Once upon a time I ran a larp.
Scratch that. Start over.
So for the record I absolutely love, when choosing a game setting to run in, frontier towns. It gives room for expansion, an element of exploration, built in stresses and problems, and the arm of the law is short enough for most players liking.
I mean, imagine being off the boat founding Jamestown. That right there would make an amazing game. You’re in the woods. Your resources are limited. Best of all, help is only a mere six month away.
(Side rant: I freaking hate the “let’s call the cops” or “this looks like a job for the army” player copout. You’re a damn hero. Pull up your big boy pants. A random NPC could do call the cops. The story isn’t about them. End rant)
So I have this setting I’ve used several times, called Cappy’s Rock. Basically it’s a town founded by this guy named Captain James Harlow.
Harlow goes by Cappy, very retired ex cavalry, granted the right and funding to found a town outside of the kingdom proper on the frontier of unclaimed lands.
I roleplayed him as old, tired, overworked, more than a little flustered, a little indecisive, and rather inept in battle. I even gave him a limp as an old battle wound as an excuse as to why I couldn’t join the adventurers in the field. When he did, he usually stayed in the back and yelled exposition and encouragement.
As far as I could tell, he was the perfect NPC. He had position, inertia, and the inability to deal with the mounting problems in the area. He also had the financial backing to fund adventurers to clean things up.
I was told afterwards the players immediately began plotting to kill him behind my back. They thought he was incompetent and blamed him for what was happening to the settlement. At least, that’s what the other crew that was interacting with the players as NPCs told me afterward.
The first game focused on the conflict between the settlers, who were trying to settle, and a local druidic circle who was trying to drive them out.
Of course, they sided with the druids and I had to wing a resolution that prevented the game from ending with the town folding.
One thing you need to realize is that larp on one important way is not like a TTRPG. You invest a lot in the setting, both money, time, and money, and you can’t just fold the setting and start over without accruing another pile of expenses for props and costumes.
Normally in a TTRPG I would have simply moved along, but a LARP is as much about where things happen as it is about who it happens to.
The next game pitted the town against marauding orcs, who lied and said they had been there first.
The players, calling on their fierce indoctrination from their school days, embraced their anti-progress bias and sided with the orcs.
And still they hated Cappy, and I don’t entirely know why. He asked them to save the people that were being slaughtered, and exhorted them to be heroes.
At the end of the second game Cappy got kidnapped, and it was supposed to transition from “Guided with training wheels” to a more “Players are empowered to step up and run/save the town on their own”. I never got to run that third game though.
I know it may seem like fishing for comments, but if anybody can figure out what went wrong, jump in with a guess. I can’t share a lesson here, because I couldn’t figure out what the lesson was.