Mad About the Debrief

Photo Credit: Eleanor Saitta

Thanks to First Person Entertainment (creators of Doomsday), and along with awesome Americans Jeramy Merritt, A. George, Emily Care Boss, and Sarah Miles, and awesome Norwegians Trine Lise Lindahl, Margrete Raaum, and Tor Kjetil Edland, I helped bring a Nordic larp to Connecticut at the beginning of October.

In addition to organizing, I also played the game, filling in for a player who went home sick. Both roles – that of player and organizer – shaped my experience of the game. And here are a few thoughts:

 

BACKGROUND ON THE GAME

The Mad About the Boy larp took place in a dystopian future, three years after all the men on earth (well, the people with Y chromosomes) died.  We played the game with an all-women cast, organized into trios.

The trios were applying to be part of an artificial insemination pilot program run by the US government, an experiment to decide who would have access to sperm from the sperm banks.

In the first act of the game, a Committee of four people appointed by the government evaluates each trio for motherhood. In the second act of the game, the last man on earth comes crashing into the program, and the women must decide what to do with him.

If you want to read more about the plot of the game, check out the sign-up page. You can also find out more about this Nordic larp thing, and how it differs from other sorts of larp here.

Part of the challenge for the organizers was to present the Nordic style of roleplay to a US audience of mixed experience and to condense what is usually a three or four-day experience into about two days — Friday night through Sunday afternoon.

In keeping with this style of larp, we spent the first part of the game workshopping, helping players understand the setting, develop their characters, and get to know the mechanics. At the end of the game, we held a formal debrief where people talked about their game experiences.

 

THE EMOTION OF LOSS

The guided meditation on the loss of men was the most powerful part of the pre-game workshop for me. We lay on the ground and imagined – as ourselves – where we would be on a usual Wednesday morning when all the men started dying, what we would do and where we would go.

From reading other player commentary, I think this felt powerfully intense and powerfully sad for most of us. I imagined watching men die in the coffee shop where I do most of my writing, then walking to Rutgers, where my husband works as a scientist in a mostly male office. I imagined opening the door to his research pod and seeing him and his colleagues – our friends – dead on the floor of that windowless room.

I had to open my eyes at certain points to dial down the intensity.

And yet, for me, this visualization provided my best in-game experiences. The physical memory of sorrow came out whenever men were discussed. When I met the nuclear family triad, which included Thomas, a trans man, he casually asked me if I’d had siblings. “Yes,” I said. “I used to have a younger brother…” and then I stopped, choked with tears.

The moment surprised me – the tears were involuntary, a reaction of the character, not of mine, making the moment as thrilling as it was sad. Although I didn’t talk about my younger brother in game – his existence recounted in a brief line in my back story, his loss made the disaster personal to my character – it felt unbearably sad to imagine, not just that he was gone, but that the quality of his mischievousness and energy had vanished from the world. Later in the evening, the group would recount stories about this at the party. It was not the last time I choked up in character.

That moment, small and unexpected, was among the most powerful of the game for me, and it felt so private and intimate that it took me days to talk about it.

The moment colored my game, making clear to me that in addition to being a game about women and their relationships, Mad About the Boy is also a game about loss. Later, after the last man entered, I could only stare into the fire. Another character, Christine, who had an unrequited crush on mine asked me, “You look so sad. Why are you sad?” No matter what we did, he was going to die before his time. So I kept quiet.

 

THE FRIENDLY LESBIANS NEXT DOOR

My trio, the lovers, represented a polyamorous triad of women in a love relationship reinforced by business ties. Alex ran a club on the lower east side, where Jo tended bar and sang, and Vicky, my character, worked as an electrician.

My trio had a certain amount of romantic instability written into it, and my co-players and I talked about playing on that and decided we would. Although we’d agreed on this method of play, in practice, we didn’t end up pursuing it. Instead, we quickly became the friendly stable lesbians next door, and at one point the Committee even told us we were models for the new order – they felt children with parents who loved each other romantically would be better off –and asked our characters, in game, to mentor another group.

Thomas and Linn teach Veronica to dance.
Credit: Eleanor Saitta

Naturally, since we ran a nightclub together, we decided to liven up the depressing environment on the three-year anniversary of the disaster by organizing a party after dinner. One character hosted, and people got up and told fond memories of the things men used to do. Of course one of the artists, a prima donna actress, did a burlesque dance featuring a flag stolen from her conservative cabin-mates.

Afterward,  we danced to hits like “It’s Raining Men.” The dance floor provided some interesting roleplay as characters taught each other to dance, while others played out flirtation, jealousy, and romance.

LIBERAL BIAS

 

Introducing the Conservatives

The Norwegian larpwrights wrote the game to take place in Norway. But Norway is culturally different from America, and a post-apocalyptic Norway is different from a post-apocalyptic America. For example, Norway is pretty small and it seems reasonable to assume it’d have similar borders after the apocalypse, but would the US survive as one big country? The US team updated the libretto to better fit our cultural setting – the Professionals probably wouldn’t have a fishing fleet, for example – a construction company fit better. But in general, we tried not to change relationship dynamics within individual trios, or between different trios. (Original libretto is available here.)

We had more players than in either of the original Norwegian runs, so we persuaded the larpwrights to write three new characters, a set of conservative women from New Bedford, Pennsylvania.

The conservative trio, as it turned out, proved to be a lightning rod for thought-provoking play. Out of game, our player base skewed liberal and had some preconceptions about the characters in the trio that created fascinating play.

The Committee’s Contentious Decision

On Saturday night, the Committee gathered everyone together to let us know that the Muslims and the Conservatives would be getting babies. Before the announcement and with rumors that the Muslims would get a baby but the Conservatives wouldn’t, one of the Muslims pled with the Committee to overlook their own bias and give a baby to the Conservatives.

The Conservatives received a baby because the Committee had realized that it was discriminating against the conservatives on unfair ideological grounds. Interesting, since the Committee had searched for a reason to disqualify the Conservatives, that their apparent liberal perspective caused them, in-game, to recognize their own bias and apply a corrective lens.

Later, the Conservative and the Muslim trios bonded over feeling ostracized because of their religion – people had responded to them with pre-set expectations. It was interesting to me that this feeling of ostracism should have affected the two groups that our cultural narrative often pits against one another. And fascinating that this experience, combined with both trios’ respect for religion in general, should have made them friendly with one another.

The Committee’s realization of its own liberal bias against the Conservatives was in itself interesting (though later it came out that they felt that higher ups in the government had mandated a baby for the conservatives) – and it served as a metaphor for the rest of us.

Liberal Assumptions About Conservatives

After the game, the members of the Conservatives talked about how they’d been treated by the other players. As a member of the Lovers, I’d had little interaction with them, but of course, when we met, I felt I could see disapproval of our romantic arrangement on their faces. And we made sure to roleplay our relationship in front of them. Apparently, we weren’t the only trio to do so – even undemonstrative trios not linked by romantic relationships roleplayed the physicality of their relationships through Ars Amandi in front of the conservatives, even if their trios weren’t particularly physical otherwise.

During the debrief, a particularly telling moment for me was talking to one of the conservatives’ players and hearing that she had felt positively inclined toward the Lovers, accepting our arrangement as a necessity, of sorts, in the all-lady post-apocalypse. That created fascinating guilt in me – I had made the assumption that they’d be prejudiced against us, but in fact, the prejudice worked in the other direction. I know I’m not the only one who had this realization.

So that was surprising and unexpected – recognizing that liberal assumptions about conservatives are as damaging as assumptions that run the other way.

AMERICAN VALUES AT PLAY

How the Meta-techniques Translated

We took a bunch of Americans of varying levels of game experience, ranging from experienced larpers to total noobs, and exposed them to Nordic larp. So, did the form of the game make them into Nordic larpers, or did it reveal a quintessentially American style of play?

The answer, as with so many complex questions, is a little of both.

In addition to the Nordic pre-game workshops, the game also employed meta-techniques, ways of breaking the narrative to heighten the drama. (Read more about the mechanics used here.)

If I had to pick a winner out of all of the techniques we tried out, it’d be the black box, a room with lighting and sound that exists out of place and time at the larp. You could go there to play possible or actual pasts and futures, or dreams and fantasies. For example, my trio had a teenage friend who came to our club and performed standup. We started wondering what her conservative grandma would think about her act, so we went and found her trio and asked them to play out our imagined scene for us.

In general, the workshop and black box helped people play in an emotionally intense way, I think, mainly by providing context for in-game action that deepened emotion. Game mechanics influence game play by structuring interactions between the characters. Give them lock pick skills and they will pick locks; give them a black box, and they will play backstory, creating emotional context. The black box in particular also seemed to encourage collaborative play, as players often set black box scenes for each other.

So I feel that we came halfway to the communal play that seems emblematic of Nordic larp, at least from the descriptions I’ve seen and read. Since this form of larp was new to most of us, it was hard to negotiate meta-gaming, the practice of talking out of game to your scene partners about what direction the game might take. Particularly since that aspect of Nordic larp seems at odds with the idea of total immersion, that you’re in game as much as humanly possible. And yet, for me at least, taking time out for black box scenes enhanced my experience quite a lot. And feeling encouraged to talk to my trio partners about how comfortable each of us were with physical contact, for example, helped make me feel safer in terms of roleplay.

I think that workshopping, and the black box are techniques that could easily be exported to many other sorts of US larp.

Unused technique: The Bathroom Wall

I also learned about a meta technique that we did not use from the Norwegians, inelegantly dubbed “the bathroom wall.” Sometimes, in Norway, people take photos of their characters, print them out and stick them on the bathroom wall, where people are often nominally in game anyway. You can write out of game messages to other people on the photos – “ask me about my father” or “my charm bracelet is not what it seems” or whatever. Then, if I have a lull in my game, I can check the wall, and find something else to play on, seeking out that player and asking her about her father, or bringing up the topic of fathers in general. My possibly erroneous sense is that this technique first appeared in medieval fantasy games. It seems like an exportable technique that I’m dying to see used somewhere, by someone.]

US Equality: Everyone Gets a Baby!

The first act of the game had very little visible surface action – we waited to be evaluated by the Committee, and got to know the other applicants. For me, at least, still waters ran deep, as the saying goes, and I felt very emotionally engaged in the game and involved in relationships, both with members of our own trio, and in terms of our relationship, as a group, to the rest of the groups present.

I’ve talked about how the core US value of equality affects larp in other places, and I saw this core ideal affecting the game here too. The Committee, the in-game government representatives, decided on Sunday morning that every trio would get a baby, a decision that ensured that each trio was treated equally on the surface, a decision that circumvented the Committee’s own potential personal preferences, and suggested that the right to reproduce is a fundamental human right. They clearly arrived at this decision after considerable debate. I think it says something intriguing, both in and out of game, about cultural values of equality and the much-touted equal playing field. My trio couldn’t believe that the Artists – an ad hoc group of ladies who wanted to film every minute of the kid’s life from birth until death – made the cut.

As a plot twist, however, this decision ramped down the delicious conflict that had simmered since the previous night’s announcement that the Muslim and Conservative trios would receive babies. And since we were all getting babies, it also altered our relationship to the last man, who rushed in shortly afterward – no trio now required him as a resource for sperm. And I think that helped many of the characters see him as human first.

What’s Our Default Behavior?

In the Norwegian runs of the game, the last man’s appearance kicked off a town hall meeting about his fate.

In the US run, it kicked off concerns of security. As medical staff got the last man comfortable, the Committee took charge, immediately exiling prospective birth mothers to another location to keep them safe from potential disease, and sending the armed outside to guard against the band of women that might be following him. When the last man refused to deal with the Committee, a new band of leadership quickly emerged and decided to get him off the premises, ending the game.

As I watched this dynamic unfold, it reminded me of power and status dynamics I’ve seen unfold in other games. The weekend plot hook appears. Some people take charge and send other people away. Then scheming happens and there’s a surprise ending.

Something about the appearance of the last man read as “weekend plot.” And as a group of American gamers, I think we fell into a familiar pattern. Our hive mind went, “Oh! A problem! We’ll solve the shit out of this.” And solve it we did, in under three hours.

During the debrief, it came out that several different sets of trios had different individual plans to get the last man out and away. Some people wanted the play to continue on longer – the party spiriting away Isak had plans to open the play back up to involve more of the players.

I felt comfortable ending the game where it ended – we told the players upfront that once it seemed like we’d made a decision about what to do with the last man, they’d play the music that ended the game. With so many plans and intrigues at play, I felt that the individual plan carried out wasn’t important – it was enough that one of the fragmented plans succeeded. Many people had the same idea – to spirit away the last man to an undisclosed location. Though only one of these particular plans came to fruition, it felt like the group objective had been achieved. That we resorted to plotting and planning and hierarchy seemed like a thematic resolution to our group dynamic, if not to the plot point itself, and to me, establishing that order felt like enough of an ending.

I don’t want to privilege one style of play over another here – I felt the end of our game was a perfectly valid and interesting end, and though it was unsatisfying to some of the participants, then that dissatisfaction is part of the bleed, perhaps. I found it interesting because it revealed our inclination or our willingness to accept hierarchy so long as no great wrong was done. I know my trio, gun-less though we were, would have leapt up to defend Isak’s humanity if we thought it had been under real threat from the government.

 

DEBRIEF RESPONSE

 

We did some formal debriefing – meeting in various sizes of groups over a couple hours to talk about what aspect of our characters we’d take home with us, and what aspect we’d leave behind, our most meaningful moments, etc. We talked about what real-world dynamics we saw in the game, and how we might bring the things learned in this space back out to the real world.  We also gave everyone debrief buddies – designated partners to talk over the game experience with.

During the debrief, Trine, one of the original Norwegian writers, told people something like, “You think we’re being excessively conscious of your feelings now, but we know from experience that you’ll feel differently in a few days.”

People were surprised how much their emotional involvement continued.

The day after the larp ended, the group’s floodgates opened, with people writing in to ask if they were the only people still emotionally affected by the game. There was a flurry of activity on the email list, and I had many personal exchanges with other players.

For me, I had a double larp-hangover. As a player, I was sorting through the emotional experience of play. As an organizer, I had to deal with feedback through that lens of emotion, and through the fog of a cold I had caught. For more than a week, I felt emotionally raw, unable to accept kind words about the game as praise, and unable to accept critique – even reasoned critique – without a disproportionate emotional reaction.

From the email list, I also have the sense that the game created a community that will yield future collaborations. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens.

We asked male staff members to dress as women during the game, in order not to disturb the frame of the game.Credit: Liz Rywelski

 

OVERALL

 

Considering that this is one of the first such game run in the US, and that the organizers had a whole slew of things to translate from a Nordic audience to an American one, I think the game went pretty smoothly. Of course, nothing’s perfect, and we could have done a better job with a few things — communicating with the player of the last man, including an opt-out mechanism towards the end of the Ars Amandi workshop, and meeting a few more times in our organizer group. Other people may have had different views of the experience, but all things considering, I’m satisfied with how the game turned out and the response from the players has been largely positive.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

 

Others Write About Mad About the Boy

Linn’s player’s real time debrief on StoryGames.

The Last Man’s debrief on StoryGames.

Organizer Jeramy Merritt’s take.

One of the Wealthy Women’s players writes about her experience.

I’ll link more here as they appear…and there’s some official documentation in the works too!

 

Nordic Larp: Designers Talk at NYU

As part of the run up to Mad About the Boy last weekend, I had the privilege of moderating a panel on Nordic larp with game creators Margrete Raaum, Tor Kjetil Edland, and Trine Lise Lindahl at NYU’s Game Center. We talked about Nordic larp design, edu larp, Mad About the Boy, and the challenges inherent in bringing Nordic larp to the US.

And halfway through there’s an assist from Swedish edu-larp guru Miriam Lundqvist, who was in town for the game.

And when you get done listening, you might hop over and watch Swedish larper Petter Karlsson’s talk on Nordic larp, given at the Smithsonian in DC yesterday!

Info for Mad About the Boy Participants

Want all the info in one place? Here’s a summation of the Mad About the Boy informational emails, from the organizers and a player or two, collected in one place for participants in the upcoming October run.

CHARACTER SHEETS

Email Lizzie (Lizzie.Stark@gmail.com) if you need a copy of the character sheets. They’re too big to upload here.

COSTUME, CHARACTER, & DEROLING

Deroling

Deroling is a way of helping people feel psychologically safe during a larp, both beforehand — which helps you emotionally go for the experience — and afterward — which helps you deal with complex feelings that might come up. You should communicate with your deroling buddies three times:  before the larp, immediately after, and one week after. In person is best, phone is good, and email is fine for this.

Before the game, talk about things that might be problematic — what you’re nervous about, what you’re excited for. After the game, talk about what you’re feeling. The most important thing, after the game, is that each person talk about their experience to active listeners. A week or so after the game, especially if one of your deroling buddies hasn’t been communicative, ask about their game experience and try to listen neutrally.

Costuming

Start to think a bit about what your character might wear in everyday life, and what props and accessories you might need to make her distinct. Is she likely to wear makeup or go au naturale? Is her hair plain or fancy? Is she a loud dresser or an unobtrusive one? Does she dress for comfort or style?

You may wish to talk with your trio about whether to present a unified front when it comes to costuming, and likewise, if you’re missing a certain something — ask! — one of your co-players may be willing to lend.

Your two greatest assets in the costume search are probably your closet (look for basics, like old suits, pajama pants, long skirts or scarves that can be knotted to good effect) and the thrift store (a good place to find costuming and things that your character might carry).

With all the men gone, there’s a lot of spare men’s clothing kicking around, and more women than previously wear men’s clothes. Some just use them as they are while others adjust and refit them. This has become a popular topic on the radio and between friends with tips for easy and nice refitting.

(Sidenote: if your character carries a gun, it must have a clearly marked orange tip so any observer knows it’s a prop, not real). If you want to read yet more advice, there’s a round-up of costuming advice here.

Character Development

If it’s not on your character sheet, you’re free to make it up if it fits with the character concept.

Also, many of the trios have some internal conflict, and it’s probably wise to talk that out a bit with your partners before the game. Might also be wise to seek out players outside your assigned trio that you’ve got an in-game relationship with, just to introduce yourself.

Building out of game relationships with people may help you feel more comfortable and ergo, play harder later. It also helps reduce worries about out of game relationships — if we talk beforehand and agree that you can yell at me during conflicts, then during the game I won’t be worried whether you real-life hate me. So negotiate with one another!

Nordic Larp

Since Nordic larp is a bit different, we’re striving to explain it, so that you know what to expect and so that the game runs smoothly. In all the email flurry, if you missed the primer on Nordic larp and how it’s different from many forms of US larp, you might check out the blog post here.

Also worth mentioning is that you have the responsibility to make the game better for everyone else. This means, for example, that you might take on a supporting role in certain scenes, helping make things interesting and intense for your scene partner, playing not for yourself, but for them. You might help direct a scene in the black box (more on this later). You might be there for someone in the off-game room. We’re in this together!

And finally, remember that story is king. When there’s doubt about the outcome of a scene, collaborate to choose the outcome that creates the most interesting story.

GAME MECHANICS

Story Rules! And Metagaming

In general, if you can do it in real life, you can do it in game. If one outcome makes a more interesting, complex texture for the game, briefly metagame it out (talk about it out of game) with your co-players and then do it. If you’re about to have a scene and aren’t sure of your partner’s boundaries, talk about the scene briefly beforehand. “Is it OK if I shove you a bit during this argument?” “I’m thinking that you ought to win, because it will remind my character of her controlling mother…”

In general, it’s worth metagaming about a) the direction of intense, small scenes b) blackbox scenes c) physical/emotional boundaries of players.

It’s not worth metagaming to correct small errors of fact (“actually, during childbirth the anesthesia is delivered three vertebrae lower.” Or “in riflery, the shell actually flies off in the other direction…”)

The most important rule, though, is following the improv rule of “Yes, and…” If your co-players hand you a suggestion, (“…remember that time we did impromptu open heart surgery on that guy after the disaster?”) try to accept it and run with it. You might note that accepting a suggestion does not always mean saying “yes.” (“I remember little from those weeks but the blood. There was so much blood. Did our surgery succeed?”)

And remember: you have the responsibility to make the game better, not just for yourself, but for your co-players.

Inner Voice

With this technique an organizer approaches a character who is currently not in the company of others. The organizers talk as if they are the character’s inner voice, and the character responds. Typical input can be giving voice to the character’s fears and doubts or encouraging the character to act on a personal motivation. When the organizer walks away from the character the inner voice session is over.

Ars Amandi

Some of the characters have romantic relationships. And some of the characters might want to. This will be modeled with Ars Amandi, a way of representing intimacy, romance, and sex in game. Ars Amandi permits players to touch permitted zones (hands, arms, upper shoulders) with permitted bodyparts (hands, arms). The mechanic is capable of a remarkable sensitivity – you can touch others lightly and forcefully and dial the intensity up and down with eye contact and audible breathing.

We’ll all try it in the workshop, but even though we have this mechanic, it doesn’t mean that everyone will play out intimacy at the game. You will control that through your character.

If you want to read more, check out this interview with mechanic creator Emma Wiselander or read the notes from a US Ars Amandi workshop.

Blackbox

Throughout the game, we encourage you to have scenes in the Black Box. This room exists out of place and out of time at the larp. We will have special lighting for it. It’s a place to play scenes that might deepen your experience – possible pasts, pasts, and possible futures.

Want to see your own funeral? Or what might happen after the trio breaks up? Or what the mother did to the daughter ten years ago? The Black Box is your place to make this happen. Often, Black Box scenes have a director, someone who can help you heighten conflict and direct the exploration. The director might be another player or an organizer.

Sometimes, you might wish an audience to witness scenes outside the frame of the story – maybe, for example, Melissa might wish to play out a confrontation from her past in front of Thomas, her current partner. This can help build tension for characters in the present; if Melissa and Thomas replicate the old dynamic when they disagree in the present, this means something for their relationship.

Violence

We don’t have a specific mechanic that we’ll use for violence, since this game isn’t about violence, and we don’t expect it to happen much (if at all). Should a struggle break out, please mime it using very slow-motion. You may wish to discuss out of game who will win ahead of time.

For those of you with guns – you can choose whether to fire your gun or not, of course, but if you fire it, we ask that you not do so until almost the end of the larp, which will be around 2pm on Sunday.

Safewords, Continuous Immersion, and the Off-Game Room

We hope you will stay in character for the entire duration of the larp (about 28 hours), including sleeping in character.

In many US larps, people put fists on their heads, or raise two crossed fingers to indicate that they are talking out of game. We discourage this, with the exception of metagame conversations about, for example, who might win this fight.

If you need a break from the game for whatever reason, go to the off-game room, a designated cabin that will be near the organizers’ quarters, and hang out. If you need to talk to someone, the organizers are always available. And so are your de-roling buddies.

Safewords. We’ll be using the safewords of “brake” and “cut” during this game. If things are at a fine level of intensity but you don’t want them to escalate, you can use the word “brake” to communicate this with your co-players. Likewise, if you’re in a situation where things feel too intense, you are always able to say “cut” and walk away.

SCHEDULE, DOCUMENTATION AND FINE PRINT

Weekend Schedule

Friday
3 pm – 7pm: Arrival, check-in, and set-up.
8 pm-midnight: Workshops

Saturday
8:00 am – 9:00 am: Breakfast
9 am – 1pm: Workshops  and lunch
1pm: Lay on
6 pm – 7pm: Dinner

Sunday
8:30 am – 9:30 am: Breakfast
1 pm or a bit later: Game ends
1 pm – 4 pm: Lunch and debrief
4 pm – 6 pm: group clean-up and departure.

Wavier

As part of our insurance policy, each of you must sign a wavier in order to be at the game. The wavier informs you of what your rights are under the insurance policy.

Clean-up

A couple of you have to rush off to catch plane flights, but otherwise, we’d like your help in cleaning up the site and packing stuff before we leave. We have to be out of the camp by 7 pm on Sunday.

Documentation

We will be documenting this game to help preserve it. There will be two sorts of documentation happening. More immediately, a couple of your co-players who are professional writers intend to publish feature articles on this game.

And in true Nordic style, a group of players — including Ella, Sarah B, and Liz — has stepped up to document the game to help y’all (and roleplay scholars) remember what it was like. The planned homegrown documentation includes a lovely, full-color book full of photos, personal reminiscences, etc., which the wonderful Danish larper Claus Raasted has kindly agreed to put together, and also some documentary video that will go up on the web somewhere. When they’ve got a handle on the planning, they’ll definitely put a call out for contributions.

Of course, while we want the documentation to be awesome and representative, we also want to make sure that your privacy is respected and that you feel free and safe enough to really go for it emotionally during the game. To that end, all chroniclers have agreed that when it comes time, they’ll be sensitive. They’ll make sure you’re cool with having your photo used or video of you used, and with being identified by name. They won’t talk about that really personal thing you said during the debrief without checking with you, etc.

There is talk of doing some pre- and post- game interviews, so stay tuned for those as well.

The Menu

Saturday Breakfast: Oatmeal with trimmings

Saturday Lunch: Lentil soup with crackers and cheese, carrot sticks

Saturday Dinner: Chickpea curry (vegan), chicken curry, basmati rice, roasted veg, yogurt.

Sunday Breakfast: bagels and spreads

Saturday lunch: Sandwiches

Snacks: Fruit, popcorn, coffee, tea, OJ, hot chocolate.
______

Helpful notes from players.

FROM THE DOCUMENTATION TEAM

The Book and Writing for It

Claus is  looking for two kinds of texts.

1. I’m looking for short texts (1.500 – 2.000 characters maximum) about what kind of expectations you have before the larp. What do you think you’re getting yourself into, how do you think it’ll be, that sort of thing. These texts are labeled “Expectations”. Simple, right?

2. The other kind of texts I’m looking for are also 1.500 – 2.000 characters (but can be longer if you feel like it), but deal with what you actually experienced. These texts are grouped under the label “Experiences” and are meant to address how it was for you. Did you learn something? Were you bored? Are you now a die-hard-Nordic-larp-evangelist or don’t you really see what was different about this compared to other larps? 

You don’t need to write one to write the other, even though it’ll of course make good sense for you to write both.

And don’t worry about literary quality, spelling mistakes or not having anything interesting to say. It’ll be interesting to read – trust me on this one. :o)

Oh, and bottom line: If you want to write an Expectations text, it needs to be done before the larp of course. But it’s only if you feel like it. After the larp, you have about a month (deadline november 15th) to get some thoughts down in writing.

And you’re of course more than welcome to write me if you need help, have questions, want to spar about something or stuff like that.

Other Sorts of Documentation
I’m part of the team collecting documentation for the larp. Some of you may feel a bit nervous about this process. Feel free to ask any questions as they come up!

Why documentation, you might ask? Well, several reasons. First, most media representations of larp feature fantasy boffer campaigns and are filmed from an outsider’s perspective. We’d like to show a different side to larp in America — that we’re capable of handling emotional, personal, and political material with maturity. Many people have expressed the kneejerk opinion that Nordic larp can never happen in America — we’re proving them wrong, ladies!

Also, documentation remains a long-standing tradition in the Nordic larp community, culminating most recently in the epic, canonical book Nordic Larp. So many amazing games take place around the world, including America — but, larpers tend to form insular communities that have difficulty sharing techniques, designs, and play reports with one another. How can people build upon the triumphs and mistakes of the  past without knowing what transpired?

Finally, the role-playing process remains mysterious from a research perspective. No matter how hard we try, we can never truly know what a larp “is” from an objective perspective, as that question shifts in meaning depending on time, space, and character. Each of you will have varying perspectives on what this experience “means” to you at different moments in time before, during, and after the game, not to mention what the experience means for your characters. Documentation gives us a glimpse into the essence of the larp by capturing the ephemera of those special moments and offering greater perspective than a simple summary can provide.

I’d like you to know some details that might help set your mind at ease about the process:

  1. We’ll have consent forms for you to sign at the game in case we wish to later use footage of you in the documentary.
  2. We will email people personally to clear individual photo and text permissions when we put together the documentation book.In other words — participation in the documentation is completely voluntary. We will not use footage or text we have not cleared.
  3.  Feel free to send me both in-character and out-of-character reflections at any stage of the process. Pre-game forum play, in-game journaling, and post-game reflections are all welcome. See suggestions below.
  4. If you want to film short videos of yourself getting ready in your Mad About the Boy costumes in the next couple of weeks, or perhaps just commenting on your hopes/fears surrounding the project, those clips would make nice additions to the documentary.

Some suggestions for good documentation:

  • pictures or videos of yourself before and after your costuming
  • a minute or two of video before the game of you explaining your interest in Mad About the Boy and how you’re envisioning your character concept
  • out-of-character reflections before and after the game regarding your hopes and fears
  • out-of-character or in-character accounts of particularly interesting moments you experienced in-game
  • journaling
  • interviewing (I will send you questions if you like)
  • forum threads
  • backstory writing
  • anything else you think might be of interest!

Again, please email any questions you might have as they arise! I hope you find this email helpful.

FORUM ROLEPLAY

Sarah B. has an online forum for roleplay for folks who want to get a jump start on roleplaying and fleshing out their characters. She advises the following:

I have an online forum specifically designed for role-play. I usually use it for Mage: the Ascension, but we can easily use it for Mad About the Boy. Forum role-play is strictly optional, so don’t feel obligated! But, some of you have questions about your characters and their relationships with others. Backstory is a great way to flesh out some of those early memories/details before entering the larp, which makes slipping into character much easier.

For those of you unfamiliar with forum play, there’s a slight learning curve, but feel free to email me with any questions (not the group as a whole to avoid spamming people’s Inbox).

  1. The web address is here:  http://www.bardstavern.com/ilahe/index.php
  2. If you make a login, please send me a private email  with the email address so I can know you’re not a spambot and approve you. I’ll send you a response when you’re approved.
  3. I will set up subforums for everyone.
    •  You will have a private forum for character thoughts/fleshing out details/notes, etc. I will be able to see it — but I will respect your privacy if you don’t want me to read your threads. Just let me know ahead of time.
    • We will have a larger subforum for people to post scenes. We have the option to play secretly or with transparency. I suggest having all scenes play out transparently, even personal reflections. This means that everyone can read everything. While transparency takes a bit of the mystery out of it, it helps build a sense of community, which I think is the best part of role-playing, personally.
    • I can make specific subforums that only the triads can see if requested. It’s really no big deal — I used to run a fairly extensive forum game. All you have to do is ask for a subforum.

Remember — even if you read something OOC, your character doesn’t know it IC, so please don’t metagame. ;)

AVIE’S CAMPGROUND LARP TIPS

From the awesome Avie:

I’ve put together a list of things I wish I’d know the first time I camped in the autumn.  (Or at all! I’m a hotel larper at my roots!)

I know that it’s been made clear we’re going to be at a campsite.  However, it might not have connected – the cabins at the site are not heated.

They have fire places, but they are drafty, “rustic” wooden structures, with all of the concerns that come in that package.  The average temperature in Connecticut during the month of October range from highs in the 70s to lows in the 40s (looked it up this morning. :-) ).  Think about that – we might have an 80 degree indian summer Saturday, or we might have the first hard frost of the year. Or both in the same day!

The last time I was at this camp during October, it was cold enough at night that I woke up vaguely concerned about how terribly cold my toes were.  During the day, though, layers were plenty to make it comfortable. I went from a thermal undershirt, a long sleeve t and a hoodie to a tanktop and back again during October two years ago.

Wear appropriate footwear.  Don’t expect to wear high heels safely; the ground is absolutely not suited for it.  Slick-bottomed dress shoes concern me a bit too – it’s not terribly unruly, but it’s not paved.

The beds don’t come with sheets.  Nor is there a great deal of privacy; if you’re an introvert who needs to disconnect, it’s not a bad idea to include an extra flat sheet, to hang across the front of your bunk to divide off space.  A sleeping bag is going to make your life much more comfortable – bring adorable bed makings if you want (I will!), but a sleeping bag in the mix is a big deal when your window flaps open in the middle of the night, letting out the residual heat from the fireplace.  (personal experience talking. brrr!)

Fireplace? what?
Yes. Fireplace. At least some of the cabins are wood heated.  We can buy wood from the camp.  If you’ve never dealt with a fireplace (Do you know how to make sure the flue is open? Do you even know what a flue is? No? It’s in your best interest to count yourself among the clueless.) Make sure somebody in your cabin knows what to do.  If you need help, tell an organizer.  Do Not Fake It.  Fires are great, if you’re safe and smart.  Fires are bad if you burn things down.  Have water nearby.

Firewood quarantines – my kin would be so confused by this. don’t haul firewood with you from another region; you might bring pathogens that hurt forests.  just buy it onsite. if you can’t afford firewood, tell me (Avie). I’m a crazy person and will end up buying more than I will ever possibly use from the camp because … I’m crazy.  and hate being cold.

Bug spray and sun screen become hot commodities on a camp site.

Hydration is a safety and wellness issue – pack a water bottle! Use it!

Bring a flashlight! The trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night requires it.  The cabins do NOT have individual plumbing.  (Also, a sage source reminds me that it will be 40 degrees out in the dead of night when you wake up and HAVE to make the dash across to the bathroom. it will be cold!)

Don’t forget that these are camp showers - the site says there’s “warm water” in the shower house, but I remember it being ice cold.  I tended towards the one-limb-at-a-time bathing protocol, to avoid hypothermia.  Don’t forget flipflops – this is like showering at the public pool more than showering at home.

The bathroom building was not heated when we were there last; I’m tossing my space heater into the car, just in case it’s necessary/appropriate.  I trust that folks will be smart enough not to tip it over or lean their toiletry bag against it and walk off.

Pack all of your gear in something that’s at least approximately water-tight.  I’m not saying to expect the cabins to leak; I’m saying it’s absurd to expect that it won’t happen and it’s absurd to imagine that the water won’t seek you out, specifically, and leave you with damp skivvies and soggy shoes.  Weather is spiteful like that.  In all likelyhood? an unnecessary precaution.  but I’ve heard more tales about living out the weekend in damp gear than I care to recount.

Pack at least some small, easy to transport snacks.  Yes, the game is feeding us, but at 3am, when a scene breaks and you realize that you’re starving, a stashed granola bar or a handful of almonds can make a big difference. I know the game will be less physical than a boffer larp, but for the campaign game I play semi-regularly, I actually plan 3am cake.  Almond flour cake for when we realize it’s 3am and we haven’t eaten since noon, because we haven’t slowed down.

My general packing list looks like this:

shared supplies made available to entire cabin:
sun screen
bug spray
toilet paper (just in case! also, subs for tissues if necessary.)
paper towels
trash bags (none provided in cabin)
broom (for cabin cleanup.)
dust pan
lantern for front porch of cabin and/or inside cabin
first aid kit
sewing kit
matches and newspaper for starting the fire in the fireplace
gallon jug, empty, to be filled onsite and kept nearby in case necessary for fireplace.
power strip for charging electronics.
flashlight – in the dark, even the relatively innocuous path to the bathroom can be troublesome.

Personal Packing
Space heater
bed linens, including a top sheet, a bottom sheet, a blanket, a bunkcurtain and a pillow in a case
sleeping bag
umbrella
towel(s)
flipflops

bowl
plate
mug
fork
spoon
knife
reusable water bottle – and I can’t stand most camp site water, so I pack some of those flavor sticks.  Not an ideal solution, but better than getting dehydrated and missing the fun due to a blinding headache.

– sleep layers.  that breathe. don’t pack a fleece top and think you’ll survive in that.  you’ll sweat and then you’ll flip out of your sleeping bag, and then you’ll freeze.  cold and sweaty sucks at 4am.
(again, experience talking)
– “cool weather gear” – scarf, hat, fingerless gloves, shawl, sweatshirt.  It might seem like overkill, but 45 is cold if you end up roleplaying outside in the dark, or the early morning.  at least the
bugs aren’t out much in that weather!
– 3x as many socks and at least 1 extra pair of shoes unless the forecast is solidly clear with no chance of trudging outside in the dew.
– 1.5x the clothes I think I’m going to need, rounded up.  The facilities for recovering from a wardrobe issue (like getting soaked in a downpour) are less at a campground game than elsewhere.  so, if I think I’m going to need one blazer all weekend, I pack two.  Because things happen.  If I think I’m going to need two plain tops, I pack three.  If I think I’m going to need three pairs of pants, I pack four. two sets of sleepwear – if you sweat through your PJs the first night, then get wet on Saturday, clean, fresh PJs are going to be a blessing.

personal toiletries: 
– baby wipes for fast cleanup if the shower just seems like too much hassle.
– Medications, in waterproof container.  If you have any sort of condition that might require fast access to medication (asthma, for example), make sure that somebody other than you knows where it is. That’s just outdoors smarts, but not everybody thinks about being across camp and suddenly realizing the inhaler you need is on the other end of the world.
– Glasses.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a larp when somebody who wears 30-day contacts wipes one out of their eye in an emotional scene or suffers an allergy attack and suddenly they’re blind because they didn’t bring their spare glasses.

Remember, too, the cabins don’t lock, and while I generally trust fellow larpers, I don’t bring anything onto site that would cause my world to crash down if it went missing.  Things happen.

Nordic Larp for Noobs

Featured

In light of the upcoming all-women run of the Nordic larp Mad About the Boy (October 5-8, Orange, CT, register here), here’s a primer on Nordic larp and its ilk for Americans new to the style of play.

What is Nordic larp?

It’s a style of larp created by gamers from the countries of Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. But it’s not the mainstream of larp in those countries either. It might help if you think of “Nordic larp” as meaning something more like “Nordic-style art larp.”

Watch Johanna Koljonen’s excellent introduction to Nordic larp here.

While Nordic larp is only a loose school of design, most games feature one or more of the following qualities/aims:

  • Immersion. Although there’s a lot of academic debate around this word, basically, it means the feeling you get when roleplay flows naturally and you really, truly feel like your character. Creating immersion is one of the aims of Nordic larp.
  • 360 illusion. The game scenography strives for realism. So a bouquet of flowers is represented by a bouquet of flowers, and not a card with “flowers” written on it, and so on. Part of the idea is that pretending a card is really a bouquet of flowers on it takes one out of the game world and inhibits immersion. Read more about 360 illusion on the Nordic Larp Wiki.
  • Few mechanics. A long ruleset for Nordic games is ten pages. Most games have far fewer rules. The basic idea is to introduce mechanics only when strictly necessary, only when the character and the player should experience things differently (as in, for example, combat). Mostly, the rule, tempered by common sense, is: if you can do it in real life, you can do it in game. Part of the idea behind this is that lots of rules can interfere with immersion — if I have to whip out my character card to use my lockpick skill on the door in front of me, than I’ve been yanked out of the world of the game. Sometimes, mechanics include metatechniques — ways of breaking the flow of narrative to heighten the drama.  Metatechniques include stuff like character monologues, or playing possible futures or pasts in a designated blackbox area.
  • Artistic vision. Many Nordic larps have artistic aims, whether that means helping players explore particular emotions, both positive and negative, or getting across a political point, or just experimenting with the form for sake of experiment. There have been games about refugee camps, prisons, AIDS, cancer, homelessness, gender relations and so on.

How is Nordic larp different from US larps I’ve played?

Of course, that depends on which US larps you’ve played. There’s been some exploration of this question over on the Mad About the Boy Facebook group, but here are a few things a US-larper might find different:

  • Nordic games emphasize collaboration over competition. As Norwegian larper Erlend Eidsem Hansen put it, “It’s more like singing in a choir than doing sports.” Larper Johanna MacDonald explained how this idea affects the game to the Mad About the Boy Facebook group:

The way it affects larping is basically this: we love to (sometimes) play to lose. The question is not necessarily whether my character will come out of this situation well, but what would make the most interesting story, and not just for me, but for others. Within this there’s room for all kinds of styles. I for one am still kind of the player who will avoid getting my character into trouble, but I *love* playing with larpers who help me find it. A scene where your character loses something important, loses status, is disappointed, has to own up to a mistake, or any of those other social horrors can be the best scene of the game sometimes.

  • Plot is internal and emphasizes character growth. In contrast, in many American larps, plot is often external and goal-oriented rather. In much American larp, plot is something to solve, with characters fighting goblins, figuring out how to launch the spaceship, or gathering objects for an occult ritual. Often, the game is set up so players can choose which plot points they would like to participate in, and each episode or “module” ends when the goal is achieved.

Nordic larp takes a different view of plot, and emphasizes character arc and emotion — the main plot is often something like “we are flawed humans struggling against ourselves and our society to find happiness.” As their main goal for the duration of the larp, characters might seek to find love, survive, give birth, or overcome personal failings, and consequently, game masters interject non-player characters into the game very very rarely. As Mad About the Boy player Morgan Jarl put it:

A character is in Nordic larp not a set of stats or skills, it is a personage with a background and goals, based in a web of relationships. The play is mainly for emotional experience and/or storytelling. It is to try to recreate a community of people much like an improvised film without the cameras (360 illusion), where everything is played for your own sake.

It may help to think of Nordic larp less as a game, and more as an improvised theatrical experience.

  • Secrecy is not important. Because many US games rely on external plot, and are more about the thrill of what happens, secrecy is often a major part of the game. If a certain spell will unlock a portal into another world, spreading that knowledge might rob other players of the joy of discovery. But since Nordic larp is more about character development and internal plotlines, secrecy isn’t necessary. If my character has issues with infertility, better to shout it from the rooftops before the game — you might find a way to help push that issue for me in one of our scenes together.
  • Metagaming encouraged. Stateside, we usually consider metagaming a bad thing. If I see where the GM hid that sword of awesome out of game and use my out-of-game knowledge, then I’ve deprived other players of their chance to nab it. In Nordic larp, since the plot focuses on character development, and there are few mechanics, meta-interactions are encouraged.Instead of leaving the outcome of a brawl up to our stats, we might step out of game and talk about whether it would make a better story for me to lose. Or if we are going to play a love scene, we might talk about whether we will play it awkward or tender, and whether you are comfortable with me putting my arm around you, or whether we prefer physical distance. By the same token, if you know what my character’s buttons are ahead of time, you can push them and help me develop my character further and quicker.
  • Emotional intensity. American larp often focuses on escapism and entertainment — and these are absolutely worthy goals — while Nordic larp often goes for intense emotion. Nordic theorists often talk about “bleed” — what happens when player and character emotions get mixed up. Many Nordic games intentionally produce bleed — if I am infertile in real life and play an infertile character in game, my personal emotions might bleed into my roleplay, and lessons that my character learns may stay with me. Players have some control over bleed — if I’m feeling really raw about my infertility, I might decide I don’t want to play an infertile character, or I might decide to focus my game play away from that theme. And then too, I might try to play on it and use a…
  • Safewords. Many Nordic games use the safewords of “brake” and “cut.” During a scene of emotional intensity, players can say “brake,” which tells scene partners “this level of intensity is cool but please don’t push it” or “cut” which stops game play and allows the players to walk away.
  • Continuous immersion. In US games, players frequently go in and out of character with handsignals — often a closed fist atop the head. But since Nordic larp has immersive aims, going out of game for minor clarifications is frowned on. If you don’t know the answer, just make it up. Frequently, there is an off-game area where players can go when they need a break, before stepping back into the action. Often, you’re expected to eat, breathe, and sleep your character.
  • Workshops and debriefs. Usually, but not always, Nordic larps are one-shots rather than campaigns, often bracketed by workshops and debriefs, which are considered part of the game experience. Pre-game workshops help participants get to know each other, and may introduce game mechanics, let players help create the game world, and include acting exercises designed to facilitate character development. Post-game debriefs help everyone leave their characters behind, provide a venue for organizer feedback, and help players talk about emotionally difficult experiences and things that were or could have been problematic.

That’s the basics, but I’m by no means an expert. Further reading/watching suggestions:

Nordic Larp
Nordic Larp Wiki
Nordic Larp Talks
Why We Play, Petter Karlsson’s introduction
Roads & Kingdoms article on Nordic larp
The last couple chapters of Leaving Mundania
Chat about Nordic larp with Bookslut

Did you like this post? Want to read more like it? Consider becoming the Pope to my Michelangelo and Patreonize me!

Mad About the Boy Sign-Up

The Plot

Mad About the Boy is a larp about survivors of a global disaster that killed more than half of humanity; an inexplicable disease killed everyone with a Y chromosome in mere minutes. The surviving women face not only the enormous task of rebuilding society, but also the possible extinction of humanity.

While the graphic novel Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra inspired the world of the larp, the game does not use any characters or storylines from the graphic novel. Our story follows a group of women who have applied to an insemination program initiated three years after the disaster. As sperm has become a very precious resource, only a few women will be given this privilege.

Players will portray women applying to the insemination program in familial groups of three. For video about the game, check out this Nordic Larp Talk, by one of the creators, Tor Kjetil Edland.

The Style

This game is a particular sort of larp, a Nordic larp. Rather than winning epic battles, participants will portray flawed human characters living in a reality that is very similar to our own, save for the absence of men. The aim of this larp is for each participant to portray a satisfying story within the game framework. This may mean portraying characters open to tragedy and suffering as well as open to happiness.

Read a primer on Nordic larp here.

Think of it as an interactive theatrical production rather than as a game — you can “win” only by telling a satisfying complex story that supports the experience of your fellow-players.

This larp does not rely on secrecy; participants are encouraged to read the original game libretto if desired, keeping in mind that it will be updated to reflect the US setting.

In keeping with the Nordic larp tradition, the first part of the game, on Friday night, will consist of workshops designed to foster community among the players and help them develop and deepen their characters.

Gender

Earlier runs of Mad About the Boy in Norway featured both all-women casts and mixed-gender casts, all playing women. Our US run will be all-women, with trans women and genderqueer people welcome. We’ve chosen an all-women run of the game in consultation with the Norwegian authors of the larp, who noticed that the mixed-gender run ended up being about the experience of men playing women characters rather than living in a society in which only women are left.

The game is open to everyone who identifies as a woman in one form or another. And that the people who sign-up may self-select whether this applies to them.

The Sort of Players We Want

Women open to roleplay about serious themes, older than 18 only. This game is for larpers interested in emotional plotlines, as well as non-gamers interested in the game’s theme, or people who loved interactive theatrical productions like Sleep No More, but wanted to get more involved in the plot.

The game is written for 30-40 players.

Got questions about whether this game is for you? Email lizzie.stark@gmail.com. Or ask on the Facebook group.

Organizers

This game is presented by the wonderful First Person entertainment. And is organized by:

The Norwegian creators:

Tor Kjetil Edland
Trine Lise Lindahl
Margrete Raaum

And American producers:

A. A. George
Jeramy Merritt
Sarah Miles
Lizzie Stark

Logistical Details

Location:

Camp Cedarcrest
866 Mapledale Road
Orange, Connecticut 06477

Date:

Friday, October 5, 6pm – Sunday October 7, 6pm, 2012

Here’s how we’ll use the time: Friday evening after people arrive, and Saturday morning, we’ll do pre-game workshops to flesh out the characters and their relationships. Saturday late morning through Sunday around 2pm or so, we’ll play. Then we’ll take a couple hours to debrief and clean up the camp, with departure by 6pm.

Cost:

$95, inclusive of meals and lodging

Why does this cost more than other area larps?

Well, many local games operate on economies of scale, but Mad About the Boy is an intimate experience for 30-40 players. We still have the same costs of camp rental, insurance, etc. as other area games, but have to spread them out among fewer players. We also think it’s important for the characters to have communal meals, which adds to the ticket cost.

Think of it this way: the game costs about the same as two theater tickets, or less than you’d spend at a gaming convention between food, admission, and lodging.

SIGN UP

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