WyrdCon 4 concluded more than a month ago. Since my presence was predicted, Larping.org asked if I could cover the con. Honestly, Shoshana Kessock is better for this piece because it was her first Wyrding and she’s not pulling levers and turning dials behind the curtain as I am; I’ve been either an actual staff member or shadow staffer of WyrdCon all four years. My fingerprints mar much of the machinery. To maintain a patina of objectivity I decided to write my coverage of the convention based on what I put in my mouth.
Journal of Meals at WyrdCon 4
Starbucks breakfast sandwich
Scarfed at home while my spouse impatiently twirls solitaire on her iPad
We live near Los Angeles International Airport. All four WyrdCons have taken place in Orange County, near the John Wayne Airport—a 45 minute drive away. The convention commenced Thursday evening, but we skipped that night—wisely, in retrospect—to continue prep work for events. I hoped to arrive early Friday to see two panels by special guest Jason Morningstar (his presence, my fingerprints) talking about running games. But who was I kidding? No way were we going to make it down there by 10am. Still, I had a game to run at noon, so I wanted to be at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa by 11am at the latest. Friday was going to be my heaviest day and I needed to gird the groin, er, loins, for battle. The Starbucks sandwich sufficed.
Obsello Absinthe at Itras By
Sipped with players in ritual fashion and then as needed
My first event was a run of the Norwegian tabletop game Itras By. I am interested in the intersection of tabletop and larp, and Itras By sensually reclines in that niche. It’s an RPG based on the surrealism movement of the 1920’s and 30’s, and has an improv mechanic: to determine the outcome of a scene, the protagonist asks someone at the table to draw a card that has something like a “Yes, and…” or “No, but…” structure for the person who drew the card to resolve the conflict. Rarely does the GM decide how a scene concludes. It’s a wonderfully evocative, imaginative communal storytelling game.
My wife wrote the scenario and characters for me as I didn’t have time to do so nor did I want to run the intro adventure. My player base mostly knew one another, and they performed exquisitely, like exquisite corpses.
Itras By suggests a ritual before play, and I can’t think of anything better than the ritual consumption of absinthe with sugar cubes dissolved with water—very 20’s, too. We polished off the last of my bottle of Obsello, a sweet Spanish Green Fairy. Maybe we hallucinated together?
Bento box snack
Quietly picked with chopsticks in the audience during the “Creating and Running Compelling LARPs” panel featuring the design team behind Hunter’s Moon: Kari “Twin” Brewer, Mallory “Mowi” Reaves, and Aya Columbia
After Itras By I had to get some food into my stomach, so I ducked out of the hotel to a bento box joint across the way. I’d have another shot at grub in a few hours, so a light repast would do. Their snack box was perfect.
This panel was informative, but limited in scope to boffer-style campaign larps (the massive majority of larps). At least there was acknowledgement to other styles. My takeaway is that there are three qualities to larp rules: simple, realistic, balanced. You only get two. I already knew this, but it was nice to have the panelists acknowledge that there’s a big difference in skill sets for designing compelling larps and running compelling larps. I think too many folks follow the auteur theory where the designer also runs the event. True, such skilled individuals exist who can do both, but I believe we could improve a lot of larps by realizing the difference. The panelists did, as there were three of them for one campaign, and they divided up the tasks of design and production (running) according to their respective skill sets; likely why their campaign is so popular.
Roasted chicken flatbread with sage, pignoli, and dried ricotta
Dined with Mike Tice, then joined by Fei Leung, John Kim, Renee Hammer, and Leonie Reynolds, the latter of whom was here from New Zealand and knew nothing about larp but was eager to learn.
The Bristol Palms restaurant is an indoor courtyard in the middle of the Hilton Hotel. You can watch the glass elevators ascend and fall from your table, and riders behind the tinted glass can see your dining companions. The Palms became the anodyne gathering point for Wyrd Con largely due to easy access, openness, and food options—others frowned at the fare, but I favored the cost-toothsome balance. Plus it’s cool to witness a warrior chick drinking at the bar with a two-handed boffer broadsword dangling from her back.
This was likely to be my last real meal for a few hours, as the rest of my night was constipated, but the bento box was only an hour or two into my intestines, so I couldn’t cram big carbs and calories. This light, tasty appetizer hit the spot.
The conversation was exciting, especially when Leonie joined us. She was new to larping and didn’t know anyone else at the convention. We welcomed her warmly, and I have enjoyed corresponding with her and putting her in touch with Kiwi larpers after Wyrd Con.
After paying the bill, I quickly prepped for my own Learning by Larp panel, where I talked about Seekers Unlimited and educational larps, then bugged out immediately to briefly NPC for Messina, a long-running fantasy boffer campaign mixed with 1930’s Earth (Nazis with nerf guns). I thought I only had to drop lore, but everyone wanted to talk to my character. Turns out it was a setup! I was killed by the GMs/NPCs. Yay.
I vamoosed to my hotel room, the one booked just for Friday night and quick-changed out of my tuxedo costume and began prepping Dockside Dogs, my next game.
Pork rinds, corn chips, Shasta grape soda, and Reese’s peanut-butter cups
These were the snacks I bought from a local 99-Cent store for the players of my Dockside Dogs larp-RPG hybrid. I ate some of the PC food, yes.
Dockside Dogs is a brilliant little Call of Cthulhu RPG scenario designed by Paul Fricker (co-author of the new 7th ed. CoC rulebook), who donates all proceeds from the sale of this adventure to cancer research in the UK. Fricker also wrote the CoC monograph Gatsby & the Great Race, another momentous module that I ran as a mixed sit-down tabletop RPG and larp at Wyrd Con II. For DDogs, I turned it into a full-scale larp. Yes, there were character sheets with stats, but they weren’t necessary at all. A few minor alterations had to be made to the text, but it’s 95% what Paul wrote sans numbers for attributes, skill levels, or dice rolls.
The scenario begins when the players, portraying thieves that just pulled off a big heist (it’s based on the movie Reservoir Dogs) are racing to the hideout. I split the PCs up into three cars. Dialogue and music from the movie played as we sped to the actual offsite game location. I rented a photography studio to house Dockside Dogs, because hosting this larp in a hotel ballroom bores me. Location and immersion are usually paramount to larps I produce, so I sacrificed a few hundred dollars so the PCs could, perhaps, have an unforgettable experience.
I won’t go into details of the event because I hope to run it again at Intercon in 2014, though probably not at an offsite location; I don’t live in Massachusetts. Needless to say, I think it went over very, very well. I mean, Reservoir Dogs meets Call of Cthulhu? In a remote industrial park location? I thought it was cool, at least.
Woodford Reserve bourbon on the Hilton’s 6th floor lounge with DDogs players and others
We needed some decompression after DDogs, so two of the players (who enjoyed the game enough to later run it themselves), brought out a bottle of bourbon to encourage colloquy. Other larpers joined us, and we confabbed into the wee hours. It was great to chat with Ajit George, a larper on the east coast who also made the journey to the Wyrd west coast.
These impromptu discussions are often my favorite part of conventions; where we exchange ideas, theories, criticisms, recommendations, and gossip. Like life, I think it’s climacteric to give creative larpers time and space to be human with one another before donning character roles in the next epic. I know the impetus to generate a tsunami of programming runs strong with many con committees, but if there’s any bit of advice I can give, it’s to schedule in a few hours of socializing. Wyrd Con has a cocktail party on Thursday night, and there was another one on Saturday night, so kudos to them for providing opportunity for tête-á-tête. We took our own liberties as well.
Panda Bear Cookies
Before going to bed at 4am Saturday, I scarfed a bag of bear-shaped cookies with chocolate centers from Mitsuwa. I hadn’t eaten real food since about 6pm (the flatbread). Cookie bears soaked up good bourbon.
Cold Frappuccino with yogurt granola parfait from Hilton Hotel Starbucks
Devoured minutes before a discussion with Jason Morningstar about the combination of larps and tabletop RPGs
While I’m thankful that I wasn’t double booked in the schedule, I wish I wasn’t committed to a 9am panel seven hours after I finished a larp. Nevertheless, Jason Morningstar and I soldiered through a fairly informal discussion about the ebb and flow of techniques, styles, content, etc., between tabletop RPGs and larps. Obviously larp is deeply indebted to Dungeons & Dragons for advancing the art (NOT creating larp, which it did not do), but that’s not the only influence, and it was fun to talk with Jason about the other aspects, and what each medium can learn from the other.
We didn’t have any formal presentation or slides, nor can I really remember much of the panel except how much I wanted to go back to sleep. I know one of the big things to bring into larp from the table is metagaming: it’s OK and sometimes beneficial to talk OOC about what’s going on in the larp.
Immediately before I tucked myself back into bed for a few more winks, I remembered that I left my bag in the panel room. Barefoot I hopped back down to the room only to discover that it was populated with the big guests, Jim Butcher and Jeff Gomez, plus a packed house. Without wanting to break up the flow—or to do so in a comedic fashion—I put my fist atop my head* and bounded up, grabbed my bag, and left to gallons of guffaws and laughter. Whether it was my gesture or Butcher’s comment of “We can still see you!” is unclear, but whatever. I went back to sleep.
Cobb Salad Wrap and Fries
Eaten alone at the Bristol Palms courtyard restaurant, but late in my meal I struck up a conversation with two women who were attending Wyrd Con for the first time. One was a huge Jim Butcher fan and aspired to be an author. Between mouthfuls of Cobb I role-played stereotypical male nerd and told her what she should do as a writer. More specifically, I told her what published authors told me. She ended up playing in the same Dresden Files larp that I was in on Sunday.
It’s always a good idea to have fresh breath and absence of body odor at cons (I wish this wasn’t a lesson to people). I quietly masticated during Jim Butcher’s panel on how to connect with your audience in story and larp.
I thought it fascinating to watch JB hold court before a crowd of fans in the hall prior to speaking. There was a definite 4-feet distance between him and anyone else, an aura of “I am famous and you are not” that low level fans wouldn’t (couldn’t?) cross for decorum.
Butcher’s lecture, however, was great and inspired me to read his novels, perhaps in a few decades when I have some free time. Takeaway: audiences connect with characters on an emotional level. To reveal emotion to the audience, Butcher uses the following formula as characters react to a plot event. His example was a car accident. First, there’s an id-reaction: anger, fear, etc. Something purely brain stem—“That asshole just hit me!”
Then reason kicks in: “Oh wait, that was my fault.”
A review of the situation follows: “Am I all right? Is the other person all right? Is the car OK?”
Finally, a decision is made: “I will exchange contact info and insurance information” or “I will drive away and hide.”
That decision leads to another plot point: hunted by police, say.
Although Jim mentioned larp, he didn’t really connect his lecture—which is great for writing stories—to live action role playing, so I’ll fumble an explanation for you.
Emotions are important in larps. Don’t ignore them. Let characters react to events in an emotional fashion. There’s no need to constantly throw mods or crunchies of plot devices at your PCs. Let them ruminate and react to whatever you’ve plotted. I know some GMs prefer to overbook their NPCs and PCs, but my personal favorite moments in larps are those character interactions between events; the four parts that Butcher described. The reaction of players is more important—to me, anyway—than the active, GM-delivered package.
And as players, take time to reflect on what just happened. Allow yourself to feel the emotions, reason your way through the details, review the memories, and decide on a course of action based on the previous three steps. This may slow your larps down, but, I aver, will increase the depth and power of the larps you participate in, no matter what type, genre, or style.
This is just a recommendation. You may enjoy continuous action, either running or playing that way. Nothing wrong with that, but not my usual cup of mead.
Roast Duck with Rice at Mitsuwa
Enjoyed with John Kim, Jason Morningstar, Ed Murphy and my wife Kirsten
Mitsuwa is a Japanese supermarket with a small food court that serves delicious entrees. Some of the best udon and soba are served at Mitsuwa. Jason reveled while I took it for granted; I live less than a mile from another link in the Mitsuwa chain, and less than five miles from LA’s Little Tokyo. I forget that most of the country can’t walk to wonderful Nipponese food.
Our conversation was delightful, but I forgot the content. I think it was mostly small talk—review of the events of Wyrd Con.
Cocktail Hour at Bristol Palms
Con chair Ira Ham invited folks to enjoy a cocktail around 8pm at the courtyard. I finally made it out there after a secret power meeting graciously arranged for me by a wonderful person.
The cocktail hour was great, again, because I had time to hang out and chat, finally, with great folks: Ajit, The Strix, Shoshana, even Ira himself. When I am in a larp event, I try to give it 100% of my focus—I don’t like talking OOC if I can help it. But I enjoy communicating with other larpers, so I was happy for the opportunity to listen and talk to them.
Chicken Pita Sandwich purchased at 7-11, eaten at Hyatt Regency Hotel room at 4am
I reserved a hotel room at the Hilton (location of Wyrd Con) for just one night. Turns out we could have used two nights, but they were sold out. So I booked a room at another nearby hotel. After a disappointing Starship Valkyrie game that started late and concluded with an interminable wrap up, there wasn’t much to chow down on at 3am. This 7-11 sandwich was surprisingly more edible than I predicted. I closed my eyes at 4am and awoke at 8am for a 10am larp.
Boudin Breakfast Sandwich
Slammed at 10am while reading my character for a Dresden Files larp run by Shoshana and others using a Fate/Core system. My character didn’t have much say in the plot, but I did the best I could. I’ve never read Butcher’s books so I missed the in-jokes. Still, this game, with a comprehensible plot, fell heavily on the Big Drama side, which was nice. Great role-playing by everyone, tears were shed, emotions were shouted, Butcher stuck his head in for a few moments, and we ended early—but then another long wrap up.
Trail Mix purchased at Hilton Gift Shop
I shouldn’t have shoved so many handfuls of this into my maw during closing ceremonies, but I was acutely peckish and unable to sit through the awards and convention wrap without them.
Some deets for Wyrd 4 and 5:
- Just over 400 attendees at Wyrd 4
- Wyrd 5 will be at Westin Hotel by LAX (yay!)
- Memorial Day weekend 2014 (?!?!?)
Shoshana ended up winning a cool boffer sword that she left with me to ship instead of taking it through TSA on her flight back to the east coast. I still have it, unfortunately.
Beef ravioli in yellow corn sauce
Again at the Bristol Palms courtyard, at the informal ACP (after-con party). This wasn’t the power meeting of Wyrd staffers (that happened elsewhere), but there was a large group with engaging conversation was just as stimulating as before: gossip, tips, promises, praise, complaints, and genuine embraces. I sometimes wish America weren’t so many square miles, and we could all larp together every weekend.
Some rum cocktail
I forgot what I made myself at home, but I know it had rum. I enjoyed a rare nine hours of uninterrupted sleep.
It’s difficult for me to compare each Wyrd Con to one another; they all had their strengths with some hiccups. I’ve always enjoyed myself, learned something, connected to new friends or rekindled old contacts, and highly recommend the event to anyone interested in interactive storytelling. True, it’s not all larping at Wyrd Con, but I think no matter if you are a larper or a transmedia practitioner or indie RPGer, there’s something fun and cool for you at this upstart SoCal con, and I strongly suggest you make it out at least once in your life, if not annually. The staff works their asses off to put on a great show, the games are cutting edge, the hospitality is soothing.
But I don’t know about this Memorial Day thing.
* A fist over your head is a sign in many boffer larps that the person is out of game, and should be ignored. But you knew that, didn’t you?