them.

This also creates an interesting in-game dilemma for the characters. The wolves are intelligent in this setting, and there’s an ongoing effort to create some kind of peace or truce with them. (Simply dominating or killing off the pack entirely don’t seem like reasonable options, since we’re trying to build a community in their territory, so they probably outnumber us and know the land better than we do.) This leads to us roleplaying out some interesting debates — is it right to kill the wolves? Is it right to cut off their ears? Is it disrespectful to maim their dead? (Or knock them out and take an ear before they wake up?) Is it going to hurt our chances for ever having peace with the wolves? I’ve seen this debate come up a number of times.

Additionally, we’re not carving out organs (which generally should take some anatomical knowledge, skill, and time) on the off chance they might be useful components — so suspension of disbelief isn’t strained in that way. We explicitly know why we’re taking the ears, and we’re not conflating searching for treasure with cutting off a body part. And taking an ear is something that would be reasonably quick and easy for anyone, no matter how inexperienced they are.

But this doesn’t solve my personal problem of finding a common source of income distasteful. I don’t want my character maiming animals, intelligent or not. (Or killing animals when it isn’t strictly self-defense.) I’m finding the plot that revolves around trying to broker a peace with the wolf packs very interesting, and I don’t want to turn my character into someone the wolves particularly dislike or distrust. (Though I suspect they’ll never know for sure who hasn’t been killing wolves and cutting off ears for the bounty.)

And while I really like the in-game moral dilemma and source of interesting roleplay and debate between PCs, I’m somewhat concerned that by refusing to take part in this common source of money, I’m going to wind up with the poorest character again. (I doubt my character would care much, but out-of-character, I don’t particularly want to have this handicap or end up as a drain on another character’s resources.)

It’s still fairly early in the campaign, so I yet don’t have a good sense of how much my personal preference not to loot bodies or cut ears off of wolves will affect my experience. It’s still too early to get a good sense of the in-game economy.

Meanwhile, I heard in Clockwork Skies this past weekend (which I’m really bummed about missing), some of the monsters had abilities that went off when they were searched. (Players who tried to search them were knocked out by, essentially, contact poison, and the first person who tried to heal them would be drained by poison.) There were some circumstances that rendered this problematic (it was already a very difficult fight and it was too dark to read the instructions for the effect) but I like it a lot in theory. I love the idea of making players think twice about searching bodies. You’re not just clicking the “I want the treasure now” button, but you might actually be touching dangerous things and that makes searching bodies involve more thought about the risk vs. possible reward. It’s not just a mindless part of the process. I think this idea could be tweaked a bit to make it really effective and meaningful.

I’m curious to hear what other LARPers think about this system. Is it common in other boffer systems? Do you like it or dislike it? Why or why not?

ADDENDUM: In another forum, people discussing this post made an excellent point that I really feel I should add to this post. Looting bodies is historically accurate, and it was even frequently considered part of the payment for being a soldier or mercenary. Local peasants would loot bodies after wars, at least in part to recover what the war cost them. Generals have had to make laws about waiting until after the combat was over to loot.

I hadn’t considered this side of things, and now I’m looking at looting in an entirely new light. It has the potential to actually be a very immersive aspect of a gritty, realistic, historical LARP, especially one that focuses around war. I think the way I typically see it treated does not feel gritty or immersive to me because it’s treated so lightly — it’s quick and clean. (No one has to cut fingers off to get gold rings.) Even if this take doesn’t mesh with most heroic fantasy (especially ones based on fairy tales…) I think it could be a really amazing and effective if used carefully in conjunction with a grittier historical LARP.


About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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27 Responses to Loot

  1. Philip Kelley says:

    I’ve always thought of boffer larps (which I’ve never played) as being much like old D&D games: you have a party, permanent or ad hoc, you go on an adventure, you–DM permitting–find treasure, and when you get back to town you divide it up.

    So, you’re saying that the “divide it up” part generally does not happen? Is it generally accepted to be an “every man and woman for themselves” kind of deal? Are combats so wide-spread in space or time that the concept of “us vs. them” doesn’t jell enough for “group formation” and division of loot? Or is there some other dynamic going on?

    • Fair Escape says:

      There’s a lot about some boffer LARPs — high fantasy ones in particular — that is clearly strongly influenced by Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop RPGs. I think the term “D&D standing up” gets bandied about a lot (for both theater and boffer, but more for the latter, I think). And it’s a useful term, but I also think it has some unfair negative connotations.

      The concept of a party differs a fair bit- it’s not like the same 6 people doing stuff together no matter what, since you typically have an entire town of 70 people who can go on “modules” (like encounters) in any combination. The whole party/team issue is its own can of worms, but I’m getting off track here…

      Lots of modules do have some kind of treasure at the end, but it’s not often a treasure trunk full of gold coins. (In fact, I think I have yet to see that in an Accelerant LARP.) Since modules are typically done by small groups, it’s not often that a treasure is large enough to be meaningfully divided among the whole town. Typically, I find it’s often divided up among the people who went on the module.

      I think part of the idea is that if you stick a treasure chest full of coins in the LARP, but you don’t want to include some kind of railroady mechanic to make sure everyone gets a fair share, you risk some clever PCs taking it all for themselves. (There’s a strong culture against PvP in boffer LARPs that could also be its own post.) And then balance becomes and issue and people get unhappy. I think this is why boffer LARPs seem to favor reward systems that are scattered small amounts — less room for greedy PCs to take advantage?

      Occasionally NPCs will hire the entire town to do a job, and pay them some lump sum of money. This sometimes goes into some kind of player-organized town fund, which covers things that benefit everyone (this doesn’t always work out perfectly fairly, but… what does) or it gets divided among all the players. As an NPC who hired the whole town in Clockwork Skies, I asked the PCs how they would like to be paid, and the PCs decided to have me give it to one trustworthy PC to hold onto… so I did. What happens to it from there, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll buy everyone an extra heal potion. Maybe they’ll use it to pay for stuff that benefits the whole town, like a magic communications network.

      The “us vs. them” thing varies a lot. Lost Eidolons was a fairly dark setting where there was a lot of “every man for himself” until the end, when the world was being threatened and we had to band together better to survive. Endgame, in contrast, had more of a “we’re all selfless heroes, and if we aren’t always working together, we’ll get overrun by aliens and humanity will end!” feeling.

      …I’m not sure if that all made sense or answered your question…

    • Alon Levy says:

      So, you’re saying that the “divide it up” part generally does not happen? Is it generally accepted to be an “every man and woman for themselves” kind of deal? Are combats so wide-spread in space or time that the concept of “us vs. them” doesn’t jell enough for “group formation” and division of loot? Or is there some other dynamic going on?

      Legacies doesn’t have any party-wide divide-it-up phase. Bear in mind that the system it uses creates enormous differences between veteran and new players, unlike in tabletop games, where PCs within each party are of roughly equal level. What Legacies does have is:

      1. A newbie module that does have a divide-the-loot stage at the end. The loot is small and the module is completely separate from the metaplot.

      2. Various kinds of work PCs can do, in- or out of character, for money. Someone who cooks for the party can scrounge a couple silver pieces out of it. A Canadian who brings soda with sugar rather than corn syrup can charge a silver piece per can. Someone who has IC item repair skills can charge a bit, although it’s looked down upon. Someone who has IC item crafting skills can and will charge. Etc.

      3. PCs sometimes gamble on a card game that substitutes player skill for character skill.

      4. Steady per-event income for PCs who join the militia.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    TV Tropes links? Really?

    Let it be noted that I succeeded on my Will check again and only opened 6 tabs total, of which 3 were the ones you linked to, and the whole reading took 10 minutes.

    Re the wolves, as one of those wolves (and also the rats, for which the equivalent was the tails), I thought it was a cool loot – much more representative than gold. At Monster Camp we were briefed that you guys were going to take our ears/tails as trophies although we were not told for what reason. I thought it was an XP advancement measure. The limited number of ears/tails we got was also useful in cuing us how many respawns we had left: when we ran out of trophies, it was time to stop respawning and go back to Monster Camp and change garb.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I know, I know. I’m sorry. Tvtropes will just suck you in. I was actually pretty torn on whether or not to include them- they provide nice descriptions, explanations, and examples… but it puts people at risk for accidentally wasting hours.

      Using them as a marker for how many respawns to do is a really cool benefit I hadn’t considered. I agree that they make a nice representative loot- while searching a body should take longer than it takes to say “I search you,” cutting off an ear actually would take as long as it takes to say “I cut your ear off.” There’s no wondering why the wolf had it, and it’s perfectly reasonable for an NPC to have a bounty on wolves. I like that it encourages roleplay, by presenting a moral dilemma for PCs.

      I’m just vaguely worried that this is intended to be one of the significant sources of income, and that income will become an important part of the LARP. (Right now, it seems like people are still poor enough that what you can and can’t buy is largely moot.) And then by refusing to participate, I’ll miss out on cool items and other things to buy.

      If the wolves wanted to parlay with the PCs and said something like “we know some of you take ears, we will only respect the truce with people who have not taken ears,” that would be cool. It makes the choice more meaningful.

  3. Ivan Zalac says:

    An excellent article. Some larps here work this way, but I personally always found it harmful for role-playing, and only compatible with very few character types – none of which I’d care much to play. Others, as you noticed, get the shaft.
    I’ll be sharing this article.

  4. eurveinofair says:

    That was a long, well thought out article and one that I’ve seen staffers struggling with for a long time across many boffer LARPs.

    Like much of LARPing, you’re handling a logistical issue in as efficient a manner as you can. You’ve hit on some of the key points. There is more to it though from the staff side of things. Monster camps are fast moving, hectic, disorganized places where the fastest way to get a (frequently) late running mod/field battle going is to hand out a bunch of treasure and say give this out, one per life.

    The reality is that you’re taking the shortcut to “this represents stuff which may or may not be money that you can barter and turn into money or other stuff”. There just isn’t time to make it more meaningful or “realistic” in most cases.

    There are exceptions and often times built-in reasons to search. Just last Mirror, Mirror we knew in one large mod that the things we were fighting had essences on them that we needed to get past various barriers. In that case, we had to search them. The occasional one had “money” on them. Most had nothing. I’m perfectly ok with things that have nothing.

    There’s a team/non-team discussion going on over at http://collabnarration.blogspot.com/ discussing the value of teams in LARPs. I will touch on one point here because of the relevance. A big plus of teams is fighting with them so that you have a designated searcher and a team treasury where all treasure is dumped and used by members as needed.

    As a PC, I have played a rogue (thief), an offensive caster, a healer and currently I’m doing a fair amount of fighting. I have had people hand me loot as a caster if I was responsible for killing something (uncommon). People have expected me to loot things as a rogue and I have done so and shared. I have had people say fairly commonly while I’m fighting, “You killed it, you should search it”. As a healer, unless you’re with a team, you’re screwed on the loot front. And of course, the most frustrating thing of all, if you’re competent and doing your job, you’re still busy after you kill something in a fight working on the next threat and someone loots your kill and runs off with it.

    Great topic.


    • Fair Escape says:

      I definitely understand why LARPs do this — it’s one of the quicker, easier ways to distribute loot. My experiences with playing loot dropping NPCs definitely fit in with this — the chaotic nature of monster camp makes it such that people often forget to tell monsters to get treasure, what kind of treasure… even when asked people make mistakes, and sometimes things change on the fly. Like “oh, some other module didn’t go off, so we’re going to run this repeater mod three more times… crud, we’re out of loot because we didn’t think we’d be respawning this many times.”

      I agree about the team thing- that’s generally how it has been working for me. In Lost Eidolons, I turned over all my gold to one of the players on my team who was actually working to increase his wealth (luckily, when the team disintegrated, he was one of the ones who stayed.) Which means that thus far, I’ve been somewhat sheltered from the harsher effects of my characters not looting. It’s not a terribly realistic set up for many characters and settings though, mostly just a convenience thing. How many people in real life just turn over all of their salary to a friend? (Luckily, it’s very in character for my Cottington Skies character to just hand over any money that comes through her hands to someone else.)

      I have seen people once or twice say “you killed it, you get to loot it” which is nice. Or “you helped and I’ve already gotten to loot monsters, you take it”. It’s not universal though. It’s only going to effectively even things out if enough people are playing very fair minded or altruistic characters.

      I would be very interested in experimenting with a boffer LARP that explicitly designs its economy to avoid this policy. Like, monsters and bad guys would only ever be carrying something that’s explicitly logical for them to have, and in order to get useful organs or pelts, players would have to spend a minute and use a purchased skill that lets them say “I skin your pelt” or something. (Which might create problems with the NPCs needing to respawn… someone suggested having them leave cards or envelopes when they respawn so that way people won’t feel compelled to search or skin things during combat.) I’m curious to see how this might work out.

      • eurveinofair says:

        If you want to try a boffer LARP that does a bit of what you’re describing, try Isles. I have several friends who play it. I NPCd it once. One of my roles was as a merchant and let me tell you, the players made out like bandits dealing with me because the knew the system so much better than I did.

        Their site is http://www.theisles.org/

        From the site:
        Player-driven economy
        Our in-depth resource production system allows for an entire in-game economy that is driven by the players themselves. Our production system is split into two main groups Eskills that allow players to produce raw materials, and skills that allow players to refine raw materials into finished products. Each and every player-produced material has a direct use in-game (in many cases, several uses), which makes production-based characters (such as merchants, craftsmen, and smiths) an integral and necessary part of the game. Instead of production-based characters being relegated to the sidelines, in The Isles you’ll find a production-based character to be a vital and lucrative part of the game. At the same time, those who are not interested in production skills don’t need to understand the production system at all Ethey simply need to find a character that can supply them with what they need and then barter or trade with them for those goods.

  5. Shannon Lane says:

    I’m a HIT/HEROIC player, and I have to say – that’s my absolute least favorite part of the experience.

    I play an aristocrat. A fussy magus/scientist with a penchant for organization – one of the town leaders, one of the people who apparently handles a whole host of NPCs… and my only real source of income is to rifle through dead bodies? Ugh. No, thank you.

    (Anatomical study is something else. That’s when I get to be cheerfully gory, and bring the fake blood and entrail bits to do it. 🙂 )

    What gets me about the system is that there’s a ‘skill based’ way to make money.. but the amount you can make from it is absoutely a pittance and, worse, it cuts into your overall effectiveness. So.. I could be a, say, ‘grandmaster alchemist’, or have the money to pursue alchemy. No middle ground, there.

    If boffer larps focused more on the social, I think much of this would be resolved – people actually hiring the PCs, rather than ‘we have this problem, you’re heroes! You should be selfless!’ would go a long way toward fixing the issue. That, and actually offering cash for in-game positions? Would be nice – if I’m supposed to be a leader, in play? Make the job come with perks to go with the responsibilities.

    I despise the general methodology of looting monsters and big treasure boxes – it makes an already broken basic economy even worse.

    That would be an interesting subject, by the by – the reason loot is as broken as it is is the utterly broken economy above it. For all that boffer larps do well, economy is where they fall to pieces, a thing that leads to rampant inflation, huge class divisions, and rewarding ‘evil’ actions.

    I think it can be fixed, but that’s the subject of something more than a post comment.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Cottington Woods has a rule that all players must have at least one career to cover daily living expenses. It’s assumed that we spend the time between events doing actual farming or whatever. Having more points in our career(s) means they get more money at check in. I actually really love this idea, because it’s much more logical than assuming an entire town of essentially adventurers and mercenaries can always find enough work. (In fact, we were not allowed to take soldier or mercenary as a career, because there’s no one in the wilderness to hire them.) I took this as a hint that we might be avoiding the sort of economy where looting the bodies was a significant source of income. I might have been wrong about that. I’m not sure yet.

      Considering the number of NPCs that come to us looking for help, you’d think having an economy based primarily on people paying the PCs for their help would be very plausible. Though it does somewhat negate the altruism that lots of players like to have in their characters, and as I found out when I played that PC who hired the town in Clockwork Skies, paying an entire town and making sure everyone gets a fair pay is not always a simple, easy process. But I think it’s worth putting in some effort to making the system of NPCs hiring the PCs smoother.

      Completely agree with you on the inflation, class divisions, and rewarding evil or selfish actions issues.

  6. I tend to disagree with the post; You describe a symptom, but fail to point at the true cause of the problem. The main problem is not people looting or it being “disrespectfull” (eg; playing an evil character or someone who disdains looting is a choice, both have their “pros” and “cons”).

    The main problem is a faillure to roleplay. If one of your comrads, who you think has your back, is cutting of fingers in order to get the rings of the fallen enemies, you should get pissed off. Even if you have no problem with the act itself, as he is putting your life into direct danger!

    If you loot someone, even though the rules state that simply saying that you are doing it are sufficient, you should roleplay going through their pockets, remove golden teeth, cut off earrings, whatever you do to get to your stuff. Why would looting be any different from roleplaying hits / spells / healing?

    I’ve not seen any problems with playing a healer either, as there are numerous tricks to get money as a healer. The easiest is to pronounce, beforehand, that normal healing is free of charge, but silly things as not having scars, painkillers, being the first to be healed when 20 people are down, cost extra. Bang, richest healer in the setting.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I agree that if people actually had to take significant time to roleplay the search, that would change things. People would be more aware that some people value finding loot more than making sure their comrades backs are never vulnerable. (A lot of searching goes on between waves of NPCs, when there are no conscious enemies on the field, though.) But when most people are content to ignore the implications of searching mid-battle, there’s incentive to just go along with it. If not everyone is treating searches as things that take time while your companions are still at risk, then there’s disincentive to do so. Some people are scooping up loot while you are refusing to collect it. It’s kind of got to be an everyone or no one thing, or else people are going to find the reward in roleplaying the searches and not leaving their companions unguarded to be insufficient. I suspect I’m less unhappy with playing a penniless character than most people are, and I can’t even say for certain I’d be less averse to it if I didn’t have rich characters willing to spend money on me.

      You made me curious about the actual rules. Cottington Woods has the rule that you must take ten seconds to search. (I think the ten seconds is largely forgotten, though.) This is probably meant as a compromise between wanting a search to take actual time (and potentially cost your friends on the battlefield) and not wanting NPCs to waste too much time being unconscious when their time is better spent entertaining PCs by fighting.

      Standard Accelerant rules seem to be you only need to make the statement. But the NPC is allowed to say “define your search” if they’ve hidden something in a particular way, such as hiding their treasure map in their boot. “In this case, you must take the time to tell the player where on his or her person you are looking for items… Players should not demand unreasonable
      searches with too much detail – a search should take no more than a minute.” Again, here the concern primarily seems to be making sure NPCs don’t have to spend too much time being searched by PCs who are going to describe very detailed searches in order to avoid missing any treasure.

      With regards to healers, it’s a similar issue. If some healers are willing to heal for free, then trying to demand payment is just going to get you ignored. I’ve heard of people successfully starting healers guilds which either demanded payment for each service, or got the entire town to provide them with essentially a salary from town funds. It’s a little harder if your mechanics allow some classes that aren’t dedicated healers to have some healing, because then people will just take healing for themselves in order to avoid paying someone. (True, dedicated healers are typically much faster and better at it, but it’s a factor.) In Lost Eidolons, for example, anyone could take first aid and surgery was a very common skill.

  7. Markus Dark says:

    First, let me say that I agree with almost all of what you have to say here. The overriding requirement PC”s seem to have to ‘git da lewt’ can be game beaking at times. I once saw an entire game of players (not characters) get upset because a PC thief managed to steal the gold from the climatic event at the game and get away with not being seen doing it. It was so bad that the next day, the runners of the game had a ghost of the big bad guy walk into the tavern, wait until he was hit once, then like a pinata, drop a second batch of the night’s loot.

    With that being said, I do have some counter points:

    Yes, heroes in stories aren’t usually looting the dead. But at the same time, they spend days, weeks, months, etc. traveling or just sitting around and they seem to be well fed, clothed, armored, etc. during the entire time. I often say that the good guys never poop – as in you don’t see the daily upkeep they do. Unless it’s part of the story (such as Firefly with them always being on the edge of not being able to pay for fuel), heroes apparently are all independently wealthy. If your game requires upkeep, then you have to find a way to make money to do that.

    In one of my favorite series, Hercules – The Legendary Journey, Hercules refuses all sorts of payments and yet is eating and drinking at taverns – as are his companions who also seem to refuse rewards. How are they paying for it? You could set up the game so heroes eat free but now the merchants in the game aren’t making money either since everything is free for the heroes.

    With the respawn in the games I’ve played in, NPC’s are told to count to 30 or 60 or whatever and then get up to respawn. When they do this, they are to drop their loot on the ground. If the PC’s aren’t afraid of another PC’s stealing from them, the coin will be there when they get back.

    Quite a few games in the US have adopted the ‘bag man’ setting where a single person during a mission is tasked with collecting all the loot – they’re the only person who searches bodies, gets boxes, etc. At the end of the mission, he/she dumps it out on the table and division is done. It seems to work well so that everyone who participates gets an equal share. Yes, those that stay at home don’t get a portion of it usually but IMO why should they? They risked nothing, they get rewarded nothing.

    I’ve also seen people who work together pay for other people. For example, my character was a merchant who made, amongst other things, scrolls. The entire town was going to go after the big evil but my character wasn’t geared for such a combat. A couple of other PC”s dropped coin to get me some armor, some magical protection and other things so I’d be able to survive and help them.

    Charging for one’s abilities though can be problematic. A healer in the game would charge for their healing abilities. This upset the fighters as they needed the healing to do their job. When the bad guys came into town, the fighters charged the healer for their protection and when he refused, they let him get attacked.

    But I have found that characters that contribute to the wellfare of the town and those within it can often ask for help and others are willing to pay for it. Or find a way to ‘work’ for them for the money. There has to be something beneficial a character can do for another to earn a little money from them.

    I probably have more but it’s getting wordy here so I’ll stop.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Your story about the thief and the ghost pinata is very interesting. It tells me that some aspects of our local LARP culure is more universal than I realized. We had an incident where one PC robbed another during a battle, and afterwards, people were really upset. There were some apparent unspoken rules that people felt were violated, and one PC who had been given control of the collective town funds said he would take the money out of the town funds if it wasn’t returned, which angered a lot of people, my character included. I didn’t think giving him the town funds to look after meant that he should be allowed to make decisions on what to do with the money without the town’s consent. (And paying the person back out of the town money still left the thief coming out ahead while costing everyone in town some small amount.)

      I agree that ignoring the costs of mundane daily upkeep is pretty common, and can be sort of immersion breaking and cause inconsistencies. As I mentioned in another comment, Cottington Woods, the campaign I currently PC, requires all PCs to take some kind of career and assume that we are busy farming, or repairing shoes, or weaving, or whatever between events, and that if you’re not exceptionally good at your job, what you earn covers your daily needs and no more.

      The dropping the items when you respawn solution seems interesting. I suspect there are some downsides that I’m not anticipating (maybe extra prep time, or people frequently missing little bits of paper blowing around in the dark? Or as you mentioned, people stealing loot from other people’s kills?) I would like to try it sometime,

      Some version of that bagman system you describe does happen sometimes. Sometimes teams have one person who generally does the collecting.

      I’ve also seen some amount of the “the town takes care of everyone” going on. In Lost Eidolons, for example, towards the end, we lost our main source of resurrection, and as the world was at stake, the town decided to pool their resources and equip every healer with an expensive machine that resurrected people (essentially, a steampunk defibrillator.) This sort of thing also mitigates the downsides of not looting, but it generally won’t completely mitigate it. When the world isn’t at stake, people are less altruistic.

      Your story about the fighters refusing to defend the healer is a pretty amusing reversal of the usual situation. They make a fair point that fighters are doing the non-fighters a service by protecting the town.(I don’t think that means it’s unreasonable for healers to want to be paid sometimes, but it is something to take into consideration.)

      Don’t worry about wordiness. I’ve written a wall of text not only for the post, but it every response to a comment here, it seems.

  8. I have yet to play a character that actively loots others, even in a loot rich environment. I do think that the ears/tails of Cottington and the cyberchips/pelts in Occam’s Razor made better loot than dropping gold, but unless I’m playing a character that would swipe from a dead foe, I won’t typically search. In my own mod designs, I tend to set up treasure or reward at the end or as a goal, possibly in addition to the main stated goal. Zoned rewards seem better than foe-carried stuff IMHO.

    In Occam’s I was actually given some loot after someone searched a body because I “earned it,” and that was a nifty opportunity for some role-play. I think playing a non-looting character can lead to interesting rp, if your willing to be a bit less wealthy, or have others looking out for you.

    If it isn’t obvious, my CW character is not concerned with money. He does not kill or maim the animals there. Our cabin is a bunch of softies.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I think refusing to loot can sometimes be a good opportunity to roleplay. People have offered me the honor of the killing blow, too, and refusing that makes for nice roleplay, too.

      Heh, I think Quill and Hay have that in common. Any coin that ends up in Quill’s hands just gets passed on to Sebastian. He knows what to do with money, right? Having someone else looking out for my character’s monetary needs definitely makes refusing to loot much easier to deal with.

      We are softies, aren’t we.

  9. Mark Charke says:

    Fair Escape,

    I find this to be a very interesting topic. I’ll mention it later but I’ve dealt with this situation in a slightly different way, for different reasons. I would like to point out that looting the dead was almost certainly a fantastic way of making money in historical wars. Certainly there would have been a lot of military hardware lying around after a bloody battle. While I agree that it isn’t a good act, I’m sure many armies regularly looted the dead.

    I’ve never had a problem with looting the dead that were trying to kill me (my character). I look at it as a punishment for trying to kill me. I think most players sort of feel that way. Watch the LARP when they find a tomb which contains a fallen soldier’s weapon. Some of the Players will typically at least argue against taking it before they smash the coffin and steal everything not nailed down. Occasionally a very goodly aligned group will refused to take it at all, or ask the dead permission first with “speak with dead” abilities if they have them.

    I have great sympathy for the archers and healers. You are quite right that they get the least reward. However, from a mechanical view point (game balance) they also had the least risk. Using the Risk-Reward game design, the front line persons should get the best rewards. However, risk isn’t the only factor determining the value of someone’s contribution to the game. Healers are absolutely vital and it’s not fair that you must play a front line fighter if you want loot. But that really is the case, which is why you often see non-combatant characters swarming to the front regardless of the danger.

    I don’t take magic items anymore, not in table-top, not in LARP games. After decades of games, I’m just completely sick of the arguing over the division of loot. In one particular game we calculated the value of an artifact, clearly suited for one player, but the cost was so incredibly high, if he took it, he would never receive a magic item ever again because we’d never catch up to that cost. Instead we sold the item for a fraction of it’s value and split up the money. The other thing is greed. I used to take magic items. I was very good at getting the lion’s share of items. I decided I didn’t want to be “that guy”, the one “holding” all the magic items for other people. “Honest I’ll give them out” and never, ever does – mostly because no one knows what items they have. I had a character bleed out and die 3 feet from Players arguing over a bag of loot.

    Magic items are a crutch. Perhaps that’s sour grapes but it’s a functional mentality. Referees often use wealth and magic items to control Players, the threat of loosing them or getting them. There was a trap once that did damage based on the number of magic items you had. No one could figure out why I was able to pass through unharmed. That’s bragging but poverty must have some benefit. Also you can ask for bonuses or resistance against greed spells and mechanics.

    I have found that eventually I am offered magic items. Usually I refused until I eventually find some item that I can make into a signature item for my character. My six year LARP character had 3 magic items by retirement; a cloak that became sacred to his deity as a result of my character’s faith, and near the end, a pair of really decent swords.

    Not having wealth is a problem. Our system has boons and I usually spend boons in place of wealth. This works to a point. I make a point to ask for favors from NPCs and once the Ref’s realize you are refusing wealth, they often make it easier to get free favors from NPCs to make up for it. We do a coupon book which grants gold, and that ended up going entirely to training.

    Looting while your allies are fighting is sort of realistic in LARP. It’s harder to die in LARP. Also as a real mechanic, you might not find that body again because you might have to flee or retreat, or just on a greed level, it’s very realistic, both in game and real life, that someone else would get the loot first. People are greedy creatures and it’s unfortunate.

    Mark Charke

    • Fair Escape says:

      I agree that front line melee fighters typically have the most risk, and thus it makes sense that they should have the most reward. In theory. In practice, many fights, especially with “crunchies” who drop basic loot, aren’t actually that much of a threat. I guess it depends on how deadly each LARP is and what the penalty for death is. I’ve played in LARPs where death was pretty rare and didn’t negatively affect the characters that badly, in which case the risk is actually kinda low. But I guess there’s no way to definitively how much extra opportunity to get loot is worth how much risk.

      I love the idea of a magic trap doing damage depending on how many magic items you have. It’s an unusual twist in a typical trap. I think it would be nice to get in-game recognition for people who make choices based on roleplaying their character and not just on mechanically what’s most advantageous. (Not that I think one style of roleplaying is inherently superior to the other, just that one has concrete rewards, the other less so.) If the staff recognized that some players refuse to cut off wolf ears, for example, by having wolf NPCs more willing to treat with them, that would be awesome. But I don’t expect the staff too, because it’s so hard to keep track of, and I’m sure there are a million roleplaying decisions that people are making at every game, and they can’t respond to all of them.

      Thank you for commenting! I love reading responses.

  10. JakeG says:

    Really interesting topic, and I’d never have thought there’d be so much to say about this one element of acquiring treasure in LARP. I’ll admit that, as the only PC I’ve played extensively, I always gloss over the whole “looting dead bodies” things. Technically, my character is a mercenary with a rough background, but in practice I don’t roleplay as a greedy or money-focused character. The process of searching bodies is abstracted enough in Accelerant that it’s not something I think about.

    Recently, however, I participated in an encounter where we were fighting spirits that dissipated immediately upon dying, and the actual module was about finding the “keys” scattered around the area that we needed to be able to take the treasure chest back with us. The module mechanic was built around getting a single big box of treasure, rather than having treasure on bodies as an afterthought. I could definitely get behind using more treasure chests, or the equivalent, as an alternative to having every single hobgoblin and werewolf in the universe carrying some spare change into combat.

    However, Madrigal has a very low focus on economy and treasure; there are essentially no magic items to be gotten from fallen enemies, and the main use for currency is to pay in-game maintenance. In games where currency and other kinds of treasure are more vital to a character’s ability to participate in the game, the issue of fairness and distribution becomes a lot more thorny. I really don’t have enough experience in that realm to figure out the best way to implement treasure distribution in such a game.

    • JakeG says:

      I was especially amused when you pointed out that one could “accidentally” extract organs and body parts in mere seconds simply by initiating a search.

      “I thought it had spare change in its pockets, I didn’t want its teeth! Or its eyeballs! Do I need to wash my hands now?”

  11. JJ says:

    Arg. You’ve managed to hit one of my pet-peeves, the whole ‘healers don’t get money because healing is what they do and fighters spend their time searching’. I’ve run into it a couple times as a couple characters, and I’ve never found a good way to deal with it aside from ‘join a team that shares loot’. Gosh I wish there was a good answer to that. I started larping in a system where ‘everyone who goes on a mod gathers up afterwards to divvy the spoils’ was standard, so moving to games where that wasn’t the case was sort of a rude shock. I was used to getting screwed on getting treasure in field fights, hitting it in mods was a bad addition.

    Interesting thoughts on the inherent wierdness/silliness in searching monsters to find coins or things like that, I’d been doing it so long that I was used to fudging it in my brain that I didn’t even notice. It is sort of bizarre when you think about it…

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  14. Philip Kelley says:

    I was reminded of this entry your Jan 2018 “Healers” post. This (similar to the Healers post) is, I think, one of your more thought-provoking items. I am wondering: four-plus years later, do you have any follow-ups or further insights?

  15. Fair Escape says:

    Well, I was rereading this post while working on the healer post, and I think I still stand by everything I posted here (which necessarily includes the amendments in the comments about how soldiers looting the bodies of enemies is historically accurate and has a place in a grittier, darker, historical — or history-inspired setting about war.)

    The healer post did make me think that there should be ways to bypass looting economies for players who want them (guilds, people who actually hire PCs for jobs), with the understanding that the easier/more rewarding these alternative paths might be, the less satisfying/rewarding looting will be, and I do recognize that some players really like looting and get satisfaction out of getting richer than everyone else that way. Which isn’t wrong, but… if a LARP advertised itself as specifically not being designed to reward looting, I’d be inclined to play.

    It also occurs to me that there’s another major advantage to modern settings that I hadn’t considered, which is that the economy will be really intuitive and easy to balance both for staff and players. (Further incentive for me to actually PC After Dark.)

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