What I See Is Not What I Get
Whether you’re trying to imagine a high fantasy sword & sorcery world, a grim post-apocalyptic nightmare or a shadowy world of occult conspiracies, just trying to imagine that you’re actually immersed in the setting instead of wandering around a hotel, friend’s backyard or rented Boy Scout campground is a major investment on the part of your imagination. Add to that seeing the other players as their characters instead of fellow geeks in costumes, and your imagination is working in overdrive pretty much the entire time you’re in-game. Add to that an extra level of narrative flourish – “OK, guys, I know that looks like a tent, but it’s actually a huge castle!” or “OK, when you see me, I’m 15 feet tall and have two heads and a glowing sword!” – and staying immersed becomes essentially impossible. Don’t tell me you have a glowing sword, show me! Stay as close as possible to what your props, costumes and makeup can already create, and let our imaginations do the rest. If you need to narrate, keep it brief and stay close to what’s in front of us. Our imaginations are already heavily taxed, so don’t add to that burden unless it’s absolutely amazing or absolutely necessary.
The Rules Are In the Way
LARP needs to flow smoothly, because when you interrupt the action, there’s an awkward pause where we all suddenly realize we’re playing a game instead of stayig immersed in our characters. This is especially true in boffer LARP, where maintaining the flow of things like combat and large group social interaction are crucial. Any time I see a skill that calls for a time-out, I cringe a little, especially if it’s a skill that will be used even relatively often. The same goes for skills that call for measurements on the fly – it’s one thing to have a ritual-type skill that takes 10 minutes to create a 15 foot circle of protection. That’s plenty of time to measure out the distance, and indeed creating the space is part of the roleplaying. It’s quite another to have a skill that calls for people to try to measure a 10′ radius in the middle of combat. Keep your mechanics as unobtrusive as possible – try to incorporate them into roleplaying whenever possible, instead of being something you do in addition to roleplaying, and when you can’t, try to make them quick and easy to resolve, instead of chewing up valuable game time.
“PC” Also Stands for “Paying Customer”
The best boffer LARPs I’ve ever seen never forget this – that a player has laid down some serious money for admission, not to mention costumes, props, food & drink, gas, etc. Some games take a very haughty “we are Serious Artists and if you don’t like it or get screwed over or whatever then too bad” approach, where the staff feels free to openly favor characters, do terrible things that ruin people’s fun for the weekend or otherwise mess with people’s entertainment in the name of Creating Art. I remember attending a boffer LARP where a player’s character was hit with a Big Deal Magic Effect on Friday night and essentially removed from play for the rest of the weekend. The staff congratulated themselves for being amazing and daring, but the player was pissed – he’d gotten his gear together, hauled it to the game site and paid his money to play, and less than four hours in his game was ruined. When he complained, they told him he could be an NPC all weekend, and gave him guff for his “bad attitude.” Needless to say, I’m with the player – he paid to play his character, not do their grunt work all weekend. (If you want to NPC for a whole game, fine, but that should be your choice, not one forced upon you.) Mind you, I’m not saying that players should always win/get what they want, or that staff cannot endanger characters, challenge players’ expectations or whatnot, or even that LARPs can’t create Art. But games need to remember that there are different obligations when it’s your friends sitting around your kitchen table, and when it’s 100+ people who’ve paid $50 or more to play your game. One is a friendly meet up, with nothing more than pizza money on the line; the other is a business, and forgetting that is a bad idea.
Pete Woodworth wrote, edited and developed for White Wolf Game Studio’s groundbreaking Mind’s Eye Theatre LARP game system for 8 years, and has been playing and writing both parlor and boffer LARPs for 17 years.
Last night I had a nightmare so disturbing that I woke up crying.
I haven’t done that in a very long time, as evidenced by the fact that it completely baffled my poor, concerned wife. I’m not terribly superstitious about a lot of things, but bad dreams fall into that tiny category, and as a result I don’t really want to talk about the main topic of the dream itself. Instead, I want to talk about one of the elements of the dream that most disturbed me: the arrival of my mom’s parents, my grandparents.
As a bit of background, I am one of the very lucky few who grew up knowing all four of my grandparents until well into my 20s. I felt close to all of them, though due to simple geography we tended to see my mom’s parents more often. Many of my friends met her parents over the years, and I take it as a telling tribute that when they passed, both times friends and even exes asked to attended the memorial services, because in their own ways they had loved my grandparents too.
To sketch the nightmare scene, I was in my parents’ house, and it was late at night. Everyone else – because I felt that my parents and my brother were also there, just like when we all lived at home – was asleep, and I was up reading. I heard a knock at the front door, and went downstairs. There was another knock, and I opened the door to find my mom’s parents standing there. They looked the way I tend to remember them, older but not as frail as they were near the end of their lives, and definitely not “ghostly” or “zombie-like” in any way. They didn’t have fangs, red eyes, spooky voices, or anything like that. It was just them, standing on the front step with sad expressions, but it still scared me out of my mind. It took poor Meg almost half an hour to calm me down, as I woke nearly hysterical, and even after regaining some composure I still slept with a light on for the first time in many years.
When the sun came up, though, I thought about how confusing a response that is, and to a degree how some other ghost stories are too. I mean, it was my grandparents, who loved me and supported me and would never, ever in a million years want to hurt or frighten me. And in the nightmare they didn’t do anything scary or disturbing – yes, seeing your deceased grandparents could be considered disturbing on its own, but that’s not what I mean. All the fear seemed to well up in me, rather than come from them or anything they did. But when I think about it, I’m not so sure what scared me so badly about seeing them.
Especially when I miss them so badly while I’m awake.