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April 2018

Author Archives AaronLarp

This is a continuing series of blog posts that exposes the raw ego, naked agony, and rare raptures associated with designing a live action role playing event, The Dreamlands, from scratch. I hope this collection of self-reflections serves you as either an inspirational anthem or a cautionary tale of dire warning—it might be both.

Thanking the GMs, fellow players and Enigma at the LARPY Awards

Mike Tice thanking the GMs, fellow players and Enigma at the LARPY Awards

“I don’t know what all this trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.” – C3PO to R2D2 (Star Wars)

Larp Design

I postponed The Dreamlands larp. There were not enough players to support the structure (close, but not quite), nor did I have enough time to assemble or build everything I wanted. I overbooked myself this year, and now I pay the price. However, this means that I have more time to prepare the larp for spring 2014 and write some more articles about it. This delay of the larp dovetails nicely with something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while: blame and credit.

To whom do you hold accountable for your experience at a larp?

I see four entities contributing to the overall role-playing escapade:

  1. The larpwright(s), scenario writer(s), or system/rules creator(s)
  2. The event staff/GMs (not always the game designer)
  3. The other participants (NPCs or PCs)
  4. Yourself

Of course a combination of the above is possible and likely. But can you differentiate between each? If you have a good time or a miserable time at a larp, whose fault is that? Here are some examples.

Years ago I designed and ran a western one-shot theater style larp (though we did use Nerf guns) with elements from H.P. Lovecraft, earning it the pejorative description “Cactus Cthulhu” from some players upset that the Mythos elements were (intentionally) hidden from them until mid-game. Regardless, one player playing a thief was cornered by Pinkerton agents and shot near the end of the event. Recently, this player told me that it wasn’t my fault for her character being shot. “There weren’t enough GMs in the game,” she said. She blames the staffing, or lack thereof, for her character’s demise. But I look at it differently: she played a thief. The lawmen (and woman) deduced her secret identity and moved to collect her bounty. This occurred without a GM present. The combat mechanics were understood and properly enacted and obeyed by all participants. Is it the designer’s fault for creating a character that was wanted by authorities and allowing Pinkertons to be in the game, or the GMs for not monitoring every conflict? Are the other players at fault for playing their goals to the mortal end, or is it the fallacy of the thief player herself, for being plugged with lead?

Kevin Moran after his acceptance speech

Kevin Moran after his acceptance speech at the 2006 Larpy Awards

A converse example: at my first fantasy boffer campaign as a PC, I attacked everyone in the game with an area affect fire spell: “By the sound of my voice…5 fire.” Personally I greatly enjoyed the scene, as I spent the next thirty minutes braying in blubbery shame. I spent the rest of the weekend trying to make it up to the PCs. I had a great time, but other players still resent me. They didn’t have “fun,” the false god of larps (read my article on fun here). I don’t know if attacking the other characters was against the rules, so was it the designer’s fault for not telegraphing clear restrictions against character vs. character (CvC) action? Was it the GM’s fault for not stopping me or calling a hold and ret-conning the spell? Was it the NPC’s fault (I befriended a demon in disguise, I thought he was a PC) for encouraging the power display, or was it solely my fault for deciding to go ahead with it?

Another example from the second run of Rock Band Murder Mystery at Intercon, a larp I designed with Morgan Joeck. One of the first turning points of the narrative occurs upon discovering a body. In this run, many minutes went by before anyone saw her–I paid cash to a model to role-play a dead hooker in the con hotel; phrasing that casting notice took finesse. When she was finally found, the lone witness took clever steps to hide and then dispose of the body. But the plot couldn’t really move unless the other players saw the corpse. As a GM, I pushed fiat and made up an excuse to breach the secret among the other players and keep the plot rolling. Whom would you blame for the frozen plot: the design team, who should have constructed the opening reveal better; the GMs for not tipping the scales sooner; the other players for not investigating better; or the person who found the body, who stayed true to character and did everything right to conceal the stiff?

A final anecdote: in a film noir theater larp, one character played a police officer. After the first murder, the cop called everyone into the living room and prevented anyone from leaving. The plot could not continue, the game faltered and then fell. Whose fault? The designer for creating the character, the GM for allowing him to exert his authority, the other players for going along with it, or the cop character’s puppetmaster (player) for enforcing his auth-or-i-tah?

These examples are merely thought exercises for you because, I think, the answers reveal your approach to live action role playing. Are you someone who believes that you pay good money to be entertained, and the GMs damn well better give you what you paid for, or are you a loner who makes your own joy no matter what else is going on?

I don’t believe that any larp system is foolproof. No matter how good the rules (however you define “good”), I feel that a poor GM team or malefic players can derail even the best system. So, too, can a responsive GM or passionate participants turn weak or nonexistent rules into a profound experience.

A 2006 Larpy Award winner and two presenters (including baseball player Jose Canseco)

A 2006 Larpy Award winner and two presenters (including baseball player Jose Canseco)

And of course your own input into the mix is critical. I’ve had moments of incredible joy in terrible larps, and I’ve let myself and others down in extremely well designed, well-run events (sorry to everyone that played in “The Yearbook” with me at Intercon M).

Of course each larp, each larper, is different. But I think it’s important for all of us to know which way the four winds blow that whip any larp: the designers, the GMs, the other PCs, and you.

What can you do to ensure the best circumstances for a good experience? You can’t control everything, but here are some things to think about:

  • As a player, did you read the rules and lore? Did you spend enough time on them to comprehend them, at least for your character? If not, did you ask for clarification? Do you play to make the best larp experience for yourself or for others? Do you play to win, or play to lose? Do you use any metagaming techniques to adjust or reflect on your role-playing before, during or after the larp?
  • If you are a larp designer, did you make your rules simple or complex? Clear or opaque? Did you leave room for others to modify or change your rules, either the GM staff or the players themselves?
  • If you are running a larp, do you know when and how to subtly “rescue” players from themselves or the plot and when to let them twist? Have you adequately explained the rules and mechanics? Have you made yourself available to the players? Do you pick sides and favor some PCs over others?

I hope that a few moments of reflection and constructive criticism—of yourself as well as others, externally or internally—will lead to greater knowledge of yourself, of what you enjoy in larps, where and how to get it.

In the comments below, tell us about one of your favorite or worst larp moments. Who do you think caused that to happen: the game designer, the GMs, the other players, you, or a combination? 

 

Check out the rest of the series: Filling Space (1), No Fun (2), and PVP and PVE Fighting in a Locked Cage (3).продвижениесайтапродвижениепрограмма для android взлома wi fiбампер для iphone 5варианты оформления договора банковского вклада предусмотренные гкslots gratis casino 770massage parlour in dubaibet casinoPay with phone creditтур на майские с киевастеп братиславская

Dec 16, 2013

Larp is… a character-driven one-shot.

One of the most contentious divisions of the 20th and 21st century is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Just as hostile is the split between theater larp and live combat larp—but without the bloodshed, the battles confined to forum flame wars and bellicose bluster. Participants of one larp type typically don’t enjoy participating in the other. I know YOU do, though, my Special Snowflake. I’m talking about every other larper except you.

RBMMNot In My BathroomThere are subcategories within this bifurcation as well. In live combat, there can be larps with more Nerf guns than foam swords, a full contact combat system bashing away in low RP battle games or a light touch fighting style in a lore-laden world course. There’s a pigeonhole for each bird to be shoved into.

I am going to focus on a subgenre of the theater variety: parlor larps. This term was first coined by Shifting Forest in 2005 to represent larps that are simple to set up yet complex and deep in meaning. This style of larping has gone by other names: murder mysteries, mini-games (from New England), live games (from UCLA’s Enigma), “Tavern larps” and “nighties”, two different types from Germany, or interactive theater. However, I view all of these (which I am going to consider under the generic name parlor larp) as a subset of the larger theater larp style. All parlor larps are theater larps, but not all theater larps are parlor larps. I hope spotlighting a distinction between the subordinate genre and parent will illuminate the larger field of theater larps, with a little enlightenment dispersing dark doubts about experiencing this kind of activity.

Following are four misconceptions about parlor larps:

  1. Parlor larps never have combat in them.
  2. Parlor larps are for emo queens who love to cry and make a spectacle of themselves.
  3. Parlor larps always focus on dark, depressing themes.
  4. Parlor larps only use real world settings.

While there are certainly parlor larps that fit these points, not all of them do. Let’s instead examine common traits of a parlor larp. If a larp has most or all of these qualities, it’s probably a parlor larp, and if not, it’s probably not. Note the qualifier “probably” in the preceding sentence. Larp analysis and dissection is in its infancy, and our postmodern renaissance in the art and hobby of live action role playing is also nascent. Creating hard definitions for larps is like gathering fog with a fork. Like any good art, it’s up to the artists and visionaries to smash these categorical walls.

Caveats aside, here are four characteristics I use to define a parlor larp:

Classof901. Combat is representational: you don’t actually hit someone with something. What you do instead is widely varied but usual suspects include: rock-paper-scissors, comparing raw character skill levels, flipping a coin, drawing a playing card, and, rarely, rolling dice. Sometimes these are combined such as adding a PC’s skill to the number on a drawn card and comparing results. Rarer still are staring contests, thumb wrestling, dancing. The unifying facet is that the player doesn’t physically hit their antagonist with anything.

This does NOT mean that fighting is sparse in a parlor larp, just that the process for determining results is not based wholly or partially on the physical prowess of the player. In a parlor larp, Stephen Hawking could play Conan the Barbarian.

2. A parlor larp is not part of a campaign. When the event is over, it’s over. Some have sequels, but in general whenever a parlor larp concludes, that’s the end of the narrative—although like the “Whatever happened to…” montages at the end of high school movies, GMs and players customarily construct a coda for their characters. Related to this point, most parlor larps take place in a single, continuous time span, typically one evening. Atypical is the parlor larp that lasts more than six hours.

This limited duration and set finale usually funnels the energy of a parlor larp to a large climax as the PCs unfurl their big powers or reveal their scandalous secrets near the end because only a few minutes remain to accomplish character goals. This is both a strength and weakness of the genre: it almost guarantees an explosive ending, but it also creates a predictable, formulaic structure. But then, we know almost all movies climax in act three and we still enjoy watching them—a formulaic structure does not guarantee a faulty experience.

RBMMWaking Up In Bed3. Parlor larps emphasize role-playing and character relationships, a.k.a. “fluff.” Character point builds are uncommon so min/maxing is nearly absent, and since it isn’t a campaign, there are no experience points and no incentive to hoard assets, unless they are part of the character’s goal. This low barrier to entry (memorizing rules deters many people from larping) leaves a lot of room for character personality and motivation. The bulk of text on a parlor larp character sheet will be devoted to qualities like history, hopes, fears, flaws, desires, dreams. Whether the GM or the player or both write those words varies from larp to larp; the common thread is that there are more words than numbers.

This does NOT mean that parlor larps demand Oscar-worthy performances from the players, or that the characters are larger than life figures ogling to emote every emotion in the book in rapid succession. Some characters can be plain, subtle, quiet, withdrawn, and even stable. Either way, they are often three-dimensional from the start, not a matrix of stats that accretes personality over the course of a campaign.

It also does NOT mean that parlor characters won’t have stats, abilities, powers, skills, attributes, etc. It does mean that those quantitative qualities are sewn into the fabric of the whole.

This point does NOT mean that playing a parlor larp will leave you an emotional wreck, but you could, if you allow it, be emotional.

RBMMcorpse4. PvP: Most parlor larps are, as my wife explains, “A circle of fireworks aimed inward at each other.” Characters frequently have goals that directly conflict with another character’s goals. The drama from PCs fighting one another appears more than from a GM unleashing a battalion of crunchies from monster camp.

This does NOT mean that parlor larps uniformly reward narcissists. Collaboration, trust, and brinksmanship are generally critical skills for this genre.

This also does NOT mean that the GMs of a parlor larp are your character’s lickspittle or even a neutral party. They may be the ones to rebel against. However, most of the time parlor larps have some degree of characters fighting other characters. I like to use the phrase “CvC”, or “Character vs Character,” because I think it’s a misnomer to say you are fighting against the actual player for the larp experience.

Nordic style parlor larps encourage transparency before and during the role-playing. In the ubiquitous pre-larp workshop, the real players talk about what they expect, hope, and hope to avoid in the larp. With player openness, character conflict can increase in intensity. Nordic larps manifest a strong metagame component that shields (not completely) the players from the words and deeds of the characters.

 

limboNote that I didn’t mention anything about setting, tone, production value or PC count. A parlor larp can be a sentimental four-person (three players, one GM) exploration of a love triangle in the real world sans costumes or a screwball comedy for 40 sartorial sensations pretending to be mortals and immortals nightclubbing a Tiki bar in Hell.

Parlor larps, for all their austerity and brevity, have been known to create catharses and epiphanies. Their minimalism keeps a tight focus, much like Twitter’s character limit prevents rambling. Some of the strongest larps I’ve participated in were, in my mind, parlor larps: The Road Not Taken, Mirror Room, and The Tribunal. This is not to say that a larp fantasy saga can’t be impassioned or life changing. However, I believe it is improbable for an escapist hobby larp dedicated to providing the most fun to the most Paying Customers, a.k.a. PCs, to evoke or provoke genuine psyche change in a player—I said improbable, not impossible. Verily, a player’s personality change in a larp campaign normally takes longer to notice—months or even years.

Random Notes

  • Not all Nordic style larps are parlor larps, and not all parlor larps are Nordic style larps. They do have similarities.
  • Some live combat campaigns will hold a parlor larp between weekend campers, or as a convention event where potential recruits can get a taste of the larger epic.
  • There can be parlor larp elements in boffer larps such as a lengthy character backstory, an emphasis on role-playing, and even CvC (character vs. character).
  • Many parlor larp designers release their scenarios for others to run, so they’re easy to propagate. If you would like to read or run a parlor larp, some of the best were designed by Shifting Forest. They are all available as free PDFs here.
  • The Massachusetts-based Intercon convocation is also known for running parlor larps.
  • Parlor larps usually occur in one location, such as a house or meeting hall, but to me that is a common trend, not a requirement of the genre.
  • Parlor larps are common at conventions, but not all con larps are parlor larps.

Parlor larps are like low-budget drama movies, and fantasy campaigns are like grandiose TV series. Neither is objectively better, though we all have our preferences. One axiom: both styles can learn a lot from the other, and an occasional dalliance in the opposite form may improve your regular live action role playing.

It’s worth a shot.

 

If you are predominantly a theater larper or fantasy boffer campaign larper, have you ever tried the other type? Did you learn anything?

This article was edited on November 5 by the author to reflect discussion as to the etymology and qualifications of parlor larps, as well as add the last two notes.

Oct 28, 2013

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

wyrd con IV panel

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.

IMG_0424

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.

IMG_0446These 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.

Mint Gum

jim butcherIt’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.

IMG_0456

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

IMG_0452

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

wyrd con 4 square logoAgain 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.

 

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Oct 23, 2013

We recently got a chance to sit down and talk with Knutepunkt‘s Claus Raasted to discuss Nordic larp, his favorite KP moments, and what’s to come for Knutepunkt in the coming years:

claus1Aaron Vanek: How did the 2013 KP work with the Crossing Borders theme? Were borders crossed? What kind?

Claus Raasted: The thing with themes at Knudepunkt is that for the people who create the themes (the organisers), sometimes the themes seem to be very prominent, but as a veteran participant I feel that the themes don’t really have a lot of impact. Sure, a lot of people from different larp cultures exchanged ideas and that was definitely a case of crossing borders, but that’s more or less what KP is about anyway. I think the themes of KP mostly contribute in small, fun ways, but nothing major.

Aaron: How has the international audience for Nordic-style larps increased in the last few years? Why is that?

Claus: First of all, one of the most problematic things about “Nordic larp” is defining it at all. Finnish larp scholar Jaakko Stenros gives an excellent summary of the phenomenon here. It’s 30 min, but both entertaining and insightful. That said, we’ve gotten better at documenting, the power of the internet is growing, and it’s becoming easier and easier to find other kindred spirits who share your interests. Because of this, the Nordic community centered around the Knudepunkt conference has grown steadily, especially in terms of foreigners (from outside the Nordic countries) participating. And while Nordic larp (whatever it may be) is not for everyone, quite a few of these visitors return home as evangelists who start producing Nordic larps of their own – or re-running previous larps. Nordic larp has become a brand, and a powerful one – even though we may not always agree on what it is.

Aaron: What has surprised you the most about the international interest? Scared you? Inspired you? (and by “you”, feel free to generalize about the Nordic community if you like)

Claus: For me personally, one of the most surreal things about the international interest in Nordic larp is that people I’ve known for quite a few years are now becoming internationally recognized experts who are listened to in many places. I mentioned Jaakko Stenros earlier, who’s rightfully recognized as a larp scholar and authority these days, both in and outside of the larp community, but ten years ago he was just Jaakko, whose sofa I crashed on when I was in Finland, and who I’ve dreamed up crazy projects with after late-night drinking sessions. I vividly remember a night of planning, where we talked about establishing a publishing house for Nordic larp stuff. Now, ten years later, I have a publishing house of my own and both Jaakko and I are published authors whose works are cited by others. Him more than me, sadly, but you can’t have everything. Sometimes thoughts like that hit me, and they’re very humbling. We’re no longer just a group of friends doing weird stuff that nobody else cares about. Which is both good and bad.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I find it scary – or at least disturbing – how many people are quick to criticize and demonize what we do. Non-larpers usually go “Wow. That sounds crazy, but in an interesting way.” when you talk about some of the more ambitious Nordic larps, but there’s a lot of “You think you’re fancy artists, and you just suck” attitude coming from other larpers. Some of it is of course understandable – after all, some of the stuff that’s done sounds decidedly weird to some, and therefore pretentious in a bad way, just like all other kinds of art can be – but I’m amazed at how important it is to a lot of people to distance themselves from projects that I feel are incredibly interesting. Sure, not all larps are for everyone, but the amount of people who dislike “the artsy stuff” without having any clear idea of what it actually is staggers me sometimes.

claus 3Aaron: Is KP going to continue expanding in size and scale, or have they reached their limit?

Claus: KP is hopefully going to expand in both size and scale. If it doesn’t, spin-off events or events made by some of the same crowd will continue to expand. Mini-larp festivals like the Norwegian Grenselandet or the Danish BlackboxCPH festival are springing up and growing. Other conventions that are KP-inspired pop up in more and more places and initiatives made to broaden “our” impact (whoever “we” may be in this context) are happening all the time. If you want Nordic larp and Nordic larpers, the places you can get your poison are growing all the time. It is just natural, since the number of people who identify with the Nordic scene is also growing.

Aaron: Has it gotten easier or harder to run KP?

Claus: It’s gotten harder. My first KP was in Denmark in 1999. It was at a public school (a high school, actually) and we slept on foam mattresses in sleeping halls. In 2004 the Finns took us to a conference center for the first time. In Norway earlier this year, the most expensive tickets cost 475€. And we’ve also gotten older, which means that it’s harder getting youth culture funding, since we’re no longer youths. The bar has been raised, the “core” KP-goers are more clearly defined and the event is a lot more well-produced than it once was. On the other hand, the hype machine works as well, and this year’s KP first ticket batch sold out in 20 minutes. Your read it right: 20 minutes. A counter-movement is stirring; the Danish KP of 2015 has plans on lowering the luxury level and making it bigger and more economically inclusive to young people, and I’m sure the Swedes have something up their sleeve as well.

Aaron: What are your top three favorite moments in any KP at any time, and why?

Claus: Phew, that’s a tough one. I have 14 KPs to choose from, remember.

#1: In KP2004 in Finland, a large group of us had (for some obscure reason) decided to run around the hotel stark naked after having visited the sauna. Alcohol might have been involved, since there was snow outside. This in itself might be considered fun enough (it was), but the golden moment occurred when we came in via the front door of the hotel, only to discover that a couple of paramedics were there in full response gear because someone had had an attack of something allergy-related. The looks on their faces as we burst into the lobby is something that’s hard to forget.

#2: At my first KP in ’99, we were put into something called “intimacy groups” by the organizers, and were told to discuss certain subjects as a way of getting to know people from different countries at the beginning of the event. One of the discussions was on how to simulate sex at larps. Swedish larpwright Martin Ericsson (whose last big larp project was the Monitor Celestra) stood up and said the unforgettable words: “When I get beaten up at a larp, I want to feel I’ve been beaten up, and when I have sex at a larp, I want to feel the penetration”. I wasn’t even present when he said it, but it’s definitely a KP-moment.

#3: At KP2007 in Denmark, we had visitors from Belarus (a former Soviet republic, for those who aren’t current on European geography), who were there to get ideas on how to use larp as a tool for democracy in Belarus. During a spirited discussion on what kinds of larps would be interesting to bring there, a Norwegian larper said something which I’ll never forget (though I might misqoute a bit): “For the last ten years I’ve gone to larps to cry, to feel pain, suffering, and things like that. Now I just want to go out into the forest and beat up some orcs!”. To me, this is what makes larp so interesting. Sure, I’m into heavy-hitting stuff like the prison-larp KAPO, but I’m also a fan of putting on some armour and beating up some people with latex swords. Even though KP is a gathering of ambitious, wild-eyed artists, it’s also a gathering of people who like to have fun.

claus 2Aaron: What is the theme of KP2014, in Sweden? Please explain it.

Claus: I have no clue. It’s KP, and I’ll be there. Maybe we’ll hear more about what the theme is and means at a later date.

Aaron: Would it ever be possible to run a KP in a non-Nordic country? UK, Germany, U.S, etc.? Can the brand branch out? Should it?

Claus: It would be easy to run KP in a non-Nordic country. I was recently in Latvia looking at conference hotels there, to get an idea of prices, should we decide to move elsewhere, and Germany’s been talked about several times. I think KP should remain in the Nordic countries, though, but similar events could easily be held elsewhere.

Aaron: For those who are scared of Nordic larps and KP, what would you say?

Claus: I’d say it’s like being scared of someone because they read a certain kind of book and like a certain kind of movie; in other words, damn silly. Especially, I’d say something to people who throw the old, tired “Larp is just for fun, we don’t need theory or to talk about it. We should play instead.” in my face: we’re so many people from so many places who share a hobby. Of course we need some kind of common language so we can exchange ideas. Somebody probably at some point said the same things about movies, literature, radio, TV, and other forms of expression. We share a hobby, but we don’t always agree on what’s most important about it. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other.

Aaron: Would an American boffer larper ever get anything out of attending KP? If so, what?

Claus: Depends on what the American boffer larper is interested in. I’ve met quite a few “American boffer larpers” and some would enjoy it immensely, while others would be bored out of their skulls. Even so, I think some of the things at KP are of interest to all larpers, no matter what their “type” may be. Norwegian larp elder Eirik Fatland held an extremely useful and down-to-earth talk on characters and playability this KP that I think everyone could benefit from hearing. I know I did, and I can’t think of very many larpers who wouldn’t want to hear more about the growth of the Palestinian larp scene over the last couple of years. Mainly, KP blows peoples’ minds by giving them a taste of how varied, and colourful and sometimes outrageous the world of larp is. If you’re open to hearing about things you yourself might consider far-out, you’ll have a blast at KP. If you’re more likely to go “What’s wrong with these sickos?”, then it’s probably not for you.

Aaron: Larpers in the four Nordic countries seem to work well together. Is this true, or are there conflicts? Do you think American larp groups are in conflict or not? From an outsider’s perspective, what advice do you have for American larp cons who want to be cool like KP? Or should we make our own brand of cool, and what, in your opinion, would that look like?

Claus: Ha! The Swedes think the Danes are horrible misogynists who only want to get drunk. The Norwegians can’t understand why anyone would want to play something that’s not that serious and the Finns are considered strange by everybody. An important thing to realize is that while there’s a definite “Nordic” community that’s grown out of KP and its circles, the larps in the different Nordic countries are by no means all Nordic larps. Most Danish larpers aren’t interested in playing Nordic larps, and the same goes for the other three countries as well, though the Norwegians seem to have a higher “Nordic-interested” percentage than the rest. And of course there are conflicts. All the time. Some may disagree on politics, gender issues, language use, or methods, and larp styles and preferences also differ widely. One of the more well-known Finns, Mike Pohjola, wrote that immersion was the only goal (in his Turku Manifesto at the turn of the millenium), while a few years later, another Finn – Laura Kalli – wrote that immersion was overrated bullshit that you shouldn’t worry about. One of the strengths of our community is the culture of disagreement and that’s brought us quite far, even though some of us disagree strongly on a lot of things. So do I believe the American larp culture has conflicts? Yeah. I do.

And do I have advice for American cons? Sure. Stop being afraid of people being people. Stop making rules for everything. Let go a little. Some people accuse KP of being a drunken party of people who sleep around. I don’t blame them. I just think that some of the magic comes from the crazy parties, the secret rituals and the outrageous war stories. Most wild larp projects start out as drunken ideas at 4 a.m; at least quite a few of those that start at KP.

Aaron: Can you talk about the rant session at KP and the naming of sex partners, or other infamous rants? Does that strengthen or weaken the community to have a rant session, or that particular rant?

Claus: Of course, I can. But I’d rather refer to Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola’s excellent text on Play that they wrote after Rantgate. If I’m to talk about rants at KP, I’d rather link to the first Hour of the Rant from 2011, so you can see how it works in practice.

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Aug 19, 2013
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