Maintaining an In-Game Atmosphere

At an immersive LARP, one of the goals is to keep everyone’s head inside the game. An immersed player treats our imaginary world as she would the real world. Threats, friendships, social caste, money,  character concepts… these things become very real when everybody else treats them as real too, even if they’re based on a fiction.

You can tell a player is immersed when she has a real emotional reaction to fictional events. At a LARP you can experience the thrill of battle, the sorrow of losing a companion, fear of death, anger at being betrayed, pride in one’s kingdom, and it all goes away at the end of the weekend like a midsummer night’s dream.

Immersion is not something that you can declare or enforce. It occurs inside a players’ head, something that arises naturally from engagement with the fiction. Immersion is challenged by anything which reminds you that this is a game. The in-game atmosphere is a collaborative effort, requiring participation from all players and NPCs.

Here are some tips to keep the game as immersive as possible.

  • Keep in-character all the time. If you must talk about the real world, use in-game language to describe it. For example, if you have to refer to your car, call it a “caravan”.  We are not at an “event” we are at a “gathering”. You do not “have” first aid, you know it.
  • If someone begins talking about the real-world or using out-of-game language, discourage it through in-game means. React as if you’re offended or are being lied to. Treat the person as insane. Out-of-game talk is considered highly vulgar by people in the game world. Make a point that people shouldn’t be talking like that, but don’t draw too much attention to it!
  • When explaining how a module, spell, or effect works, explain it in-game using in-game language. Don’t say “The swinging blades do 10 damage” – instead say “The swinging blades are as dangerous as a lightning bolt.” (which everyone knows deals 10 damage)
  • The phrase “Let me clarify…” indicates to players that the next thing you’re going to say is a truthful description of how the game works. For example, the players may be escorting an NPC they don’t trust. He says, “Let me clarify – the blue thing on the ground up ahead is a wither stone. If you touch it, that limb will be withered.” The players may suspect they’re being led into an ambush, but they understand he is accurately describing what happens if they touch the stone. This removes the need for a marshal to break game to describe it.
  • Often, people ask questions out-of-game which they could have asked in-game. For example, sometimes you’ll see a player put their weapon on their head to ask where the bathroom is. They could, of course, be asking as their character. Respond in-character anyway.
  • NPC acting gives players cues for how to react to things. If an NPC treats something as a big threat, players will too. Set the tone of the game (anxiety, relaxation, anxiousness, etc) through the cast members.
  • Keep everyone and everything in costume! Make sure people’s street clothes are covered. Throw a sheet over that map of the USA in the tavern. Have people pour their cans of soda into cups. When you look around, you should see the game world, not the real world (as much as possible).
  • Holds and other game-stopping events should take place as little as possible. Holds should never be called to clarify how an effect works or what spells were thrown. If you need clarification, seek it quietly without interrupting those not involved. Keep holds short so players can get back into the action.
  1. #1 by phiend on June 24, 2009 - 4:04 am

    And please please please keep “Holds” to an absolute minimum. Holds should only be called for safety reasons; everything else should be handled without interrupting those not directly involved. Nothing breaks immersion faster than a hold in the middle of combat. Holds called to clarify something between a few characters is in my opinion inexcusable. If you are unsure of something like an effect or what not just ask the person delivering it and, this is important, accept what they say. If you disagree, let it play and handle it after combat. The only time this should be handled differently is when someone is actively and intentionally cheating, and even then, do not call a hold, simply remove yourself from combat and go to a marshal. Marshals, please, take a firm hand with this, do not allow your players to call holds for clarification. If you find that it is happening find out why. If your players constantly need clarification, perhaps effects need to be explained better to the players. If you know that you are going to have creatures with an ability that is rarely used at an event, explain how it works at opening ceremonies before game on. Make sure your NPC crew is well versed in the rules, don’t give new NPC’s that don’t know the game monsters with effects they don’t understand. Another type of hold that I despise is something I call the “attitude hold” where a player of NPC simply gets pissed at the situation and disrupts the combat or encounter. Often times a hold isn’t officially called but it ends up being the same thing, everyone else sits around watching some player piss and moan about how they have stopped being the center of the universe. I don’t care how pissed you are at the situation or even how justified you are in your anger, disrupting the game for other players is rude. You should take yourself out of the encounter and find a marshal without disrupting the game for other players. Marshals, if you see this happening, quickly take that person out of the encounter quietly. Even if you are 100% justified in your anger, disrupting the game for other players is disrespectful and nullifies any argument you had.

    • #2 by Lord Byron on June 24, 2009 - 1:13 pm

      Good call – I’m going to add a few more points to this post as I remember things I forgot to say. I hope you don’t mind if I incorporate your notes. 🙂

  2. #3 by JJ on June 24, 2009 - 4:15 pm

    I disagree that you can’t ‘enforce’ IG-ness. The attitudes of NPCs/staff characters go a long way towards ‘enforcing’ good behavior. If NPCs hang around after they’re killed to chat OOG with the PCs, if they make OOG comments, or allow themselves to be drawn into OOG discussions with the players, all of that encourages an atmosphere where people break game all the time.

    On the other hand, if NPCs don’t speak to PC out of character, and if they react with anger/dismay/etc if they hear about cars or tv or football, that encourages PCs to stay IG. Kept up long enough, it becomes the atmosphere of the game, and PCs will enforce it too.

    • #4 by Lord Byron on June 24, 2009 - 4:28 pm

      You can enforce IG talk and IG atmosphere, but not immersion. Immersion is something that happens inside the player’s head; it’s their personal experience of the fantasy world. Like emergent plot, you can encourage it, you can foster it, but you can’t directly create it.

  3. #5 by Jesse Ackley on April 19, 2012 - 11:35 pm

    I have been playing Nero for many years now and at many different chapters and I have to say that I have no problem with immerison and find this whole thing crazy. Holds should be kept to a min but if someone hits me with something and I can’t understand what it was and they will not answer me or no one else heard him then I will call a hold. If you tell me not to call holds then things that I can’t get clairfied do not affect me becasue I’m not going to run around trying to find out that a lightnning bolt hit me. Also if you tell players what effects an item has on it before they figure it out you ruin the game for me because now you are spoon feeding me Nero and I will not enjoy your game. Not everyone knows what spell effects are, thats one of the reasons we call damage after the incant. Our minds are running hyper active tricking us that the person in a white tabard and a skoal mask swinging red boffer weapons as claws is actually a undead trying to kill us. there are ways to improve Nero game play but by doing stupid things only creates more problems.

  4. #6 by Daniel Burke on May 3, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    ^ This guy. This guy RIGHT there above me? He is the reason I no longer pay money to go to NERO events. Thanks for summing that up.

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