This essay was written for the Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle in the Mind’s Eye Society.
Economies are based on around scarcity and demand which drives the entire system. The common fallacy for LARPs is to assume that the real game economy is based on XP. Players do not complete with each other for XP. All players get the same amount of XP when attending a game. Characters cap out on the amount of XP that can be earned in a month and anyone with a bit of time can earn extra XP for games that they have missed via downtime scenes, background reports, or email roleplaying.
The truth economy of any functioning LARP is the Economy of Cool. In this system, we are all consumers and producers of that unknowable quality known as cool. How is it that some players always seem to create characters that somehow become a magnet for the spotlight? How is it that some characters fizzle stillborn despite a kick-ass history, rocking character sheet, and the GI Joe Kung-Fu Grip Global Approvals? The answer lies within the subtle dance of the Economy of Cool.
The theory of the Economy of Cool is that there is a finite level of Cool in any given game. Players naturally accrue social cool points over time and the investment said cool points can determine how well they do in the game and more importantly how much fun they have.
Investing in Cool
The best and worst example of investing in cool that I can think of is the King of Cool from my childhood. Can you guess who? Did you guess the Fonz from Happy Days? Correctamundo!
In the early seasons of the television show Happy Days, the Fonz was part of the ensemble cast. This cat was cool. He defined cool. He should start a jukebox by punching it and summon forth hot girls by snapping his fingers. Author’s Note: Remember the eighth tradition. Only the eldest amongst you may issue the booty call.
And yet, a good portion of his time was spent helping or being helped by the rest of the cast. Richie and his friends mingled with the cool guy. If this was a LARP, you could argue that these characters went along on each other’s adventures.
But alas, the Fonz turned to the dark side when he jumped the shark. Suddenly, he could do everything all of the other characters could do, but better. He became a mechanic, a businessman, a school teacher, and family man. The other characters shrank away and the economy of cool died.
Why? The Fonz quit investing his cool. Richie was a nerd that owned his funky pre-hipster nerdness. When the Fonz cared about his friend’s adventures, he invested cool points into friend. This was paid back and the cool factor was magnified for both of them.
The Fonz only later became a joke when he forgot the first rule of being cool is that you have to invest it or lose it.
The best example I can think of in the Camarilla is Mario Medina. I don’t know if he can actually jump start jukeboxes, but he is one of the coolest cats I know. I’ve seen Mario invest a lot of his time with new players. He accepts the player created limits he placed on his characters and use that to invest cool in the characters of other characters. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Mario compliment the roleplaying of other players and pimp their characters. He cares about players and games thousands of miles away because he is that guy.
I owe a lot of the success I’ve generated in the Camarilla due to him investing cool points into me. I try to return the favor as much as I can.
And Mario isn’t the only player I’ve seen do this sort of thing. I’ve seen players like Chris Williams, Stephan Empson, or Brian Buckley invest in others and encourage them. This is the story of investment that pays off in fun for everyone.
The Cool Trade
XP is sometimes a problem for jumpstarting the Economy of Cool. My character can have pretty much anything he wants for almost nothing. I just have to attend a few games and save my XP and then I can buy a pimped-out G-5, Police Influences, or whatever else my character might need at that moment.
That kills the fun and the economy of cool. If you want something, try to trade for it ICly. Allow others to shine. When you invest in others and make them feel cool, they will turn around and treat you like a king and the fun and awesome is spread. Let’s say that you want to own a nightclub. You could just spend XP on influences and resources and then write a downtime report.
Bamn! Instant nightclub!
How much fun was that?
What if you went to the Ventrue to arrange for them to help you buy the property? What if you went to the Giovanni to make sure some Goodfellas were bribed? What if you convince the toreador to spread the good word about your club and help you book acts? Do you know musician characters? I’m sure they need a place to play. What about reporters to write news articles? Or an architect to design the building? Some street thugs to make sure hobos don’t pee in your parking lot?
You can entertain the entire city by including your fellow players and investing in their characters. Likewise, those characters have a bested interest in your cool. Those characters are going to remember and have an interest in that nightclub. Slowly, that nightclub becomes a little bit more real as characters have meetings there and start to include it in their history and their roleplaying.
The player I’ve seen do this the most is Clayton Turner. This is a player that likes to get his hands dirty and every game I’ve seen him attend he gets involved. And when he jumps into the fray, he drags along other players. He invites new players, shy players, and everyone else within his reach. The only way to keep the economy fresh is to trade in this form of cool.
Here is the secret that people forget after they have been playing for a while. New players want to experience the thrill of the game. They don’t want to be excluded from an adventure because their sheets are fragile. The worst thing you can do to halt the economy of cool is to not include people.
You might be the coolest ninja in the world, but bringing along others turns you into an awesome group. You all get to be ninja bad-asses and then you create and share stories. Find out what people want to do with their characters and try to find a way to use it. If someone wants to be a poet, hire them to be your herald. If someone wants to be a bodyguard, then hire them to protect you even if you don’t need it. When you invest in other character’s cool, the return is that they likewise invest in you. They pay attention to your needs.
We’ve been taught socially that excluding people is a form of power. It is a limited form of control. However, it pales in comparison to sharing experiences. Want to be really immortal? I’ve seen players tell awesome stories about an adventure that Clayton dragged them along three years ago at a Dennys. In the end, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?
Member Class and Elders
The hard truth is that a certain measure of cool is invested with Member Class. Higher MC Players are allowed to play elders and thus have a responsibility to monitor and spread around the cool. This is a responsibility to our fellow members to ensure a high quality game.
Elders need to invest cool in neonate and ancilla characters. Yes, you might be able to do something better, faster, and easier than that neonate. What’s the challenge? Why not invest in that eager neonate and have them complete that mission for you?
If you are having a planning meeting, bring along one of your neonates to allow them to witness and understand the politics of the moment. Explain your complex elder games to the neonate so that he might understand that level of the game. Pit your neonates against your rival’s neonates. Allow new players to join your lineage. You are helping out other players by investing your cool points into their future. Yes, sometimes the neonates will betray you. That’s OK. Not every cool investment pays off. You have to keep trying.
Mostly importantly, elders have a responsibility to watch the other elders. If you see an elder hoarding all of the cool and abusing neonates or new players, you have a responsibility to get involved and stop it. Every situation is going to be unique. Don’t be afraid to talk to players and see how they feel.
Storytellers set the vision for all of us, but it is up to all of us to strive to meet those goals.
Think about how you invest your time and how you play. Do you invest in others? Or do you hoard the cool?