Mad About the Boy in Wyrd Con Book

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

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

New in Larp: July 22, 2012

Summer is a busy time for the larp community, which has been concocting theories, writing papers, and running conventions. Here’s what’s new in larp:

Leaving Mundania has garnered a bit more press. New on my front:

 

Leaving the Larp Closet

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

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

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

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

Their de-closeting advice requires three easy steps: 

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

Avonelle Wing:

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

Michael Pucci:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Young:

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

Aaron Vanek:

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Some cool documentation doesn’t hurt.

Claus Raasted:

Show them the Nordic Larp book. :o)

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

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

Geoffrey Schaller:

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

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

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

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

 

Read more First Timers’ Guides.

____

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solmukohta Ahoy

After my stop in Denmark for Fastaval, I headed to Helsinki to participate in Solmukohta, the Finnish installation of the Knutepunkt conference that rotates its way around the Nordic capitals, changing its name according to the local languages. The event features larps, workshops, run-downs of completed or upcoming games, and tons of talks on larp theory.

The convention took place at a building that seemed like a cross between a hotel and a boarding school, a labyrinthine complex of hallways, lounges, and classrooms that seemed built into a hill.

Zombies and Bleed

Rather than attend the opening ceremonies, my Fastaplague-ridden body required a nap. When I awoke, I stumbled through the corridor, blithely ignoring the “game area,” signs, since I wished to find the info desk without wandering out into the snowy forest. (Although the skinny, red-barked pine trees looked lovely).

Scores of groaning conventioneers shambled through the hallways, their mindlesss half-witted expressions and limping gaits perfectly mirroring my physical well-being. Apparently, I had stumbled onto the convention’s opening scenario, a zombie game. The zombies inexorably advanced, and I could find no escape from their gnashing teeth, which latched onto my shoulder.

I, too, became a zombie, damned to wander the corridors, limping, until the government arrived and killed us all.

Rants

Later that evening, I attended the Hour of the Rant, where various folks get up on stage and make pointed comments, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, often a mixture between the two. There were rants on why larps may not change the world, and why they should. Rants on how current measures for psychological safety don’t work as well as they should, and rants on how larpers should do a better job of giving out credit to everyone involved in a project. American game designer Jason Morningstar zinged the crowd with a rant on why they ought to play more and document less.

Like an American jerk, I delivered a rant titled “Write a damn rulebook.” Last year, while reporting for Leaving Mundania, I’d gotten frustrated that there weren’t readily available easy-to-understand materials explaining basic concepts on the scene. In what may have been a case of “arrogantly demand and ye shall receive,” (or just serendipitous magic) the Nordic community has remedied this as of Sunday, with the delightful, searchable, work-in-progress Nordic Larp Wiki. Run! Run to your nearest new browser tab and check it out!

Mistakes

I love the Beckett quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” so I attended a panel titled “All the Things I’ve Learned From All the Mistakes I’ve Done,” a run-down of larp-organizing errors, presented by larp organizers, including panel host Rasmus Høgdall. Among the lessons learned:

  • as an organizer, it’s possible to spread yourself too thin
  • know when it’s going to be a disaster and don’t be afraid to cancel
  • it’s better to have a few awesome things in game than lots of mediocre ones
  • also, bribing your players with booze only works if you buy a lot of booze

Safety

When explaining Nordic larp — with all its serious, emotional impact — to Americans, their first response is usually something like, “that’s not a game; that’s therapy” or “that sounds like the Stanford Prison Experiment. Do people come out of these things permanently damaged?” So I was fascinated to attend The Great Player Safety Controversy Panel and listen to a well-reasoned, in-depth discussion of these issues. I took tons of notes, so check back here later this week, when I’ll post them. (4/26/12 update: here are the notes.)

The Roleplay Contract

Riffing off the safety panel, larp maker Bjarke Pedersen gave a talk titled “Five Things We Lie About in Larp,” which generated some interesting discussion. He suggested that the “roleplay contract” is a lie, which was doubly interesting both because I’d never before heard of the roleplay contract, and because lies are fascinating.

The roleplay contract, apparently, is an agreement between players not to judge players for their characters and vice versa. So if I’m a jerk to you in game, you agree not to judge me for it later at the diner. Or if we’re both dark elves in game, I’ll roleplay with you even if I don’t personally like you, because that’s what makes sense for the narrative.

As Bjarke pointed out, this isn’t always true in practice. People want to roleplay with their friends and may shut others out. Sometimes we dislike people after seeing the way that they roleplay. I came out of the session thinking of the roleplay contract as being a bit like philosophical debate around freewill: whether or not we have it is irrelevant, because we behave as if we do.

His point that not everyone is equally capable of playing every role also generated some discussion. He suggested that super-tall dudes can’t really play hobbits, because it breaks our idea of what a “hobbit” is too much. Some members of the audience disagreed, noting that players have a remarkable ability to overlook out of game stuff during games, and that “hobbit” is a fictional category anyway, arguably one capable of expanding or contracting according to the game’s surroundings.

Saturday

I had a big Saturday at this con, but since I flapped my yapper instead of listening, I didn’t learn all that much. I caught the end of a really interesting talk on a game based around a Norwegian brass band (I think), and a bit of Sarah Lynne Bowman’s talk on social conflict and bleed, which I’m hoping to catch in its entirety at WyrdCon.

I went to Johanna Koljonen’s fantastic talk, “Designing Supernatural Terror,” in which she outlined myriad ways to make players feel creeped out, frightened, and terrified. Her slides are definitely worth a look, especially if you organize horror games!

I gave a talk based on my paper “We Hold These Rules To Be Self-Evident” in the convention book States of Play (free download!), which was about American larp as emblematic of American national values. I also incorporated some ideas floated on my blog that had to do with American hyperbole and lack of historical accuracy and American litigiousness. In addition, I sat on the panel “How to Communicate About Larp to a Mainstream Audience.” More on that at a later date — including some press tips — in this space.

The Next Episode

These formal programming items only capture half of the fun of this con. Stay tuned this week for the second installment, featuring more of a social angle.

For some takes on Solmukohta by other bloggers, check out blogs by:

Thomas B: part 1part 2, part 3, part 4
Evan Torner
Annika Waern
Rafael Bienia
Mike Pohjola
Oliver
Twinners
Story Games Forum
The Solmukohta documentation page has tons of content from other panels too!

(Got more links? Post them in the comments, please!)

Fastavaling

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

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

Juried Selection

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

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

Communal Responsibility

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

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

The Crowd

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

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

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

Dancing With the Clans

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

High-Low

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

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

The Games

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

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

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

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

Drought by Tim Slum troupe Nielsen and Oliver Nøglebæk

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

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

Let the World Burn by Peter Fallesen

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

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

The Internationals and Bad-Ass Roleplay

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

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

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

Or maybe that’s just Danish flattery.

Verdict

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

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

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

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

Why They Larp

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

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

J. Tuomas Harviainen:

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

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

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

Claus Raasted:

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

Mike Young:

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

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

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

Michael Pucci:

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

Geoffrey Schaller:

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

Aaron Vanek:

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

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-Shot Larps v. Campaigns

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

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

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

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

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

.J. Tuomas Harviainen:

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

Claus Raasted:

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

Aaron Vanek:

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

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

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

Mike Young:

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

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


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

Michael Pucci:

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

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

Avonelle Wing:

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

Kate Beaman-Martinez:

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

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

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

Geoff Schaller:

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

Sarah Lynne Bowman:

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

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

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

More game guides for newbies.

__________

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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