Series Info...Pleasures of the Flesh #2:

The Joy of One-Shots

by Heather Logas

The LARP equivalent of a Stage game is commonly referred to (at least in my circles) as the “one-shot” LARP. These games are commonly encountered at gaming conventions, although some ambitious folks plan separate weekend long paid events.

Some one-shot games provide characters to the players, while others allow players to create their own characters within specific parameters. These games tend to have a strong narrative thread (or threads) provided by the storytellers, which the players interact with and play through. The best run one-shots provide the players with guidelines for their characters’ interactions with other characters in the game through a shared history or rumors of characters’ reputations. Convention one-shots often last anywhere from five to twelve hours, or the game may be split over separate days.

Joy for Players

Although a player may be staunchly involved in one or more on-going LARPs, the one-shot provides a fun chance for a change of pace. A player can try their hand at a different type of character than they usually play, and feel empowered to play the hell out of it. After all, they will only play this character for a few hours. They will not have to worry about losing the time and emotional investment of their long-running character. The player may get a chance to explore a different facet of their personality, break out a costume piece they haven’t yet had a chance to wear, or even just practice a particular accent. Since this lack of emotional investment is shared by all the players of the game, one-shot games can sometimes produce very exciting and dynamic role-playing. Players tend to be far less guarded with their characters’ actions, and feel free to take more risks. It can actually be fun to die in a one-shot game. If a player is in the game to role-play and the player is not losing anything by having their character die, then being granted a dramatic death scene which spurs action of other players becomes an exciting event instead of a heart-rending one.

With some exceptions, one-shot games tend to be a bit more structured, story-wise, than on-going LARPs. Often there is a mystery to solve or a particular political situation to figure out, and the player characters get to start out with specific hooks into the story to get them off and running. This provides for constant activity by the players with very little downtime (i.e. sitting in a corner figuring out what to do next). While it can take a few sessions to involve a new character in an on-going LARP, in a well prepared one-shot characters are involved from the very word “go”, and stay involved the whole time.

Playing a one-shot also allows a player a chance to play with and meet new people. This not only affords the chance to make new friends, but also exposes the player to new playing styles. Some of these the player may wish to remember for their current or future character in their home long-running game. They may suggest ideas for the player’s next character or give the player hints about deepening their own role-playing skills.

Joy for Storytellers

The one-shot LARP provides a change of pace for the storyteller as well. The storyteller has an opportunity to write a fairly detailed story and watch it unfold through the actions of characters they themselves have designed. In most long-running LARPs, players make their own characters, and storytellers find themselves too caught up with simply keeping things running to introduce too much plot. In fact, in a long-running game, players create so much plot between themselves that a storyteller may just muddy things up by trying to force story on the players. Or have their intricate plots completely ignored. A one-shot, on the other hand, needs strong story direction (or at least hooks) in order to ensure that the players have a satisfying experience playing in the relatively short time frame allowed.

The real excitement for the storyteller is that no matter how carefully they have set things into motion and prepared mentally for every possible player action, things will never run the way the storyteller has imagined it. Players are a diverse people with vibrant imaginations, and invariably the storyteller will find themselves surprised and impressed by the direction the players have taken their story. For a really fun time, run the same game several times with different groups of players. It is amazing how differently things can turn out.

The Joy of Closure

The very nature of a long-running LARP is that it doesn’t end. Well, often they do, but it is more of a crumbling or falling apart than an ending. A one-shot LARP, on the other hand, is able to provide a very satisfying aspect of storytelling: that of closure.

At the end of the game the mystery has been figured out and the political situation has been resolved. Storytellers answer questions about aspects of the story that are still puzzling. Players pat each other on the back for good role-playing, and share secrets they had on their character sheets or gleefully relate their private in-game plans. New friends exchange contact information, people shake hands and go off to sleep or find something to eat.

And then the game is over. Closure is a very powerful thing. The difference between the experience of watching a movie with a satisfying ending, for example, and watching one with an ending that doesn’t make sense is palpable. Some endings make you feel content, while others make you feel that something is missing. One can quit an on-going LARP, or the LARP can cease to exist. But if there has been any investment of time and emotion in the game, the player may for a long time feel that something is missing. Even if the game was left on poor terms, the player may still long for completion of the storylines that were left dangling. A one-shot game has a much cleaner escape. The game ends and things are resolved. Whether the player enjoyed themselves or not, they can walk away without that sense of longing.

Now that you know why this type of game is fun and you are hopefully encouraged to run and play stage games, I will write my next article about planning a one-shot LARP. It will be an overview of sorts, but I think it will be relevant to planning stage games. Until then, have fun and play hard!

[ <— #1: An Introduction | #3: Developing Characters in One-Shot Games, Part 1: Introduction and Numbers —> ]

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