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LARP design: Culture Packets

So, for non-LARPers in the crowd, I want to explain culture packets in a few words, so that the rest of this post will make a damn bit of sense. A culture packet is a document describing one of a game's cultures, organizations, or races, with details on a variety of topics: government, land, history, cuisine, faith and/or superstitions, traditions (birth, death, and marriage at minimum), attitudes toward outsiders, clothing... the list goes on. The list goes on so far, in fact, that actual completeness is no more a goal here than in, say, an introductory text on American culture - or the Silmarillion as a text on elvish culture. Instead, the text presents salient details that might influence a player's costuming choices, details of roleplay, and otherwise establishes a common frame of reference and baseline for the culture.

Because the text has to have an end, a culture packet presents a stereotype, with writing quality increasing the nuance of the stereotype. A recent article in Temporary Hit Points put forth one player's realization that playing the stereotypes of a setting really is better than playing the contrarian outlier. There are a lot of good reasons to learn and live by a culture packet in a LARP, while in a tabletop game most players would look at a multi-page race or culture briefing as more than they wanted to read. In a tabletop game, it's reasonably likely that the elf in the party is the only elf in the party, so nothing is lost if other elves do not share common idioms with her. Even if there are two elves in the party, they develop their idioms together, because players in a tabletop game hear 100% of the dialogue that is relevant to the game, while characters in a LARP really do spend time away from one another, and there may well be multiple full teams from the same culture. Verisimilitude demands that these characters have some sense of their shared origins.

Given that core goal, there are two valid but mutually exclusive directions a LARP committee can go with writing culture packets. One model, used by Shattered Isles, King's Gate, and Eclipse, is to solicit volunteers from the playerbase to write the culture packets, preferably (though in SI, not absolutely) volunteers who plan to play PCs from that culture. This model has a number of strong points.
This method also has some observed weak points.
  1. The committee can write the timeline in detail and hand it to the culture writer. This reduces the amount of work that the committee isn't doing, of course.
  2. The culture writer can include a number of conflicts that are not mentioned in the culture packet of the party of the second part. (This is not recommended, as it subverts the consensual reality that LARPs attempt to construct.)
  3. The committee can mention one or two significant conflicts, and otherwise have a world with vast periods of either peace or lost history.
The other practical model, obviously, is for the committee to keep the writing in-house. The Wildlands campaign has always used this model, and Dust to Dust is taking a page from its playbook here. From some perspectives, this model seems to indicate a lack of trust in the writing skills of the playerbase, but as this was not remotely a factor in the decision of the DtD committee, I want to lay out the strengths (and weaknesses) of this model.
But really, everything after the first reason is incidental.

As to weaknesses:
Even from early stages, we preferred the strengths and weaknesses of the second option to the first, but this decision was not made as a criticism of any other game's decisions. This is simply what was right for the game we are running.


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