LRP vs MMO: Why the two are worlds apart.

Gryphon DukesI’m not the first person to compare LRP/LARP to MMORPGs. To the outsider these two types of game look very similar but as a die hard larper, I beg to differ.

Maybe I’m biased, I’ve been involved in LRP of one form or another since the early nineties but have never really bought into the MMO revolution.

Ultima VIII PaganDon’t get me wrong, I loved the Ultima series and had high hopes for Ultima Online (one of the first and best pre-WoW MMOs). What let me down regarding the old UO was the way that you could lose everything to one spotty kid from Wisconsin and his pet dragon.

Both LRP and MMO are natural progressions from tabletop roleplaying and/or playing stand-alone RPGs on your PC, Mac or games console; which are themselves mutually progressive.

You Can Be The Stainless Steel RatIn fact you can trace the lineage of both LRP and MMO right back to the original Fighting Fantasy/Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Furthermore, I know many people who partake of both genres, neither are particularly exclusive to each other. Having seen a few MMO players take up LRP, it looks like the transition from one to the other can be something of a culture shock. But why is this? What makes LRP so different from MMO.

Different Strokes
At first I thought it was a matter of immersion.

In LRP, the participant physically takes on a role. They buy or borrow costume, weapons and armour; they then don said trappings and act as a specific character along with other participants who are similarly attired. These characters then react to events and situations that are set in place by the people organising the LRP event. These roles are then maintained until the end of the event or designated “Time Out” periods, when the players can relax and interact outside the game world.

Ultima Online DragonIn an MMO, the participant creates a customised avatar and logs into a similarly immersive world. They can log in and out whenever they want and participate as much or as little as they would like. The level of immersion is intense but can be switched off whenever the player chooses.

So whilst the lengths of immersion may differ, both genres fully immerse the player within the gaming environment. Obviously, in one case you are physically acting a role and in the other you’re just mashing a keyboard and maybe talking over a headset.

The real difference is in the style of gameplay. Both genres are driven by individuals, groups and the organisers BUT you’re motivations and the course of actions you can take are totally different; as are the styles driven by the organisers.

Level UpThe big addictive hook for MMORPGs is the leveling element. Players play to earn experience points that take your character to new levels with new skills. This is pretty much the primary goal for any MMORPer. Every new level brings with it stat and/or skill increases and ensures that you can tackle stronger and more difficult foes.

With LRP, you don’t always get the same hook. Some systems will have some form of experience point or veteran reward system but this is far from the primary goal for a player. It is more often seen as a means to flesh out one’s character or over time fulfill a particular personal goal.

Fear is the mind killerI remember the first time I “leveled” at a Lorien Trust event; I spent some hard earned points from their own veteran reward system (Occupational Skill Points) and my character became immune to the “Fear” effect. Whilst this didn’t have the same feel as leveling in other rolepaying games, it did mean that for the next year I would flounce around showing other characters how brave I was. “Ha! I’m not scared of those demons. Look, Brother Alain and I are the bravest people I know.”

In an MMO reacting the same would probably be seen as a faux pas on a Leeroy Jenkins scale. In LRP, barring a few exceptions, the game is not played for “leveling”; characters progress in other ways.

Gryphon Faction (Old)Politics appear to be the same within either genre. Some LRP systems have groups, coteries, guilds and factions – as do some MMORPGs. I’m not entirely sure how this plays out in the MMO genre. In LRP this can lead to diplomacy (or diplomancy as it is sometimes referred to); some players love to go talk to other players about the political state of the game world and since the introduction of games like Maelstrom, we’ve seen this diplomatic game style have a dramatic effect on the way that players interact in other LRP systems.

DMEMany of the MMORPGs that I’ve seen actually require that the player works as part of a team. I’ve actually seen the same mechanics as players would use to build a team in an MMO, used in LRP systems. My first group within the Lorien Trust would have benefited from this kind of meta-gaming. We created characters to play that would be fun to play, I didn’t play a scholar/rogue because the group needed one, I played it because it seemed to fit with the group background.

QuestingIn an MMORPG, the majority of your gameplay is likely to be questing. There are thousands of developers beavering away to provide MMORPers with new and interesting quests. Outside of the questing you may as well be in an internet chat room, albeit a chat room where you can (maybe) virtually stab someone in the face.

Whilst there are sometimes quests in LRP, especially smaller systems. The larger systems are driven more by either politics (as mentioned above) or mass combat.

One of the biggest hooks for players at the Lorien Trust is the big end battle, where five or six of the system’s political factions square off against the remaining factions. Thousands of players scrap for an hour or so, then pack up and go home.

There may be smaller events, throughout the year, that allow players to go off on the equivalent of MMORPG quests; there may even be smaller quests at the big fest events but they are not integral to the system.

When playing an MMORPG, there are a million and one different ways to customise your character’s avatar. You might be a spotty 14 year old from Wisconsin but you can look like a six foot tall Valkyrie with a pink mohawk (and a dragon).

In LRP, you are the avatar.

You might want to play a six foot Nordic (punk) beauty but you’re limited to the seventeen stone thirty-something IT manager that you were born with.

Your WoW character might be able to spin twin blades at lightning speeds but in LRP, if you haven’t paid attention to Rule 1 (Cardio) then you’re toast. LRP combat may not be the same as full on battle re-enactment but if you can’t fight then it doesn’t matter how many weapon skills you set for your character; you can’t fight.

Sadly, there are a lot of game-Nazis out there who get mardy when confronted with a lardy elf or a seven-stone barbarian. A lot of LRP relies on suspension of disbelief.

On the surface there are a lot of similarities between LRP and MMO. I suppose the key difference is really in the approach of players to the game. In both, roleplaying plays a part; but to different strengths.

MMORPGs have a set system that must be “played” whilst you play to get the best out of the game. Players can meta-game, “min/max” their attributes and work the system to progress their character to top level. Actual “role” playing often takes second seat to working the system.

LRP systems also have a set system but “playing” the system whilst you play is frowned upon. Characters are created to be explored, the emphasis on playing a “role” is far stronger.

By far the best thing about LRP at the moment is the massive number of MMORPers that are trying the hobby out. There may be a difference in game style but MMORpers seem to adapt quickly.


3 thoughts on “LRP vs MMO: Why the two are worlds apart.

  1. When I wrote this last week I ran out of time (I limit myself to a set amount of time per post and this is the first time I’ve pushed that envelope).

    I had wanted to mention a few other topics, maybe concentrate on Farming and the differences in methods of PvP.

    Anyway, the thinking behind this particular entry was to promote discussion.

    I’ve already had one comment from a friend on Facebook which I’d like to throw into the potential discussion:

    “Come on – In principal it’s the same, the only real differences are the budget of the set up and of everyones gear versus the graphics of the mmo
    And of course the location versus the cg map
    unfortunately in both categories the mmo wins because it spends enormous amounts on people designing pixels which is much easier than set design for events.

    Mmo games are cool but larping is more fun – cos the people are there to hit or interact with as you wish with more than just programmed responses 🙂

    Comparison done in brief.
    Expand and discuss :D”

  2. And… more from Facebook

    Simon ✯ Roddy commented on your Post:

    “From the MMO side don’t forget Themepark vs Sandbox makes a world of difference to your play experience.

    Old time players and new converts cry out for sandbox games (Ultima Online, Darkfall, EVE) where you are not lead by the nose and you make your own game up lead by world lore and a minimal of poking by the game. Themepark games (WoW, a million WoW clones) have dumbed MMO’s down to the lowest denominator to draw in the millions of players that they currently have worldwide.

    Politics in MMOs can be quite in depth and in some cases far outstrip what can be achieved in LARP. I think particularly of EVE here and how one defection of a Director brought the Band of Brothers Alliance crashing to it’s knees (also taking assets apparently worth well over $100k in real life currency if converted).

    Suspension of Disbelief: Oh the times I have winced in voice chat when an elf maid has spoken in voice chat for the first time in a voice so deep and gruff I had to wipe the testosterone from my ears 😉

    Roleplaying: whilst MMOs started with RP very much at their centre, the vast majority of players now think RP just refers to XP and levels and have no concept of what RP is. In fact the number of times I have come across people who think you can only RP if you talk in thee’s. thou’s, Mi’lords and Mi’ladys (even in a sci-fi game) is astounding.

    RP is very much the minority of any MMO community but what most of them don’t realise is that every time they talk in VoiP to discuss a plan for a raid they are in some part RPing. The fact they are talking in a Texan accent means nothing to me as it is the character talking in my mind about an in world matter 😉 I’ve even RP’d with the worst cases of WTFBBQPWN’D players, of course being in a cyberpunk setting made it easier.

  3. Pingback: Gotta Catch ’em All – Armaitus on…

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