Knutepunkt for Noobs

Each year Nordic larpers and folks from upwards of 20 countries meet up in Nordica to talk larp, play games, and argue a lot with one another at Knutepunkt. This year, I’m punching the ticket on my fourth and final KP country–Sweden.

But I remember my first time on this crazy Nordic larp tilt-a-wheel and thought I might offer a few tips for folks in the same shoes.

Come to A Week In

OK, so it’s maybe too late for folks this year, but remember it for next year: A Week is a really nice way to meet some intriguing other people and to get to know them before the big con. Also, you get to play games and games are FUN!

Go To the First Timers’ Guide

It’s a program item that tells you about stuff like the meaning of all the technical terms people are using. That’s super-helpful if you want to understand any conversation that happens.

Parties

There’s a long tradition of parties, secret parties, and “secret” parties. If you nab a flyer to a party, show up on time, as there’s an informal rule that parties only last an hour, to maximize social mixing. Feel OK about showing up to anything. There is also usually a midnight ritual on…Friday or Saturday, I think? It’s sarcastic, and it’s an experience.

Open Chair Rule

People are supposed to have empty chairs in their conversation groups, showing that it’s OK to join. Most folks are pretty good about this, so you can feel comfortable about joining.

Sauna

It’s a weird experience if you come from a country that frowns on nudity, but there are people hanging out in there, and it’s supposed to be a nonsexual area. Both ladies and gents sometimes sauna together. Ask a Nordic person how to sauna properly–there’s a whole thing with going from sauna to shower and rubbing off your dead skin. I still don’t really understand it, but it’s a cultural experience.

Program Items

There is usually an embarrassment of riches, content-wise. I think it’s nice to try both lectures as well as workshops. Lectures tell you about larp; workshops help you expand your toolbox. There’s great conversation to be had in the bar and lounge areas, though.

Sleep Before You Arrive

Restedness is a valuable commodity and prevents sleep-deprivation psychosis that can turn you into a Nordic cultist. Aim for at least two hours per night while you are there, but try to show up fully rested.

If Something Goes Wrong, Tell Someone

One of the things I love about Knutepunkt culture, is that you’ve got 300 best friends you’re just waiting to meet who are willing to pick you up when you’re feeling low. If something goes wrong, tell someone. The folks here are open and kind, and most of them will give you a hug and a sympathetic ear if you just ask.

Personal Responsibility

You are responsible for setting your own limits at this convention. If you say “no,” in my experience, at least, people respect that. In the US, for example, we often rely on the group to set norms and behaviors that are OK. Of course, on some level, that’s true at Knutepunkt. But if you wait around for the community to enforce your unspoken limits, you might wait for a long time. It’s OK to say no, and sometimes you have to say no.

Drink Out of Your Own Cup

Dominika Kovacova: We all remember what happened in Finland (knuteflu). Also, cough syrup is often a hot commodity, so pack an extra bottle.

You Can Argue and Still Be Friends

Nordic larpers like to brawl about absurdly technical stuff like immersion, politics, and Freudian theory. But they can still be friends afterward. Keep your arguments friendly and don’t take it too hard. People tend to be pretty direct about disagreements, but still think you’re a nice person afterwards.

Everyone Feels Uncool Sometimes

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that everyone feels uncool–even the people you’d least expect–for at least a couple hours. When your time comes, remember that you’re in good company, visit the sauna with a friend, or maybe just ask for a hug.

Be Open to New Things

Wagner Luiz Schmidt mentions that it’s good to go with the flow–wander off on cool new adventures with friends you’ve just met. Sarah Lynne Bowman reminds us that some of the best program items she’s attended are ones she stumbled into.

What cool tips did I miss? What questions do you have? Post in the comments.

Like this post? Want to read more like it? Become the government funding to my Nordic larpwright and Patreonize me.

 

How to Cast 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 question I asked my (mostly Nordican) panel: What’s the best way to assign roles in a freeform game?

Of course, there’s no one right way to cast, but some through-threads popped up among the responses. Introduce yourself and the game and get to know the players; watch their first social interactions and the warmups carefully to distinguish introverts from extroverts, and consider whether you want to cast with or against player type.

First, we’ll tackle the issue of whether it is better to let the players cast themselves, or for the GM to do the casting. Here are some folks in favor of letting players cast themselves:

Matthijs Holter:

I’m not sure I’ve ever had to pick roles for people. In nearly all games I run, people create their own characters or collaborate on creation. I don’t see the point in picking roles for others unless you have a very specific point to make, or know them better than they know themselves. Otherwise it seems like an unnecessary thing to do.

Emily Care Boss:

Generally I prefer to let players self-cast. That’s likely due to my tabletop background. If at all possible, I prefer players to be part of character creation. This is more tricky to effect in freeform, though it’s been beautifully in A Flower for Mara and The Man with the Long Black Coat. Many freeform games give the players a simple pre-drafted character which is then fleshed out in play. A great joy of this style of play is, in fact, seeing the incredible variety with which people interpret what is essentially, a single role. As a game designer or GM those surprises are sweet.

That said, there are roles I look to cast with specific players in mind. I tend to look at the rigor of the requirements of the piece and look to match it with a strong player. Having someone who is experienced in this style of play in a key role can make all the difference. In a game style that is predicated on player interaction, the role a character plays depends on the player’s ability to carry through on it. For example, having a less assertive player in a role intended to put pressure on others could mean that the experience would be limp and easy, where the intent of the story was to put people through hell. Or having an uncertain player play the character who must stick to her guns on an issue in order for the game to move forward. Though again, these are interpretations of the role as seen by the GM.

Mara, the central character in A Flower for Mara, is woman who has died before the game and play surrounds her family’s attempts to move on. Mara is a ghost who interacts with each of them, living on in their memories. When cast as this character, I saw the intent of the role to hold on to each character as best she could, to torture both by criticism and care, but to try the family. I was so mean. A stylistic choice. In another game, Mara was so gentle, and so loving, the family had a terrible time letting her go. The same task is accomplished through different means. More of that endless variety of how the tales turn.

If you’d like to take an approach inspired by an experimental larp community in the US (New England Interactive Literature) you can allow people to sign up in advance, respond to a survey and then cast them based on their preferences and responses!

Anne Vinkel lets players cast themselves only sometimes. Here’s how she decides:

As a tentative rule, let the players choose if the really important part is what they like to play. If the important part is what they are able to play, you should probably do the casting as you know the scenario and the roles. If there is at least one character who must be cast with a player who is able to do something specific – take charge, put on a good show, be convincing as this particular character – you should probably cast the roles.

If you let the players choose characters it is important to describe the characters less in terms of who they are and more in terms of what the player of each character gets to do during play, and what makes each character fun to play. ”You get to plot and manipulate”, ”This character should be played by somebody who wants to pursue the plot aggressively”, ”This character is fun if you like your characters to suffer for their sins”, ”This character is fun if you want to immerse in the character” – all more informative than ”This character is a six foot tall baker who is divorced from his wife and dislikes fruit-eaters.”

Cast people as the characters they can play, not as the characters they seem most like. A confident male player will probably play the Femme Fatale role better than a shy female player, and an energetic female player will be better cast as the charismatic male charlatan than as the wilting female wallflower. The same goes for player characteristics other than gender.

Oliver Nøglebæk matches role complexity with player competence:

For convention games I usually start out with a quick introduction of the characters and ask the players if there’s of the roles they’d rather not play or really want to play. With that in mind I usually try to match the complexity and/or how crucial it is for the character to be played well with how competent each player seems to be. It’s always a nice thing to get a positive surprise out of a seemingly weak player stepping up, but absolutely disastrous if a central character isn’t played well.

In some games the roles that are important for the gameplay might not be the the main narrative protagonists, but rather the people around them. So be careful when planning the game.

Anna Westerling always casts the players to give them plausible deniability:

I generally cast the game due to two reasons: First, it gives the players absolution. They didn’t decide themselves to play the super-evil guy, or have that type of relationship to another character played by another player. I did all that. Secondly, as a player, I think it is hard to know what to play based on the limited information I know about the game. The group always gets quiet and slightly nervous when to choosing characters as well; it’s easier to eliminate that by choosing characters for the players. However, I do not mind when players have opinions; if I can fix it, I will, but in the end the decision is mine.

Klaus Meier never lets the players decide, and strives for a balance between player comfort and avoiding cliche:

I never let the players decide. Usually there is an asymmetric distribution of information and I know more about the game than the players and more about what characters suits what kind of playing style. I usually spend a lot of time talking with the players before I cast. Both about their preferences in characters and games and some more casual chit chat. I do this both to establish a feeling of safety – especially if the players are inexperienced or have not played with each other before – and to gauge the players personalities. Based on all the information I get I do the casting.

There are two caveats to this:

1: At Fastaval you sometimes end up with an all male group and a game with one or more female characters (the opposite happens as well, but I do not think I have been in that situation). If that is the case I specifically ask if anybody is comfortable playing a female characters. This is not because I think that female characters are harder to play or that you can only play chracters of your biological sex, but because some players do think that and therefore is not comfortable playing a female character. There is no need to make anybody needlessly uncomfortable.

2: If I play with players I have played with before I have two strategies. If the game contains a very difficult or important character I usually let the player I know play them (if I think they are able to do it well). This is about my comfort level and knowing that the an important part of the game is in the hand of someone I know and trust. Sometimes I like to challenge players I know, especially if they are usually cast in a specific type of role. I then cast them as something completely different to keep them on their toes and make sure that they don’t play the character as a routine they have done a lot before.

Casting is ultimately about finding the balance between making the players comfortable enough to trust each other and me and keeping things fresh enough to avoid clichés and repetitions of other games.

Lars Nøhr Andresen shares his Jedi mind tricks:

Never ever ask the players anything that they could disagree to. A typical mistake is to ask: “Should I just hand out the characters or do you want to choose for yourselves?” MEEEEB! We’ve just met each other and nobody wants to be seem bossy and put themselves in a position where others can disagree with you.

If you want to be a bit more sophisticated get the players to tell about a recent really good role playing experience. Or a type of role that they really enjoyed playing and why the role was satisfactory. Personally I think it’s to direct just to ask them: “What kind of character do you prefer to play?” Ask them easy questions at first and the slowly get them to reflect over the more complex issues. I would use about 15-20 minutes on the initial talk.

When the players have told about themselves then you can start telling about the game. Perhaps tell about the different characters if there are characters as such. Observe the players. With the knowledge you acquired from the initial talk and your observations from telling about the game I would say that you could do a good casting.

So if a GM does choose to cast players, what’s the best way to go about it?

Tobias Demediuk Bindslet considers the tone of the game:

An important part of game-mastering is setting the mood in the room, leading the way for which social atmosphere should frame the play experience – which starts a long time before casting or even actual play. If I want a tense, brooding atmosphere I’ll cast differently than if I want a safe and personal space or a light-hearted and playful place for improv. In general I consider two main options for the actual casting though: type casting people according to my feel for what they would play the most believably, or anti-type casting people in other to challenge them. Often I will use a mix of these two types while trying to guesstimate group dynamics based on warm-up interactions.

Peter Fallesen attends to social dynamics:

Never cast the loudest player in the loudest role, s/he will take up to much space. Also, it is seldom the main protagonist (if such a one exist in the game) that moves the story forward. Therefore, it is often best to cast the weakest player in that role, because the other players will keep him or her involved, while they also move the story forward. I often do my casting while talking to the players before we even start the warm-up exercises.

It is my firm belief that the roleplaying situation is not different from other “normal” social situations, so how people present themselves to others before the game is probably the best indicator you get for how they will act during the game. This especially holds for high status roles – status is not something you can take during a game, the other players have to give it to you, and you give status more easily to some than to others. You can of course be proven wrong during warm up exercises, which is another reason to always do some warm up with players pre-game.

Frederik J. Jensen identifies character skills and matches them to players:

When preparing the game, I identify the key characters that require special skills to play. Typically, leader roles requires active players with lots of drive. There can also be characters with complex issues or who can end up being alone against a group. These require strong players who can handle the challenge. Finally, there are often relations between characters that are key to explore during the game. These may work best when played by players on equal level.

Later when I pitch the cast of characters to the players, I make sure to mention the challenges for playing these key roles and try to influence where they end up based on my impression of the players from the initial socializing. However, I am often positively surprised by a player performing much better than I expected. If casting is very critical for a game, doing warm up exercises before casting can be a necessary tool to spot the right players for the key characters.

Morten Greis Petersen gets to know the players:

Not all scenarios require casting; some are structured in such a way that I all I have to do is present the characters, and let the players choose, but when casting is demanded, I strive get to know the players first.This is done in two ways. Firstly by talking with the players, asking them about their experiences, their favored play styles and types of characters, about their expectations and what they would like to play. Secondly through warm-up exercises (various kinds of impro-theater style games), which build up trust, mentally prepare the players for some quick thinking etc., and give me an idea of who they are and how they play, and the chemistry between the players.

When talking to the players, I begin by presenting myself. What have I played, my favorite styles and such, then we take turns listening to the players presenting themselves. Afterwards I talk about, what we are going to play, expected play styles, and we talk about what the players expect from the scenario. Finally before dealing the characters out, I ask if there is anything, they would prefer to play or not to play – for instance do you mind playing opposite gender, a character in charge, a quiet character etc.?

Warming up using various kinds of impro-theater exercises builds trust among all of us, and it prepares the players for quick thinking and expressing their roles. Also it reveals some of their skills and personalities, which I use to gauge what character, they should be playing.

Sanne Harder casts against player type…but not always:

Somebody once told me that every person has a limited amount of ‘role types’ that they can play convincingly. I think there is some truth to it. One of them is usually a default role – the one role where the players feel most at home, and which they have tried out in many different scenarios. However, some players (myself included) like to challenge themselves by playing roles that are out of their comfort zone.

At a convention you are most likely directing a bunch of players who have never played together before. It’s a difficult task, because they have no idea of each other’s limits or abilities. So I play it safe: I make the decision. In a situation where you are feeling a bit uneasy, having decisions made for you actually feels more comfortable.

I usually do some warm-up exercises, or I might just have a chat with the players about what they have played before, what they do in real life, etc. This gives me a fairly good idea about who will be able to do what, and I do the casting based on what they would be best at doing.

However, at home with “your own” roleplayers, it’s a different situation. Here you have the option to let players experiment. Sometimes I let players cast themselves, or at other times I might go with a completely counter intuitive casting, where the introverted girl plays the scheming femme fatale, and the clever geek boy plays the sports jock.

Troels Ken Pedersen scrutinizes the warm-up and talks cross-casting:

How to cast for freeform depends on the nature of the game. If it’s very jeepy, going for bleedy close-to-home characters by deliberately using the players as material for the characters, casting can matter less …they’ll be playing themselves anyway. Unless the game has specific functions in mind for particular players, in which case see below.

If the game has specific characters or functions, and it isn’t a short game, I like to do warmup exercises because they give me a body of observations on which to base casting. One of my favorites is a brief association exercise (you start by saying a word, the player to your left says the first word that springs to mind, you let it go around the table three or four times, sneaky gamemasters will pull the exercise back towards the theme and mood of the game on their turns), and it’s really useful for spotting player initiative vs. perfectionism.

If you specifically need a player to drive the game forward with strong initiative, be sure to pick one who delivered without hesitation in the association exercise. This is seriously the most important casting tip I can share. Players who hesitated to come up with something “good” can be good for roles requiring exploration of the character’s feelings, but you can’t count on them to be the source of shenanigans. At least not today, that is.

Use warmup exercises and pre-game chats to size up who’s where on the introverted to extroverted scale. Hitting somewhat extroverted players with somewhat introverted roles can be fun in moderation, too introverted players shouldn’t be given roles where they’ll fail if they don’t put on a loud show.

Casting “off” can be good. If you have a player who looks like a perfect fit for the role of scheming “bitch” or suave lover, don’t go for it. If possible (as in, it doesn’t go against what the association exercise gave you) give such stereotypical roles to players who seem capable of pulling it off but who aren’t the most obvious fits. If the game called for a sceming “bitch” type AND a suave lover, and I had a good match for each, I’d very seriously consider reversing, that is casting the “bitch” fit as the suave lover and the lover as the “bitch”. That challenges the players and doesn’t throw them into too-familiar ruts.

Which brings me to gender. There are schools of thought regarding casting and gender. Some like to be pretty strict about casting women for female roles as far as possible and to a lesser degree, men for male roles. I say fuck that noise, even for a game dealing with sex and romance. Actually, especially for a game dealing with sex and romance, like my own My Girl’s Sparrow. I make it a point to cast on the basis of other psychological/social traits, as detailed above. Gender isn’t irrelevant as such, but I find it a shame to let it get in the way of more important qualities (as far as roleplaying and a number of other things are concerned), and anyway it’s fun to mess with a bit. Messing with the players a bit, gently, through casting and other means, makes for good gaming in my experience.

Read more from the series on how to GM freeform games.

_____

Lars Nøhr Andresen is a Danish roleplayer and designer who has been writing Fastaval scenarios since 1994.

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 1244because 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 writerTroels 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 Familybased 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.

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.


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.

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.

__

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.


How To Develop Your Character In Game

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.

Since we’ve already looked at how to create a fun larp character, today, we look at the question: How can a player develop his or her character during a larp?

Get in touch with your character’s flaws, says Geoffrey Schaller:

In a campaign, the best approach to developing your character is to start the game with them being incomplete.  If you’ve already determined everything about them, there’s no where left for them to go, no room to grow or change.  Start your character young and flawed, and resist the urge to resolve those flaws too quickly, or you will find the character is no longer fun to play.

For a one-shot, it’s harder, as what you are handed to work with, and the constraints in which you do it, are much more limited.  Look at the session as a whole, and determine the theme or point of the game, and let that be your guide.

In-game failure is a virtue, Michael Pucci thinks:

Character development relies heavily on being aware of the world around you, and allowing it to affect your character emotionally and mentally. Allow your character to grow friendships and enemies, to win, and most importantly, to fail.  Some of the best stories come from a character failing and dealing with picking themselves back up off the ground.  Don’t be afraid to show a full range of emotions while playing so that your character can develop his or her own emotions that exist outside of yours.  It is easy to act like nothing bothers the ‘ultra heroic character’ however it takes true role playing skill to actually show weakness, character flaws, and negative personality quirks.

Jeramy Merritt says your character should want something:

Goals.  Find something you want to do as your character, and work toward it.  Whether you succeed or fail matters little, so long as you have something that keeps you going, it will inform much of how you play your character.

Consider the overall dramatic arc of your character, and take metagame steps to achieve it, Anna Westerling advises:

I usually strive after some kind of dramatic curve for my character. A beginning, some conflict and then a solution about how the character will move on. To achieve this, meet with the other players before the larp and plan what you are going to do and what conflicts will happen. Of course this sometimes doesn’t happen, because you get pulled into the larp, but you can also go off-game with a few fellow players to check up on each other. How are we doing, are we achieving our story, and can we help each other? This so no one is left behind, and ends up feeling that they didn’t get a good larp. Towards the end of the larp I also usually try to find an ending  for my character, to figure out how s/he will move on after the larp is over.

Practice good improv (say “Yes and…”) says Mike Young:

Use the improv theater techniques of listening and building.  That is, pay attention to what is going on in the world around you and then allow your character to grow by reacting to it.

Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, suggests Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Obviously what I play is greatly affected by setting. I generally poke around the rule book to see whats there and find a combo that fits. Over the years I’ve figured out where I land (generally a good person who likes to help others) and I try to push the envelope on my comfort zones.

Make sure you’ve done your prep, say Aaron Vanek and Sarah Bowman. Sarah Bowman:

Two things are crucial for me when preparing a character for a larp, either one-shots or Campaign-style: backstory and costuming. Once the character enters the game world, however, anything goes. The character changes and evolves as a result of interactions within the game, sometimes dramatically. Interactions with other players and with the game universe forces that sort of change, providing the stimulus for actions that may or may not have been built into the original character concept.

Aaron Vanek:

I do my best to make a three-dimensional character that has strengths and weaknesses, flaws and virtues. I try to always give my stereotypical good guy characters an unpleasant quality, and my stereotypical villains something admirable. The characters I want play, fun or not, should have three parts to them:

  • a background history that explains where they came from, i.e., the events that occurred in their life (birth, family, friends, education, occupations, and traumatic or beneficial incidents)
  • a personality that shaped and was shaped by that background and events. It’s one thing to say “My parents were killed by barbarians before my eyes” and another to say “I spent the rest of my life honing my combat skills to exact revenge” and another to say “I dedicated my life to the dark arts to bring back my parents and all the others the barbarians have slain to take their revenge on them” or “I used any means necessary to rise to the top of army command and now will lead my forces against the barbarians” or, “I retreated from the world and stole what i needed to survive. I trust no one and make no friends or allegiances for fear anyone I really care about will be taken away from me leaving me with that devastating pain I felt years ago.”
  • finally, this character needs to have concrete goals that motivates them and gives a thru-line to hook the larping to.

My road trip analogy is:

  • a character’s background is the make and model of the car
  • the goals or motivation is where the car is going, the destination
  • the personality is how you drive to that destination–fast, slow, nonstop, visiting detours, comfortably, stylishly, or belching poison behind you, hazardous to anyone behind you?

During the larp itself, developing my character isn’t my goal, acting and reacting as the character to what is presented is my goal. If that leads to character growth, great. If not–but I feel that I stayed true to the character–that’s fine.

 J. Tuomas Harviainen and Rick McCoy remind us that many character developments happen naturally. J. Tuomas Harviainen:

The character is, without actual play, just empty words, and idea on paper. It starts naturally developing as soon as it’s brought into play (in a pre-game workshop, or the actual game), through interaction with other characters and the game world. So when I play, I add bits and pieces of what I encounter into the “facts” of that character. The only rule I follow, really, is that nothing I add should contradict what was originally given to me by the organizers as facts about that character.

Rick McCoy:

Most characters will have a chance to evolve and develop during a campaign game. It’s natural. As the story progresses, your character’s experiences accrue. Even if you are just a writer that comes out every game, and don’t interact much with anyone, you would be noticing everything around you, and the evolution of the story from event to event will be the backdrop for how your character reacts to the game environment.

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

__

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.

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the bookNordic 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.


How To Find the Right Game

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.

Today, we look at two questions. First: How do you figure out what you enjoy in a game? 

Rick McCoy recommends researching games before playing, and trying to get to know the larp troupe outside of the game:

Talk to people before playing the game. Get a sense of the style of play before you actually make a commitment. Talk to an Advocate from groups such as LARPA or the LARP Alliance. But do try everything, if you can. You might be surprised at what you thought was lackluster or boring turn into an element of the game environment that you relish every time you play.

Elements you might enjoy in a larp are similar to what you might get out of a tabletop game (if you are so inclined), an MMO, a murder mystery. Note that just because you enjoy something in game, doesn’t mean it has to be in game. You could love to roleplay, be at a Battle Game, fighting your heart out and role playing the heck out of your character – taunting other fighters, being true to the character you created.

Also note, you can’t judge a genre or style of game on one circumstance. There is a chance that the one time you try out a Vampire game, that the Players  are welcoming, explain the rules, and you’ll have a great time and fit right in. There is an equal chance that you will try it out, only to be ostracized or feel alienated. Roleplaying might have a lot to do with how a larp group interacts with you – if possible search out for the rare hang outs that happen between events. Fighter practices, a dinner or summer picnic outing – most groups have social interaction outside of the game environment. Taking the time to get to know people is the best bet to raise the odds that you’ll find a group that you fit into. The one guy that decides your cool enough at the dinner party might become your Mentor at a Vampire event…the young woman who taught you how to swing foam at a fighter practice will recognize you at game and might come to your aid when you most need it.

 Cast a wide net, and remember that it’s OK to leave a game, Jeramy Merritt says:

Start by trying everything and being open to things you might not have thought of before.  For first time weekend larpers, I’d suggest NPCing your first event for this very purpose.  During the downtimes ask if you might be able to go out as this race or this class so you can get an idea of where you fit in.  If you come to PC, don’t build a brooding antisocial outsider and complain that no one wants to be around your character.  Ask questions, find out where you fit in, and always say yes to opportunity.

On the other side, it is possible that a game just doesn’t work for you.  If you hate pickles, you shouldn’t force yourself to keep eating pickles until you like them; I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work.  You should be having fun, if you aren’t having fun, find out why.  Part of every game is making your own fun, but the game should facilitate that, and you shouldn’t be relied upon to make all of your fun.  If the game isn’t providing that for you, and it is possible that even a well run game won’t do it for you, then you probably shouldn’t be there, and moreover you shouldn’t force yourself to be there.

Mike Young and Aaron Vanek recommend post-game analysis as a way of figuring out what you like. Mike Young:

Oh, it takes years and years of experience.  There are many people out there who just want to have fun without knowing what that means.  Every time you play in a larp, analyze what works and what doesn’t work.  Then go from there.

Aaron Vanek:

These answers rarely come to me as they are happening; it’s almost always upon reflection, hours, days, or even weeks later. I’m usually to busy being “in the moment” as best I can to reflect on the moment. I want to squeeze ever last drop out of the fruit before I taste it to see if i like it. I try to spend time to reflect on the last larp. I mull over what happened, why I did what I did, what I could have done differently, what I should have done, what was cool, what was not, etc. It usually involves cocktails bending my wife’s ear (though she often plays as well). So I don’t know if a larp or larp group isn’t the right fit until after at least one event.

Think about the kind of community you want to be a part of, Sarah Bowman advises:

I look for players that enjoy in-depth character development and who believe in staying in-character as much as possible. While more sily, light-hearted games are occasionally fun, I get annoyed when players break character too often or attempt to dispel emotional intensity. I like games that provoke conversation, thoughtfulness, and emotional impact. Plot-centric games tend to interest me less. I also dislike “hack-and-slash” games, where the “point” of the game is to kill things and level the character.

I also tend to dislike player-versus-player conflict, unless diffused properly by out-of-character socializing. In my opinion, some players enjoy role-playing as a form of power trip or abuse fantasy. While I do not find anything inherently wrong with this mentality, I feel that the community as a whole and the players within it should be treated with respect out-of-game. Lately, I bow out of games where I do not feel emotionally safe with the other players. If in-character events are weighed as more important than out-of-character relationships, something in the game is broken, in my opinion.

So, now that we’ve got a handle on what to look for in a game, How do you know when a game or group isn’t the right fit for you? 

Trust your gut, says J. Tuomas Harviainen:

If I start feeling that I am not enjoying the play in that particular group or game, I either try to negotiate the problems away, or I leave the game. In my experience it’s mostly a gut feeling, an instinctual reaction, which can rise from many smaller factors. Sometimes it’s because I can’t stand the way some other players play (especially a lack of commitment to preserve the illusionary reality of the game tends to annoy me), sometimes because the game masters aren’t doing a proper job in plot design. Both are rare experiences for me, but they do happen. My personal pet peeve are players who can’t separate character actions and morals from their, or my, real ones.

Most importantly, remember that games are supposed to be fun. Michael Pucci:

If you go, and it’s fun… you have found it.  If you go on a regular basis and it feels like an obligation, then you need to try a new character or a new game.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Are you having fun?  You don’t play a game to make money (unless it’s gambling), and you don’t play because you HAVE to.  If you’re not having fun, stop playing that style, or that game.  Some things can be addressed – character concept, minor rules issues, or the people you are hanging out with.  Others, such as the theme for the overall game or the physical location, can not be changed as easily.  Don’t force yourself to be miserable.  Don’t be a Drama Llama about it, but do what makes you happy – that’s the point of playing.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Groups come and go, and the same goes for a figuring out if you fit with a game. if you go to a doctor and say “doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the Doc replies, “Well don’t do that.” If you aren’t having fun with a game, don’t do it!

But if you want to like a game and are having a hard time settling in, talk to the GMs, go to the Storytellers. It’s their job to help YOU have a good time, why do you think you’re paying them? In my experience as a GM, I would much prefer a player come to me with a problem than sitting, sulking and then leaving when I could have fixed it. Use your resources and if those resources are scary, talk to a friend and they might be able to help you get past the scary ST. Be active with you enjoyment, don’t just sit back and wait to be served. That’s just lazy.

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

__

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.

How To Create A Fun Larp Character

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics. Today’s question: How do you create a character that is fun to play in a larp?

Know thyself and thy game say Mike Young and Michael Pucci. Mike Young:

What I try to do is figure out what I want out of the larp.  Do I want adventure? romance? sitting around roleplaying?  And then I try to create a character that focuses on that area.  I work with the GMs and the other players to make sure that the character works well with the larp.

Michael Pucci:

A lot of what makes a character fun for a player concerns what it is that the individual player is looking to get out of their gaming experience. Some people enjoy characters focused on action and adventure; some people enjoy social manipulation and politics. Making a character that will allow a player the opportunity to have dynamic social ties, become involved in the aspects of gaming you enjoy, while still offering the opportunity to grow with the character almost takes a degree of self analysis to understand what it is that you want to take from a gaming experience.

The second step is to ensure that this basic want that you have for your gaming experience fits in the game you are going to. If you want a high adventure experience then a politics heavy socially driven larp may not be your best choice. Similarly, if you are looking for a complex social and political dynamic then a game that focuses more on ‘monster of the month’ than social dynamics probably is not the game for you.

Lastly, while networking with other players is a great way to have fun at a game, many gamers fall into a common trap. Oftentimes newer players will completely base their characters history and drive for coming to a game on the background and interactions of another already established player. While an established character can do great things for introducing you to a game, if the character you design is dependent on someone else, then you can quickly find yourself without purpose, drive, or reason to exist if the established character is missing or preoccupied.

 

Larp is a social venture, so for the love of Cthulhu, don’t roll up an introverted character, say three of my experts. Geoffrey Schaller:

Ultimately, you are at the game to have fun as yourself, as the player.  Larping is also a social activity – if you want to have fun being alone, you shouldn’t be playing a larp!  Make a character that interacts with other people, either friends you already have, or new ones you’d like to make.  Part of the joy of the game is meeting, and working with, new people – both IG and OOG [tr. in-game and out-of-game] – and exploring those relationships.

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

Make someone you can sustain. Seriously. Not everything is playable. For a first-time larper, don’t make the mistake of rolling someone who is quiet and or shy unless you plan on breaking that barrier in some way. Pick something that will get your character moving so you aren’t stuck at the inn wondering why no one is talking to you. Take a personality quirk and blow it out of proportion. You have to take responsibility for your own enjoyment. If the concept makes you giggle, you may have hit character gold. Run it by some of your friends and see if it’s something that could be fun to play with.

Rick McCoy:

Don’t create an introvert. Not unless you want to have zero interaction at game. Unless other players are somehow forced in some way to interact with you, your character’s aloofness in game will work against people being able to interact with you.

If you have the opportunity, plan ahead and create a character that is attached to either the theme or the in-game environment of the larp. Think and plan the character’s dynamics within the environment. Making the character interesting with unique history or personality traits that you hand craft make that character enjoyable to play. This won’t work with all larps, but would work for many including those with an ongoing campaign setting.

Come in with a group! Create a group dynamic that allows you to trust and support the group you come in with. Not to dominate, but to support each other. A sense of knowing someone has your back allows you to feel more natural and at ease in a game environment, and the group dynamics you create prior to (the group is a seasoned group of mercenaries that have several years campaigning together, etc.) and during the event help with the enjoyment you will get roleplaying.

 

Create a round character — someone with social relationships and psychological complexity — and stand out from the crowd by creating conflict, say Sarah Lynne Bowman and Anna Westerling. Westerling:

Think of three things. First what would you like to play, what does your instinct tell you would be fun? If you have a clear vision of or a feeling for a character that you want to fulfill it usually works out great.

Second, in what social context/story will your character function? If everybody else plays shy, it might be a good thing to play an outspoken character. Make a contrast and create action. Another example is if everybody is pro-revolution, it will be more fun for all if you are anti-revolutionary and create a conflict to act upon.

Thirdly, make sure your character has meaningful relationships, family, people they care about etc. Because it isn’t fun to be alone, and when the larps evolves you can react to what happens to your loved ones.

Bowman:

For me, the most important component for my larp characters is psychological depth. I need some form of backstory in which I establish my character’s motivations and previous relationships in order to get into the headspace of that individual. I also must establish his or her position in the socio-cultural strata of the world. When/where was the character born and raised? Does the character hold a high or low place in society? What are the character’s formative experiences? What does the character wish to accomplish? Sometimes, these goals may remain vague, such as, “my character wants to have a stimulating conversation.” Other times, the goals may be more explicit, such as, “my character wants to avoid her former lover at all costs to save face.” Generally, though, my character motivations and goals evolve through interaction within the game world. If an intriguing puzzle is presented, for example, I may feel compelled to attempt to solve it; alternately, my character may remain completely disinterested if psychologically motivated in another direction. Establishing a basic psychological framework, in way or another, is key for me to feel immersed.

 

Even though it’s a larp, be yourself says Jeramy Merritt:

Don’t start building a character by giving yourself traits that you don’t have in real life.  Larp is acting, and while you can fake it for a while, and perhaps some extraordinary people are good at faking it and remaining genuine, for most of us, something that doesn’t feel like ourselves will end up being fun to play for about two hours before we want to retire the character.  Creating a good character is all about building on aspects of yourself, exaggeration rather than fabrication.

Or, don’t be yourself, says Aaron Vanek:

What is fun to me is always challenging myself to play someone new or different than what I’ve played before. I love to fluctuate between Goebbels and Ghandi, or Caligula and Jesus the Christ. I also enjoy playing historical figures, or modeling my character after them, because I enjoy the research.

It’s sometimes easier and more liberating (fun, I guess) for me to get into the head of someone else and ask “What would they do here?” as opposed to playing myself–even an idealized version of myself–and doing what I would do.

 

And finally, J. Tuomas Harviainen tells us, combine the big three vectors of character — motivations, traits, and social bonds:

Given that I nowadays write mostly mini-larps that can be run by anyone, I strive to create an optimal balance between memorability and information. Effectively, I try and write characters that are as short as possible (so that the player can remember it all) yet contains as much playable material as possible. By combining strong character motivations, some easy-yet-fun-to-play personality traits, and good connections between the characters, I believe I can facilitate interesting character play. Note the emphasis on “interesting” – I do not believe that all larps should be fun, but I believe that all should be interesting to play.

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

__

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.

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic 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.

Advice For First-Time Larp Scholars

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics.

Who cares about larping when you could be WRITING about larp? Today’s advice is for budding larp scholars.

Claus Raasted reminds us to bow before the all-knowing Finnish scholars:

Google is your best friend. Finnish roleplaying scholars are your second. But even more importantly, realizing that other people have been at this for years is something you need to accept. And while it’s definitely OK to come up with ideas that others also have come up with, it’s less welcome to claim that you invented something that it turns out that the Canadians have been doing since ’93.

Apart from that – do your research, find out what you want to write about, and make sure you don’t bore your audience to death because your university professors liked long sentences. I usually say that if you have to tell someone that what you’re doing is art to make them value it, then your message isn’t strong enough. And if you meet criticism by referring to the fact that “it’s academia”, then maybe you should find a different audience or a different writing style.

Finnish game designer Juhana Petterson says to read the books Finnish people have written/edited, dammit:

Be aware that there’s a body of scholarly literature about roleplaying already in existence. There’s ten or fifteen books you have to read so you won’t make a fool of yourself by repeating stuff that’s already been done in the US, in the Nordic countries or in other parts of the world. The joy of writing about roleplaying is that there are so many essentials still to be discovered, but things are already much more advanced than they were ten years ago.

For serious: do your research. There’s nothing lamer than not researching. Anna Westerling:

Talk to people, read books written from people inside the movement and really do your research. My experience with people writing critically about larp is that they are usually so ill-informed so their criticism falls flat.

Aaron Vanek reminds us that there are books about roleplay that aren’t written by Finnish researchers — there are other Scandinavian countries after all:

Read what others have done before you, and be sure to give these giants credit. If you are going to write critically about larp, it’s essential that you read the Knutepunkt books.

Consider the context, says Emma Wieslander:

Roleplay is a medium (or more). When you analyze literature you do Ann Rice and Herta Muller in different ways (although comparisons can be fun and fruitful). Same with movies. The Bourne films, anything by Woody Allen and Hollywood rom-com are all produced in their own contexts and should be criticized and analyzed together with context.

Writing about these medias are exactly the same. [The audience might be smaller,] as most games aren’t reproduced the way plays are and you might get a different reception as these medias have not yet achieved the status of being thought of as “art” the same ways some other mediums are perceived to be works of art to a higher or lower degree. But yay!! Go ahead and write. As the media itself is based on storytelling, all forms of text are a good thing.

Amber Eagar recommends variety:

Don’t limit yourself to one genre or style; play many styles and genres of games because each game, style and genre will teach you something different. Chat with others who study and have written about such topics and ask them their view points and debate (and I mean debate, not argue about) design theory to terminology to whatever interests you. Lastly, respect those who have knowledge and are willing to share it with you. Their view may not be exactly as you see something because larp game studies in the US is a budding field (and everyone will have their own opinions about things), but respect them for helping to pave the way for you and provide you a groundwork they may not have had.

Sarah Bowman outlines some classic pitfalls:

  • Do not make broad generalizations based on your limited experience in your region of the world. Keep in mind that all sorts of inventive and experimental forms of role-playing exist out there.
  • Try to avoid focusing on the stigmatization of role-players by mainstream society. While role-playing groups are often marginalized, emphasizing that element of the experience can color the positive elements.
  • Do not be afraid to contact other role-playing scholars. Just like in role-playing games, scholarly work is stronger when multiple voices are considered.
  • Conduct interviews with as many role-players as you can in order to get a varied range of responses. You may be surprised at the variety of perspectives and the notions you personally take for granted. Since role-playing is a first-person experience, the best way to study these moments is by talking to actual role-players, not just game designers or scholars.
  • Do not let people dissuade you from writing about ‘controversial’ material. Be proud of your work and be brave enough to share your observations with the world. .

Geoffrey Schaller, Avonelle Wing, and Michael Pucci remind you to try larp before you write about it:

Geoffrey: You cannot write about something without understanding it.  Just like a biologist cannot write about a new theory with any conviction unless they understand the subject matter, you cannot write about roleplay without some level of experience in the area.  Fortunately, dissecting dead frogs is not a requirement for RP. ;-)  Dive in, have fun, and get to know your new subject from as many different angles as possible – Player, Writer, GM, Staff, etc.

Avonelle: There’s no way to understand the catharsis that comes for a well-executed scene or an artful exchange without immersing yourself in the experience first-hand.  I’m sure it’s possible to imagine it, and to come to an intellectual understanding, but until you’ve crafted a character, executed a self-driven plot or saved the day, there’s no way to properly appreciate how it feels and why it’s so potent.

Michael: Ask Lizzie Stark.  But seriously, I would say immerse yourself in the world Gonzo journalism-style and don’t try to observe it as an outsider.  If you observe it as an outsider, you just won’t get it.  Roleplaying isn’t like an organized sport where it can be completely appreciated from the outside.  A large portion of roleplaying is about immersion, and without being a part of the world, you can’t really write about the world.

And since I wrote a book, I’ll pitch in my $0.02:

  • Make your narrative compelling — put only the most interesting stuff in there. Sometimes, that’ll mean writing from a first-person perspective.
  • Don’t be afraid of complexity — if the facts don’t fit your theory just say so.
  • In addition to playing, interviewing gamers, and reading past research, do keep your eyes open so that you can write vividly about the fascinating scenes you’re sure to witness.

And it doesn’t hurt to talk to some Finnish people.

__

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?

Juhana Pettersson is a Finnish journalist, tv producer and game designer. He has published three books and been translated into five languages.

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

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.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lizzie Stark is the author of Leaving Mundania, a narrative nonfiction book about larp aimed at a mainstream audience and due out from Chicago Review Press in May 2012. But you probably knew that.

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides

How To Make Larp A Day Job

Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention.

Today’s advice is for gamers who want to live the dream, and make larp their day-jobs.

Mike Young provides a reality check:

Are you in a Scandinavian country?  Great!  Are you in the USA?  OK, larp is a niche market of a niche market of a niche market (larp is a niche of the RPG [roleplaying games] market which is a niche of the hobby game market).  The numbers just aren’t there.  Good luck!  You’ll need it.

 

Claus Raasted’s super-secret advice:

Don’t. Unless this is your dream and you’re prepared to do what it takes. Then send me a mail at claus.raasted@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to let you pick my brain, but since a lot of it will be unpleasant truths that need to be addressed (or ignored), I won’t write about it here. After all, your friends might be reading this too. :o)

Rather than run your own game, Anna Westerling recommends applying larp to the real world:

There are plenty of larp-like activities done for profit; you can do team building and development for companies, you can do educational games for schools or you can do PR and event like games for the entertainment industry. Of course, you can make huge larps and keep productions cost low enough to live on what your participants pay you, as done in Denmark with some children’s larp. But all of these options mean you will have to think slightly different about your hobby.  The last option would be to get money from grants, but that will be difficult to live on in the long run.

Other options include becoming a researcher,  working in a store that sells larp and roleplaying gear, or writing and publishing scenarios.

Boil it down to your core mission, suggests Emma Wieslander:

Be aware of what you really are trying to achieve. Is it a commercial game? Make a financial plan. What do people expect when they pay and how much are they willing to? Is it the games or a “community center” that will be the day job?

Is it educational games? If it’s really what you want to do then make sure that it’s the gamist version of education that you aim for and not just a way to do games and make money or you will give people a strange image of roleplaying and you’ll probably get fed up pretty soon.

Also consider  that when you get pay, others will want pay. You can’t expect them to work for free and money has a way of changing dynamics. Be absolutely sure that everyone is game – first.

Forget running it like a commune, according to Avonelle Wing:

Anticipate upheaval and don’t build the success of your organization on anybody’s shoulders but your own.  This is an industry rife with personalities, and the visionary MUST maintain the deciding vote. Do not rule by committee.  A committee of more than two is death to an organization of that sort.  You can have advisors. You can even share the success, but do not fall into the trap of trying to be a socialist organization; communes are a nice idea, but they don’t work.

Don’t lose track of your audience. Listen to criticism and sort it carefully. If you hear the same thing over and over, you’ve either got a vision flaw or a PR problem.  Either way, fix it.

Remember that running a business isn’t always fun, Geoffrey Schaller says:

Not only will you have to deal with the banality of the business putting a constant drain on your will to run the business that used to be fun, you will be dealing with legions of players, who are now customers, trying to pull you in multiple (and often opposing) directions in their attempt to influence your game / product / business.  Unless you can maintain your ideals, visions, and integrity, you are bound to fail.  People skills are essential to success.

Attend to the unsexy back-end of running a business, Michael Pucci recommends:

Take classes in regards to setting up business status, taxes, liability, and growth.  Most people don’t consider how much they can put themselves at risk by making a business out of their hobby without understanding the business side of things.  If you already run a game you at least understand the basics of gaming… however making it a business requires a little more effort.

Aaron Vanek suggests alternative revenue streams:

Consider going the non-profit corporate route, and applying for art grants. Learn how to use Kickstarter. If you design larps, consider boxing them and selling the scenario online. If you make props or costumes, keep the molds or patterns and consider selling those, too.

Amber Eagar says to cater to more than just larpers:

Here in the US running a larp as a viable, full-time job that will provide you with a stable enough income to live on is very, very rare. The hobby has yet to grow and mature like the table-top hobby has to a point where people can make a solid living off of it. At this time, its the support industries that have the larp job opportunities: costuming and prop suppliers and rental locations/facilities; and they all have one key thing in common: they’re able to cater to a wider audience than just larpers.

Approach it like a vocation, says Jeramy Merritt:

Running a larp is a lifestyle, like becoming a priest.  And as with the priesthood you are expected to maintain a public face, to always support your endeavors, even if all you want to do is sleep for a week. Also, most jobs pay better. There are maybe 20 people in this whole country that make a living running a larp, and maybe another 50 (and that is being generous) who sell enough product (weapons, costuming, etc.) to support themselves. The fact is, unless your game is bringing in 100+ people an event, you are probably not making a living off of it.

Here are all the things you have to do to just start up a larp: Create rules, set up a web-site, collect a giant wad of cash, become a business, find a campsite, get insurance, write a plot, convince people that there is a reason for them to pay you to entertain them for a weekend and make certain they have incentive to keep coming back.

____

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.

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?

Anna Westerling is a larper, larp-producer and role-player of the Scandinavian larp scene. She has organized larps as A nice Evening with the Family, and produced Knutpunkt and the book Nordic Larp.

Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.

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

Got a hot tip? Is there a first-timer’s guide you’d like to see? Leave it in the comments!

Other First-Time Guides