Normally we don’t let people replay LARPs. Our games are intricate and complicated and rely on there being a ridiculous number of secrets floating around. Failures to communicate and mutually exclusive goals abound. And all that richness makes for a great game, and a burning desire by our players to know it all after game. So post-game, we always do wrap-up where we epilogue just a little about how the world is changed by the events in the LARP, and tell each other all our secrets.
Unfortunately, since so much of our games relies on the players not knowing what is going on, except from their own character’s perspective, even just the act of playing teaches them too much about game to play again. And so, we kind of only get one shot at any of our LARPs.
There are of course a couple of exceptions, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this piece. The easiest one is the games that actually aren’t all intrigue and backstabbing. We do occasionally play “High Action” games. These are… well, high action. They are low plot, high schtick, and mostly involve running around and shooting things with nerf guns and solving physical puzzles. These games can usually be replayed by people because there aren’t a lot of spoilers.
Both these high action games and our normal games can often benefit from NPCs. NPCs are important for enriching the world in some games. For high action games, we always need more people to shoot nerf guns at the PCs. For the rest of our games, NPCs add flavor and color to a world otherwise just represented by signs on a wall. Having NPCs played by players who have played before can be really useful for GMs because we don’t have to micromanage our NPCs nearly as much. The player already knows the purpose of the NPC. They can also serve as a GMs eyes and ears. NPCs who have played know what to watch for when big stuff is about to go down, and can run get a GM.
And of course, since our games are one time deals, we occasionally run into the problem of being short players. This is a heartbreaking situation because most games cannot run with missing characters without suffering tremendously. Especially our MIT style game subscribe to the theory that there should be no such thing as optional characters. If your game can run without a character, you either need to cut the character, or integrate them better. Sometimes we ask previous players to come back and reprise a role they enjoyed, or otherwise NPC a character.
Why NPC and not just play again? It all comes down to meta-gaming. Like I said, once you’ve played once, you know too much to reliably be able to play fair with a bunch of people who have not. Now, some people are better at avoiding meta-gaming than others, but it is hard. No matter how good you are, the knowledge colors your subconscious. How you stand, which game spaces you watch most carefully, who you seek out early in game and who you avoid walking into dark alleys with. So, when we have to recast a previous player, we would rather they took an NPC-like approach. Be there as a person for PCs to come interact with, mete out the information your character has at some reasonable rate, but don’t take an active role. Otherwise, it isn’t fair to those characters arrayed against the re-cast character because they face an essentially omniscient opponent who knows their secrets.