New in Larp: June 25, 2013

The cast of Limbo poses with their eyeshades and tickets to the hereafter.

The cast of June’s Highland Park, NJ run of Tor Kjetil Edland’s Limbo poses with their eyeshades and tickets to the hereafter.

There’s been a whirlwind of activity over here at chez Stark, but I’ve still managed to cram in some larp-related activity. Since the last time I ran one of these, there’s been lots that’s new in larp. Here, in no particular order, is what I’ve been reading, running, and drooling with envy over:

Larp in the Middle East

Did you know that there’s larp happening in places like Lebanon and Palestine? Well, it’s on, my friends. And it’s got lots of Nordic support.

  • Piece on the first kids’ larp in Lebanon, from Fantasforbundet, a Norwegian larp group
  • The Palestine larp scene is heating up, thanks to local larp group Peace and Freedom Youth Forum (PFF):
    • Last fall, a dual project between the Nordicans and the Palestinians ran in Ramallah — ‘Til Death Do Us Part, a wedding game.
    • Some Finnish designers are collaborating with PFF on a two-part game called State of Siege, about living under a military regime. The first part runs in Helsinki on Nov 15-17, and is open to foreign-born but English-speaking participants. I’ve heard rumors that a second edition will run in Palestine next year.
    • I had the pleasure of meeting some folks from the PFF at Knutepunkt this year. Sounds like they’ve got a short larp going every few weeks, including the Superhero Dance Battle produced as part of this year’s Larpwriter Exchange Academy.

Talking and Writing About Larp

 

Actual Larps that Ran Or Will Run Soon

Re-runs of earlier games:

  • Panopticorp ran about a week ago in Copenhagen. It’s a larp about a cut-throat PR company doing business with morally questionable clients. The game was a re-run of an earlier Norwegian larp played about a decade ago. This time around, more than 40 larpers from at least six countries Skyped, emailed, called and walked-in to play the customers for the game’s 20+ players. I’ve heard whispers that if someone produces a script, there are organizers in at least three countries who’d be willing to run it again…
  • This weekend and next weekend, Mad About the Boy runs again in Sweden. One run is mixed-gender, the other is all-women.
  • In August, Just a Little Lovin’, about the summer AIDS came to NYC, will be re-run in Copenhagen.

New runs of new games:

My Corner of the World

  • Together with performance researcher Emma Leigh Waldron and RPG researcher Aaron Trammell, I helped run the Norwegian game Limbo, by Tor Kjetil Edland in Highland Park, NJ. We had about 25 players, including people completely new to gaming or to larp, seasoned US larpers, and a few folks who have played Nordic-style games before in the US. We did a two-hour workshop, inspired by Edland’s run of the same game at Knutepunkt this year. Our version took place in the parlor of a local church. On the same day, Limbo also ran in Croatia — you can read organizer Ivan Zalac’s play report here.
  • I’m helping edit a book of Norwegian larp scripts in English. Welcome to the Larpfactory Book Project. The project also includes a series of workshops in Norway on how to write larp scripts, as well as a website containing game materials and video demonstrations of various Nordic larp techniques. Join this Facebook group for updates on the project, including downloads when they become available. Or visit the project website!
  • Designers and US art larp veterans John Stavropoulos, Terry Romero, and Kira Scott have pledged to create a Monsterhearts larp system as a stretch goal if the Kickstarter for this game about teen monsters in love is funded. They’ll use a modified version of Ars Amandi to optionally represent the tabletop’s signature sex moves.

New Conventions and New Scenes

Dude. So much exciting stuff happening.

Whew. I know I missed something else awesome. What else did I miss?

Mad About the Boy in Wyrd Con Book

The Wyrd Con Book, edited by Sarah Lynne Bowman and Aaron Vanek is out. The book is an anthology of essays about gaming and larp put out by California’s Wyrd Con convention. It’s available for free download here.

I’ve got an essay on Mad About the Boy, the Nordic larp I helped run this October in Connecticut, in it. But that’s not the only reason you should read it. It’s got fabulous pieces by the likes of Emily Care Boss, Jason Morningstar, J. Li, Evan Torner, and many more!

Wyrd Con 2012: Larp Meets Transmedia

The very nice Wyrd Con badge; someone noted that it made us all look like Lovecraftian cultists.

This blog post is up late because I’ve been in Los Angeles for a week, attending Wyrd Con, a convention of participatory culture.

One of the more interesting conventions I’ve attended, Wyrd Con combined both panels on larp, transmedia and alternate reality games (ARGs; more on this later) with innovative convention larps and ARGs. In the mornings, you could learn about gaming theory; in the afternoons, you could practice it.

Wyrd Con is only in its third year, but the mix of theory and practicum, of intriguing game line-up, high production values, and interesting people, made this convention one of my favorites. Although it’s still developing its identity, it’s got loads of promise, and if it were closer to me, on the east coast, I’d be there every year. It’d be a great choice of con for Nordic larpers wanting to experience the arty American way.

Enough with the preliminaries, on to the good stuff, subtitled, because I broke the blogging rule and wrote a long post.

The Teams

Team transmedia — a friendly tribe almost uniformly dressed in black clothing or business casual — could be found watching panels or networking at the hotel bar and other locales I failed to uncover. I don’t think I’ve ever given away all the business cards I’m carrying, but it happened here thanks to team transmedia.

Meanwhile, team larper chilled largely on the lower level, where most of the games ran. Easily identifiable by their jeans, T-shirts, and/or crazy costuming, they spent the convention playing and/or talking about games.

The staff’s attitude was very laid back and welcoming; this was the most photographed/media-ized convention I’ve been to; I liked that there was a staff member dedicated to liaising with GMs before their larp events.

Awesome Game Designers Who Happen to be Women

Coolest thing about Wyrd Con: SO MANY women designers on the transmedia and larp sides. I talked with some transmedia ladies, who told me that their field has almost half women designers, and many women spoke on panels. On the larp side of things, while the player base was about 40% female, women ran MORE THAN HALF THE GAMES.

What I Learned About Transmedia 

The stuff I know about transmedia probably wouldn’t fill a teaspoon, so take my comments with a bucket full of Cthulhu guts. I did get a nice introduction to both transmedia and alternate reality games (ARGs).

For starters, defining “transmedia” is a little like defining “freeform” — ask three people and you’ll get seven definitions with different details. Near as I can tell, it seems to mean something like multimedia storytelling, using different platforms to tell one story, begging the question — is something like this interactive piece on Darfur transmedia storytelling? I wonder whether there’s a requirement of interactive-ness inherent in transmedia, and if so, whether this Darfur piece meets the bar. Clicking isn’t enough on the ARG side of things, that’s for sure — alternate reality games seem to require some sort of deeper engagement.

What I Learned About ARGs

Before this convention, my main understanding of ARGs game from a couple essays and this video on the Conspiracy for Good, which I learned about on my trip to Knudepunkt 2011. (Sidenote: the Nordic folk who helped make this have a new ARG about to launch).

Thanks to the panel, ARG 101: An Introduction to Alternate Reality Gaming, moderated by John Greg Gomez with speakers Bret Shefter, April Arrlington, and Maria Alexander, I learned a bit more about ARGs, including some of the terminology. The entrance to an ARG, the “rabbit hole,” is often not publicized or is deliberately hidden. For example, in The Beast (2001), a game produced for Stephen Spielberg’s A.I., designers hid one rabbit hole in the movie poster, listing Jeanine Salla as “Sentient Machine Therapist” in the credits. Googling her name sent players to the start of the game.

ARGs often produce a “hive mind,” a collective of individuals working together from disparate locations to solve a puzzle, from hacking into a website, to assembling information dispersed widely in time and space by the designers. Players collect information stashed in various media — websites, real world locations, via phone calls, tweets, in online video, etc — and piece it together to solve puzzles that then reveal new bits of the story — like an elaborate scavenger hunt.

ARGs are also pervasive, and at times conflate the real world and the game world, as in the game Red Cloud Risingwhere I mistook a nasty sodden pair of pants wadded up on a NYC park bench as a potential clue. This plays into the “this is not a game” aesthetic, also characteristic of ARGs, which I didn’t fully understand as a concept. This is not a game seems to involve telling players that the game is not a game, which contributes to an ARG’s pervasiveness, but it also seems to refer to a linguistic point. ARGs aren’t games in the proper sense because they aren’t closed systems with rules that are defined, rather, the playing of the game helps define the rules and the narrative.

I left the panel with a number of questions, later discussed with a couple of transmedia folk — have standard structures for ARG narratives emerged, ways of defining beginning middle and end? (Answer: no, all ARGs are different, though they do use common sorts of puzzles.)

As ARGs are a participatory medium, I’m also intrigued by what counts as participation — at first glance, it seems like ARGs create railroad narratives that shepherd players through a pre-determined story. Of course, the players can solve puzzles and unlock the narrative quickly or slowly, and the bonds they make with co-players would influence the experience, but I wonder how much control players have over the narrative. Are ARGs susceptible to the criticism levied at Sleep No More, that nothing you do really matters when it comes to changing the story’s outcome? Or are some ARGs more open-ended?

The panel also recited some of the history of ARGs, the big canonical games that influenced their brethren. Made me wish for a Nordic Larp-style book documenting the most important games from this nascent medium.

The Purposes of Transmedia

Jeff Gomez gave an awesome keynote that covered his stirring life story, and how he’s used roleplaying games on a personal level to keep himself happy, and on a professional level, using his knowledge of how characters work to advise companies like Disney. He also gives seminars and has produced curricula aimed at helping kids overcome personal difficulties.

To me, this opened up questions about the goals and potential goals of ARGs. Most ARGs appear to be tie-ins designed, at core, as advertising that intrigues consumers and pulls them in (in contrast to traditional “push” advertising, which is forced on consumers in the form of TV commercials, website ads, etc).

The way team transmedia talked about their projects mirrored this — rather than discussing the story, the novel, the movie, they talked about developing a “property.” This terminology is interesting both because it’s neutral — it doesn’t commit to one medium over any other, leaving the end product open — and because it also emphasizes the commercial value of creative endeavor, transforming it into a commodity that can be monetized.

As a writer, I believe artists deserve to be paid — handsomely paid — for their work. And certainly, partnering with a corporation to tell a story and advertise wares is a natural fit. But certainly, it’s not the only way to do transmedia storytelling (though perhaps it is the only sustainable way?). I mean, look at writing. I can write advertising copy  to sell stuff, I can write newspaper columns to inform people, I can write essays to persuade politically, and short stories to get across an artistic vision. These different sorts of writing all pay different amounts, but the opportunities are available.

For this reason, it intrigued me that I mostly heard about corporate opportunities. I can’t tell whether that is a facet of creating an ARG — it requires lots of investment (of time and money) to get the player base, and to create the types of puzzles that will interest players over the game’s timeframe, so corporate funding is required — or whether it’s a facet of the community as it now stands, and these other niches are yet to come. To me, the ability of ARGs to activate an audience and move it to action suggests some interesting possibilities. What about a game designed to turn out more voters? To uncover contemporary injustice? To enthuse participants about supporting their local art communities?

Jeff Gomez suggested I check out Shankaboot, a Lebanese webseries with a transmedia component aimed at highlighting artists throughout the Middle East. Are there other projects I should know about?

My Programming

I kept busy during the convention. I gave a talk on Dungeons & Dragons as the American dream, based on my paper in this year’s Solmukohta book, States of Play (free download at the link), and on some content from the blog.

I also ran the jeepform games Previous Occupants and Doubt, as well as an Ars Amandi workshop with six players that went well enough for three of them to come play in a Doubt pickup. So I kept busy. And now I’ve run Doubt like eight gazillion times. (Check out Amanda Mielke’s photos of the Previous Occupants game here, #125 through 322.)

I sold a handful of copies of Leaving Mundania too — after all, I was on book tour.

Friday night, I participated in an insanely fun run of Kirsten Hageleit’s Sunken Places, in which the players forestall a war between elves and goblins by designing a game — to be played by disinterested players with no concept of the stakes — to decide the outcome of their conflict. It’s a game about making a game and getting other people to play it. After the characters create “the game” they grab random con-goers to play it. I was one of them.

The Sunken Places characters wanted us to interact with the convention, so we had a fun time scavenging for players with various costume items, posing and photographing costumed folk to resemble the art deco tarot cards we’d been given, and going on a pictorial treasure hunt.

Movies

In the evenings, the convention had a spate of larp-themed films running in one of the rooms. While I missed Lloyd the Conqueror, I caught the amusing if somewhat gender-straitjacketed Marital Combata 25-minute high-production film about a fighting couple stranded inside a larp, filmed at a game many of the audience participated in. The evening also introduced me to my favorite larpy web series to date, Walking in Circlesa comedy about a D&D party that can’t find its way home.

Art Larpers

Wyrd Con was a great place to meet folks interested in larp with more serious themes, folks intrigued by art larp. A bunch of us found each other and pow-wowed on Saturday night, talking larp theory, plans for new games, and organizing strategy. Kirsten Hageleit started a tradition too with an informal rant, “when I ask about your character I don’t want to know everything about your character.” 

We argued too, about where this scene is going and whether it’s really sustainable, and we liaised with folks more interested in boffer games, and found some common ground. I felt tremendously enthused — we’d doubled our number by the end of the convention, a sure sign of interesting things to come out of the US.

Final Thoughts

  • This con wasn’t as wild and crazy as other cons I’ve been to. That meant people slept and were even capable of holding intelligent discussions at all times of day
  • Wyrd Con had lot of polish, from the convention badges, to the documentary photographers and media presence, to the technical acumen displayed on the panels.
  • Not much gnarly long hair, or as many hipster outfits carefully designed to look nonchalant. I saw calculated haircuts, crisp blazers, weird jewelry, and almost everyone made some sort of idiosyncratic statement with their dress. Folks seemed more conscious of the image they were projecting to the world.
  • Diversity! Holla! My local scene is largely, but not exclusively, white. I found it refreshing to see that love of geekery cuts across racial boundaries — a substantial contingent of Black, Asian, and Hispanic participants attended. It’s either a reflection of the area’s demographics, or Wyrd Con should share its secret weapon of inclusiveness with the rest of us.
  • Many of the larps that I didn’t get to play looked fascinating, from J. Li’s emotional drama The Lake (as Aaron Vanek pointed out, she seems to have invented Nordic larp in a vaccuum) to Mike Tice’s Death in Valhalla, a murder mystery involving the Norse gods that used logic as a mechanic and scored rave reviews from its players. There was an arcade-style boffer mod and an ARG undvertised in the elevator. Some of the most intriguing, mechanics-light games I’ve seen at conventions.
  • Fascinating conversation with David J. Peterson, who created the Dothraki language for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Apparently, the way to make a new language is to start with a proto-language and evolve it. (Easier said than done). He and his wife, both linguists, knew a ton about how language has evolved (surprise!), and explained it with great facility. Apparently, a lot of people into language creation start during childhood.
  • This con had a good mix of people, academics, industry professionals, larpers, and organizers.
  • Highly recommended.

Other Wyrd Con write-ups:

Seen other Wyrd Con debriefs? Did I get something wrong about transmedia? Have a game I ought to know about? Post ‘em in the comments.

Olympic Quidditch

Photo: John Morgan via Flickr

In a sure sign that all of the world will larp at least once before the apocalypse, I recently learned that muggle quidditch may be played alongside more quote-unquote ‘normal’ sports at the 2012 summer Olympics in London.

How do I know this? Last weekend I went to Salem, MA to gawk at Goths with black lace parasols and visit the woman who introduced me to larp. As you may know, Salem has a witch-based economy — it’s rife with magic shops ranging from the cheesy to the earth-goddessy to the sort of bone-strewn BDSM-based prop shops that your grandma warned you about.

I ventured into The Broom Closet, a licensed Harry Potter shop selling everything from candy to custom wands and sorting hats, and sporting at least customer in a Hogwarts uniform with matching robe. Naturally, I had to chat up one of the people working there, particularly because my friend, a registrar at Emerson College, informed me that our alma matter has a banging quidditch team. (Emerson apparently faced my undergrad alma mater, Tufts, in the 2010 World Cup semifinals. Weird and awesome.) The shop worker let us know that quidditch is coming to the 2012 summer Olympics in London.

So first of all:

  • Muggle quidditch is apparently a real thing with beaters, chasers, and keepers wielding broomsticks and chasing quaffles and bludgers. A neutral player with a physical representation of the snitch tucked into his or her waistband runs around and players from both teams give chase. In the books, capturing a snitch is worth 150 points, but in muggle quidditch it’s only worth 30.
  • That guy at the shop wasn’t kidding about quidditch as an Olympic sport. Multiple media outlets confirm that the International Quidditch Association is organizing an expo game that will take place during the opening ceremonies.
  • What the heck does muggle quidditch look like? YouTube and CBS News to the rescue

Surely the larpocalypse must be around the corner.

I also wanted to draw your attention to US larper and organizer Aaron Vanek, who has a Kickstarter up for his nonprofit company Seekers Unlimited. Seekers Unlimited is developing a larp called Hit Seekers, designed to teach kids math. So check it out!

Leaving the Larp Closet

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Apologies for the pause in Monday larp posts — my site was hacked last Sunday, but now, courtesy of the awesome Daniel Quinn, everything’s back to normal.

Today we’re tackling a thorny issue: how to come out of the larp closet.

While reporting for Leaving Mundania, I encountered many gamers who kept their weekend selves separate from their work-, friend-, and family-selves, often reminding me of “the first rule of fight club” at parties where non-larpers were present. One of them, a nameless larper who wishes to leave the closet at work, asked me to ask my panel of experts for advice on how to make the leap.

Their de-closeting advice requires three easy steps: 

Step 1: Explain it in terms that non-gamers can understand, using analogy.

Avonelle Wing:

I might be lucky, in that nobody in my world has ever been dismissive of larp as a hobby and an artform. Anyway – when I’m shopping for costuming or makeup and need guidance, I tell people it’s like street theater meets flash mob meets cops and robbers for adults, and then I reference the 90’s murder mystery games.  Everybody seems to “get it,” at least a little, and sometimes people bowl me over with their enthusiasm

Michael Pucci:

Finding if the person likes fantasy books, MMORPGs, or even fantasy based TV series helps a lot.  That way when you want to broach the subject of gaming you can mention a story that relates to a similar interest with the other person.  Explaining to people that you go and live a ‘World of Warcraft‘ type environment, or that you do a more in depth version of a ren fair allows people who are not gamers to have a point of reference to your hobby.

We find that the easiest way to come out with Dystopia Rising is to say “You know Zombieland or ever play Silent Hill or Fallout?  Yeah, I spend a weekend a month living in that.  Fighting zombies and camping and the like.  What did you do this past weekend?”

Part of explaining larp is explaining the medium’s variety, J. Tuomas Harviainen advises:

I suggest mentioning some of the more cool games, in a context where they are appropriate, without taking up the word “larp” at once. There is nothing wrong with it, but it does tend to create immediate associations when non-larpers hear it. When I describe a larp, I treat it as an individual role-play work, and can then say that “Others of course like to do the same but in a different fashion, such as fantasy larp in the woods. To each their own style of play, just as there are different kinds of TV programs, but it’s the same medium.”

As Kate Beaman-Martinez points out, the corollary to this step is “know your audience.”

I suggest easing people in. First be aware of what they think of it. If it’s a sweet church lady who might think that your zombie-raising dark mage might really be a cover for devil worship, odds are you should just say that you’re playing a murder mystery dinner party and leave it at that. More times than not I describe it as “cops and robbers with rules on who shot who first.” If it’s your weekly poker buddies, talk about whats cool about it like getting to hit your friends with foam bats or getting to do wild things with your makeup.

Step 2: Once you’ve explained what the tarnation larp is, own it. Because larp is awesome. And eff the haters.

Mike Young:

Just tell them and don’t worry about being mocked.  In fact, I’ve found that you less often get mocked as you do complete ignorance.  They just can’t wrap their heads around larp no matter how much you explain, and some of my family still think that I do some sort of theater thing on the weekends. But every so often you get responses like I did from a completely mundane cousin who had seen larp on a tv show and thought it was really cool that I do that sort of thing.  That makes it all worth it. And finally, anyone who mocks you for your hobbies just isn’t worth your time.

Aaron Vanek:

Show up to work or family’s home in full costume. FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG LOUD AND PROUD!

Seriously though, it depends on who you are coming out to. Here in Los Angeles I say things like “improvisational acting” or “structured communal storytelling” and most people get excited and want to know more. My wife says larp is a “themed improvisational costume party.” I mention that the United States military uses taxpayer dollars to run a larp that trains soldiers before deployment to the Middle East. My analogy is fantasy foam combat campaigns are to larp like super-heroes are to comic books. They’re the most prevalent, the most colorful and flashy, the most recognizable, but they aren’t all of the art form of live action role playing.

Both larpers and non-larpers need to separate the content of larp (World of Darkness or NERO) from the form of larp (the bubble or magic circle of play pretend). I got that concept from page 6 of Scott McCloud’s brilliant (and highly influential) Understanding Comics.

Sarah Bowman points out that owning it helps defy the stigma’s power:

I never felt the need to stay “in the closet” in terms of my role-playing and it saddens me when I hear stories from other people who do feel that way. I understand that role-playing incurs a stigma, but I believe that the best way to dispel a stigma is to provide a good example of someone who does not fit the negative stereotype. I find that most people remember the experience of playing make-believe as a child and think fondly of those days. Also, the ability to play dress up tends to draw the interest of females, at the risk of sounding totally stereotypical. Men like dress up too!

Step 3: Some cool documentation doesn’t hurt.

Claus Raasted:

Show them the Nordic Larp book. :o)

[Lizzie’s note: I hear that Leaving Mundania is now available in ebook form and makes a great gift for the non-larper in your life. ;) And also, the Nordic Larp Wiki and Nordic Larp Talks might provide some helpful material.]

But remember, you can’t win everyone over. Know when to fold ‘em.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Be warned – some people carry notions, and others will talk about your hobby to people you don’t want them to – like the CEO of your company. Just like some people don’t get rap, opera, or show tunes… some people don’t get larp.  Know when to explain it, and know when to avoid it, and that gossip travels in professional environments.

Finally, know that the geek closet isn’t as dark and deep as it used to be.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I think that these days it’s become less of an issue. If you look at how often old-skool Dungeons & Dragons is portrayed in TV-series and films, it has become a part of the broader cultural luggage that we all carry around these days. I mean, the founding fathers have all died, and we’re all getting older. The geek shall inherit the earth and so we have. Of course coming out of the closet as a larper can seem to be a *big thing*, but lets face it, people have a lot nerdier hobbies these days, and how often do you get a chance to say “Oh, yeah. I larp. In my last larp I came out of the closet in a dark room at a gay larp.”

 

Read more First Timers’ Guides.

____

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Fastavaling

Dancing with the Clans creators receive their Otto award. Credit: Bo Jørgensen

The first stop on my crazy Nordic tour was Fastaval, a convention devoted to board-gaming, larps, and freeform games. What are freeform games, you ask? No one knows for sure. They are sort of like tabletop games, except you sometimes get up and act out scenes rather than simply narrating them. And on the whole, they seem to have more serious themes than traditional tabletop. Freeform is sort of a “I know it when I see it” thing.

Juried Selection

The freeform games played at Fastaval are all-new, which is incredibly cool — a bit like going to an indie film festival. Game designers write scenarios and submit them to a couple people who select the scenarios that will run and provide feedback to writers. Contrary to how things usually work at the Stateside conventions I’ve been to, Fastaval has a tradition of allowing (nay, encouraging in semi-mandatory fashion) non-designers to run scenarios. So if I write a really cool game, the materials have to be clear enough that Emily can run it successfully. This is a pretty clever way to ensure that games are re-runnable, compact, and exportable. After participants play a game, they are asked to complete a feedback questionnaire, that goes to the selection committee.

At the end of the con, and after an intense run of meetings, the committee selects winners in categories from innovative game mechanics to best game materials, and presents them with a golden penguin (an “Otto”) on the last night of the convention.

Communal Responsibility

I’m still not sure quite how Fastaval gets organized — there is a bewildering number of volunteers, committees, and responsibilities. This Fastaval took place in Hobro, a lovely little town out in the Danish countryside, at a school. Folks were responsible for registration, food production, cleaning, and even for the three small venues — a kiosk serving snacks, a bar serving beer and shots, and a swanky cafe offering cocktails and tapas that had live acoustic guitar on at least one night.

In addition, everyone who attended the convention is required to do service for a couple hours, handing out food, washing dishes, serving as the fire marshall, GMing, etc. This created a sense of community among the participants — you simply don’t dirty things in the same way once you’ve been on clean-up duty — and also provided a way for disparate participants to meet each other. It meant that we all co-owned the convention together and felt the shared responsibility to help out.

The Crowd

Call me superficial, but the beards really impressed me. In the main cafeteria hall, not long after I arrived, I spotted two dudes in black shirts with the most amazing, full, slightly pointed puffball beards; they were the platonic ideal of beards, the kind of thing put in children’s books to teach kids the very word for beard, so perfect that I couldn’t believe they were real. I turned to one of my roommates and said, “Is it just me, or are there two guys over there wearing false beards?” To which she responded, “they’re not fake.” Thus began my beard-tourism.

Demographic-wise, everyone was white, because, you know, Denmark. However, a real contingent of young people were in attendance, which was tremendously heartening to see, and a good strategy to keep any roleplaying community robust — luring in new blood is key. The rest of the participants were the usual mixture of hardened geeks, hipsters, and normal folks. Nationality-wise, most of the participants were Danish, but there was a substantial subset of foreigners — six Americans, plus some Swedes, Norwegians, and Finnish folks — who found each other for lively discussion each evening.

I heard a lot of discussion on how to promote interaction between young and old crowds — a discussion that US gamers should pick up too! — with many folks throwing compliments to Dancing with the Clans, a larp that took place every evening with amazing results.

Dancing With the Clans

This game was a mashup of Soul Train and White Wolf. Different vampire clans competed to earn specific disco dance moves, songs, and supremacy over certain areas of the building. Each evening, players and spectators gathered for an intra-generational danceoff in the lounge. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I’d love to see something similar — vampires with a twist of irony plus public booty-shaking — in the states.

High-Low

The bar area — a low-ceilinged concrete-floored room spread with wooden tables and benches — seemed set up for a frat-style experience. It served beer and catered to a younger crowd. Metal music and pop hits played, with spontaneous dance parties breaking out most evenings. In addition, the Fastaval organizers created a couple very short TV episodes about the convention in Danish, which played at irregular intervals throughout the week.

The cafe  had a more sophisticated vibe. The space was more cramped, and decorated like a 1920s speakeasy, with servers in crisp black outfits and aprons. Old books and typewriters were scattered over the tables, and at one end of the room, a stage lit with red lights stood, host to acoustic guitar shows, book presentations (including my own reading, one afternoon), and even a hilarious dude-burlesque show. The crowd in the bar felt older, the music — jazz and acoustic versions of Motown hits — played at a lower volume, and conversation was the rule of the day. It was a great place to meet people and debrief after a game.

The Games

It’s really hard to sleep when one is having so much fun, and so I only made it to three games:

Summer Lovin’ by Anna Westerling, Elin Nilsen, and Trine Lise Lindahl

A game about hooking up at a music convention. The scenario cuts between the men and women discussing what happened last night, and then playing out the romantic scenes once both sides have been heard.

It was the most explicit scenario I’ve played, but it generated really interesting conversation in the bar later about boundaries, how we talk about sex, and why there aren’t more scenarios written about awesome ladies.

Drought by Tim Slum troupe Nielsen and Oliver Nøglebæk

A game about a collection of misfits living in the Australian outback during the Victorian period during a drought.

Although the mechanics for this game could use some work, I loved the way that it focused on setting as a way of heightening tension between the characters — the place really served as another character in the scenario.

Let the World Burn by Peter Fallesen

A scenario about going on an existential journey to find a lost loved one. I’d never played anything like this, and the setup reminded me of some more experimental novels I’ve read, in particular Heartbreak Hotel by Gabrielle Burton, one of my favorites. The group journeyed down a bridge to the past, for example, which was both literal — we walked across a bridge — as well as metaphorical — we played scenes from the past as we progressed down it. In addition to regular characters, several members of our group played the abstractions of love and destruction.

And at the end, I got that good art-experience feeling, where I’m confused about which specific emotions I’m enduring, but have the sense that I’ve experienced something powerful and thought-provoking.

The Internationals and Bad-Ass Roleplay

I had a delightful time meeting and renewing my connection with some movers and shakers on the US roleplay scene here, from Aaron Vanek to Emily Care Boss, Epidiah Ravachol and Sarah Bowman. For the most part, the convention was international-friendly, although some stuff — certain game materials, the TV episodes, the award ceremony — wasn’t translated into English. And while most Danes speak English very well (certainly a hell of a lot better than I speak Danish), at times it was hard to interact with folk without having to whip out that jerk phrase “English please.”

The games I attended collected a whole bunch of people, then designated one run to be “international,” i.e. in English. Later, in the bar, some of the Danes told me that they prefer to be in on the international run of games for a couple reasons:

  • people who travel internationally to come to roleplay conventions tend to be committed to playing hard and thus make good co-players
  • Nordic people who are confident enough in their roleplay skills to pull it off in their second language tend to be good players
  • Nordic people who think they are awesome roleplayers have some of their high-falootin’ over-actin’ tendencies removed by the difficulty of playing in another language, leading to more realistic, less showboaty acting in games.

Or maybe that’s just Danish flattery.

Verdict

Tons of fun, innovative, well-organized, and with many interesting scenarios and people. Highly recommended.

PS. Wish I had photos to share with you, but well, I’m a mediocre photographer who fails to whip out her camera.

PPS. Know of other Fastaval-related round-ups? I’d love to read them, so post ‘em in the comments.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when I list off a couple things that American convention organizers should steal…erm…I mean “reappropriate” from conventions like Fastaval!

Why They Larp

I’ve had occasion to explain larp to a great many people at dinner parties, and one of their first questions is always, “But why do people larp? Are they compensating for otherwise dull lives?” I usually explain that people larp for many different reasons.

Today, I thought I’d let my panel of larpers speak for themselves. 

J. Tuomas Harviainen:

Cool new experiences, interesting new perspectives, and so on. Larping combines the draw of alternate roles with a definite physicality, and thus affects its players in ways most other mediums can’t.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

I get such a swell of creativity from larp that I have yet to be able to replicate it. When I have a character talking to me, I completely (much to the ire of my partners) focus on that character. I write short stories on where they’ve been. I start journals, fuss with their costumes, obsess over the next wig purchase. I love the art form. I love creating memorable characters that people talk about years later. I like shocking people when I step out of the character and I get statements like, “oh dear god, you DON’T sound like you’re from New York!”

Claus Raasted:

You get to play. You get to experience. You get to have fun, cry or grow, depending on what type of larp you want. I’ve been a cowardly snack bar owner on a muslim space ship in 2862. I’ve been a brutal demon-worshipping general fighting orcs, elves and progress. I’ve been a doctor visiting an old friend in 1829. Instead of reading the book or watching the movie, you get to be part of the larp. It’s really that simple.

Mike Young:

I think that larp most appeals to people who like to roleplay and pretend but don’t want to act.  Being on stage can be intimidating, and many people are scared of performing in front of an audience.  Larp allows them to explore that creative side of themselves in a safe environment.I think a lot of adults still like to pretend and play make believe, but because it has become a taboo in American society, they just repress that side of themselves.  LARP gives people a creative outlet that they just can’t find anywhere else.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

Bah. I think theres too much focus on the return of investment idea nowadays. What do you get out of this or that. The bottom line is, that as any past time activity, what you get out of it is FUN. And mind you, that fun does not equal FUNNY, so you can actually play a sad game and have fun at the same time. I think that one often overlooked thing is that it is actually pretty great to be with other people and doing stuff together while dressed up as Kermit the Frog.

Michael Pucci:

Larping allows people to take the banal and mundane world that is their job, their paying of bills, and their household chores and put these frustrations away for a night or a weekend.  Going to a larp is almost like being involved with an organized sports team or being actively involved in a musical subculture.  When you go to a larp, like these other events social oriented events, you get to step away from the frustrations that come with the responsibilities of being a part of society and step into another world that has been designed for your enjoyment.  This environment, because of its alternate world immersion, is a set place where you go to play and relax.

Geoffrey Schaller:

For me, it’s a chance to unplug from the real world for 48 hours – to not have to deal with day-to-day issues, a mini-vacation.  It’s also a way to hang out with 200 people I like to be around, with a common activity to bring us together.  It’s a chance to take risks with minimal consequences (Challenge someone to a duel?  You don’t actually die when they kick your ass).  It’s a way to indulge and exercise your imagination in ways you can’t normally do in the real world.  If anyone has ever watched a movie or TV show and though “I could do that,” or even “I could do better” – larp is a way to actually DO that.

Aaron Vanek:

 As a player, I love that larps can give me a complete physical, mental, and emotional workout. I am especially interested in the last one, emotional. I don’t know of any other art form that permits and encourages people to express emotions in a safe environment. Players can “practice” fear, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, greed, via prompting. Life unexpectedly provokes our emotions, e.g., landing a job, death of a pet, success of a rival. In larp, we can feel these emotions by letting go…or not. We can pull back, ignore the situation, temporarily leave the larp if we don’t want to release.

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

I enjoy the act of dressing up and embodying a character as a form of emotional and intellectual expression. I also enjoy watching the dynamics between other characters. Role-playing can provide a feeling of agency and excitement that some people feel the real world lacks, as well as a unique outlet for creativity and self-expression.
The panel answers more questions for the new-to-larp.
________

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

Larp Likes and Dislikes

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Part of enjoying a larp is finding a game you enjoy, but there’s huge variety when it comes to the hobby, so knowing what you don’t like can be helpful. As Claus Raasted put it,”There are plenty of larps that don’t appeal to me, just like there are plenty of books, movies and poems that aren’t really my thing. Larp is a way of creating and experiencing stories – and not everyone likes the same kind of story.” 

In other words, no one sort of larp is “the best,” but some will be more or less fun to particular people. To give a sense of the scope of games and preferences, today the experts answer the question: What sort of larp does not appeal to you, and why?

Mike Young doesn’t enjoy physical fatigue:

As I’ve gotten older, fatter, and slower, pure live-combat larps really don’t appeal to me anymore.  I’ve swung my share of padded weapons, but I have absolutely zero desire to do so all weekend long, camping out in the great outdoors.  I have become quite the fan of indoor plumbing and air conditioning/central heating.

But I’ll play any genre and any style.  I love to try new types of larp just to see what they are about.

Because Michael Pucci desires physical immersion, he loves physical fatigue but theater-larp mechanics:

Wow.  Talk about a question that could gain me some hate mail.

I personally no longer enjoy theatrical style or card pull larps.  I have played and story told for theatrical style larps for just about a decade, and as a whole, these sort of larps are designed in such a way that the system gets in the way of the immersion and enjoyment of the environment.  The breaking of character to resolve conflicts, the reliance on pure mechanics for physically oriented tasks, and the unbalanced ratio of storytellers/NPCs (non-player characters, aka, extras) to players makes for a lacking campaign game.

I want to feel and experience a full range of emotions and events when I am at a game; I don’t want to avoid conflict because the resolution of a physical contest may have me out of character throwing chops or pulling cards from 15 minutes to multiple hours.  I don’t want to wait for half an hour for a storyteller to narrate my experience walking to someplace other than the one room assigned for game, I want to walk the 2 miles to a new location in real life.  I love waking up as a character, going to sleep as a character, eating as a character, and having a full range of all my interactions from my character’s world view.  I don’t think I can get that with a theatrical style game any longer.

Sarah Lynne Bowman  wants the best of  Young‘s and Pucci‘s worlds– a rules-light game that doesn’t feature combat:

I definitely do not enjoy heavy rules-based larps or games focused on combat. Games with excessive rules, in my opinion, take away from the immersion into character and story, which are the aspects I most enjoy. In rules-heavy games, people often spend more time out-of-character contemplating or debating rules than they do actually role-playing. I understand that the gamist-type players find this sort of activity pleasurable, but excessive rules discussion makes my interest in the game instantly wane.

As for combat, I am, by nature, a pacifist, so I never feel the urge to “best” someone else in physical battle. However, many people feel a strong release from this sort of activity, both physical and emotional. Though I do not enjoy these sorts of games, I still play in games that feature these aspects and respect others who like rules and combat.

Avonelle Wing has practical, DIY concerns:

I don’t like games with a steep startup investment – of time, energy, money, materials.  Give me something I can jump right into with what I have on hand, and I’m a happy girl. Games that become a flashy show of who spent the most at the costumer’s or the weapon smith? no thanks.  A game that encourages crafting and creativity? perfect!

Frederik Berg Østergaard wants meaningful stories and creature comforts:

Two things: Any larp that confuses setting for story. That pretty much excludes most vampire larps and fantasy larps. I prefer larp that is ABOUT something. Also I play very badly when I’m cold, hungry or tired, so strike those larps as well. Oh, you can also put actual violence on that list. I don’t like getting hurt.

J. Tuomas Harviainen wants player freedom:

I dislike larps that are so obviously railroaded that they don’t leave room to actually role-play. And I have no interest in attending games where the game masters overrule player decisions in order to push their own inevitable agenda. Fates and such are fine, but telling players they can have an impact while actually blatantly preventing it is boring. Beyond that, I am open to all sorts of larps, and have written them as well.

Kate Beaman-Martinez finds unicorns and goblins boring:

I am increasingly not a fan of sword and board larps, meaning high fantasy. Larp and role playing in general really got their start there. With Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy games, they were the ground floor and to me that feels tired. I cut my role playing teeth on Werewolf: The Apocalypse and for me going back to that just doesn’t give me the role playing jollies I get when I play a modern day supers games or CyberGen.

But in the end, I’ll try anything if I know there is a good GM team or if there is an interesting angle being used.

Geoffrey Schaller prefers noncompetitive larping:

I am personally not a fan of larps that encourage PvP (Player versus Player) activity, without it being a specific, pre-determined, and well-communicated part of the game beforehand.  The point of a larp is to enjoy having fun with other people in a communal environment – if I want to gank other players in a competitive environment, I’ll play paintball, or otherwise be involved in a competitive sport.  The only exception to this is a larp that is designed to be competitive, and makes its intent clear from the get-go, such as warring factions or such – and even then, only if it’s a one-shot.  I don’t want to invest time, money, and energy into a game and character that someone else is trying to bump off.

Aaron Vanek is omnivorous:

I learn something from every larp I participate in, even the horrid ones (learning what NOT to do is invaluable). I want to know how each designer and player approaches and deals with the art–what key are they in, how many beats per minute, what effect pedals, etc. My biggest restriction is my time, so the only larp that doesn’t appeal to me, I guess, is one that would be all weekend long, every weekend, where I play the same character in the same venue with the same game master and other PCs/NPCs (player-characters/non-player-characters). Although now that I wrote it out, maybe “Shawshank Redemption: the larp” spanning decades would be cool…

More game guides for newbies.

_______

Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

One-Shot Larps v. Campaigns

 Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Part of having fun at a game is knowing which games are right for you. So today the experts begin exploring their own preferences, answering the question: Do you prefer one-shots or campaigns,* and why?

Their answers, not so surprisingly, were mixed. Let’s hear from Team One-Shot first.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I’m a one-night stand guy. I prefer my women givin’ it up on the first night. A prolonged engagement–while entertaining in its own right–doesn’t get that first-night vibe that is so titillating

.J. Tuomas Harviainen:

I prefer writing one-shots, as I see in them the chance to experiment with ideas that have a lot of short-term potential, but would be boring in the long run. I also prefer playing one-shots, as it’s much easier to book the time in advance. Campaigns have their significant advantages in character development and so on, but they are also risky ventures in that even the greatest of plots may die if one key person is not able to attend.

Claus Raasted:

I much prefer one-shots. If you’re doing a one-shot, you can make decide that all the interesting stuff happens right now. If the world is about to end, the larp happens just at that point. If the princes are getting married, thus re-uniting the kingdoms… then that’s when the larp is set. When you’re doing campaign larps (especially those of the “once-a-month-or-similar” kind) that’s a lot harder. Unless you’re willing to do enormous amounts of work, you easily get into the rhythm of having the in game calendar follow the off game calendar – and suddenly you have wild and interesting things happening to the same people once a month. In the same place often. And after a couple of years, the fiction gets strained… one-shots don’t have that problem.

Aaron Vanek:

I’ve played far more one-shots than campaigns, so my answer is biased. But, I slightly prefer one-shots over campaigns because:

  1.  The majority (though certainly not all) of larp campaigns are fantasy based, which isn’t my favorite genre.
  2. Sooner or later, I will get bored of either my character, the game, or both. I like exploring different facets of my personality; I’m more interested in a broad range of roles than deep exploration of one.
  3. A single event can try out a mechanic or rule or setting and, if it works, it can live on in the next event. If not, it’s gone after one session. A non-fatal flaw in a campaign can linger for months or years.
  4. I enjoy the intensity of one-shots. Since I don’t have to play it safe so that my character will survive to adventure again next month, I can–if the character’s personality has this trait–be reckless and foolhardy. Even if the consequence is death or removal from play, it’s not a huge loss to my ego or all the money I spent on a costume I’ve been improving or adding on to for a decade

What one-shots miss, though, is the ability to savor a slow shift to a character’s personality.

Mike Young:

For me, it all has to do with the amount of prep and work I need to do out of game.  Both one shots and campaigns require costuming and props, but I can reuse them during a campaign.  However, campaigns often require between-game actions and conversations which can take a lot of time.

I enjoy them both, but I think I prefer the flexibility of one shots; they allow for more variety of character.


Several experts were on the fence between one-shots and campaigns, preferring one or the other depending on their specific design goals or desired experience as a player:

Michael Pucci:

Depends on the world and the goal. When I am looking for an intense, action packed, immediate gratification game experience I prefer the one shot event. If I am looking for a deeper emotional investment, political machinations, and long term character growth I enjoy campaign style game.

Since a one shot game has a set time limit to its existence, players tend to play their character to the extreme with little reservation. When you have that sort of environment you can have some incredible role playing experiences with over the top moments that people will talk about for years. The downside, however, is that one-shots don’t offer the same degree of growth and emotional depth as long term campaign style games. You want to see your character grow up, develop strong emotional ties, and change and grow?  You need more than one night’s worth of interactions and events to make that happen.

Avonelle Wing:

I find one-shots more forgiving – you don’t have to live with a mistake you make in hour one for the entire rest of your character’s life, but as a player, campaign games scratch the creative itch more thoroughly for me.When it comes to writing or designing games, hands down, one-shot games feed my soul 100% more than managing a campaign. If you have a power gamer who wants to exploit the system in a one-shot, you only have to manage him for the length of the game. If you have (a) power gamer(s) in a campaign, you might discover that a twelve page rules system explodes to 36 pages to compensate for “well, what does this sentence REALLY mean…?” One-shots give me a chance to play with systems, to write edgy or risky plotlines, explore themes and generally play with the artform, and I am really enjoying that currently.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

There is a certain feeling of ‘do whatever you want’ out of one shots. You can be as bold as you’d like, insane as you like and can explore areas of yourself that you may not necessarily get to play. The other great thing about one shots is that you can test out a GM group or a genre that you wouldn’t normally try without the commitment of a long term game. Gives me a chance to try out a new character type and to role play with people who I don’t normally get the chance to.

There is something about creating a long-running character that really appeals to me; I get to stretch my roleplaying legs when I have a character with a long term chance of surviving. I become incredibly attached to my characters and really throw quite a lot into them. Having a character change from a three line concept to a fully fleshed out person (or elf or alien or vampire, etc.) is a personal joy that I always get from a campaign.

Finally, we’ll hear from the “campaigns rule!” camp.

Geoff Schaller:

I prefer campaigns for the long-term growth and return you get, both in-game from your character, and out-of-game with the other players as the game’s community builds.  One-shots are fine and fun, but are akin to TV dinners to me – I don’t want to make a steady diet of them!  I know other people who love the thrill and variety of many different one-shots, such as those run at Intercon (where you sign up for multiple one-shot games in one weekend).  This is just not my personal style.

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

I played campaign-style most of my life, so I suppose I have a preference for long-term games. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. You can delve deeply into character evolution and explore complex story arcs with campaign play. Also, the connections between players and the community as a whole tend to be stronger, unless the same group also regularly plays in one-shots too.

Long-term play tends to cause heavy investment into the character and attachment to the game, which can be both pleasurable and painful. Long-term play can also put a strain on relationships, since role-playing tends to feature high intensity situations, some of which feel like “life-or-death.” In one-shots, players feel free to be more outrageous and take risks, especially if the game is at a convention where the people involved may never see one another again.

* A one-shot is a game that is completed in one meeting. A campaign game continues the story across many events, which make take place regularly over months or years.

More game guides for newbies.

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Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form,  that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.

When to Retire Your Character


 Welcome to the first-timers’ series, where a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond weigh in on topics pertinent to the larp newbie.

Living forever gets old fast, so today we look at the question: How do you know when it is time to retire a character?

Mike Young:

When your story arc has ended.

Aaron Vanek:

When I get bored of playing it. This might be after one night, or one year.

Know the signs that it’s time, says Kate Beaman-Martinez:

It’s difficult to know when it’s time to retire a character, but there are signs. One is that you don’t have any more stories to left to tell about her. I have played the same character for almost a decade now and I am finally closing the chapter on her as PC and turning into an NPC. Its taken a long time for me  to realize that she was done and it was hard letting her float off into the sunset , but I knew that I had learned all that I could from her and it was time to move on.

Keep it fun, Geoffrey Schaller advises:

[Retire] when you’re no longer having fun playing them.  If there’s nothing new to do, to explore, to challenge you – if the act of getting into character no longer holds joy for you – it’s time to move on.  You and your character are in a relationship, and if it gets stale, it can end, like any other.  That relationship needs to be maintained, like any OOG one.

Remember that it’s OK to retire, because larps are stories, not simulations of real life, Jeramy Merritt reminds us:

There are three reasons to retire a character.  1.  The character isn’t fun to play.  If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you should be, and maybe it is just time for a change.  2.  You’ve stopped having anything to work toward.  If you’ve lost character momentum, you’ve likely lost the character.  3.  You’ve finished your story.  This is the odd one.  Most players think of their character in much the same way they think of themselves.  Let’s say the entire goal of your life has been to get married (trite I know, but stick with me).  And let us say you accomplish this goal and immediately kill yourself because, well, you did what you set out to do, not really anywhere for you to go from here.  Silly right?

That I think is the problem players have with retiring characters, they mistake the lives lead in game as simulations of real life.  While in some ways this is true, the difference between a character and you, is that you can get married and just retire that character because you’ve completed your goals.  Retirement doesn’t mean always mean death.  In the best cases it just means that the story you wanted to tell with that character is over.  Larping gives you the opportunity to tell a story, and a story isn’t the same thing as a life.

Michael Pucci says trusting your gut:

When you feel your character’s story is over, then it is time to either retire or shelve a character.  There is no one definitive time to say a character should be retired… often time it is a gut feeling that you have.  If you feel burnt out on a character you should try shelving the character, or working with the ST staff on introducing a new aspect to the characters role play.  However if you feel you have ‘lost that loving feeling’ for a character, then perhaps it is time.

Sometimes, external factors like injuries play a role. Rick McCoy:

In a campaign based setting, death can come for your character before the story is done with. In the case that this doesn’t happen, most players want to stay the duration of the campaign. The story is not done, after all. But sometimes, there is a want, even a need for a change…You are the fighter, the tank, the go get em’ combat monkey. But you recently threw your hip out at the last game, and the amount of injuries you’ve sustained (hell, you’ve been this a while) is substantial. You are no longer cutting it. Time for a change – but the character is too proud to back down…maybe one last glorious charge at the next over-nighter, and start working with the Plot team for a new character concept that won’t push your physical limitations as much?

You are the the archeologist – working for a mercenary outfit hasn’t been so bad. In your trips across the dark areas of Africa, and the ancient rain forests of South America, you’ve been able to see much that your colleagues back home are furiously envious of. But in all the escapades you’ve been in, when the worse that can go wrong does – you’ve always been so amazed at the gunmen in the group. You even started to ask one of them to train you in using his handgun, and you are quite good at it. But your character concept is optimized for other skills, and so your real world skills offer little benefit. Now the inventor of the group – he could surely do your job?.. and the last game the party was almost wiped by large apes that came from no where…maybe you’ll talk to the storyteller of how you could retire and bring in a new sharpshooter…

Retiring a character doesn’t mean saying goodbye for every, Sarah Lynne Bowman says:

You’ve asked probably one of the most difficult questions for Campaign-style play! Sometimes, when I think a character has run his/her course, hit a rut, or is no longer interesting, the character evolves in a way that completely surprises me and gets a second wind. I find that my characters are reflections of fragments of my personality, so even if a character has been “retired” for several years, they may resurface in other games with new insight, direction, or growth.

Endings are less important for me than moments within the game over the course of the character’s tenure. Other players feel the need for their characters to have a clear and decisive end before they can move on, either as “in retirement” or through a “good death” — in other words, a meaningful and fulfilling ending to their life. Even when my characters “end,” they still remain part of me, as if they were stuck in a sort of suspended animation, so they tend to pop back up in different times and places. This phenomenon is especially common since I’ve been a Storyteller regularly; so many personalities — both PC and NPC — have evolved through my game play that they emerge at surprising points in time.

Make your death meaningful, suggests J. Tuomas Harviainen:

In Nordic larps, we rarely play to win, so if it’s a dramatically suitable moment and won’t rob me of too much playing time, the character can “retire” by dying in a manner that contributes to the game. I very rarely play in campaign games these days, so I don’t encounter the need to actually retire a character that often. In such cases I have asked myself “would it be logical for this person to stay in this place? and if the answer was a definite no, I have retired that character, while he or she has in-game left town.

Read more first-timers’ guides here at LizzieStark.com.

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Kate Beaman-Martinez  has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.

Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.

J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky  professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.

Rick McCoy began larping in 1989, and works as an electrician by day and a larp advocate by night. Over the course of his career, he has organized many games, conventions, and larp organizations. He currently serves as the president of LARP Alliance, which he co-founded, and has been involved in many media promotions of the hobby, including work in an advisory capacity for the filmmakers of Role Models and the forthcoming Knights of Badassdom. He lives in Southern California.

Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.

Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media.  He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.

Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member.  He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.

Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.

Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years.  His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.