A note from your directors
You can’t win Dystopia Rising.
If you’re coming to game thinking that you will not have fun if you don’t end up Number One, The Grand Ruler of All You Survey, you won’t find that with us. That’s because Dystopia Rising is not designed that way. There is no endgame win condition. There aren’t any prizes. There is certainly no main character.
Instead, we encourage a style of gaming called “play to lose.” Seemingly counterintuitive, colloquially called “doing the dumb,” playing to lose means that you charge into situations where you will not win, where you often know out of character that you can’t win, and you may even cause negative consequences for the character you’re playing.
But why would anyone do that?
In short: Because it’s fun for you and for everyone you’re playing with!
In long: There are a few reasons you might want to lose at a larp.
Fictional characters who are absolutely perfect, who always get everything they want, and who’s morals and judgement calls are so clearly in the right are guaranteed to be interesting to no one but the person playing them. Without a level of vulnerability and flaw built into a larp character, and a willingness to expose those flaws to other characters, the story stagnates around them, becoming bland and unexciting. Eventually, the character stops being a character, and becomes an idealized version of actual self, impenetrable and infallible. (See the trope Mary Sue/Gary Stu.)
When writing stories, we are taught to give our characters flaws in order to keep things interesting. This is perhaps even more important in a shared storytelling environment like larp. In creating the characters you play, be sure to give them weaknesses and personalities a few steps away from your own. Your character won’t always be right, they won’t have every skill and cool new toy, and not everyone has to agree with them. You may not even agree with your own character! That’s what makes them interesting to play as, and to play with. They have quirks and challenges and times that they fail, and there’s room for a helping hand to lift them back up, or put them even deeper in the dirt.
And when your character is at at their lowest, when they’ve failed miserably in some way - their best friend died, they were beaten in a battle, they’re disillusioned by their faith - something about that character is forced to change. Being willing to experience hardship creates opportunity for character development and deeply meaningful roleplay. The character is no longer the same person they were before. They might have new goals, new friends, or new enemies to oppose. The story has a new twist and you as a player now have even more things to strive for, all because you were willing to have your character make a mistake.
Looking back on who your character used to be and comparing that to who they become is one of the joys of campaign games. Even when your character’s story meets it’s end, you’ve created something original and interesting that will be a part of you always.
You "won", now what?
What happens after you win a game? Typically, it means that the game is over. You’re all finished and there’s nothing else to do. The ongoing series of stories that makes up a campaign larp like Dystopia Rising doesn’t have a neat end or conclusion like a book or video game.
At DR there is always more to be done. New stories will be told when a character meets a goal, either by you as a player or by other elements in the environment. When one villain is killed another one will emerge to take their place. New items and information and prints are released all the time. New characters coming and going, old characters living and dying.
By design, nobody can “win” because Dystopia Rising doesn’t have a set end.
Sure you might be the strongest, toughest fighter ever, but that means combat is no longer exciting, and you sit around yawing, wishing something challenged you.
Or you might be the wealthiest person in the wastes, but you find yourself bored because you throw money at all your problems and don’t actually get to engage with the plot.
It’s much more fun to actively avoid winning out of character, so that your character never lacks for something to do.
D.I.Y. win conditions
Just because there is no way to win Dystopia Rising as a whole, that doesn’t mean that you can’t set and chase goals. You should! But the goals you choose can direct your experience, for good or bad. Different types of players will have goals that are completely different than your own.
Maybe your idea of a fun game is one where you’re extremely knowledgeable about a topic, so your character’s goal is to research and study everything. You might win when you learn a rare Lore or find and construct an ultra-rare item. After that, you can find another rare Lore to learn and let your play continue!
Or maybe your idea of fun is being the strongest, so your character tries to become a master fighter. You could win when you max out your skill list and win a prize for defeating half the town in single combat. Meeting a new player with similar goals and taking them on as an apprentice is a great way for that story to keep going once a goal is met.
Or maybe your idea of fun is getting emotionally invested and ugly crying in character. In that case, playing to lose is the best thing you can do, because it can help make your character’s story a tragic one in a way that’s fun for you. You might win when your character dies and you have an emotionally-fraught Grave Mind scene. And then you’ll win again the next time you die, and then again the time after that.
Your goals as your character may be something completely different that’s unique to you. You might not even want a goal, and would prefer to just play and see where the game takes you. Just because nobody is the winner, that doesn’t mean that nobody wins. Winning is merely subjective.
Dying as winning
Dystopia Rising is about living, surviving, and creating a life in an often violent and scary world. But Dystopia Rising is also about dying.
Because of the horror nature of Dystopia Rising, your character will likely meet their end one day. This is built into the game in the form of Infection, and the multiple lives afforded to each character. But one day that death will be probably be permanent. Even if they don’t die a final death, you may feel that a particular character has allowed you to tell as much of a story with them and decide to retire them, or make a different character your primary character.
The story you, as a player, get to be a part of and tell, doesn’t end when your character does. Each character you play gives you the opportunity to add to the fabric of the world we create together in new and different ways. Approach character death and retirement as a way to tie up a story with a bow, or as a way to leave a dozen loose strings for your friends to explore and follow in their own roleplay.
why not play to lose?
Playing to lose, dying on purpose, failing to achieve goals, and doing the dumb are all deeply ingrained parts of the Dystopia Rising culture.
If you don’t try it, you’ll miss out on a deeper roleplay experience, thrilling fights with meaningful victories, and awesome stories to share with your friends.
So get out there, make some bad decisions, and have the time of your life. Or death. Whatever your win condition may be.
Sincerely, Dave & Krista
-Stolen with permission from Halden & Elena (DR GA)