Jeepform for Noobs

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Jeepform games have a mysterious rap, perhaps because the Nordic games in general defy neat taxonomy, and this is the most definable word that’s made it over here. In the course of my travels, I’ve heard gamers drop “jeepform” to describe any roleplaying game  that comes out of the Nordic countries. For indie gamers, dropping the neologism works a bit like mentioning Belle & Sebastian did back when I was in college — it identifies the hipsters to one another; it functions as a code word for people who are in to serious roleplay, even if they aren’t quite sure what it means.

Well, my beloved gaming hipsters, I’m here to explain what the #$%! jeepform is to you…at least what I’ve gleaned during my travels.

Jeepform is a style of freeform game.

What in tarnation is a freeform game? That’s a good question — ask three Nordicans and you’ll get five answers. More or less, the freeform scene developed out of the tabletop gaming scene and now centers around the Fastaval convention in Denmark. Basically, people started standing up and acting out their characters during tabletop games, and things progressed until suddenly there were no tables at all. Freeform games use some techniques from larp, like acting out your character, and some techniques from tabletop games, like fast forwarding through the two-week trek you take to the dungeon.

Here’s a handy chart:

Think of it this way — in a platonic larp, there’d be a one-to-one relationship between reality and the game world. So if I bought you a mug of ale, we’d go to the inn and I’d buy you a mug of ale. In a tabletop game, there’s a symbolic relationship between the real world and the game world. So if I stab your character, I represent that by saying “I stab your character.” Freeform games use some one-to-one correspondence — if I shout at you in real life, I’m shouting at you in the game — and some symbolic relationships — I can make my pen into a sword if necessary.

Because freeform games (and by extension, jeepform games) came out of the tabletop scene, folks refer to them as tabletop games. So jeepform is not larp, even though you act out a scene physically.

Most of the games are for 3-8 players and can take place in any room with a reasonable amount of privacy and space. No set or costumes required.

Jeepform is whatever the collective of (mostly) Danish and Swedish people say it is.

The jeepers get to decide what counts as jeepform. Inducted jeepers make jeepform games. Other people can create jeepish games, but really, if it’s not on the Jeepen.org website (with rare exception, as pointed out in the comments), it’s not a proper  jeepform.  This is sort of like how if I made a phone with a touch screen it wouldn’t be an iPhone unless Apple said so. Or how if I slap LV logos over a kicky purse I designed, it’s not Louis Vuitton unless the company says so.

Certain themes characterize jeepform games.

For the most part, they’re set in the real, mundane world. No dragons here, just ordinary people having ordinary problems with their relationships, jobs, and personal lives. Linked to this is the idea of playing close to home — playing characters with whom you have something in common.

Playing close to home also means making the story emotionally relevant for yourself by bringing your real life into the game. If I’m playing a relationship game and choose to riff off of that fight I had with my husband last week, that creates a very different play experience than playing on an issue that’s alien to me. Playing close to home can cause bleed, which is what happens when player and character emotions get mixed up. In the US, we often think of bleed as something to be avoided, but in many Nordic roleplaying games, it is encouraged and managed by the game formats. Playing for bleed can lead to insight about oneself and the world, and it creates intense emotions that some players crave.

Since these game experiences are more about the emotion (the inside story), and less about the plot (the outside story), their surface stories often don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. For example, a game might be about a Mother’s support group that turns vicious, or a relationship where at least one of the partners experiences temptation and doubt, or about a drunk guy dying from alcoholism. It’s not uncommon to know how the story ends before the game begins, because the point is not really to discover what happens, but rather, to explore the themes and emotions suggested by the scenario.  Similarly, because many of the jeepform games — but not all — encourage bleed, character sheets are minimal or nonexistent. If all I know about my character is that she’s an actress,  then during the game I’ll necessarily fill in from my real-life experience, creating a character relevant to my life.

While bleed can sneak up on you, it’s important to remember that players have some control over how close to home they want to play it — you can choose to create a character, a mask, between yourself and the game, or you can try to play it as if you were in the game situation.

Jeepform games are highly structured.

Rather than letting one scene unspool continuously, most jeepform games are cut together more like a movie, with a series of scenes. The GM serves as the director of the movie, cutting scenes at points of tension by saying “cut,” helping set scenes, keeping track of time, and introducing other elements to help heighten the tension. Sometimes, the GM can call for scenes to be replayed — if a scene is dragging on or not escalating the drama, the GM can say, “do it again, but this time talk about your relationship with his mother.”

Most scenes focus on a couple of characters. Anyone who is not playing in a particular scene either watches the drama unfold, or perhaps enters as an NPC to help the spotlighted characters explore their emotions.

Jeepform games use metatechniques.

Metatechniques break the flow of the game narrative and heighten the drama. There are many different metatechniques; some games use more, some games use fewer. Here are a couple of the most commonly-used ones:

Monologuing. During a scene, the GM can demand a monologue from a character by pointing and saying “monologue.” The character delivers a soliloquy about what’s going on in her head. When the monologue is over, game play resumes as if no one on stage has heard it. Monologues help flesh out characters and relay important information to other players. If I mention my character’s infertility during a monologue, then later perhaps my co-players will push me to address this by repeatedly bringing up children.

As jeeper Emily Care Boss once told me, monologues and several other metatechniques often create dramatic irony between players and characters. This can be played for laughs — for example, two characters are flirting and one delivers a monologue about how repugnant the other’s breath is — and also for complexity/tragedy — for example, when a character delivers a monologue about how he’s thinking about cheating and then returns to a lovey-dovey scene with his wife.

Bird-in-ear. The GM whispers stuff into the ears of characters to push them, either by offering direct suggestions or simulating thoughts that might be winging through the character’s mind.

Telegraphing. You can bring any object you need into the game through the power of your imagination. The best way to do this is in-scene, for example, by saying, “I bought you flowers” when presenting someone with a pen. The phrase telegraphs to them that the pen now represents a bouquet. It’s also possible — but less elegant — to do out of game, by saying, “this pen is a knife,” and using it appropriately.

Temporal play. There is probably some more official-sounding word for this, but many jeepform games play with time. GMs can fast forward a scene to two beers later. In some games, it’s possible to play flash backs and flash forwards, often using different physical locations in the room to help everyone keep track of the present.

Character nonmonogamy. Several people may play the same character. For example, if two players are on stage and the GM calls for a possible future, two other folks might get up and play it out. Or we might play different aspects of the same character, as in the game Doubt, where two player portray actors in a relationship, and two players portray the characters in the play that they’re performing in.

Where does the name jeepform come from?

The jeepers put out many apocryphal stories about the term’s origins. The best way to hear one is to buy a jeeper a beer.

Further reading:

Interview with jeeper Frederik Berg Østergaard
Vi åker jeep! (includes free downloads of games. Previous Occupants is a good place to start for new GMs)
Nordic Larp Wiki on jeepform
Emily Care Boss and others ask Tobias Wrigstad questions on StoryGames.
Tobias Wrigstad on designing jeepform games on StoryGames.
How to approach a jeepform game on StoryGames.

 

Engaging with Games at Babycastles Summit

On Saturday, I spent a great day over at the Babycastles game design summit, which took place at the Museum of Art  & Design in Columbus Circle.

Nietzsche and Game Design

Nicholas Fortugno, chief creative officers of Playmatics, gave a thought-provoking talk on narrative in games, covered in depth over at the Verge. Although he explored a lot of intriguing ground — including the public perception that games shouldn’t address serious topics — his discussion of games as an art form most interested me.

In particular, he focused in on a quote by critic Roger Ebert suggesting that games aren’t art, since games invite in players as co-creators, and often, players aren’t artists. As Fortugno put it, if you gave Romeo and Juliet to some dude off the street, chances are good it wouldn’t surpass Shakespeare’s version.

Fortugno gets around this “games aren’t art” argument by exploring what we mean by “art,” using Nietzsche’s distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian artistic impulses. There’s probably been a jillion books written on this, but to grossly simplify, Apollonian art appeals to reason and aesthetic, while Dionysian art appeals to emotion and sensuality. So as Fortugno suggested, ballet is Apollonian — it’s meant for looking! — while Dionysian art is dancing while wasted — meant for doing. If you judge a drunk dancer on whether his toes are pointed, you’ve missed the point.

Fortugno extended this understanding of art back to games, suggesting that games are a Dionysian art form, one where judging the poignance of the story misses the point, which lies in the doing of the player, the engagement and engrossment of the player.

Of course, my mind jumped to larp. Nietzsche held that theater — well, the ancient Greek tragedies — unified the Apollonian and Dionysian elements. And it seems to me that good larp does the same thing, encouraging a Dionysian participation — immersing players in their characters — while still telling a beautiful Apollonian story. To me, the Apollonian element in good larp is the design of the game, which should create moments of Dionysian intoxication, of intense emotion on the part of the player.

Take, for example, the jeepform game Doubtin which Tom and Julie, a pair of actors in a relationship, perform as Peter and Nicole — a couple having relationship problems — in a local play. Two people play the real-life couple Tom and Julie, and two play the fictional couple Peter and Nicole. Game play cuts sharply between them. The game design has an Apollonian elegance, with themes that play against and echo one another, almost regardless of the quality of the players. I’ve run this game six or seven times, and the story is always intriguing to watch on a thematic level. And yet it’s got the Dionysian too — the structure of the game allows people to pour themselves into their roles. It’s written to create bleed — the interplay between a character’s emotions and a player’s emotions — and it does so with amazing frequency. Not every run of Doubt I’ve facilitated cuts close to the bone, but it does so with remarkable frequency.

So to me, that’s good larp design — using the Apollonian to create opportunities for Dionysian immersion. (FWIW: I feel dirty and academic even writing that.)

I have the sense that perhaps applying notions of the Apollonian and Dionysian to larp is nothing new in the larp world. I’m not well-read on this topic, so I’d love suggestions for further reading in the comments, if you feel so moved.

Ars Amandi

I ran my fifth Ars Amandi workshop for some of the Babycastles crowd. Ars Amandi is a method for simulating romance/intimacy in larp, where the touching of arms represents amorous contact, including sex. It’s one of a host of methods of simulating romance in Nordic larp, and it’s one of the most successful at creating emotions of intimacy as well as an in-game representation.

I had twelve participants, and as usual, even though I warned them it’d be unexpectedly intimate, the intimacy of the technique suprised everyone. One source of tension in the room, I think, is that the vast majority of participants weren’t roleplayers, but rather digital gamers. In the workshops I’ve run for larpers, participants take on a sort of amorous persona as they experiment with the technique, which is a way of creating some distance from the intimacy.

In this workshop, the stakes felt higher, I think, for the participants, who didn’t create a facade between themselves and the technique — they represented themselves in a very brave, but perhaps anxiety-producing way. Roleplayers are used to slipping in and out of character, for example, so the idea of what happens after the experience (off-game) is over is more familiar. So I think the participants evidenced a lot of courage in trying something new, especially given that our room had a glass wall that attracted spectators. (Typically, I try to cordon the workshop off from prying eyes). I wish I’d done a better job of easing the folks in to the idea of roleplay up front.

Still, judging from the intense debrief after the workshop, I think the participants went away changed.

Games in Public Spaces

I enjoyed the panel “Designing Games for Public Spaces,” which featured three interactive game designers, including Ramiro Corbetta, who designed the simple sports game Hokra, played with four people, numerous spectators, and a large screen; Mathew Parker who created Recurse, a game played by moving crazy with your body in front of a screen; and  larpwright J.R. Blackwell, who recently scored a judge’s spotlight Ennie for her one-shot zombie larp Shelter in Place.

Listening to the digital designers discuss their work alongside an analog larpwright created some interesting resonances, particularly after watching Fortugno’s talk. Here were three games, two of them digital and narrative-less, and one of them analog and narrative-heavy.

Parker and Corbetta’s games directly involve only a few players — one to four people could play their games at a single time — but they got around this limitation by creating games that are interesting to watch. In the case of Hokra, people like to root for a team, and in the case of Recurse, spectators gather to watch people moving their bodies in silly ways. In contrast, Blackwell’s Shelter in Place directly engages ten to twenty-one players, although it may not be clear to spectators what is going on.

Parker and Corbetta’s games seek to engage people for a few minutes (but hopefully longer), while Blackwell aims for a few hours. And the sort of engagement they are aiming at is fundamentally different. Larp, arguably, has a transformative aim — in embodying a character, participants leave the magic circle fundamentally changed by it, while the digital games offer a quick-hit of achievement and skill-building.

This creates an interesting inversion. The digital games are for a small direct audience of players, but a large possible audience of casual observers. The larp, in contrast, has a bigger direct audience, but is less accessible to the casual passerby because it requires a deep engagement. At the same time, spectator engagement, when it does happen, is deep and intense.

I’m reminded of the larp Dublin2which took place in the Helsinki city center in 2011, and is slated to be run again in Stockholm this year. The game, set up in a public space, looked at what it’s like to seek asylum in a foreign country — what it’s like to go toe to toe with the migration board, risking possible jail time or deportation. Players were able to talk to passers-by about their in-game plight during the run, creating public engagement around the issues of asylum. And sometimes, casual observers became very involved. In his Nordic Larp Talk, game creator JP Koljonen talked about these interactions, including what happened when some players — portraying fascists — staged a riot against the camp.

Thanks for a thought-provoking Saturday, Babycastles!

DEXCON 15 Debrief

This weekend I returned to DEXCON — site of much of my Leaving Mundania research — on book tour.

While my travel schedule this summer has left me tired, the enthusiasm of the milieu kept me excited and ready to play some games.

The best thing about DEXCON is its bustling hallways, crowded with people running to or from games, or talking avidly about the play experiences they just had. I had a ton of interesting discussions, fun play-tests, and interesting game runs that made me meditate on my GMing style. Here’s the rundown:

Art Larp in the US

There’s a nice cluster of folks interested in freeform, jeepform, and Nordic larp developing at these conventions. Death by Awesome ran five scenarios — including two pickups — all of which filled up. I also felt out the level of interest in full-immersion Nordic larp and found many folks enthusiastically intrigued.

Psychological Safety in Nordic Games. A crowd of sharp listeners focused in on this issue during the Q & A after my Leaving Mundania reading. Maybe it’s the litigious American culture, but this concern has recurred at most of my readings, and it’s a confounding one that’s still a topic of debate on the Knutepunkt scene. Interesting to me that so many folks in the US raise this topic — if Nordic larp is going to cross over into the US, this matter will need a satisfactory explanation.

Tons of interest, as well, in what makes art larp work so well. Do smaller games make for better quality control when it comes to the experience? I suspect that yes, this is true, but I think there are other more important factors, such as the types of plots used and the way the Nordicans strive to create player community before games. I’ve got some other ideas too, such as how the idea of freedom in roleplaying is defined in different cultures…but I think that’s another post.

Awesome Games I Played

Somehow, I lucked into playing only awesome games at this con.

Cat and Chocolate. A short Japanese card game. Everyone plays Japanese businessmen and tells stories about how they avoid fiascos, which are suggested by the cards. The players vote on whether the methods succeed and fail. Short, easy to learn, and fun to imagine — I want to own this one! I lucked into this one by milling around the hotel lobby.

Hyperreality. A new tabletop roleplaying game by Tim Rodriguez, in which player create a reality gameshow too real for television in which participants use their hidden secrets to get ahead. We created the TV show Joe STD and the maturity went downhill from there. (Note: The gross-ness of our game was a facet of our particular group of players and not the game materials themselves.) Dare I say that our run was epic? We had a character “just here for the health insurance,” a rich dude obsessed with creepy dolls, a dude who would eat anything — anything — and a handful of other characters.

To give you a sense of the game play:  I played a plastic-surgery-obsessed bad girl named Fab Fab, and drew the secret trope “unbelievably pedantic” from the pile we had written together, causing Fab Fab to contemplate the essential nothingness of being while trying to catch syphilis from a french tourist in another contestant’s locked truck. The rest of the content is too disgusting to print here, so suffice it to say that four hours of laughing so hard made me lose my voice. Here are a few trailers for the game, from real play experiences.

Project Ninja Panda Taco. A low-prep roleplaying game in which players each portray a mastermind trying to take over the world, and a minion ready to help. This game lent itself to light-hearted silliness and creativity, and would make a great family game — it teaches the basics of how to roleplay, giving participants suggestions that they must then incorporate into their Pinky-and-the-Brain-esque plans to take over the world. The Kickstarter for this wonderful game is here.

Cards Against Humanity. It’s Apples to Apples for the extremely sarcastic. Or as the website says, it’s “a party game for horrible people.”

A Few Lessons in GMing

I ran five games — two runs of the freeform game Let the World Burn, a pick-up of Doubt, The Upgrade, and The Mothers — and learned some stuff.

Three games in one day is too many. On Thursday, I ran a pick up of Let the World Burn, a pick-up of Doubt, and then my scheduled run of Let the World Burn. It was tons of fun, but 14 hours GMing heavier scenarios is too much. I felt exhausted for the rest of the weekend.

Practice makes better. The second run of Let the World Burn went more smoothly than the first, and I felt I was able to game master it with better nuance and attention to the game materials. I have to run a game once to figure out what it’s about. In The Upgrade, our second run of the game, Tim and I better nailed the form, and the game ran more smoothly, tighter, and more intense as a result.

It’s possible to run a game too many times. I’m Doubted out, y’all. I’ve run it so many times that I have many ideas about how the game should run — my idea of what the game should be has hardened somewhat, and this makes me less sensitive to what the players want to do with the game.

I’m a better director than I am an improver. In The Upgrade, which I GMed with Tim Rodriguez, I had a hard time improvising lines as the host of the reality dating show that comprises the game. It’s not my strong suit, and I’m not as practiced in it; as a writer, I rely on editing to help make my words better, and in an improv situation, that’s not an option. I’m much better at cutting, fast-forwarding, helping raise the stakes externally than I am as a GM representing a character. My ability at casting has improved a lot over time — thanks in no small part to the advice of last week’s panel —  and at least from a GM standpoint, that’s making it more interesting to watch the games I run.

Confessionals don’t facilitate bleed. For a while, to get folks comfortable with one another, I’ve been doing a little bit of enforced sharing at the beginning of some freeform games. As in, let’s go around in a circle and say one thing we’re afraid of. My theory had been that it’d get strangers comfortable sharing their lives with one another by breaking the social convention that says we shouldn’t bare our souls to people we just met. I thought it’d help people feel more comfortable putting some of themselves into their freeform characters.

It’s worked well with a few groups, letting folks get things out onto the table. Sometimes it sets the tone of seriousness for the game — but only when everyone shares something of equal intimacy and only if all of the players are equally relaxed about putting things on the table. And that’s impossible to predict. More often than not, I think this suggested sharing does the opposite — it telegraphs what topics are sensitive to the rest of the group, and then, intentionally or unintentionally, we spend the game perhaps avoiding those.

Let the World Burn. I had two good runs in this surreal game about three people (and two abstract concepts) searching for the woman who means the world to them. The biggest difference between the two runs was my ability to run warm ups and explain the game to participants. Much easier the second time around, and as a result, folks used the game mechanics more frequently.

The Mothers. It’s not a nice game, though it’s an interesting one. The game is about group dynamics in a mother’s support group. I found the type of bleed it created particularly intriguing — I think I felt more wrecked after the game than most of the players.

Conversations

One of the more enjoyable aspects of this convention is the intriguing conversations available with designers, game-sellers, and roleplayers of all ages. I had an intriguing exchange with a couple designers about the genres of TV and writing that really sock them in the stomach — horror mostly, which was interesting to me, since I’m more of a literary drama woman myself. Our thread prompted the amusing comment about jeepform, “I don’t need some Swedish person to make me feel bad about myself.” Apparently, that’s what Lars von Trier is for.

I argued with some larpers about whether reenactment is really larp. (Short answer: no. Though it is possible to larp at a non-larp, and I think some reenactors do it). And there was some lively talk with designers and larpers about how to advance larp design in the US. A local campaign game is considering the introduction of ars amandi as a supplementary and optional mechanic. I think emotional one-shots are the way to go, primarily because I think emotionally intense campaign games challenge psychological safety too much. Also some interesting discussion on whether Americans would be willing to play in certain Nordic larps. Short answer: yes.

I also met at least two women who want to start GMing jeepform at cons: yay!

Tragically, I narrowly missed my chance to play Steal Away Jordan, a roleplaying game about slavery I’ve been dying to try. I guess I had to leave something for next time!

See y’all at Gen Con.

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.

How to Cut a Freeform Game

This new series delves into the complexity of game mastering freeform games.

What is a freeform game? No one knows for sure. Freeform games incorporate elements from larp and traditional tabletop roleplaying. They feature a small group of players — usually less than ten — and may involve acting out scenes away from the tabletop as well as describing player action as in traditional games. The story doesn’t unfold in a single continuous scene, rather, the GM (and sometimes the players) may cut scenes like a director, moving the players forward or backward in time to advance or deepen the story. The Nordic Larp Wiki has also taken a stab at a definition.

For now, let’s pretend that we know what freeform is and get to the good stuff.

I asked a number of (mostly) Nordican freeform GMs to explain how they do what they do. Today’s question is: What’s the best way to cut a freeform game and why? And  what sort of advice would you give to a new GM? 

Settle in, friends: my panel had a lot to say about this thorny topic. 

 

GENERAL ADVICE

End scenes when they’re over, says Matthijs Holter:

A lot of people like to cut scenes when they’re “done.” You develop a feel for that very quickly, and it’s pretty easy to find the natural ending for a scene if you look for it. I look for one specific thing: The tension that makes you want to end a scene. I like to draw that out, to stay with the moment of grief or loneliness or disbelief for a bit longer – and then even longer.

If you haven’t tried to cut scenes before, go for it! Cut hard, cut often. Try to cut very early, before you even know what happens, and come back to the scene later. Just like with any new technique, be bold and crazy and have fun with it. Just make sure you have everyone on board with the idea.

 

Consider the scene’s purpose. Frederik J. Jensen:

The key point is to listen.  Have lots of eye contact with the players and listen to what they say. A scene has a purpose. Once that has been achieved, staying in the scene will not drive the story forward. Find a point where a character has made a strong statement and cut the scene right there.

Sometimes players need time to warm up before they can get to the meat. A good scene can be full of pauses and have a strong emotional build up. If you cut too early, you kill that. More often, the scene states its point rather quickly and the players end up repeating their arguments and reinforcing their positions over and over. The extra time adds nothing.

 

Let scenes run so long as they are relevant. Peter Fallesen:

My rule of thumb is that as long as a scene holds relevance for the narrative — if it either drives the story arc forward or allows the players to develop upon their characters it can be allowed to keep running. That does not mean that it will be in the games best interest to keep a seen running, for example if it would mean that a character’s personal climax would be reached too soon.

Three things worth having in mind: 1) silence does not necessarily mean that nothing is happening – some of my most intense experiences as both player and GM have been during silence – this can be hard to pick up on as a GM if you are not very aware of your players. 2) If the scene does not bring the story forward in anyway, cut it. 3) Cutting after a great one-liner makes the scene more memorable.

When in doubt, cut short! I never allow a game to run more than 4½ hours including warm-up and loose talk before start. People – and myself – cannot deliver good performances if play-time run too long.

 

If players talk about the same stuff more than twice, cut it. Troels Ken Pedersen:

As a hard and fast rule for newbies (you can deviate when you’re no longer a newbie), always cut if the conversation covers the same ground MORE than twice. Or if you stay bored for more than ten seconds or so.

Also, cutting doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When to describe and how much, when to ask and how much, when to throw in NPCs and how much of your own acting to do, are all relevant to both cutting and game mastering in general, and depend very much on the game, players and situation in question.

 

Fill your toolbox with different styles of cutting. Tobias Bindslet:

Different styles of cutting are tools you can use create different experiences. Sometimes tight scenes focused on conflict are best – for keeping play focused, players hungry or the pacing fast. Other times meandering scenes can let players grow into their characters, or leave room for more nuanced interactions. Note how this relates to genre as well. Realism, psychological drama and emotional immersion require a slower pace than action, comedy or melodrama. Finally – variety is always good.

 

HOW TO USE CUTS TO CREATE DIFFERENT MOODS

Interpret the game, cut during fights to frustrate players, and play it twice for clarity. Sanne Harder:

Freeform is an umbrella definition: It covers a whole host of different scenarios, each of them meant to be played out differently. As a game director (I’m not keen on the word ‘game master’, as it implies an asymmetrical relationship between director and players, whereas in actual fact it’s a collaboration), my most important skill is actually literary competence. I have to be able to decode how this scenario needs me to direct it.

There are many different ways of cutting a freeform. Which one I would use depends on the story I’m helping bring to life. For action scenarios, cutting in the middle of a climax generally works well. In a chamber play about relationships letting the awkwardness accumulate might be a good idea – however, I’ve also cut people off in the middle of a big fight. It works like a charm, because the players are left just as frustrated as the characters would be!

I would like to mention another alternative to cutting scenes: You can ask players to repeat the scene they have just played. Often the result is a much more direct, crisp rendering the second time around. You might think that it would ruin the players’ immersion, but on the contrary.

 

Cut hard for drama and slow for poeticism. Troels Ken Pedersen:

If you’re going for rising drama, cut fast and hard. Let the players get to the point of the scene, let them lay it out, but cut before they get into negotiating and resolving. That racks up tension and frustration, useful as (emotional) fuel. You can spice it up with other means as required, like asking, right out or bird-in-ear-whisper, provocative questions at players who aren’t going for the drama.

If you’re going for slow paced (whether miserable or poetic), let the scene play out until it feels done or gets boring. When that happens can be rather subjective, though, I’ve cut scenes and later it turned out the players thought they were just getting into it.

Of course you might find yourself going for different mood and pacing at different points in the same session.

 

Cut long for awkwardness; cut short to create tension or to give players time to think.  Morten Greis Petersen:

Most often I cut on a high note. This tends to increase the dramatic tension, and curiously it can shape how the players play, as they sometimes begin to focus on presenting sharp lines, which makes cutting easier. Sometimes, however, I cut before a reply, so just as one player wants to reply to a comment from another, I cut, usually a jumpcut to some other situation. And then there are times, when I cut for just the exact opposite reason, when a player needs time to come up with a comeback, I cut to some other situation, letting the player have time to think about his or her reply.

In the opposite end of the scale, there are the times when I let things drag out – and I do it on purpose to create or enhance awkward situations. In a sense I refuse to cut the scene forcing the awkward situation to last. Sometimes it creates moments of silence as the characters remain in the situation, and as the situation won’t end, it forces one of them to begin saying something again, or it simply creates a room of silence, and silence can be potent.

Cutting can also be done on behalf of the story if there are multiple storylines running at the same time. So you cut just before a player’s character is about to reveal something, so you can show what is about to be revealed instead.

Basically I cut to create tension (by either cutting sharply to increase tension and emphasize oneliners or drawing out cuts to emphasize for instance awkward silences), to assist the players by giving them time to think or sometimes before they get to reply in order to leave a situation unresolved.

 

Cut hard for horror and humor, and longer for character drama. Emily Care Boss offers some jeepform case studies:

In a character-driven game like Doubt or my game Under my Skin (heavily influenced by Doubt), which both deal with relationships and possible infidelity, it’s important to allow enough room for the players to develop the dynamic between the characters, and for the other players to begin to understand how the characters in the scene relate. Since everyone will build on these scenes in later events, even little things that happen can be critical and create material for play that will enrich the game for everyone. Also, since what’s important about these scenes is simply to learn about the characters’ lives, allowing them to interact naturally is fine, and may play more easily for the players than if there is a need for drama or suspense.

Games that call for a more heightened emotional states benefit from sharper editing. Both horror and humor come to mind, found in the games Previous Occupants and The Upgrade.

In Previous Occupants, a ghost story about guilt and murder, stopping at a pregnant moment is key. Stopping when tension is high escalates the fear and anger expressed by the players. This game has an interesting mechanism that encourages tight cutting. The ending of a scene is opened up to the group. Anyone can signal when a scene comes to a close by ringing a bell, so as soon as anyone thinks it should be done, you move on. The scenes alternate between two parallel timelines, with the tension and stakes ramping up and culminating in a climax–literally in one storyline, figuratively with a murder in the other.

The Upgrade is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at reality television with couples essentially on Temptation Island, swapped for two weeks. The question to be answered at the end, will they stay with their original mate? The game uses the tropes of this visual genre to frame scenes of all types: confessional scenes, flash-forwards and flash-backs, even meta-level scenes where the players–in the role of the producers of the show now–brainstorm ways to increase the tension on the various characters to help  the show’s “ratings”. A stacatto, at times rapid-fire scene cutting style is ideal. Improv instincts and techniques of cutting a scene on a funny beat, or when some one has capped a scene with the “button”, a funny comment, cut down or re-incorporation of an earlier element all come in handy here. The game is meant to throw the characters into situations of stress and duress, so if it’s not working that way, better to end the scene and move on to something else that does a better job. Those quiet moments would likely have been left on the cutting room floor in making the television show.

But, there’s no right answer here. Developing your own aesthetic sense of what communicates well is the most important thing. You are always experimenting, and it’s good to try something, to take a chance. In general, the deeper, more personal the experience you want to have, give more room and time to the players to experience the roles. For strong effect, briefer scenes may be harder hitting. But, as always, variety is important. A momentary scene may change the way the players see a character forever. Or a languorous scene in a humorous game could set up characters for a harder fall later on.

 

PACING IS IMPORTANT

Cut fast all the time. Klaus Meier:

I always cut very hard. I comes from my own preference as a player as there is nothing I hate more than trying to keep a scene going after it has played itself out. Why play a so-so scene for five minutes, when you can play a kick ass scene for 30 seconds and move on to the next?

As a GM I try to cut the scene when the tension is high. I usually try cutting the scene at a poignant quote from one of the players. By doing cutting before everything is resolved and leaving the scene with a great line from one of the players we have both the freedom to pick it up again later – as it is still ambiguous and can go in a different direction as we pick it up again – and a point of reference for the next scene and where the characters are with the exit line. Even if the scene is never picked up again the exit line creates scenes that are a lot more memorable than when they are just cut because they are starting to repeat themselves.

When using this type of cutting it is supremely important to let the players know before the game starts. If they know that the scenes will be cut hard they are more likely to infuse them with drama from the start instead of beating around the bush. This is once again a personal preference as I both as a player and a GM hate playing when there is nothing at stake and the scene is just about portraying the character. Give me drama or cut the scene!

I think I represent quite an extreme in how hard I cut, as I usually run games almost twice as fast as other gms at Fastaval. Normally I point this out before the players are distributed so that players know what to expect if they choose to play in my session of the game.

 

Consider cutting long in the beginning and shorter at the end. Oliver Nøglebæk:

Pacing is an area of gamemastering that you can always improve at. I tend to cut late at the beginning of a game and progress towards shorter and shorter scenes. At first the players usually need more time to find their characters and feel of the game, so no rushing! As the game moves on, you need less time and fewer words to communicate each scene and then it’s better to cut short and sweet to keep the energy flowing. If the scenes don’t include every player, it’s even more important to cut short so everyone is part of the game. If you cut right before a major outcome in a scene, you leave the players with a cliffhanger, which gives them time to think out their next move and at the same time heightens the tension. Those moments can be pure gold, if cut right.

 

Sometimes, all you need is one word. Anna Westerling:

Sometimes you see that magic could happen if you just let the players continue a bit longer, but make sure your game doesn’t turn out as a wait for that magic moments that didn’t happen. You can also cut really quickly, just after a word, because often that word says it all. For example the GM asks a character: “Did you like the date?” The character answers: “ehm.” and you cut. The “ehm” really says all we need to know.

Of course this depends on what type of game you are gamemastering – I was GMing a game about the intensity of silence, being miserable and going towards an inevitably bad ending, and in that type of game, as a GM, I  took a distanced position and cut very little and carefully. If you are cross-cuting between two scenes that affect each other, then try to cut when one scene has delivered something the other scene can put into play. For example if one scene says “and that dog was hysterical” and then you cut and the other scene gets to tell the story of the dog.

Cutting is also something you learn through practice; you will make mistakes, but that’s how you learn. But to me the risk is more often that the game is slow and boring rather than quick and to the point – therefore cut more than not.

 

And a final word from Anne Vinkel:

Cutting is hard. There seems to be general agreement that the time to cut a scene is before you think you should, even when you really want the scene to continue a bit longer because everything is going so well. If you sit down and wait for everything to be said, the scene will run out of steam. (I do have a mean theory, though, that part of the reason for this piece of advice is that a GM who cuts early gets to exercise more authority and the GMs who like to dispense advice tend to be the ones who like having authority.)

A dirty trick: If you (like me) tend to cut way too late, get your players to help do the work. Tell them up front that, hey, you’re no good at cutting so they are welcome to signal when they want you to cut – or to cut it themselves. (This doesn’t work with all scenarios, of course.)

 

___

Tobias Bindslet is a roleplayer with one foot in the Danish freeform scene at Fastaval and the other in the Nordic larp scene (Knudepunkt). At Knudepunkt in 2011, he co-organized a “de-fucking” workshop on how to handle difficult experiences in roleplaying and another on the ritual and play style of the collectively organized larp campaign Rage Across Denmark. Recently, he’s also been involved in a number of smaller projects to help make local games and methods available in English.

Emily Care Boss is an acclaimed American game designer and theorist who owns the trademark on romantic role-playing games with Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon and the jeepform-y Under my Skin.

Peter Fallesen, 27, is a sociologist who knows stuff about crime, and who tries to make a living in academia. He started roleplaying and larping in the mid-nineties. He wrote his first freeform game in 2003. It sucked royally. The next one was better. At present he is working on two games about loss, trauma, and the things players don’t say to each other during the game.

Sanne Harder is an experienced scenario author, who has contributed scenarios for the Danish freeform scene for the last 15 years or so. She has had the pleasure of having several of her scenarios published, and even translated (into the Finnish language). In real life she works as a teacher at an alternative school, where she uses roleplaying as a teaching method. She also writes a Danish blog about roleplaying

Matthijs Holter (b. 1972) is a Norwegian roleplayer and game designer. He’s fond of throwing random things at groups to see what happens, and believes friendship is magic. He once wrote the Hippie Method Manifesto. Currently working on Play With Intent with Emily Care Boss.

Frederik J. Jensen is a Dane living in Sweden. He enjoys taking chances with new games but tends to have a weak spot for GM-full story games. Designed and published Montsegur 1244 because nobody else did.

For the past three years Klaus Meier has been in charge of the games at Fastaval and is now moving on to become head organizer of the whole shebang. He has been writing free form games since 2000 and quite good free form games since 2004. Klaus has won numerous of Fastaval’s Otto awards, been the editor of a book of Danish freeform games and given lectures on the Fastaval style of games at conventions in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. 

Oliver Nøglebæk studies interactive landscape architecture, which influences his view on larp. He’s been attending Fastaval for nearly ten years and game mastering much longer than that, though mostly indie games and traditional systems. He writes an English language blog on Nordic larp.

As a game writer, Troels Ken Pedersen does both off-beat action and drama games about grownup subjects. He believes fiercely in roleplayers as co-creators, and is headmaster of the Danish School of Game Mastering, found at conventions and online. An all around anti-authoritarian dirty f*cking hippie, both as regards roleplaying and other things.

Morten Greis Petersen is an experienced roleplayer, who blogs about roleplaying on his personal site, Stemmen fra ådalen, at the blog collective, planB, and sometimes at his third blog, Roles, Dice, and Fun. Presently he is involved with several scenario-projects for Viking-Con, participates in projects on game mastering and scenario-writing, and is developing an alternate history-setting in which roleplaying developed late 18th century.

Anne Vinkel Anne has GM’ed about 17 conventions scenarios in her life – some of them more than once, two of them written by herself. She still gets nervous before GMing, but in a sort of good way. The things about freeforming she does worst are cutting and exercising authority. The things she does best include being a fan of her players and creating a good atmosphere for play.

Anna Westerling is game designer and producer on the Nordic Scene. Anna has written several freeform games and is a member of the writter collective “Vi åker Jeep.” Also a larp-creator, she designed the cross-over larp/freeform/theater hybrid A Nice Evening with the Family based on plays by Strindberg and Ibsen. She also produced the Nordic Larp book and Knutpunkts 2006 and 2010. You can find some of her games here.


Dreamy Dreamation Recap

Last weekend, I had a delightful time at Dreamation. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Death by Awesome ran five events — four jeepform games and an Ars Amandi workshop. Our fifth game, slated for Sunday morning, almost went off, but then didn’t.
  • I played in the Thursday night run of Doubt, intriguing because it came out so differently from other runs I’d played in. This version wasn’t about big epic moments of temptation, but more about small moments of yearning; no one was seriously in danger of leaving their partner during the game, rather, the temptations reflected what might have been but could never be.
  • On Friday, I ran Ars Amandi workshop. We had a pretty good turnout of eleven people, and for the first time I got to participate in the workshop and witness first hand how intense Ars Amandi can be. I also got some great feedback from the group. Usually, at the end of the workshop, I have people play scenes — young love, for example — my participants wanted to player fewer intimate situations, and more intimate emotions. For example, instead of playing a one-night stand, they’d be interested in playing flirtation, or jealousy. People said they came into the workshop thinking it was all about playing sex, and left thinking that the mechanic is more about intimacy.
    They also talked about Ars Amandi needing a bit of a makeover — it seems to have gotten a bit of a reputation at the convention as creepy arm sex, rather than a mechanic for intimacy. (And yeah, I’m sure my clickbait blog title contributed to this idea. Forgive me, people of Dreamation?)
  • Friday night, The wonderful Jenskot GMed a pickup game of Dogs in the Vineyard (Everyone plays “teenage virgin gunslinger priests with ultimate power and zero life experience judging people for doing bad things for good reasons”) for me and some friends. Usually, I don’t like to kill stuff, but after such an emotionally heavy 24 hours, it felt great to ratchet my character’s sawed off shot gun and perpetrate some heinous crimes. Perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had playing tabletop.
  • Saturday morning, Tim Rodriguez and I successfully ran The Upgrade, a game about reality show contestants choosing whether or not to trade up. It was our first time running/playing the game, and it went off pretty well, though we upped the total number of players from eight to ten, and that proved a bit much to handle. It was a ton of fun to watch and GM, but also exhausting. Read Tim’s Dreamation recap here.
  • Saturday night, the delightful Emily Care Boss GMed her jeepform game Under My Skin, which is about relationships and new flames. We were a bit short on time, but Emily did a great job of helping us not feel rushed. We played out our story arcs successfully, but I can see that if we’d had a bit more time, there’d be room for even deeper development. I’d love love love to play that game again. And our group has been in voluminous email contact, planning for such a moment (Want to read an in-depth recap from a former jeepform skeptic? Peter Woodworth has you covered.)
  • In between these main events, I met a ton of great people, played a demo of the awesome and awesomely-named Ghost Pirates, and helped play test Emily’s awesome new fantasy RPG. I was also lucky enough to bounce my first ever game idea off a couple experienced designers, and I got helpful tips on some upcoming conventions I’d like to hit up during the book tour.

Best. Dreamation. Ever.

DEXCON: Come Go by Jeep

Remember that one time I went to a convention and wouldn’t shut up about it? Now I’m running a game I played there. This week, I’m bringing a little bit of Scandinavia to New Jersey as I run a couple of jeepform games at my local gaming convention, DEXCON 14 in Morristown New Jersey, which runs Wednesday-Friday of this week.

I am running two sessions of Previous Occupants (2010) by Frederik Berg Olsen and Tobias Wrigstad, 2pm-6pm on Thurs and again on Friday, and two sessions of Doubt (2007) by Frederik Axelzon and Tobias Wrigstad, 9am-1pm on Friday and Saturday, courtesy of the marvelous website  Vi åker jeep (tr. We go by jeep). Each of the games are for four players. Previous Occupants introduces players to this style of roleplaying, while Doubt is known for being really intense, and sort of blew my mind when I played it.

These games aren’t your usual larp. In fact, in the Nordic lands, they are considered tabletop games, even though the players act out their behavior physically. There are no dice, no monsters and no dungeons; just players interacting with one another as ordinary, realistic people would, if people could give soliloquies and interacted according to a setlist of scenes.

If most larp is Lord of the Rings, these games are more like Lost in Translation.

The jeepers have a set of fascinating aesthetic principles, and the two games I am running are aimed at inducing bleed, mixing up the emotions of player and character, a move that sometimes gives players a moment of epiphany about themselves as people.

In other words, these two games gave me that good-art feeling afterwards. If you’re into that too, sign up and come play.